First, I have not selected the Amendment, which stands in the names of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and his hon. Friends, in line 1, leave out from House to end and add:
'rejects the Government's White Paper Reform of Local Government in England, Command Paper No. 4276, on the grounds that it establishes metropolitan area authorities; entrenches non-elected regional economic planning councils; obstructs the creation of democratic provincial councils; fails to devolve power from central Government; makes inadequate provision for local democracy; takes no proper account of the special administrative needs of rural and semi-rural areas and dodges the central question of finance'.
This will not cramp the debate in any way. The points of view expressed in the Amendment, together with many others for or against the White Paper, will be expressed during the debate.
Secondly, no fewer than 35 right hon. and hon. Members have notified me of their wish to speak in the debate. All of them are especially qualified to do so because, in many cases, of their experience in local government, and also because, even more important, every right hon. and hon. Member is affected in some way by the provisions of the White Paper. I hope, therefore, that those I call to speak will think of others and be reasonably brief.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While not in any way quarrelling with your decision not to select the Liberal Amendment, may I ask whether it has been brought to your attention that it represents the only opposition in the House to the Redcliffe-Maud proposals and, indeed, to the Government's White Paper?
I am aware of the factor mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—that this is the only Amendment on the Order Paper—and that it is opposed to the Redcliffe-Maud Report. However, I have a suspicion that more opposition to the Report will be expressed during this debate besides that expressed in the Amendment by the Liberal Party.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just said that 35 right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. You will recall that, last Thursday, during Business questions, I drew the attention of the Leader of the House to the widespread interest which the debate has aroused and asked him to provide two days for it. He said that it would not be possible to do that, but that he would be prepared to consider an extension of time on the one day chosen. May I ask whether the Leader of the House has had any discussion with you about postponing the vote until 11 o'clock tonight?
I beg to move.
That this House takes note of the White Paper on Reform of Local Government in England (Command Paper No. 4276).
I did not wholly like your ominous remark, Mr. Speaker, that there might be more opposition to the White Paper than appears on the surface. I was hoping that the atmosphere in the debate would be the same as the atmosphere which accompanied the Ten-Minute Rule Bill just now. Indeed, I have some support in thinking this from history, because when the last great Measure for the reorganisation of English local government was debated in this House on 19th March, 1888, Mr. Ritchie, the President of the Local Government Board, said:
The desirability of dealing with the question of local government is, happily, acknowledged by both political parties …
In following him, Mr. Gladstone, as Leader of the Opposition, replied that the
… Government … would find on this side of the House no disposition to treat their proposals … in any other than a broad and candid spirit. … The good and profit of these principles I should be sorry that Parliament and the country should lose through the existence of any grudging or ungenerous spirit on the part …
of the Opposition. I hope that similar sentiments will animate our debate today.
Our present system of local government dates in its essentials from the 19th century. We can all agree at least on two propositions: first, that tribute is due to those thousands of councillors and officers who have done so much to make the present system work; secondly, however, that this system has now become anachronistic.
We have today no fewer than 1,210 authorities administering local government services in England outside London; these 1,210 are split between 5 different types of authority, each with a different set of powers—79 county boroughs, 45 county councils, 227 non-county boroughs, 449 urban district councils, and 410 rural district councils.
County boroughs are of course all-purpose authorities, but all the others are only some-purpose authorities. The division of functions between them is not the result of any coherent plan, but has emerged over the years from a variety of separate decisions about individual services.
This patchwork effect is heightened by the great variety and illogicality in the size of authorities. There are 98 county districts with populations ranging from 50,000 to 123,000; but as many as 42 out of the 79 county boroughs are also in this population range. This overlap is, to say the least, hard to defend when we remember the big difference between the functions of county boroughs and county districts.
If we look at the size of authorities responsible for particular services, we find that the City of Birmingham, with a population of 1,100,000, and the smallest rural district, with a population of 1,500, are both housing authorities, with exactly the same responsibility for dealing with the housing problems of their areas.
Bootle, jammed tight up against Liverpool, has the full powers of a planning authority for an area of 5 square miles. Devon County Council has exactly the same planning powers, but for an area of more than 2,500 square miles.
This mosaic pattern produces fundamental weaknesses. The first stems from the division between town and country in the organisation of services. This no longer bears any relation to reality. It is not that town and country have become identical, or that their interests have become identical. But they have become socially and economically interdependent, and their interests are intermeshed.
The towns need—and increasingly need—the countryside for housing space, for leisure and for recreation. Indeed, they cannot breathe properly within their present borders. Those who live in the country increasingly work, shop and find their entertainment in the towns. And as the number of cars doubles in the next 15 years, these links will grow still closer.
So to try to administer town and country separately for planning, transport and development, as happens today, becomes more and more impossible. There is not a county borough in England which can solve its housing and planning problems within its present boundaries. Nor can most rural districts claim to be self-contained when, as the last census showed, nearly half of those who live in rural districts work outside the district boundaries.
To have one planning authority for a county borough and another for the county around it means that each can deal with only part of a problem which ought to be seen as a single whole. Any new system must bring town and country together for planning purposes. I do not think that anyone who has thought about the matter seriously holds a contrary view.
The second weakness of the present system is that it separates services that should be administered together. County councils, although planning authorities, have no responsibility for housing; so although they can make plans they lack one of the most important means of carrying them out. The personal social services come under the county councils, but housing under the county districts—a division which the Seebohm Committee strongly criticised.
Thirdly, many of the present authorities are too small. The Redcliffe-Maud Commission was very candid about the relationship between size and efficiency. It said quite plainly that no statistical relationship could be proved to exist. This was an important negative conclusion; it showed that there is not one single, optimum size for particular services. But that does not mean that we can wash our hands of the problem, and leave things as they are; not even the urban district councils and the rural district councils suggested that we could.
The weight of advice received by the commission was that a population of about 250,000 is necessary for the effective provision of the main services. This is also the view of the Government. One can, of course, find authorities with smaller populations than this which provide individual services at a high standard. But when we take an overall view of the right size for authorities adminstering a wide range of services, we believe—and I shall return to this question later—that a minimum population in the region of 250,000 is required. This in itself involves a reshaping of the whole structure.
Lastly, the present system greatly confuses the public. When a person can walk along a city street and pass from one local authority area to another without knowing it; when he can find the offices of three distinct authorities—county council, borough or urban district council, and rural district council—each with its separate jurisdiction, in the same country town; when he cannot understand why different authorities exercise different functions, it is hardly surprising if people do not know who is responsible for what service in which area. This confusion leads only too easily to apathy and indifference.
All this means that local government as a whole is too weak. Because there are so many different types of authority, each with its own national association, local government cannot speak to the central Government with a united voice. Because there are so many small authorities with limited resources, the central Government are forced to maintain checks on their performance that would be unnecessary if every authority commanded adequate resources. Because of the division between county councils and county boroughs, there is hardly an authority in the country which is responsible for an area that ought to be planned as a whole. Therefore, the central Government, under either party, are constantly having to intervene in planning decisions which local authorities should take for themselves.
When people complain about Government interference in local affairs, the fault is by no means wholly that of the Government. It is often that only the central Government can take the necessary action, because local authority resources and areas do not correspond with the scale of the job to be done. The trend towards centralisation has occurred partly because our local government structure has remained fixed in an out-of-date mould.
It was a recognition of these weaknesses which led to the appointment of the Royal Commission. We should not forget now that the decision to set it up was generally—indeed, almost universally—applauded.
The evidence to the commission reflected the feeling that radical change was essential. Virtually no one recommended that we should retain the status quo. Obviously, witnesses varied in the proposals they made, but the main bodies of opinion all suggested the union of town and country and a drastic reduction in the number of authorities. The Redcliffe-Maud Report has been criticised as revolutionary. In fact, it did not go so far as some authoritative witnesses would have liked.
When we held our consultations on the commission's report, there was, again, no serious argument in favour of keeping things as they are. The need for change is accepted. The debate is about what form it should take.
My contribution to this debate this afternoon will cover mainly the general structure and the relationship between central and local government. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, when he winds up the debate, will deal with other aspects of the White Paper and we shall both try to avoid repeating what is said in the White Paper.
There cannot be a single right answer to the problem of how to organise local government. Reasonable men are bound to hold different views, the more so since we are not creating a new system from scratch but are reorganising a system which has deep roots in history.
To begin with, there cannot be the same structure for the entire country. To impose a uniform system everywhere would do great violence to basic social and economic facts. What matters in our increasingly mobile society is the distribution of population, the pattern of employment, the system of communications, the journeys people make from home to work, the business and industrial links in an area, the pull of shopping centres and the way that people spend their leisure.
The more one looks at the map of England, the more one sees, as the commission did, that these "social and economic facts" points to different structures for different parts of the country. Many commentators have said the same. The Association of Municipal Corporations, which strongly favours the unitary principle, accepted the case for a two-tier authority in the areas round Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.
Mr. Senior, who wrote the Memorandum of Dissent and who is generally an enthusiast for a two-tier system, accepted some unitary authorities. Again and again, people stressed that there must be flexibility—that to have the same system everywhere would be over-rigid and unrealistic. So like the commission, we propose a structure which is part unitary and part two-tier.
Just as there are different views about structure, so there are about the right size of authority. The fact is, again, that there is no one size which is uniquely right while all others are wrong. People's views about size are often coloured by the particular services in which they are most interested. Planners go for the wide expanses—the city region or even the province.
Educationists also like large areas, in which every demand can be catered for, and every subject have its quota of specialist staff. In the personal social services, people used to prefer the small authority, whose members could be in intimate touch with those in need. This is much less so today. There has been a growing realisation—strongly reinforced by the Seebohm Report—of just how much expertise modern social services require, an expertise that must be organised in teams to operate over sizeable areas if we are to make full use of their skills.
Though there is no uniquely right size or right structure, there must be certain basic principles. In the Government's view, they are as follows. First, the areas of the new authorities must be large enough for planning. Secondly, to be able to afford the skilled manpower and other resources needed to provide services of the highest standard, an authority should have a population, in our view, of no fewer than about 250,000. Thirdly, wherever possible, each authority should be responsible for all the services in its area.
"Unitary" may be an ugly word, but it conceals an important truth. Local government services interact on each other, and the links between them grow closer every year. An authority responsible for the full range of services can look at them all in relation to each other, and to the needs of its area as a whole. It can work out a general policy for its area, and give each service the right rôle and the right priority. It can plan capital expenditure more sensibly, and co-ordinate investment in the different services to get the greatest benefit. There is also a great gain for the public understanding of local government, without which there can be no effective democracy.
Fourthly, however, an authority responsible for all services clearly should not be so large as to be unmanageable or unresponsive to the wishes of the electors. In our view, this means that it should not normally have a population of much over a million. There is no magic about this figure; perhaps there are areas where we might have gone rather more above it than we have. But it does mean that we are not creating the "monster authorities" that some critics have talked about. Most of the unitary authorities would have populations of under half a million Birmingham today has over 1 million. Only one, Sheffield and South Yorkshire, would have a bigger population than Birmingham—and it would be bigger by only 6,000.
In certain parts of the country the size of the area to be planned as a whole produces a population well above this limit of 1 million, and so a unit that is too large for single-tier administration. The commission found that this was the case round Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham; and we concluded, for reasons given in the White Paper, that it was also the case in West Yorkshire and South Hampshire. In these areas, services must be divided between two tiers.
These, then, are the principles on which the White Paper structure is based—wherever practicable, unitary authorities with populations in the range from 250,000 to 1,000,000, but a two-tier metropolitan pattern around certain actual or potential conurbations.
I turn to functions. I do not need to spend time on the functions of the unitary authorities, since they will have statutory
We cannot achieve such simplicity in the metropolitan areas. But we can get away from the present situation in the counties, where services that ought to be administered together are administered separately; where responsibility for a particular service, such as roads, is divided between different authorities; and where statutory schemes of "delegation" mean that education, the social services and planning can be administered in different ways in different parts of a county.
Generally, we have accepted the commission's views on the division of functions in metropolitan areas. Planning, transport, major development, general housing policy and the power to build houses in the interests of the whole area are at the upper tier. The districts will be responsible for the other housing functions, all the local authority social services, and a large number of other services that are best administered at district level. This means that districts must be of a substantial size.
We have disagreed with the commission on one major function. The commission followed the Seebohm Committee in thinking that education and the personal social services should always be with the same authority: so it allotted them both to the metropolitan districts. We take a different view and have allotted education to the upper tier. This is not because we believe in size for its own sake in education. But there is a minimum size below which an education authority cannot provide, for example, specialist further education courses or teacher training, an adequate range of special schools, physical education facilities, computers or closed circuit television, and a full range of advisory and inspection staff.
The argument is especially strong in the field of further and higher education. It would really not make sense to divide responsibility for this between nine metropolitan districts in Selnec—I use the commission's term—and seven in the West Midlands. In putting education at the upper tier we have, I think, the support of the great majority of educationalists.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves this extremely important point, has he any evidence at all from the major counties such as Lancashire and Cheshire, which for years have worked on a two-tier basis, that this particular arrangement is working unsatisfactorily between primary and secondary, on the one hand, and further education on the other?
Personally, ever since I spent some time at Curzon Street. I have been a strong believer in what is there called the seamless robe of education; in other words, that one could not divide the schools of further education and higher education. The view I have expressed is also the view of the County Councils' Association.
I should now like to say a word about our forthcoming consultations on structure. The White Paper lays down the basic structure. There will be five two-tier metropolitan areas; the remaining authorities will be unitary. We do not propose to reopen these basic decisions.
The White Paper also says that the 51 unitary areas are of broadly the right shape and size; that there is no unitary area which can simply be divided in two and that the decision to allot education to the metropolitan authorities does not call for a radically different pattern of metropolitan districts.
But within this broad framework there will be full consultation on the boundaries of the new areas. If strong arguments are advanced for joining certain unitary areas together we shall consider them. If a case is made for a different pattern of unitary areas in any particular part of the country, we shall consider that, also. And we would not rule out some variation in the pattern of metropolitan districts.
I am disturbed about the matter of time since, Mr. Speaker, you spoke of the 35 Members who wish to participate in this debate. Therefore, I will proceed further with my speech simply in fairness to the House as a whole.
We shall now discuss with the associations the best procedure for these consultations. We do not want them to be excessively formal, but they will be thorough. They will give ample opportunity for views to be expressed and, within the broad framework of the White Paper, we shall consider most carefully any suggestions for improvement and any proposals for detailed boundary adjustments.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is important when we are discussing boundaries and the establishment of two-tier authorities in metropolitan areas. Is my right hon. Friend, even at this late stage, open to a suggestion that perhaps there should be all-purpose authorities in those areas rather than two-tier authorities, or has the matter, as is said in the White Paper, been definitely decided upon by the Government?
I must disappoint my hon. Friend. We would not be open to a suggestion that the metropolitan areas we propose should now be altered and become unitary areas.
There is one level of structure on which we have not taken a decision, namely, the provincial council. We have said that we shall wait for the report of the Crowther Commission. There has been some criticism of this which I believe is misplaced. The Redcliffe-Maud Commission was already well advanced in its work when the Crowther Commission was appointed: and it was never intended, as the Prime Minister made clear at the time, that action on Redcliffe-Maud should await the report of the Crowther Commission. Indeed, the Crowther terms of reference Teak of "having regard to developments in local government organisation", so making it clear that these would go ahead.
In any case, the task of the Crowther Commission, as far as England is concerned, is to examine the relations between the central Government and the regions; and while the regions can and must have a strategic planning function, it was not proposed by the Redcliffe-Maud Commission that they should take over the operation of main local government services.
So it makes perfectly good sense, and, indeed, was always the intention, that we should proceed with local government reform without waiting for the Crowther report. It makes equally good sense to wait for that report before taking a final view on the question of provincial councils. This does not mean that we have rejected the Redcliffe-Maud proposals on provincial councils; it means only that we think it foolish to reach decisions on them while the Commission on the Constitution is at work.
In the meantime, I want to strengthen the work of the regional economic planning councils and also their co-operation with local government; and I am meeting all the chairmen of the councils next week to discuss this. When the Crowther Commission reports, the whole question of the right organisation at provincial level will of course be considered again.
The main anxiety which has been expressed about the new structure—it is perhaps rather a group of anxieties—relates to the alleged size and remoteness of the new authorities, the reduction in the number of councillors, and the supposed weakening of truly local democracy. I sympathise greatly with these anxieties, but believe them to be unfounded.
First, remoteness. This might refer to a number of things. It might refer to accessibility of the town or county hall. The headquarter centres of the new areas will be for local decision. But there are obvious candidates, and a study of these shows that out of a population of 38 million in England outside Greater London, 35 million—over 90 per cent.—will live within 20 miles of a likely centre.
It might refer to size. The largest proposed unitary area, Exeter and Devon, covers 2,227 square miles. But this is less than the existing administrative counties of Devon and the West Riding, each responsible for major services and each covering over 2,500 square miles.
It might refer to population. The largest proposed unitary authority, Sheffield and South Yorkshire, will have a population of 1,081,000. But this is less than the present populations of the counties of Lancashire, West Riding, Kent and Essex. It is only fractionally larger than that of the county borough of Birmingham.
It might refer to representation—that is, the number of electors whom each councillor represents. Even with a maximum of 75 members—and we do not accept this maximum—the largest unitary authority, Sheffield and South Yorkshire, would have, on average, one councillor for every 14,000 inhabitants.
But the present Kent and Lancashire County Councils have, on average, one councillor for 19,000 inhabitants, the West Riding one for 18,000; and individual constituencies go up to 30,000 or 40,000. And in none of the proposed metropolitan areas would we approach the present ratio in the Greater London Council of one elected member to 78,000 inhabitants.
I do not argue from all this that no problem of remoteness exists; indeed, our proposals for district committees and local councils, to which I come in a moment, are intended to meet it. But I do argue that, contrary to much public comment, we are not creating a new type of giant authority which has no equivalent today. On the contrary, there are equivalents, and interestingly they are to be found amongst the most highly regarded of our present authorities.
Secondly, the number of elected members. It is not in dispute that there will be a drastic fall in the number of councillors exercising statutory responsibility for services. There are now about 32,000 councillors of county boroughs, county councils, non-county boroughs and urban and rural districts. There would be between 6,000 and 7,000 councillors on the new main authorities.
But there would be a drastic fall under any proposed scheme for reorganisation. Take, for example, the proposals of the Urban and Rural District Councils Associations, supported perhaps by some hon. Members and generally thought to be much less radical than our own. The U.D.C.A., which wanted a two-tier system throughout England, thought that the second-tier authorities should normally have a population of 60,000. But only 55 of the present 1,086 county districts have a population of over 60,000. The R.D.C.A. was even more draconian. It suggested that a second-tier authority should have a population of over 100,000. On this basis, only four existing second-tier authorities out of 1,086 would be big enough.
I do not quote these figures to disparage in any way the arguments put forward by these associations. I quote them only to show what a drastic reduction in the number of councils and councillors is involved even in proposals which may seem conservative when compared with our own White Paper. It is part of the price we must pay for any serious reform.
But whatever its precise extent, the fall in the number of councillors is a serious matter. We have tried to mitigate it by suggesting that members of local councils should belong to district committees and take part there in the running of main services. Our proposal to create two more two-tier areas will also slightly increase the number of councillors with operational responsibility. Moreover, as I have already said, we do not accept the commission's recommendation that no authority should have more than 75 members. In our view this is a matter which needs further study.
Thirdly, the question of local democracy. This is a term to which different people attach different meanings. In the Daily Mail recently, Mr. Longland, one of the members of the commission, said that when people spoke about local democracy what they were really talking about was holding on to power. Now I think that this was unfair. But it is perhaps true that in local government, as elsewhere, people tend, sincerely and naturally, to equate institutions that they know and love with genuine democracy and to regard all other institutions as its enemy. I do not think that in representative local government there is something which makes a small unit inherently more democratic than a big one.
Mr. Longland made what is surely a valid point in his note of reservation when he said that it would be meaningless
to claim that the Isle of Wight has been governed more democratically than Hertfordshire, or Rochdale than Birmingham".
Nor must we idealise the extent of public interest or democratic participation in the present system. Only about 40 per cent. of the electorate vote in local government elections. A study done by the commission showed that only 13 per cent. of people have ever contacted their local councillor; many, as we all know, contact their Member of Parliament instead. Nearly half the county councillors, and two thirds of rural district councillors, are returned unopposed. I say this not to condemn the present state of affairs, but to show that we are not comparing some horrific future with a perfect and ideal present.
Nevertheless, the problem of local participation, even though we have not solved it under the present system, remains one of profound importance. For reasons I have given, I do not believe that the answer lies in having small, weak second-tier authorities exercising statutory functions. The statutory functions are best kept separate from the function of representing the local community and caring for the local environment.
This brings me to our proposals for local councils. I am not sure, incidentally, whether these proposals differ from those of the party opposite. I note that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) has supported
the principle of the existence of a bottom tier to look after genuinely local amenities".
I shall be glad to hear how he thinks this differs from our own proposals.
The commission's proposals on the subject were widely misunderstood. But I have noticed, since the commission's report was published, a growing awareness that unitary authorities must have local councils as their counterpart. I personally cannot conceive of a system in which there was no elected body at a more local level than that of the main authority. We cannot forbid a council of any kind to Dover and Deal, Woodstock and Chipping Norton, King's Lynn and Cirencester, Clacton and Skegness, Warwick and Bury St. Edmunds.
People in these places will want to make their voice heard on a proposal for a gasworks or a motorway; they will want to spend money on local amenities—a car park, a playing field, a local museum, a "Come to Skegness" campaign; and they will want to make appointments to school governing bodies and other local bodies.
All these things we propose, as did the commission, that local councils should be able to do. But I think that we have also improved on the commission's proposals. True, we have rejected the suggestion that the larger councils should be able to play a part in some of the main statutory services. This would have brought back fragmentation of responsibility, confusion of the public, and all the unsatisfactory features of the two-tier system in an even worse form than now. Almost all informed commentators have agreed that on this point we are right.
But local councils must be involved in the work of the main authorities. We propose to achieve this through membership of district committees. In the new system, the main authorities would have to decentralise their administration, even if there were no local councils. But district committees will provide a method of decentralisation that allows members of local councils to take a direct part in the operation of services.
This is not a resuscitation of the second tier. The district committees will not be independent bodies, but committees of the main authority, staffed by officers of that authority. They will have responsibility devolved to them in certain services—for example, parts of planning, housing and the social services. And local councils will appoint members to them as of right. District committees will thus reflect the broad view of the elected member of the main authority, the local knowledge of the local councillor, and the expertise of the main authority's staff. I think that this is a good recipe for combining functional efficiency with sensitivity to local conditions.
