§ 7.22 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee].
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move the draft Humberside (Structural Change) Order 1995 and at the same time I should like to speak to the North Yorkshire (District of York) (Structural and Boundary Changes) Order 1995.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Viscount would not speak to the orders together. It would be much more convenient if they were dealt with separately.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I believe that it would be possible for noble Lords to make comments about either order but for the convenience of the House it would be proper if I introduce both orders. I shall, of course, deal with points raised on the individual orders in winding up.
The orders concerned were laid before the House on 16th February. With modifications, they implement the recommendations of the Local Government Commission for the future structure of local government in North Yorkshire and Humberside. I hope that it will be helpful to the House if I take the principal issues relating to the orders in the following order: first, details of the proposed new structure in both areas, then boundaries, powers and functions, electoral arrangements, staffing, planning and ceremonial arrangements.
75 First, as regards North Yorkshire, from 1st April 1996 the city of York will be a unitary authority on extended boundaries which will incorporate parts of the districts of Ryedale, Selby and Harrogate. I shall return to the details of the boundary changes in due course. The remainder of the county of North Yorkshire will remain two-tier, retaining both district and county councils.
On 1st April 1996, the county of Humberside and Humberside County Council will be abolished and will be succeeded by four unitary authorities. The existing authority of Kingston upon Hull, on its existing boundaries, will be given unitary powers. The existing authorities of Holdemess, Beverley, East Yorkshire and the northern part of Boothferry will be abolished and comprise a single new authority to be called the East Riding of Yorkshire; the existing authorities of Cleethorpes and Grimsby will be abolished and comprise a single new unitary authority to be called North East Lincolnshire; and the existing authorities of Glanford and Scunthorpe and that part of Boothferry district south of the northern boundaries of the parishes of Crowle, Eastoft, Luddington, Haldenby and Amcotts will he abolished and will comprise a new unitary authority to be called North Lincolnshire.
As a rule, decisions about where boundaries should be drawn are difficult and provoke strong feelings. As my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said in another place, our decisions about the boundaries of York and Hull have not proved to be an exception to that rule. And the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, has an amendment on the Order Paper about this issue.
Perhaps it would help if I first of all explain that in the case of the city of York we have accepted the commission's recommendation—with only very minor modifications to exclude five small parishes—that the city's boundaries should be extended to include the York greater planning area. This will substantially increase the area covered by the city and will increase its population from its existing 101,000 to approximately 167,000.
In making its recommendations to us the commission took into account a number of factors, including the ability of a unitary authority to deliver services effectively and efficiently and the need to recognise community identity and the expression of local opinion. It acknowledged that opposition to the extension of the city's boundaries to include the greater planning area was strongest in the outlying areas beyond the ring road. The strength of this opposition has also been made clear to us in the many representations we have received from local residents and their parish councils. Nevertheless, the commission concluded, and we agreed, that the balance of advantage lay with providing an enlarged boundary to enable the new authority to deliver services efficiently and effectively and to adopt a strategic approach to, among other things, economic development, transportation, planning and environmental issues.
In the case of Kingston upon Hull, we have accepted the commission's recommendation that the unitary authority should be established on the city's existing 76 boundaries. We have, however, decided that, in the light of representations we received from the city, in due course its boundary with the new East Riding authority should be reviewed. This will not involve major revisions or extensions to the boundary, but will, we hope, sort out a number of small anomalies that exist at the moment.
Staff at all levels will have a crucial part to play in implementing change and ensuring that services continue to be provided effectively by local authorities during and following reorganisation, and we recognise the importance of allaying their anxieties about their future. It was because of this that early in the review process we established the Local Government Staff Commission. It is an independent body which advises on staffing matters arising from local government reorganisation. The commission has talked to local government at all levels and has produced a series of circulars setting out the framework for staff transfers and appointments.
To be of assistance to the House I shall now briefly explain the arrangements which will be put in place. First, Humberside: most staff—we estimate some 90 per cent.—will simply end up working for the successor authorities. The majority, those who are frontline service providers such as teachers and care workers, will transfer by statutory transfer order. This will be drawn up by the outgoing authorities working together with the successor authorities and in accordance with the criteria set out in the staff commission's circular 3. The purpose will be to ensure continued provision of essential services from the first day of reorganisation. Other staff will secure posts by appointment, again in accordance with the rules set out in the staff commission's circular 3.
New chief officer posts will be filled through a process of open competition. Other posts will be filled by prior consideration, in which competition will initially be limited to those not in a transfer order and whose current job is vulnerable because of restructuring arising from reorganisation. It will, of course, be for the newly elected authorities to decide on their new staffing structures and how to fill posts, taking into account the available resources, their new functions and the need to ensure continued provision of services.
Recently we announced new measures for those who are to be made redundant as a result of local government reorganisation. They are as follows. First, it will be mandatory for local authorities to pay the amounts prescribed in the regulations, which provide for up to 66 weeks' pay based on age service banding to eligible staff below the age of 50. These arrangements are, at the maximum, 2.7 times more generous than otherwise statutorily provided under employment legislation. Secondly, the regulations also provide extra powers to provide benefits to those aged 50 and over. At the employer's discretion, such employees' pensions can be increased if they have five or more years' service, or they can receive a lump sum compensation payment. For those with between two and five years' service we are making available the option of additional payment in lieu of immediate payment of pension.
77 We have also consulted on a scheme for detriment compensation for those who take a drop in salary as a result of local government reorganisation. Having considered the responses, we are drafting regulations defining the detriment scheme, and we shall be consulting on these soon.
Turning briefly to North Yorkshire, the same principles will apply, with staff being transferred to the new unitary York to reflect the transfer of functions and to ensure continued provision of services.
Once the orders are made, all of the authorities in Humberside and the authorities affected by the changes in North Yorkshire will have extra duties and powers to prepare for the reorganisation. They will each be under a duty to co-operate in implementing change. Unitary authorities will have access to the information they need. Once the councils for the unitary authorities have been elected they will have further powers to make the necessary preparations, including setting budgets and recruiting staff for the functions which they assume responsibility for on 1st April 1996. They will be required to consider whether any of their new functions would best be discharged through joint arrangements with other authorities. Taken together, we believe these provisions will ensure a smooth transition to the new structure while providing proper safeguards for essential services.
We believe that authorities which are to be given unitary status should be given a fresh democratic mandate to do so. There will therefore be whole council elections to the four unitary authorities in Humberside and to the new city of York authority in May this year.
In future, with the exception of Hull, all of the unitary authorities will hold whole council elections every four years. If they wish to apply to the Secretary of State to change to a system of elections by thirds, they may do so following the passing of a resolution by the whole council passed by not less than two-thirds of the members.
Hull will return to its current arrangement of elections by thirds from 1997. This follows the city's representations that it wished to retain elections by thirds and that it did not wish to have elections in the year immediately after reorganisation. We agree that this is a sensible arrangement and have made similar provision in Bristol.
With the exception of minor changes we have made to accommodate leaving Goole in Boothferry while it is being re-reviewed, warding arrangements for the new authorities are as recommended by the commission.
As unitary authorities, the new York District Council and the four Humberside districts councils will be responsible for both strategic and local land-use planning in their areas. We are determined that there should be adequate arrangements for strategic planning in areas affected by reorganisation. Reflecting its recommendations for structural changes, the commission recommended that the authorities for the area north of the Humber should work jointly on a structure plan for their combined areas. They made a similar recommendation for the authorities for the area between the Humber and the Wash. However, because 78 of the modifications we have made to the commission's structural recommendations, we have also had to modify its recommendations for planning arrangements.
Therefore, having considered representations from the local authorities and other bodies, we have concluded that the most satisfactory grouping of authorities for joint structure plan purposes would be: the new York unitary authority working with North Yorkshire County Council; the new East Riding of Yorkshire unitary authority working with Kingston upon Hull City Council; and the new North Lincolnshire and North-East Lincolnshire unitary authorities working with Lincolnshire County Council. We believe that voluntary arrangements for joint working within these groupings will achieve the desired results.
The draft orders transfer the counties' strategic planning responsibilities for the areas concerned to the new unitary authorities. Each authority will also be responsible for maintaining a local plan for its area. We look to the relevant authorities in North Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire to make the necessary voluntary arrangements for joint working on the structure plan for their respective groupings. Voluntary joint working arrangements are more accountable locally than the statutory joint authorities which it would become necessary for us to impose if such voluntary arrangements were to fail.
Following a consultation exercise on the future policing arrangements for the area, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has decided that a separate Humberside police force will be retained. The force will cover the areas of Kingston upon Hull, the East Riding of Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and North-East Lincolnshire.
The North Yorkshire police authority to be established on 1st April 1995 (under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994) will continue to be the police authority after reorganisation. The order makes provision for the members of that authority to be appointed by both North Yorkshire County Council and the new York unitary authority.
In North Yorkshire there will be a combined fire authority of which the constituent authorities will be the North Yorkshire County Council and the new York authority. The order does not provide for the establishment of the combination scheme; this will be done by the Home Office under the Fire Services Act 1947.
The Humberside order provides for each of the new unitary authorities to be created a fire authority. The Home Office will then create a fire combination scheme, under the Fire Services Act 1947, that will establish a combined fire authority to exercise those fire functions currently carried out by the county council.
