Orders of the Day — Local Government (Derbyshire)
Mr Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)
I intend to be mercifully brief. I want to appeal to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary under the terms of an Act which is far more fundamental than that which empowers him to act in this way in relation to this Order. I am, of course, referring to the "Old pal's act ". In other areas of political controversy we are associates and not antagonists. I appeal to him tonight, not in the light of any brief observations that I want to make, but in the light of the general argument, to change his mind about this Order. After all, to change one's mind in politics is the surest indication that one has a mind at all.
During the past three years there have been precedents for governmental changes of mind. Since our Government, which from time to time enjoys my support, have changed their mind on everything else, why should they jib at a change of mind on this minor matter? I have no personal interest at all here. I belong to an area quaintly referred to in a document sent out by the South-East Derbyshire Rural District Council as the Ere-wash Valley Settlements. It makes us sound as though we were the last outpost of the Roman Empire. I am concerned with the general principle of the thing.
I want to put two questions which have arisen as a result of my going through the documentation. First, why the urgency of this change? Is the Derby County Borough tottering into bankruptcy? Does it face administrative chaos? Is it absolutely necessary tonight to come to its assistance by extending its boundaries in this way? I see no reason whatever for the urgency with which this Order has been presented. Secondly, if we appoint a Royal Commission, why is it necessary to act before it has even deliberated? As a matter of general principle, I do not like Royal Commissions. I would prefer a Select Committee of the House to examine such matters. Although I am not entirely in favour of Royal Commissions, if we do appoint one to do a job, we should wait for its deliberations.
This is the central argument, and it raises the question why should the Government act in advance of any recommendations which might come from the Royal Commission? My final point is this. There is a lot of feeling in Derbyshire about this Order. It is foolish to ignore local feeling on any question. I happen to believe that patriotism is a thing that is built up out of local feelings. We work and we strive not for an abstraction called Britain, but for our local street, our local town or village. We are flying in the face of something which, however intangible, is one of the most powerful forces in this nation if we fly in the face of the declared wishes of the people affected by this Order.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend: are the Government so afflicted with this terrible disease of masochism that they want to add to the unpopularity which we will certainly get after the Budget, by stirring up hostility in the, at present, Labour-controlled area of South-East Derbyshire? This I find totally ridiculous and I appeal to my hon. Friend to change his mind, on the grounds that this is precipitate, flies in the face of local feeling, and defies every principle of a Royal Commission. It is absolutely nonsensical. When I am asked to support this Order, then the only thing that I can say both to the House and to the Government is "I am damned if I will ".