HL Deb 16 July 1996 vol 574 cc759-803

4.6 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, we have today nine orders to consider, which implement the last tranche of recommendations from the Local Government Review. The orders are similar in nature, but, if your Lordships will permit me, I should like to speak in most detail to the Berkshire order in view of the amendment which my noble friend Lord Peyton has put on the Order Paper.

The order will abolish Berkshire County Council. In its place it will establish on 1st April 1998 six unitary authorities—one for each of the existing districts. It will also provide for certain other matters which follow on from that structural change. In each prospective unitary authority, there will be elections for the whole authority in May 1997. For Newbury, the order redraws the boundaries of electoral wards in order to correct the wide variations in the ratio of councillors to electors in some of the wards. For the same reason, the order provides for an additional councillor in Slough.

The order will make each of the unitary authorities a fire authority. That paves the way for an order under the Fire Services Act 1947 which will establish a combined fire authority for the county, effectively, therefore, preserving the existing Berkshire fire brigade area.

The order will transfer the county council's strategic planning responsibilities to the unitary authorities. They will then be able to work together to maintain a joint structure plan for the county. The order also provides for the continuing application of local legislation.

Unitary local government can bring many benefits including greater efficiency, less confusion and better accountability. It is for those reasons that we asked the independent Local Government Commission to look at the structure of local government in Berkshire, as well as in the other shire counties. There were six district authorities in Berkshire and the Berkshire County Council. In December 1994, the commission recommended that the present two tier structure should be replaced by a structure of five unitary authorities. They were to be based on four of the existing districts, together with a new authority which was to be formed by a merger of the two other districts; namely, Bracknell Forest and Windsor Maidenhead, thereby making five unitary authorities in all.

From some of the things which have been said on the subject outside your Lordships' House, noble Lords might be forgiven for thinking that the Government had gone against the clear advice they had received and were going down a path of their own choosing on Berkshire. That is not the case at all. My right honourable friend has accepted the commission's recommendations almost entirely. The commission recommended unitary local government throughout Berkshire. We have accepted that. The only point on which we disagreed was the proposed merger between Bracknell Forest and Windsor and Maidenhead. We considered that this would be unsettling and that a merger would increase the transitional costs.

The commission recognised in its report that a six-unitary-authority option could be expected to command wide public support. This was clear when the commission undertook its initial research into the views of the community. It was also apparent in the representations we received after the Commission's report was published. On top of that, six of the seven Members of Parliament for Berkshire support six unitary authorities. The seventh Member of Parliament, Mr. Rendel, representing Newbury, supports the abolition of the county council and the proposal for Newbury to become a single tier authority.

All this persuaded us that a separate council for each district would best reflect the community identities as well as providing effective and convenient local government. And Parliament clearly states in the Local Government Act 1992 that local government should be so organised as to provide "effective and convenient local government". It is important to balance all these points.

Yesterday we had a discussion on polls and their value. Polls may be interesting in so far as they provide an answer at one particular time to one particular question. The way in which the question is formulated can easily affect the result, but we should take particular care when the opinions which are being measured may be affected by substantial publicity campaigns. The Government have to look beyond opinion polls and beyond campaigns. We have to consider whether change will reflect local identity, to use a quotable phrase, in all its manifestations and whether it will secure effective local government.

I am only too well aware that many people hate change. That is a perfectly natural human phenomenon, in which I participate regularly. Any change creates feelings of apprehension. Berkshire County Council has orchestrated a very effective and vigorous campaign against its own abolition. One can understand that. It is said that six authorities could not match the county council's scope for economies of scale. The county council also claims that it has already made all the savings which are possible and that the costs of local government will increase greatly. However, this argument is questionable, and it is also one which is not accepted by the district councils.

The six district councils of Berkshire have committed themselves to providing good services at no extra cost to local taxpayers. This is not the Government saying it: this is the local authorities themselves saying it. And it is after all the districts which will be held to account if they fail to keep their promises and live up to their guarantees. Although the county council says that there are economies of scale in being big, one also has to remember that the fashionable phrase nowadays is that being big is not necessarily so successful and that any potential loss of economies of scale needs to be balanced against the significant gains which can arise from bringing services such as housing, which is a district council service, social services, which is a county service, environmental health, which is a district service, and trading standards, which is a county service, all under one roof.

It is said that the voluntary sector is opposed to the abolition of the county council. It is perhaps the case that dealing with just one authority is simpler than dealing with six. On the other hand, smaller authorities with a more local base than that of a county council should be better able to assess the needs of their area and to ensure a close match between those needs and the provision of services. It is the needs of ordinary people which should determine how best the services are to be provided, not administrative convenience.

It is sometimes interesting to see what people who have had experience of unitary authorities say about them. It is easy for people to say unitary authorities will not work, that they will be more expensive, and so on. However, the chief executive of North Somerset Council, a unitary authority which came into existence in April this year, wrote to my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government, saying: Comments made about the strategic disadvantage of smaller unitary authorities have not proved to be well founded".

Smaller unitary authorities, he says, can take advantage of better local knowledge and can find the most effective method of service provision using the public, private or voluntary sectors. Therefore, unitary authorities, certainly in the opinion of those who have experience of running them, can prove to be better, even when it was thought beforehand that that would not be the case.

I turn now, if I may, to my noble friend's amendment. This is not just a Motion; it is not just a critical Motion. It is, if I might say so, a blockbuster of a wrecking amendment. It invites your Lordships, in no uncertain terms, not to approve the order. One of the reasons it gives is that Berkshire is the only county council of an historic county which is being abolished as a result of the Local Government Review. I cannot disagree with that; it is perfectly true. But it is not the Royal County of Berkshire which is being abolished, but the county council.

The Royal County of Berkshire itself is not touched. It existed for 1,000 years before ever the county council was set up. The county council has existed only since the end of the last century. So there is no reason why the Royal County of Berkshire should not last as long after the county council is abolished. What we are doing is replacing the method of local government within the county, and that is a very different matter.

All the attributes of an historic county will remain in place. There will, for example, still be a Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire. I understand that the district councils will ensure that they continue to support the lieutenancy. Also, it is not true that Berkshire County Council has been, in my noble friend's words in his amendment, "singled out" for special treatment. Berkshire County Council actually pressed the case for its own abolition; it was the only county council to do so. Of course the council has now changed its mind, but everyone can do that. The fact is that it supported the abolition case in the first place.

The local authorities in Berkshire, in their submission to the commission in 1994—only two years ago—which was agreed and signed by five out of the six district councils and the Berkshire County Council, said: All councils, including the county council, recognise that unitary authorities are the best way of delivering services in Berkshire. The two-tier system has caused confusion since its introduction in 1974, and there is support for change within the community. Unitary authorities will be closer and more accountable to their communities".

So said Berkshire County Council and five of the six district councils. I do not think I could have put it better myself.

What now is the position? The county council was originally in favour of unitary authorities. The Local Government Commission proposed unitary authorities. All the representatives of the people, the elected Members of Parliament for the county, approved the proposals, and another place has approved the order. I suggest that your Lordships would be ill advised to go against that and to go against the longstanding convention that your Lordships do not overturn orders which have been approved by another place. For all those reasons I believe that the order will provide the best local authority administration for Berkshire. I hope that your Lordships will approve the order. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Earl Ferrers.)

4.20 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil rose to move as an amendment to the above Motion to leave out all the words after ("That") and insert ("this House deplores Her Majesty's Government's proposal to abolish Berkshire County Council on the grounds that of the 36 traditional shire county councils subject to the local government review only Berkshire has been singled out for total dismemberment, and calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the order until such time as the people of Berkshire have had the opportunity to indicate support or otherwise for this position.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, while of course I am grateful for the remarks of my noble friend, and I have listened to them with interest, I am sorry to say that I have heard nothing new this afternoon, probably because there was nothing new to be said on his side of the argument. Until a few months ago, when he became seriously ill, it had been the intention of my noble friend Lord Colnbrook to seek to persuade your Lordships that this measure was both ill-conceived and harsh in that it singled out the Royal County of Berkshire to be sliced up into six pieces and its powers and duties transferred to no fewer than six unitary authorities. My noble friend has done his best to explain why it is that the Government have gone even further than the Local Government Commission recommended. I am sure that I shall at least have your Lordships' agreement in sending a message of sympathy to my noble friend Lord Colnbrook, and expressing the hope that he will make a speedy and complete recovery and return to your Lordships' House before very long.

Those who sit on this side of the House will, I am sure, be readier than others to recognise the massive achievements in many fields over 17 years of successive Conservative governments. There will, however, be some—perhaps quite a number—among my noble friends on this side of the House who will feel a good deal less comfortable as regards the field of local government, in which the record, I believe, has been far from happy. They will not find it all that easy—I do not find it easy—to avoid the conclusion that in one instance after another the Government have simply got things wrong. Certainly over the years the loyalties of many of the Government's own supporters in local councils have been greatly strained. Ministers have from time to time—I am sure they did not mean to do so—given the impression of being possessed by an almost ineradicable hostility towards local government, and of aiming to hobble, if not to fillet, its total structure.

The consequences for the Conservative Party have been dire. Whereas it controlled 36 county councils in 1977, and 19 in 1989, it now controls only one. There has been during those years a positive bombardment of legislation. There have been no fewer than 210 Acts of Parliament bearing upon the functions and duties of local authorities. Orders, regulations and circulars have poured out in abundance. There have been few things like it since the time of Noah, only this time there has been no rainbow in the sky, nor any sign of a dove returning with some evidence that the flood may be subsiding.

Considerations of your Lordships' patience and time preclude me from mentioning more than two particularly ill-starred ventures in this field. First, the poll tax proved to be a costly and unmitigated disaster. Secondly, there was visited upon us the Local Government Commission, which at first seemed like an attempt to heal the wounds and to find out exactly what it was that people wanted. However, it soon drifted into a somewhat superficial exercise, the purpose of which seems to have been to persuade people of the merits of unitary authorities.

It is, I think, hard to say whether the commission's preference for unitary authorities arose from its own convictions, or from suggestions received from elsewhere, or whether it was enticed by the siren voices of the districts who claimed to be closer to the people and well able to perform the county councils' duties in addition to their own. By contrast, in the early stages the county councils were slow to see the dangers and came near to letting their side of the argument go by default.

The commission recommended, as a result of its first round of deliberations, the extinction of four county councils and the mutilation of six others. A resounding chorus of protest ensued and persuaded both the Government and the commission to have second thoughts. Those resulted in some welcome reprieves, of which, I am happy to say, my own county of Somerset was one. For the Royal County of Berkshire, however, there was no such happy outcome. It is alone in being shoved rather abruptly into the Government's bacon slicer. Rather oddly, the county council is being taken to task for having at first fallen in with the Government's proposal and accepting its own demise. There are, however, a number of factors which should be borne in mind before too much is made of this argument which the Government are wont to trot out from time to time.

First, I suggest to your Lordships that there is nothing inherently wicked, or even wrong-headed, in having second thoughts. I feel sure that Ministers would be the first to give friendly accommodation to such an idea for they have been known to change their minds themselves from time to time. Secondly—this seems to me to be important—the council's own complexion and leadership have changed. Thirdly, the council has learned from the way in which the protests of others have been received that invitations from the Government to climb aboard their tumbrel can be turned down. Fourthly, the proposal itself has changed, as my noble friend said. Whereas at the beginning there were to be three or four unitary authorities, the number has now grown to six. Last, and most importantly, people have begun to reflect upon the price they may have to pay. Present estimates are that the owner of a house worth £100,000 will have to find a further £90 a year to meet transitional and continuing costs.