A lot of the criticism has sprung from the proposed size of local council areas—the idea that the Sheffield local council should have the same powers as a parish. Here again, we have developed the commission's proposals. We have to accept its view that local councils must initially be based on the areas of existing boroughs, urban districts and parishes. It would be impossible to do anything else. The reorganisation of the main authorities will be the biggest upheaval that English local government has ever faced. To try to define fresh areas for local councils at the same time would bring the whole operation to a standstill.
But whereas the commission thought that the areas of local councils should not be changed for a further five years while the new system settled down, we think that changes should be made as soon as practicable after reorganisation.
The problem of areas will not be acute for the smaller local councils. The village and the small or medium-sized town are usually communities in the sense that matters here. The problem arises in Sheffield and Bristol, Coventry and Hull.
When a town gets above, say, the 100,000 mark, it should be a matter for local decision whether it is represented by a single local council or whether the different communities which compose it should each have their own local council. I personally hope that many of them will choose to have neighbourhood or community councils. Such councils might bring new people and fresh strength into local democracy.
We have seen a massive growth recently of what I might call "one-purpose" interest groups in local affairs. This is partly due to a vague but real discontent with the channels open to people to influence events and perhaps an inchoate but often real demand for "participation", if that word has not been over-used. I believe that neighbourhood councils could focus this in a constructive way.
Of course, the whole idea of neighbourhood councils is an experiment, and there are violently differing reactions to it. Some, especially, though not only, amongst officials, see them as a potential threat to good administration—yet another annoying pressure-group getting in the way of sound government. Others will think them simply absurd, as did all the respectable, established people in G. K. Chesterton's "The Napoleon of Notting Hills".
I do not know how many hon. Members remember that novel, but it is worth remembering, perhaps, the answer given by Adam Wayne, the Provost of Notting Hill, where I am happy to live. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he was asked by the King:
'Don't you really think the sacred Notting Hill at all absurd?'
'Absurd'? asked Wayne, blankly, 'Why should I?'
'Notting Hill', said the Provost simply, 'is a rise or high ground of the common earth, on which men have built houses to live, in which they are born, fall in love, pray, marry and die. Why should I think it absurd?'.
There may be more people than we think who feel like that. I believe in an era of increasingly and inevitably larger units. More and more people are becoming concerned with the neighbourhood in which they live, with the parish in which they live, and even with the street in which they live. I believe that this idea, experimental though it is, could contribute something very constructive in our total democratic system.
But whatever the future of urban neighbourhood councils, we must certainly have a system of local councils along the lines proposed in the White Paper. They are a new concept in English local government, but a basic part of a structure which puts services in the hands of much larger authorities—as any reorganisation must do. Any system in which towns and parishes lost the right to have their own representative councils would, I believe, be wholly unacceptable.
I turn to the relationship between central and local government. The White Paper states that
… the Government believe unequivocally in greater freedom for local authorities within the framework of national policies laid down by Parliament.
I stress that last clause in view of certain comments on the alleged inconsistency between the declaration in the White Paper and the recent Education Bill. This is a matter which had better be cleared up.
No one has ever suggested that local government should be free to depart from major national objectives. The Redcliffe-Maud Commission was by no means tender towards central government. When it discussed the relationship between central and local government it always favoured the greatest possible freedom for local authorities. But it recognised, as everyone must, that national policies must have priority. It recognised
the responsibility of central government to settle the policies to be followed in the provision of services of national importance.
It said that local authorities
must conform to current national policies
No one seriously disputes this. In education, for example, there are many matters which must be the concern of
central government. It is not suggested that local authorities should be allowed to set the school-leaving age in their areas. We on this side of the House believe that the abolition of the 11-plus comes into the same category. It is an objective of national policy, and should be declared as such by Parliament. There is no inconsistency here.
Within the framework of national policies, the White Paper makes positive proposals for giving local authorities greater freedom from central control. With reorganisation we can get rid of detailed controls that have to be kept in force when there are over 1,200 separate authorities. We propose—and this will he much welcomed in the world of local government—to end the control of capital expenditure through the tiresome medium of the individual loan sanction. And for something like a quarter of local authority capital expenditures we shall give authorities complete freedom to decide, within a total figure, their own projects and their own priorities.
We also want authorities to have the greatest possible freedom to manage their own affairs in the way they think best without being confined in a straitjacket of obsolete statutory provisions which require them to set up separate committees for this purpose or that. For obvious reasons, this cannot apply to the police, and the Seebohm Committee's recommendations will call for special treatment. But we aim, to quote the words of the White Paper, for
a minimum of general rules and plenty of experiment.
We intend, moreover, to go beyond a mere relaxation of controls, and to give local authorities a general power to spend money for the benefit of their areas and inhabitants. This is something they do not have at the moment—except in the form of a power to spend the product of all of a penny rate.
These are serious and positive proposals; and if anyone doubts our intentions let me quote two specific decisions which have already been taken. First, when we set up the four passenger transport authorities, we placed them in effect under the joint control of the local authorities in the areas concerned, because we think and thought that decisions on public transport in the large conurbations are essentially a matter for local government. After reorganisation, the P.T.A.s will be handed over entirely to a single local authority in each area; and, of course in London we have already handed over London Transport to the G.L.C.
Secondly, we took powers in the 1968 Planning Act for devolution to local authorities; and we have already used these powers in some places. After reorganisation there will be automatic devolution to all the new planning authorities. These examples are both an earnest of our intentions and an illustration of how if we can enlarge the size of authorities we can also increase their powers.
I want, finally, to say a word about finance. It has been argued that reform of finance should logically precede decisions on structure. I do not agree. The logical course, and the right one, is to settle the structure, to decide on the size of areas and the allocation of resources and then make the financial arrangements that are appropriate to the new structure. We cannot take sensible decisions on finance until we know—and unless we know—how many authorities there will be, of what size, with what functions, and what resources. The structure must determine the financial arrangements and not the other way round.
In any case, even the present financial arrangements, less than perfect though they are, would be adequate to sustain the new structure proposed in the White Paper. And, indeed, I doubt whether, in practice, any new study—and we have had plenty of studies both inside and outside Government in recent years—will lead to a wholly revolutionary new method of financing local government.
Following the decisions now taken on structure, the Government wil publish a Green Paper setting out our detailed proposals for local government finance and taxation. There will have to be central grants under any system of local government, but no one likes the present situation in which authorities depend on such grants for so much of their revenue. The Green Paper will, therefore, discuss possible supplementary sources of revenue for local authorities. But I must say now that the Government agree with the commission that rates must remain the chief local tax.
Rates are certainly unpopular and in many ways unsatisfactory. But the present Government have taken a number of important steps to make them fairer and more palatable—payment by instalments, special relief for domestic ratepayers through the rate support grant, and rate rebates, for which the income limits will be raised on 1st October. I am sure that with hard work and ingenuity we can do still more to make them less regressive. But I am equally sure, as was the commission, that they must remain the principal local tax.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not want to deal more fully with other important proposals in the White Paper—for a major review of allowances and expenses, a liberalisation of the present rules on disqualification, the establishment of local ombudsmen, and the abolition of aldermen.
To conclude, we are all agreed that a major reform of local government is needed. We are probably all agreed that there is no uniquely right solution which will satisfy everybody. Any solution will cause upheaval and disturbance. Any solution will be unpopular with some critics and in some parts of the country. Any solution will cause a large reduction in the number of councillors. So none of us who believes in reform can be or should try to be, competitors for popularity; and those who differ from our proposals must spell out frankly the implications of their own.
I claim for our proposals that, in their variety they fit the different needs of different parts of the country; that they create a pattern of main authorities better able to meet the public demand for efficient local services; that they create the possibility, in the local councils, of a virile and genuinely local democracy; and that they provide the necessary condition for greater freedom from central government control.
I know that the House will debate the proposals constructively. I know, also, that the existing councils and councillors will continue to carry out their tasks loyally and diligently, but we owe it to them to proceed with all practical speed to the next stage.
I have already referred to the debate on the last major proposals for reform in 1888. Commending those proposals, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, in the House of Lords, said that
the evil of leaving things as they are seems to me much greater than any evil that could possibly come from the Bill.
I would put it today more positively. People want two things from local government. First, they want housing, education, the social services, transport and amenities to be provided at the highest possible standard. Secondly, they want to make their voices heard loud and clear when those in authority propose things which offend their local feelings.
I claim that our proposals will, more effectively than either the present system or any proposed alternative, satisfy these two objectives.
I never expected to see the Secretary of State take on the mantle of Lord Salisbury with such enthusiasm and pleasure. I am not quite so certain that I am equally pleased to take on the mantle of Mr. Gladstone. The House will be grateful for the detail in which he dealt with a number of major proposals. Both in opening and ending his speech he said that this was the first major reform of local Government since 1888, that it had had the broad agreement of the House, and that he hoped the same would apply now.
In fact, there have been some major reforms of local government—not nationally, but in individual instances—since that of 1888, particularly the major reform of London government, when, alas, there was not that same unity in the House. That reform was similar to some of the proposals for the metropolitan areas now propounded by the Labour Party.
To a party in opposition, it is a great temptation to take a purely negative attitude to local government reform. It would have been easy for the Opposition to endeavour to launch an anti-Maud campaign. I do not think that there would have been any lack of audiences of enthusiastic rural district, city, and county councillors supporting such a campaign. We have not done that, mainly because we agree with the Royal Commission and the Government that there is a genuine need for a major reform of local government. We shall, therefore, endeavour to be constructive and to suggest lines on which local government should be sensibly altered.
The prize of doing it successfully is important for the national interest. At present, about £8 a week is administered for each family of four by local government and about 4,000 people in every constituency are employed in local government. There is, therefore, a need to try to obtain a proper balance between the influence of democracy and efficiency.
It has been easy for some people to cry that democracy should always come before efficiency. Some of those who utter this cry cannot boast of a particularly healthy democracy at work in their own local authority areas. I remember one chairman of a council who wrote to me a plea on this topic, but, on inquiry, I discovered that in his ward there had not been a contested election for seven years. There is a considerable prize to be won.
The developments since the war are interesting. In 1945, the then Coalition Government set up a boundary commission to try to tackle this problem. In 1949, the then Minister responsible, the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan, decided to dissolve that Boundary Commission and it ceased to function. Nothing occurred in local government reform until the White Papers of 1956 and 1957 and the Local Government Act, 1958, which set up two commissions to look into the existing boundaries and patterns of local government. These commissions were stopped in 1965 by the present Secretary of State for Social Services, who was then the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
The only piece of reform which occurred was a result of the Royal Commission led by Sir Edwin Herbert on the reform of London local government, and that legislation went through in 1963. When we consider local government, and especially the problems of the metropolitan areas, we should pay a little more attention to both the weaknesses and successes of that reform. I hope that, whichever party is responsible for local government reform, a careful study will be made of the experience of the new major authority in the Midlands, which was created two or three years ago, the new Tees-side authority, and the G.L.C. and the London boroughs. A considerable lesson is to be learned from their experiences about the use of existing resources and handling such difficult questions as staff in such major reforms.
We then had the Royal Commission, which has now reported. Basically, we can summarise the gist of its argument as being that the existence of 1,210 separate authorities has brought about four major disadvantages in local government. First, the boundaries of these authorities are out-dated by modern developments. Local authorities which were suitable 50 or 100 years ago are now out-dated because of developments such as the expansion of authorities, population changes and great improvements in transportation and communications.
Secondly, the present system is bad for some of the wider planning decisions. County boroughs and counties, both having planning powers, can frequently make decisions contrary to each other's interests. Thirdly, there is the problem of seeing that comprehensive services are readily available to every family. Finally, smaller authorities lack the resources and the ability to attract the calibre of staff required to make them as efficient as they ought to be. These are the four criticisms of the existing pattern, and all have considerable weight.
My criticism of the manner in which the Royal Commission proceeded is that it was unable to look at the existing functions of the Government as well as local government, and part of its report shows this limitation. One of the main purposes which the Government expressed in a number of phrases in their White Paper was to give more power to local government when reformed than it now has. The Minister pointed out the disadvantage of local government as now organised in its lack of unity against the Government. I quote this as an example.
But if we are genuinely to reform local government with the purpose of giving it more powers, it is contradictory for the Government to make a number of functions which are now local government functions subject to national policy. This is where there is the main division between the Opposition and the Government. If local government is to flourish, the Government must say that there are certain functions which Conservative-controlled councils at the time of a Labour Government can undertake against the general wishes of that Labour Government and, likewise, Socialist councils at the time of Conservative Governments can undertake against the general wish of the Conservative Government.
A number of actions have been taken in this very year when the Government have decided to transplant the decision of local authorities and say that from now on these will be matters of national and not local policy. One of my major regrets about the right hon. Gentleman's speech is that he does not even concede that some of the functions that the Government have taken from local government will be given back to it when it has been reformed. The Royal Commission was unable to make any such suggestions, because it was unable by its terms of reference to consider the existing functions of the Government.
A major item of local government policy is housing policy. Local authorities may wish to pursue a particular type of policy towards the sale of council houses, or towards council house rents, or towards advancing council mortgages. Local authorities may wish to apply a certain pattern of secondary education. But the Government have said that in all these matters they no longer want democratically elected councils to make the decisions, because the Government are making them as matters of national policy.
This is a great discouragement to those in local government who are actively propounding a sensible reform, for they will see reform being introduced by a Government who basically wish to lay down national policies for local decisions. The first criticism is of the Government in that respect. Secondly, there is the problem of finance. This is an extremely difficult problem. I would like to be able to come to the House with an easy solution. I remember that when the Secretary of State for Social Services was Minister of Housing and Local Government he promised that within a short time there would be a complete reform of the rating system. It is a difficult matter.
But I would have thought that if one was introducing a major reform of local government, so much of the effectiveness of the reform would depend upon the financial arrangements. A tremendous handicap is put on the freedom of local authorities if there are systems of financing, as now, which restrict their freedom of decision taking.
I give an example of the present financial system which works against a number of major and smaller authorities. Under the present overspill policies, local authorities in major cities which are losing population immediately lose specific rate grants on losing population. The authorities obtaining the overspill obtain certain capital allowances. The present system discourages overspill by major authorities, because the impact of the loss of grant is a major factor in the finances of those authorities. The receiving authorities find that their rates soar on receiving the overspill population to service the capital cost entailed before their own rateable values increase. This one item has an important effect on major and minor authorities, probably to the detriment of the major rehousing schemes involved.
It is urgent that the Government make proposals about the financing of local government. I hope that tonight the Minister will be able to give a more specific indication than at Question Time last week of when the Green Paper on the subject may be expected.
The third criticism is that neither the Royal Commission—and this may have been due to the facilities available to it—nor the Government have given sufficient attention, in looking at the boundaries, to the existing resources of local government. Because of the limited resources that are always available to the Opposition, I have, since the publication of the Royal Commission's report, endeavoured to visit local authorities, and to hold meetings, in each of the regions of the country.
I sometimes question whether any thought has been given to the reality and sense of breaking up major local authorities. I refer to the position in the North West. I concede the need for the creation of major metropolitan areas which bring a reality to the boundaries of the major conurbations, but beyond that I do not think that it will be to the benefit of the people concerned to break up authorities such as Cheshire and Lancashire, with their considerable resources, and the centralisation of certain services, and redistribute those resources to two or three other authorities.
I hope that in looking at the boundaries, and at the pattern of local government, further attention will be given to what exists now and to the damage that can be done if the boundaries are drawn wrongly and the functions are given to the wrong levels.
If the hon. Gentleman agrees with the conurbations being made into metropolitan areas, and he does not want to see Lancashire broken up, is he saying that he does not want to see the establishment of Selnec, which takes in a large part of Lancashire?
My views on that will become clear when I deal with the second tier and metropolitan areas.
My fourth comment on the Royal Commission and on the White Paper is that the commission was faced with the real dilemma confronting anybody considering local government reform; namely, the disadvantages of having an effective bottom tier. The Commission's view was that the Ministry itself was concerned about this matter. Commenting on the evidence given by the Ministry, it said:
The Ministry appeared to us to be in the following difficulty. Though well aware of the democratic case for another level of local government below large city regions, the Ministry was on the one hand reluctant to give authorities at that level responsibility for any important functions, and on the other hand uncertain whether they would be worthwhile bodies without it.
That is the dilemma, and I come down on the side of saying that we must ensure that the bottom tier has worth-while functions to perform, and I reject the concept of local councils as envisaged in the White Paper.
They have not made their position clear, but if the Government follow the Wheatley proposals for Scotland, Scotland will have a two-tier system of local government. The White Paper for Wales suggests a two-tier system of local government for Wales. The White Paper for England, which we are discussing today, suggests a two-tier system of local government for 42 per cent. of the population of England. Therefore looking at the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales and 42 per cent. of England will have a two-tier system of local government.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but some other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, and I should like to proceed with my speech as quickly as possible
Only 58 per cent. of England will be left with one tier of local government. I do not believe that the Government or the Royal Commission have made out a strong enough case for that to be the position.
Looking at the various levels of local government which are suggested, and dealing with provincial areas, I think that it was a mistake for the Government to set up Crowther after Redcliffe-Maud. We are going ahead with reforming local government without knowing the relationship to yet another tier of government which may exist in two or three years' time. I should like the Minister to tell us when the Crowther Report will be completed and published, and whether the evidence given by the Government will be published prior to the publication of the report.
As regards provincial areas, I am dubious about the final rôle of another level of elections in a country the size of the United Kingdom. This depends very much on what functions we decide to give to these provincial areas. These are fundamental decisions of Government in different spheres of Government Departments, the classic ones being hospitals and roads. Regional hospital boards are appointed by the Government, there is regional government in certain economic consultative plans, and there are road construction units, but these regional bodies are devoid of democratic influence. The decision to be taken is whether there should be direct democratic control at each area or not.
In terms of planning, there is an urgent need to get more co-ordination between what will be the new democratically elected local authorities on matters of regional planning. For example, if one considers areas where there are certain advisory bodies with little power, I think that the Government should give careful consideration to the ways in which the future planning authorities can immediately be co-ordinated over a wide area to come to agreement on some of the major planning strategy and decisions.
What concerns me about the Redcliffe-Maud proposals for the metropolitan areas is the possibility of a dramatic change in the overall planning of future housing. The danger of drawing a metropolitan area as widely as some of these metropolitan areas have been drawn is a relatively small rural area within a metropolitan area will be dominated by the major cities and towns, with the almost certainty—an understandable certainty—that these new metropolitan areas will make planning decisions to solve their housing problems by utilising areas of rural land.
I am not sure that this is Rood overall planning for the country. I think that a decision to create a complete urban development within one of the suggested boundaries of the metropolitan areas would probably be a mistake. A positive policy of new town overspill programmes may have a better impact on overall planning. Therefore, in looking at the boundaries of metropolitan areas, I should want to examine carefully the outer boundaries of the conurbations as they exist, and then to try to settle planning decisions to meet the housing problems of the metropolitan areas concerned.
My other criticism, and this applies particularly to housing, is that not enough power is given to district councils within the metropolitan areas. I think that there is a lot to be learned from the experience of the London boroughs. As far as I know, there is no controversy between the parties about how the London boroughs are operating. Obviously, the Labour Party will consider that Tory-controlled boroughs are operating badly, and vice versa, but in terms of the functions of those boroughs there is general agreement between the boroughs and the G.L.C. that in terms of housing and one or two other facilities the need is to see that more power goes to the district councils than to the higher level.
That brings me to the unitary authorities, and here I mention the problem of councillors. The White Paper avoids the difficult question—and it is a desperately difficult one—of payment to councillors. Whichever Government are in power will have to face this problem before the reform takes place. If a local authority meets in the daytime, with the chairmanships of its committees occupying a considerable proportion of the time available, and those chairmanships go to people who are sponsored, retired, or wealthy enough to do the job, it is narrowing the sphere of operations.
I recognise the unpopularity of doing anything which tends to take away from the voluntary spirit in local government, but we must measure the tasks that we are asking to be carried out by at least some leaders of democratically-elected local authorities in future. We believe that people who come to the House to help govern the country should be able to do so, and we must enable the major authorities to take similar decisions.
I ask the Government, as a token of their genuine interest in the reform that they are making, to take action immediately to repeal that part of the Representation of the People Act which will prevent many councillors from continuing in office. There are 24 councillors in Birmingham, 18 in Manchester and 14 in Nottingham—not all Conservative by any means—who, under present legislation, will have to leave those councils. Many of them are experienced, and if the reform goes through they will be able to stand for election again. It would be wrong to break their continuity of service, and I hope that the Government will take the necessary action to avoid it. If they do not, the Conservative Party will do so when it comes into office.
My point of major disagreement with the Government concerns their suggestion about the future organisation of local councils. The Minister claimed that the White Paper proposals strengthen the position of local councils. I maintain that they weaken them. I also maintain that they were already too weak. I completely reject the Minister's contention that there was general agreement that local councils should play no part in the main functions of the unitary councils.
When she was asked to comment on the White Paper, Lady Sharp said:
I am less happy about the Government's intention to whittle down the power of local councils by refusing to them any part of the provision of major services. Maybe it looks confusing; but I believe it provided a flexibility which suited the immensely varied pattern of regional communities. I simply do not believe that the 'ensuing division of responsibilities would be harmful to the services concerned and could only cause confusion.' On the contrary, I believe it will be harmful to the services if local councils, where they have the resources, cannot make their contribution; and confusing to the public if, notwithstanding that these councils are supposed to look after local amenities and utilities, they have to stop short at anything that happens, technically, to be part of a 'main service'. So many relatively minor things can fall under this heading. …
The proposals for local councils as put forward in the White Paper just will not work.
Let me give an example of what might occur in one constituency. My constituency is almost perfect for somebody in local government. It has a shire hall. Worcester is a county borough. There is the ancient Borough of Droitwich and a rural district council. Each body considers itself to be a perfect form of council, which should be allowed to continue. My constituency could have 37 local councils or none. It is an optional extra. The White Paper does not say that there must be local councils; it says that anybody who wishes to have one can have one.
Under the Government's proposals, the parishes can have their local councils. Droitwich can have its local council. Worcester can have several. But in reality it will not serve local authorities well to create hundreds of local councils, each having only limited powers, and each having as the main object of acting as a lobby group and a protest group in relation to the main authority. There is a real difference between the existing situation and the one envisaged after the reform. After the reform, if we have our unitary authority, the local council will be the only other voice that could be raised against it—and it would be a voice devoid of power and unable to participate in the management of the main facilities.