The order does not provide for ceremonial arrangements; separate provision will be made for this in regulations. However, it may be helpful to the House if I briefly explain the arrangements we propose to put in place.
79 In the case of North Yorkshire, the City of York will be deemed to be part of the county of North Yorkshire for ceremonial and related purposes. It will therefore have the same Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff as the county.
Before the existing City of York authority is abolished we will make specific provision for the continuation of the city's status and privileges. We are discussing with the Home Office and Privy Council the most expedient way of doing this. Whatever we decide, the city will continue to be a city and will continue to have a Lord Mayor and Sheriff.
As Humberside is to be abolished, its Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff will also be abolished. Instead, north of the Humber we intend to provide for both a Lord Lieutenant and a High Sheriff of the county of the East Riding of Yorkshire. For ceremonial and related purposes Hull will be deemed to be part of this county and will therefore have the same Lord Lieutenant and Sheriff.
South of the Humber we propose that the North Lincolnshire and North-East Lincolnshire unitary authorities should be deemed for ceremonial purposes to be part of the county of Lincolnshire and to have the same Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff.
The amendment of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, also refers to the arrangements for the future of the Yorkshire Museum. The museum has mounted a very professional campaign not to be transferred from the county council to the City of York. However, as with other property within the York district area, the museum will pass to the city under the regulations for the transfer of assets and liabilities.
The museum is a charitable trust and the terms of the trust state that the beneficial area of that trust is the City of York. As a consequence, the museum and its gardens will transfer to the City of York on reorganisation. We are, however, aware of the local concern that the museum should continue to play a role as an institution serving the areas of both North Yorkshire County Council and the new City of York Council—and we will expect the authorities to co-operate in safeguarding that role. And I hope the House would agree that if we are to entrust the City of York with responsibility for education and social services it would perhaps be ludicrous to say it could not be trusted to run a museum.
In conclusion, I believe that the changes for which these orders provide will create more comprehensible and consequently more accountable local government in the areas that they affect. The abolition of Humberside and the restoration of individual and independent cities of York and Kingston upon Hull will be welcomed, as will the restoration of the East Riding to Yorkshire. I commend to the House the Humberside (Structural Change) Order 1995.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Viscount Ullswater.)
§ Lady Kinloss
My Lords, I understand that I can speak to the points in my amendment but not move the 80 amendment formally until the Minister has moved the North Yorkshire (District of York) (Structural and Boundary Changes) Order 1995.
I am aware that this matter has been discussed in another place, with results that have left many residents unhappy and bewildered. Apart from the debate, I call attention to a Question for Written Answer in another place, which the Minister answered as recently as 23rd February. He had been asked how many representations his department had received (a) supporting and (b) opposing the proposed boundary change in his draft order to create a new York local authority, from individual members of the public, from local authorities, from parish councils and others.
The Minister replied that 1,066 members of the public had opposed the proposed boundary change, with only 30 individuals in favour; and seven local authorities and 26 parish councils had declared against the proposal, with none for it. As to the others—I do not know who those "others" were—there were 15 against and one single individual in favour.
That is why I speak tonight in support of all those who have tried to make their voices heard, not least the district council in which I live and the parish council in the village where I have lived for nearly 30 years. I live outside the proposed greater York boundary and so I have no personal axe to grind, except in regard to its effect on my district council of Ryedale. But the unhappiness and distress of most people is very evident.
Most people would be happy to have a unitary authority for York. In fact, I have said on previous occasions that I have long thought that York should be a self-governing city. It had been so since at least the 12th century and until 1974. It is generally acknowledged that an enlarged boundary might be necessary, but not the huge one recommended by the commission, extending to what is known as the greater York planning area. Can the Minister say whether York will keep its old name of the City of York? It is not at all clear in the draft order.
In other orders brought before Parliament, Ministers have laid very great emphasis on public opinion. This is the first case on which Ministers will agree that a decision has been made in the teeth of opposition. Replying to the debate on the Cleveland order, the noble Viscount quoted from a press release: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".—[Official Report, 23/1/95; col. 960]
The Minister agreed with that. Does he now agree that that is precisely what his right honourable friend the Secretary of State has failed to do in the York case—listen to the people?
There are a number of other points of concern. There are technical problems in regard to Article 11, which deals with appointments to the police authority. During the debate on the Avon order, the noble Baronesses, Lady Farrington and Lady Hamwee, referred to uncertainty over the powers and duties of authorities in relation to certain statutory functions during the shadow period. That relates also to Article 18 of the North 81 Yorkshire order. There are also questions in regard to the pension fund and the right of transferor authorities to be consulted and to seek information. I am sure that other noble Lords will speak on these matters.
The North Yorkshire County Council and three affected districts—Ryedale, Selby and Harrogate—will need to review their own operations. To make responsible decisions about their own operations they will require information from the new authority at certain points. The new authority is compelled by Article 17 to consider whether it wishes to seek any joint relations during the shadow period. The new authority's wishes will need to be known reasonably early. It would be a needless loss if an existing authority were compelled to scale down a particular specialist service, for example, only to hear too late that the city authority would, after all, like to draw on that service.
Therefore, it is a pity that the order does not explicitly require the new authority to consult the county council where services inherited from it are in question—for example, child protection, or special educational needs. Likewise, it is unfortunate that the order requires the county and districts to provide the city with information, but not vice versa. Will the noble Viscount confirm that the new authority will be obliged to assist its neighbours by co-operating to provide information and consulting as early as it can wherever its decisions might affect its neighbours' decisions about the future?
I turn now to the Yorkshire Museum, which has been the subject of much discussion, as the Minister said. The Yorkshire Museum is a major museum with nationally important collections. It has developed greatly in the past 20 years as a museum which serves all North Yorkshire. It is understood that the existing city council has proposed that if it acquires the museum it will refocus on the City of York, with a much reduced remit.
The Department of the Environment has discovered that there is extensive support for continuing county council control of the museum. The department has received formal advice to that effect from the Museums and Galleries Commission, which is the Government's own museums advisory body. The Government have been advised to vest the museum in North Yorkshire County Council by means of a statutory instrument, but even if that were possible it would not satisfy the city.
May I have an undertaking from the Minister that all possible mechanisms will be explored to ensure that the county council has continuing involvement in the planning, running and funding of the museum? One possible way, for example, might be a joint arrangement; another that the city council offer a substantial number of trustee places to the county council and that the trustees should be able to co-opt other interested bodies such as the York Philosophical Society, which started the museum in 1822, and York University, with which the museum already has a treaty of alliance to promote academic work and excellence.
In recent times the museum itself has raised more than £3 million to develop its resources and promote a stable organisational relationship for the management and its dedicated staff. The museum's director and staff would be happy to work together with both councils. I add that three universities and 23 other organisations, 82 including one from France and one from India, have written to the Secretary of State asking that it should stay under the control of the North Yorkshire County Council. However, I realise that that may not be possible by itself.
In 1994 the Yorkshire Museum was honoured in winning the Gulbenkian Museum and Galleries award for the best museum publication, with its publication Medieval Pottery in the Yorkshire Museum . Last Saturday, my husband and I went to visit the museum. It is beautifully clean, has well set out showcases and is well labelled. There were numerous publications on its various collections. The one that I mentioned was very well produced and the photographs were excellent. If the Secretary of State will agree, I believe that my suggestion of a joint arrangement for trusteeship can satisfy both parties.
§ The Lord Bishop of Sheffield
My Lords, I listened to the Minister with a degree of contentment and satisfaction, even though I am one of those who to the last moment remain loyal to Humberside and the feeling that its service to the people for 20 years deserves a better fate than abolition. However, that is ancient history, and it is not of that I speak. I speak of Goole. I thought for one moment that the Minister was not going to mention Goole. He gave an account of the neat division of Humberside but said nothing about the 10 parishes, lately of West Riding and all in the diocese of Sheffield, which fell originally into none of the new unitary authorities.
In recent months each new development has offered a new and sometimes bizarre proposal for what is to happen to this area. I believe that it has left both the commission and the Government bemused and uncertain. At the last moment, without consultation with anybody, as far as I am aware, it has been provisionally placed in the East Riding. It has never been part of the East Riding. It may just conceivably be the right answer. However, it seems to me to be extraordinary that at a week's notice a proposal is made without consultation; and it is even more extraordinary when the word "provisional" is attached to it.
Sadly, the East Riding does not want the town and port of Goole or the country parishes around it. Nobody knows—because they have not been asked—whether Goole wants to be part of the East Riding. But a provisional arrangement, particularly in the areas of strategic planning and so on, is the least satisfactory result. The town and port of Goole is a special place. There is something curiously discouraging and dispiriting about being tossed from one authority to another when the only common feature is that nobody seems to want it to be part of their new area.
I hope that serious attention will be given by somebody to finding the right answer to these lands of Humberhead, anciently West Riding and still important. Nearly 50,000 people live in those lands and in the growing port at the heart of them. I hope that the promise of consultation and a future settlement that has both the consent and the good will of all the parties 83 concerned will not be left on one side once the order has been approved. This a piece of unfinished business that needs careful attention.
