Avon (Structural Change)

Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 6:32 pm on 22nd February 1995.

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Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon 6:32 pm, 22nd February 1995

I beg to move, That the draft Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 9th February, be approved.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

I convey to the House the decision of Madam Speaker to place a 10-minute limit on the speeches of Back Benchers. I am sure that she would also hope that Front-Bench spokesmen will not take too long either.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

Apart from a few minor points, the order implements the Local Government Commission's recommendations for Avon. Its effect will be that, on 1 April 1996, Avon county council will disappear and its powers will be taken over by four unitary successor authorities. The existing authorities of Bristol and Woodspring will be given unitary powers. Woodspring is to be renamed North West Somerset. The existing authorities of Bath and Wansdyke will be abolished and comprise a single new unitary authority, to be called Bath and North East Somerset. The existing authorities of Kingswood and Northavon will also be abolished. They will comprise a further unitary authority to be called South Gloucestershire.

In the absence of clear agreement on alternative names for unitary authorities, we have concluded that we should not make any change to the names recommended by the commission. However, authorities retain the power to make changes to names if they resolve to do so. They may wish to consider that issue. There seems to be an increasing tendency—which I am not greatly in favour of—to give compass references to political names,

The order is not a judgment on the performance of the existing local authorities in the area. I made that clear during the Cleveland order debate and I make it clear now. That is not what the review was called on to judge. It involved finding the best form of local government for the future in each area.

In Avon, a generally constructive debate has taken place about reorganisation and the implementation of change. Of course, I have not agreed with every point put to me, but I have considered them all carefully and the debate has been conducted in a sensible and generally non-partisan way.

Authorities that are to assume unitary status should be given a fresh, democratic mandate to do so. There will therefore be whole council elections to all four unitary authorities in May this year. All four authorities will then have responsibility for planning and budgeting for change before they assume responsibility for the full range of local government functions on 1 April 1996.

In future, the three councils outside Bath will hold whole council elections every four years, although if local authorities wish to adopt a system of thirds, they may make representations. We do not hold any ideological view about which is preferable—we have always made that clear. Bristol will return to its current arrangements of elections by thirds from 1997. That follows Bristol's representations that it wished to remain elections by thirds but that it did not wish to have an election in the year immediately after reorganisation. We have tried to accommodate what seems a sensible representation.

Warding arrangements for the two new authorities are as recommended by the commission, except for the correction of a technical error in South Gloucestershire. There are no changes to the current warding arrangements for Bristol and North West Somerset.

The commission also recommended the abolition of the county of Avon and its return to Somerset and Gloucestershire for ceremonial purposes. The order abolishes the county area of Avon and provides for Bristol to be a county in its own right, as it was before 1974, with its own lord lieutenancy and high sheriff.

As in the case of Cleveland, we shall be making separate provision to put into effect the commission's recommendations for ceremonial arrangements elsewhere in the present county of Avon. We shall therefore provide that, for ceremonial purposes, Bath and North East Somerset and North West Somerset will be part of Somerset and that South Gloucestershire will be part of Gloucestershire.

Once the order is made, all authorities in the area will have extra duties and powers to prepare for reorganisation. They will each be under a duty to co-operate in implementing change. Unitary authorities will have access to the information that they need. Once the new councils for the four unitary authorities have been elected, they will have further powers to make the necessary preparations, including setting budgets and recruiting staff for the functions that they take over on 1 April 1996. They will be required to consider whether any of their new functions would best be discharged through joint arrangements with other authorities. Taken together, those provisions will ensure that a smooth transition to the new structure takes place, with proper safeguards for essential services.

I am mindful of Madam Speaker's injunction for Front-Bench spokesmen to be brief, so I should like to deal quickly with some of the questions that have been raised during consultation. Where an existing authority, as a result of reorganisation, assumes responsibility for new functions but its area is unchanged, that is a continuing authority. We simply have no powers to abolish it. However, where a unitary authority has new boundaries, that authority is classified as a new authority. So Bristol and North West Somerset will be continuing authorities, and South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset will be new. It all sounds very theological but it is an important aspect of reorganisation.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood

Is the Minister aware of the anxiety of staff in, for example, a county authority, that they may not get a fair deal in applying for jobs in the new continuing authorities because, in effect, their existing staff are in a better position? The Minister said that he did not have the powers. I know that representations have been made for those powers to be taken.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

As the hon. Gentleman has noted, it has been argued that continuing authorities will have an advantage and that they will have the inside track on recruitment. It is argued that they can get the recruitment process under way now, before the new authorities come into existence. I do not agree. All the authorities will be able to start planning for the reorganisation once the order is made. All four unitary authorities will get extra powers, for example, to make appointments once the elections have taken place, and the elections are scheduled for this May.

