§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th January be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this order implements changes from 1st April next year in the structure of local government in Leicestershire. These changes were recommended by the Local Government Commission.
§ The order creates two unitary authorities— one for Leicester and one for Rutland— with the remainder of Leicestershire remaining as a two-tier authority.
§ Leicester City has a long history of unitary government. It was a county borough from the late 19th century until 1974, when it became part of Leicestershire County Council. It is therefore returning, as it were, to its previous incarnation. It is the second largest of the non-metropolitan districts. Opinion polls, both in the city and in the county, suggested that there was a majority in favour of a unitary Leicester. Within the city there was support for one or other of the options which involved a unitary city; 41 per cent. were in favour of a unitary authority and 17 per cent. preferred no change. We think that the city will be able to fulfil the functions of a unitary authority perfectly well.
§ In the case of Rutland the question of local identity was particularly significant. Surveys found what is called a very high "community identity". Eighty per cent. of people who replied had a very, or fairly strong feeling of "belonging" to Rutland. That strength of feeling is unmatched anywhere else in the country. It undoubtedly reflects the feeling of people who live in Rutland that they do not like the idea— and they never have— of Rutland being swallowed up by Leicestershire, which happened some 20 years ago. That very strong feeling was the reason why the Local Government Commission recommended that the county of Rutland should be re-created for ceremonial and related purposes.
§ But community identity is not enough on its own. That is why, if Rutland is to become a unitary authority, we wanted to be sure that the costs could be met within the same financial systems and constraints as apply to other reorganised authorities. We also sought assurances that good practical arrangements would be made for providing the local services economically.
§ Although Rutland is a small authority it has convinced us that it is capable of providing cost-effective services. As an enabling authority— one which looks to others to provide services while it concentrates on the necessary level of services and how they should be developed— Rutland already has a good history of reducing overheads and of improving services. Nevertheless, we accept that special arrangements will be needed in order to ensure the services will be provided properly, and we have made it clear that there should be joint arrangements wherever necessary. That is particularly so for social services. The 1566 Social Services Inspectorate of the Department of Health has considered the arrangements for social services which Rutland District Council intends to put in place, and the inspectorate is content that it will be a viable social services authority.
§ As a consequence of this order Rutland will have its own separate Lieutenancy and its own Shrievalty. Rutland is different from almost all other new unitary authorities because of its previous history as a county.
§ It has been suggested that Rutland should remain within Leicestershire County Council as at present, but that it should be given "historic county" status. In fact, that is not possible. The status does not exist. Rutland can have a separate ceremonial identity only if it has a structure change. In other words, it can become a county again only if it becomes a unitary authority. That is what is proposed.
§ Leicester City will be deemed to be part of Leicestershire for ceremonial purposes. We shall bring forward a provision after April which will deal with the ceremonial arrangements in all the 1997 reorganisations.
§ We believe that authorities which are to assume unitary status should have a fresh democratic mandate. The order, therefore, provides for elections to the whole of both Leicester and Rutland councils this May. The councillors, who are then elected, will plan for the change and take over responsibility for running all local authority services in their areas from 1st April 1997. The order also includes arrangements for the authorities to return their normal electoral cycles.
§ Under regulations which were made last year, the county council and district councils will have additional powers and duties to prepare for the transfer of functions. The councils will be able to begin preparations from the time when this order is made. However, certain decisions can only be made once the new councillors have been elected in May, such as the appointment of chief officers. The councillors who are elected in May 1996 must consider whether particular functions can best be carried out through voluntary joint arrangements with other authorities. These provisions, taken together, should ensure that there is a smooth transition to the new structures with proper safeguards for essential services.
§ The order allows for a combined fire authority for Leicestershire, which will include Leicester City and Rutland. This will be created by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary by a separate order under the Fire Services Act 1947. The order also provides for the county council and the two new unitary authorities to be represented on the joint committee which makes appointments to Leicestershire police authority. This also follows the commission's recommendation.
§ The unitary authorities will be responsible for strategic planning, which will he new, as well as for local land-use planning, which they have at present. The order transfers Leicestershire County Council's strategic planning responsibilities for the areas of Leicester and Rutland to the Leicester and Rutland councils respectively. This will enable all three authorities to make voluntary arrangements for joint working on the 1567 structure plan covering their combined areas so that strategic planning can be retained across the area of the county as it exists at present.
§ I see that my noble friend Lord Kimball has put down an amendment to this order, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. To have an amendment to an order which one is taking through the House is pretty alarming stuff; to have two is positively unnerving. I will restrain myself from what is sometimes rather indecorously called a knee-jerk reaction— on this occasion with both knees— until I have heard my noble friend's views and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. As the views will he coming from such magnanimous Members of the House, I have no doubt that they will be of a non-contentious and wholly agreeable nature. I will give a considered reply to the amendments when I answer the debate.
§ The Government are of the view that the changes which this order will make will enable local councillors to provide better and more effective local government, and one which will be more directly accountable to the local people. But the authorities will have to set aside any differences which they may have and work together to make a success of the reorganisation. I am sure that they will do so. I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th January be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].— (Earl Ferrers.)
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out ("approved") and insert ("withdrawn and be replaced by an order that directs the Rutland and Leicestershire County Councils and the City of Leicester unitary authority to maintain the current unique museums, arts and records services for all three authorities").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I must declare an interest in that I am chairman of the management committee and trustee of Leicestershire's 15th fledgling museum in Melton Mowbray. I start by thanking the usual channels for the fact that, even at this late hour, we are having a proper debate on the Floor of the House. There was serious concern that in another place the order was taken upstairs in a committee, at which the Leicestershire County Members of Parliament who wished to vote against it were unable to do so. It is only right that those doubts should he aired here tonight.
§ I was brought up in Rutland. I served on the original Rutland County Council. I have always supported the restoration of historic county status to Rutland. It is unfortunate that the English Act does not allow the Scottish solution. After all, Sutherland, Caithness and Ross-shire are historic counties within the area administered by the Highland Regional Council. I think we made a mistake, when the English Bill was passing through this House, in that we did not spot the need to insert the necessary provision to allow such a status for the county of Rutland, which in my opinion would be the right solution.1568
§ The House must not underestimate the problems of running a unitary authority, carrying, as a result of popular demand and granted by the Government, full county status with 33,000 people. It would depend on joint arrangements for many services: museums, police, fire and specialist services. My noble friend mentioned the police force. Perhaps I may just say that there is serious concern that Rutland's representatives, coming from an independent authority with no political status, will have difficulty in obtaining the correct number of places where representatives on a joint authority such as the police are chosen by reference to the aggregate number of councillors elected by party. It is rather a unique problem which is particular to Rutland. My noble friend has assured the new county of Rutland that it will have its lieutenancy and its High Sheriff.
§ But all those matters, and even the reservations, are minor points compared with the great achievement of the Government, which at last listened to the wishes of the local inhabitants and appreciated the fact that the voluntary services in Rutland are committed to making the county work. We must wish them well in their bold venture.
§ I now turn to the worries of this order in relation to Leicestershire and Leicester City. The geographical position of Leicester City reinforces the interdependence between the city and the rest of the county. No other proposed unitary authority is as central to, and interdependent within its county, as Leicester is within Leicestershire. In Lincolnshire there is Scunthorpe and Grimsby, right at the extremity of the county, splitting off as unitary authorities. But Leicester City is right in the centre of the county.
§ The major problem is how to achieve the economic revitalisation of Leicester City within the countrywide framework. Land is needed for homes and jobs. There is no potentially derelict land within the city of Leicester for recycling. Leicester City will be looking for substantial boundary extensions. The commission made the mistake of assuming that Leicester's central role in the county is now less important than its greater role as a freestanding settlement operating on the national stage. In fact, Leicester is the heart and focal point of the county.
§ I am concerned about the strategic planning, in particular for land use. The Government have assumed that this will work with the proposed two unitaries and the county council assuming joint responsibility for structure planning. Experience elsewhere has shown that it is difficult to achieve consensus on planning and transportation matters across areas which are geographically cohesive without the presence of a single authority. It is naive to believe that that can be done just by voluntary participation.
§ Because of my great concern about those joint arrangements, I tabled the amendment to the Motion. I hope that it will fall on fertile ground. My noble friend is familiar with the Leicestershire museums, arts and records service. He was kind enough to interrupt his Christmas Recess to come to the county, open the Bakewell Exhibition and renew his family's historic connections with the county of Leicestershire. In 1569 coming to Leicestershire he passed through Rutland and he very nobly agreed to make the traditional payment by a Peer of the realm entering that county. Noble Lords should beware. It costs noble Lords a golden horseshoe to the Lord of the Manor of Oakham, to be added to the collection in Oakham's Castle Museum— a contribution to be held by the joint forces of all three authorities. Rutland is well aware of the guidance produced for the management of museums, and has undertaken to consider this when deciding how the service will be administered.