My noble friend on the Front Bench invited your Lordships to look at what has happened in other unitary authorities. I have done so. The other day I received a letter—I am sure many noble Lords have received similar letters—from Councillor Bob Pitt of Middlesbrough. He reflected on what had happened in Cleveland. He wrote: I cannot emphasise too strongly the disastrous legacy which the Local Government Commission has left for the people of my own area. It is now absolutely clear that the Commission hopelessly under-estimated the costs of making the change to smaller unitary authorities and that the prospect of predicted savings, even in the longer term, is negligible".

He went on to say that whereas the Local Government Commission had estimated its costs to be £18 million, so far approval for reorganisation costs of £32 million has been given by the Government, and the estimated likely cost in the end is £42 million.

Other anxieties have begun to arise as people begin to face the multiplication of boundaries. It will not be easy to carve up the county's arrangements for education or for libraries. Specialist services for the young, old, blind, deaf and mentally handicapped, affordable on a county basis, may be too much of a burden to bear for an authority a fraction of the size. Moreover, the charities which make a huge contribution to such services are organised on a county basis and cannot be parcelled out to match the new set up.

I have had a number of letters from various charitable bodies. In the interests of time I shall cut the extracts very short. The Berkshire Autistic Society states: We greatly fear that new authorities will not wish to be involved with children's problems to such an extent".

Reading Deaf Children's Society states: We cannot see how the effective provision of special education can be carried out by smaller education authorities without incurring considerable additional financial burden on the local taxpayers".

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord quoted from the Reading Deaf Children's Society. Is he aware that the county borough council of Reading, of which I was a member, pioneered the teaching of the deaf? Indeed, it was alone at one time in having as part of its education programme the teaching of the deaf. Therefore, I do not think that what the noble Lord says, and what his correspondents say, bear any relationship to what is happening.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, the noble Lord persuades me that it is always foolish to give way to someone who will speak later. I shall leave the noble Lord to make his own speech when it comes to his turn.

I was about to mention to your Lordships the views of Age Concern which ended its letter with this summary: Economies of scale will be lost. Services provided by volunteers will not readily divide into small units and specialist knowledge and expertise will be lost … Providing services to minority users where numbers are small may have to cease. At worst, charities such as ours may not survive". There will be problems also for planning and for highways. There will be difficulties for Ministers, for industry and for businesses. They will find themselves confronting different authorities. The new authorities themselves will not find it all that easy to get on with their neighbours—their fellow unitary authorities—and even less with those much larger county authorities with which they will be surrounded and by which they will be outgunned.

The fact that this order was swept quickly through the other place on a favourable tide should not unduly trouble your Lordships in considering this amendment. My noble friend described it as a blockbuster. All it calls for is some attention to be paid to the consequences and the need further to explore opinion in Berkshire.

The Government have made much of the fact that the MPs who represent Berkshire constituencies have supported the order. They have had, however, the difficulty that at the beginning, all the councils concerned, including the county council, supported the measure. For reasons with which I have already dealt the county council has now changed its view. Having taken up that position, very reasonably at that stage, I quite understand that it would be very difficult for Members of Parliament, who represent not the county as a whole but slices of it, to change their views. Moreover, they will have been, I am sure, under considerable pressure from those authorities which will be calling the tune in their own constituencies in the future.

I accept, of course, that there is a widespread desire to have done with argument: that almost anything is preferable to continued uncertainty. However, I believe that the proposed change, simple and easy as it can be made to appear, will bring with it expense, confusion and disruption which those who boldly put forward the proposal will find very hard to handle.

I want to end on a more general note. Without roots it seems to me that a political party can become a very odd and unpredictable affair, bidding for popular support, and seeking to fill its sails with any passing breeze in order to give the impression at least that it is on the move. I find it sad that the Conservative Party should now be seen, if not severing, at least picking at its own roots in an unfriendly way in the shire counties. I hope that by your votes today noble Lords will make the Government pause at least before they insist upon a measure which will be damaging both to themselves and to the communities whose interests it is their duty to sustain. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after ("That") and insert ("this House deplores Her Majesty's Government's proposal to abolish Berkshire County Council on the grounds that of the 36 traditional shire county councils subject to the local government review only Berkshire has been singled out for total dismemberment, and calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the order until such time as the people of Berkshire have had the opportunity to indicate support or otherwise for this position.")—(Lord Peyton of Yeovil.)

4.37 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I intervene in the debate as a member of a neighbouring county council—the county council of Surrey. However, I intervene also as someone whose interest in the constitution and the process of good government antedates by a very long time my membership both of the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrat Party. I wish, therefore, to support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said; and if he divides the House, I shall go with him into the Lobby.

From the earliest moment that the review of local government was put forward my concern for and my interest in the nature of good government, and what forms are best suited to it, led me to take a very close interest in it. I believe that it is essential at the local tier—a tier lower than the national level—to provide for two elements of good government: first, the local sensitivity; and, secondly, the strategic overview. Currently in the shire counties we have those two elements represented by the two levels of government.

I believe that if it had seemed likely at the beginning of the review of local government that we might end up with a system of relatively small unitary authorities and a regional authority to take the overall, broadly-based decisions, then I should have supported the Government throughout. But it quickly became clear that that was by no means the purpose of the exercise and that, if the unitary system were introduced throughout the country, there would be no protection for the much smaller authorities against the power of the central state. From an early stage, therefore, I opposed the review.

My concerns now, in relation to the order and the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, are with two aspects. One aspect is the process; the second is the aspect of results or consequences. I turn to the process and why I think the amendment is well drafted. I fasten upon the main and obvious fact that at no time have the electors of Berkshire been asked whether they are in favour of six unitary authorities in exchange for their county council. Berkshire is one of only two shire counties in which there was no opportunity at any time for people to show their wish to retain the status quo. That was not on the list of options submitted to the electors of Berkshire by the local government review. They were not allowed to vote for the status quo, nor were they invited to vote in favour or show their approval of six unitary authorities in place of the county council.

At a later stage in the proceedings, the local authorities put forward the suggestion of six unitary authorities, but it was in the context that there would be unitary authorities. The people who were consulted were asked to consider this question: if there are to be unitary authorities, upon what do you want them to be based?

Their response was that they would prefer them to be based on the existing district and borough councils. So the whole process of getting popular approval for the proposal has been flawed throughout. Therefore, reconsideration of the subject, as proposed by the amendment, is important.

As for the result, I do not believe that it will bring the benefits which the Minister put forward in his opening remarks. First, there is a fallacy abroad about the confusion of different levels of local government and the remoteness of the county council. The county council may be a long way from where people live, but the services are delivered to their doorstep, in their houses, in their schools and right where they live. When people receive those services, it hardly matters who delivers them: they are delivered by an individual, a head teacher, a social services worker, the person who responds to a letter about highways.

Through the county council, there is the scope to reduce costs by having a larger organisation. I draw your Lordships' attention to a letter which many noble Lords may have received from the Library Association. I take it as an individual example of a general truth. According to the letter, Strathclyde University has investigated public library services. It concluded that local unitary authorities with populations of less than 250,000 will be less efficient at delivering library services than larger authorities. All the Berkshire authorities have smaller populations; they are all 150,000 people or fewer.

The reasons the university came forward with that conclusion are twofold. First, it is expensive to divide up resources. That is true of information technology, which was never considered, certainly in the early stages, by the Local Government Commission as a cost. The division, relocation and reconfiguration of extremely complicated information technology, which is now universally applied to a wide range of services, is an additional cost. The second reason Strathclyde University came to that conclusion is that specialist services are provided—in this case by libraries—in many areas by county councils. If we start dividing them, the services become almost too small to stand on their own. I could mention the archaeological service and a whole range of different services provided by county councils which operate with no more than two or three people. Nevertheless, they provide a service to people which will be increasingly difficult to provide when the council is divided into unitary authorities. Countryside management may not be a problem in Berkshire; I do not know. It would certainly be a problem in my county of Surrey, and I speak as a member of the county council.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships, the amendment is well thought out and I hope it will attract your Lordships' support.

4.46 p.m.

Lord Bancroft

My Lords, I have had a lifelong professional interest in local government. The tide of eloquence of the first two speakers has washed away the Government's last sandcastle. By contrast, I must be brief and dull, but good arguments bear repetition and I shall amplify three.

First, why did Berkshire County Council volunteer a four-way split and then change its mind? The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, covered that. I shall burrow a little further. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, was hot on the question on 17th June and was warmly embraced by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, apparently to their mutual surprise. The noble Earl said: For some funny reason it [the county council] changed its mind … Why … I do not know, and I doubt whether the noble Baroness knows".—[Official Report, 17/6/96; col. 91] He returned to the subject today. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, went a long way to enlighten him and I shall help him further. Berkshire changed its mind because under its then leadership it was trusting and perhaps even gullible enough to believe in the Government of the day. The Government repeatedly claimed in 1993 that they wanted a widespread single-tier unitary structure. Mr. Gummer said in terms that the Government expected the two-tier structure to be "the exception". Berkshire made the grave error of assuming that that was serious government policy. The Minister for local government, Mr. David Curry, gave the same message time and again, not only to the House of Commons but to all English MPs. He has absorbed more punishment than any other British flyweight.

However, as late as 18th January 1995, Mr. Curry was still, personally committed to seeing unitary authorities throughout England". That was well after the Government's policy had been stopped abruptly in its tracks by the commissioner. It was spectacularly dead in very little water.

In the face of a reversal in government policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said, a prudent organisation exercises its right to change its mind to comply with the new circumstances. That is what Berkshire—voted one of the ten best administered authorities in the country—wisely did. Three unitary boroughs and one remanet unitary council, for example, might be seen as not unattractive as part of a country-wide unitary system. But it would be a grotesquely weak anomaly in a predominately two-tier system, which is what we have. The noble Earl and the noble Baroness might still regard this as "some funny reason"; more rational people do not.

My second reminder is that the Secretary of State's decision for six unitaries, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, pointed out, has been the subject of neither public consultation nor public endorsement. With great respect to the noble Earl, the reason for that decision by the Secretary of State remains a touch obscure, apart from providing him with a vehicle for a weak joke from "The Importance of Being Ernest" on 4th July last. In fact, the six-unitary system was analysed and decisively rejected by the Secretary of State's own Mark II, hand-picked Local Government Commission. The commission concluded damningly that it: would not meet the requirement for effective local government". That is a direct quotation.

My third reminder is that Berkshire is the only traditional shire county to be singled out for total dismemberment. Even someone like myself, with a decidedly non-cynical cast of mind, might detect a faint connection between its unique dismemberment and the fact that the then Conservative Berkshire was the first county to petition directly the High Court of Parliament over the heads of its MPs about the iniquities of the poll tax. The petition was presented appropriately on 15th March 1990—the Ides of March, my Lords.

4.52 p.m.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I do not live in Berkshire and I have no interest to declare. But I live in the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire, where it was tried to introduce exactly the same proposals as those now before us. A number of us in the county, including a number of your Lordships, decided that they should be opposed because we did not believe that they were right, advantageous, sensible or even that they would work. We argued that for four or five reasons.

First, there was no evidence that the people of Buckinghamshire wanted such a change. Indeed, such evidence as there was showed that they did not. There was a poll which showed that three-quarters of the people of Buckinghamshire wanted things left alone. Certainly those with whom I came into contact argued that very strongly. Exactly the same is true in Berkshire.

Secondly, we argued that the change would cost a great deal of money, particularly in capital expenditure, to no particular advantage and indeed probably the reverse. Exactly the same is true in Berkshire.

We argued that the proposed unitary authorities were too small. I believe that that is so. Indeed, some of those in Berkshire with whom I have spoken believe that the unitary authorities proposed are too small to deliver the kind of services which they are asked to deliver.