District committees are unspecified in terms of size or the area that they will cover. The type of matters upon which they will consult are unspecified, as is the manner in which representatives from local councils will be elected to serve on them. What happens in a locality with 10 or 12 local councils covering a small area? What representation do they have on the one district committee which covers an even wider area? These questions must be faced. We cannot leave the local council proposal in its present loose form. We should have a much more appropriate system over a large part of the country, under which, instead of having the option of creating hundreds of small local councils with limited powers the existing local councils would be rationalised and reduced to a smaller number which would be able to participate in some of the tasks of management of the main authorities.
There are two spheres in which this would be important. One is housing. Local councils are better at understanding the problems of the allocation of houses than is a major tier authority; in planning, although major planning decisions must be taken over a wide area there are literally hundreds of minor planning decisions, concerning such matters as infilling, improvements to houses, and the building of garages and similar extensions, which are better made by local people.
The Government advocate a second tier in Wales, Scotland, and 42 per cent. of England, and in my opinion the other 58 per cent. of England would in most cases be better served by a smaller number of authorities, participating much more fully in some of the decision-making. There could be a much better rationalisation for the bottom tier.
If we operate in that way we can make some progress towards a system of local government which can adopt a flexible approach to the problems of the regions. There is not sufficient flexibility in the present proposals. The Government have said that they are showing flexibility by providing two-tier government in one part of the country and one-tier government in the other. We believe that there should be a similar pattern all over the country. There is some difference between the problems of the North-West and the South-West. These problems cannot be dealt with effectively by the one-tier pattern that is being imposed on large areas of both localities.
That is where our proposals differ from those of the Government. If we have the opportunity we shall proceed with the creation of reformed local councils. In certain areas the smaller councils will disappear, and there will be boundary changes. We realise the difficulties involved. I agree with the Minister; there is much more scope for participation at the smaller community level. Some functions currently being carried out by local authorities could be carried out far better by the people in the communities. I have always thought that, in things like art galleries, there could be much more participation by those affected. Also, in community areas, whether private or local authority owned, there is scope for people doing much more about the genuine local amenities. The Minister of Housing and I recently saw a film about a particular improvement area. The community estate concerned, which is basically privately owned, had a community with particular problems and there was tremendous scope for some sort of residents' organisation with these powers.
On local authority housing estates much more could be done to see that decisions are taken by the people on the estates rather than by the local authority. If they made such decisions, they would recognise the responsibility which went with them, but they could do more in amenity planning and provision of services than is done under present local government systems. Therefore, I agree about the scope for increased participation at community level, but there are functions in which it is essential to retain some sensible basis of government nearer to the people than is envisaged in the unitary authorities.
This debate will continue. The Government are committed, if they are in power to do so, to introducing legislation as soon as possible and they have suggested 1971 or 1972. If there is a change of Government—I do not know the date of any such change—we would wish to proceed with a sensible local government reform in the early period of such a new Government. A real difficulty is caused for local authorities by a long waiting period, but whether it is the Government's timetable of 1971–72 or if, of necessity under a change of Government, it had to be a little later, we must give real assurances to local government staff.
I hope that the Minister will be able to say something more about the staff commission proposal and some basic guarantee to those employed in local authorities, who are naturally anxious about the effect of changes. Whether the Government's date or ours applies, there is still time for constructive discussion on the set-up and future of local government. I hope that whichever Government have this responsibility they will do it well, for democracy at local levels is of immense importance for the future of the country.
I am sorry to disappoint my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning, but it will come as no great surprise to him that my views are somewhat different from his. There is general agreement in government, both central and local, if not among the general public, on the need for some reform of local government, but there is not the same agreement about what that reform should be. I believe that reform is necessary, but I cannot subscribe either to the Redcliffe-Maud Report or to the gloss put on it in the Government's White Paper.
We are all indebted to the Royal Commission for its exhaustive inquiry, but it unfortunately came down with the wrong solution. One good thing that it did is get rid of all-purpose authorities within the area of another major authority. Of course, it has made a nice pattern which would make it very easy for Government Departments to deal with local government—there would not be so many authorities—but there is more in life than making life easier for Government Departments.
When my right hon. Friend introduced his White Paper, I said in a Supplementary that the Government were making the same mistake as the Redcliffe-Maud Commission in trying to equate efficiency with science. The examples which my right hon. Friend gave today were not valid comparisons, because he was comparing areas which are subject to two-tier government with areas which will have one-tier government.
I have spent what seems to be a good deal of my life arguing against the idea that great size means efficiency, that the bigger the better. That is not true of people or of local government or of countries. If it were, this country would have a less glorious history than it has. The Government agree with me about the danger of over-sized local government units. On paragraph 45 of the White Paper, they say:
The reorganisation of local government will increase the size of the main authorities and substantially reduce the number of councillors directly concerned with the main services. Hence the well publicised danger of 'remoteness', of loss of contact between the citizen and his authority, and of a tendency for people to think of government of all kinds, however democratically based, as separate from themselves. This tendency is strengthened if fewer electors have the opportunity of knowing their elected representatives as individual persons.
Of course, the Government may say that they are adding resources to mere size, but on that basis one finds that some of the second-tier authorities in the metropolitan areas will have more resources than some of the unitary authorities. It could be argued that some of the unitary authorities are not large enough to carry out some of the functions of local government—for instance, planning and transport—but since I am not in favour of unitary authorities I will develop that part of my speech later.
I have been spending a good deal of my life considering this question of local government reform. In the 1940s I did a good deal of speaking and writing on this subject, and in 1946, I think, I was invited to give a paper on the subject at the A.M.C. conference held at Eastbourne. We thought then that the country was ripe for some reform. I do not know whether, 25 years later, it is any riper than it was, but there will be still as much disagreement now as there was in those days.
I have always maintained that, in any system of local government reform, the word "local" is the most important word. I would be prepared to sacrifice a little efficiency in order to get a local government in which people were interested and which was close to them. I have not changed the views which I held in the 1940s, when I was advocating local government reform. I believed then and I believe now that the only sensible system of local government reform is a two-tier system covering the whole country. Here I seem to be in some agreement with the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker).
Local government functions are of two types, those which are personal services, which must be kept near the people, and others which need to be planned over a much wider area. I cannot object to the metropolitan authorities, because I was the originator of the scheme long ago for a Manchester county council. In those days, I was advocating areas much smaller than are being advocated today. Perhaps then I was advocating areas which were too small, but I am certain that today both the Maud Report and the Government White Paper are advocating areas which are too large.
I would like to show how, for a metropolitan district, the second-tier authority is too large. I take as an example the one with which my constituency is concerned. First, however, I should like to call in aid in connection with the two-tier system the help of the Government. They state in paragraph 31 of their White Paper that
There must be a large authority for some services, and several smaller ones for the rest.
I agree. That is why I advocate a two-tier system. The hon. Member for Worcester was quite right in saying that if we are to have a two-tier system in Wales and a two-tier system in Scotland, it is sensible to have a two-tier system in England.
My second quotation from the White Paper is from paragraph 52 concerning the local councils:
Fourthly, the Government believe that another important function can be added, namely, that members of local councils should serve on district committees to which the unitary authorities would decentralise some of their administration.
Surely, that is two-tier local government the wrong way round.
I should like to explain why I consider that some of the second-tier authorities are larger than is necessary and are taking away the participation of the people. If we want participation, about which we hear so much today, it seems to me to be nonsense to make authorities much larger than is necessary.
My constituency is situated in the area of one of the second-tier authorities. That authority covers 107 sq. miles and has a population of 254,000 and a rateable value of £7,928,000. It covers part of Lancashire, part of Cheshire, part of Derbyshire and part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. It comprises six non-county boroughs, four urban district councils plus part of one, one rural district council and part of another.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that education functions are being taken away from the metropolitan districts, and when we have a Green Paper which proposes to take away health functions from the local authorities, no one will convince me that we need 107 sq. miles and a population of 254,000 to carry out the functions of local government which are to go to the second-tier authority. Quite a number of Parliamentary constituencies seem to me to be of a suitable size to carry out the proposed functions of a second-tier authority. There might be something to be said for an approximation of second-tier authorities and constituencies.
I do not think that any thought has been given to the heavy expense that will be entailed in implementing the suggestions which have been put forward. I wonder whether thought has been given to the siting of the new local government centres. How many new town halls will have to be built? None of the existing town halls will be sufficiently large to have a council chamber big enough to accommodate the number of councillors. What will be the cost of redundancy payments to a good many local government officers? We are told that with the proposed bigger areas, there will be a better choice of local government officer. There will be exactly the same choice as we have now. We will simply pay them more. Therefore, more thought has to be given to the question of cost. Under my suggestion, a two-tier system throughout the whole country would be less expensive than the Government's proposals.
I do not agree with the need for the local councils, because they would not be necessary if we applied a sensible solution in the reform of local government. Since, however, I doubt whether I am likely to get my way, I ought to comment about the local councils. It is true that today there are growing up a number of community associations and the like consisting of people who are interested in what is taking place in their localities. Those authorities are ad hoc bodies; they are not elected. From the list of items which are thought suitable for expenditure by local councils, as given in Appendix 2, it appears that the local councils will have quite a good job to do—until one realises that they cannot carry out any of those functions unless they obtain permission from the unitary authority.
One can visualise the sort of election address that will be sent out by candidates if we are to have local councils which have no power:
Dear Elector, Whoever you elect will have no power to do anything but talk. I am as good as anybody else at shooting-off with my mouth, so I hope that I shall have your support.
What else can a potential local councillor do? It is no good expecting people to stand for election when they will have merely the power to recommend to another authority. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts.
I am sure that we should get a much more efficient system of local government if we had better participation by the people and if we had the second-tier authorities of suitable size and able to carry out the functions that have to go to them. It might be that if we had two-tier authorities, some of the proposed unitary authorities would have to be extended in size. Under the proposed system, we are likely to have all the difficulties that now arise with regard to county council elections. The hon. Member for Worcester mentioned the difficulty of selecting candidates. Are we to be reduced to retired people, housewives, self-employed people and trade union officials? We do not have a great selection. The larger the authority, the more difficult the problem will be. It is no use talking at present about paid councillors. All the other costs will be enough to carry on with for the time being.
Therefore, while I am not hopeful that I have convinced my right hon. Friend, hope springs eternal and I am sure that there is a better solution to the problem than that which has been put forward by either the Redcliffe-Maud Commission or the Government White Paper.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) in his passion for two-tier Government. My experience in local government has been entirely with a single-tier, all-purpose authority, and I still feel that that is the best way.
To revert to what the Secretary of State said about finance when he opened the debate, I am rather surprised that he has not yet been able to produce his Green Paper. He has not even been able to say when it will appear. The right hon. Gentleman said that rates must continue to remain the principal source of local revenue. We have had a system of rates for something like 400 years and throughout the whole of that time they have been recognised to be an extremely unsatisfactory form of taxation. I should have thought that in that time every possible alternative source of income had been canvassed, and I am surprised that the Minister has not been able to decide which way he will go and which source of local government revenue he will use. Perhaps we will be told what form the Government grant will take and whether it is proposed to continue the present formula or whether, as I hope, some other formula is in mind. Speaking for Portsmouth, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has worked out some other formula, as the present one bears extremely hard on us.
I want to speak particularly on the proposals for the new metropolitan area of Southampton. It is proposed that the area should comprise the Portsmouth and Southampton unitary areas and the Isle of Wight. I agree very broadly with the Commission's recommendation of two all-purpose authorities for the area, but I do not agree with the recommendation of including the Isle of Wight in either. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) can speak for his constituency if he gets the opportunity, but I do not think it appropriate for this purpose to attach an offshore island to the mainland area.
I am opposed to the whole concept of two-tier government for the area. Two-tier government is slow, unwieldy, costly, inefficient and remote. Other hon. Members may not agree, but I believe that with the present system of county council a councillor perhaps 40 miles from an area being discussed can be far more remote in knowledge than can one much closer in a single all-purpose authority.
In this area there is a real division between the two authorities of Portsmouth and Southampton. The River Hamble makes a clear-cut physical division, and there is also a division in community interest. People standing on the west bank of the river look to Southampton and those on the east look to Portsmouth; they stand back to back. This is one of fastest growing areas in the country, and it is very necessary to have overall planning there, but, apart from that aspect, I see no need for an overall authority for other functions.
We have in this area two large and efficient county boroughs which are bound to form the nuclei of the two unitary authorities. Apart from this overall planning, they could be independent and efficient. There is at present a joint planning committee composed of representatives from Portsmouth and Southampton and from the Hampshire County Council. Although this is a voluntary concept, as it were, it works well, but I believe that for overall planning a statutory authority would be needed.
I suggest that the amalgamated police force for the area forms a precedent. A similar statutory authority might be established for overall planning, and the remainder of the functions could quite easily fall in place—the two single-tier authorities could perform them efficiently and well. I see no purpose in having this large authority superimposed on the two smaller authorities. Perhaps the Minister will, after reconsideration, look favourably on the idea of having two single-tier authorities, with a statutory body for the overall planning.
We are told that the soft answers turn away wrath, but I am very dubious whether the good answers given by my right hon. Friend will succeed in doing that in all parts of the country. The anger of many of my friends in local government will not be so easily assuaged.
I have been a member of a county borough council for the past 37 years. For 17 years I was chairman of the finance committee, and during my long period of service in local affairs I have been chairman of every other local government committee. In the natural order of things, I shall no longer play the same part in the future, so I can claim very fairly to be able to view the situation dispassionately. I can even face the losing of my aldermanic seat in the very near future with a degree of equanimity. In short, I have no vested interest. A future in local government is not for me.
Having endured the heat and burden of the day in local government, it makes me sad to see many prophets coming to judgment with the hope in their hearts that the trials and tribulations, the vicissitudes and difficulties experienced through the years by rural district councils, parish councils, urban district councils, borough councils, county borough councils, city councils and county councils will with the new arrangements vanish like snow from the mountain top.
I sincerely trust that no hon. Member is sufficiently naive to believe that. The vast army of dedicated men and women, councillors and officials alike, who have served their councils for so long in fair weather and in foul, and to whom my right hon. Friend justifiably paid tribute, will certainly not believe it. They know enough to realise that whatever the future holds and whatever the set up, the difficulties and complexities of administration will, like the poor, always be with us. They know well enough that they are being invited into the garden by Maud on the assumption that the "black bat night" has flown. They also know that they could be left at the garden gate singing "Baby"—or rather "Maudie"— "it is cold outside".
In considering reform of local government, one must always reflect on the imponderables and enigmas of the past in an endeavour to project one's mind into the future. With all its faults and failings, British local government as an institution has been the envy of the world, one of the best features of our democracy and unrivalled in the steadfastness and honesty of purpose of its officials and members, but bedevilled, it is true, by poverty without ever being able to devise the means of overcoming that poverty. Had we in the first instance been able to establish local government and the provision of homes, schools, libraries, police, fire brigades, health and social services on the basis of repayment without interest charges, local government in this country would have achieved unparalleled success and would not have deserved some of the criticism that has been levelled at it this afternoon.
Even in the days of the availability of cheap money there was no possibility of the millenium. There is no possibility today under any other set of circumstances or under any other arrangements. Out of the long experience I have had, I can put my hand on my heart and advise that this is so. [Laughter.] I am glad that we are deriving a little pleasure from the proceedings, but I am afraid that some friends in the County of Lancashire and in Preston are not deriving much pleasure.
For the ordinary people, there never has been in existence, and never will be, a fairy godmother's wand or an Aladdin's lamp. My years as finance chairman left me under no illusion as to how much or how little success in local government or the social advancement of the people could be achieved with the only means of acquiring capital through the Public Works Loan Board or on the open market, or by taking up loan sanctions from a never too-beneficent Government, whichever party was representative of the Government in the House of Commons.
Local government has developed down the years in this country on the basis of financial arrangements which no borough treasurer, however well qualified, no finance committee chairman, however well qualified, or committee member or council member, however well qualified, has ever completely understood. For viable units of local government, this was difficult enough; for the larger unitary or regional authority, it would be complex indeed. A constant source of embarrassment to local authorities has been the rating system. There has been shortage of capital resources, the extension of services and the inevitable financial embarrassment to local authorities in facing capital debts, interest charges and repayments.
Under the new arrangements in the much larger areas of administration which are envisaged the baling out processes of the central administration, like Topsy, will have to grow to facilitate the development of social advancement throughout the country. I am not altogether sanguine about it. Long-term application may do the trick, but in the process I believe there will be greater travail than ever before.
Experience has grown up with the local authorities, and this history and tradition attached to local government through the years has enabled it to grasp the nettle however difficult the problem was. I think these facts are being very largely lost sight of. In smaller, well-knit authorities, there has grown up the family spirit and now the ecumenical spirit which is of so much value in human relationships today. How much of this will be lost in the vast remoteness of the unitary provincial and, may be, regional authority of the future? I believe these considerations add up to a matter of fairly grave consequence.
In the words of Tennyson, there are two things which have not changed since the world began—the beauty of the wild green earth and the bravery of man. We are not considering the affairs of Welsh authorities today, but what would have happened in Aberfan in the terrible tragedy which befell that little community without the never-to-be-forgotten courage, resourcefulness and kindly spirit of those people? We recall the tremendous bravery of individual men and women in small communities and the heroism of unknown citizens when Hitler's Luftwaffe was raining down bombs on the well-nigh defenceless people in our communities in the early periods of the last devastating war. The tremendous spirit of true local government and the people who co-operated so magnificently and manned the services revealed local government organisation in all its glory. They could and always would, and always would in future, have raised their standards and coped with any difficulty.
Local government—is this a misnomer? Are we entitled to make it something else, to extend it on a grandiose scale and call it local government and expect the same or better results? I was most impressed when the Prime Minister's wife revealed that on average there were no fewer than 900 callers daily at No. 10 Downing Street. This is precisely what is involved in service to the people, the sort of service which is symbolic in the sight of the local person, the poor old lady, the poor old-age pensioner or a sick person who has nowhere else to turn, knocking at the door of the local councillor or the local justice of the peace to get a form signed.
My right hon. Friend envisages the difficulty and said something similar to what I am about to say. To coin a phrase, we can please some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time, but we cannot please all the people all the time. My right hon. Friend and those responsible have to make decisions. We understand that. In Lancashire the demise of Lancashire County Council will be justifiably considered by many to be an unprecedented disaster. The two-tier system for Yorkshire and extinction for Lancashire is hardly playing the game. This is a recommendation that some people cannot comprehend. They maintain that the White Paper does not provide for effective local government outside the major conurbations. They consider that outside the two proposed metropolitan areas there would be confusion confounded in the complete fragmentation of five relatively small unitary authorities.
Lancashire County Council is hopeful that there will be reconsideration of any proposal to destroy it on the basis of too little knowledge. There seems no dubiety about what the decisions arc. My constituency has been the home of fairly effective, if by no means perfect, local government. One cannot expect perfect local government if we do not have perfect government in the central administration. I again speak with my hand on my heart and ask whether central administration is justified in sitting in judgment to the extent it has done on local government.
Having served for so long in local government, and having served as well as I could serve in this mother of Parliaments, I would award the palm to local government. It has done better than Parliament could ever do in administering to the people's needs. It has not always had the help, advice and sustenance which it might reasonably have expected from the Mother of Parliaments, but all things considered, it has done well, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend was very fair and did not utter any strictures.
However, even though no strictures were uttered by my right hon. Friend, it remains the fact that there are many people in local government who will be superseded, because hundreds of good local government people cannot consider service in the new strata; they will be lost. It is all very well to talk about abolishing the aldermanic system and starting anew. What is needed in local government more than ever, in view of the complexities and problems concerning it, is the service of experienced people.
In view of what happens at elections, and in view of the proposed new arrangements, many of those who have served almost all their lives in local government will be out. As happened in London, a conglomeration of new people will come in. This is the natural order of things, and it is as it should be. However, when they come in in one fell swoop, without having had any experience apart from academic knowledge, the community is bound to suffer.
I hope that the sands have not run out and that Preston will be the focal point of the third largest city in Lancashire, and that the Lancashire County Council will deservedly continue to figure in the scheme of things and will not be eradicated from the scene; I hope that it will remain to a considerable degree as a first tier of local government.
This debate is about democracy: I hope that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the paths of Lancashire except for saying that I shall be happy to lend him some young Liberals to dig any number of "tiers" at Old Trafford if he wants them.
Democracy is where it counts—in people's lives. Democracy is not static; it is a developing concept. Increased education changes the demand of people for democratic participation. The increase in the population and the very complexity and scale of the services and operations that are needed in local government also change the requirements for the organisations of local government.
I entirely accept, as the Secretary of State said, that change is essential. I do not for one moment support those in the country who suggest that all is right with local government and that we can leave small councils to jog along as they have for so many years. We have become an over-centralised society. We have become a society in which the decisions that affect people's lives are taken in a place far too remote from them. We are in danger of having an impersonal form of government.
I accept the Maud Commission's analysis of what is wrong. Broadly speaking, the Government have accepted the analysis. Where I depart from the Maud Commission and from the Government is as to what sort of change is needed as a result of the analysis. We are dealing with something which is of the utmost importance in people's lives, possibly even more important than the organisation of central Government. Yet on this great issue we have not had any constructive proposals from the Opposition.
Mr. Joe Rogaly started an article on local government reform in yesterday's Financial Times in this way:
Mr. Heath has not done his job. While he has been Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Wilson's Administration has been redesigning our form of government, yet, apart from a few odd speeches, the Conservatives have avoided responsibility for contributing to any form of serious national debate about this half-obscured revolution.
[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] These are not my words. They are the words of a responsible, independent commentator. I thought that this passage would rankle. These are the words of an independent commentator in a responsible financial newspaper. He goes on to say:
This is a dereliction of duty…. The silence from the official Opposition has been embarrassing.
The hon. Gentleman would do far more justice to his case if he were to give us his own opinion and not quote from yesterday's Press, because he knows as well as the rest of the House knows that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) has held a number of conferences throughout the country, as he pointed out in opening the debate for the Opposition. There has been the greatest consultation in the Conservative Party on the question of local government reform.
I have plenty to say about the Conservative Party, but none of it could be said in the House. I reserve it specifically for the platforms of North Cornwall, where the people do not have such delicate constitutions about these matters.