§ My amendment uses the word "unique". I had slight trouble in persuading the Clerk of the Parliaments to accept that word. The point is that the museums service in Leicestershire is in fact unique. It is recognised as the finest provincial museums service in the country. It has been singled out as an example of excellence by the Museums and Galleries Commission. The local government review in Leicestershire highlighted the overwhelming desire of service users, interest groups and the general public, as well as regional and national professional opinion, to maintain the service as an integrated, countrywide service. Specific provision should have been made in the order if the danger to that flagship service from the combustible combination of party politics is to be avoided. The 190 staff, its 14 museums, its five historic sites and its collection of 3 million objects should not be divided up.
Finally, we must consider public opinion in relation to Leicestershire. The proposals for structural change are not popular. After all, the commission itself said:
Unlike some of the other areas the Commission has so far reviewed, there was no groundswell of opinion that local government in Leicestershire needed drastic reform. There was strong support for the present structure, reflected in the fact that for the past the two-tier system has worked well".
§ The tragedy is that the Local Government Commission failed to offer the choice of "no change". And the Secretary of State failed to take into account the strength of public opinion in Leicestershire. I beg to move.
§ Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out ("approved") and insert ("withdrawn and be replaced by an order that directs the Rutland and Leicestershire County Councils and the City of Leicester unitary authority to maintain the current unique museums, arts and records services for all three authorities— (Lord Kimball.)
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, in speaking to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, and to the main Motion, I shall speak also to my amendment, though I am not at this point moving it. For the convenience of the House, perhaps I may read it. It seeks to insert, at the end of the main Motion, the words,('but that this House regrets that the draft order is made under primary legislation which contains no statutory safeguard for effective strategic planning across the area of the county council of Leicestershire in the event of any failure of voluntary joint working to that end between the new authorities').1570 To pick up the Minister's adjectives, my amendment is perhaps considered contentious, but if both his knees jerk at the same time he is liable to fall over. I hope that I do not provoke such an extreme reaction.
I confess to little connection with either the City or the county, save for occasional trips to the Haymarket Theatre where I have seen some exceptionally good productions. My remarks on the main Motion, therefore, are largely based on what I understand to be public opinion as it has been assessed.
The statutory objectives of the legislation were to reflect the interests and identities of local communities and to secure effective and convenient local government. In a Question requiring a Written Answer, I asked the Minister about local opinion; after all, that reflects local communities. I referred him to comments made by the Secretary of State in a news release of September 1993 that the views of local people are of paramount importance. A more recent remark was made by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, in April 1995, when he said,the opinion of local people who live and work in these areas will be important— [Official Report, 25/4/95; col. 783.]On 21st February, 1996, the Minister replied to me by way of Written Answer:We are currently considering the … Commission's recommendations on the … reviews along with the representations which we receive. The June 1995 Policy and Procedure Guidance to the Commission makes it clear that the views of local people are important as an element of community identity, and we shall give proper attention to that factor. However, our decisions must be taken as a result of attention to all the issues, not just one element".— [Official Report, col. WA80.]One would not argue that there are not other issues to be considered. I was depressed by that answer, which, frankly, did not seem to me to give proper weight to local opinion that local people must have hoped that it would receive.
At best the support for a new unitary City and County of Leicester can he said to be inconclusive. Indeed, points raised against a unitary Leicester seem to me to be very similar to those raised by the Commission when it rejected unitary authorities for Norwich on the question of boundaries, and for Northampton on the question of public opinion and the importance of having a county town.
The Minister has referred to the opinion polls and surveys. The NOP poll, taking together either one or two unitary authorities and two-tier elsewhere, showed in favour 47 per cent. for a unitary authority and 39 per cent. for change. Over the county as a whole the figures were 49 per cent. to 34 per cent. for no change. That is very high support for no change since that option has to be written in by the respondents. The MORI survey, using different methodology— it was a survey and I am someone who is more inclined to trust them if they are well done rather than polls— showed in Leicester 27 per cent. in favour of unitary arrangements and 17 per cent. in favour of no change. Across the county the figures were 29 per cent. for unitary arrangements and 21 per cent. for no change. Those are really quite close figures. One must remember that the 1571 county figures are swayed by particularly strong feelings about Rutland, which to me suggests that these figures are even less conclusive in arguing for change.
Major changes in government need very solid support. It is accepted and admitted that there are differences of views within all the political parties over the exercise, but I have rarely seen them so strongly expressed as in the comments made by the chairman of the county, a member of the Conservative Party, when he resigned from the party. There are also the comments made by a Conservative county councillor in Rutland to the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party. I dare say that other noble Lords have seen copies of the correspondence which uses extremely strong language, such as,The proceedings typify this Government's cavalier approachand referring to,a flawed and tainted scheme".In the heat of emotion over important local matters I know that feelings run high. It is unusual to see them expressed quite so forcefully and in print.
That councillor is from Rutland where there is a lot of opinion which differs from hers. I recollect the murmur which ran round this House in March last year when the announcement was made about Rutland. I got something of a "boo" from the Bench behind me when I said then that Rutland's county status might he a matter of considerable nostalgia, and nostalgia was all right in its place, but some say nostalgia is not what it used to be. I make that remark again because I believe that the Government have to he particularly sure that so small a unitary authority can operate effectively.
The Minister has mentioned the question of social services, and I am sure that other noble Lords will refer to them. The House should he able to understand on what basis he has satisfied himself - and the Secretary of State has satisfied himself - about the viability of a unitary Rutland and in particular that discussions between the district and the social services inspectorate should be a matter of public record or, at any rate, that the basis for the views should he a matter of public record.
I understand that the MORI survey was the first— perhaps the only survey— which asked whether people would be willing to pay more. Close to 90 per cent. of people said no. That highlights the importance of every survey putting a question in context.
The changes proposed will have on-going costs of some £6 million. That is according to the commission's estimates. Others estimate that it will cost more in indirect costs. Although it will cost £6 million, as the Minister said, Rutland will not get an all-purpose authority such as we might expect to see, but one which is greatly dependent on arrangements with other service-providers. The Minister used the word "enabling". I think that every authority is an enabling authority these days, but Rutland will be an extreme example. I repeat that that £6 million could be spent on direct services.
1572 I have considerable sympathy with the points made about services by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball. Without repeating the detail of his argument, I should like to express the support of these Benches for his Motion. As well as museums, many other services cover a wide area. I should like to add libraries to that list, noting that the Library Association says that Rutland will be totally dependent on the goodwill of neighbouring authorities to provide an adequate service. In noting the level of support for a unitary Rutland, I think that it might have been better if such provisions had been brought forward in a separate order.
The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, is unable to be present tonight but I noted that in speaking on the order on Cleveland on 23rd January 1995, he mentioned what he called the,whimsically outspoken chairman of the commission—the then chairman, who confessed at a recent ACC conference that he knew,of no evidence that smaller unitary authorities will be better placed to deliver effective and convenient local services … Surely we are entitled to expect more than assertion before gambling literally millions of pounds of public money on a costly and risky reorganisation".-[Official Report, 23/1/95; col. 929.]My particular concern, to which I have referred in previous debates in this House, is the matter of strategic planning, hence my amendment. The Minister said that the strategic planning arrangements would enable the three authorities— I think that I noted his words correctly— to continue voluntary joint working "as before". I differ from him - they may not continue "as before".
In July 1995, in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, the then Minister replied to a question about in what circumstances the power to establish a statutory joint arrangement under Section 21 of the Local Government Act 1992 will be available to the Secretary of State for the Environment.
The reply was that the Government's policy was that local authorities which were granted unitary powers should be capable of undertaking the full range of functions entrusted to them. The Minister went on to say that Section 21 contained back-up powers for the Secretary of State to establish a statutory joint authority where voluntary arrangements had not been made or had broken down. He then added that he was advised that that power would he available only in those cases where joint working was to take place between authorities, all of which had acquired the relevant function as a result of a structural or boundary change. That would not be available where, for example, a new unitary authority had been asked to work with an existing county council. In other words, that statutory provision does not apply in the case of a "hybrid" council (as they have come to be called) such as Leicestershire will become, with its two unitaries. I do not understand why the Government have apparently set their face against the very minor necessary legislative amendment to fill that gap.
The point is important in a large number of areas given the general pattern of the outcome of the review which has— if it can be characterised as a whole— unitary cities, in a two-tier county context, in many parts of the country. In those places, as in Leicestershire, the 1573 Government will rely entirely on voluntary arrangements. I support voluntary arrangements; the most important thing is that political representatives, like everybody else in society, should be able to work together. But not all marriages are made in heaven; some might have to be made in Marsham Street— which is not everyone's idea of heaven, I concede.
The Government have accepted the point that joint working might have to be imposed by including it in legislation in the first place. If the omission is simply an error— and I think it must be— then should not the Government admit that they have made an error? There is no crime in making a mistake; what is more serious is refusing to rectify that mistake once it has become apparent.
Strategic planning, as the noble Lord, Lord Kimball said, is inseparable from matters such as transport and economic development. In Leicester there is little brown field land for development. The city is in the middle of the county— the county around it like a doughnut— and, as the core city, it is economically, demographically and geographically linked with its surrounding areas. It may well want to consider development— expansion might be too emotive a term— and if it is constrained by green wedges and flood plains, what then if it and the county fail to make voluntary arrangements?