Fourthly, we said that there would be quite serious knock-on effects on the library service and, for example, the county museum and the county art gallery when it was proposed—I do not know how it would happen—that totally different districts would subscribe to a county which, in effect, whatever the noble Earl says, would no longer exist. I believe that the voluntary organisations would find it much more difficult to operate in the kind of circumstances that are proposed.

Fifthly, we argued, I hope delicately, that nothing antagonises people more than interfering with the fabric of their county and their local loyalties. Those who remember the proposals of Lord Redcliffe-Maud and Lord Walker might do well to think about that. I also speak as an inhabitant of the only county which has a Conservative county council.

We put all those arguments to the Secretary of State and to the Government. I am happy to say that the Secretary of State agreed with us and has left Buckinghamshire as it is, with the exception of Milton Keynes, and I must say that I believe there is a case for Milton Keynes. Buckinghamshire remains and the county council remains. I beg my noble friend to think again, because this order is wrong.

4.55 p.m.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, I rise to support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I congratulate him warmly on moving it today. In order that I may rebut any charge of being a Luddite in local government matters, let me say straightaway that the solution so far as concerns my own county of Hampshire was fair. Apart from a momentary madness, when the Government toyed with the idea of a unitary authority for the New Forest, and thankfully rejected it, the changes were reasonable. However, that madness has, alas, now been transferred to Berkshire, which the Government propose to abolish as a unit of government. Instead, we are told that six unitary authorities are envisaged, the largest of which has a population of only some 142,000 souls. We used to say "What a way to run a country!" Some still do so, I dare say. Perhaps I may add a new phrase, "What a way to ruin a county!"

In order to bolster that extremely dubious solution, which even the local government commission did not go so far as to advocate, various propositions have been peddled to the outside world. We are told that the county council originally advocated it. The answer is: only because it thought there was a countrywide presumption towards unitary authorities in the early days of the commission's work. It was perhaps naive of the council not to realise that it would be left high and dry once the tide had turned, as so often happens in these matters. It was perhaps naïve but not two faced.

We are told that the people want it. In 1994 the MORI survey was a survey to gauge public attitudes to options for a unitary system, and the result of 49 per cent. support for district based unitary authorities should be seen in that context. Predicated questions are not, noble Lords may feel, a sure fire way of discovering public attitudes to anything. In any case, a MORI poll in September last year showed 73 per cent. in favour of the status quo.

We are told that all the local MPs support the Government's proposals, save one. Of course they do. They all sit for the equivalent of unitary authorities. If we had an MP for the county of Berkshire, there are no prizes for guessing the form of local government that he or she would support.

We are told that Berkshire is a county of contrasts, ranging from farmland and rural communities to large conurbations, the implication being that only unitary authorities can adequately service such a rich diversity of human endeavour. I have news for those seeking to use that as an argument. Such a description encompasses about 90 per cent. of all counties in England.

However, there is something special about Berkshire. It occupies the most critical stretch of land west of London. It is an area of immense recent, and future, development, including what has been lightheartedly described as "Britain's Silicon Valley". The pressures on its resources from all sides are accordingly huge and constant. If ever there were a geographical area in this country in need of a strategic overview in terms of planning, minerals policy, transport, housing, waste management and 101 other things of importance, that area is Berkshire. And it is there and only there that the Government have decided to wipe out the only body capable of dealing with problems on such a large scale.

Others either have or will talk about various aspects of disaggregation, its effect on the critical services through fragmentation, its costs and so on. I too have received information from the North East. Along the lines that decent tunes are always worth humming over and over again, let me just remind noble Lords of those figures from Cleveland.

The local government commission thought that it would cost £18 million. So far, the Government have approved £32 million in supplementary credit and the people on the spot predict that the final total will be £42 million. I hope that the noble Earl the Minister in his reply will refer to the fallacy of the estimates generally—not just there but generally—and why they are invariably pitched too low. It makes one wonder what the add-on content of the £25 million estimate for Berkshire will be and just how much additional burden the wretched council taxpayers will have to bear.

As a way of illustrating the folly of what is being suggested, perhaps I can take up and run with the thread of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, about libraries. I accept that some may feel that things like libraries and archives may not be in the front rank of importance. But either we are a civilised country or we are not. They are therefore important matters.

It can be said with confidence that under the proposed arrangements the library service will cost more and provide less. At present there are two central libraries in Slough and Reading, housing, among other things, various specialist collections with 37 per cent. of the stock in circulation. What will happen now? Is the stock to be divided neatly into six equal parts? Or will some districts be more fortunate than others? For example, will Slough get all the Jeffrey Archers and Newbury the complete works of Karl Marx? We should be told, as a famous editor used to say.

What happens to the economies of scale? Bulk buying is advantageous, especially since the abolition of the net book agreement. It is highly unlikely that the new individual unitary authorities will, in the foreseeable future, have sufficient funds available to fill the enormous gaps created by the break-up. As in so many other areas, joint arrangements will have to be made; they will be protracted, cumbersome and inevitably lacking a central vision.

I greatly fear that it will not be possible to provide a service equivalent to the service now provided by the county. I fear too that that goes for nearly every other aspect of local government in the present county of Berkshire, unless this rash proposal is put on hold so that further soundings can be taken. Just for once cannot we let the people who will have to pay more for less decide on what the future for Berkshire should be instead of being subject willy-nilly to the irrational whims of Whitehall? I strongly urge all noble Lords in the Chamber today to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil.

5.2 p.m.

Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar

My Lords, I listened with great care to my noble friend the Minister in an attempt to discover from him why Berkshire, alone of all the historic counties, should be treated in this way. Why, for instance, should it be treated differently from Buckinghamshire, which I was lucky enough to represent for 20 years when, as my noble friend Lord Carrington said, there is no difference between the two counties yet Buckinghamshire has been excluded.

The reason why Berkshire is being treated differently cannot be because of public opinion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, so ably said. When, in the debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, last month, it was pointed out to the Minister that public opinion appeared to be against him in relation to what the Government were proposing on the evidence of the MORI polls, the Minister said that he could cite other polls the other way. Rather wisely today he reneged on that position and did not cite other polls—I suspect because there are none. Instead he took a different position. He said that one could not pay much attention to opinion polls because they are affected by substantial publicity campaigns. One could say exactly the same about a general election. I do not know whether my noble friend would discount a general election result because there had been a lot of publicity. The point is that so far as we know public opinion is against what the Government are proposing.

My noble friend the Minister waxed eloquent on the advantages of unitary authorities and cited in their favour the man who runs North Somerset unitary authority who, to your Lordships' enormous astonishment, is in favour of unitary authorities. If we do not obtain any better evidence than that, I cannot believe that we are being taken very far.

Of course there are good arguments for unitary authorities if they are of a proper size. Lord Redcliffe-Maud put forward ideas for unitary authorities of the proper size. Everybody knows—except perhaps the Government—that one cannot run education with a unitary authority of 150,000 people or less; that is crazy.

I wish to refer to one point that has not been raised. Before I was a Buckinghamshire MP, I was a Norfolk MP. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, will be aware, there was a great deal of trouble in the 1960s between Norwich and Norfolk relating to the boundaries. Norwich was a county borough and wanted to expand. Norfolk was a county. I represented the entire collar around Norwich. The last thing we wanted was to enter Norwich. If unitary authorities are introduced in Berkshire, the same problem will arise with Reading. For the Government therefore to propose a state of civil war, which will arise in a minor way between Reading and the surrounding county, seems to me almost as insane as the rest of what they are proposing. I hope the House will support the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Peyton.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Goff of Chieveley

My Lords, I speak to your Lordships as one whose home is in Berkshire. I gather that that may be a declaration of interest, but I hope it does not disqualify me from speaking, in particular to support strongly the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Peyton. Since the Minister addressed us—we all listened to what he had to say with great respect—every speaker has opposed what he laid before your Lordships. Because so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak, I propose to speak extremely briefly.

As far as I can see, every local government reorganisation has been attended with an underestimate of the cost. I strongly suspect, having heard the figures and read the literature, that this is no exception. We must expect the attendant costs to be at the higher end of the estimates we have seen in the papers that have been distributed. That will not only mean higher taxes. As we know from the remarkable letter from Councillor Bob Pitt, which was sent to many of us, it will mean cuts in services. They always go hand in hand on occasions of this kind. Judging from what he told us, those cuts will fall on the most vulnerable members of our society.

The specific point I wish to stress, already dwelt upon by many noble Lords, is the extraordinary proposition that the strategic council in the county should be abolished and that those services which it renders at the moment—I believe very well—can effectively and sensibly be performed by six different bodies in the same area. I find that an almost impossible proposition to accept. With great respect to the Minister I heard nothing which fell from him that gives me any reason to believe that it is a sensible proposition. How can minerals, highways, housing and all the rest be dealt with in such a sensitive area as Berkshire by six different authorities scattered throughout the county?

I should like to give one example from my own experience. I live in a parish called Chieveley, in the North Wessex Downs—an area of outstanding natural beauty. There was a proposal warmly supported by our district council to build a gigantic building in our parish which was in breach of all applicable planning guidelines and in particular the county structure plan. We were fortunate to receive strategic objections from the county council, both on the basis of protecting the structure plan and also on grounds of traffic.

I am glad to say that the application was called in by the Secretary of State. It may be, we do not know, that the objections from the county council played a part. It was announced later that the highways authority would appear at the inquiry to oppose the proposed development. The application was then withdrawn—obviously because it was going to be turned down by the inspector and in due course the Minister.

I tremble to think how a parish would cope with that kind of treatment if it did not have the strategic planning authority to assist in cases of need. I tremble to think also of what will happen to the county structure plan. Who will decide what goes into it? Will there be horse-trading between the unitary authorities to work out what it should contain? I do not understand how it can work. I urge earnestly upon your Lordships to bear that consideration in mind as being extremely important in our beleaguered county of Berkshire. I strongly support the amendment that the local community should be consulted. I have little doubt about the answer.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said, I had better bring my bucket and spade to the protection of the castles that my noble friend the Minister erected because I do not believe that they have been knocked down yet. My noble friend Lord Peyton, with whom I frequently agree, made a very interesting case, but much of it was built on shifting sand. He said that one of the reasons why the Conservative Party had lost control of almost every local authority was because of its legislation. With the greatest respect, and although I believe he has been in politics longer than I—I started in 1949—he must know that in local elections people vote against a government; they are not really interested in all the good things done by the local authority.

Perhaps I may give two examples in my own case. In 1949 I fought the then staunch Labour county council seat of North Islington. Sir Stafford Cripps produced a Budget two days before polling day and we had a recount in that constituency. In 1952 I fought the marginal London County Council seat of Stoke Newington. Conservative Ministers reduced the cheese ration two days before polling day and turned it into a safe Labour seat. So, I believe that we can discard the argument that it is legislation that causes these problems.

Let us be clear about Berkshire. It did not, as my noble friend said, accept its own demise. It supported it for three years. I am not sure why it changed its mind. I am sure that that was not because there was a change of political control. What is suggested is one more unitary authority. I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lord Carrington. I have to declare an interest. I am chairman of the Milton Keynes liaison committee and deputy chairman of the Commission for the New Towns. That Milton Keynes has become a unitary authority is to be welcomed.

Much of the argument that I have heard here I heard over the abolition of the London County Council and the Greater London Council. "You cannot break up the education authority of London. It is marvellous. It cannot be done by the boroughs". Ill-advisedly, my Conservative friends in the Government created the Inner London Education Authority. When that was broken up it was said, "You cannot do that; it will not work". The London boroughs are running very good education authorities and no one is now asking to have back the former system which antagonised a lot of people.