As I have already made clear, this is the view of a responsible newspaper and a responsible commentator about the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Say it again."] I could go on reading the article, except that I do not wish to take up all the time.
We feel strongly that the Maud Commission and the Government, although they have reached the right analysis, have got the wrong answer. I should have liked today to have accepted in detail the challenge which the Secretary of State issued to those who opposed his proposals to spell out their exact alternative. I intend to spell out the outlines of that alternative on behalf of the Liberal Party which was published in 1968 in a pamphlet entitled "Power to the Provinces". This goes in very considerable detail into an alternative form of local government—not only a reform of local government, because to reform local government only is to miss what is required in the extension of democracy in our society.
The title "Power to the Provinces" symbolises its contents and aims. Three years ago I introduced a Ten-Minute Rule Bill to make provision for members of economic planning councils to be elected. I then said that we wanted to add one phrase to Lincoln's classic definition of government—"government of the people, by the people, for the people". Yes…but also government near the people. That is what "Power to the Provinces" is about.
Its authors approached the problem from a different viewpoint, as I do, from that which was adopted by the Maud Commission and by the Government. Both the Maud Commission at least the majority of its members—and the Government have approached the problem from the point of view of those who already hold the power and are handing it out, or are not handing it out, as the case may be. We would like to approach the problem much more from the point of view of those who do not have the power and want to have it and ought to have it.
Why not start again with a new social contract? Let us imagine that an individual has the power. How much does he wish to hand over, in return for what, and to whom? These are the questions we must answer in arriving at a satisfactory democracy for the latter part of the 20th century. The Government's greatest blunder was to appoint Maud without Crowther. I do not believe that the reform of local government can be completed, or even attempted, unless one has made the fundamental decisions about removing power from the central government back to the people.
There are arguments about bigness and efficiency which will be heard throughout the debate. The Secretary of State admitted that he could not produce statistical proof of the correlation between efficiency and bigness. But if we are to have bigness and to stress the need of efficiency in local government, there must be a quid pro quo for the people as well, and that quid pro quo is bringing the power back to them. Without it, we are taking power away from them by reforming local government in the way in which the Government and the Maud Commission have indicated. It may, for instance, be a tenable position to suggest that we should transfer powers from Camelford, a small town in North Cornwall, to a unitary authority in Truro, but it is really only sensible and acceptable to the people who live in Camelford if at the same time considerable powers are brought from London to Truro. Otherwise there is an increase in remoteness with no compensation. We oppose the formation of the metropolitan authorities because they are extremely powerful bastions against the future development of provincial government. There is no doubt that if we create these very large plums in the pudding of our democratic system it will be extremely difficult for the provincial governments to swallow the pudding. They will be a positive obstacle to the development of democratic provincial government.
Moreover, there is a contradiction in their creation, because they will increase the conflict between town and country. The Government have decided to introduce a metropolitan authority in Yorkshire, but Yorkshire has no need of it. What Yorkshire really needs, and Liberals want to see is an elected council for the whole county or region. Yorkshire now has three separate county councils and 13 county boroughs. We certainly do not think that the formation of a metropolitan authority will help to bring better people into local government or solve any of the problems which Yorkshire faces.
I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman over the creation of provincial councils. Is not the problem here that if one does not include the metropolitan areas even the new provinces will themselves be overborne by the heavy concentration of population in certain areas? Therefore, one should include them even in a provincial system.
I do not think that that is necessarily true. There are differences between different parts of the country. No one wants to see one system of local government established everywhere. If we had 12 or more provincial councils they could be drawn in such a way as to overcome the problem the hon. Gentleman has stated.
I now turn to the problem of the planning councils. The Secretary of State said this afternoon, re-emphasising what is said in the White Paper, that the Government wish to strengthen the planning councils' work and their cooperation with local councils. It cannot be done, for precisely the reasons I set out in introducing my Ten Minute Rule Bill three years ago. A planning council does not derive any authority from a democratic process. Unless it does so the people whose lives it is planning will not listen to the plan it produces. Why should they? That is the built-in weakness of the whole Government regional planning system. I would like to see at least the election of the members. I said three years ago that the danger of appointed members was that those who were appointed all too soon thought that they were annointed. The appointment system takes no account of the views of the local council. I have a wodge of correspondence that I have carried on with the Chairman of the Cornwall County Council and the Secretary of State about recent appointments to the South-West Economic Planning. Council. The amount of consultation with Cornwall over those who replaced certain people from Cornwall on the original Council was negligible. It is no wonder that the County Council feels that it has not been consulted and that the Planning Council can have no real say in the future of Cornwall.
The planning councils have complete impotence in planning. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Richard Wainwright) recently asked the Secretary of State what advice he had received from the Yorkshire and Humberside Economic Planning Council on the operation of the Clean Air Act in relation to local shortages of smokeless coal. I would have supposed that if one had a planning council it might at least consider that part of its function was to decide how far to extend the smokeless zone in line with the amount of smokeless fuel available. That is a planning function for an area. The right hon. Gentleman's answer was very terse and to the point:
None."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1970; Vol. 796, c. 90.]
There had been no consultation. No advice had been sought and none had been given on that important matter.
The trouble with the planning councils is that they are merely an attempt to extend central Government into the regions. That is why I believe they are doomed to failure in their present shape.
We are all aware of the tremendous influence those bodies have on society. Would the hon. Gentleman include great private bodies with an equal effect on society; would he want their members to be elected rather than selected?
Yes, indeed. The Liberal Party has produced extensive proposals for democracy in industry. I do not think that I should be in order in delving into the whole question of election in industry, the election of boards of directors, that we have proposed. That is merely one other facet of democracy, which we want to extend into every sphere of our national life.
We set out in "Power to the Provinces" the clear line that we wanted to see democratically-elected provincial councils with considerable powers. It may be that when the Crowther Com- mission has reported the Government will decide to hand out some of the power now held in Whitehall to such councils. I think that if they go ahead with the proposals before us the chance of doing so will be postponed for a very long time. The devolution of power from Whitehall is the whole centre of this question. Such provincial councils are a higher tier of local government. We cannot conduct reform of local government until this question is settled.
Then again, we maintain that there is not adequate provision for local democracy. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, that many local councils are not exactly democratic today. There are far too many aldermen around—either because they really are aldermen, or think they are, or merely because they have not been elected for several years. But even these councils—and many of them are undemocratic now—are by no means as undemocratic as the new system will, unfortunately, turn out to be.
Are we likely, under the new system, to get a lot of new people trying to get elected so that we can get better decisions and more talent? Will we achieve this without proper consideration of election expenses and remuneration? Making these election areas bigger and reducing the number of councillors means that we shall virtually have to depend on party finance to fight local elections. The Liberal Party does not have large financial resources, but what about the Independents? Thank goodness, almost all local government in Cornwall is in the hands of Independents.
There is a certain degree of swapping around in all parties. I will not say what my political origins were, but they have changed in the past. The point I was making in particular was about the Independent in politics. He will find it difficult to fight elections in these very large areas. Merely paying for the election addresses in such areas is a considerable factor. Unless we pay these councillors, as is done, for example, in the United States, quite considerable sums of money to make it worth while, we will not get a lot of new blood in local government. I do not think that we shall get better councillors or the better representation of all interests in the community which we ought to have in local government, unless the councillors are paid.
When it comes to the question of very local councils, the Liberal Party wishes to see district councils over areas of perhaps 60,000 people. That would not be a hard and fast rule. We want to see flexibility in different parts of the country and the rural situation is different from the town situation. We would like to see neighbourhood councils within district councils. The right hon. Gentleman said that he, too, wanted to see local councils arising out of the wishes of the people. But he fastened on to the point that we must somehow maintain the areas we now have because it would mean too big a reform altogether if we were to change all these local areas as well.
I do not see why this should be so. I think that we could leave to the democratic choice of the people the area of the neighbourhood council in which they live. In some areas, small rural districts want neighbourhood councils, and in other areas perhaps whole towns may want to have neighbourhood councils. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the problem that, in some areas, one may find in one country town three local council administrative offices. But that is not such a bad thing. Under his proposals, my fear is that the individual will have to search among many towns to find even one administrative centre for the local council and will have to save up several weeks for the train fare to get there.
It is true also that we have rather few railway lines in rural areas, particularly Cornwall.
I want to deal with the local situation in Cornwall and to put one or two points which have been made to me by local councillors and individuals there. I welcome the recognition, both in the Redcliffe-Maud Report and in the Government's proposals, of the fact that Cornwall has certain unique characteristics and should remain self-governing. I have not got my "Mebyon Kernow" tie on, but perhaps I should have for this debate.
South-East Cornwall is part of Cornwall and not of Plymouth. It was not right for the Government to decide, as they did, that this part of Cornwall could be just tossed across the Tamar, metaphorically speaking, and landed in Plymouth's lap. There is considerable anger amongst the great majority of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell)—indeed, almost unanimous opposition to this proposal.
A recent referendum conducted in Tor Point, which is part of the area concerned. 3 months ago registered a poll of slightly over 50 per cent., and 2,300 people voted to stay in Cornwall and only 163 voted to go into Plymouth. Again, without wishing to offend my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), I recall that it was suggested at one time that Bude, in my constituency, should join North Devon. This was put to a local referendum at the wish of the local council and was routed completely. I was delighted. There is the strongest opposition in Cornwall, both at county council and local council level, to any proposal that South-East Cornwall should be transferred to a unitary authority based on Plymouth.
I turn now to the question of finance. I have said that it is impossible to reform local government without the devolution of power from Whitehall, and it is also impossible to reform it without reforming the whole financial system. There is no time now to discuss the full implications. New revenues have to be found. It may be sensible to say that rates must remain the bastion of local government finance. There are certain things to be said in favour of that. But what is really wrong with the rates is indicated in the form sent to me recently about my house in Cornwall.
There is a question about central heating, which is no one's business except mine. I am asked what the "drainage rate" is. I do not know. Indeed, I do not even know what it is about. I am asked who the other occupiers are. Whose business is that? What is all this information required for? In whose computer does it go? I am asked details about leases or agreements. I cannot remember and I have not the time to find out. This exemplifies the sort of opposition one gets to the rating system. Having to pay more rates because one improves one's property is a nonsense, and is seen to be a nonsense by everyone except the Government—and that means every Government, of whichever party. Governments go on and on with a rating system which everyone abhors and detests.
I beseech the Government not only to produce their Green Paper but, long before they decide to reform local government, to go over the whole structure of local government finance and come up with firm proposals.
As I shall have a number of critical things to say about the White Paper and some of the Redcliffe-Maud proposals on which they are based, I begin by paying tribute to the courage of the Government, first of all, in setting up the Royal Commission at all. They grasped a nettle which had been avoided by previous Administrations for years. Everyone has known that reform, and radical reform, of local government was needed for a very long time and great credit is due to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for the initiative he took as Minister of Housing and Local Government in setting up the Royal Commission.
Secondly, the Government are to be congratulated on their courage in producing this White Paper and taking a firm stand, as a Government, on the proposals which they support and recommend. I do not agree with many of them myself, but it was a right and courageous action and will ensure that the momentum is maintained on this issue. I was also glad to hear the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), speaking for the Opposition, saying that, in the event of their being returned to power at the next election, they would also maintain the momentum and would bring about radical reforms based, broadly speaking, on the proposals in the Redcliffe-Maud Report.
I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way. I would rather not, since so many hon. Members wish to speak.
When I joined the Army, on the first day I was issued with a uniform. I complained to the quarter-master sergeant that it did not fit very well and received the reply, "In the Army we do not make uniforms to fit the man; we make the man to fit the uniform".
My complaint about the main Maud proposals is that they tend too much to try to make the man fit the uniform—the uniform being what I would regard almost as a straitjacket, that of the unitary principle when it is applied so as to set aside almost all the other principles which have to be borne in mind in deciding the right structure of local government. We are agreed on certain basic principles. Reform must proceed from a recognition of the interdependence of town and country; we are agreed that all the environmental services should be with one authority; we are agreed that the personal services should be with one authority; we are agreed that the authorities should be larger than most of the existing local authorities so that they will have the resources and skilled manpower to provide proper services.
We are agreed that there are great advantages to be got from having a unitary authority, where we can get that without sacrificing everything else. We are also agreed, at least it is said in Maud and supported, I think, by the Government, that where the area required by the planning and environmental services contains too large a population for administering personal services there must be a two-tier system of government.
It is the application of this principle that is the crux of the whole matter. What are the areas that are required for the planning and environmental services? It is here that Maud has gone wrong in suggesting that it is only in the metropolitan areas that a two-tier system is needed. The proof of this is in the number of cases where planning authorities have had to set up joint planning studies to produce coherent plans for areas which must be planned together. For the most part, it will be seen that those areas will still be separated by different authorities under the proposals of Maud and the Government. This principle has been largely brushed aside to give excessive weight to the unitary principle.
It is essentially a matter of approach. If we approach this as a social scientist, trying to look at what are the geographic, economic and social realities of our society and build on them, then we get one solution. If we look at it as an administrator—I avoid the pejorative word "bureaucrat"—looking for a tidy and supposedly "efficient" administrative structure, we get another solution, namely, that which gives this overwhelming weight to the unitary principle.
There are three principles here from which I dissent. The first is that the minimum population should be 250,000 and the maximum population 1 million. I do not believe these to be principles at all. They are a judgment, in my view erroneous, about what is the size required to give effect to the principle that the unit should be large enough to command the resources and skilled man-power it requires. Population size is only a criterion when we are looking at personal services. It is irrelevant when looking at environmental planning. I do not believe that we need a minimum of 250,000 for the personal services, particularly if, as the Government propose, in a two-tier system education goes with the higher tier.
I also disagree with the principle that the new pattern should so far as practicable follow the old. The advantages of maintaining tradition where possible can be seen, but we are seeking to make a clean break. Surely, as Mr. Senior said in his remarkable dissenting memorandum, the surest way to prevent the making of a clean break with ingrained management habits is to create a successor unit so nearly coterminus with the old one that a majority of the same councillors would he in a position to carry on in the bad old ways.
The Royal Commission's fanatical attachment to the unitary principle has led it to ignore the realities of modern social geography at almost every level. This happened at the lower level where the commission's studies show that in urban areas the community to which people feel they belong is not the towns in which they live, unless it happens to be a very small town; it is the neighbourhood unit. Although it recognises this fact, the commission proceeds to recommend local councils based not on neighbourhood units but upon the existing county borough, borough and urban district pattern. Then at the level of what I call the town region, as opposed to the city region, the commission's researches show that this country can be divided into something between 130 and 140 areas based on a town with the associated rural areas around it, which have a coherence because of their internal social and economic ties.
Having discovered that, it set it aside and rejected it as a unit of organisation because it says many of these areas have a population too small to enable them to employ the range of staff needed for the efficient provision of any of the main services. In my view, that is only true if we are wedded to the unitary principle. The personal services without education, assuming education is given to a higher tier, exercising only limited housing functions, including housing management, can be perfectly adequately provided by a unit with a population of 150,000. All of us know of county boroughs and other authorities administering excellent personal services with that sort of size.
Of the 148 districts which Mr. Senior proposes, only 12 would be less than 150,000 and most of those in rather dispersed rural areas. A further 28 would be between 150,000 and 200,000—I am giving 1981 estimated populations—and 108 would be over 200,000. These are perfectly adequately sized authorities to administer proper and efficient personal services. Thirdly, at the regional level the Ministry of Housing and Local Government evidence to the commission argued for 30 to 40 large city regions. These are the areas which it recognised should be looked at as a whole and grouped together for the purposes of environmental services and as environmental planning areas.
I agree with the strictures which the commission made on the evidence of the Ministry. I do not think it thought the matter through and I do not believe that its proposals for having 30 or 40 unitary authorities would have worked. It would have been top-heavy. This is why I support, almost without qualifica- tion, the proposals in the remarkable dissenting memorandum of Mr. Senior.
It seems to me that there are at least six major distortions which will be producted by the excessive rigidity of Maud's uniform unitary principles. First, we will still be left with areas which should be planned as a whole and which will be divided between rival planning authorities. For a short period, only one year, I was a Minister of State responsible for planning. I learned a lot during that period and one of the things I learned was that nearly all the serious environmental planning problems of the country are bedevilled by the division of responsibility between planning authorities.
I think that I can say without exaggeration that most of those problems will still remain, under the Maud proposals and the Government proposals. Now they will be divided between two strong rival planning authorities, whereas at present there may be one strong and two or three rather weak ones. I am not sure whether the change will be for the better. It must be realised that it is not enough to set up a joint planning study to produce a joint plan, to get that approved and expect everything to work fine afterwards. There must be an authority with the power to take the crucial investment and other decisions to give effect to that plan. Otherwise, each democratically elected area representative must fight for his own area. This is a destructive attitude to the proper implementation of the plans.
For an example of this I need not go beyond my own constituency. One of these joint planning study reports appeared recently on the future planning of Derby and Nottingham and the Erewash Valley area. This is one of the fastest growing future conurbations in the country. It is now at the same stage of development as the Black Country was around 1900, and is growing twice as fast. It should be planned as a whole and its environmental planning should be enforced and operated by a planning authority responsible for the whole area. What does one see from the Maud and the Government proposals? The wholly anachronistic boundary is maintained between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire running down the middle of the Erewash Valley.
There are plenty of other examples. One has only to look at Mr. Senior's report to see examples of them. I mention, in passing, the Bedford, Milton Keynes and Northampton complex; North and Central Lancashire, and so on. The argument that the unification of these areas is premature and is not so urgent as West Yorkshire and South Hampshire—and I approve of the Government's decisions on those matters—fails to recognise the time scale within which environmental planning must operate. Environmental planning is not meant to clear up the mess and mistakes of the past, but to so plan future development so that it works in favour of the future of all the people in the area. That is the first grave disadvantage.
The second is that where Maud has recognised the need to adopt areas which make sense from the point of view of environmental planning, it has to deprive its constituent town regions of the right to run their own personal services. A very clear example of this is Unit 44, as it is called, embracing Ipswich, Suffolk and North-East Essex. It is right that it should be planned as a whole from the point of view of environmental planning. But why should Ipswich, with a population of 370,000 in 1981, Colchester, with a population of 312,000 in 1981, and Bury St. Edmunds, with a population of 151,000 in 1981, be deprived of the right to run their own personal services? Two of them are well above Maud's own 250,000 minimum.
Thirdly, to achieve the minimum figure of 250,000 Maud proposes what I can only describe as some riotously incongruous forced marriages: Eastbourne and Hastings, Salisbury and Swindon. Durham and Darlington, Grimsby and Scunthorpe, Aylesbury and High Wycombe, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, Dewsbury, Wakefield and Pontefract. As Mr. Senior says, they are:
not merely lacking in coherence; they are positively fissile.
Fourthly, for the sake of preserving historical tradition it ignores the geographic, economic and social changes that have taken place so as to render present boundaries anachronistic. Again, to give an example from my own area. The north of the county of Derbyshire in
particular, Chesterfield and the surrounding area, belong without any shadow of doubt to the Sheffield region. The same applies to the Worksop and East Retford part of North Nottinghamshire. But this is not recognised. For historical reasons they are to remain part of Derby/Derbyshire, Nottingham/Nottinghamshire respectively. They will be separated not merely by a unitary area boundary, but by a provincial boundary area as well.
Fifthly, the adoption of Maud's unitary authorities will produce a hopeless dilemma when the time comes to determine the true functions and powers of provincial authorities. Because of the division of responsibility of environmental planning it will be necessary to give those provincial authorities the power to do the necessary job of planning. The question is: will they have power to enforce the plans? If they do not they will be a wholly ineffective planning authority merely producing the lowest common denominator, a weak compromise plan giving effect to the degree of agreement they have been able to achieve between the constituent authorities. If they do have power to enforce them, such as the building of new towns or roads or whatever it may be that each individual authority does not agree to, then the unitary principle will go out of the window. A two-tier system will result, with the two tiers being much too high up the scale.
Sixthly, the size of unitary authorities which has been adopted, again to quote Mr. Senior, "obliges them to wreck the concept of the community council". It does so by preserving the existing county borough, borough and urban district councils, deprived of all real power, as ineffectual eunuchs left to voice their peevish frustration in the name of local democracy.
I will mention briefly the things in the White Paper that I welcome. I welcome the decision about West Yorkshire and South Hampshire. I hope that in spite of what the Secretary of State has said he will be prepared to think again about other areas. I welcome the decision to give greater independence and power of decision to local authorities, including greater financial independence, and I wait their proposals in the Green Paper with great interest.
I welcome the decision to put education in the top tier in metropolitan areas. I welcome their decision to reorganise the health service so as to conform to local authority boundaries. I think that they were probably right not to integrate them with local government at this stage, but I predict that it is a change which we shall see in our lifetime.
I very much welcome what has been said about local councils, but there was an apparent contradiction in what my right hon. Friend said just as there was a contradiction in what was said by the hon. Member for Worcester on this subject was contradictory. At one moment, he was welcoming the Maud proposal to base the local councils on existing local authorities and then, at the next, he wants to create neighbourhood units. These are two totally irreconcilable ideas.
I believe that it would be crass folly in setting up the new structure to perpetuate and maintain these existing local authorities with the sense of frustraion that they will nurse. The quicker they can be got rid of the better. Let us replace them with local councils, neighbourhood units, community councils, whatever they are called, which give a real opportunity for people to participate in the care and concern for the area in which they live, which they can understand and recognise as their own area. We see this in the parish councils in rural areas. I believe that there is a great future for the same idea in urban areas.
There is a great deal to be done and to be thought out about this matter. Therefore, I very much welcome the setting up of the Association for Neighbourhood Councils which will co-ordinate this work. I urge that this concept at least should be made to apply to London just as much as to the rest of the country.
I particularly welcome the flexible approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). I feel that he has learnt, just as Lord Salisbury's Commission learnt, a great deal by moving around the country. It is a criticism of the Maud Commission that it did not move round to take evidence. I feel that had the commission done so its report might have been very different from that which we are discussing today.
We are tonight discussing essentially the matter of local government, by which I mean something that is really local and near to the citizens in the streets. We are discussing such matters as homes, schools, dustbins, drains, roads, rats and rates, which are very local matters indeed, and matters which should be kept as close as possible to the citizens.
I was most interested in the splendid speech of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), who represents a part of the County of Cheshire. There was almost nothing in his speech with which I disagreed. He was Chairman of the Standing Committee which deliberated on the Bill which became the Local Government Act, 1958. That local government reorganisation plan was fiercely opposed by the Labour Opposition. It got under way, but unfortunately the commissions were wound up, and we had the Royal Commission. I am not at all sure whether the proposals of the Maud Commission, when they are enacted, will be in anything like the form in which they have been laid before the House or as they are envisaged by the Government in the White Paper.