§ Lord Holderness
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, will forgive me if I stay more closely to the right reverend Prelate at Goole than to York. I wish to speak for a few moments about the Humberside order. I doubt whether my noble friend will need from me any support in convincing your Lordships of the wisdom of the Humberside order and the creation of the four new unitary authorities. The first 50 years of my life were spent in the East Riding of Yorkshire. For the past 25 years I have lived in the County of Humberside and have therefore ceased to be a Yorkshireman. Naturally, I look forward to the restoration of my Yorkshire status when the order is carried. My qualifications in speaking to this matter are much less than those of my noble kinsman Lord Halifax, whom I see in his place and will, I hope, speak later.
I am convinced, first, that people want the change and, particularly in the East Riding, the restoration of that county. Secondly, I am convinced by the commission's advice that after a period of large transitional costs the savings will be considerable. I also believe that the services provided will be very much better than they have been recently. Finally, I am convinced by the assurances of my noble friend about the employment position of the present employees of the county. I hope that he will have no difficulty in persuading your Lordships to carry through this order.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and also to the Humberside order. I place on record my interest as chair of the Association of County Councils and stress that it is not in that capacity that I speak but on the basis of knowledge from that capacity.
It is with great trepidation that, as an adopted Lancastrian, I dare to trespass onto the subject of what is best for those who are unfortunate enough to live on the wrong side of the Pennines. I first deal with the point made by the noble Lady. The York boundaries are deeply unpopular with those who are encompassed within them. It was said at the beginning of the review of local government by the Secretary of State that the views of the people would be paramount. Therefore, it is distressing to learn that the boundaries of the new York unitary authority will encompass people who do not wish to be there. Therefore, I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, is worthy of support, if people are to be consulted. Secondly, the noble Lady referred to the need for clarity in services and the vital role of the county council during the process of change in being fully and automatically involved in the discussion of the transfer of services to a newly-created authority. I do not wish to refer to the series of technical questions that I raised in the debate on the Avon order because I am assured that I will be receiving answers from the Minister. I await those detailed answers.
84 The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield is not alone in regretting the passing of Humberside; not because Humberside, like Avon and Cleveland, the other two in the trio has the historical background dating back centuries of many other counties, but because of the quality and quantity of services provided by members and officers since the creation of the County of Humberside. I should like to place on record my tribute to the work that has been done and all that has been achieved. A range of services and activities has been undertaken by those officers and members, based as they are around the Humber estuary. I refer to the work done in the field of planning; the work in support of the views of the Heath/Walker plans of 1974, and the importance of estuarywide planning. There is also the work that has been done to develop Humberside International Airport, the work to support the development of the rail network, the education service, and the unique scholars scheme which extends real parental choice by offering half-price bus transport to scholars who would not be eligible under the statutory scheme. Nursery provision has been expanded in spite of the constraints placed on expenditure by national government; and there has been a wide variety of work in the field of environmental awareness, with conferences and co-operation. There has been work on transport and with sixth-formers on environmental issues and on the potential for the future. In your Lordships' House the problems facing social services departments have been debated.
Humberside has a fine record. It has successfully implemented care in the community strategies; it has maintained free domiciliary and day care services; and it has developed a new intensive homecare service system for the elderly disabled and resource centres for adult clients. It has achieved a high performance and has given people a wide variety of services and choice.
I spoke in the last debate on the subject of the Government's policy on local government reorganisation partly because of the issue of continuing authorities. This order for Humberside is flawed in the same way by that feature. I shall not repeat the details of the problem that it creates, but it does not provide an equal and level playing field for those who will be considered for employment in the new authority of Kingston-upon-Hull, whatever the good will of those elected.
Many references have been made in previous debates on local government reorganisation to the importance of effective delivery of strategic services. There is a tragedy behind the history of the review of local government in England of which this order represents part. It began in a spirit of malice towards local government rather than a logical and consistent plan and point of view. It was quite clear from the documents at the beginning that Avon, Cleveland and Humberside had had their futures determined before the process began. Therefore, it was not open and not equal, and the people were not given an equality of opportunity to express their point of view. There was no concentration at the beginning of the review on establishing what the 85 services and the financing and function of local government should be in England outside the metropolitan areas. That is a fundamental weakness.
We live in a time when many people refer to subsidiarity. I would make the point to your Lordships that subsidiarity is the principle of looking at the best level at which decisions can be taken for and by the people affected by those decisions. We have also heard interpretations which refer to subsidiarity as being those appointed or those chosen by some means other than universal suffrage and universal electoral mandate. The fragmentation of that strategic function in the abolition of Humberside County Council will have one fortunate result. It will bring nearer the day when the people in England become more aware that they are governed at regional level less and less by those they elect and more and more by those who are either appointed to make decisions on their behalf or who are civil servants.
I was interested to note in the previous debate in this Chamber that the Minister, when speaking of the health service, said that it was appropriate for civil servants to be responsible for taking decisions and carrying messages from the regions to central government. That is not subsidiarity. If those decisions—strategic planning decisions, important transport decisions, economic development decisions, all those environmental decisions that need to be taken at a larger level than unitary authority but away from Whitehall which knows little of the problems either side of the Pennines or in the north of England or the south-west—are to be taken at that level, I agree that civil servants ought to be involved in the professional analysis. But so ought the people of the region be able to express their views, through the democratic process, on what happens to affect their lives. Therefore, in the tragedy of losing that good strategic capability of the county of Humberside, we shall also see brought near us the process of people becoming aware that we have regional government in England, but it is unaccountable regional government and it is Whitehall deciding for people rather than people being elected.
This is a new phase of local government reorganisation and your Lordships are being asked today to say yes to a process which began with the words that the people and their wishes would be paramount; a process that was flawed from the beginning because it did not consider functions and finance; a process which is being marred by staff compensation which is not as good as that offered in 1986. The noble Viscount can refer in vain to the fact that local authorities may pay above that level. That is of little avail when the Government say that local authority expenditure must be reduced.
The cost of the reorganisation is also a tragedy. The Government have set aside £50 million in the coming year for the cost of reorganisation of the comparatively small number of authorities that it is planned should be changed in the coming financial year. They have set aside £50 million, but it is not a new £50 million. It is £50 million that was top sliced from the total standard spending level for local government in England before 86 the money was then allocated to continue services. So the other local authorities and their services are being reduced to pay for this reorganisation.
As I said, it is with some trepidation that I speak about what is right for those in other areas. It is quite clear that the services that are offered cannot be protected if the Government intend to impose decisions and then remove money intended for home helps, teachers and fire fighters instead of finding new money to carry out their policies. I thank your Lordships for listening.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I do not want to get too involved in the rights and wrongs of the Humberside order other than to say that the arguments must be very similar to those for Cleveland. However, unlike Cleveland, I think that Humberside was an unpopular county, particularly in the older rural East Riding, even if that unpopularity has been caused mainly by the prejudice aroused by not being in Yorkshire.
There are many concerns which will have to be addressed and I hope that the Minister will be able to say a word or two about them. There is the whole question of the management of the estuary, with regard to both its environmental and economic significance. Individual new authorities will not be able sensibly to replicate the county council's service with trading standards. Education in respect of special needs will become more difficult for individual authorities to manage economically on a smaller scale, with duplication of specialised control management. Highly specialised social service units such as the guardian ad litem service will have to be duplicated, as will the highways accident investigation team and the materials laboratory, the county archives and emergency planning services. If these are run by joint bodies there will be a reduction in control and accountability. But if run by districts there will be expensive duplication.
Some of the authorities will be new and others continuing authorities. Clearly, the former will take time to establish chief officers and will be far behind the continuing authority in planning for the future. It does seem odd that, when the Government are continually tightening the financial control on local authorities, they should make these changes that will involve the expenditure of millions of pounds. Goole has been in and out and does not know what is going to happen to itself from one day to the next.
The Local Government Commission estimates that the cost of implementation will be £500,000 and the county council estimates that it will be £33 million. Murphy's law suggests that it will be closer to the latter. I believe that the Government long ago decided to have unitary districts or unitary authorities, and the whole process, I suggest, has been a PR exercise to try to prepare for it. Undoubtedly the Government never realised what a hornets' nest they were stirring up and, if they had, they would probably have left the whole thing alone.
As regards York, the rural area—the old East Riding—has never been happy in Humberside and so now we see it being returned to Yorkshire. One would have thought that that would have been a lesson. But 87 here in the York order we see exactly the same mistake being made, with a rural area being taken from the county council and put into the city. That will cause just as much unhappiness and it will be only a few years before the situation will have to be reversed to where it is today, when half the people will be satisfied, half will be dissatisfied and everybody annoyed at being mucked about. The only thing people do not like is having their counties mucked about, with all the necessary uncertainty, the re-identification and the cost of renaming.
With the York order there is still much to be settled in the same way as with Humberside. I am not sure whether the police authority has yet been legally constituted. Staff pensions have to be provided for. There are outstanding problems such as the local legislation applying to trading standards, as in Hull, which will no longer be valid for the new areas coming out of the county council area.
My main reason for speaking tonight is to draw attention to the Yorkshire Museum. This was left to North Yorkshire to run in 1974, when no one was very interested in it either way. Since then it has been greatly enhanced until now it is a regional museum of great importance, employing some 26 full-time staff and having put on some fine exhibitions over the period. The vast majority of its visitors come from outside York: only 3 per cent. come from York, while 97 per cent. come from the rest of the United Kingdom and abroad. As regards exhibits, for example, of the coins displayed, only 2 per cent. were found in the City of York.