I had 25 years in local government. The constant complaint was that "them" at County Hall were always interfering with "us" at borough level. That has to be prevented. We heard the arguments about charities. I assure your Lordships that the charities that operated across London are operating perfectly happily now with the new London boroughs. In many cases I believe that they are getting stronger support.

I cannot conceal from your Lordships the fact that I have been a lifelong supporter of single-tier authorities in local government. In earlier days it was the county boroughs and today it is the unitary authorities. I probably would not have spoken in this debate had I not seen my noble friend's amendment, which stirred me up. I have had many letters for and against from Berkshire. I have just reread the debate on this matter in the other place. The Commons did not divide on the Berkshire order. In a moment I shall quote from one or two points made by my honourable friend Sir Anthony Durant who spoke on behalf of all the Berkshire Conservative Members of Parliament. Perhaps I may give your Lordships just three quotations. First, talking about Berkshire, he said that it had already lost a lot of the county some time ago when Abingdon went. The white horse, which was once the symbol of Berkshire, was also lost in a previous reorganisation".—[Official Report, Commons, 4/7/96; col. 1083.] So Berkshire has not been the same county for more than 100 years. Secondly, a MORI poll—

Lord Denham

My Lords, my noble friend cannot quote.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, I am trying to pick out parts without actually quoting.

Lord Denham

My noble friend must not quote from a Member of another place.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, then I shall quote from a local authority, which I trust I may do. This quotation is from Purley parish council in the county: Only an authority that is totally out of touch with the people and unaware of what is going on could make such a statement. The public has been consulted … adequately … The Parish Council has no wish for its 'Local Government' to be run by a body that up until the last minute was saying it did not wish to put itself forward as a Unitary Authority, and was proposing its own dissolution…. This indecisive stance hardly inspires confidence for the future".—[col. 1084.] Other statements made it perfectly clear that the local authorities were happy and felt competent to run Berkshire when it was no longer a county, but six unitary authorities.

Even after the change of mind by the county, a survey by the county itself showed that some 50 per cent. of people were in favour of unitary authorities or held no fixed opinion. So far I have not heard a case made out against the abolition of Berkshire. It is not a Machiavellian plot by the Government. It comes from a well-researched Local Government Commission report. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord who said it, I resent very much his talk about a hand-picked Local Government Commission. This commission was picked in exactly the same way as is every other local government commission. So if we are attacking this one then we are attacking them all. The people who man them do a very good job. They are people of the highest integrity and they ought not to have their characters impugned in that way.

Perhaps I may sum up very quickly. We have already seen that these orders went through the other place without a Division. We know the views of the Berkshire MPs who, I suggest, do know what their electors want. The county itself, until it changed its mind after three years, also wanted this proposal. I believe that the case has been made and I hope that your Lordships will reject the amendment and support my noble friend the Minister.

5.16 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, as regards his remark about hand-picked local government commissions, that one of our difficulties in this whole range of orders is that the Government did hand-pick one commission, but they did not like the recommendations it made and so they sacked it and hand-picked a second commission. That is the source of a good many of the problems that we face.

This is a very similar debate to the one we had yesterday on the Kent order, during which I made rather a long speech so I shall be very brief indeed today. Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and the powerful case that he made, I can hardly believe that the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, could have been listening very closely if he did not believe that there was any argument at all for retaining Berkshire County Council. There is much in common between what we discussed yesterday and the discussion today. In Berkshire the evidence seems very strong that, as far as one can judge the available methods of measuring opinion, the majority view is for retaining the status quo. If the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, once again casts doubt on public opinion polls, then there should be some delay until there is an opportunity for an election in the county, which will be the best way to test that matter.

As regards costs, the need for a strategic authority and the fragmentation of services, which are all issues that we went through yesterday as regards Kent, they seem to be equally valid in terms of the case for retaining Berkshire County Council.

The main charge made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is that of a change of mind by Berkshire County Council. I myself thought that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, answered it adequately. Having listened to the arguments so far and having read the background material to this matter, I believe that the real charge is not against Berkshire County Council for changing its mind, but against the Government, who are apparently incapable of changing their mind. They have so firmly committed themselves to what they regard as the principle of the unitary authority, to which the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, declared himself to be so dedicated, that they have really turned that principle into a sort of doctrinaire ideology. It would be much better if these issues were discussed in each area of England on their merits relating to the circumstances of that area rather than against that rather doctrinaire background. As I say, the real charge is against the Government for their rigidity, for defying common sense and for being unwilling to trust the people in this matter.

5.19 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, we are now about halfway through the list of speakers and the score seems about nine to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and two to the noble Earl. It will be interesting to see how we end up.

I must declare an interest. I was born in a Nissen hut in the capital of the Royal county. My father was for years its Lord Lieutenant and most of my family still live in the Royal county, three being deputy lieutenants, one of whom is my mother. Members of my family have represented the Royal county in another place. At the turn of the century our family business was the 42nd largest employer in the United Kingdom and we employed over 7,000 people in the Royal county. I make those declarations just in case anyone thinks it rather odd that a resident of Scotland is speaking in this important debate.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, I much applaud many of the achievements of this Government, but I have to say that their efforts in reforming local government have been nothing short of disastrous, the situation in Scotland being one of the classic examples. As my noble friend Lord Tenby mentioned, the Government's plans for the change of local government in Berkshire are nothing short of madness, sheer madness, and as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, mentioned, that madness will be expensive and complicated. I should like to hear from the noble Earl why Her Majesty's Government want to introduce something which is going to be expensive and complicated.

My noble friend Lord Tenby also mentioned the MORI poll, which showed that 73 per cent. favour the status quo. It is interesting that the average turnout at general elections is somewhere in the region of 73 per cent. It could therefore be argued that the voting population of Berkshire is in favour of the status quo. I feel sure that if that poll were conducted today, there would be an even higher percentage against the plans.

I beg the Government, even at this late stage, to maintain the status quo and to keep the Royal County of Berkshire as it is. The Government have nothing to lose and everything to gain by agreeing to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.

5.21 p.m.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lord Peyton, who was good enough to support me yesterday. That is my first reason for supporting him. My second reason is that I agree with everything that he said. The argument about Berkshire is as strong, perhaps stronger, than that which was put to the House late yesterday evening in respect of Kent.

I shall not repeat all the points that were raised then, but our theme today is the same as that of yesterday. Why do the Government disregard the opinions of the people who live in the counties which they wish to deprive of their county councils? Why will they not honour the undertakings given, first, by the Secretary of State who introduced the provisions and who said—in words paraphrased by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington—that local opinions are paramount; secondly, by my noble friend Lord Arran when he wound up the debate in your Lordships' House on 30th March 1994; and, thirdly, by the Prime Minister in the speech from which I quoted yesterday in which he attached importance to all constitutional change being in accordance with the will of the people? My noble friend Lord Ferrers did not like my quotation from that part of the Prime Minister's speech and went on to quote another part, which happened to be the very next sentence. It supported exactly what I said.

I beseech my noble friend to think again and to accept this opportunity for second thoughts. Many points of extreme importance have been made about the good governance of the county of Berkshire. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff, and other noble Lords, reminded us of the difficulties of strategic planning in that area. Those points are very important and they were not contradicted in any way by my noble friend Lord Finsberg who spoke as if Berkshire was like London. Berkshire is a very special place. I should like to hear one single reason—I have not yet heard one—why Berkshire does not need a county council. I support fully my noble friend Lord Peyton.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I think that I have some qualifications for speaking in this debate. First, I have been concerned with the Berkshire reorganisation since its inception when a joint submission was made by Berkshire County Council and five districts for the abolition of the county council and its replacement by unitary authorities. I also saw Mr. Curry, the then Minister, to plead for the six unitary authority proposals, so I am not a Johnny-come-lately to this issue. I have been living with it for some long while.

My other qualification is that of residence and of involvement in public life in Berkshire over a long period. I have lived in Reading for 52 years. I still live in Reading. I have not gone to live in Scotland or elsewhere—

Lord Ewing of Kirkford


Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, it is a very nice place to live, but Reading is very handy.

I have been involved in public life in Berkshire since 1954. I was a member of Reading County Borough Council for 18 years and was leader of that council for a number of years. I was also a member of many joint bodies, including the Thames Valley Water Board, the Thames Valley Police Authority and the Berkshire and Reading Fire Authority. I was a candidate for the Newbury parliamentary constituency in 1959 and 1964. Therefore, I can probably claim a personal interest as well as an overall public interest in what happens in Berkshire. I think that I can also claim some knowledge of what is best for the residents of Berkshire.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, refers to Berkshire as a "traditional" county council, but I should emphasise that Berkshire County Council was doomed in 1974 by the 1974 reorganisation which transferred its northern area, including Abingdon, Wantage, Wallingford and Faringdon to Oxfordshire, and which left Berkshire as a narrow unviable strip, stretching from Lambourn in the west to Slough in the east, bisected throughout its length by the M4 motorway. That is Berkshire at present.

In fact, I was opposed to that reorganisation. I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, voted for it when he voted for the Local Government Act 1972 because he was a member of the Government who imposed that Act on the country to the detriment of local government throughout the country. I was not in favour of Berkshire being dismembered at that time.

As I have already said, Berkshire is not a "traditional" county council. In any event, Berkshire did not have a county council until the Local Government Act 1888. It was only then, in 1888, that Berkshire got a county council at all. The fact of the matter is that Berkshire is unviable as an administrative entity, as Berkshire County Council itself has recognised.

Lest noble Lords have been taken in by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, that the county council was naive, I quote (I am afraid extensively) from the supplementary submission of the county council and the five local authorities: The present geographic area of Berkshire contains many diverse communities—the major towns of Reading and Slough, the older urban settlements of Maidenhead, Newbury, Windsor and Wokingham, the modern town of Bracknell and suburban areas with a clear individual identity, such as Woodley. Fifty six per cent. of the land mass of the present County falls to the west of Reading… These various communities, while sharing in the history of Berkshire which extends back, albeit not on its present boundaries, 1,000 years, now share little common identity. This is borne out by the evidence deduced from the 1991 census data, which was included in the collated pre-submission material. In addition, while Slough in the east is undoubtedly drawn to London, Newbury in the west has more affinity with Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire. That was what Berkshire County Council said in its supplementary submission. With regard to unitary councils, it said the following: The County Council resolved in May 1992 that unitary councils offered the best way forward for local government. The Council sees the benefits of such a system as one single point of contact for all the local government services the public needs; a single voice to represent areas; no opportunity for 'passing the buck' between the tiers of local government; the avoidance of duplication of effort and, therefore, opportunities for greater economies and efficiency. Having reached that conclusion, the Council, in recognition of the diversity of the County area mentioned above, believes that a sub-county pattern of unitary authorities would best serve the residents of Berkshire". I let Berkshire speak for me and for the order which the noble Earl has tabled today. There is nothing naive about that. It is a considered statement by Berkshire county council. Therefore, it was astounding that in those circumstances the county council completely reversed its position in 1995 and demanded the status quo. It no longer wanted unitary authorities; it wanted Berkshire County Council—which I have shown is completely unviable as an administrative entity—to remain as it was with six district councils and a two-tier authority. Since then Berkshire County Council has conducted a spurious and expensive campaign in order to put over its case. That campaign has cost the ratepayers of Berkshire over £100,000. I fear that it was a dishonest campaign to destroy the unitary concept in Berkshire.

We have heard a great deal about polls. About which polls are we speaking? Referring to some of the independent polls undertaken by the commission, MORI showed that 69 per cent. were in favour of unitary authorities; NOP showed that 72 per cent. were in favour of unitary authorities. When Berkshire County Council undertook its own poll it did not do so on an independent basis. It asked leading questions, and it was criticised by many, including the local press, for doing so. For example, it suggested that if people voted for unitary authorities it would cost them an extra £54 a year. If one asks a question like that one is almost certain of the answer. These polls need to be examined in the context in which they have been conducted. When the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, winds up perhaps he will tell us how he intends the Government will test opinion in Berkshire. Is there to be yet another poll? Will all of the people in Berkshire be consulted through a referendum so that the issue can be argued out properly? I hope that he will provide a reply to that question.