I should be very upset if the local councillors failed to be local. People are having to live close together in increasingly difficult circumstances as our population increases. It is important that there should be a network of local councillors on the ground in their own areas, living among their own people, and then they will be able to increase the area of understanding. Many local questions are brought to me as a Member of Parliament, and now I have recourse to the local councillors and local officials who deal with these local matters at local level. With unitary authorities, a vital link in the chain of communication will be destroyed.
The Secretary of State rather derided the present administration—not the councillors, but the system. But in West Germany, an advanced and well organised State, there are 20,000 local authorities. In the State of California there are 3,500 independent taxing authorities for a population of 20 million. Therefore, size will not be the complete answer to a more effective local administration. In fact, I am frightened of the sheer size of the unitary authorities.
I had the opportunity the other day to visit N.A.T.O. headquarters, in Brussels. They do not actually have walkways in N.A.T.O. headquarters, but I am sure that they have power-assisted trolleys for moving the files around! I came away wondering whether this was the shape of things to come at a unitary authority's headquarters. Would we have buck-passing and a gigantic monolithic structure covering acres and acres of ground designed for the passing of files for all the local matters which today are dealt with at local level and by local administrators who know about the circumstances of the localities and the people who live there?
Over the weekend I spoke to a very adroit administrator in the social services. He said to me something which I took to heart. He said, "If I was offered double the salary to administer an organisation double the size I would not think of taking the job, because the size of my administration is already big enough for me to operate efficiently".
I do not know how many hon. Members have studied the effects of mergers in industry. On 15th December last there was a very interesting article in the Financial Times on how mergers had worked in this country and in the United States. It said, in effect, that only one in four of the great mergers which had taken place in the United States recently and only one in nine of those in this country had brought about a more efficient organisation. I am afraid that these super-administrators who cannot be obtained even by what I call the "transworld" companies will just not be available to local government. It is in this respect that the proposed vast authorities will break down, because there are very few people who have the capacity to administer such gargantuan organisations.
I should have liked to say a few words about local government finance, but I will not do so because many hon. Members wish to speak. However, I am disappointed that the Government have done so much to wreck the rating system by not having regular revaluations.
I move to something very close to my heart, namely, the administration of local
government in the North-West. Hon. Members have paid tribute to the county councils of Cheshire and Lancashire. Lord Redcliffe-Maud is reported to have said, when speaking at Keele on Saturday:
The district of Cheshire was one of the things which most disturbed us."—
that is, the commission. He went on to say:
The Commission's proposals for Cheshire may well have been wrong".
In other words, the head of the commission is having second thoughts about the proposals for Cheshire.
I cannot for the life of me understand why Lancashire County Council is to be disbanded and destroyed. The central Lancashire proposal of four authorities for 1 million people is absurd and inconsistent with the rest of the Maud Commission's recommendations. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) was right: there must be a major rethink about the reorganisation of local government in the North-West That reorganisation could be built on the firm foundations of efficient administration which already exist in Lancashire and Cheshire.
Since the last war, counties have been precluded from grouping their district councils together, otherwise long ago we should have had in Lancashire and Cheshire district councils with populations of about 100,000. That should still be our objective. It could easily be achieved on the basis of amalgamation which would probably be welcomed, and, thinking of the citizen, I would go firmly for a two-tier administration such as that envisaged by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde.
The Royal Commission did not cost its proposals or work out a pattern of divisional functions. It was not a study in depth, regretfully, which was carried out by the commission; it was what I call a very top study lacking in depth. If it wished these enormous organisations to be created, it should have gone into detail about the divisional structure which would have operated beneath the unitary authority. I am happy to say that the Cheshire County Council has commissioned a very detailed study of the costs of the Maud Commission's proposals as they will affect their area, and that study will be available next month.
There is a case for amalgamation of units of local government but not unless there is a real affinity of interest between the town and the country districts concerned. Liverpool has been generous enough to say that it does not feel that it has a clear affinity of interest with the County of Cheshire which is envisaged in the Maud Report.
I have a few words to say about the ancient and historic County Borough of Chester, which I have the honour to represent. Under the Government's proposals, it is to be put down to the status of a local council. The people of Chester—and I imagine that this goes for the people in many county boroughs—are not amused by this proposal. They do not wish to take part in what will, in effect, be a powerless talking shop. I cannot understand how anyone can imagine that there will be in local government officers and administrators who will serve a council which has about the power of a transport users consultative committee. I believe that grouping and evolution based on sensible amalgamations of existing authorities is the basis upon which we should proceed.
I was interested when the Secretary of State spoke about the devolution of powers from central government. I thought that he was very touchy indeed about the proposals of his right hon. Friend for dictating exactly what local education authorities should do. I believe that the local authorities will have taken fright at the recent proposals of the Government about dictation in terms of the administration of their education functions. If that is a taste of what is to come, they cannot look for much real devolution of functions from this Government.
I find the Royal Commission's Report and the White Paper extremely disappointing. The proposals will not be any substitute for the personal service that we now get. In this day and age personal service is important. The impersonal is no substitute whatsoever for the local Government which we have at present.
In deference to the Chair, I intend to confine my remarks to 10 minutes and, in so doing, to confine them to my own "neck of the woods"—North-East Lancashire.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on accepting the Redcliffe-Maud Report in relation to North-East Lancashire. I am in the unique position on this occasion of speaking not only for the Labour Party, but for the Tory Party and for the Liberal Party, whose benches are now empty. That is an extraordinary situation which may never be repeated.
I must emphasise that the leader of the Tory Party in Burnley would utterly condemn the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) if he were as consistent in this House, if he ever got here, as he is in Burnley. There can be no doubt about that.
Not only the three political parties, but the trade unions, industrialists and commercial interests have one voice, one firm recommendation to the Minister, namely, "Get the Bill into and through the House as quickly as possible". I strongly suspect that this firm recommendation from those parties and bodies is simply because they do not trust the Tory Party, in the unhappy event of it being returned to power after the next political crunch. I can only assume that such will not be the case.
That does not mean that we have accepted either Redcliffe-Maud or the White Paper uncritically. I will mention four definite points upon which we would like some firm assurances from the Minister: first, the significance of the merging of unitary authorities; secondly, services for which special arrangements may be needed; thirdly, the significance of provincial councils; and, fourthly, local councils and the proposed district committees.
On the first point, we in North-East Lancashire do not think that the merging of Unit 21 with the West Riding of Yorkshire would be at all welcome, for some of the reasons mentioned by the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). That identity of interest would not apply. Similarly, any merging with Blackburn would not be very welcome by either Blackburn or Burnley and North-East Lancashire. For that reason we note with approval paragraph 39, page 14, of the White Paper, which clearly states that merging will only be considered if strong local government arguments emerge. I can assure the Minister that, from what I have been able to deduce, I am convinced that those strong arguments will not emerge in that direction.
On the second point—reorganisation regarding services with special interests—I refer briefly to the police, water and sewerage. It must be within the knowledge of my right hon. Friend that recently the police in that part of the country were reorganised. I very much hope that whenever any further organisation is carried out it will be done only after very close consultation between the Home Office and the local authorities.
On the question of water and sewerage, we hope that similar consultation will take place between the local authorities and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
My third point concerns provincial councils. If we are serious about directing more authority from the centre to the provinces it might be better that the responsibility should remain as much as possible with local authorities rather than with the Minister's nominees. We note that we are awaiting the Crowther Report. We hope that Crowther will report in favour of this kind of authority being wielded more and more by the local authorities rather than by the centre.
The fourth point concerns the significance of the local councils and the district committees. The belief is held that where the responsibilities are for a large authority it might be possible for district committees to operate; but where they are medium and compact, as they are in North-East Lancashire, we hold the view that that might not be so necessary.
Those are the four points upon which there are certain misgivings. They are by no means major points, but we sincerely hope that heed will be taken of them.
The hon. Member for Worcester, who thinks that this is a laughing matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is a relief, anyhow. If the Tories in Burnley had been listening to the hon. Member for Worcester when he made his points, there can be no doubt that he would have created intense dismay amongst them, because of the desire to preserve the sanctity of the Lancashire County Council at the expense of North-East Lancashire. The hon. Gentleman, while he made copious references to London and the metropolitan areas, seemed to sweep Lancashire to one side, in only a few phrases, for which there would be complete dissatisfaction in my part of the country.
When the hon. Member for Worcester was in Manchester recently, we found that his policies were utterly bankrupt of value to our part of the country. When I listened to the hon. Gentleman making his speech from the Dispatch Box I found it similarly bankrupt of value to North-East Lancashire. It will find no support amongst people there.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me after the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones). It enables me to beat his time record, because I shall deal only with one point which particularly concerns the County of Surrey in which my constituency is situated.
Paragraph 39 of the White Paper says that the Government have decided that the unitary areas proposed by the Commission are of broadly the right size and shape. It adds:
However, the Government do not exclude the possibility of joining certain of these areas together, if in the course of further consultation with the authorities concerned strong arguments for doing so should emerge.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he was prepared to have consultations and to listen to any arguments generally and particularly about this paragraph where the matter is specifically mentioned.
The County of Surrey, according to these proposals, is to disappear, and in future it is to be known as units 53 and 54. That suggestion has caused much concern. It would not be right to go into detail now, and all I am asking now is that the people of Surrey should have an assurance that their views will be carefully considered.
The duplication that will result will be serious financially apart from anything else. Buildings constructed to deal with the whole of Surrey will have to be wholly or partly abandoned and others built. There will be complications with staff about status and more staff will be required. There are many other difficulties which will occur to anyone who considers the matter. There will be complications with the police, the fire brigades, and so forth. There is also the broader principle. I hope that the matter will be considered with an open mind.
We have the benefit of the views of Mr. Longland, a member of the Commission, who expressed the clear view that the severing of Surrey required careful consideration. His reasons were related to education, and again I must not go into detail.
I have made all such inquiries as I could. This is not just a question of the amour proper of those who serve on the county council so well. The people of Surrey are very concerned. I hope and believe that we can leave it in the hands of the Secretary of State to see that careful consideration is given to all the views expressed.
I am a little distressed that there does not seem to be in the House tonight the sense or urgency for the need for change which I think is really warranted by the situation. There are a whole range of views and arguments which we are all bound to have and many of them have been expressed. What would be most unfortunate would be if we all appeared to be saying that we accepted the need for change and then made it clear that we wanted to keep a great deal of what is at present causing a lot of our difficulties and do not will the means of carrying out the change. We do face the need for major change.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) was congratulated on making a flexible speech, but I do not know whether that is enough. I am all in favour of flexibility in the right place, but I like to see a fairly clear and positive lead and a sense of real urgency. I am not yet satisfied that we have it and I very much fear that in the unfortunate event of the return of a Conservative Government a great deal of the whole of the exciting possibilities of change and development would be dropped.
Although I have criticisms to make of the White Paper proposals, they constitute a very major improvement over the present situation and I would certainly be willing to accept them rather than go back to "muddling on" with the position as it stands today. We must, therefore, make quite clear what alternatives we have if we make criticisms.
I share some of the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) and some of his anxieties. I feel that a number of our problems would have been more satisfactorily solved had we accepted the need to establish at least the beginning of a provincial authority with the kind of responsibilities set out in the Maud Report. I should have also wished it to be some kind of appeal body—an elected body I would have said—at a provincial level which could have performed the appeal function from the lower-tier most purpose authority as it would have been.
One would then have a great deal more flexibility about the size of the most purposes authority that would be carrying out the greater proportion of the functions now suggested for the unitary authority. As it is, I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that there is something a little too rigid about the structure of the unitary authorities as they are put forward. I accept completely that at least the proposals bring a great deal more clarity and that there will be far more comprehension about such a system than we have at present.
There can be no real question about this. I want my local government to be efficient as well as democratic and I do not believe that one contradicts the other. The great bulk of people are desperately eager that our local government should be a great deal more efficient than it often is today. We are mistaken if we take our views about local government entirely—although this is natural enough—from those who are deeply involved in it themselves.
There are many others who do not exhibit all that great enthusiasm or belief that it is really expressing a great modern democratic rôle. We have only to look at the number of people who vote and the great difficulty experienced in getting people to stand for local government today to see the need for change.
I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister laying a great deal of stress upon the importance of combining urban and rural areas for planning purposes and saying how vital that was. I completely agree with him, but I also emphasise—as I am bound to do coming from the North-East—that that is a place where this principle has not been carried out either in the Maud Report or in the White Paper. There, we have established a complete isolation of the urban area of Tyneside from the rural Northumberland. That is a pity and some way must be found of overcoming that difficulty.
I lay most stress on what I believe to be an important opportunity for developing new channels for democratic expression at the grass roots. It is what are sometimes called local councils. They are far better called neighbourhood councils, for that name makes a clear distinction between the councils which may be left as relics of the old system when the changes are made and the new bodies which will offer new opportunities for local expression.
I doubt whether it is wise to base them initially, or even temporarily, upon the old town halls and local authority structures. I immediately see the difficulty in a city like Sheffield. I, too, doubt whether we can expect to get from such a base the new concept of participation that we want. Many people are eager to play a part at local level and take a genuine interest in local affairs, but do not necessarily want to commit themselves to whole-time membership of a vast organisation in the structure of local government. They want to take an active part in their own local affairs and they can be given the opportunity to do so through the development of neighbourhood councils.
On balance, I believe that it is right that these councils should be elected. I am a little more uncertain whether it is wise for them to be able to send representatives to the new district committees. I am a little anxious lest these new committees fall into the sort of difficulties which education and other bodies of which we have experience have found. Far from it being difficult to recruit people for this kind of limited rôle, I think that there will be many who will be glad to play a part in the local affairs with which they are closely associated.
We had the experience of parish councils in rural areas, and not only in rural areas. A number of parish councils are now actively operating on the outskirts of, if not actually in, urban areas as towns develop, and these are among the most active and lively. They have no problem about getting people to serve, and they do a useful job.
I see no reason to discount the possibility of spreading this principle more widely through our towns. This might begin to break down some of the cynicism and doubt about the value of the functioning of our local and national democracy, and it may bring in a new sense of liveliness and vigour. Like others, I welcome the establishment of a body to help to promote this concept of grass roots democracy and able to make its voice heard locally and to do much for local communities.
The hon. Member for Worcester complained that the Government were proposing that local authorities should have wider powers while, at the same time, they proposed to take powers from local government in specific areas, such as education. This is a conflict affecting all of us. I am not sure that it was not the hon. Member himself who, not long ago, vigorously campaigned for rent rebate schemes to be made mandatory on local authorities, a proposal which was resisted by the Government side on the ground that this was a matter in which local option should be retained. We will always have these conflicts. It is no use flinging criticisms across the Floor of the Chamber; this is a conflict which must be resolved practically.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has included in his White Paper a useful comment about the future administration of our national parks. Now that we are beginning to pay more attention to the whole problem of environment, I am delighted that at long last there is some hope that our national parks will be what we originally intended them to be when we set them up many years ago.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) is one of the few speakers who, on the whole, have welcomed the Redcliffe-Maud Report. I have kept careful check and I think that the majority opinion on both sides of the House is that the Maud proposals would produce a form of local government too remote and much too impersonal. What we are all asking for, some of us rather vaguely, is a two-tier system throughout the country.
I strongly support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), that in any case the Maud Report accepted two-tier government for 42 per cent. of the population. If it is reasonable to have two-tier authorities within the scope of the metropolitan areas, is it not equally possible for other areas?
I am not qualified, and not many of us would claim to be, to produce an overall plan for the whole country, but I should like to refer to the area about which I know something—where I live and where my constituency lies. We are faced with a problem which is not common to all the areas represented by other hon. Members who have spoken. We are largely a rural area with moderate sized or small towns, and it is proposed to include the area in a metropolitan area.
The whole of North-West Worcestershire, consisting of most of my constituency and virtually the whole of the constituency of Bromsgrove—and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) shares my sentiments—the rim round the lower part of the great conurbation which contains Birmingham and new Black Country boroughs, is to be taken over, reft away from its traditional association with Worcestershire, and added to the conurbation. The same is true of a large part of mid-Staffordshire, a rural area containing some very fine farming land.
The total population of these two areas to be included under the Maud proposals would be about one-fifth of the population of the conurbation. It is clear that the largely country dwellers who are to go into this metropolitan area will be completely outnumbered when it comes to the exercise of any powers which the area as a whole may have. The only way in which they will be masters of their own fate is in the administration of those powers which may be delegated to the lower-tier authority.
Obviously, the conurbations have considerable problems. Much has been made in the Maud Report itself and in the White Paper of the interdependence of town and country. This is either a tendentious statement made for certain specific purposes, or merely a truism. We are all dependent on one another, but that does not mean that we all have to wear the same clothes, or the fat man and the thin man would all be wearing the same sized suits.
The principles on which the boundaries are laid down are given in the Maud Report. First, there is the pattern of living. Second, there is the question of efficiency versus representation. Third, there is the present pattern of local government. In North-West Worcestershire all three criteria would be equally well met by including that area in the proposed unitary authority of Worcestershire and Herefordshire, as they would be by putting that area into the metropolitan authority. That is from the point of view of the inhabitants of the area.
We must, therefore, look for some other reason why interdependence here should be interpreted as the interdependence of North-West Worcestershire with Birmingham and the Black County, rather than with its natural home, which is Worcester. There are two towns with which we could be regarded as being interdependent, and as one who has lived all his life in North-West Worcestershire I look to Worcester as our natural and spiritual home much more than to Birmingham. Given the present difficulties of travel, getting in and out of Birmingham is quite an adventure for everybody.
There is some other motive, and it is plain to see, though it is dodged throughout the Maud Report and in the White Paper. The real reason is that the metropolitan areas must have attached to them some unwilling slaves in the form of rural areas, because the metropolitan areas must have an expansion area to enable them to solve their housing problem. It is this to which we strongly object. This is not to say that the areas surrounding a metropolitan area should shirk their responsibility to assist in the problem of overspill from the conurbations. They must help, but they must do so in a way in which they will be represented in the negotiations by authorities who speak with an equally powerful voice to that of the conurbations, and not from a position in which they are the captives, to be dictated to by the conurbations.
The obvious result of the proposals for North-West Worcestershire is that the long-defended green belt, which the Worcestershire County Council has endeavoured to keep to prevent the urban sprawl spreading southwards and ultimately engulfing the northern Worcestershire towns, will disappear, and become, as was made clear by certain indiscreet statements by members of the Birmingham City Council, a wonderful building site for the houses which Birmingham wishes to build.
I contend that the only proper solution to the housing problem of the great conurbations is that new houses must be exported a reasonable distance from the conurbation. The alternative must be a spread at the edges, so that the conurbations gradually extend like an oil slick over the surrounding country. The built-up area becomes larger and larger, and more unmanageable. Rather than that, the surplus population ought to be moved well away from the conurbation and housed in new or expanded towns well away from the conurbation. The alternative is to turn Birmingham and the Black Country into a London and South-West Lancashire into a solid urban mass corresponding with it.
It is not only against the interests of the rural areas to hand them over bound hand and foot, but also against the interests of good planning. This is not to deny the obvious truism about the interdependence of town and country, but the problems of a moderate-sized town such as Kidderminster, or Worcester, or Evesham, or any other of the moderate-sized Worcestershire towns, are entirely different, both in scale and type, from the problems facing the conurbations. These towns will not suddenly expand by one, two, or three miles at a leap in 18 months or two years. They will spread gently, and they can be accommodated easily in their surrounding country areas with the necessary housing land. It is the conurbations which present a special and different problem, and it should be regarded in a different light.
It is a false analogy to say that because it is reasonable to form a viable lower-tier authority out of, say, Kidderminster, Bewdley, Stourport and their surrounding rural districts, therefore the conurbation should have surrounding country areas attached to it. North-West Worcestershire can provide the expansion area for its own towns, but should not be left to bear the conurbation's expansion alone with mid-Staffordshire. This is a matter for all the surrounding counties up to 50 miles from the edge of the conurbation to solve.
Without accepting the Maud Report, because I do not on the whole, I veer very much towards a general two-tier system, but I should like to hear arguments and to see an alternative plan. In the meantime, even within the context of the Maud Report, I protest most strongly on behalf of my area, and, indeed, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, and also to an extent or behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude). We all feel the same about this. We wish to protest, for the message which is coming loud and clear from North Worcestershire to the Government and to the author of the report is, "Stay out of our garden, Maud."
It is a tribute to the courage of the Government that the White Paper has appeared at all. Courage was not the word used by some of my right hon. Friend's supporters last weekend after they read the White Paper. The reform of local government is long overdue. The first Labour Government ducked it in 1949, and Conservative Government ducked it during their period of office.
Unlike my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), I support basically the philosophy both in the Maud Report and in the White Paper. In other words, I support the unitary principle. I must declare a bias here. This is not surprising, because I spent 13 years as a councillor in a county borough, an all-purpose authority, and naturally one likes what one knows best.
I am convinced about the worth of the unitary principle, and it was, therefore, rather a shock when I saw that one way in which the Government had departed from the Maud Report was in respect of the area which I represent, South Hampshire. The Maud Report recommended two unitary authorities, whereas the White Paper combines these two in a metropolitan area. At first sight, I was rather horrified, but I confess that, having given this more thought, and having got down to rather more detail, I think that the Government have made their case for a metropolitan authority in South Hampshire.
Having said that, I should like, briefly, to examine the size of the second-tier authority. Where the proposals in the White Paper go wrong is that they recommend that there should be only three second-tier authorities under the whole South Hampshire metropolitan area. It recommends the two unitary authorities which the Maud Report proposes, with the Isle of Wight outside as a third.
The unitary authority for the Southampton area is too large to be a second-tier authority. What we need in South Hampshire—and I hope that the Government will remain flexible about this—is five lower-tier authorities. Southampton should be one, Portsmouth another, at least two in Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight as the fifth. I hope that the Government have not closed their mind about the number of second-tier authorities.
I was surprised that some of my colleagues argued last weekend that if we were to have the metropolitan area why must we have second-tier authorities at all. They seem to think that the powers left to second-tier authorities in the White Paper are not sufficient to justify them. I dispute that. When one looks at Appendix C of the White Paper, one sees that second-tier authorities, even with education coming out, will have a great deal of work to do. The Government are right to depart from the Maud recommendation and to place education in the top-tier authority.