The museum supplies exhibitions to many other museums in the region. It is now so successful that York City would like to take it over, but not to continue as it is, but to transform it into a museum to tell the story of York. That would involve dispensing with much of the staff, terminating the exhibition programme, curtailing the inquiry service, and making other changes that would completely tear down all the success built up over the past 20 years.
I was born a Yorkshireman—though I have become a Clevelander and got used to it—but I still believe that this museum should be preserved with the North Yorkshire County Council. It has a good reputation for managing the museum and it should continue to do so. There is a proposal to run it under joint arrangements with the city, but that really could not work as there is a complete divergence of view as to both the funding arrangements and the direction that the museum should pursue. I hope that the Government will at least listen to those who want to keep the museum where it is.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Bancroft
My Lords, I address my remarks solely and briefly to the North Yorkshire and York order. It is a misguided and shabby little instrument. I support warmly the amendment to it moved so ably by my noble friend Lady Kinloss. But, frankly, I am astonished by her moderation. My remarks of course pay regard to the accustomed disarming presentation of 88 the Government's case by the noble Viscount. He has the enviable ability to put a parade ground gloss on badly scuffed old leather.
I mention in passing that we witnessed last Thursday yet another violent U-turn in the Government's policy towards the commission in particular and towards local government in general. These flippant interventions by the Secretary of State for the Environment are not the way to manage change —if it were needed, which it is not—in a great national institution like local government. The unhappy commission and the even more unhappy former chairman, the manner of whose going became him, set great store by the fact that their recommendations for change should reflect the wishes of local people. They had an embarrassingly loud and tragic hiccup over the first tranche of counties. After that they went to great lengths to try to discover what these wishes were. They spent money like unregulated water in so doing.
But in the event, when it came to York, both the commission and the Government ignored local wishes. They are trying to get together chalk and cheese. As my noble friend Lady Kinloss and a number of other noble Lords and noble Baronesses pointed out, there is remarkably little support in the City of York for its enlargement, and the neighbouring communities which are to be the source of this enlargement uncompromisingly reject it.
As we all know, consistency is a quality infrequently found in governments. But there is something spectacular in this Government's refusal to enlarge other cities and their insistence against all the evidence on enlarging York. Rupert Brooke, I fancy, would have found the inconsistency romantic like the unofficial English rose. Others—of course I am not one of them—claim to have detected the fingerprints of a Mr. G. Mander. So these deeply unpopular, incompetently prepared, costly and actively harmful proposals are being forced through regardless. Never mind the disruption to essential services such as children in need, education, elderly people and handicapped people or the disruption to the police, to staff pensions, to the future of the Yorkshire Museum, which has been mentioned more than once, and to strategic planning.
I pause for one moment as regards strategic planning. The commission and the Government show a touching faith in the ability of the new authority and its neighbours to collaborate in producing future, joint strategic plans. That faith may be unwarranted. Indeed, the Government themselves believed that that would be the case until, with Hamlet-like irresolution, they change their mind in a matter of days. What then? The Government say, "Never mind these important issues. We must press on at all costs with our vision".
What is that vision? It is that the only route forward anywhere at any time must be, not modest minor roads, but always the road to Damascus. On this occasion would it were the winding road to Goole.
§ Lord Gladwin of Clee
My Lords, I rise to intervene briefly in this debate to welcome the Humberside order, but I do so with mixed feelings. The abolition of Humberside also brings with it the abolition of the 89 councils of Cleethorpes and Grimsby. As I was born in Cleethorpes and lived and was educated in Grimsby, I see the departure of those councils with some regret. But when we are talking about consent, there is absolutely no doubt whatever that the people of Grimsby and Cleethorpes totally support the abolition of the county council. To be fair, I do not think that as far as people south of the Humber were concerned the county council had a hope of succeeding right from its creation. I agree with my noble friend Lady Farrington about the tremendous work that has been done by the county council, but I think that the new unitary authority will be able to continue that good work.
The problem is that the towns south of the Humber, particularly those near the mouth of the Humber, have had a long history of self-government. Grimsby was a county borough from 1891 until the reorganisation in 1974. For years, people in both Grimsby and Cleethorpes thought that the towns should be joined. Those two boroughs are now to be joined, and Immingham is to, be included. Having worked for years in Immingham, I am pleased about that. The evidence is that the people warmly support the creation of the new authority. I cannot speak for Glanford and Scunthorpe, although I claim to be able to speak for the people of Cleethorpes and Grimsby.
However, there are problems and although I think I know the answers to some of them, I should like to ask the Minister to comment. First, the area is currently governed by 100 councillors from Cleethorpes Council, Great Grimsby Borough Council and the county council. The unitary authority will take over all of the powers exercised by the county but will have only 42 councillors. That will create problems. Secondly, there is deep concern about the fact that elections will be held only every four years. Given that Hull has annual elections for one third of its members, there is real pressure south of the river for the unitary authorities also to have such annual elections.
My next point relates to planning. The authorities both north and south of the river have co-operated in terms of structural planning, land use and estuarial development. However, the towns that skirt the river now seem to be being told, "Turn your back on the river and face south towards Lincolnshire county", and those north of the river are being told to face north towards Yorkshire. That will create some planning problems in the estuarial area. I heard what the Minister said about co-operation and I am certain that there will be continued co-operation within the Humber Forum, but, like the town, I am a little concerned about looking towards the county in terms of planning matters. I wonder whether the Minister can say something about that.
My final point relates to regional government, to which my noble friend Lady Farrington referred. Although we are concerned about the undemocratic nature of regional government, given that we are where we are, the boroughs to which I have referred do not 90 wish to be transferred from Yorkshire and Humberside to, for example, the East Midlands, I hope that the Minister can confirm that that will not take place.
The Earl of Halifax
My Lords, I wish to add my voice to those of other noble Lords who support the Humberside order. In particular, I applaud the new authorities for the city of Kingston upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire, for no other part of Britain has greater cause to rue the folly of the 1974 local government reorganisation.
I can assure your Lordships that traditional loyalties to the East Riding are deep-seated and as strong as ever. The creation of a new East Riding unitary authority for the north bank will, I believe, establish a strong and effective single tier to work alongside the Kingston upon Hull authority, and will accommodate a strong community identity with Yorkshire and the East Riding. The proposed authority is perceived as a most welcome and sensible solution to a situation which has troubled us in Yorkshire for the past 21 years.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I am afraid that the debate is somewhat ragged due to having to take the two orders together. I desire to speak only to the North Yorkshire order and I strongly support the amendment that has been moved by my noble friend Lady Kinloss.
There is general agreement that the York authority should be a unitary authority. I venture strongly to support that. It brings government closer to the people who are affected by that government on the principles that were stated by the noble Baroness. As she said, it is in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.
So there is no question about the type of government: it is to be unitary. The only question is as to its boundaries. On that, there have been three main contentions. The first, not much urged, is that of the status quo, with the city remaining within its present boundaries. That has not been properly considered because the city council went for the second option, the expansion of the city up to the ring road. The third option is that which is now proposed by the Government under the name of the "Greater York area". That is nominally justified by the former strategic planning area of York. But even that is not consistently maintained because five parishes are taken away from that area. The Minister must in due course tell us the difference between those five parishes and the other rural parishes which surround York and which have been brought into the York area.
There is inevitably a certain amount of politics in these matters. It is impossible for any authority to proceed blindly and oblivious to the political repercussions of the decision. I suppose that the classic example of that is the old London County Council, which had a solid Labour majority that was distasteful to the Conservative Government of the time, so the idea of the Greater London Council was adopted, bringing into the government of London the surrounding suburbs and commuting areas. That was not a great success. The Minister will have to justify the difference between the Greater London Council and what may have impelled it, and the Greater York Council. What is the difference?
91 Those are the three matters that have been mainly considered, but there is a fourth which should be studied. I refer to adding to the existing York area two urban parishes which are in juxtaposition already. No one going from York City into those parishes would ever know that he was crossing a boundary. I think that I can appeal to noble Lords and my noble friends who have already spoken who know the area well.
I say that that should be considered, because we now have, as the order is before your Lordships' House, the opportunity to ask the Government to think again about it. We can very well do so because, after the order was approved in the other place, the Government decided to give fresh guidance to the Local Government Commission. They have altered the commission's personnel, including the removal of its chairman. They have decided to refer back to the new commission a great many matters that have already been discussed. What could be more appropriate than to do that in the case of York?
I mentioned the political implication. It is perfectly natural for the York City Council, which is a Labour-controlled council, to wish to expand to the York ring road. It would thereby not merely add to its rateable value, which, as I am sure the noble Baroness will bear me out, is difficult for any local authority to resist, but it would add also to its party political strength. I do not believe that any authority can be blamed for having some eye to the political repercussions. It is only because the proposal under the order is so extraordinary, so deplorable, that there are now dark mutterings about gerrymandering. One need not go so far, one can merely draw attention, as I have ventured to do, to what happened to the LCC and the GLC. No government or local authority has been blind to political advantage.