Berkshire County Council has produced figures for transitional and on-going costs which bear no relation to reality. In compiling them it has had no discussions with the proposed unitary authorities. It has refused to discuss these matters with the unitary authorities. How can one take such an authority seriously when it will not discuss matters of great importance with those who have just as great an interest, if not greater, in the matter?

I have already said that I was leader of Reading County Borough Council, whose first charter was granted by Henry III in 1253. I have cause to know how well unitary authorities can work. I know that they work more efficiently and better than two-tier authorities. I shall tell your Lordships about some of my experiences. I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in relation to the teaching of the deaf. Reading, comprising 125,000 people, was a very successful education authority. People used to move from Berkshire into Reading to take advantage of the better educational facilities in Reading. People from all over the country moved to Reading so that their children could be taught in Reading schools. Reading was a pioneer in the teaching of the deaf. If it is said that a unitary authority of 125,000 is not able to cope, I point out that Reading coped very well—and far better than the county council.

There are many other instances. We have heard of the library service. It is suggested by the Library Association that libraries cannot be run successfully with a population of less than 250,000. Reading with a population of 125,000 ran one of the best library services in the country—far better than Berkshire. People from Berkshire used to go to Reading if they wanted a rare book because Reading could get it from anywhere in the world. That was a service which Berkshire County Council was not prepared to provide. Library services can be and are run extremely well by unitary authorities throughout the country.

One can also refer to art galleries. The best art gallery and museum in the county was in Reading. Experience shows that services can be carried out efficiently by unitary authorities.

What about democratic accountability? That is important, too. When one is operating a unitary authority in a county borough it is known that there is only one body which is responsible for all services. One knows where to go. There is one point of contact. One takes a greater interest in local government affairs. At the time of local elections in Reading, which was the county borough and the all-purpose authority, the turnout was 55 per cent. In the county council it was 18 per cent. So when we talk about democratic accountability, surely we know the truth. We know that the all-purpose authority wins every time.

I have had a lot of experience of Berkshire County Council. I hate to criticise but I have to say that it is a remote, out of touch, inefficient and officer-driven county council lacking any sort of reasonable democratic accountability, so much so, in fact, that at one period even the local MPs had difficulty arranging meetings with the chief executive.

Another place agreed the order before us today without a Division, not even Mr. Rendel, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Newbury, attempting to force a vote. He was clearly in favour of a unitary authority for Newbury although he would not commit himself about any other unitary authority in the area.

I could continue for a very long time but there are other people who want to speak. I must however say this. It would be intolerable and unprecedented if this House were to set aside an important order which had been agreed by all but one of the districts and unanimously—I emphasise that—by the House of Commons. To do so would cause administrative chaos and confusion in Berkshire and its districts. It is not the Government that will be defeated if this amendment is agreed but the people of Berkshire who have already suffered intolerable delay and expense as a result of the petulant irresponsibility of the Berkshire county councillors who put their own survival above the real and long-term interests of Berkshire ratepayers.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Renwick

My Lords, I do not have the local government experience of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. To compensate, I shall speak for a very short time. It was with some conviction that I presented a petition from the Royal County of Berkshire to your Lordships' House on 13th June. It is with the same conviction that I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil.

My experience of that Royal county is, in fact, less than a year, which is when my wife and I moved there. But my family has lived there since just after the last war. Now that Slough has come into the Royal county, I think there must have been some connection because my father's middle name was Burnham. I believe that came from the Beeches—from my grandfather.

It really is a sadness to me to have to support an amendment against my noble friend the Minister and his order today. I find it inconceivable and incomprehensible that the only reasoned argument he seems to be able to put against the amendment of my noble friend Lord Peyton is that there is a resistance to change.

Change is something upon which I have concentrated for many years. It is difficult to handle change. It is usually pushed by technology. It is usually better to have a good understanding of technology so that one can understand the process of change. In view of what happened to the City in the 1980s, we know that imposed change is very damaging and very destructive. Managed change is, of course, what we like to look for. It has always been my view that to give a successful example of change is a much better way to promote change. But I have heard no example of where unitary authorities have been successful. The costs of implementing the unitary authorities in various places have been enormous and I hope that I shall not have to enjoy the increased costs of living in Berkshire.

5.46 p.m.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, may I first of all say that I do not live in a neighbouring county; neither do I have friends who cannot be present in your Lordships' House; and nor have I entered into a mutual support agreement with other Members of the House.

I speak as someone who has lived in the Royal County of Berkshire for the past 30 years. Fifteen of those I have served as a borough councillor for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. My title carries "Windsor and Maidenhead in the Royal County of Berkshire", all of which I am extraordinarily proud.

I have seen many occasions in your Lordships' House when big guns have been brought in to bear on a cause which might not stand up without their presence. I think this is one such occasion. I have never seen such an array of illustrious big guns in support of something which should not be supported at this stage.

There has been a great deal of sentimentality and very little reality. I am sure that if your Lordships read Hansardu very carefully tomorrow you will see that there is very little substance in the arguments that you have heard for retaining the county council. May I reiterate that it is only the county council which is going, not the royal county. I hope to finish my days in the Royal County of Berkshire, whatever shape it is in.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, with respect, it is unlikely that he was born in the county town of Berkshire because Reading was not the county town of Berkshire unless he is extremely young and should not be here. Abingdon was the county town. We lost that in 1974. We lost the Vale of the White Horse in 1974. The White Horse was the emblem of the royal county. I do not know where your Lordships were, but judging from the ages of many of your Lordships you should have been here protecting the real Royal County of Berkshire instead of trying to save a county council which has no chairmen at the moment for its committees because it cannot do a deal with the other parties. It appoints ad hoc chairmen to committees for each meeting. If you do not believe me, you can check it for yourselves.

That is why we are not in favour of retaining our county council, unlike the people of Buckinghamshire. That is another strange paradox that I have heard in your Lordships' House. We are not the people of Berkshire; there is some other mysterious entity that has not been consulted. All the people of the unitary authorities are not the people of Berkshire because they support the unitary authorities. There is some other large pool of people who have not been consulted, and they are the very people who should be consulted because they will be the ones who will support the county council. Who are those people? I thought that we were the people of Berkshire; the people of six unitary authorities.

Another question that I find interesting is: what will happen to the libraries, the collections and the archives? The archives will be in Reading. The ceremonial aspects of the Royal County will be looked after by the Royal Borough and—dare I say?—it will probably be much better looked after than at present by the county council.

We are not declaring UDI. We are not saying that each unitary authority is to produce a wall around itself and have nothing to do with its neighbours. That is not what will happen. Ever since the unitary authorities were mooted, the six have been working together enthusiastically and successfully, trying to put in place the preparations for providing the services which cannot be duplicated in each one. We are not as stupid as your Lordships may imagine. We do not believe that there can be six separate education authorities and entirely separate social services. No, we are not suggesting that. We are working together. We have had in place over a long time a number of initiatives for working together and now they are being developed.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, should not be seduced by the figure of 73 per cent. I doubt whether he knows how many people were consulted. In fact, 1,800 people were consulted and the county council had to admit that the questions were loaded. Out of the 1,800, 73 per cent. were in favour. The polls are not entirely satisfactory, but all the independent polls have come out in favour of the unitary authorities in Berkshire.

We wish to retain our Royal County. We wish to be part of our Royal County, but we do not wish to fund a defunct and useless county council which cannot reach agreement with other members to provide proper government. I am surprised that more noble Lords have not taken the trouble to find out what kind of a county council they are supporting here today. It would have been much more satisfactory if your Lordships had been able to do that. It comes to your Lordships from a position of weakness at this last moment when all legal challenges have been concluded. The House of Lords has refused it leave to appeal further. It comes to your Lordships from a gross position of weakness, not a position of strength, and I hope that your Lordships will remember that when you vote later tonight. The people of the Royal County of Berkshire will not thank you for retaining this defunct county council.

5.53 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in the debate until last night when I saw many names down to speak, but not many from Berkshire. I believe that to date we are running at "two all" as regards the residents of Berkshire. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff of Chieveley, and the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, have spoken in favour of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, have made powerful speeches in favour of the Government's proposal.

I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, have lived for 30 years in Berkshire in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. I support the creation of the six unitary authorities. I have been consistent in my support of the abolition of Berkshire County Council and I see no reason to change now.

Why did I so decide? The county council proposed its own abolition, uniquely as the Minister said. Was it uniquely naïve? I do not believe so, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, has shown. The district councils and all the MPs concerned also supported the abolition. Before finally making up my mind I consulted the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Your Lordships will agree that there are a good many issues on which they disagree but they were united in their support for the proposed change to unitary authorities and in their conviction that Berkshire was ideally suited and capable of making a success of it.

The Local Government Commission proposed the abolition of the county council and local people supported that. As the Minister said, it is the county council and not the Royal County of Berkshire, which is to go. I entirely understand the feelings of my noble friend Lord Palmer. I had the greatest respect and fondness for his father, who was Lord Lieutenant, and for his mother, who is now Deputy Lord Lieutenant. However, as noble Lords have said, Berkshire has changed radically since 1974. We are not abolishing the Royal County. It is interesting that the most ardent local pro-Berkshire campaigner, who has been writing to many of your Lordships, is writing to restore the county's historic boundaries pre-1974. It has nothing whatever to do with the unitary authorities.

People, very understandably, have been concerned about the ability of six smaller authorities to keep and deploy specialist facilities to meet particular needs. I am, however, very impressed by the close co-operation between the six districts. I know that they plan to maintain the specialist services, with lead authorities running particular facilities and services and providing them on a contract basis to the neighbouring authorities. I do not have the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, nor of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, but I should like briefly to describe my experience of collaboration at a local level in Windsor and Maidenhead to meet the needs of people with disabilities. That gives me hope and confidence in the development of local solutions.

I wish to talk about the Windsor and Maidenhead Users Network (WAMU). It comprises a group of disabled people, of which I am a member, and carers and their families can join in. It was set up to support and encourage the participation of disabled people fully in the life of the community. Among other things, it issues information and advice and ensures that disabled people receive the support and services they need. It also advises the local authorities on what disabled people need. For example, it advises the borough's access group. In partnership with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, it runs the shopmobility scheme, which provides powered wheelchairs for disabled people who want to go shopping. It is establishing a nursery/garden centre to employ disabled people on the site of a former local council nursery. One of WAMU's aims is helping to plan and effect the transfer of services to the new unitary authority.

Last night when I decided to take part in the debate I consulted Peter Field, the chairman of WAMU, on what is happening in other districts. He stated that from a user point of view, provision varies. To date, there is no active user group in Wokingham. However, Bracknell, like WAMU, has at least one councillor as an active member. Newbury has close ties with the authority and is particularly strong in the social service arena. Reading and Slough also have good communication lines and Slough is bidding to become involved with shopmobility, as has WAMU. Peter Field states: This is only the beginning. The Berkshire Disability Forum, the umbrella group co-ordinating the work and development of the groups, is determined to retain a wider geographic base to ensure that equality of service is maintained and that services do not suffer as a result of splitting up the providers. Much has been accomplished over the last twelve to eighteen months which has provided a much better platform to ensure that the impact of decentralising services will either be lessened or at least will be recognised and brought to the attention of those who can correct the situation". Peter Field is a level-headed, retired businessman. Many years ago he had polio. He is severely disabled and needs an electric wheelchair to move around. Therefore, he is very much a user of social services within the royal borough. He states: I think things have now moved way beyond any reasonable argument in favour of retaining the status quo, and all energy should now be devoted to looking forward and making sure that all those with a contribution are heard and their views, if relevant, taken into account". I totally agree. We must move forward. We must get the new system operating and ensure that key skills remain to meet local needs.