There is one more thing that I urge on the Government. Now, when they are considering local government reorganisation, let us consider the future of higher education. I define higher education as education where most of the courses are full-time over the age of 18. I am not convinced that the unitary authority, or even the metropolitan area, should be responsible for higher education. It is possible that when the new provinces are set up higher education, including universities, will be passed to them on a regional basis.
Alternatively, I would like to see all higher education taken away from local authorities and financed in the same way as are universities. A recommendation of this kind was made by the Select Committee on Education and Science last Session, but the House has not yet had the opportunity of debating its report.
I turn to certain proposals which have hardly been mentioned. They are dealt with in the White Paper in paragraphs 74 to 87. The points that I am able to raise may be of lesser importance than the ones about which we have been talking, but they will create tremendous amount of local discussion and disagreement. Paragraph 76 refers to the Government's agreeing to the abolition of aldermen. I have never been an alderman, so I can speak with an open mind. I believe that they are among the most maligned people in local government.
There is a case for electing a group of people at less frequent intervals than those at which councillors are elected, in order to provide the continuity necessary in a local authority. Most aldermen perform a valuable job. They are apt to consider the council as a whole, rather than from the point of view of the ward they represent. I hope that the Government will reconsider the question of aldermen.
Paragraph 79 deals with the expenses of councillors and the question whether or not they should be paid. There was much controversy when the chairman of the G.L.C. finance committee announced that he was resigning his job because it took up too much time. He thought that he should be paid £5,000 a year. That is utterly absurd. It indicates what I believe to be prevalent among local government representatives, namely, that too many councillors are trying to do the jobs of their local officials. I do not believe that even the chairman of a powerful committee of the G.L.C. needs to spend all his time in his job. If he does, it is clear that he is doing the job of his officials.
I am not arguing about the chairmen of area health boards. That is another issue. I want to continue with my theme. If the hon. Member will wait he may find that I come to a conclusion different from that which he expected.
The idea that being a councillor is a full-time job and, therefore, paid a full-time salary, is wrong. I suspect that some Conservative young business men getting on to councils thought that they could run their councils in the same way as they ran their business and interfered too much with the work of their local officials.
Nevertheless, there is a case for paying a relatively small salary. I do not want to fix a figure—it would vary according to the size of the authority—but it could be between £1,000 or £1,500 a year, and could be paid to a limited number of chairmen in the larger authorities, who spend much more time than most of their colleagues in local government work. But it should not be thought of as a career job, with a salary of £5,000 or £6,000 a year. That is nonsense.
It is also important that the right relationship should be established between the chief officers and the councillors. Local government service has produced some first-class officers. If a chief officer is doing his job properly—and most of them are—he should be producing policy documents for consideration by his chairman. He should not wait until the chairman says, "What would you do about so and so?" He anticipates the chairman's views. I suspect that at this moment many civil servants in the main Ministries are studying the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition and other Front Bench speakers and drawing up plans which they will lock up securely in their bottom drawers. Assuming that there is an October election, I imagine that those documents will be used to light the pipes of the Permanent Secretaries during the dark winter months—whichever party wins the General Election.
I very much welcome the proposal for setting up a number of local ombudsmen. Many hon. Members, on being asked by their constituents to send cases on to the ombudsman, have found that those cases do not come within his remit, because they are connected with local authority affairs. I am not convinced of the advisability of providing that all complaints should be routed through councillors. There is a case for providing that some complaints should be allowed to go to the 10 or 12 ombudsmen via Members of Parliament.
On the whole, I welcome the philosophy behind the White Paper and I pay tribute to the courage of the Government in bringing it forward. I hope that the debate will ensure that whichever Government wins the next General Election will go ahead with much-needed local government reform.
This has been something of a two-tier debate—one tier being the parish pump, working fast, and the other being concerned with the much more difficult problem of how to organise local government generally. I suppose it is inevitable that we should all fall for the temptation of trying to straddle these two mutually contradictory things. It is right that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) should defend the interests of Chester, but it is difficult to do so if one is also trying to envisage long-range, deep-rooted local government reform. I do not want to fall into that trap tonight.
Nevertheless, there is one parish pump point which I can make and which the Secretary of State may appreciate. It bears on the general case that I wish to put forward. It is rather a remarkable thing—I do not know whether any other hon. Member is in the same position—but if this reform goes through with the boundaries proposed in the Redcliffe-Maud Report my constituency will be divided into no fewer than four of the new unitary authorities. Taking a fairly closely-knit community in North Essex and proceeding to carve it into four in order to fit into a new scheme indicates to me that something is wrong. It seems to be ignoring the need for people to feel a sense of identity in local government. I find no reference to such a need in the White Paper.
The problem of identity is one of the root causes of the disease about which we are talking. What is wrong with local government? Why are we trying to reform it? It is not just because the present pattern was laid down in 1888 and that it is time for an overhaul. There is something seriously wrong, as is reflected by the few people who vote in local elections and the fact that more and more local councillors become frustrated and more and more local government officers leave the service. One thing which we should have been considering today and have perhaps not considered enough is what the disease is and whether this is the cure.
The disease, I think, is that we have a local government system which, at its effective level, which is roughly the county borough-county council level, is too remote from the electorate and yet too weak to cope with the central Government and its encroaching power, particularly financial power. I am afraid that the solution of Lord Redcliffe-Maud which the Government have adopted will not cure this disease. The unitary system is neither strong enough to stand up to the central Government nor small enough for people in the local areas to identify with.
I would even be prepared to accept a two-tier system based on Maud; it is better than the present proposal. I cannot understand the logic of the Secretary of State's proposition that those areas which have the most need of local identity, that is, those which are not closely knit metropolitan areas, are the ones to which he denies a second tier. This is wholly illogical. But even if we gave all the unitary authorities a second tier, we should not be curing the disease.
The only answer is that one mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) and the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop)—some form of provincial system. The one good thing in Maud, which was the proposal for a primitive form of provincial or regional government, is the one thing which the Government have dropped. They may be right to say that they cannot take a decision on this until they have the Crowther Report, but in that case there can be no logical decision on anything until then. But I do not believe this. After all, Crowther is trying to sort out problems which are not local government problems in England but, much more, nationalist problems in Scotland and Wales. Neither of these is affected by the Maud Report.
It is perfectly possible, in the light of what Maud has recommended, for the Government to decide one way or another now on a provincial or regional solution to this problem. I will not argue tonight exactly how I would like to see it, although it is important that any solution on these lines must be an elective and not an appointive solution. As the Secretary of State himself said, more and more power has had to devolve on to irresponsible—I use the word in its purest sense: they are not responsible to any elected body—councils, boards, divisions and God knows what, all of which tend to be on a regional and not a local basis. These are hospital boards, gas boards, water boards; even the police are now developing along these lines.
The boundaries at the moment may not happen to coincide between the various authorities, but there is no doubt that the tendency over a whole area in regional and other planning and the functions I mentioned is towards bigger units than we have at present, but smaller than the central Government. This is a natural development and one which any Government, of whatever party—I did not set any great enthusiasm for such a solution from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) either—must take into account.
I do not see how this House or the Government responsible to this House can take a decision on principle of the kind which they are asking the House to take by approving the White Paper, until we know precisely what they have in mind for eventual provincial and regional development. I do not believe, and would have to be convinced, that we have to wait for Crowther. It is possible that a decision in principle on the need for some regional reorganisation can be taken and must be taken before anything else can be seen to fall into place.
If we took that decision and transmitted to a larger unit, of which there would be, say, eight or nine in England, these wider powers, we could then have a second tier, which would make much more sense in terms of identity, popular participation. Then, too, we could tackle the thorny question of finance, which will not be solved even on this unitary system. Then we can consider other methods of financing local government. The rates may be one of them, although I hope not, because they are a retrogressive and backward form of taxation. Then we could cope with these other methods.
What we are trying to do now, if we approve the White Paper, is to destroy an identity, which may be tenuous but which nevertheless exists, and substitute for it something which is purely artificial in nearly every case—certainly in the case of my constituency—and give it powers which are allotted, in the metropolitan areas, it seems, almost on a lottery basis. This is wholly wrong. The danger is not so great that we cannot wait, if we have to wait, for the Crowther Report, which may be another year or two. I would much rather do that. If we cannot wait, I would rather that the Government made up their minds that the only way to decide this matter is to decide what the first tier should be: then the second tier would fall into line.
The debate has already shown that whatever solution the Government had put forward would have had its critics, and many of them. I therefore congratulate them on having had the courage to bring forward a solution. I have some criticisms, as my right hon. Friend would expect, but on the whole I welcome the general approach which they have taken.
I say that despite what I could gather from the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). I listened to him, their chief spokesman, carefully, but got nothing which added up to a policy on local government reform. I asked the hon. Gentleman what he would do about Selnec. He had already told us that he was anxious that Lancashire County Council should remain and he said that he would deal with my question later—but he conspicuously refused to do so. So we do not know what they feel about these metropolitan areas and the surrounding areas. One is bound to go into surrounding counties, so there are two questions on which we got no information.
On local councils, we were told that they would have to be rationalised but were given no figures, so we have no indication from the party opposite as to how many such councils they are talking about and, therefore, we cannot judge what services they would have to run. Perhaps the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) will answer these questions. They talk about being the next Government, but they must be rather more forthcoming and not quite so flexible about their intentions.
On one or two points, I fully agree with the White Paper. First, I am very pleased that aldermen will disappear from local government. My hon. Friend is worried about this, and I was horrified to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) support them. This bastion against democracy, as it was when aldermen were introduced in the 19th century, can no longer be justified. People do not disappear overnight from councils when there is an election, except very rarely. There is an element of seniority and continuity. I see no reason why we should keep aldermen in the present form.
I welcome also the Government's intention to do something about the disqualification provision for councils. I am thinking particularly of people like teachers who for many years have been prevented from serving on councils when they should fairly and properly have been able to do so.
I am glad that the Government have supported the management proposals of the Maud Report. Councils should eventually deal specifically with policy and the problems of intimate detail can be left with the chief officials. That is their job, for which they are paid, and they should be properly left to do it. I also welcome the local ombudsman proposal. This is a magnificent step forward in giving people a knowledge that their local grievances can be dealt with as they now are at a national level.
I hope that the Government will agree that, on election, all councillors are retired together, that councillors should sit for single member divisions and that elections should take place for all the main authorities on the same day. I also welcome their agreement that there should be greater financial responsibility for local authorities; and I am looking forward to the Green Paper on Finance. All these facts together add up to a considerable reform in themselves. Therefore, the Government are to be congratulated on taking such steps.
I have, however, detected during the debate a tendency by some hon. Members to talk about local government in somewhat idyllic terms, as though the grass-roots democracy is marvellous and we must see it purely in these terms, when, if we face what is happening in local government, there is quite a lot wrong with it. I do not need to go over this because at the start of his speech this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State clearly demonstrated the faults which exist.
That does not deny the enormous contribution which local councillors have made, and are making, to the local government system. It is fairly obvious, however, that what the people want above all else is to know that the services which are being run by local authorities are efficient. This inevitably means that the local authorities have to be of a size that can support those services. They must also be of a size that will attract officers of high quality to run them. They must be of a sort that will be relevant to the people. In other words, there must be a democratic element to them.
All this inevitably leads to the creation of much larger local authorities. We may regret that some of the local democracy has to disappear, but the fact remains that if we are to run effective local government services of the size we want, we must have fairly large authorities. Therefore, I welcome the Government's general approach in advocating large authorities.
My difficulty, like that of one or two other hon. Members, concerns the provincial councils. I agree that the Government cannot come to a final decision on provincial councils until the Crowther Commission has reported; and as my right hon. Friend said, much of the Crowther proposals will be concerned with transfer of central Government powers to the regions rather than the other way round.
The fact remains that the Maud recommendations are to the effect that the provincial councils should have at least some control over matters like further education, specialist education, child care, cultural and recreational services, which I should regard as local authority matters. If one takes up the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. MacDermot) concerning the whole question of planning, one then has a level of government which is extremely important. I would have thought that the Crowther Report would come to this sort of suggestion.
Furthermore, the White Paper accepts that special arrangements may be needed for such services as police, fire, passenger transport authorities, water, national parks and the youth employment service. All these are other services which have still to find their proper niche in the disposition of services operated by local authorities. That suggests to me that the Government must remain flexible over the whole question of regional authorities, whether or not they are called provincial councils. There must be at that level a commitment that certain overall services will be run by something like a regional authority. I hope that the Government will take this into account.
In spite of my right hon. Friend's answers concerning the metropolitan areas to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) and myself, when he introduced the White Paper on 4th February, that there would not be any more metropolitan areas, I hope that the Government will be flexible on this question, too. Certainly, they have increased the number from three to five.
I apologise to my hon. Friends from Tyneside if I say as a Geordie who does not live there any more, and whose late father was mayor of one of the North-East county boroughs, that I believe that Tyneside also must be a metropolitan area. It is nonsense to carve out of Tyneside the centre piece on either side of the River Tyne—the Tyneside unitary area—and separate it from Northumberland. That is administrative nonsense. Perhaps I had better say no more about that, however, because I am treading on an area which is not now my own. I mention it purely as a principle. Those who wish to read a very good account of why Tyneside should be a metropolitan area should read the Minority Report of Mr. Derek Senior, who puts the case far better than I am able to do.
My own area will be part of Selnec. It follows that I agree with the overall structure of a two-tier authority in that area but, there is some extraordinary reasoning as to which area goes with which. I do not have four areas; I am split into three. The Redcliffe-Maud Report says that 10,000 people in Middleton work in Manchester. Chadderton has links with Oldham. Some people in Middleton have links with Chadderton. Therefore, it is said, Middleton should go with Oldham. If hon. Members can work that one out, I cannot. I have yet to find anyone in my constituency who wants to join Oldham, with due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp). Again, therefore, the allocation of the metropolitan districts needs attention.
Three points, therefore, seem to me to be important. First, early clarification is needed of the powers of the provinces or regions. Secondly, there must be the possibility of more metropolitan authorities. Thirdly, there is a need for redrawing some of the boundaries in the metropolitan districts. Looking ahead to the Report of the Crowther Commission, this suggests certain guidelines, which may not commend themselves to others but seem to me to make sense.
In my view, the establishment of provinces is essential, both to take on certain central Government functions and to carry out the sort of tasks planned for it by the Royal Commission. I also visualise the provinces assuming powers such as control of services like passenger transport authorities, water and, possibly, even fire and police. I should also give them responsibility for full-time further education, including the universities, which I do not suppose will be a popular suggestion, but one would then have a major top authority with major services. In my view, these authorities should be directly elected and should have powers of co-option.
If the proposed metropolitan areas were then enlarged, it would be possible to make the top-tier authority—the metropolitan authority—into a province. Thus, instead of having eight provinces, one could have as many as 13 or 14 if all the others are included. There might have to be slight alteration in the allocation of services in that type of metropolitan area, but this could be worked out. It would provide a logical pattern of local government structure.
It would also help to meet the objections of county councils, such as the Lancashire County Council, which have pointed out that outside the metropolitan area in the Selnec region, the unitary areas would not be strong enough to carry out all their tasks. Under my proposal, Selnec would be enlarged and become a province. If the North-East was similarly enlarged, it could extend from the northern border of Northumberland even to include Tees-side.
I am not surprised at that reaction from my hon. Friend.
I end by saying a word about the local councillors. I commend to the House the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, who dealt with the problem of local councils, or community councils, as he called them. Here we have to do a great deal of work. Like other hon. Members, I welcome the establishment of the body which is to look into this matter.
What the people want are effective channels through which their views are brought to the notice of elected representatives and opportunities to serve on bodies which affect their everyday lives and those of their families. There is here an exciting new concept for the community councils. I welcome this and I hope that we follow it through. We need new structures and I am glad that that is happening.
Much will depend on how we can get this whole concept of local government across to the electorate. It is desperately important that we do.
I echo the view that there must be a sense of urgency. We cannot afford to want any longer. The structure is out of date, and we must face that fact and get on with the restructuring as best we can. We pay tribute to those who have worked in local government: the future of the new authorities will be desperately dependent on the quality of those whom we attract into them. We must also very soon face the whole question of their payment, and not run away from it as we may have done in the past.
I congratulate the Government on their courage in going ahead, but I ask them to be a little more flexible. In considering this White Paper, I ask them to put a few more green edges to it so that they do not get to a state of being absolutely and firmly attached to one point of view. I ask them to realise that they can afford a little more time to listen to further views. I am sure that as a result of a little more discussion we shall get a structure of local government of which the country will be proud for many years to come.
Two points, if I may sum up, have so far emerged in the debate. First, every hon. and right hon. Member who has spoken agrees with Lord Maud and his colleagues when they say:
…local government in England needs a new structure and a new map.
From that point on, agreement ceases; each of us has his own idea of the new structure and the new map.
But I think that everyone who has spoken wants a two-tier system. There are those who want the 42 per cent. metropolitan area two-tier structure suggested by Maud applied to the whole country, and there are others who want a two-tier structure but on a more provincial basis for the top tier.
I suggest that we have a little too simply accepted the 10 general principles in the report, and I want to question just two of them. The second principle reads:
The areas must be based upon the interdependence of town and country.
It all depends on what one means by interdependence, and how far one takes it. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton) made a very fair point when he said that in respect of a rather small town and the surrounding countryside we agree on the idea of interdependence, but he drew a distinction between that position and the interdependence of a major conurbation and the surrounding country.
As I read the logic of the Royal Commission's principles, here we would be driven to the conclusion that the area covered by the G.L.C. is quite inadequate. For instance, the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) who commute to London should come into the G.L.C. Following the logic of interdependence we would have a G.L.C. of a minumum of 50 miles radius round London. If we applied that standard to the major conurbations we could settle the whole thing now, have about six G.L.C.s, and that would be that. I do not believe that to be the right solution.
I also challenge the commission's fifth general principle:
If possible, both the environmental and the personal groups of services should be in the hands of the same authority, because the influence of one on the other is great and likely to increase.
There is, of course, an interconnection, but if we accept that they must for efficiency and democracy be run together there is no hope of second tiers.
I believe that this is the point of break. Many of those who have spoken today have emphasised the need of the personal services being as close as possible to the citizen. So I do not accept that principle of Maud.
The other matter which is absolutely determinating is local government finance. I disagree with the Secretary of State when he says that it can follow from reorganisation. With great respect, I suggest that one cannot talk sensibly about the reform and reorganisation of local government without talking about—to use the proper word for it—local taxation.
If any hon. Members feel that the simple solution is that the Exchequer should pay even more, let me remind them that the Exchequer already pays, according to Maud, 57 per cent.—let us call it 60 per cent. If we want more local democracy, by one device or another local authorities must be capable of raising more of their own revenue.
It is, therefore, no answer to say increase, percentagewise, the Exchequer contribution because, inevitably, however wise and beneficent Ministers and senior officials are, with an increasing percentage of local government revenue coming from the Exchequer they are bound to interfere more. That is an inevitable rule of life. Therefore, however we restructure our local government to make it more local and more selreliant, we cannot dodge the questio of local finance. I believe that the rating system has virtually come to the limit of its flexibility in what it can bear in terms of the domestic ratepayer. To discuss local government reform without having proposals for the reform of local government taxation is like attempting to act the Prince of Denmark without Hamlet.
We can appreciate that by looking at the product of 1d. rate in any of out areas. I can illustrate what that means by reference to my constituency, where I have the New Forest R.D., in which 1d. rate produces £17,700. At the other end of the scale, I have the ancient Borough of Romsey, where the product is £1,500. That sort of spread in the product of 1d. rate must influence the restructuring of local government.
If we are to implement the restructuring of local government along the lines of Maud, modified by the White Paper, I see no reason for provinces. I believe that there was an alternative approach to local government, at which I think the hon. and learned Member for Derby North (Mr. MacDermot) hinted, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Waldon (Mr. Kirk), whereby one could imagine 14 or 15 provinces and, below them, nearly all most-purpose authorities
We could have done it in that way, but if we are to implement the restructuring along the broad lines of Maud, whether by extending the number of metropolitan regions on the two-tier structure or by unitary areas, I do not believe that there is room for a provincial tier coming in between. I therefore strongly recommend the Government to ask Lord Crowther and his colleagues not to look at provincialism in England: the problems of Scotland and Wales are of an entirely different order.
All of us inevitably look at the Maud recommendations and the White Paper in terms of our own part of the country. This is not pure parochialism; it is just that we know how the system works in our own area. I believe that, by implication, we have been accepting too easily that what we have is bad and that any change would be for the good. In my part of the country things work much better than some critics of the system would have us believe.
Lord Maud's criticism of county boroughs and counties as being in a permanent state of hostility is just not true. In my area, we have the interdependence of the fire services between cities and counties. I also quote the work that we in Hampshire have been doing with our colleagues in Portsmouth and Southampton on the South Hampshire Study, which is a unique effort between adjacent local authorities not only in co-operation, but in thinking ahead. So do not let us think that merely because we have common problems we must, if I can use the language of industry, look for a provincial Arnold Weinstock to take us all over.
In South Hampshire, I am glad that the Government have seen the light. May I be one of the few hon. Members who has spoken so far in this debate to praise the Secretary of State? He has seen the light and we have been given a two-tier structure in South Hampshire which is very much better than that proposed by Lord Maud and his colleagues.
One of the very important benefits of having a top-tier structure for the whole of South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is that it is possible to plan the water resources of the Solent, Southampton and Portsmouth Harbour as a whole. While we are now more concerned and interested in conservation and the quality of life, it is very important to improve the whole planning and conservation of that part of the country. But I have, unfortunately, to make one or two criticisms on other proposals and I hope that they will be rectified.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) that if we are to have a metropolitan area for South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight it is ridiculous on the mainland to leave the two Maud authorities which are now to be only second-tier authorities. There is the Maud Unit 57—thank goodness we can call ourselves Hampshire and not Unit 57—where the population in 1981 will be 559,000 and this is proposed as a second-tier authority. Unit 58, the Portsmouth one, will have an even larger population, 731,000. I seriously counsel the Secretary of State that we need at least five or six second-tier authorities, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Southampton, and three others.