While I recognise that this is the last place in which to discuss direct representation, I should add from these Benches a word about the cherry picking which appears now to extend to the handling of the order in another place. It is arguable that the Committee in another place should have included no local members, but what cannot have been right is that if it were to include local members, they would he representative of one view only. We cannot tell another place how to conduct itself, but we can comment on the Government's apparent inability to do things properly when they fear the outcome will not be their preferred result. I accept that the Minister may differ from me on that.
If the order is agreed, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Kimball in wishing the new councils well, and in thanking the members and staff of the existing authorities. Perhaps they should all have golden horseshoes.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, as to the proposal concerning Rutland, I see in it some difficulties which I hope might be resolved in this debate.
There is little doubt that many people in Rutland take great pride in living there, not least because of its history. We were all told at school that Rutland was the smallest county in England. That status was lost in 1974, and now that it is proposed to return it that has been welcomed by many people. It is necessary to examine how that welcome was arrived at. The commission sought the views of residents by 1574 means of a leaflet with a detachable questionnaire, which was delivered principally by the Royal Mail to households throughout the county. That was supplemented by newspaper advertisements and additional deliveries.
There was, in addition, a MORI poll conducted on behalf of the commission. Only 2 per cent. of the questionnaires were returned, and 770 letters were sent. I am bound to say that it seemed to be a comprehensive attempt at determining public opinion, although a 2 per cent. return and a number of letters are not convincing. In letters and questionnaires there was a 60 per cent. preference for Rutland to have unitary status. The MORI poll showed that 34 per cent. of the people of Rutland preferred Rutland to have unitary status. The rest preferred other options, or no change, or did not know what they preferred.
The commission says that it placed greater weight on the findings of the MORI survey because of its representative nature. Your Lordships may agree that that is of some significance bearing in mind MORI's reputation. One of the key factors which emerged from the MORI survey was that in Rutland 48 per cent. of those questioned preferred unitary status for Rutland. In such polls, 48 per cent. might be considered to he a high figure, but it is not a majority.
One of the difficulties to which I referred earlier is considering the popularity of the proposal against the view that an area with a population as low as 34,000 cannot sustain the wide range of services which a unitary authority is expected to carry out. That is the difference I have discovered since the report has been published.
There is an additional difficulty. Are those who express support for the change prepared to sustain it if the proposal means paying more in council tax in order to have it? In its draft recommendations, the commission saw that as a potential problem, because it said that it would be prepared to recommend unitary status,as long as the people of Rutland understood the cost implications".When the commission sought the views of Rutland residents, it indicated to the public that there would be an additional cost of between £83 and £125 per household should unitary status be granted. It made a final recommendation which increased the cost to £170.
From the documents I have, I cannot ascertain whether that increase was made clear to the people of Rutland. In my political experience I have found that the electorate may be enthusiastic about proposals, whatever they may be, but not so enthusiastic when the bigger bills drop through the letter box. Rutland District Council commissioned an exercise carried out by independent consultants. The outcome was that the overall impact upon a Rutland council taxpayer would be a saving of between £15 and £45 per annum on a Band D property. I ask the Minister whether the Government have been able to look at that, and, if so, do they agree with the findings?
1575 What is an amateur like myself to make of such a discrepancy between the two sets of figures that I have mentioned? I assume that the Minister has some figures on what is, after all, a crucial factor in determining whether an area should have unitary status. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to help me on that aspect of the matter.
I return to the problem I posed in my earlier remarks about whether a population of 34,000 can deal with the necessary services to be carried out by a unitary authority. It appears that many people doubt it. I have had letters from head teachers, former social workers, councillors and the Labour Party. Perhaps that is of some significance, because your Lordships may know that the Labour Party in general supports unitary authorities. All these and others are deeply concerned about what they believe will be a rapid deterioration in service, particularly in education and social services.
In two respects the commission is quite clear. It says,in our judgment no additional recommendations are required to ensure the effective and convenient delivery of an education service in Rutland.The commission's other major concern— that of effective provision of services— is met in that Rutland has accepted the need to enter into formal joint arrangements with other authorities, especially to provide continuity in the recently established community care planning framework. Of course there was initial doubt by the commission about social services and so that was referred to the social services inspectorate. The reply from the inspectorate, as the Minister mentioned, is that it is satisfied with the proposals, which include the joint arrangements to which I have just referred. Perhaps I should say, too, that I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in saying that none of that has been made public and it is just possible that there might be a difference of opinion on the conclusion which the inspectorate reached.
The education service needs to be mentioned. A director of education will have to he appointed. I have to say that I see two disadvantages here. First, I suspect that very few people will be attracted by such a small population. Secondly— and related to it— the area has no secondary schools and so there would he a director of education for primary education. It would be the only LEA that I know of in the country where the director of education would have no secondary schools to administer. It is doubtful whether a council would receive highly qualified applicants in such circumstances. If it did they would be from brighter younger people eager to enter educational administration for the first time. But I fear they would leave after gaining two or three years' experience, or perhaps a little more, in that field. I must say that that would not be good for Rutland's education service.
There are some services which by their very nature could not be conducted by an area as small as Rutland. It was to be expected that police, fire, 1576 probation and magistrates' courts would be administered over the whole of the existing Leicestershire County Council area, and the Minister spelt that out in his opening remarks.
This brings me to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball. It appears to me that there is a strong case for the proposal and, as I understand it, the same arrangements exist in many other parts of the country. The noble Lord expanded on the word "unique" and I was pleased to hear that. Any measure using that word ought to receive careful attention and I hope that the Government will accept the suggestion. I read, too, that the view expressed in the amendment is supported by the Museums and Galleries Commission and by the Museums Association. I suspect that the people of Rutland believe that the Leicestershire Museums, Arts and Records Service is one of the best in the country and they would not wish to see it changed in any way.
Most people in the area do not feel that they have been consulted. There have been two opinion polls and a virtual 190 per cent. leaflet distribution, but they do not appear to have made any impact on the population of Rutland. I believe that a referendum ought to have been held. In normal circumstances that might have been a difficult and costly project, but, as we are always saying how small Rutland is, in my view it would not have been so difficult or, indeed, so expensive to carry out.
In a referendum— which is a very different matter from the leaflets and newspaper advertisements that I mentioned earlier— the possible additional cost could have been made abundantly clear. I feel that that is probably the most important aspect of the reorganisation. Presumably the commission would have had to say that the new structure would result in up to an extra £6 million each year being spent on administrative costs, together with the one-off cost of £4 million to £6 million in changing to the new structure. Those figures come from the commission. Again, I ask the Minister to say in his reply who will pay those sums. The financial implications of the proposals are important and could well decide the attitudes of the people of Rutland. I hope that we can hear the Minister mention those implications tonight.
It seems certain from the evidence that there is no overwhelming desire by the inhabitants of Rutland to have unitary status. From my own personal experience, I believe that there is a strong community feeling in the area; a feeling— as I said earlier— which is attached to the pride of having been the smallest county in England. But, for the sake of emphasis, I repeat that that feeling cannot be detached from the concern about the cost involved and whether the present high standards of service can be maintained with such a small population. In those circumstances, I look forward with very great interest to the Minister's reply.
§ 11.16 p.m.
The Earl of Gainsborough
My Lords, the Minister explained the purpose of the order and therefore I shall not spend any time discussing it. I mention only that, in a way, it is a status quo in that the city of Leicester will become again as it was before— an all-purpose authority, a county borough— and Rutland will again be a county, though now a unitary authority and not as it was when I was chairman of the county council with, at one time, no less than four district councils. It has always been small; its motto is multum in parvo.
We are very pleased in Rutland that the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, has come to live with us in his retirement. I believe that the noble Lord already more than accepts the area and has been made very welcome. The noble Lord mentioned a number of matters of great importance about costs and other considerations. I can assure him, and your Lordships generally, that the councillors on the Rutland District Council— and I was, until recently, one of them— took great care to ascertain from their constituents whether they wished Rutland to he restored to an independent county. I believe that there is a strong feeling within the area for Rutland to be independent as it was before. However, there is the question of costs and it will remain to be seen how that will work out eventually. I served as a councillor in Rutland from 1948 to 1992, so I know a little about how local government works in the area.
There are three comprehensive schools in Rutland and a sixth-form college; but I understand that two of the schools have opted to be grant-maintained and that the third one will probably do so. There is something in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, about schools. The shadow education committee of the district council has dealt with all these matters and is fully satisfied that it will be able to deliver good education in Rutland, as was the case in the past. Our schools produced some excellent results. I still keep in touch with some people I knew when they were pupils in those schools. They have all done very well. Most of them have left Rutland, and they work all over the country and the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball— outside this House I would refer to him as my noble friend, but I am not supposed to do that here because I sit on one side of the House and he sits on the other— is a close friend of mine and has been for many years. He and I served together on the county council. He mentioned, rightly, the excellent county museum service. It has been a great benefit to the Leicestershire county area, of which Rutland has been a part. Even before 1974 the city of Leicester provided a very good museum service. I had many dealings with it, as some of the artefacts belonging to my family were handed over to the museum service for safekeeping and so that the public could see them. I understand from my former colleagues on the Rutland District Council that they are in conversation with the other authorities with a view to setting up a joint operation so that the museum service can be maintained as a single Entity 1578 with its excellent professional staff, some of whom have been present this evening although because of the late hour most of them have had to go home.