I greatly respect the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. He was extremely persuasive—he has a magical way with words—but I urge your Lordships to support the Government, to support the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who have spoken with a wealth of experience and local knowledge, and allow the six local authorities of Berkshire to get on with the job.

Lord Elton

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Aldington, I have two reasons for speaking. I am so sorry, I am out of turn. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Lindsey and Abingdon.

6.1 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. Like the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, I live in Scotland and therefore have no material interest in present day Berkshire. However, in the past my family owned land both in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. My reason for speaking today is that I have retained an active interest in the town of Abingdon, where I take part in various local authority functions.

There is one point I should like to correct. My noble friend Lady Flather said that Abingdon was the county town of Berkshire until 1974 when it was transferred into Oxfordshire, together with Wantage and Farringdon, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. The historical fact is that Abingdon was the county town until the 1860s, when the county offices were transferred to Reading due to the rapid expansion of Reading at that time with the coming of the Great Western Railway, and industrial expansion.

I was very interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart—although I do not agree with all that he said. He mentioned one of the main reasons for there being so much confusion over Berkshire at the moment. The county council has been criticised unduly, because it has been in a state of confusion for the past 20 years since the reorganisation of local government in the 1970s when it lost northern Berkshire, as the noble Lord pointed out. I do not, however, agree with his point as to why that has happened. The county of Berkshire as it is presently constituted can manage as a single county council so long as the uncertainty which has been behind its troubles for the past 20 years is resolved.

I have nothing against unitary authorities. However, I must disagree with my noble friend the Minister who said that they would not result in an increase in rates and taxes. The only way a small unitary authority can carry out its duties, without having to go to central government for funds, is to increase taxes.

I therefore support my noble friend's amendment to leave the status quo as it is, and which provides that the people of Berkshire—who are the most important people to consider under this order—should be consulted again.

6.5 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I rise with trepidation having risen once, too early, to see whether the noble Lord, Lord Burnham—whose name I correctly deleted from the list—was about to rise in the same way as my noble friend, whose name I accidentally deleted, and to whom I apologise.

Like my noble friend Lord Aldington, I rise to speak for two reasons—one personal, the other logical. The personal reason is that I support my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who, at the outset, I thought was heavily outnumbered. I am not so sure now. My logical reason is that I believe that he is right.

My reasons for saying so arise from an experience different from that of other noble Lords. I took part in the principal legislation relating to this matter, and in the legislation relating to Wales, in particular. I had a slight interest in the legislation for Scotland. We are now reaping the fruits of that legislation and I shall revert to it.

Only three reasons have been advanced in the debate for opposing my noble friend and supporting this Motion. The first is that the people have not been consulted. My noble friend Lord Peyton suggested that the Conservative Party, to which we both belong, had an urgent need to return to its roots. He started, incidentally, with Noah's Ark and went via the Tumbrels to get there, so the roots go a long way back. But where are our roots? Our roots are in the electorate of the United Kingdom. How are those roots to express themselves if not through their elected representatives? All seven of the elected representatives of the Royal County of Berkshire as it is now constituted supported the abolition of the county council. Six out of the seven specifically supported what is proposed in this order, and the other place let it through without a Division. I should have thought that that was an expression of the opinions of the roots.

But if you want to go further down you must go to the county councillors. At the outset, and for three years thereafter, they supported their own abolition, which is what is proposed in the order. They actually set it rolling. Or, if you want to go further down, you go to the district councillors. All the district councils are in favour.

As a House we give ourselves, if not airs, at least importance, as the defenders of democracy. Democracy has spoken. We now have an order to implement that voice, and it is opposed on the grounds that it is against our roots. That is misconceived.

Incidentally, my noble friend eschews referring to polls as a reliable source of opinion, but there was a reference—was there not?—to the MORI poll where 1,800 people were consulted. In the NOP poll—which was not carried out by the commission but was carried out for it by NOP—38,000 people were consulted, of whom 72 per cent. wanted to get rid of the county council. Every indicator that we have shows that, on the evidence given, the people want change, and change which involves the abolition of the county council—not of the county, but of the county council.

The second reason advanced for opposing the order and supporting the Motion is that it would be very expensive, complicated and inefficient to deliver services by unitary authorities which have hitherto been delivered by a tiered authority and by the county council.

Your Lordships may not realise it but we have been over this ground in a serious way on a number of occasions and we have always come to the same conclusion. We went over it in the Local Government (Wales) Bill. We went over it in the principal legislation for this Bill, and we went over it in the principal legislation for Scotland. I advanced that argument in two of those pieces of legislation, because, having been a Minister in the Department of the Environment and being interested in the delivery of local authority services, I have followed matters. I felt that there was merit in the argument that services would be less effectively and more expensively delivered by the small unitary authorities. This House overbore me on every occasion. Your Lordships have decided and you are now reopening an issue which has been decided.

That is my second reason. I would add to it by saying that what matters in the delivery of local services is immediacy. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, suggested that what mattered most about them was only their delivery in the home. What matters is when they do not arrive. What do you do then? You go to your member. Who is your member? Is he a member of a county council representing 7,500 people on average or do you go to a representative on the district council who represents 2,000 people on average? The district councillor is more than three times more likely to know you by name when you are in trouble. That must be a measure of the benefits which this order can provide.

The third argument which has been advanced is the emotional one that it is a Royal county. I notice that those who oppose the order use the term "Royal" much more frequently than others. It is an emotive term. But the county as it was constituted does not exist. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, pointed out that a great slice of it has disappeared into Oxfordshire. I do not believe that he mentioned that with it was taken Alfred's Castle and the White Horse which was the badge of the County of Berkshire. Other bits were stuck on at the other end.

The historical analogy breaks down. Even if your Lordships feel that in some way that persists, I ask your Lordships to remember that the Lord Lieutenancy and the Shrievalty will continue. I believe that my noble friend has a difficult task ahead. He started out well; I hope that he finishes it better and that the rest of you join me in the Lobby with him when it is over.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Elton. I support my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. Reference was made to my noble friend Lord Colnbrook. He did not wish us to have the situation which we have today. He hoped that this would all be dealt with long before your Lordships had to make this decision.

As regards the history of local government, it started off with a parish system and then there were the Poor Law units in 1834. The boroughs existed and then there were counties and rural districts and urban districts. In the 1970s, something had to be done. That was faintly disastrous. Everyone thought that it was going to be economic within five minutes flat; and it was not. It took a long time. Twenty years later, it has all been rather successful. The Royal County of Berkshire would have been better without the bits sliced off it, apart from the purlieus of Oxford, which would make sense.

This is all very expensive. Archives is the one subject which I know about. I know that it is not the most essential service in the world but it is a very important service. I am told that if County Hall is sold, a new archive will cost £5 million. I have sat here for 30 years.

I can remember the late Lord Winterbottom asking a question of Lord Brockway when £100,000 was described as no bagatelle. I can assure your Lordships that £5 million is no bagatelle.

Archives is only one area in which there will be a great deal of expense. It will be dreadful; and to what effect? I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I thought that he was going to give a rather more stirring speech in support of Reading. I have listened to others who have tried to persuade me. I shall listen to my noble friend who might persuade me. The last part of my noble friend's amendment calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the order until such time as the people of Berkshire have had the opportunity to indicate support or otherwise for this position". My noble friend Lord Elton dealt with the question of Members of Parliament very well.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Pender

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, spoke for 17 minutes. I shall speak for one minute. I support the amendment outlined so well by my noble friend Lord Peyton. One aspect causes me anxiety. What becomes of the associations and voluntary bodies who bear the county's name? Is it possible to have cohesion when associations such as the Red Cross, St. John's Ambulance and a myriad of others have to seek advice from six unitary authorities with six differing views compared with one central body of the county council? I am not suggesting that the spirit of those great organisations within the county may be broken but the prospect of clear, uniform thought is zero.

6.16 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to speak in the gap. The reason that the second Local Government Commission was set up was that the Secretary of State claimed that there was a lack of consistency and coherence if you looked at the result of the proposals of the first Local Government Commission. The proposals to break up one of the long-standing county councils surely represents an inconsistency.

Secondly, the tragedy of this whole process has been that the Government refused from the very beginning to discuss functions and finance. The process has been fundamentally flawed from the beginning. What we have heard this afternoon has been a sad, tragic catalogue of people criticising and attacking other tiers of local government than the one which they choose to support.

Democracy is too important for us to be trapped by the narrow perspective of the exercise which the Government began. I do not believe that this second look at the process with regard to the County of Berkshire has produced the consistency or coherence across the English county areas with which the Government charged the commission. I personally would be prepared to accept incoherence and inconsistency if I had been convinced that the people of Berkshire want that and want to pay for it.

With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the Secretary of State for Wales and in particular, the Secretary of State for Scotland have had to admit that their costings for a change have been wrong. The Secretary of State for Scotland has had to find additional resources in order to prevent what was almost a revolt by the people of Scotland.

I believe that the people of Berkshire should have an opportunity to have a say, if they are going to be asked to pay for a change. At the end of that process, I, for one, would accept their verdict.

6.17 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I start by declaring an interest, as I did in the debate yesterday evening, in that I am a member of a unitary authority. It is a London borough. I have no geographical or family connections with Berkshire or any part of it.

I may say that my unitary authority runs education for a population of about 160,000, although referring to comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, I accept that we have imposed on us, because there is a matter of parental choice, the education of a number of children who live in an inner London borough and across the borough boundary. Therefore, to that extent our catchment is larger.

In previous debates on the various local government orders, I have made comments along the lines of, "We should not have started from here, should we?". The appropriate comment here is, "We didn't start from here". That is at the root of the whole confusion, and the material for the difficulties and in some cases I would say even almost ill feeling, which is a very great pity.

The county's original reaction, described as "naive" in its support for the process, should not be held against it. The Government may well feel that it has more than balanced its support by the actions that it has taken since then. But its original stance, on the basis that there would be a uniform pattern of unitary authorities, is entirely understandable.

I share with my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth the view that the Government should accept that there is nothing wrong in admitting to a change of mind. I must say that in introducing the order I felt that the Minister rather glided over the change in proposals since the joint submission was made by the county and constituent districts.

Comments have been made along the lines that almost anything would be acceptable to end the uncertainty. I understand that point of view. However, more than anything else, I believe that that is an indictment of the Government's having set up a process which, in retrospect, really cannot be supported; it is short-termism which I would not today support.

As my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood said, the Minister's introduction seemed to contain pretty good arguments for unitary authorities in a regional context—and, I would add, with widespread parish councils. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, commented on my noble friend's reference to quality of service. If I may speak for my noble friend, I believe that she would entirely accept that promptness of delivery is part of quality. Moreover, all of us who are members of local authorities should, in my view, be seeking to do ourselves out of a job as a court of appeal for those who are the recipients of services. I believe that the job of good local government is to ensure that the services are delivered well as a matter of routine, and not only if an appeal is made to a council member; in other words, to provide good quality overall, not individually.

I have often spoken of my concern that suitable arrangements should be made for strategic matters, including planning, transport, waste, minerals and so on. The points about Silicon Valley and the pressures for housing in the area are most important. However, to pick up a matter that I raised late last night on the Kent debate, it can at least be said for this order that it avoids the gap in legislation of which the Minister did not seem to be aware.