There is an opportunity to re-examine the geography. The good Lord Maud and his colleagues took complete leave of their senses when they suggested that the New Forest should be divided in half. Not only did they say that it should be cut into two different units, but into different provinces, so that Brockenhurst went to Bournemouth and into the South-West province. Lyndhurst three miles away, would be put into Southampton, which itself would be in the South-East province and include 40 per cent. of the population of England. If that is not recreating the heptarchy it is recreating the ancient Danish hegemony.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary will look at the problem of Andover, stuck away to the north, and why Basingstoke is stuck in with Berkshire. There is palpable nonsense in the Maud Report when it says:
This area as a whole has relatively few economic links with the rest of Hampshire, and is more associated with Reading and nearby areas in Berkshire.
That is just untrue. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will write to me to explain on what factual basis that statement was made.
On the proposals for South Hampshire, we need to have a good look at the division of functions between the top-tier and the second tier. More functions should go to the second tier. When in doubt, give them to the second tier. Will the Minister of Housing and Local Government explain this, because I cannot tell my constituents whether, under the White Paper proposals for the County of Hampshire or any other county where there is a three-tier structure upon which the local councils are to be based, parish councils or R.D.C.s are to go—or are both to carry on?
Finally, there is the little matter of the wishes of the people. No hon. Member has so far drawn attention to paragraph 53 of the White Paper where, speaking of local councils, these felicitous words appear:
full regard must be paid to the wishes of the local inhabitants.
That is splendid, but I ask four questions. Is this happy democratic thought to be
limited to local councils, or are the wishes of the local inhabitants to be applied to the whole of the White Paper proposals? If they are Ministers might be surprised at the result they would get. If not, why not? How will this pious intention be implemented? Are the Government to use their researchers from the social survey to do sample polls? Are there to be elections? Is it to be like local option in Wales for Sunday opening? If the result of paying full regard to the wishes of the local inhabitants is, as I expect it would be in most parts of the country, against the White Paper, where do the Government go from there?
If I resist the temptation to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) into some of the interesting topics he invited us to consider at the beginning of his speech, I hope that he will accept that this is in deference to the injunction of Mr. Speaker and in view of the lateness of the hour. But I am grateful to the hon. Member for calling attention to the words in paragraph 53 of the White Paper, for that is my theme. I do not propose to make a profound contribution. In a debate of this kind, it is important perhaps above all to pay heed to the voice of localities. If this is frankly a parish pump contribution, it is because we are talking about parish pumps.
I must confess that on matters of general principle my right hon. Friend has carried me very much along with him when he introduced this debate. Of course, we live in a time of rapid communications and of complex patterns in industry and commerce. And, of course, there are some concerns which can be conducted only at a national level, and some indeed only at an international level. The Secretary of State for Education and Science had no more vigorous supporter than I when he sought powers to enjoin local authorities to conform with national policy. Local authorities are no more entitled to cock a snook at the law and order than are protesting students. And in an age when many people live and work and take their evening leisure at places over 20 or 30 miles apart, many services can be administered only over a fairly wide area.
Of course, we cannot administer the world of 1970 with the machinery of 1835. But there is another side of the picture which has been stated more than once in this debate. There are many services which benefit from a local man's knowledge of an area, and of its people. Paragraph 43 of the White Paper is well-founded, because to many people it is a precious safeguard to know that these services are administered by men whose door knockers are available to them at tea time, and with whom they can stop for a word on their way from work. This is what local government is about. I agree with hon. Members who have said that there is a connection between size and efficiency. But if efficiency were the sole consideration, there might be a strong argument for administering everything from Whitehall. It can command the resources and the expertise, but most of us believe that it is worth paying some price in efficiency to know that ordinary people have ready access to the very people who are taking the decisions which affect their lives so closely.
The problem is not a matter of deductive logic but how to weigh and balance these factors. The Opposition have not produced a better method than have the Government. They have been a little more reluctant to commit themselves to paying a particular price.
Now I want to say a word for the Black Country. Here indeed there is a special case. On 1st April, 1966, a number of tightly knit authorities with ancient names were amalgamated into five county boroughs. I nearly said five giant county boroughs, because that is how it looked at the time, although by Redcliffe-Maud standards they are of modest size. This was not a party issue for the previous Government laid the egg and the present Government hatched it. There was something of a case for change at the time. But it was not a popular event. Many things which have happened since have confirmed those original misgivings. In the clubs, churches and supermarkets of the Black Country the new county boroughs are blamed for a number of shortcomings of which undoubtedly they are guilty, and are made the scapegoats for a number of others which are not of their making. But it is generally felt that the town hall is too far away.
The town hall, whatever its official name, means the place from which most of the important services are administered. My right hon. Friend's earlier statement that in most cases it will be only 20 miles away will not pacify my constituents.
I have a feeling that I shall stand tonight in the guise of someone who is normally a great reformer of local government, except in the area which most affects him. I plead with my right hon. Friend to delay a little the reform which we all agree must take place at some time.
In 1966 all of us who discussed the future of the Black Country agreed that it would take from 10 to 15 years to sandpaper down the rough edges, to coalesce these county boroughs into real, living communities, to turn people's thoughts from the past to the future. Now, four years later, we are threatened with further upheaval. As I understand it, the reason the London area was excluded from the terms of reference of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission was that it had undergone an upheaval in 1963. The Black Country underwent an upheaval in 1966.
In any event, I wonder whether the Government would look again at these recommendations. We are one of the metropolitan areas. The proposal is that our second-tier authority should be a metropolitan area extending from Uttoxeter to the Vale of Evesham. To anyone born north of Watford a distance like that seems like the universe. It is called "The West Midlands Metropolitan Area"—a most unevocative name to people living in the area. The West Midlands has nothing in common except its location. Some hon. Members opposite—for example, the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton)—will agree with me that the term "the West Midlands" is a purely geographical one.
The proposal is to leave the first tier authorities with a shadow of their former powers. This is a special tragedy, because it was in 1966 that they were given for the first time these powers which are necessary if they are to be able to plan the community life as a whole. Now, before they have had a chance to taste the dish, it is snatched away from them. They are to lose education—and this after what seems to be a general agreement in both Seebohm and Maud that education and personal services should be administered very much together. I believe that some of these authorities even now could, given time, cover the whole range of educational services, except possibly university education.
The position in consequence is that West Bromwich, which at present administers an annual budget of about £10 million, will lose 60 per cent. of it at one swoop when it loses education. After the other services have been deducted, it will be left, apart from possibly some finances arising from its very shadowy housing powers, with an annual budget of £1·3 million.
One is left wondering whether local councillors will come forward to serve on an authority which will administer housing management without rent policy, and whether full-time officials of sufficient calibre will be found when the borough surveyor will be concerned with cleaning of drains.
The people of the Black Country are not a nomadic people. They have a strong attachment to the paving stones of their own district, to their relations, and to the friends of their youth. Already the people of Tipton do not want to be on a council housing list for the allocation of a council house on the borders of Birmingham. The people of Rowley recall with nostalgia the days when a resident on a council housing estate could go round and knock on the door of a council workman who lived on the estate, and know that he had the blessing of the town hall.
The size of the authorities and the timing of all this are matters of judgment. But whether they will work will depend to a great extent upon the good will of those who are to operate them and of those who are to be governed by them. They have very strong feelings on the subject, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will take note of this.
They do not regard it as absurd to be attached to their homes and the areas which they have known. Black Country people are a curious people: they are not unreceptive to reason, but if they just decide that something will not work, they can become mulish to a quite incredible degree. I have reason to know—my chief qualification for representing them is that I am one of them, and so typical of them.
There are a number of possibilities as to how this can be dealt with. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider giving us a few years more reprieve, so that the first upheaval can shake down before we become involved in the next one.
But if that is not possible—I am something of a unitarian in these matters—I adopt the suggestion of the Black Country Society that we might have a single-purpose authority covering the Black Country. It would embrace people with a great deal in common. It would leave an authority with power to plan virtually the whole of the communal life. It would cover a population of a little over a million. Although powers relating to the wider aspects of planning might have to be exercised from outside, it would cover broadly the services which would be needed. It would also satisfy the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who does not want to be part of us, anyway.
I hope that the reply that my right hon. Friend gave earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was not a considered last word on the subject. I hope that the Government's mind is not completely closed—not tightly closed beyond any possibility of its being reopened. When this matter was being discussed at a recent conference in the Black Country someone said, "We know that there are things wrong with our local government. Everyone is always saying so. These things must be put right. But nobody suggests that someone with a toothache should cut his head off".
I do not ask my right hon. Friend to accept that as a fair analogy, but it is how the people feel about it in the Black Country. If the Government have ears, as paragraph 56 suggests, to hear the voices of ordinary people, I invite my right hon. Friend to listen to their voice on this.
I believe that there is no hon. Member who does not deeply regret the dismantlement of local government in England as we know it. Any suggestion that local government in England in its present form has proved inefficient should be removed.
I think that everyone recognises, however, that the growing complexity of modern society points to a need for reorganisation, and that is why the Royal Commission was set up. I regret that two specific points were surprisingly omitted from its terms of reference—the vital question of the future relationship of central and local govenment in a reformed pattern of local government and the omission of local government finance. If local government is to be reorganised we should begin from the financial side, because local government is deeply concerned with finance.
Although the question of the relationship between the central and local government has been left to the Crowther Commission, it is important to note that the Prime Minister was at pains to stress the importance of the subject in a speech he made to the Association of Municipal Corporations last September, which has a lesson for any party which may form the central Government. He said:
The existing systems which we and our predecessors have operated mean that Ministers and other Departments are called on to intervene unnecessarily, both as regards the way in which authorities organise their domestic affairs and the way in which they carry out their statutory functions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) suggested that there had been some interference with local government affairs. What we want to avoid is the interference with rent schemes, the matter of the qualification of local government representation, interference with the sale of council houses and so on.
In dealing with the problem of education and the effect of central Government policy on local authorities, the Secretary of State did not make a very convincing case. But this has been gone over already. What I wish to do is to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) said about the provincial councils. The Government were very wrong to duck that question. It is impossible to set up an organisation without starting at the top. It could well be that when Crowther reports the provincial set-up will not fit, or possibly could not be made to fit, what has been put in train in the next tier below it. The Association of Municipal Corporations has stressed very strongly that there should be an additional number of unitary areas. I believe that this is necessary, and that it could be achieved with a sensible system of provincial councils.
I notice a suggestion in the White Paper that as a stop-gap measure the existing regional economic planning councils should play some part in the place of provincial councils. I pray, "Please no—never them." What can one do with bodies which have been appointed by a Minister, are not elected, conduct their business behind closed doors and are bound by the Official Secrets Act? That is no way to conduct affairs. I cannot see those councils playing an important part in a permanent structure. We want proper locally-elected provincial councils. Nothing else will suit.
Having those provincial councils would make sense of the suggestion that we can reduce the size of the unitary area. My constituency, an ancient borough going back to 1371, when it received its first mayor, already has the greatest difficulty, with a population of 100,000, in dealing with all the planning applications which pour into that rapidly developing area. Under the proposals, Poole is submerged in an unholy, forced alliance between the whole County of Dorset and the County Borough of Bournemouth. Can one huge unitary area of 584,000 people cope with the planning problems which Poole finds it very hard to cope with? I do not know how it will manage it.
By tradition, Dorset looks west and Bournemouth looks east. If we have provincial councils it should be feasible to divide Dorset in two and link Bournemouth westwards. That would give Poole and East Dorset as one unitary area, Dorset North and West as a second, and Bournemouth and West Hampshire as a third. This pattern could be repeated all over the country, and we would then have real local self-government with an effective democratic voice for each area, a sense of cohesion and common purpose, less offence to tradition, which is vital, and great industrial advantages where there are centres of industry.
Local pride has been overlooked in this, which is a very important factor in democratic representation. The Secretary of State said that under the White Paper proposals the number of local councillors would be reduced from 32,000 to 7,000. I must not argue with such an authority, but I thought that the reduction would be from 35,000 to 5,000. How remote the remainder will seem to the electors, when there is approximately one councillor for each 10,000 persons.
The councillors will be part-time and many of them will have to deal with very scattered areas. There can only be one answer. I have been a local councillor. I was one of three representing a ward of 11,000, and if one does the job properly it keeps one fully occupied. That was in a tightly-knit urban area. How is the single councillor representing a wide area with 10,000 voters going to be able to cope? Many of them will want to see him, and surely the whole principle of the reform of local government should be to bring the people and their elected representatives together so that they have a sense of one-ness. I do not see how this can be achieved with unitary areas of the size envisaged.
If they were doubled in number, it would make sense of what one might call the "third tier", but instead we are to have these ridiculous and, one might call them, emasculated local councils—a compromise which I do not think can work. If we had a sensible unitary area coping with, say, 150,000 to 200,000 persons, we could do away with local councils below them and in their place have a number of small units—as many as one wants—based on individual districts. I am sure that the key to the problem is to get the provincial areas into being as quickly as possible. I fear that, if that is not done, the whole system will break down.
At this time in the debate it is difficult to say something new, but one can ask some questions. By what test have the Government or Redcliffe-Maud arrived at the fantastic conclusion that the larger the authority the more efficient it is likely to be? Where is there any example in the United Kingdom of the larger authority being more efficient, more economical, more satisfying to the community than the smaller authority?
If we exclude the poles at the extremes, which can blur an argument—the massive authority, on the one hand, and the rural district council, on the other—without indicating any unnecessary criticism of them, and consider the question of the average large county council, comparing it with the average-sized county borough, I suggest that the unit costs of providing services in the county boroughs are far more favourable than those in the county councils.
I would say that the ability of the electorate to get to the municipal buildings in a county borough is greater than that of the electorate in a county council to get to the county hall. I would say, also, that the elector in a county borough knows his councillor far better than the elector in a county council knows his. I would say, as well, that this kind of condition arises because the circumstances in each in the local government are different and I would point out that the voting capacity of the electorate in county boroughs is higher generally than that in a county council area.
Therefore, if this is a general trend in terms of democratic consciousness, if the evidence in terms of efficiency and effective costings of social services supports my assumption, why have Maud and the Government come to conclusions which appear to be contrary to that evidence? With Maud, the answer is simple. Whom did the Maud Commission consult? I do not know whether it consulted any councillors, with grass roots in their localities, with vast knowledge of their areas. I do not know whether it discussed this with Members of Parliament. I have 21 years' service in local government and in Parliament. My opinion has not been taken into account by this commission nor has that of any councillors I know. It has not visited my area but, rather miraculously, it has answers which appear to be far better than any which we could produce. I wonder whether such an approach would be acceptable to industry or commerce.
While it would be wrong to be critical of the general conclusions of Maud, while it would be unbusinesslike and improper to throw its recommendations of the court and go back to conditions which appeared to be cosy and satisfactory to all, it is, nevertheless, right to say that there is nothing final about Maud. There is nothing so perfect that it must be accepted from A to Z. There is nothing about Maud which suggests that decades of experience can be put aside in a matter of two or three years when legislation is introduced in 1971–72.
The British character has not grown up within a climate of sudden change. We abhor dictatorial attitudes. One of the struggles in society today is concerned with preserving our liberties and freedoms against the managerial content of our society. We like to think that we can evolve, approach things gradually, following the Latin precept, festina lente—approach without haste, or, more literally, hasten slowly.
We are dealing here with the most intrinsic and valuable thing in the United Kingdom. There are certain things that we must preserve. My right hon. Friend said that there is nothing totally right about any particular solution. If there is no right solution to the problem of reorganisation, shall we, when dealing with the generality of principles relating to boundary divisions take into account the criteria of population characteristics? Shall we take into account the sociogeographical considerations, the economic and industrial factors, and the matter of communications? These are highly sensitive and important matters requiring special and detailed examination.
What is certain is that a uniform treatment arising from an agreed principle of local government reorganisation is a denial of criteria essential to the best interests of a viable, efficiently functional and democratically-based system of local government. Boundaries based on a population content alone, in this case the range of 250,000 to 1 million, cannot be right. By what test are these figures more acceptable than any others? The White Paper states:
Whatever solution is chosen must sacrifice some things in the interest of others and further changes will be needed from time to time to match the changing pattern of work, life settlements and society.
That sounds very logical, until one asks what things are to be sacrificed and what other interests are to be gained? Further, if changes will be needed from time to time to match the changing patterns of life, by what test has this been applied in some areas in the present proposals?
My right hon. Friend might tell me, since legislation is not proposed until 1971–72, whether, if any area—and mine is one of them—can show that the sacrifices are greater than the gain of other interests, he will consider alternative proposals which will seek to avoid such an eventuality, but which will not be in conflict with the reforming zeal of Maud. I feel that that is a reasonable challenge if people in local government, after years of experience, and with minds prepared to examine objectively the need for local reform of local government, are prepared to make available to this or any other Government considerations based on an objective examination of sacrifices and gains without conflicting with the principles of Maud, will this or any other Government accept the rightful rôle of reconsidering some of the proposals again without conflicting with the need to reorganise local government?
The Maud Commission made great play with certain general principles towards solving problems of local government. One of those principles, to quote from Maud, was
Areas must be large enough to enable these authorities to meet the pressing land needs of the growing population—and their inhabitants must share a common interest in their environment because it is where they live, work, shop and find their recreation.
I have no quarrel with that. But will my right hon. Friend say how this makes sense when the commission makes boundary recommendations without consulting those who know their areas best, without studying the nature of the lives, work, shopping habits and recreational pursuits of the people affected? By what judgments are the boundaries drawn, in areas such as mine, in which the commission has not even favoured us with a visit?
I have submitted to my right hon. Friend a 5,000-word report on my area. I hope that he has read the report and will accord it the attention that the subject deserves. That reference to Hartlepool has taken up 30 seconds of my speech. I hope that the points which I have raised on the conclusions of the Maud Commission and of the Government will be taken into account and that instead of adopting a rigid position on the White Paper my right hon. Friend will accept the will of the House and will encourage the flexibility which is greatly needed in the interests of local government.
In the few minutes available to me before my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) replies from the Opposi- tion Front Bench, I should like to say that a rather striking unhappiness with the Maud proposals, and, in particular, with the Government's manner of accepting them, has been expressed. I do not think that it is right to say that this unhappiness is on account simply of protecting existing local interests, because I have observed that every case which has been put forward has been bedded in a philosophy. The House, debating these proposals for the first time, has shown concern at the Government's acceptance hook, line and sinker of the Maud proposals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) referred to the difficulty of straddling parish pump interests with the philosophy of the need for reform. I commend to hon. Members the wise words of the Hove city fathers, assembled in the Hove Borough Council, who resolved this, inter cilia:
It is felt that nowadays residents are much more concerned about the efficiency of local services and equality of the rate burden than they are about preserving the individual identity of their own town as a local government unit.
I make that quotation to underpin the fact that when hon. Members speak in a critical sense they are not just seeking to preserve some local existing structure. That is not what interests them or councillors throughout the country.
One of the fundamental respects in which the Maud Commission went wrong lay in its terms of reference. This was a point which I put to the Prime Minister when he made a statement on the publication of the Maud Report. I emphasised then that the terms of reference included no reference to finance. In many countries money is raised by local government in forms other than or in addition to a property tax. Examples are to be found in North America—in Ontaria and in many States of the United States—in Germany and other European countries. To imagine that the locally raised contribution to local government finance must come from the rates and nothing else is absolute nonsense. It is said that Royal Commission after Royal Commission has examined this matter and found no answer and that departmental committee after departmental committee has examined it and the Treasury has knocked any proposal on the head.
This problem will be solved—and I commend this to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench—only when a party comes into government and issues a fiat in Whitehall that the situation will be different. When it is understood that it will be different, ways and means will be found, as they have been found in many other countries.
Today, over half the money is being contributed by the Government. This will inevitably rise well into the 70 per cent. range in a few years, as I feel certain the Minister knows, by the natural growth of services. That must mean death to the localness of local government. The weakness of Maud and its terms of reference stems from the fact that it decided local government areas without regard to finance.
I mention two possible forms of alternative or additional finance. One is a local sales tax, practised in many parts of the world; the other is a local petrol tax. There are important considerations in both cases, when considering practicability, of the size of local government unit which is to levy them. We could not conceivably have differential taxes of that kind based on very small local government units. I doubt whether we could have them in Maud units. Anyhow, it would constrict the possibilities severely. Yet, if it is important to preserve the independence of local government, financial considerations must play a large part. Because Maud stuck to one tier, it has severely limited the opportunities in this respect. If Maud had accepted two tiers, it would have been possible for a higher tier to operate over a larger area than the unitary authorities which the report proposes with more opportunity of effectively levying local taxes, and deciding their levels, in addition to the rates.
Many of my hon. Friends, though not all, have rather pooh-poohed the idea of provinces. But, because of the financial considerations, my plea is for going slow on ruling out provinces as they provide an opportunity for the really intelligent and effective levying of revenue on a non-Governmental basis, which is more difficult in small units. If we believe what we say about local independence and having confidence in local people to decide their affairs, we may not have to rule out provinces too quickly if we are to give local people the money necessary to make good that policy.
Therefore, my plea is that we make haste slowly, to echo the words of the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), that we do not go nap either on Maud or on the White Paper, and that we consider the fundamentals, which go far beyond the mere boundaries of local interests into deep matters of the health of local democracy and its independence.
I do not know whether the Government have been surprised at the tone of the debate—perhaps not—but I hope that the word will go out that in this Government's mind, as I am certain in the minds of my hon. Friends, decisions are not fixed, that they are prepared to collect evidence about financial implications if reform is to be made to work, and that they will consider the implications of the Crowther recommendations on the constitutional relationships between central Government and different tiers of local government.
My plea is to put finance at the forefront of those considerations and to give ourselves time to do the job properly instead of ramming down the throats of the next couple of generations a rather hasty decision, because once we have made some great change we will not change things again very soon.
This has been a constructive and thoughtful debate. I cannot help contrasting it with some of the debates which were held in 1962–63 about the reform of local government in the Greater London area. I think that on both sides of the House there has been a determination to try on this occasion to look in a really thoughtful way at some of the principles which must underline a major reform of local government such as this.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) has played a considerable part not only today, but over the past months in furthering this debate and in trying to concentrate attention on a search for constructive solutions. Certainly, at the many conferences he has held throughout the country he has been anxious to encourage people to look for solutions rather than simply to defend the status quo.
I think that the Government will have been impressed by the extent, the volume and the depth of criticism of the White Paper. Of course, this is an area in which judgments are bound to be subjective. There are few acceptable tests by which to decide whether local authorities are efficient. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) said that the county boroughs were more efficient than the county councils because they spent less on the maintenance of services. That would be an argument which many others would cite as proof that county councils were better—because they spend more on desirable services.