There may he difficulties with some of the specialist services due to the size of Rutland. I am afraid that it is inevitable that some of those services will have to be obtained from outside the county, from the best available sources, and be paid for by Rutland. Some services can be provided internally but, because of the size of the county, not all.
The social services are extremely important. I remember that when I was quite a junior member of the county council, almost 40 years ago, the time came to appoint a children's officer. In those days the children's officer was responsible to the council for looking after children who needed care and attention. We appointed a very capable lady, who dealt virtually single-handed with all the matters relating to children and young people in the county. It is very encouraging to see the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in the Chamber. She knows more about the subject than any of us, and certainly more than I do. She knows very well how those services started, having once herself held the post of children's officer in Oxfordshire.
Social services involve a great deal more today than they did 40 years ago. It will be important to see that social services are delivered in Rutland in a satisfactory manner. Again, there will have to be some help from outside. It may be more expensive than my former colleagues believe to deliver a good service in Rutland.
I admit to being one of those who are worried by the cost. The scale of operation of the new authority will mean that if the government grants and SSA levels are unfavourable towards Rutland the council tax will undoubtedly rise to a considerable extent. The Secretary of State has confirmed that resources will follow services, and it remains to be seen exactly how that will work out in practice. The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, spoke about the Local Government Commission's estimate of the additional costs. I shall not refer to that.
I believe that my former colleagues on the district council are confident that the figure of £125 per Band D household is higher than is likely to be the case. What will happen remains to be seen. I feel that Rutland people will probably have to pay quite a lot for their newly-acquired independence. However, I believe that they are willing to do so. There is a great community spirit in Rutland. I am sure that, even if costs are higher than before, provided that the services are delivered satisfactorily people will not mind paying for good services, delivered locally by councillors whom they know.
All councillors have to be elected. When I first went on the council we were never opposed. I had nearly 40 years of service. No one ever opposed me, except on one occasion, when I was defeated; but that served me right. Three years later I stood again. I knocked on everyone's door and was re-elected. The other poor chap was hardly seen again.
1579 I shall conclude because the hour is late. I still live in Rutland and do some work there. If Rutland succeeds in its new role it will be a formidable achievement. Many pundits say it will be impossible to achieve. I do not believe that it will be impossible, although it may be difficult. The Rutland motto is multum in parvo. I am sure that in its new incarnation it will live up to that motto very well.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Lord Rees
My Lords, I support the amendment moved so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Kimball. I intervene in the debate with some diffidence because I have never lived in either of the old counties of Leicestershire or Rutland; nor— since my noble friend mentioned the new museum at Melton which is involved— have I ever kept horses in either of those two counties.
However, I speak as a member of the Museums and Galleries Commission. I am delighted to see that my colleague from the commission, my noble friend Lady Brigstocke, is present. The commission and I are very concerned about the future of the museums, arts and records service. It has existed for over 20 years. I do not wish to paint any of my noble friend's lilies in this regard, or to try to tap off what the noble Earl said about the service. I understand that over the past 20 years it has assembled a very capable and devoted staff. It has brought together many cultural functions. It has had many achievements, culminating— if that is the appropriate word— in the formation of the Snibston Discovery Park at Coalville, which has won a notable and satisfactory award.
I believe that all three parties during the review of the local government structure were in favour of some form of combined perpetuation of the service. Certainly the Museum and Galleries Commission is concerned about this. I believe that they have the support of the East Midlands Museum Service and the East Midlands Arts Board. Perhaps I may say this to my noble friend who moved the order. His department has been a little vague, or not precise in the direction it has given, about the division of assets and staff, which is of critical importance when one is talking about a museum service. On that basis I support the amendment of my noble friend.
If the order were to become law, I hope that my noble friend Lord Ferrers will give encouragement to the view that there should be some combination of the three authorities to provide those services. There is a good precedent in Norwich, although I shall leave it to the noble Baroness who will speak later in the debate to tell us more about that precedent. I noticed that when the noble Earl moved the order, he mentioned that there would he a combination for the purpose of appointments to the police authority. So there is plenty of precedent for something along those lines, if the division of the three authorities goes ahead.
1580 Finally, I make a plea to the noble Earl that in the broad sweep of local government reform, the role of museums and of the local authorities in their provision for museums should not be overlooked.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I speak tonight as someone who was born and grew up in Leicestershire, who returned to Leicestershire as an adult at a time when my involvement through my husband's job was in education, prior to reorganisation. In those days people who lived in what they viewed as Leicester, particularly people who moved to the locality, could not understand the boundaries. I am not certain that that problem is resolved by the order before us tonight. I speak also as someone who spent most of their adult life away from Leicestershire, living in Lancashire. I know that the sense of place can encompass both county and locality. Those who fiercely support their right to be Prestonians and proud of it will also sing that they are lassies from Lancashire.
I question whether the order started from a process with the wrong questions put in the wrong way. The sense of place that people possess and the strength of community feeling are important. I find it difficult to accept from a Government who have, over a considerable time, managed to produce legislation which has been decidedly unpopular, that it appears to be beyond them to bring forward fairly minor legislation to allow the people of Rutland to have a ceremonial county, without having to have a unitary local authority. From these Benches, were we minded to support that solution, I am sure we could come up with a consensus as to which legislation at present could be put on one side to allow such a piece of legislation to pass.
At this hour I would not dream of repeating them but among the many points raised to do with strategic planning, the library and museums service and other services, my noble friend Lord Dormand referred to the most important issue. The people of Rutland, when questioned, appeared to make it clear that, if additional cost were to result, they did not want to see a change in the structure of local government.
I refer to that because the whole review of local government has started badly. Functions and finance are obviously integral to good, effective, enduring local government structures and a realistic assessment of the costs of change is necessary. We can already see people in Scotland, Wales and parts of England objecting to the fact that, far from providing money for reorganisation, the Government have allowed too little to be borrowed by local communities to pay for the cost of change. I am not clear that, on the Government's own admission, given that most of the important services will have to be purchased from elsewhere rather than be provided by a democratically elected authority whose members the people of Rutland are entitled to elect directly, the people of Rutland have been given a fair opportunity to answer the real questions.
1581 I repeat my question, to which I am sure we shall receive a reply; namely, why have the detailed views of the inspectorate on the issue of social services, and other matters raised, not been made public?
It is now becoming quite clear that the Government are beginning to recognise the cost implications of local government reorganisation. The Secretary of State, Mr. Gummer, said in answer to a Question from Sir Colin Shepherd that the implementation of reorganisation in England must proceed at a pace that would take account of the resources available.
What is the position with regard to those resources? It is that the authorities that face reorganisation on 1st April this year bid for a total of £113 million under the 1995–96 scheme, but were allocated approval to borrow a mere £50 million. In 1996–97 the sum of £100 million in borrowing approvals for all reorganisations has been set aside and taken out of the local authority finance settlement. That is inadequate. The local authorities that are already subject to reorganisation orders have assessed the costs and the total bids for reorganisation to be £220 million. The figures do not include orders such as the one before us tonight. I cannot believe that the allocation of £55 million will be adequate for the orders that the Government intend to bring before Parliament to implement reorganisation.
At a time when local government services are not adequately funded, when services are suffering as a result of government constraints on expenditure, when the people of Scotland are marching in large numbers to object to education cuts and referring to the imposition of a reorganisation tax, it is very difficult to accept that the answer that people from a new county of Rutland will give to the Government in 12 months' time will be the one that the Government want to hear or appear to anticipate.
Speakers referred to many concerns about this reorganisation proposal. It is critically important that services are protected. The functions of local government have changed in emphasis since the old pattern prior to the last major reorganisation. It is critically important that authorities have the resources and the capacity to protect the vulnerable who need care in the community and services to meet special educational needs. There is one assurance that the Minister ought at the very least to give the House tonight. If the Government are determined to press ahead with changes such as those in the order, they owe it to people in the areas to fund the costs of their policy and to allow those in the locality to protect and strengthen services following a government-imposed reorganisation.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, some years ago I was Member of Parliament for one of the constituencies in the City of Leicester. I also live on the borders of Leicestershire. So I have some knowledge of the area and the problems that arise from these orders. I shall say little about Rutland because I know less about it, 1582 and a number of expert views upon it have already been given. I simply say that for a county of some 34,000 it seems to be stretching it quite a lot. I am a great admirer of their spirit in going for this target, but am less enthusiastic about their economics. I say nothing about the museums. Experts have commented on them, and I entirely endorse what they have said.