I regard the matter of ceremonial arrangements as less of a reason for concern. I was surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, did not claim the experience that her own borough must have in dealing with royal matters. It is, perhaps, a matter of routine and, therefore, she did not even think to mention it. It surprised me a little that, in another place, the Secretary of State said that people will still refer to themselves as coming from Berkshire. I am not really sure that that is an argument for anything; but that seemed to be his response to the point.

In my view—and I stress that this is my view—these proposals are good in parts. For example, the character of Newbury is rural and more westward looking than the other parts of Berkshire, while the areas of Slough and Reading quite clearly have their own urban centres; indeed, they have an urban character. I cannot say the same for Wokingham. I hope that its citizens will not think it pejorative if I say that it is substantially commuter land for Reading. It is quite a different sort of authority. That is why, as I said, the proposals are good in parts.

I should also say that I have been very impressed by the co-operation which has been shown by the district councils, which I believe have dealt with the proposals and plans most calmly and professionally. Quite clearly, they are already undertaking much work jointly. However, those are my views; they are not the views of the people who will be affected. We do not know what those are.

If the Government really had serious thoughts about the kind of slapdash polling that the Minister described—where the outcome depends on the question—they had no business not to ensure that the guidance to the commission required professional and objective polling. Comments have been made on polling this afternoon which have compared quite different types of poll. Indeed, polls which involve a relatively small number of people, undertaken in this instance by MORI, are not the same as NOP polls or questionnaires sent out to large numbers of people. I have made the point before and, although I have no brief to defend pollsters, I must say that good polling does not depend on numbers.

There has also been mention of cost. In my view, it is not just a matter of the costs of transition and the extra costs which may be incurred by a unitary solution. I am very conscious that, in addition to those costs, there are also the uncosted person hours that have been spent in responding to what has been happening. I believe that that is understandable. The main point on cost is probably the overall loss of cash to local government services. It is from such services that the payment for this farrago—I believe that that is the word that has been used—has come.

I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who referred to the question of function. We should, perhaps, have started by addressing the issue of what local government should do. In my very early days in your Lordships' House, I remember debating that issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who has come into the Chamber today to listen to the debate. That was my first Bill. Indeed, had we first addressed function, then perhaps the issues of structure would have been easier to deal with.

I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, quite simply because of the failure to consult on the proposal which is the basis of the order. I regard that as a real failure. There has been comment about those who have come to your Lordships' House this afternoon to put, in some cases, a very personal perspective. However, that is the nature of this House. Whatever the outcome, I should like to use the occasion to thank both members and officers of all the authorities concerned, who must have had an extraordinarily unsettling and difficult time but who I have no doubt have been doing their best to continue to provide good services. I end with a plea that none of the authorities is served an unremitting diet of either Karl Marx or Jeffrey Archer.

6.26 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, on these Benches we oppose the amendment and support the orders. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I emphasise briefly two points made last night in the Kent debate. First, since 1974, the Labour Party has broadly supported the principle of unitary authorities. We have done so because we believe that they offer a more transparent, "getatable" and accountable form of local government in which important services are not splintered between two tiers of local government. We know that that splintering generates confusion.

Reading District Council carried out its own survey in 1994. It found that 28 per cent. of the people of Reading thought that Reading provided education: it does not. It also found that 30 per cent. of the people thought that Reading provided social services: it does not. Finally, it found that 52 per cent. of the people thought that Reading provided libraries: it does not. What does accountability mean? How does any library user in Reading hold Berkshire County Council responsible for its library services if it believes, wrongly, that Reading Borough Council provides the libraries?

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said that, although the county council may be remote, services were nonetheless locally administered and delivered. I do not believe that local administration is a satisfactory substitute for local democracy. That is perhaps the difference between our points. A two-tier structure generates confusion. Moreover, in my view, it undermines the competence of local government to meet the major challenges facing it in the decades ahead—for example, the issues of care in the community and of economic regeneration. How can local government deliver the best services for the public when, in response to the needs of care in the community, housing is the responsibility of one tier and social services another? Some of the most fragile and most vulnerable people in our society may fall in the gap between the two.

It is precisely for that reason that tomorrow afternoon, on the Third Reading of the Housing Bill, we shall be moving an amendment with which I know the Minister will sympathise. Of course, he may think that it is unnecessary, but I do not believe that he will disagree with the purpose of the amendment; namely, to require housing and social services to co-operate in order to make the services under care in the community appropriate and effective. We have to move such an amendment on a housing Bill precisely because that co-operation is now not happening between two tiers of local government.

Equally, when it comes to economic regeneration, what sense does it make to have planning at district level, highways at county level, youth and community services at district level, education and training at county level, and economic development run by both at the same time? Who knows who does what? How can you ensure a seamless service when officers duplicate each other, run side by side, send letters to each other and spend most of their time trying to co-ordinate with each other? That cannot offer competent and value-for-money services to the public.

The first reason why we on these Benches support the order is that we believe that in most parts of the country, and certainly here, unitary authorities will provide more effective services. We also take a stand on the issue of wrecking or "fatal" Motions. We believe it is wrong to support Motions or amendments to statutory orders which effectively overturn the will of the elected House. It is not a matter of convenience but of principle. We have no problem at all—in fact we are delighted—if, on an amendment to a Bill, we can persuade your Lordships' House to ask the other place to think again. We do that whenever we can and whenever we can persuade your Lordships to support us. On rare occasions—sadly, too rare—we sometimes succeed. But when that other place has declared its intention, either on the first round or if necessary on the second, we defer to the hegemony of the elected House. That deference was reaffirmed by very many of your Lordships just a few days ago when we had that same constitutional debate. We, as a House of Lords, respect and defer to the authority, in these matters of statutory instruments and orders, of the elected chamber. To do otherwise would be for the unelected House to overrule the considered view of the elected House. The elected House, on this matter, did not have a single voice in dissent to the Berkshire order. There was a not a single vote against the Berkshire order. I think we should take the view of the elected House very seriously indeed and not seek irrevocably to overturn it.

I come now to Berkshire itself. First, the order does not abolish the historic county, as many of your Lordships have said tonight. It is the county that is historic, not the county council, which came into existence only in 1888. Before then the county was run by the lord lieutenant, the JPs in quarter sessions and the Poor Law guardians. The county council ran that county territory only until 1974. As the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, said, in 1974 one third—not a trivial amount—of the county jurisdiction changed county area. The Vale of White Horse and Abingdon went to Oxfordshire; Slough and Eton went from Buckinghamshire to Berkshire. A third of the territory of Berkshire is new or has changed since 1974. So much for the historic county.

The order abolishes the county council. That is not entirely surprising because, until recently, the council was trying desperately hard to abolish itself. As my noble friend Lord Stoddart said, in May 1992, before the review began, the county council said: Unitary councils offer the best way forward for local government. The [county] council sees the benefits of such a system as one single point of contact for all the local government services the public needs; a single voice to represent areas; no opportunity for passing the buck between tiers of local government; the avoidance of duplication of effort; and therefore the opportunities for greater economies and efficiencies. As the Minister said in his opening remarks—and it bears repeating—in their joint submission to the Local Government Commission the county council with the district councils said: All councils, including the county council, recognise that unitary authorities are the best way of delivering services in Berkshire. There has been much speculation in your Lordships' House as to why Berkshire County Council appears to have performed a volte-face over what was an unambiguous assertion that Berkshire County Council was in favour of unitary authorities and also in favour of its own abolition. Its policies changed when there was a change of leadership among the Liberal Democratic group 18 months ago. That leadership has a perfect right to change its views; I am not disputing that. The other parties, I believe, remained consistent and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said, Berkshire county administration has remained exceedingly—one might say excessively—fluid. I understand that committee chairmen have to be individually and separately elected at each and every committee meeting. It is not surprising that in that situation county policies have not been exactly consistent.

This reorganisation, on almost every test of opinion that I am aware of, commands wide public support, including the support of all Members of Parliament. The MORI poll has been quoted. That poll shows 69 per cent. of the people of Berkshire to be in favour of unitary authorities, 49 per cent. in favour of the reorganisation of the existing boundaries, and the rest split between "don't knows" and "opposed".

The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, mentioned the opposition of voluntary organisations. I do not know whether it applies to Berkshire, but I know—I repeat, I know—that in many counties voluntary organisations have been clearly told that if they do not write appropriate letters of support for the county council to the Local Government Commission their applications for grant will not be sympathetically considered the following year. Those letters have subsequently been checked by county council staff—

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but I think that in this Chamber we should be very careful not to cast aspersions on people in that generous-handed way. I think it a most unwise thing to have said. I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw those remarks.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, on the contrary, I said that I know, and I do know. I do not know whether it applies to Berkshire, as I said, but from my own knowledge I know that this has happened. The noble Baroness may have a very different experience from mine; I am speaking to what I know.

Finally, we come to the point of costs. Examples from Middlesbrough have been much quoted. Let us stay with Berkshire, because there the transitional costs of reorganisation have been estimated by the Local Government Commission at up to £16 million with running costs of up to £8 million. I do not wish in any way to suggest that the figures are negligible—indeed, they are not—but what has not been mentioned is the Written Answer to Andrew Rowe, MP, from the Minister in the other place in June which confirmed that the transitional costs of £16 million should be more than covered by the capital receipts from the sale of County Hall, a modern building by the side of the M.4. Its value is estimated at £25 million. As for the ongoing costs, Reading, for example, estimates that there will be something like £1.9 million or £270,000 a year amortised over seven years, or about one-quarter of 1 per cent. of its budget of £100 million. Reading says—it may be wrong—that it expects its council tax to remain the same. So much for all the scare stories of "£100 on your bills". It is quite extraordinary. I have looked at a number of county council reports regarding the extra costs that will be generated by reorganisation. All suggest that it will be precisely £100 on the council tax bill. If it is not the same figure then, given that 85 per cent. of Reading's expenditure is funded by central government, any increase in council tax expenditure, or reduction in council tax expenditure, is much more likely to be due to alterations in the revenue support grant—for good reasons or bad—than to local expenditure decisions. We wish the new boroughs well. We believe that they will offer good local government which is effective, economical and accountable. We hope that they deliver services to the public that the public want and support.

6.40 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there is nothing like local government and its procedures to get people worked up.

I do not suppose that today is the first occasion on which your Lordships have been in such a state. I thought some of your Lordships were in an equivalent state last night, so perhaps this might be described as a hangover from last night.

We have had today the sort of debate that we usually have on Wednesdays. Noble Lords have discussed the advantages of unitary authorities and single or two-tier government or the advantages of MORI polls or other kinds of Gallup polls. Noble Lords have asked why the people were not asked about this measure, and have discussed how we ought to ask them. It is difficult to acquaint all that your Lordships have said with what we are talking about, which is a simple order which has been passed by another place and has come before your Lordships for consideration today. Many different views have been expressed today. Someone has to decide something. So what did we do? We set up a commission. We told the commission to discuss the matter and think about it and then tell us what it thought. That is exactly what it did; the commission reported.

My noble friend Lord Peyton said that anything is better than continual uncertainty. That is precisely what we are trying to avoid. But who is causing the uncertainty? It is my noble friend behind me. Here is an order that has been passed by another place—

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords—

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, half a moment, I am in full flood. As I said, the order was passed by another place and now my noble friend says that it does not matter about any conventions, we should chuck the order back at the House of Commons, and that we should not agree with what the House of Commons has decided.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, the excuse of being in full flood is hardly a good cover for misleading the House. Let me be quite clear about what I said. I said that it is understandable that people may come to say that anything is better than uncertainty. From that point I went on to say that the damage and the cost of what is now being proposed is something which in future people will find hard to handle, and ought now to be considered.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as they say, I shall have to read in Hansard what my noble friend said. However, as he referred to what other people might say, I assumed that he had associated himself with those thoughts. However, if have misconstrued him, I am sorry about that. My noble friend Lord Renwick said it was a sadness to support the amendment against the Government. However, he need not do so. He is entirely free not to do so. He is free to support the Government which, if I may say so, is the right thing for him to do.