When I started in politics, Herbert Morrison was a master at the game. There was a far more recent example when a Labour Government, finding the parliamentary boundary commissions' recommendations contrary to their interests, merely laid the order before the House without, as was their constitutional duty, recommending that they should be accepted. So no government, no local authority, is blind to the political repercussions. I am therefore glad that the amendment has been moved from the Cross-Benches by my noble friend Lady Kinloss and supported by my noble friend Lord Bancroft.
The Minister rightly rehearsed the two main considerations which lie behind any local government reorganisation. The first is efficiency of service, and the second is acceptability to the local community. The Minister is to be congratulated on keeping a straight face as he enunciated that second consideration in the context of the order; but, even looking at the efficiency, it is said that York needs a bigger population. What is done? It is to be increased from roughly 100,000 to 170,000—an increase of 7 per cent. But what about the area? That is increased 10-fold. What is the greater cost of delivering services in that greater area? I hope that the Minister will deal with that point too, because there are some figures which I have seen.
92 The most expensive, as well as the worst, of the three provisions which I mentioned is the so-called greater York provision. The least is the status quo. So much, then, for the efficiency of service. Why is it said that a city of 100,000 is too small to deliver efficient services? What about Rutland? That has only one-third of the population. What about Darlington, which was the subject of a decision at the end of last week only? If Darlington can do it, why cannot York do it? So much, then, for the efficiency of the service.
Even if that were a valid consideration, the scheme would fall down because it offends, and offends grossly, the second consideration: that the local authority organisation should be acceptable to the people who are affected.
My noble friend read the figures—they are astonishing—of the representations to the department: 1,066 individual members were against it, with only 30 for it; of the local authorities, seven were against it and none was for it. That included the county council itself. Of the parish councils, there are 26 parish councils and none was in favour. All 26 were against the proposal. Then there are the others to which my noble friend referred: 15 against and the odd other one in favour. I hope that the Minister will tell us from where the odd one came. So what one has is an order that does not justify itself on the score of better delivery of services, and fails utterly when one comes to consider its acceptability and whether the communities that are now to be joined are compatible.
Dr. Johnson said that marriages would be equally happy if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor. I am bound to say on the fate of this order, and perhaps being prejudiced, I would prefer a marriage to be arranged by the Lord Chancellor rather than by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The extraordinary thing is that among those who are sought to be married, every party is against it. The city council does not want the plethora of wives and concubines who are being pressed upon it by the eunuchs of Whitehall—because what we have come to is a claim that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, and that is simply deplorable from a government who call themselves Conservative. Did the gentlemen of Whitehall know best in 1973–74? Did they know best about Humberside and about Avon? Why should we now believe that they know best about York? I hope that my noble friend will press her amendment. I hope that it will encourage the Minister to reconsider the matter.
Finally, the matter lies in the hands of the noble Viscount. He is in charge of the order, not his department. We had a notable example of that in the Criminal Justice Bill of last Session. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, a Minister of State like the noble Viscount, was faced with an amendment that sought to make touting outside games stadiums illegal, as it was outside football stadiums. His brief ended "reject". However, he yielded to the arguments. He knew that he would be defeated on a vote and he threw away his brief and accepted the amendment. I hope that the noble Viscount will follow his example.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, I wish to be brief. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, 93 Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for putting before the House the technical reasons that will enable the Minister to withdraw the order. I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss.
I wish to make only two brief statements. First, the degree of unanimity as between the various levels of local government in their opposition to the boundaries of the proposed new unitary York is in my experience as a county councillor during the past few years quite unique. I believe that that, in addition to the results of the MORI polls carried out by the commission and the polls carried out by local organisations, should be taken into account and heeded.
Secondly, the proposal that York should extend to the ring road appears to offer the most economical solution net, as it were, to the change and to the establishment of a York city. I too support the amendment and ask the Minister to reconsider the boundaries of the new York authority.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I too am a Lancastrian by birth. The rivalry between the Red and White Roses, which I experienced during my childhood, in particular at Old Trafford, does not affect my judgment of the orders before us tonight.
My assessment is that Humberside is yet another authority which has not won the hearts and minds of its population. Again, as with the authorities that we waved on their way earlier this year, I pay tribute to the councillors and the staff. It must be remarkably difficult to work in an authority where one knows that the end is coming and where the county has not drawn together the communities in the way that was intended 20 years ago. I agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, about unelected government and the inherent problems for the new authorities in the Humberside area and for all the other authorities. I am grateful in particular to the right reverend Prelate for describing so vividly the feelings of the local community being tossed about at the whim of Whitehall. That is no way to go forward.
North Yorkshire is a different and significant case. It is clear that the proposed arrangements do not command support; indeed, they command articulate and loud opposition. Those inside the old boundary and those inside the new dislike the proposal. So do those in the rest of North Yorkshire. I too ask myself why the expansion is required. I drew the comparison with an authority in respect of which this House and another place has taken a decision; that is, Hartlepool. The current York has a population of some 101,000, but Hartlepool only 91,000. I agree with other noble Lords that size is by no means everything.
I was concerned to hear some of the reasons given for the decision that certain subjects would be better dealt with by an expanded York. The examples given included transport, planning and economic development. I believe that such strategic subjects need a wider area than the expanded York on its longest boundaries. I also believe that the suggestion that Whitehall knows best about the way in which local communities define themselves is extraordinarily patronising.
94 Some have accused the Government of gerrymandering. It is notable that tonight those accusations have come not from the party politicians in the Chamber but from the Cross-Benchers. My charge is, if anything, even more serious. By imposing a political boundary, I believe that the Government are alienating people from the political process and that strikes at the heart of democracy. I warmly support the amendment tabled by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss. If she divides the House I shall follow her into the Lobby.
At the same time as the expansion of York, Ryedale is to be halved. We have heard comments about that but I cannot help believing that the continuation of the provision of services by that authority will be a challenge.
Mention has been made of the museum. It is difficult to explain why, when matters as important as education and social services are being transferred to the new authority, the museum is not being transferred. Having heard the comments from those who know the museum personally and having heard that it is a centre of research, local history and archaeology and that it is run as a local museum and resource and not as a tourist attraction, I understand their anxieties about its future. The county council invested substantially in the museum, but before 1974 the investment by York was in the building and not very much in the exhibits. I understand the anxieties about downgrading the museum to focus on York alone. I believe that York's own submission indicated that it would concentrate on the city and would be likely to stop or curtail the innovative work of the museum.
I turn from the sublime of the museum to the gorblimey of car boot sales. That matter too is important and I raise it because I wish to ask the Minister about a particular piece of local legislation. Part III of the North Yorkshire County Council Act 1991 contains powers and duties relating to the control of occasional sales and dealers in second-hand goods. I understand that those powers are enforced strictly and have proved a considerable success, in particular in the York area.
In its passage through Parliament as recently as 1991, the Act was supported by the police and the trading standards department. However—and this is the problem—Article 5(1) of the order provides that the new district of York:shall cease to form part of North Yorkshire".
As a result of that, the North Yorkshire County Council Act is disapplied to York. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us how the 1991 Act's provisions can be re-extended into York and, indeed, why the department, which obviously considered a number of detailed matters, has not inserted a special provision to deal with that into the order before us this evening. Your Lordships will be familiar with the difficulties in relation to unregulated, second-hand sales—in particular car boot sales—and the need for public protection. I make no apology for raising that issue in the same breath as mentioning the difficulties in relation to the museum.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, raised a number of technical matters in connection with Avon. Perhaps I may follow up some of those issues this 95 evening in the context of the two orders before us. A week ago we talked about Article 21 of the Avon order, and the relevant articles are Article 18 of the North Yorkshire order and Article 19 of the Humberside order. I do not seek to impugn the reassurances given by the Minister last week on the Government's view that the article does not prevent the transferor authority from undertaking the vital planning and consultation work required during the shadow—the preliminary—period. But the general regulations cast some doubt on that. That is why I raise the issue. Will the Minister clarify what prevents Article 12(2) of the general orders from being an absolute prohibition on the county council carrying out the activities covered? It states that:The transferor authority shall not, notwithstanding any enactment, undertake as a local authority any activity mentioned in or pursuant to, regulation 11(2) (c)".
That refers to the preparation of budgets or plans required by the newly established authority when those functions are assumed.
That sounds very dry, but the possible difficulties in relation to the divisions of responsibility may have major implications for the local community. For example, a community care plan must be submitted early next year. Not for some time will the new authority have a committee or officer structure capable of dealing with the process for the York area. I need not spell out the potential rivalries or the scope for matters falling between stools as a result.
Secondly, as regards Article 17, the debate on the Avon order dealt with the differences in the powers available before and after shadow elections. The Avon order allowed all existing authorities to take certain steps—the steps which they considered necessary. It has been mentioned already that Article 18 of the Humberside order grants that power only to the transferee authorities and not to the transferor authorities. In North Yorkshire, the power is granted only to the transferee authority—that is, the enlarged York—and therefore, by definition, it is granted only after the shadow elections. Will the Minister explain the implications of the different wording between the order this evening and the Avon order and the implications of the timings in relation to the making of the order and the elections for the powers of existing authorities in each of the three areas?