Another hon. Member—it might have been my hon. Friend—mentioned that in one or two places council seats go uncontested for many elections. There will be many in rural district councils who would say that there could be no better proof of the fact that a council is giving satisfaction to all than that nobody wants to stand against the local representative. This is bound to be an area in which judgments will be subjective, an area in which there will be a considerable grinding of local axes.
None the less, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Madden) that many of the critical speeches to which we have listened have been grounded in a philosophy. Hon. Members have argued not from electoral expediency, but from a considerable knowledge, that in some respects the White Paper is unsatisfactory.
One conclusion which has emerged from the debate is, I am sure, that the evidence is not yet in. One of the difficulties of political life is that Governments are often called upon to take decisions before all the evidence is available. In a moment of crisis, this is inevitable. Governments may subsequently argue that if they had had all the evidence, they would have come to a more sensible decision. But this is an instance when the Government have so far seemed to be determined to take decisions deliberately before some of the most important evidence is available.
In particular, the debate has shown that there are four areas in which the House needs more information before it can rationally take final decisions. The first and perhaps most important relates to the Crowther Committee, regional government and the provincial councils. In an extremely closely reasoned speech, the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. Mac-Dermot) had some interesting things to say on this subject. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) and the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) also pointed to the importance of resolving, at least to some extent, the arguments about the finance of provincial councils before one took final decisions about the reform of local government.
I do not go all the way with the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich. For example, I do not believe that provincial councils should be charged with responsibility for further education. From my own experience, I can think of nothing more damaging than to divide educational responsibility in this way.
But the point made by the hon. Member, and it was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk), was that one could not begin to decide whether one wanted a metropolitan authority, or begin to decide what size the main authority should be, until one had decided what kind of regional government or provincial council one was to have. The hon. and learned Member for Derby, North suggested that if we had unitary authorities of the size now planned, it would become inevitable over the years that the provincial council would, among other things, take on major responsibility for environmental planning. He asked whether if it had that responsibility it would have the power to implement those plans.
As, until fairly recently, the Minister responsible for planning within the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, he argued that one of the major defects of the present system was that the joint committees engaged in the formulation of plans often did not have the power themselves to carry them through. The Government must accept that it would be irresponsible to take final decisions about the structure of local government until we know what is intended in the way of provincial government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden suggested that the Crowther Committee might be concerned only with Scotland and Wales, but, of course, it has been charged with considering provincial and regional government in England. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us when the Crowther Report is expected and whether there is any thought of asking for an interim report giving the committee's preliminary ideas about the kind of provincial councils, the kind of regional set-up, if any, which it proposes for England. It would not be sensible to take final decisions along the lines proposed by the White Paper until that is cleared up.
Secondly, the system of financing has attracted a good deal of thoughtful and informed comment. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink), my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove all made the point that the system of financing had a profound effect on structure. If there is no material change in the system of financing local government, we should not entertain many hopes for the rejuvenation of local government.
So long as we go on financing local government as it is now financed, a progressively larger share of total expenditure will fall to the Government. If we go on financing it in exactly the same way, almost inevitably powers will continue to flow to the centre, whatever Governments may say, because if the Government have to meet 60 per cent. of the bill and that becomes 65 per cent. and, over the years, 70 per cent., local authorities will naturally be given progressively less freedom. This, too, is a matter of fundamental importance.
However, as several hon. Members have suggested, final decisions about the structure cannot be taken until the possible means of financing have been considered. For instance, to take an example already mentioned, a sales tax could be levied only in an area of substantial size. We shall look forward to the Green Paper. As it is to be a Green Paper, I hope that the Government will accept that the White Paper today must be regarded as just as "Green".
Third, there is the question of the cost of the changes proposed. This is not perhaps as important as the two previous considerations which I have mentioned, but it is obviously sensible and businesslike to know something about the cost of the alterations proposed in the White Paper. This should not be too difficult to provide. A good deal has been learned about these things from the reorganisation of government in Greater London. A substantial cost is involved, in many cases, in new building, in the provision of town halls, in the payment of compensation, and so on, and in many instances the cost involved would have a considerable bearing upon the final decision taken.
Fourth, and perhaps most important of all, is the question of powers, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester has consistently, and in my view rightly, laid emphasis. We must have a clearer idea of the powers which the central Government are prepared to devolve. This question is bound up with the provincial councils. If they are to be important and powerful provincial councils, presumably not much in the way of new functions will come down to local government. They will stop at the provincial council stage. But if, at the provincial level, over most of England there are merely to be consultative arrangements, one would expect, and indeed the White Paper leads us to suppose, that there would be a considerable devolution of power, and this is a matter to which I shall return in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester said today, as he has on a number of occasions, that we ought not necessarily to be wedded to the notion of the unitary authority outside the metropolitan areas. Indeed, one notices in the White Paper less of an attachment to the unitary authority principle as a principle which overrides all else. It is now recognised on both sides of the House that nobody is saying that there is any magic in the unitary authority. Nobody is saying that in the conflict of considerations which, inevitably, are involved in local government, the desirability of having a unitary authority overrides all other considerations.
I accept that there are advantages in having a unitary authority, but, with the proposal in the White Paper that 42 per cent. of England should be administered by two-tier authorities, with the White Paper proposing two-tier authorities for Wales, and with the Wheatley Commission proposing two-tier authorities for Scotland, there is no reason to suppose that the unitary principle is inevitably right outside the metropolitan areas in England. I hope, therefore, that in winding up the debate the Minister will be able to give us an important assurance, because if there is one point that has come out of the debate it is that many hon. Members believe that in their areas outside the metropolitan areas the two-tier arrangement would make more sense than what is proposed.
The assurance for which I ask is that in the further consultations which are to take place over boundaries the Government will be prepared to consider proposals for a two-tier set-up, rather than a unitary authority, because, once the Government start to talk about boundaries in an area, in many cases the local authority concerned will want to propose an alternative arrangement which may involve a second tier.
For example, if, in Sussex, it is thought—and there are good arguments for this—that the unitary authorities are too small for many functions, and that a larger, top-tier authority is required, for environmental planning, and so on, the case for a proper second-tier authority will be extremely strong.
With the powers given to the second-tier authorities in metropolitan districts at the moment. I am talking about an area immediately adjacent to the proposed so-called metropolitan area of South Hampshire. Nobody could say that there were enormous differences between the rural areas there and in adjacent Sussex.
The alternative that should be studied seriously—it has not been studied seriously yet, and nobody on the ground has been consulted—is the alternative of the much larger top-tier, with functional executive second-tier authorities. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that these consultations will not be limited simply to boundaries, but that where a consideration of boundaries leads on to a consideration of structure the Government will also be prepared to talk about that.
I hope that the debate will have shown clearly that there is a determination to make the local council a reality; that it should be not an optional extra but a mandatory element in the revised system of local government. Where necessary there should be amalgamations of parish councils to make local government more of a reality, and this should be done at the same time as the general reorganisation is carried out.
In this connection, some of the work done in Haringey, as reported in "New Society" by Michael Young, is very interesting. I agree with those who argue that there are some extremely exciting possibilities here, and that it seems to be a feature of modern society that more and more people are anxious to play a part in an authority which is really local to their area. To dismiss their functions and range of interests as being cosmetic planning is to make a great mistake. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, I believe that they should be given the powers proposed in the Redcliffe-Maud Report, as well as certain other powers, and that it is very wrong, as Lady Sharp argued, that they should be precluded from taking part in activities, simply because these are also a part of main authority services. It would be absolutely wrong to say that they may not be involved at all in any of those matters for which a higher-tier authority has an overall responsibility, because that would seriously emasculate them.
The debate has inevitably been concerned largely with the question of boundaries. My hon. Friend made it clear that we accept the concept of the metropolitan areas, but believe that they should be drawn more nearly to coincide with areas that are really urban and metropolitan. It may be that too much has been made by hon. Members opposite of the objective of bringing town and country together. There is a fair degree of acceptance that in many instances the division that has previously existed between the county borough and the county should not be perpetuated, but it is nonsense to suggest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh said, that any reform of local government can possibly bring under one planning umbrella the rural areas that are now dependent upon towns.
Of course, this cannot be so. If one wanted to bring town and country together in the South-East, it could only be in a local authority area of the size of the whole of the South-East, with a population of 17 million. There are dangers in drawing a metropolitan boundary, as is drawn around Birmingham, around Liverpool and around Manchester, which has a very small amount of rural land in conjunction with a very large amount of urban. There can be no balance in that.
He did not say that. What he said was that the whole of the North-West should be looked at again. There is a great deal of criticism, from that side as well as from this, of the current proposals, and quite independently of forming a metropolitan area for Manchester—[Interruption.] Yes, there was one hon. Member who spoke in favour of it—I will give the Government that—but only one, and about five hon. Members spoke against. It is by no means self-evident to many people that it can be right to divide the rest of Lancashire into four separate areas. The County Councils Association, in its evidence on the White Paper, had a good deal to say about this.
I thought, incidentally, that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich was unreasonable to chide my hon. Friend for not producing not only a detailed plan for the whole North-West, but boundaries for the local councils as well. He asked us to say how many local councils there should be. This is exactly what an Opposition cannot and should not do—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not that Opposition, anyway."] I believe that this Opposition has been a good deal more responsible in the way that we have approached this than hon. Gentlemen opposite were in 1962–63, when, with a succession of "demos" up and down the Greater London area, they campaigned for the status quo and swore blind that they would restore it if they ever got back into power. That has not been the tactic of my hon. Friend. He has laid down, and clearly, the principles which we should follow. He has not tried, with the resources available to an Opposition, to draw boundaries.
I come back to the question of powers. Perhaps the weakest part of the White Paper, and it is very weak, is Chapter 5, dealing with the delegation of powers from central to local government. The suggestion is that there should be planning by programme rather than local authorities being required to get loan sanction for each item. Anyone with any experience of local or central government knows that that does not confer a great deal more responsibility. I have been involved on both sides in school building in determining the programmes. Of course, although the control of school building planning is already done by programme, it is over the individual items which make up the programme that the local authorities have to do battle.
This Government have a record of withdrawing powers from local authorities—and from reformed local authorities, like the Greater London Council, which, after all, is an authority of the kind which it is proposed to duplicate in a number of other places now—withdrawing the power to sell council houses, withdrawing the power to determine the shape of secondary education, withdrawing the power to determine rents, and, in the Education Bill, withdrawing, apparently deliberately, the power which has been exercised by both parties in London to ensure a balanced ability intake into comprehensive schools.
I hope, therefore, that after today's debate the Government will recognise that the White Paper should have been a Green Paper and that they will now consult local authorities about boundaries and functions. There has been absolutely no consultation yet with local authorities about boundaries. I hope that the Government will bring to the House their conclusions about provincial councils and regional government, about financing, about devolution of powers and about the cost of the proposed changes. I believe that in the light of that information the House would then, and only then, be in a position to take final decisions.
Before I turn to the main body of the debate, I would like to pay two tributes. The first is to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his handling of all the necessary consultations before the White Paper was published. They were carried out with a combination of courtesy and firmness which enabled us to keep to the timetable which the Government had thought appropriate. I think that the House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for having crystallised issues in this way. Secondly, I would like to pay tribute to the local authority associations for the constructive co-operation they gave throughout the discussions. They do not all agree with the White Paper, but I think that all of them will agree that they had a fair hearing.
The debate today has been of very great interest. It has produced interesting, conflicting views which have cut right across the normal party lines. I must confess that I was distressed, when the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) was speaking, to hear one of his hon. Friends call out "Rubbish", "Nonsense" or words to that effect.
We have had a most useful discussion.
Inevitably, all of us have drawn upon our constituency experience, not in any parish pump spirit, because every hon. Member who has spoken has drawn upon his personal experience to deal with the rather broad philosophical aspects which the problem inevitably involves. All of these are matters of judgment. As my hon. Friend said in opening the debate, there is no uniquely right solution.
It is interesting that no hon. Member today has defended the status quo exactly as it is. There are differences about how far we should go, how quickly we should go or when we should go, but everybody has agreed that radical reform is necessary.
In the White Paper, the Government have set out to reform the main structure of local government, to create a new pattern of authorities which will meet the needs of the next few decades and to provide rather simpler machinery than at present for further changes to be made if they become necessary. Certainly, over the next 10 or 20 years, it would be quite wrong to exclude the possibility of further change in boundaries.
It is wrong to criticise us for having deferred certain conclusions. When the Royal Commission's report was published, we announced that we aimed to reach early decisions about the main structural changes that were needed. We have done this and the White Paper contains the essential decisions which define the outlines of the new system, with unitary authorities, with two levels in the metropolitan areas, with allocation of functions between them settled, and with local councils, but there are still outstanding issues. It would have been quite wrong to try to work out the new financial proposals until we knew what the structure of local government was to be. One must have an idea of the size of the authorities, of the sort of areas they will cover and the kind of functions they will discharge before one can create the necessary infrastructure.
That is why we have not yet produced the Green Paper on finance. Local government finance is an extremely complex subject, and I ask the House to remember that it covers not only the area of England on which the Maud Commission reported but Greater London as well. It has very wide repercussions. I cannot say at this stage at what date the Green Paper will be published. A great deal of work has been going on, but all I can say in honesty to the House is that the Green Paper will be available well in time for consultations to take place before legislation is introduced.
Another of the aspects which have inevitably been left over is that of the areas and functions of local councils. We have set out in the White Paper their general rôle and it is right that the details of the rôle of local councils should now form the subject of discussions with the associations. But I must say that I had hoped that the fact that we had deferred a number of decisions so that we could have fuller consultation would be regarded as an act of virtue on our part and not something for which we should be criticised by the House. We have to make major decisions, and it would be quite wrong to rush into decisions without proper consultations being carried out over a period of time.
I trust that I shall not embarrass the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) if I say that I very much enjoyed his speech. I have been worried for the last few months that it appeared as though we were not to get any clear guidance from the party opposite of their views on these problems. The hon. Gentleman, who missed the quotation from the Financial Times which the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) read out, will no doubt have read the leading article in the Guardian of the same date, which said:
So far the Conservative spokesman on local government, Mr. Peter Walker, has merely emphasised the emptiness of Conservative thinking on local government.
Having heard the hon. Gentleman speak this afternoon, I half acquit him of that charge.
I am glad that The Guardian spurred him into activity and into disclosing to the House some of his ideas on the subject, because it would be extremely serious if there were a lack of positive and constructive response to the challenge of local government reform. It would be extremely bad for local government as a whole, and it would be particularly bad for the people working in local government, if there were any doubt that both sides of the House were equally committed to the need for local government reform.
I thank the hon. Gentleman if, as I believe that I am right in supposing, he told the House that there was a substantial measure of agreement between us on the timetable to be followed. In the unlikely event of hon. Members opposite being returned at a General Election, it will be a comfort to the pessimists who may be anticipating that event to know that even if that unlikely event should happen local government reform would still go ahead.
A number of questions have been put to me during the debate. I will try to answer some of them, but I very much doubt whether, in the time available, I will be able to answer all. I hope that any hon. Gentleman who does not get an answer will acquit me of discourtesy.
The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) asked, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Worcester earlier, when the Crowther Commission would report, and whether there would be an interim report in the fairly near future. It is much too early in the working of the Commission for it to say when that work will be finished, or whether an interim report will be possible, but I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary what the hon. Gentleman has said because, as the hon. Gentleman will realise, the Crowther Commission comes under my right hon. Friend.
We had an interesting teaming up between my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones) and the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), both of whom pressed that there should be careful consideration before merging of unitary authorities. I understood that my hon. Friend wanted to avoid it, whereas the right hon. and learned Gentleman wanted to bring it about. I give both hon. Members the assurance that we shall most certainly give the most careful consideration before any decision of that kind is taken.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) referred to Tyneside and spoke of the possibility of Tyneside and Northumberland merging into one authority. If both authorities wished to go ahead and made a good case for merging, we would consider any suggestions they made. I am also happy to offer a word of comfort to the hon. Member for Cornwall. North, who raised the question of South-East Cornwall across the river from Plymouth. I am happy to tell him that this is just the sort of problem which consultations will cover, and I have no doubt that the authorities concerned will be able to reach a conclusion by which they can put forward a good case.
The hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), who courteously apologised to me for not being able to be present for the winding-up speeches, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) raised the question of metropolitan districts inside metropolitan areas. I fully take the point which the three hon. Members made. Certainly we are prepared to look at the question of the pattern of organisation inside the metropolitan areas, but I want to make clear that we cannot consider an alteration in the boundaries of the metropolitan area itself.
I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Chichester said about merging town and country in a metropolitan area. That is exactly what was done in the London Government Act, and now we have large sections of the Green Belt inside the Greater London Area. I believe they have a much greater measure of protection than would be the case if they were under a different planning authority.
Are we to take it that the boundaries of the West Midlands conurbation are, so far as the Government are concerned, absolutely fixed? That will be a matter of grave concern to my constituents.
Perhaps I did not make the point clearly enough. It is not that we would not consider any alterations of the boundaries, but that we would consider variations in detail but not major alterations.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South asked what form the grant arrangements would take. We have to wait for the Green Paper and also to know what the structure will be because the grant is very much related to structure and it would not make sense to answer that question on this occasion.
My heart went out to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk), who was disturbed that his constituency would be divided into four areas. Mine would be divided into three; to have one's constituency divided into four would be worse. I have every sympathy with the hon. Member, but that, I am afraid, is all that I can offer him.
I was also asked why when Scotland and Wales, it was said, were going ahead with two-tier government, we were introducing it only in part of England. No announcement of Government policy has been made on the Wheatley Report and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has said that he is looking at the geographical counties of Monmouth and Glamorgan in the light of the Redcliffe-Maud Report. It would be quite wrong to assume that England, Scotland and Wales must inevitably conform to the same pattern. The situation is quite different in each of the three countries, and particularly in Scotland and Wales where in large parts of the country there is a very low density of population which would make unitary authorities impossible.
I was asked about consultations on the pattern of areas for the Bill. We shall be discussing the procedure for consultations with the local authority associations. The timetable is a rather tight one, because we must keep up the momentum; but at present our belief is that representations in writing will be welcome from anyone who wishes to submit them but that the conferences themselves, which will be open to the public, should be restricted to the local authorities, which are both the representatives of people in the area and the bodies responsible for local services.
I hope that the hon. Member for Chichester will not be too disappointed by my saying that it is not intended that in the course of consultations about boundaries the whole structure should be altered and that two-tier Government should be introduced sporadically throughout the country.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Worcester for what he said on the subject of staff, because this is one of the most worrying aspects of the problem. I have been very conscious all along of the need to consult the interests of local government staff. I have no doubt that in the long run the better career structure which will result and the new responsibilities that local authorities will be carrying will redound to the advantage of local government staff, but the transitional period is bound to be one of great anxiety.
Clearly I cannot give a blanket assurance that no individual officer will be disadvantaged, but I believe that the number who will be disadvantaged will be very small. To protect the staff we propose to follow the precedent of London reorganisation and establish a staff commission. The House will remember that in the case of London this was presided over by Sir Harold Emmerson and the two independent members were Lord Hemingford and Lord Geddes.
There is a problem here, even if it is not real redundancy. As all the authorities will be redrawn, if people change their jobs in such circumstances will they all qualify for redundancy pay?
We are setting up the local government staff commission to give advice to the Minister and to local authorities upon the problem. It will be an advisory body, but it was greatly appreciated in the case of London reorganisation and N.A.L.G.O. has very warmly welcomed our proposal to follow the same procedure on this occasion. We have agreed to follow up the Royal Commission's suggestion that we should reconsider the present arrangements for paying compensation for loss of office or reduction of salary. So we have done everything possible, and we will keep the matter under very close review.
I listened with interest to the suggestions which were made by a number of hon. Members on the subject of salaries and expenses. The hon. Member for Worcester described it very accurately when he said that it was a desperately difficult problem. Over the past two or three years all of us must have been increasingly disturbed at the financial obstacles in the way of those who want to give public service—not least the effect of loss of earnings on superannuation prospects.
As a token of my own concern, I recently approved new Regulations which came into force on 6th February and which increased the maximum rates of councillors' financial loss, travelling and subsistence allowances. The two last are almost exactly what the associations asked for, and the financial loss allowance is appreciably higher. I hope that they will have helped a number of councillors who were otherwise in very difficult circumstances.
We still propose to have consultations on future allowances; because we are firm in the view that nobody should be debarred from public service for financial reasons.
I would like to make two points on salaries. First, we have not taken a firm decision against them. I think that every hon. Member agrees that it is a difficult problem, and we have no clear guidance from the bodies which have given us advice. The Maud Committee on Management came out against salaries for all councillors but in favour of salaries for those with special responsibility. The Royal Commission was not opposed to the latter recommendation, but said nothing about salaries in general. We have not had a clear lead from the local authority associations as to what they would like. There is no general pressure in the local government world, but we certainly have not closed our minds. We have simply said that it would be wrong to break with the long-standing principle of voluntary service until we are convinced that public opinion is in favour and—this is important—we know more about what is involved in serving on the new authorities. In the meantime, allowances must be adequate.
The hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Murton) and Chichester both raised the important question of balance between central and local government. I hope that I shall be forgiven for inserting a personal note by saying that local government has been one of my main interests for the past 25 years, first as a councillor and later for many years as a Vice-President of the A.M.C. Throughout that time I have been concerned to get right the balance between local and central government, because I regard it as essential to the health of our democratic system. But I think that everyone must agree that national policies and standards must be laid down by this House. Within that framework, my view and that of the Government is that local authorities should be as free as practicable to settle their own priorities and take their own decisions. I have tried during my time as Minister to further this objective. The
|Division No. 67.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Bessell, Peter||Pardoe, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy||Mr. Eric Lubbock and|
|Grimonrt, Rt. Hn. J.||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)||Mr. David Steel.|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Mr. R. F. H. Dobson.|
The hon. Member for Poole raised the question of council house rents. Control over them was and is a temporary measure. In the Act which the House has just passed we have chosen to rely largely on the voluntary co-operation of local authorities. But if Parliament lays down a prices and incomes policy all sectors of our national life have a rôle to play. I do not believe that either side of the House has a wholly unblemished record here. Many hon. Members can recall the time when Florence Horsbrugh appeared to be interfering with the London County Council in the case of the Kidbrooke Comprehensive School, and it is only two years since, in debates on the Housing Subsidies Act, I resisted claims from hon. Gentlemen opposite that we should make a rent rebate system compulsory for all local authorities. I said that it was grandmotherly and nanny-like, and I still think that that is true. It is good evidence that when hon. Gentlement opposite want to interfere they do not hesitate to do so.