I confine my remarks to the City of Leicester becoming a unitary authority.As my noble friend on the Front Bench said, I recall that before 1974 it was a county borough. To some extent, it is reverting to that state. I recall, too, the regret at the change which was brought about in 1974. That took place over 20 years ago. The initial cost and disruption to which it gave rise have been absorbed. It is now working reasonably well, if not very effectively. As my noble friend Lord Kimball has described it, the City of Leicester is central to and interdependent with the county. It is an ideal example of a county town. It shares most services with the county. Most of the services will be fragmented as a resulted of these proposals. It is, as the commission described, almost a perfect example of a town which should not be a unitary authority, Had the city boundaries been wider than they are, I might have shared the commission's views on this order. Regretfully, I do not.
The very narrow boundaries which surround Leicester cause considerable problems. I shall not bore your Lordships with references to the Redcliffe-Maud Report, which I am sure my noble friend knows well, or The Crossnian Diaries that came out shortly afterwards. They gave reasons why the boundaries were kept so tight for political reasons, which I am sure no one would wish to copy today. But those boundaries are tight. There is no room for expansion. The county boundary cuts across pretty well every road in the city. One can cross the county boundary without touching a patch of grass or anything other than urban streets. There is no room for expansion or growth, or for the provision of services of various kinds, such as waste disposal and those kinds of things. They have to be begged somehow from the county. Despite the goodwill which I am sure we all help to create between county and city, there is an underlying dislike for handing over land from the county to the city and, with it, the people living on it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and other noble Lords have referred to the structure plan. Three authorities— city, county and Rutland— are being encouraged to work together on a voluntary basis. There is no suggestion of a boss who will knock their heads together if they do not agree. Goodness only knows what will happen if they do not agree. I ask my noble friend to persuade them to take a more realistic view of this. It is impossible to imagine that the city will be able to demand an expansion beyond its boundary to Wigston, or somewhere like that, to the offence of occupants there, without causing major problems in the county.
Services which have bedded down and have been working satisfactorily for the past 20-odd years are to be torn up by their roots and divided. The services cover such matters as education, social services, 1583 museums and libraries, and so on. Under those, there are 63 separate operations that have to be split. Each of those will no doubt want a new head of department and will probably want new offices and buildings. Goodness knows what will happen to the standards! I feel that it is very regrettable.
My noble friend referred to the police. The police have to come under a new joint committee which has to be formed. As my noble friend Lord Kimball said, it has to reflect the party political balance of the constituent components of the county, the city and Rutland. It will present a massive problem because, as I understand from the noble Earl, Rutland does not have a party political attitude to these matters. Apart from that difficulty— it is not a difficulty but rather a pleasant state of affairs, is it not?— the numbers will presumably be related to the number of councillors. Rutland will have one councillor for every 1,685 people; the city of Leicester will have one councillor for 5,160 members of the population; and the county will have one councillor for every 10,640 people. Those are the ratios. Each of them will presumably have the same pull and authority in that key joint committee for the police.
That illustrates one of the kinds of problem that will arise. I am sure that they will manage to tackle it and overcome it, but it will be very difficult and one of quite a number of problems.
Perhaps I may refer to a problem which is perhaps quite unique to the city of Leicester compared with other counties and county towns of the same kind. Leicester has a very large ethnic community. Much of that community has dispersed into the county around it. Leicester and the county have behaved with great responsibility over the past 25 years in dealing with that problem. They have a very proud record. It is most important that nothing should arise which could cause any disturbance to that. But fears have been expressed to me that to isolate Leicester in the way that this order may tend to do, may, with a further ethnic community coming into it, produce a very large element in a city, which would run the danger of creating problems. It is a very delicate area and I do not want to say anything to suggest that there are likely to be any difficulties. I am sure that there will not be. On the other hand, I should have felt happier if the commission had looked at this very particular problem before making its judgment. It is of very great importance that nothing must be done to disturb or disrupt the community that has existed so well, considering the difficulties, over such a long period.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the cost, which is an extra £6 million per annum. That is very little compared with the total budget. But it will not produce an additional teacher, or any extra person. It is £6 million per annum paid in order to achieve this result, with an initial sum of between £4 million and £6 million. I ask, why? So far as I can see, no one has asked for the change to be made, and no one seems to want it particularly. My noble friend referred to a public opinion poll and said That there were some 1584 41 per cent. in favour of the change. If I understood rightly, that figure was arrived at by taking all the three options put together which proposed unitary status and adding together. the replies that came. One can make anything one likes of the various statistics. One could quote them all evening and still not get agreement.
There is, however, one statistic which I find impressive; namely, the response from the opinion poll. Something like 2 per cent. responded. The highest proportion of those consulted wanted the change that is now suggested. Almost the same number wanted no change. I am not quite sure why two amounts of 1.5 per cent. add up to 2 per cent. but apparently it is so— 1.5 per cent. of those consulted wanted the change and a similar 1.5 per cent. wanted no change. Incidentally, that was not one of the options on the survey paper; but it indicates that there was hardly an overwhelming thrust of people wanting to spend that extra money and to sacrifice those services to make the change.
Others who are opposed to the change include the majority of parish councils, the majority of voluntary organisations and the majority of those with educational interests. I find that worrying. Reference was made to the fact that this issue was not discussed in the other place, except in committee. There is considerable resentment in Leicester and Leicestershire that their Members of Parliament did not have a part in the committee considering the order when it was a matter which meant so much to their constituents. Those of us who know a little about the area have been given the chance today to discuss the matter, and I am grateful for that. I should have liked to urge the Government not to fix it, as it is not bust. However, if we have gone beyond the point when I can do that, all I can do is wish the councils well in their new role, and only wish that it were not so.
§ 11.50 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, at this hour of the night it is not my intention to go over ground already covered so ably by other noble Lords. I shall therefore throw away much of what I prepared, but perhaps I can make just one or two points.
I have always found the process of structural change in local government a fascinating one. It has changed in detail and method over the years, but the essential principles, rather like shuffling a pack of cards and dealing them out, have remained the same. That similarity is all the more pertinent given that we live in a time when resources are restricted. I cannot help feeling that the people of Leicestershire at large will finish up holding a pretty poor hand. And the people of Rutland in particular are being dealt a yarborough, for which they will pay dearly when the bills are finally presented.
Even if the overall effects of those changes were cost neutral from a national point of view— we know that they are not— experience suggests that a shift of 1585 financial resource in the form of standard spending assessment to the urban areas is the result of change. In any event, the loss of the ability to spread costs over both urban and rural communities tends to leave rural areas with higher costs than is the case where both work together in a unified way.
Can my noble friend the Minister give me any assurance that the people of Rutland, for instance, will be in any way protected from such effects? We have the commission's estimate that after the changes a Band D council tax payer in Rutland will have to pay over £170 more in the first year than would have been the case under present arrangements. We heard tonight that the district council has made other estimates, and indeed expects to achieve a saving. I should like very much to hope that that might be so, but in my experience— and I spent a very long time in local government— one usually found that district councils, in looking at these situations, were preparing their estimates on an unrealistic basis.
Local government is not just about money; it is also about the provision of essential services to the community. The new Rutland, which in my own county of Essex would be joined with an adjacent area to form even a district council, is likely to have particular problems in this respect. While it may manage well enough in respect of the generality of services, it will be likely to have particular problems with specialist services where its small scale will make adequate levels of investment difficult.
I mention two areas. I understand that there are 156 children in the Rutland area who are statemented as having special educational needs. While such cases are increasingly dealt with through the ordinary schools system, many of the cases will require additional, specialist facilities. Again, can my noble friend the Minister assure me that adequate co-operative arrangements with neighbouring authorities will be in place at the changeover to ensure that no child has to suffer more difficult conditions than those that exist before the change?
Similarly, we see increasing numbers of elderly people in the community. Indeed, we should rejoice in the rising standard of living generally that makes this possible. However, as the elderly increase in number and as people tend to live longer, so does the number of the elderly mentally infirm increase. That puts a particular burden on the local authority to provide the specialist facilities that such cases require. Again, I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he is satisfied that adequate arrangements, sufficiently resourced, will be in place in the new Rutland so that no one is less well served than they have been in the past.
I admire the sheer bravado of the Rutland case, although I fear that it is a bravado which will cost its people dearly. I hope that I am wrong; indeed, I would like to be proved to be wrong, but in the meantime I shall await the response of my noble friend the Minister with interest.
§ 11.57 p.m.
§ Baroness Brigstocke
My Lords, like my fellow commissioner and noble friend Lord Rees, I rise to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Kimball. I shall be brief. I have just chaired a committee of experienced and knowledgeable museum education experts who produced the guidelines on museum education for the Museums and Galleries Commission. They all share the concern that small museums on their own do not have the resources or the expertise to provide the educational support for the National Curriculum, or indeed the public at large, which can come from a larger, co-ordinated museum authority with a wide range of specialists. I only hope, as the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, indicated, that, as in the case of the Norfolk museum service, Leicestershire will be able to run a joint museum board and thus preserve its specialist expertise, collections care and local services.