My final technical point is in relation to finance; namely, the proposed timescale within which continuing authorities with a changed area and unchanged functions may apply for supplementary credit approvals. That is more restrictive than the relevant timescale for new authorities or for continuing authorities with new functions. Unchanged function authorities may apply for SCAs for expenditure incurred from the date of the order up to the reorganisation date or, exceptionally, to the date at the end of the financial year which begins on the reorganisation date. But, in contrast, new function authorities have until the end of the financial year ending three years after the reorganisation date. That builds in a double incentive for the unchanged function authority to tackle the down-sizing which is required before the reorganisation date itself and out of 96 synchronisation with the new function unitary authority. The incentive to make redundancies before reorganisation is a matter of anxiety and is certainly not in line with the principles set out in the national agreement.
The second financial point is that the eligible costs for a continuing county with unchanged functions were regarded as very tightly drawn. The eligibility criteria for those authorities limit the expenditure to staff costs. I take this opportunity to draw to the Minister's attention other costs which seem not to have been recognised up until now. The examples of which I am aware are accommodation and technology. Quite simply, items will be in the wrong place and there are no guarantees that the county will be compensated adequately for the effect of the loss on its ability to provide the same services for its continuing population. The Government have yet to acknowledge—I hope that they will do so soon—that in principle it will be possible for the loss of an asset to a unitary authority to create new costs for the remaining county.
I apologise to your Lordships for going into detail on those technical matters but they become increasingly of concern as the debate goes on. I apologise also to the Minister for not giving him notice of those questions. I should be grateful if he would answer them this evening, but I understand that there may be some questions that he cannot answer. If he will answer those questions in writing, I shall seek the leave of the House to mention the points briefly at some time so that they can be put on the record in Hansard.
Lastly, reference has been made to last week's quite staggering announcement, and there is one question on that which I should like to ask which will be of considerable interest to your Lordships. It is in relation to new guidance. Will the Minister tell us this evening how the Government intend to consult on the new guidance which will be of immense importance to the new authorities whose future is still undecided?
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I wish to speak to both orders and to the amendment in the name of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss. In Humberside, we are seeing the replacement of Humberside County Council and 69 district councils by four unitary authorities. That has received widespread support. As my noble friend Lady Farrington said, it is important, indeed vital, that people's wishes in that respect are considered. A MORI poll showed that 65 per cent. of the population there is in favour of unitary authorities and only 23 per cent. is against. While there is strong attachment to towns and cities in Humberside, only 9 per cent. of the population identified itself with Humberside, excellent though the delivery of its services clearly is.
Further, this reorganisation in Humberside scores on the potential effectiveness of service delivery. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, notwithstanding, the Local Government Commission made the point that to the two major challenges facing local government in the next decade—care in the community on the one hand and the prevention of crime and social alienation on the other—unitary authorities combining social services, housing, education, youth and community services can offer a 97 more effective response. The size range of authorities, from 152,000 in north Lincolnshire to nearly 270,000 in Hull, is comfortably within the LGC guidelines and is larger than many metropolitan and London districts.
This reorganisation scores, too, on efficiency and cost savings. It is—as was Cleveland and Avon—respecting the national agreements on 100 per cent. staff transfers and the no detriment clauses, although the Government are still failing to produce the more generous voluntary redundancy agreements experienced in the 1986 review. Of the nine MPs for the area, only two do not support it, and one of those supported unitary status for the City of Hull.
Within this reorganisation, which, as I say, has been widely welcomed and meets all the criteria laid down by the Local Government Commission, there are at least two points that I hope the Minister may care to address. The first, which was absolutely rightly raised by my noble friend Lord Gladwin, is the number of councillors. In these authorities the total number of councillors will be reduced and the rural areas especially will suffer something of a democratic deficit in consequence.
It is worth reminding ourselves that already in Britain we have fewer councillors per thousand population than anywhere that I am aware of in Europe, where the average is one councillor to perhaps 250 or 500 people, At the moment in England it is something like one to 1,250 people. Under these proposals and the guidelines of the Local Government Commission, it is nearer one councillor to 4,000 people. North Lincolnshire, for example, will see the total number of councillors fall from 100 down to 42. That is really rather unwise. Local government is not—Baines notwithstanding—a specimen of corporate management. Its very real strength lies in its local representative quality and its committee rather than cabinet system of governance so that all services are collectively run co-operatively across all parties. To do so, and to make possible a committee structure with this range of responsibilities, needs an adequate number of councillors if one is not to force them to become full time, which I personally would not wish to see.
The Local Government Commission states naively,The commission consider that by reducing the number of councillors, it will force the introduction of an improved support network for councillors, enabling effective representation across the review area".That, frankly, is the Local Government Commission at its silliest, hoping that by making the situation worse one will thereby force a remedy. As far as I am aware the Militant Tendency has given that up as a viable option.
The other point that I hope the Minister will pursue is the City of Hull boundary. The city wanted to extend into Beverley and Holderness the built up areas which use its services. I recognise that the Local Government Commission found that three-quarters of those in Beverley, and even more in Holderness, were reluctant to enter the Hull boundaries. The Government accepted the Local Government Commission's view. I think we all appreciate that this is a difficult matter but this is one issue of boundary that I am confident will have to be addressed by the Boundary Commission fairly soon.
98 I now wish to turn to North Yorkshire. Here, the City of York is to become a unitary authority and the rest of North Yorkshire is to remain two-tier. The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, raises two issues in her amendment—the Yorkshire Museum and the boundary of York. As regards the Yorkshire Museum, I accept that museum professionals across the country are worried that county museum services may be fragmented. Yet it is worth reminding ourselves that the City Council of York already runs the York Castle Museum, its city art gallery and its city archive service, which is somewhat unusual. Until 1974 it ran the Yorkshire Museum as well. I think all of us accept that it is hard to believe it could not run the Yorkshire Museum; the question is how wide and comprehensive the service will be. I think we recognise that the trustee deeds insist that the museum must be returned to the City of York from which it originated, and of course the City of York could offer lead services to North Yorkshire if it desired. I hope that the call of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, that there should at the very least be county representation among the trustees is observed. That seems to me entirely reasonable. I believe that should go hand in hand with a continuing financial contribution.
I also support the concern of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, as regards the City of York's boundaries, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, also spoke with his customary and elegant moderation. The current population of York is drawn on tight boundaries100,000—and there has not been a general review since the 1950s. The city itself, as many of your Lordships have said, proposed to take its boundaries out to the immediate built-up area; that is, to the outer ring road, which would have raised the city's population to 125,000. The Local Government Commission recommended—and the Government accepted—that it should go out far beyond that to what it calls the greater York area, increase its population to some 167,000, and multiply its size by some 900 per cent., into neighbouring Ryedale, Selby and Harrogate. Why should that be? Both the Local Government Commission and the Government have been accused of political gerrymandering. What is the case is that the Local Government Commission's recommendations which the Government have followed are unduly influenced by issues of size.
The Local Government Commission states,with such an enlarged boundary, the new authority will be better able to deliver services efficiently and effectively".It assumes that 125,000 is not enough and therefore pushes the population up to 167,000. It does so because it assumes that the City of York needs both a stronger revenue base and, frankly, more people. The Local Government Commission and the Government are wrong on both counts. As regards the stronger revenue base, that would not be an issue if Government did two things that we on these Benches have been calling for for many years. On the one hand standard spending assessments should reflect the additional responsibilities of regional capital cities such as York, their stock of historic buildings and their pressures for planning, car parking, street cleaning and cultural services. If SSAs 99 were properly formulated, York would begin to have an appropriate financial base on which to meet those demands.
The other way in which the demands and needs of York for appropriate finances should be met—again something that we have called for from these Benches on every possible occasion—is through the return to local authorities of the business rate; in other words, the denationalisation of business rates and their return to the local authorities from which they emanate. I am confident that the York business community is paying far more to central government than the city receives back from the national business rate on the basis of the population formula. In comparable cities, the business community contributes at least twice as much to the national Exchequer as the city receives back in business rates.
Those two measures—the reorganisation of standard spending assessments and a return of the business rate to local government—are the right ways to strengthen the revenue base, not a simple extension of boundaries. In any case, the Government's concept of enabling authorities, which was much in play when the Bill went through your Lordships' House, should allow them to avoid the numbers game.
The Local Government Commission is also wrong in its assumption that the city needs more people. That is again mistaken. The Local Government Commission shares, although to a reduced degree, the fallacious view exemplified in Derek Senior's call, as a dissenting member of the Redcliffe Maud Commission of 1969, for city regions. Derek Senior was wrong then and the Local Government Commission is wrong now.
By extending the boundaries as proposed, the new York will include the old city with population densities of more than 350 people per 10 hectares as well as rural parishes with population sparsity—in Holtby and Stockton on the Forest —of less than 10 people per 10 hectares, where they are greatly outnumbered by their sheep.
In such a boundary reorganisation, the concept of the city loses its identity. Its edges blur into rural communities. It loses its distinctive character. Far from achieving economies of scale, the distances almost certainly mean diseconomies of scale as a result of which the City of York will have to spend more to provide the same level of service to the scattered populations of villages miles from the city hall.