I agreed with what my noble friend Lord Elton said in an excellent speech when he said he thought it looked as if I might have a rough time. I thought so too, but various cohorts have helped and have put the Government's point of view, or have supported the Government in what we are doing. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Finsberg and Lady Flather for their remarks. My noble friend Lady Flather made an excellent speech drawing on her direct knowledge of unitary authorities. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. My goodness me, we are now getting the Opposition to understand the way to run a government! I so welcome their support, and I hope that they will continue to give it.

Noble Lords


Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sorry if I have disturbed the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was in good robust form. He was in good robust form today. He accused the Government of acting like a commissar over Kent. That was not a nice word, but that is what he accused us of. He said the Government had a master plan to impose consistency, or rather uniformity. Today we are criticised for accepting that different approaches are right for different counties. My noble friend Lord Peyton asked why Berkshire alone had been selected out of 36 shire counties. We have been through that. That is what the Local Government Commission suggested and that is what Berkshire County Council agreed with and supported. Berkshire County Council supported unitary authorities. If it wishes to change its mind, it can do so.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, will the Minister please confirm that the second Local Government Commission was appointed because the Government were concerned that across England there was a lack of coherence in the proposals that were being put forward?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. There was a second commission. The reason for that was because it was not just the Government who were unhappy about a lack of consistency in some of the recommendations of the first commission. That applied to the Opposition too and to most independent commentators. In any event that is irrelevant as regards Berkshire because it is the first commission's recommendations which we are implementing and not those of the second commission, with the minor exception of the merger between Windsor, Maidenhead and Bracknell Forest, which we rejected.

My noble friend Lord Peyton said that Berkshire had changed its mind. The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, in what I thought, if I may say so, was an extraordinary remark, said that Berkshire went along with the Government's view because my right honourable friend the Secretary of State had said—I paraphrase what the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said, and not what my right honourable friend said—that the two-tier structure would be an exception, but when that was not the case, it changed its mind. I find that quite extraordinary. I cannot believe that Berkshire County Council said it wanted unitary authorities because that was what it thought the Secretary of State wanted, but when the commission proposed something different Berkshire then said it would change its mind. It is important to remember that the review process has been conducted in two halves. First, there was a round of consultation and then the commission produced a draft report in which it recommended four unitary authorities. Consultation was held on the draft recommendations and then a final report was produced which recommended five unitary authorities with Bracknell Forest, Windsor and Maidenhead being the fifth.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said there was no consultation on change. I believe the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff, said he was surprised by the response. The Local Government Commission carried out two rounds of public consultation and the Government allowed time for people to make representations to Ministers on the commission's final recommendation. As the review progressed across England it was clear that no change was an option which could be considered in every case.

I now turn to my noble friend Lord Carrington for whom I have always had the greatest admiration. When I was a junior Minister I knelt at his feet and I looked up at him in admiration. I still do. There was a small hiccup this afternoon in that admiration but I have no doubt that it will continue. My noble friend said that the unitary authorities were too small. Up to 1974 there were many equally small, and smaller, county borough councils which provided in effect unitary services. Many were renowned for the good services which they provided. It is not the size of the authority which matters but the quality of its councillors and its officers. None of the proposed unitary councils for Berkshire is unusually small by comparison with some existing metropolitan boroughs which have been unitary since 1986. My noble friend said there was nothing that antagonises people more than tinkering with local services. I can understand that. We have had a reflection of it this afternoon. My noble friend referred to the reorganisation in 1974 involving Lord Walker and Lord Redcliffe-Maud. That issue caused a bit of an upset. However, my noble friend was a member of the Government in those days. He supported those changes, even though in retrospect he can quite reasonably take a different view.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, has the noble Earl left me?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I shall come back.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, can my noble friend—for whom I have an equally profound admiration—tell me why, the commission having recommended that exactly the same proposals be accepted by Buckinghamshire and the Secretary of State having refused to allow them, he has not done the same for Berkshire?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am always nervous when my noble friend begins by saying that he has enormous admiration for me. Something in my inner brain says, "Watch it!".

The answer is that each county and each order is separate. We are dealing not with Buckinghamshire, in which my noble friend resides, but with Berkshire. All the elected Members of another place were keen on the order and approved it.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff, said that strategic services cannot be provided locally. He mentioned housing, which is already a district service, and highways, where the work is carried out by district councils on an agency basis. That illustrates the confusion and misconceptions which can arise about which tier of local government deals with the service.

The point is that six unitary authorities can work well together. My noble friend Lady Flather says that they already do so. On top of that, those unitary authorities will be closer and more responsive to local people. The districts say that they can supply services at no extra costs; and it is up to them to do that. The local authorities' own submission to the commission emphasises that the different community identities and the unitary authorities ought to be able to represent those differences across the range of services.

My noble friend Lord Aldington yesterday moved a Motion which declined to support the draft order for Kent. I suggested to your Lordships that it would be quite wrong to support that Motion because it would have prevented your Lordships from agreeing to an order which another place had passed. My noble friend's amendment is far worse. Let me remind noble Lords what it says. It states that: This House deplores Her Majesty's Government's proposal to abolish Berkshire County Council … and calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the order". That is a wrecking amendment by any stretch of the imagination.

I sometimes wonder what has happened to the Liberal Democrats. They have been charging along the field today, and yesterday too, like a herd of heifers with the warblefly, with their tails up, having a go at anything in sight. I wonder whether they ever talk to their counterparts in another place. In another place a Liberal Democrat who is a Member of Parliament for the area is in favour of the order; yet all the Liberal Democrats who have spoken here—the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth—say that they will vote against the Motion. It makes us wonder what on earth is happening. It gives justification to what someone said the other day: if God had been a Liberal Democrat, there would have been "The Ten Suggestions".

What has happened over this issue? There is a problem. The Government set up a commission. The commission reported for unitary authorities. All five Conservative elected representatives of Berkshire in another place agreed entirely with the order. The Liberal Democrat hovered, but he was in favour of Newbury being a unitary authority. The order was put to another place; and it was agreed not only by those Members of Parliament but by another place, and was passed.

The matter now comes before your Lordships' House. A number of noble Lords have said that they wish to vote against the order. I urge your Lordships to think very carefully and, having thought very carefully, to decide not to do that. There is a serious constitutional problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, reminded us that two weeks ago we had a debate on the constitution, the position of your Lordships' House, the composition of your Lordships' House and what ought or ought not to be done. I believe that for your Lordships to vote against this order which has been passed by another place—it is acceptable to the Members of another place and to all the local representatives in another place—would be quite intolerable and would give enormous offence.

My noble friend Lord Peyton takes up the cudgels and walks along rather like Moses visiting the Red Sea, saying, "Stop the waters. We don't want this to continue". I do not believe that that is the duty of your Lordships' House. Your Lordships' House is quite right to discuss the matter; your Lordships' House is quite right to put forward views on it. But to say, another place having passed this order, that simply because we cannot amend it therefore we shall throw it out would be quite intolerable. I hope that your Lordships will not do that.

6.57 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, various temptations face anyone, having moved an amendment, replying to such a debate. First, I should like to yield to one temptation and spend a moment thanking noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, whichever side they were on. However, I shall not yield to the temptation to go through every speech and applaud some and challenge others.

I wish to deal with two points. First, I congratulate my noble friend who has replied to the debate on the particular pleasure that he must have from the strong support he received from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. When the two Front Benches representing the two principal parties get too close together, as I believe they have throughout this operation, I become a little uneasy. Perhaps that unease is shared by some of my noble friends.

Secondly, there is the constitutional issue. I do not ask my noble friend to explain anything because I am sure that he would not wish to speak again. However, I express my bewilderment. In Bill after Bill and clause after clause we impose a requirement on the Minister making an order under a certain power that the order should be subject to an affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament. If my noble friend's point carries weight, we ought to change the form of that requirement and say that an affirmative resolution in favour of an order is required only by the House of Commons, and noble Lords will then forego the privilege which almost every similar provision has given to them in the past. That I find difficult to understand.

From experience of others in winding up such a debate, I believe that there is a great danger of losing support, and none of gaining it, by going at length into matters which have already been debated with differing degrees of skills on both sides of the House. I commend the amendment in my name.

7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-Contents, 132.

Division No. 1
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Ackner, L. Lloyd of Berwick, L.
Addington, L. Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.
Aldington, L. Lowry, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Bancroft, L. [Teller.] McNair, L.
Bathurst, E. Malmesbury, E.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Mar, C.
Bridge of Harwich, L. Marlesford, L.
Broadbridge, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Carlisle, E. Monkswell, L.
Carrington, L. Monson, L.
Chalfont, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Moran, L.
Chorley, L. Newall, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Palmer, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Combermere, V. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cooke of Thorndon, L. Pender, L.
Crickhowell, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L. [Teller.]
Croham, L. Pike, B.
Cross, V. Redesdale, L.
De L'Isle, V. Renton, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. Renwick, L.
Falkland, V. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Gainsborough, E. Rochester, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Russell, E.
Gibson-Watt, L. Sandwich, E.
Gillmore of Thamesfield, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L. Sherfield, L.
Goff of Chieveley, L. Simon, V.
Greenway, L. Slynn of Hadley, L.
Halsbury, E. Stockton, E.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Suffolk and Berkshire, E.
Hamwee, B. Taverne, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Tenby, V.
Henniker, L. Teviot, L.
Holderness, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Huntingdon, E. Tonypandy, V.
Hylton-Foster, B. Tope, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Tordoff, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Walpole, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Weatherill, L.
Kinnoull, E. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Archer of Weston-Super-Marc, L. Campbell of Croy, L.
Arran, E. Carlisle of Bucklow, L.
Balfour, E. Carnock, L.
Beloff, L. Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Berkeley, L. Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Berners, B. Clark of Kempston, L.
Biddulph, L. Colwyn, L.
Blaker, L. Courtown, E.
Blatch, B. Craigavon, V.
Bowness, L. Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Cumberlege, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Biuntisfield, L. Dean of Harptree, L.
Cadman, L. Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Caithness, E. Denham, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Devonpon, V. (Lord Chancellor.]
Dilhorne, V. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Dubs, L. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Dundee, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V
Eden of Winton, L. Merrivale, L.
Elibank, L. Mersey, V.
Elton, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Ferrers, E. Mottistone, L.
Finsberg, L. Mountevans, L.
Flather, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Nicol, B.
Geddes, L. Northesk, E.
Gisborough, L. O'Cathain, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Glenarthur, L. Oxfuird, V.
Goschen, V. Parkinson, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Perry of Southwark, B.
Gray of Contin, L. Rankeillour, L.
Hardwicke, E. Rawlings, B.
Harlech, L. Reay, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Remnant, L.
Harris of Peckham, L. Richard, L.
Hemphill L Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Hertford M Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Seccombe, B.
Hogg, B. Seledon, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Shaw of Northstead, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hooper, B. Stewartby, L.
Howe, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Inchcape, E. Strafford, E.
Inchyra, L. Strange, B.
Inglewood, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Jenkins of Putney, L. Sudeley, L.
Judd, L. Swinfen, L.
Kenilworth, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Kintore, E. Trefgarne, L.
Lane of Horsell, L. Trumpington, B.
Lawrence, L. Tugendhat, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Leigh, L. Ullswater, V.
Lindsay, E. Vivian, L.
Liverpool, E. Whaddon, L.
Long, V. Wharton, B.
Lucas, L. White, B.
McColl of Dulwich, L. Wilcox, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.