This debate, whatever its outcome, provides an opportunity to stress the importance of museums in their local community. It is evident that in the broad sweep of local authority re-organisation there is real danger that, despite the best efforts of the Museums and Galleries Commission, museums may be overlooked because they appear a relatively small component in the bigger pattern of local authority services. They are not; they are a vital element in the overall education provision of this country.
§ Lord Crawshaw
My Lords, I feel that I ought to declare more than a passing interest in the county of Leicestershire. I was born there and I still live there. Although I am not a councillor, I am a subscriber to and consumer of the services provided. I have had a certain amount of involvement with public life in the county and my only concern is to try to get the best for the maximum number of people in Leicester and Leicestershire. My main experience of public life in the county and the city has come through the Scout movement in which I served as a county commissioner for 20 years, and in that role I went to all parts of Leicestershire and Rutland.
Leicester is, of course, the county town. It is centrally placed and was, and is, the focal point. However, I perceived something of a fortress mentality within Leicester, emanating from local government, and from which people in other spheres always took their cue. It is a mental rather than a physical wall because at least 40 per cent. of the people working in Leicester live outside in the county.
As we have heard, Leicestershire and Leicester are very much interdependent. I am not sure of the origin of that introspective attitude. After all, the city of Leicester has performed on a national plane since the Romans made it an important centre with a fosse way through it, connecting Watling Street to Ermine Street; Simon de Montfort called the first Parliament there; the city witnessed the last journey of Richard III; Cardinal Wolsey lies in the remains of the abbey, 1587 which was demolished, to his great shame, by Henry VIII— and so it goes on, through the Civil War, and the Chartist movement to the present time.
Pride in the city is understandable and admirable, but that should extend beyond the mental wall into the surrounding county. So now, when at last we have all our councillors under one roof, it seems a great pity to dismantle that at great expense. I believe that the extra expense is in the order of £6 million per annum.
My noble friend Lord Kimball mentioned museums, arts and records— and I support him. I too have a list. My noble friend Lord Boardman counted 63 specialist services; I make it 66, but whatever it is, it is a great number, and they would be fragmented or duplicated under the proposed order. Your Lordships will be glad to hear that I do not intend to go through them all. I was going to say something about strategic land use and planning, but that subject has been fairly well aired. The proposal for three new authorities assuming joint responsibility for planning instead of a single authority must be doubtful, to say the least. That is what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was concerned about in her amendment.
In one way the fortress mentality is justified because Leicester's boundaries, drawn up in 1935, are very tight and in many ways artificial. There is not enough room to meet all the needs, so many joint arrangements would be required, thus completely undermining the principle of a unitary authority.
There are no tracts of derelict land to be recycled. I remember years ago driving along the Belgrave Road area and seeing rows and rows of depressing back-to-back houses and wondering when they would he knocked down and replaced. Then along came the mass immigration of Asians from Uganda et cetera who have renovated and relit the area, as well as set up scores of prosperous businesses. That is a very good thing in many ways, but excludes thoughts of new houses for the home population.
So, as the Local Government Commission has to admit,There remains little scope for further development within the present boundaries, so inevitably the future planning and economic development of the area will need to involve parts of Blaby, Oadby, Wigston, Charnwood and possibly Harborough".A unitary Leicester on present boundaries would also have a detrimental effect on surrounding suburban and rural areas which rely heavily on services, such as special schools, based in Leicester.
As to Rutland, although it is not really within my sphere I confess I was pleased when I heard that Rutland was going to stage some sort of revival. I have always been fascinated by England's smallest county and enchanted by the county town of Oakham. Indeed, I am physically incapable of using any other address than "Oakham, Rutland" on an envelope.
I have no wish to snuff out or take over some 34,000 people and this land. For example, the 1588 Leicestershire and Rutland police have always got on well together and should remain like that, but a rigid unitary authority again gives me visions of a fortress mentality. Rather surprisingly, I thought at the time, I have been written to by various householders, councillors, schoolteachers, etc., in Rutland asking me to try to ensure the continued alliance with Leicestershire. Householders are not anxious to pay between £125 and £170 per annum minimum as their share of the increased total of £2 million per annum. In education, for example, Mr. Hitchcox of the Ketton Church of England primary school in Rutland, is only one schoolmaster who asks your Lordships to prevent, using his words, "the proposed insanity".
Your Lordships may by now have the impression that I am not exactly impressed with this order and could not vote to approve it. After what has been said, I hope my noble friend Lord Ferrers will recognise our feelings and suggest how we might proceed. After all, the noble Earl has more Leicestershire blood in his veins than anyone else here.
As I understand it, until today this order has had only one hour and 30 minutes scrutiny by the Standing Committee in the other place. The composition of that committee was strange, to say the least. I fear I have only recently become directly involved in these proposals, having been laid up for most of last year, but there is a great deal of experience in this House which cannot be expressed in one evening and at this hour. I would happily vote for some motion or amendment that would have the effect of allowing more time to scrutinise the order. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Ferrers will suggest that we refer the matter to a Select Committee.
There is a great deal at stake and everybody in the area is bound to he affected in some way. At the moment many of us feel that change is being proposed for change's sake and not because the present set-up is unsatisfactory. No other proposed unitary authority is as essential to and independent with its county as Leicester is with Leicestershire. I am sorry to have to say that I fear this order will be expensive and a retrograde step.
§ 12.9 a.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I must apologise that my name is not on the list of speakers. I was at a meeting in the City this morning; I found myself in a traffic jam outside St. Paul's and did not arrive before 12 o'clock in time to put my name down.
I speak, as the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, knows, as a children's officer and a director of social services. I spent three-and-a-half very happy years working in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, and therefore I have a little knowledge of that delightful area of England.
1589 Oxford has a great historic background, as has Rutland. We have a Lord Mayor and ceremony. I should have thought that Rutland would be able to have the ceremonial procedures that it wants. I cannot think that Rutland will ever lose its wonderful historic identity.
I shall talk about the social services. The noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, spoke about the wonderful woman Rutland had as a children's officer. Since then social services have changed completely. They have now to deal with the Children Act 1989, which produces an enormous amount of work; the community care legislation; and, as has been said, Part III of the Education Act.
A director of social services in Rutland will now have a solely bureaucratic job. It will not involve social work, because Rutland will be unable to provide the facilities that it will need to deal with all the social work cases. It will find itself buying in services through the purchaser/provider system. So the director of social services will not be doing social work but merely obtaining services by buying them in. Under those circumstances, a true social worker would not find the job satisfying, although he or she would be satisfied at living in a lovely place like Rutland.
Several noble Lords have talked about the social services report. I can tell your Lordships why it has not been seen: it has not been published. I have made inquiries about it. The social services inspectorate of the Department of Health has visited Rutland. It has talked to Rutland, but it has not said whether it agrees or disagrees with any recommended change. It has asked Rutland to produce a plan, and that plan has not yet been produced. I hope I have not misunderstood that, because I have made careful inquiries. We do not yet know what the social services inspectorate will recommend.
Coterminosity will cause a great deal of extra work. Rutland will find it difficult to work with the police, the Probation Service, the courts, and the child protection teams. It will find it far more difficult than it envisaged because when it was its own authority it did not have that range of work to do.
Other noble Lords have talked about costs. Do the people of Rutland really know what this will cost them? I acknowledge that some of them are so anxious to have independence that they believe the price is worth paying, but it will come hard to a number of people in Rutland.
When I worked in the area, Leicester City and the County of Leicester worked harmoniously with the county and City of Rutland. I cannot believe that it will add to the efficiency of education, the social services, and other services for them not to be as one. Oxford is an old historic city which goes back to the 12th century. We have the county, and we have the status quo. It is working out extremely well. Leicester is in the centre of the area, as is Oxford. I would say that the system of one central department, with branch offices all with the same policy and operating in the 1590 same way throughout the county, gives both flexibility and a cohesive service. Therefore I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Kimball.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, let me first of all declare an interest as a vice-president of the Association of District Councils. This has been a full and interesting debate, especially on issues of cost, boundaries and democratic representation. These are issues which, if I may say so, have been more thoroughly explored and at greater length in this House tonight than they have been in the other place.
As it is late, I will not say much of what I was going to say. The 1974 reorganisation, as is widely agreed, was especially unfortunate for those former county boroughs, like Leicester, which for centuries, as proud and independent cities, had run their own affairs— and that at a time when in county councils the administration was by justices in quarter session.
With a population of 285,000 and a strong tradition of self-government, I think it could be argued that Leicester should never have lost so many vital functions in 1974. Reorganisation, we are now told, has strong local support. I think there can be no doubt about the competence and viability of Leicester City, nor of the remaining county council, to provide the full range of services; and in so far as it would allow the county council to focus on more rural matters undistracted by the urban focus of the city of Leicester and its strong ethnic mix, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, then we very much hope that reorganisation will, for the people of Leicestershire and of Leicester City, be a win-win proposal.