It is a fallacy. Those villages are not thinned out towns and should not be included. The city and the country are different. One manages the problems of density and the other the problems of sparsity. They should not be homogenised to suit the fleeting managerial whims of the Local Government Commission.
The Local Government Commission seems to think that there is general support for expansion and relatively little hostility to the new unitary authority extending to the greater planning area. That is clear from page 17. How wrong it is. Poll after poll, and noble Lord after noble Lord this evening, have shown that three-quarters of the people of York want the ring road boundaries and 100 a similar number, both within the ring road and between the ring road and Greater York, oppose the extension of the boundaries beyond the ring road. Only a quarter of those polled in the whole of the Greater York area support the new boundaries proposed by the commission.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, forcefully and correctly quoted the representations made to the Local Government Commission. There were 30 people and one voluntary organisation in favour: 1,066 people, seven local authorities, 26 parishes and 11 voluntary organisations were opposed, as well as the local MP for York and MPs for adjacent Ryedale and Selby.
This is a grave mistake. The proposed boundaries are deeply opposed by residents both within and outside the ring road. A ring road York is entirely competent to carry out the full range of services. Extending its boundaries will add more to costs than the city will gain in revenue. Above all, it blurs the distinctiveness of the natural and historic community of the City of York, which was what the local government review was designed to achieve.
I conclude on a different point. These are the last of the three orders on the counties created in 1974. We are now moving into the strategic framework outlined in the Statement in the other place, with its proposals for giving unitary status to former county boroughs and historic cities, which was welcomed by my right honourable friend Mr. Dobson. In the 1970s and 1980s these Benches called for such a proposal, and called it organic change. It could, and I hope will, provide the basis for a coherent and stable system of local government across England until, if and when we reconsider the wider constitutional settlement involving regional structures in the years to come.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, first I should like to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, in paying tribute to the work done by the members and officers of Humberside County Council. I agree with the noble Baronesses that, as the Minister of State and Under-Secretary of State have said in another place, reorganisation is not about passing judgment upon existing councils. It is concerned with the best structures for future local government in the areas concerned. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was quite right again in attributing the remarks that she made about Avon to Humberside: the situation has not really gelled in people's minds or appealed to their instincts.
I am grateful to your Lordships for the constructive and helpful contributions to tonight's debate and for the general welcome that noble Lords have given to our proposals for Humberside—I think that they were generally welcomed—and the rather more muted welcome for the proposals for York. Your Lordships have raised a number of points. I shall attempt to reply to as many as possible in the time available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, began by criticising the proposals because they do not implement the wishes of local people and take government further 101 away from the people. However, what I started to say in my opening remarks was that it was the commission's recommendations that we implement.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, will the noble Viscount allow me to intervene? Can he possibly shelter behind the commission after what happened at the end of last week?
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I am not sheltering behind the commission. I am saying in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who said that we were not implementing the people's wishes, that it is up to the Local Government Commission to consult upon local people's wishes. It is the commission's recommendations that we are implementing. It went to great lengths to establish what local opinion was. I believe that the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, about gerrymandering was unworthy of him and, incidentally, does not reflect well on the commission or its former chairman, of whom he spoke, who certainly would not appreciate the suggestion—and in fact has gone into print on it—that he had been doing the dirty work of the Government or, for that matter, the Opposition.
§ Lord Bancroft
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene for a moment. I was careful to say that "gossip had it", or words to that effect, that the fingerprints of a Mr. G. Mander were on this; and, I said, of course I did not share that view.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the noble Lord is renowned for his cynical approach on these matters but he was taken up by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, since the noble Viscount mentioned me, perhaps I may say that I did not make any accusation of gerrymandering. However, I said that that is what is being said now in the neighbourhood; and it is.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I shall accept that that is what the noble and learned Lord says. I shall certainly look carefully at Hansard to make certain that those were the remarks that he made.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, perhaps the Minister will give way. Does he not agree that it is possible for Government to accept those recommendations of the commission which suit them politically and not to accept those which fail to suit them politically, and that therefore an accusation might be levelled by someone of a suspicious mind that the Government were considering the matter in a gerrymandering way, quite outside anything that the commission had intended?
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the noble Baroness has her own views on this.
Perhaps I may address straight away the opposition to the greater York boundaries which was conveyed in the remarks of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and indeed is referred to in the amendment that she put down. I acknowledged in my opening speech the weight of representations on the point. Indeed, I recognise that the 102 figures put forward by the noble Baroness are taken from answers produced in another place. Therefore I shall not quibble at the figures that she produced. However, the commission concluded, and we agree, that on balance that is outweighed by the advantages of extension. Some of those advantages were given to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, indeed they were. The noble Baroness indicated that to increase the size would increase the opportunity of providing services for the people of York.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I am sorry, but I actually said exactly the opposite. I look for support from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I said that the city of York was calling for an extension to the outer ring road, which had the general consent of the people of York, but to go beyond that into rural areas, from a population density of 350 people per 10 hectares down to 10 people per 10 hectares, would produce additional costs to provide the same level of service for smaller communities. Therefore the city of York would be financially the loser by that. In that context, I called on the Government to address the problem of finance through reform of the standard spending assessments. I am sure that the Minister will recall that that is what I said.
§ Viscount Ullswater
Indeed, my Lords. If the noble Baroness had waited, I would have mentioned the suggestion to increase the size of the city of York up to the ring road. Then there would be a further extension which was proposed by the Local Government Commission and accepted by the Government. I understand the fear that the extension may lead to domination by the city of the surrounding area, but I believe that it is unduly pessimistic. The boundary change will bring about an increase in the population of the area of over 50 per cent., as I indicated, and it will be reflected in the composition of the new council. I feel sure that representation from the surrounding area will be capable of ensuring that the new council takes due account of its interests.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, mentioned the proposal to extend York to the ring road. We considered it, as did the commission. The ring road, however, is not a natural boundary; in one place it cuts into the urban area and it also splits a number of parishes. We did not want to divide them. The commission did not recommend that and noble Lords have been unkind about relying on Whitehall advice, but that is exactly what we would have been doing if we had made the change to go to the ring road.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, perhaps the Minister will allow me to intervene. Is he saying that the new revised outer boundaries of the greater York do not similarly cut through wards?
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I am saying that they do not cut through parishes and we did not wish to divide parishes. Following representations made to us by local people and by Members of Parliament, we 103 agreed to exclude five small parishes on the outer edges of the greater planning area. We were persuaded that the characteristics of the parishes were such that their exclusion was justified. Cases were made for other parishes to be excluded, but in our view they were not as strong. We also took the view that if further parishes were removed, with each additional parish that was removed the case for allowing the city to adopt a strategic approach to planning and service provision would be weakened.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, asked me what the difference was between the five parishes taken out and those remaining within the new boundaries. The parishes are rural by nature and on the basis of specific representations which were made on their behalf, they were excluded from the boundaries. I do not deny that there must be a nice judgment on the point, and on balance we thought that it was justified by the representations made to us; otherwise we would accept what was proposed by the Local Government Commission.
The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, asked me whether the city of York would retain its city status. We have absolutely no intention of abolishing the city of York. Because its boundaries are to be extended and it is to be established as a new authority, its charter falls. Before the new authority is established, we intend to make specific provision for the continuation of the city's status and privileges either by laying an order extending the city's existing charter or by providing for York City Council to apply to the Home Office for its charter to be transferred to the new authority.
Various noble Lords complained about the transfer of the Yorkshire Museum to the new unitary city of York council. I share the anxiety that that important museum should continue to play a role as an independent trust beyond the boundaries of the city of York. While I can see a case for North Yorkshire continuing to have a part to play in the museum's running, as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis—who recommended that a number of the trustees should remain with it—I believe it would be inappropriate to put that into effect by statutory means. It is for the two local authorities to co-operate. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Jones, has written to both authorities outlining our expectation that robust arrangements for safeguarding the museum's role serving both North Yorkshire and York city should be put in place
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I apologise for keeping on interrupting the noble Viscount. He is always so courteous in giving way. I ask him at least to reconsider the matter of the Yorkshire Museum. Very close to the Yorkshire Museum is the National Railway Museum, which gets on perfectly well by being administered not in York, and not even in the county, but nationally.
While I am on my feet, perhaps I may also mention the nearest large museum, Bowes Museum, which, if my recollection is right, falls under the aegis of more than one local authority. That may include Lancashire, 104 I do not know. The noble Baroness does not nod, so I am probably wrong. It certainly covers more than Durham.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to intervene. The Railway Museum is part and parcel of the Science Museum in Exhibition Road. It has nothing to do with local government.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the noble Earl has rather answered the question posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.
Certainly, not only from this House, but from the other place, we have heard the discussions about the Yorkshire Museum. As noble Lords will know, it houses important collections of archaeology and other material. I would expect the two local authorities to co-operate, as I said. We should seek to make certain that that happens.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield raised the outstanding boundary issue; namely, the future location of the parishes that form Goole and the rural Goole. The commission had recommended that Goole and its hinterland should, with the districts of Craven, Harrogate and Selby, form a unitary authority to be called the West Riding Dales and Vale of Yorkshire. We rejected that recommendation because we believed that in particular it failed to take account of community identity. As a modification to it, our preferred option was to combine Goole with Selby as new districts in North Yorkshire. But in the light of the representations that we received, and to enable the full range of options for the future of Goole to be considered, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will next week direct the commission to undertake a boundary review between the districts of Boothferry, Selby, Glanford and Doncaster in relation to the parishes that form Goole and rural Goole. The commission will be asked, taking into account the structural arrangements that these orders will produce if they are approved, to recommend whether these parishes should remain with Boothferry; transfer to one of the other authorities; be divided between them; or be established as a district council in its own right in a two-tier North Yorkshire. The commission would be asked to give priority to this review and to submit its recommendations to us as swiftly as possible.
I hope that that will in some way relieve the right reverend Prelate's mind in that the position is to be reconsidered. He indicated to the House, quite rightly, that where Goole falls is not indeed clear in any consideration, and therefore it is rather a difficult matter to deal with in local government terms—
§ Viscount Ullswater
My noble friend Lord Holderness, in welcoming the Humberside order, as other noble Lords did, talked about the wisdom of the order and indicated that he had lived for 50 years in the East Riding and perhaps regretted the past 25 years during which he had been forced to live in Humberside 105 and was looking forward to becoming a Yorkshireman yet again. My noble friend Lord Halifax equally welcomed the Humberside order.
My noble friend Lord Holderness also reckoned that there were savings to be made from the new arrangements. The Government share the district's view that there is substantial scope for improved efficiency and savings; but it is up to the new unitaries to ensure that the potential for savings is realised. The number of local authorities in Humberside will be reduced from 11 to four. I expect that to create scope for savings which will more than offset the transitional costs and provide lasting benefits for local people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, began her remarks with what I thought were rather uncharacteristic sentiments. She said that the local government review in general, not necessarily just for these two counties, was begun in a spirit of malice—those, I believe, were the words that she used—and when dealing with Avon, Cleveland and Humberside, they were "doomed from the outset". Again, I believe that those were her words.
There was no .prior consultation at the start of the review on the right structure in principle. I do not feel that it would be right for me to rise to the noble Baroness's bait on the "spirit of malice". The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I agreed that some of the 1974 creations, particularly Avon and Humberside and perhaps Cleveland, have commanded less public affection and support than their long-established neighbours. As to prior consultation on the principle, is it not perhaps an advantage of the review that it did not begin with a predetermined approach but allowed different solutions to emerge in different areas with different circumstances?
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that on every occasion when successive Secretaries of State have referred to Cleveland, Avon and Humberside, the content of their speeches has always been "the sooner those new counties go the better"? Does he also agree that the review started earlier? In the case of Humberside it began in 1985 when the boundary commission was asked to look at the matter. In his own words when speaking of Avon, did not the noble Viscount refer to the fact that there was a difference between people's sense of place and their sense of the best structure for delivering services, and whether or not they were necessarily the same?
§ Lord Bancroft
My Lords, perhaps I may beg the indulgence of the House, just to recall that it is a matter of public record that the former chairman of the Local Government Commission for England, Sir John Banham, in 1993 wrote to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, saying in effect that "We want early wins in Cleveland, Avon and Humberside".
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, perhaps that just reflects what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested; namely, that they had not made the friends from 1974 onwards. I do not believe that there has been any problem when talking about those three counties. 106 They do not seem to have commanded the same respect, apart obviously from some people who would want them. By and large, the new orders have been welcomed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, asked about the redundancy scheme being inadequate and much less generous than the 1986 provisions. The present scheme balances fairness to the individual with affordability to the taxpayer. It would be irresponsible to adopt a scheme in 1994 simply because it matched what was done eight years ago. Whatever the justification for previous schemes, they should not determine what is to be available now. The circumstances in local government are now different from those in previous reorganisations and it is important to avoid placing extra demands on public resources.
The noble Baroness indicated that the transitional cost figure of £50 million for 1995–96 was not additional. It is additional. Without reorganisation, the settlement total would have been lower. It is not true to say that the £50 million has been top-sliced.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, queried whether the start dates for the assumption of power should be the same for all authorities. The Government wish the playing field to be as level as possible. That was taken into account when drafting the order. All authorities, including the districts which are to be combined to form new authorities, will have equal powers and duties to co-operate and prepare for reorganisation both before and after elections. We took the view that none of the authorities involved would forego the opportunities provided by the order. Certainly it would be wrong to take steps to hold back authorities artificially by saying that none can start preparing for reorganisation until after the May elections.
My noble friend Lord Gisborough and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, were worried about the management of the Humber estuary and training in Humberside. The Humberside Training and Enterprise Council covers the whole of the existing area of the County of Humberside. The TEC is active in Humberside Forum Limited, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, and has been a partner in a number of bids for support under the single regeneration budget. We understand that, following reorganisation, the TEC will retain its existing boundaries and continue to work with businesses and communities on both sides of the Humber River. The Humber Forum is at present composed of all nine district councils in the existing County of Humberside, plus the Humber Chamber of Trade, the Humberside TEC, the University of Hull and the National Rivers Authority, which are associate members. That body tackles issues across the region and with others is preparing a strategy for the estuary region. The Government acknowledge the contribution made by these different organisations involved in the area and hope that their work will continue. The Government wish to see continued co-operation on economic and planning issues between local authorities across the Humber.
I take note of the comments that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, about the number of councillors in the new 107 Humber authorities. This was the subject of recommendations by the Local Govemment Commission which we accepted. The noble Lord also asked whether the new unitary authorities could apply for election by thirds. If they wish to apply to the Secretary of State to change to such a system they may do so following the passing of a resolution by the whole council passed by not less than two-thirds of the members. But I believe that it is right for it to settle down before that application is made and the reorganisation takes place.
The noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Gisborough asked whether there would be separate structure plans for the areas north and south of the Humber, and whether the nature conservation interests in the estuary, which were currently covered by the Humberside county structure plan, would be undermined. Ministers have stated their desire to see continued co-operation on planning issues across the Humber. The present Humberside Structure Plan contains policies for the protection of wildlife of significance. On reorganisation, these policies will continue until they are replaced by provisions prepared by the new authorities. In preparing structure plan proposals, the new authorities will be required to have regard not only to regional planning guidance, which covers the whole of the estuary, but also to consult neighbouring authorities. These measures will help to ensure that proper consideration is given to cross-estuarial planning issues. The Humber estuary management strategy currently in preparation will also assist the wider development plan and process on both banks of the Humber.
The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, was worried about disruption to essential services. I indicated in my opening remarks that all staff providing the essential front line services such as the teachers and the care workers will transfer automatically on reorganisation day by statutory transfer order. The noble Lord also asked what would happen if the voluntary basis of structure planning did not work. Some safeguard is needed. In the unlikely event that it should become necessary, the Secretary of State has reserve powers under Section 21 of the Local Government Act 1992 to establish a statutory joint authority to prepare such a plan for combined local authority areas if voluntary arrangements fail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked a number of questions to which I hope I shall be able to give at least some answers. However, if I cannot, or if I have answered them inadequately, I shall write to her. She asked in particular about the application of local legislation—the North Yorkshire County Council Act 1991—to the city of York after reorganisation. This matter will be addressed before the reorganisation date—before Article 5 comes into effect—and suitable provision will be made if that is considered necessary.
The noble Baroness also asked about the activities preliminary to the exercise of function. The order simply removes from authorities which are to be abolished any duties which require them to prepare budgets or plans for the years after they are abolished and passes those duties to the successor authorities. Not to make the 108 successor authorities responsible for deciding the way in which they are to deliver services would be indefensible. However, the order does not prevent authorities which are to be abolished from working in these areas. Indeed, the duty to co-operate promotes that. It is not feasible, nor is it necessary, to provide in orders in detail for every single service. The Government have a better opinion of local authorities and their staff to make sensible practical arrangements. It is likely that individual departments will be providing guidance to help with the transition. Further assistance is also being provided by the Local Government Management Board, the Audit Commission and the local authority associations.
The noble Baroness asked me about the eligibility criteria for authorities with unchanged functions which were too tight in two respects. With regard to the period over which authorities may bid for supplementary credit approvals, I can confirm that we are prepared to consider extending the period for an additional year to take in the year after the reorganisation date. She also commented about the range of expenditure that was eligible. Arrangements provide for authorities to submit a case where there are other expenditures that fall outside the main eligibility criteria. We shall consider any such bids very carefully. If they are genuinely a consequence of reorganisation they will be sympathetically considered.
The noble Baroness also asked whether and when we would consult on the new approach, as outlined by my right honourable friend last week. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will issue new guidance drawing attention to district specific issues. He proposes to consult local government and the Opposition about this in April or May.
We have had a good debate. I hope that we have entered into the spirit of the debate. I believe that our proposals for North Yorkshire and Humberside will produce more responsive and accountable local government in these areas. They will restore the independence of two justifiably proud cities and restore to Lincolnshire and Yorkshire parts of those counties which many, including many noble Lords who have spoken today, would argue should never have been removed. We believe that the proposals will secure for each area a structure of local government which is not only more accountable and reflects the identity of local people but will also provide efficient and cost-effective services to the communities.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, before the Minister sits down perhaps I may say that I am grateful to him for answering my question about consultation on the new guidance. Will he consider whether consulting during April—the period when local authorities will be consumed with other activities—is necessarily the most appropriate time?
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.