These orders are consistent with those so far proposed for Bristol, York and Hull, and for others like Nottingham, Derby, Plymouth, Portsmouth, and so on, which are in the pipeline. I have to say that the situation is rather different when one looks at Rutland. As many speakers tonight have said, Rutland clearly has a strong sense of community and historic identity. Very real worries have been expressed about cost, to which my noble friend Lord Dormand referred. Rutland is extremely small: smaller in population, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, than many urban parishes and many town councils, although it is of course larger than the Scilly Isles and some Scottish island councils. The jury, I have to say, may he out in some eyes on Rutland's competence to ensure the delivery of all services to an acceptable level. I think one does accept many of the worries mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, tonight.
However, if the Department of Health is satisfied in terms of its social services provision, and given the move to local self-management of education— which means, of course, that schools are no longer dependent on having a large number-based local authority to run them-I join with other noble Lords tonight in hoping and trusting that Rutland Council will be an effective and efficient local authority. We wish it well, whatever question marks we may have about the 1591 viability of its services. What it does, of course, is to once and for all destroy any of the arguments that only local authorities of at least 100,000 or 150,000 can be viable. In so far as Rutland is evidence of the plurality of English local government, that too performs a useful service.
What I want to do in the remaining time is to focus rather more explicitly on the issue of museums, raised by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball. At the 1974 re-organisation the museums service was, unusually, made a concurrent function; that is, both district council and county council could take responsibility for it. Virtually all former county boroughs of which I am aware— for example, Hull, Derby, Nottingham, Plymouth and Portsmouth— chose to continue to run their own museums authority. That means that, as they become unitary authorities, there is no question involved of splintering, dividing or trying to take apart what has been knitted together. They have run side by side and county councils have done likewise. Therefore, no historic properties, no collections and no professional staff need to be untangled.
Two counties, both of which have been mentioned tonight— Norfolk and Leicester— followed a different route in 1974. In that year, Leicester City was running a museum service in which 70 percent. of its collection referred not to the city but to the county; in other words, the city was running a truncated, county museum service on a county-borough base. While that was just possible financially on such a base, it clearly became impossible on the much smaller budget of a district council. Therefore, by agreement in 1974, and uniquely, which I believe is the right word to use tonight, the entire city museums service was transferred to the county: its historic buildings and its collections and records, lock, stock and barrel. So far as I am aware, it was the only former county borough so to do.
However, Norwich and Norfolk (the other aberrant county) did it differently, as one might expect. We set up— and I speak as one of the negotiators for the arrangement in 1972— a joint museums authority. The city council retained ownership of its historic properties, including the castle and its pre-1974 collection; but the county ran and managed the entire collection and owns the post-1974 additions. The museums authority is steered by a joint committee of city and county councillors, the more easily, I believe, because museums are not normally politically contentious and all members are guided by their professional officers. They are very dependent on that advice. Were Norwich to become a unitary authority I am confident that the same joint— authority arrangements would rightly and properly continue. I would certainly argue vigorously for that.
Therefore, in most of England, former county boroughs, which are now becoming unitary authorities again, kept a separate, independent and free-standing museum service. Norfolk went for a joint museum service. Leicestershire, uniquely, went for an exclusively county service. That is why the noble 1592 Lord, Lord Kimball, is absolutely right tonight to focus on the particular problems that that presents at re-organisation.
Since 1974, Leicester .county has built up that service to what I believe is possibly one of the finest in the country. It has 200 staff, a strong archaeological unit which, inevitably, has to be county-wide, a strong county ecology service, a strong county records service (though one, I have to say, that is so strong that it tried to charge me twice for using the service once; no doubt that will show its financial viability in the future, and I am sure that it was not personal) and pioneering community and disability access. It is clearly a service which is hugely popular.
It is clearly difficult and certainly unwise to splinter an integrated service. How does one break up the collections? Does one do so by way of where the material came from, from where it refers to or even by ascertaining whether it was acquired before or after 1974? If I may suggest it, the answer is that the city and the county together should consider, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, said, a joint solution along the Norfolk lines which will protect and strengthen an integrated service.
The very "interconnectedness" that so many speakers have mentioned tonight of city and county makes that a sensible solution in my view. Such a service does work. I know. I can personally recommend it. To my pleasure, I believe that the city of Leicester, as well as the county of Leicestershire, also recognise that fact. In a letter to the Minister of 27th February of which I have a copy— and I know that the noble Earl will forgive me for mentioning it— the leader of the city council said:I am writing to confirm that Leicester City Council is fully committed to establishing robust joint arrangements for the Museums. Arts and Records Services".This could be a joint board or a joint committee. Either way, I was assured this evening on the telephone by the leader of Leicester City Council, Peter Soulsby, that there will be an integrated service, run by a joint authority, with councillors drawn from both authorities and with shared financial responsibility. The leader of Leicester City Council told me tonight that he expects that those joint arrangements will be in place by the end of June at the latest and probably well before then.
Therefore, as a result of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, with the support of other noble Lords led by the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, the city and county councils have been brought together to a sensible view that there should be an integrated museum service. A joint museums authority will follow. I am sure that that will benefit the people of both Leicester and Leicestershire. With those assurances on an important service, we are happy to support the recommendations.
§ 12.25 a.m.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. I find myself in some slight 1593 difficulty because, owing to the lateness of the hour, one might wish for a short reply, but it would he a discourtesy if I did not reply to noble Lords who, correctly, have aired their anxieties.
I know that this is a matter of considerable concern to many people who live in Leicestershire and Rutland. It is notable that tonight we have heard from my noble friend Lord Kimball, who has lived in Rutland and is well connected with Leicestershire; the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, who lives in Rutland; the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who lives in Leicestershire; my noble friend Lord Boardman, who was Member of Parliament for Leicester; and my noble friend Lord Crawshaw, who is also a great Leicestershire man. Therefore, a great deal of interest has been shown in Leicestershire this evening.
My noble friend Lord Kimball said that there was no groundswell for change, as did my noble friend Lord Boardman. That is perfectly true. One of the difficulties about any local government changes is that nobody actually likes change but everyone wants to hang on to what they have. However, it was necessary for the Government to set up the Local Government Commission to suggest what changes ought to be made where it considered that necessary. That is why we have taken the advice of the Local Government Commission.
My noble friends Lord Kimball and Lord Boardman and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, criticised the way the order was dealt with in another place. I shall not follow that track because that is a matter for another place.
I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, welcomed the return of Rutland. I gather that that is very popular in the area of Rutland. Indeed, I am told that one brewery there— none other than Ruddles brewery in Oakham in Rutland— is producing a special beer called Independence, so the order may please some people, and it will please a great many more who have had a swig of the beer.
It has been questioned whether Rutland, with a population of 34,000, can provide the necessary services. I believe that it can. It is not the smallest county. There are other authorities which are smaller. For instance, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles are three Scottish councils which have been unitary authorities since 1975. They are all smaller than Rutland. Orkney has a population of only 20,000, which makes Rutland look quite big in comparison. Therefore it is possible for the change to be carried out properly. It will be an enabling authority. That means that it can buy in services as necessary. The job of that unitary authority will he to ensure that services are available to the people of Rutland, whether those services are provided by the authority itself or are purchased from another.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, was concerned that this should be a ceremonial authority without being a unitary authority. I am hound to tell her that Rutland can only have a ceremonial identity if there is a structural change. There is no such thing 1594 as an historic county status. Therefore it can only become a county again if Rutland becomes a unitary authority.
That puzzled my noble.friend Lady Faithfull. She asked, "What about Oxford?" Oxford has a Lord Mayor because it is a city. Oxfordshire has a Lord Lieutenant because it is a county. At present, Rutland cannot have a Lord Lieutenant because it is not a county for the purposes of the Local Government Act 1972. It can only become a county and have a Lord Lieutenant if it becomes a unitary authority.
I thought my noble friend Lord Kimball made a convincing speech in support of his amendment. My noble friend Lady Brigstocke, my noble friend Lord Rees, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, also agreed with what he said about the museum, arts and records service. The noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, said that it was a good museum service as— this was not the reason he gave to justify that— it had the records of his own family. I, too, believe that it is a good service; it also has the records of my family.
I know that there has been considerable concern in the locality about what will happen to the museums, arts and records' service. Having been brought up in Leicestershire, and having gone in the New Year to open a Robert Bakewell exhibition, put on by the museum service— my noble friend Lord Kimball referred to it— I know only too well what an excellent service the people in "old" Leicestershire have.
My noble friend was quite right, because I had been to Rutland I was asked to give a golden horseshoe at the Castle Museum, Oakham. I was told that one of the requirements is that a Peer who visits Oakham should give a horseshoe. I was asked to do so, and I said in a conciliatory way that of course I would give a horseshoe. I was not aware until this evening that it was supposed to be a golden horseshoe. However that may be, a horseshoe of some description will appear in due course. I think it is a very good thing to have such practices.
When I went to Leicestershire, none of those whom I met could resist the opportunity of giving me the full flood of their views; and I do not take any exception to that. They were quite right to do so and they did it with great courtesy. I have also had the pleasure of receiving various letters about the matter— all virtually saying the same thing, "We have an excellent service and we don't want it bust up".
After all, the service has received support from local, regional and national organisations; and the creation of this service some 20 years ago brought together a whole range of "heritage" activities where the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts.
I hope that I can allay some of the fears which some noble Lords have understandably expressed this evening, and which to an extent I share. In the end it must be for the authorities concerned to decide how best to provide the full range of local government services in their areas. It would not be right for the Government to try to force them to adopt joint arrangements. In fact it is not possible for us to do so.
1595 The fact is that the Government have no powers to force them to adopt joint arrangements. First, the provision of a museums service is discretionary on the part of local authorities. They are not obliged to provide the service. Secondly, if we were to force them to join together we would be changing a discretionary function into a compulsory one. We cannot do that.
It was because we understood the concerns which people had locally that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary took the unusual step of writing to the authorities concerned. He told them that we expect them all to co-operate in setting up good arrangements to safeguard the county's museums. Those arrangements should be to the satisfaction of the Museums and Galleries Commission which has issued guidelines to local authorities on the provision of the service. He also asked the local authorities to keep the Department of National Heritage informed of their arrangements.
Both Rutland and Leicester City Council have confirmed that they are sensitive to the need for an integrated service and they have undertaken to follow the guidance on the provision of museum services provided by the Museums and Galleries Commission and the Department of National Heritage.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, I received a letter today from the leader of Leicester City Council. I confirm that he said that they were:committed to establishing robust joint arrangements for the Museums, Arts and Records Services",and that they were "anxious" to reach a sensible conclusion with the county council which:preserved the integrity of the collections".He also said that it had been decided to hold a special meeting of the members and officers of the two authorities within, they hoped, the next two weeks. That is a pretty convincing undertaking. The letter also said that the council was working with the Museums and Galleries Commission to find a suitable solution.
My noble friend Lord Rees said that we, the Government, had been slow about saying how the assets would be divided up. I hope that the assets will not be divided up. The whole purpose of what we have been trying to do is to ensure that the assets will not be divided up. I do not see that there should be any difficulty in keeping the same excellent standard of service as has been achieved to date; but it will be organised by a joint committee of the three authorities, if that is what they want.
After all, there is nothing new in that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, it has been done in the county in which I now live. I am not a peripatetic person, but it just happens that I live in Norfolk, whereas I used to live in Leicestershire. Therefore, I happen to have experience, in a modest way, of both. That has happened in Norfolk and has worked well for the past 20 years.
1596 In my personal modest judgment, it would be a disaster if the Leicestershire Museums, Arts and Records Service were to be split up. It would be quite unnecessary. I simply cannot believe that it would be in anyone's interest to use up valuable staff resources in busting up a service which is doing good work. I am sure that there are enough people of stature and goodwill in Leicestershire to ensure that that does not happen. If the three local authorities work together— and there is no reason why they should not and I understand that they intend to— I see no reason to think that the services will not continue.
I turn to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in which she says that there is no statutory safeguard for effective strategic planning. I mentioned earlier the joint arrangements which we seek for structure planning in Leicestershire. Our policy is that where there needs to be joint working, it should be done on a voluntary basis. We think that this is more accountable. For all services there should be statutory joint arrangements only where it is absolutely necessary. Authorities locally are in the best position to know what arrangements are most suitable in their own circumstances.
As the noble Baroness said, Section 21 of the 1992 Act contains a power for the Secretary of State to set up a statutory joint authority in cases where voluntary arrangements do not work. I am advised though— and the noble Baroness confirmed this— that the power is not available in hybrid situations like Leicestershire. My right honourable friend has made it clear that he is looking to the authorities concerned to produce a structure plan for their combined areas. He has asked them to set up joint working arrangements to maintain the Leicestershire structure plan.
The department has recently consulted on a draft circular about that. The circular contains advice on development planning after reorganisation. We expect to publish the final circular within the next month or so. The local authority associations and planning officer societies are working together to provide practical guidance to their members nationally. It will cover the different approaches to joint working which are possible under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972. They expect to publish a guidance note shortly. I find that encouraging.
My noble friend Lord Kimball and the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, were concerned about the size of Rutland, saying it was too small. I have explained that there are other unitary authorities smaller than it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was concerned about the social services findings. The Department of Health found that Rutland understood the scale of the role which it will assume. Rutland is aware of the need to adopt an enabling role rather than to provide services directly itself, and that it must co-operate with other authorities in the provision of those services. Considerable progress has already been made in identifying the issues and in finding the solutions.
The social services inspector was in regular contact with the district council. This included meetings with the authority and consultants advising the district on 1597 its unitary preparations. The inspector concentrated on assisting Rutland to identify and to explore the more critical issues in order to find a tailor-made solution.
The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, was concerned about the cost implications. The commission made it perfectly clear that there were cost implications. The response from the people of Rutland was, nevertheless, still to support the unitary status. Given the anxieties expressed, we undertook a further analysis of the financial implications. Independent advice from the Institute of Public Finance estimates the increased council tax to be somewhere between £6 and £15, which is much less than the estimates of the commission.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, were concerned, again, about the costs of transition. The authorities can apply for supplementary credit approvals for transitional costs. That allows them to spread the costs over many years and in some cases to defer all repayments for a while. That is in order to enable reorganisation to be implemented smoothly and effectively.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, was concerned about Rutland being an enabling authority. I do not think it is true to say that enabling authorities are less democratic than those that offer the direct provision of services. It is still the councillors who decide what the level of service should be and how those services should be provided. It may be that they decide to provide the service themselves, or it may be that they decide to buy it in. But either way it is a democratically provided service.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Farrington and Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull were concerned about the publication of the report by the Social Services Inspectorate. I shall look into the matter, if I may. My noble friend Lady Faithfull said that the Social Services Inspectorate has not made a recommendation. However, the report says in terms that, given its work with Rutland, it has no reason to object to the decision to award Rutland unitary status.
My noble friend Lord Boardman, with all his experience as a former Member of Parliament for Leicester, was concerned about the expansion of Leicester's boundaries. The commission looked at this issue pretty carefully before producing its draft report. It found that the city council is not pressing for an increase in its boundaries. There is evidence that people outside the city would strongly oppose being included in Leicester. It therefore concluded that there would not be an extension.
My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith was concerned about special educational needs. The authorities are determined that there should be no deterioration in the service. Various options are being explored to ensure that that does not happen. No local authority is totally independent in the provision of special education, and it is normal for those kinds of schools to take children from other areas. That is already the case in Leicestershire now.
1598 My noble friends Lord Dixon-Smith and Lady Faithfull, and the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, were concerned about future costs in Rutland. The council tax must be the result of the authority's decision on its level of spending and organisation. Rutland has made a commitment to residents that it will organise itself so that there will be no heavy tax burdens resulting from reorganisation. In the end, it must be the councils which are accountable to the electors.
My noble friend Lord Boardman and others referred to the representations on the police authorities. I accept that the present system may throw up difficulties. The local authority associations have suggested, and we have agreed, that the effects of the present rules in those areas where local government is being restructured should be looked at after October, when the police authorities start to reconstitute themselves for the changes on 1st April 1997, when we shall have a better idea as to what the effects across the country are.
A number of noble Lords referred to structure planning. That depends on a voluntary approach. The Secretary of State for the Environment will continue to scrutinise the structure plan proposals in the normal way. His powers of intervention in the plan maturing process under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 remain unchanged. He will consider using them as necessary to ensure that plans remain up to date and consistent with the relevant regional planning guidance. I know that whenever reorganisations of local government take place they throw up a tremendous number of anxieties and concerns. The most prevalent anxiety is that people do not like moving from positions that they know, accept and understand. On the other hand, as time goes on one has to have a relook and consider whether local government services are provided in the best possible way in view of what is likely to happen in future. It was for that reason that we set up the Local Government Commission which produced a report. I hope that, despite the anxieties expressed by noble Lords, they will feel that this is worth a good shot and that I have been able to reassure them on those matters about which they have been particularly anxious. I hope that my noble friend Lord Kimball and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, may feel it prudent not to press their amendments. If so, I will later move that my Motion be agreed to.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, despite the late hour, we have had a very good debate. I am most grateful to all noble Lords and Baronesses who have supported me in my amendment. We keep using the term "unique". I do not know whether it is unique in your Lordships' House that almost 50 per cent. of the contributions to the debate have been made by noble Baronesses on all sides of the House. There is only one extra male speaker.
I should like to say how grateful everybody in Leicestershire and the museum service will be for what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has said, 1599 making it perfectly clear that some form of joint board or committee to maintain an integrated museum service is in everybody's mind.
After the forthright and positive way in which my noble friend has wound up the debate, I hope that the whole House will agree that the proper thing for me to do is to thank him for the guidance in his wind-up speech and to seek your Lordships' permission to withdraw my amendment.
1600 Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment not moved.]
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at thirteen minutes before one o'clock.