The existing authorities are being encouraged to think ahead on behalf of their successors. I could not stop them if I wanted to and it would be ridiculous to try. But that applies equally to continuing authorities such as Bristol, and authorities like Bath and Wansdyke, which are to be replaced by new ones. They cannot take decisions on behalf of their successors, but they can help, if they wish, to get them off to a proper start. There is nothing involved that sensible and honourable people cannot settle sensibly themselves. We have to make the assumption that we are dealing with sensible and honourable people in local government. I could not possibly justify placing artificial legal obstacles in the way of a sensible and well-planned transition from the old structure to the new.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The Minister will he well aware that the two new authorities that are not continuing authorities are concerned about the point that he is making. Can he clarify the issue? Will the new authorities that are continuing authorities be unable to make decisions in respect of new services that they take on—for example, education—and of staff recruitment and appointment until after the elections?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

That is exactly the position. The order confers upon the new authorities—whether they be shadow authorities or the authorities that will discharge both the functions of the old councils and prepare for the new council—powers that will not be endowed until such time as those new councils are in existence. Of course, we want existing councils to do some preparatory work. The whole purpose of doing that now is that the uncertainty is ended as soon as possible. There is a clear legal break and the legal right is conferred by the order that establishes the new councils, which come into existence in May.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I do not quite understand the distinction that the Minister is drawing between a preparatory plan and an actual plan and when the authorities can take over. Is he saying that, for example, Bristol should be taking no decisions whatsoever for the continuity of the services until after the election?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I am saying that there are two classes of authority. I said earlier that this all sounds very theological, whether the authority is new or continuing. However, it is a material consideration, not a theological one. We are bound by the terms of the statutes to which we have to refer.

If an authority is a continuing authority, which means that it is being reorganised within its boundaries, it has a certain competence to be able to prepare. However, it does not have the legal ability to prepare—that comes with the new powers endowed upon that council after the election in May. The argument is that, because the core of that authority is not going to change, it will be able to do its preparation work more effectively. The gap is a narrow one in any case. There is to be an election in May, so reasonable people should be able to sort things out. It is a problem without a reason.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry , Kingswood

Is making appointments part of the preparation or is it not? I understood the Minister to say specifically that it would be wrong for appointments to be made before vesting day; before the new authorities are established. Is that the case? Can we have that reassurance?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I shall try to clarify a complex issue.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

There is a great tendency to ask for yes or no answers to complicated matters. I am trying to do my best.

With a continuing authority, the council that currently exists will have to undergo a new election in order to exercise its new powers. In the meantime, it is able to do preparation work for that. The old authorities—that is, those that will be reorganised—will, by dint of that reorganisation, have the powers conferred upon them to begin that work. [Interruption.] I can now give the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) a yes or no answer. On whether the authorities can make any appointments before the election of the new authorities, the answer is that they cannot. The answer is no.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

As the hon. Gentleman said, it is dead simple, but difficult to remember. I am glad that I have managed to cast light upon that difficult area. If any doubt remains, when I reply to the debate I shall do my best to clarify the issue further. It took me quite a long time to understand the matter. Once one has understood it for about three hours, it is difficult to retain the information much longer. I am being very honest.

We come to another theological subject in which the House is interested, but again it is a material theological subject. I have been asked why the authorities are to be unitary district councils, not unitary county councils. I sometimes wonder why people ask such questions. I genuinely do not understand this question. It makes no difference in terms of local services.

The only significance—I hope that this is not regarded as a mischievous statement—is that it has some bearing on to which local authority association the new councils choose to belong. [Interruption.] I thought I might have spotted that one. However, my understanding is that the local authority associations are to form one big happy family soon, so it is a rather short-term preoccupation.

Perhaps that is not to happen quite as soon as some thought it would. In any event, given that Bristol and North West Somerset are continuing and must therefore continue to be districts, it would be inconsistent and confusing to designate the other authorities in the area as counties. Therefore, all the successor authorities are districts.

The order also makes specific provision in respect of a number of services. For the police, articles 12 and 13 provide for the representatives of the four unitary authorities to replace Avon county council's nominees on the Avon and Somerset police authority from 1 October 1995 for certain purposes, essentially so that they can be involved in decisions on the budget for 1996–96 and on policing plans. Avon county council's representatives will remain on the authority for all other purposes until that council is abolished.

For the fire service, the order provides for each of the unitary authorities to be fire authority areas. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will, in due course, be bringing forward proposals for a fire combination scheme, so that the fire service will continue to be delivered over the present area.

As unitary authorities, the four Avon districts will be responsible for both strategic and local land use planning for their areas. We are determined that there should be adequate arrangements for strategic planning in areas where reorganisation takes place. In the case of Avon, the commission proposed that the four unitary authorities should maintain separate local plans but work together on a joint structure plan. We have accepted that recommendation.

The draft order gives effect to that by transferring the county's strategic planning responsibilities to the four district councils. We look to them to make the necessary voluntary arrangements for joint working on the structure plan. We expect that the authorities in Avon will establish satisfactory arrangements to fulfil that important planning function.

Our policy is that there should be statutory arrangements only where absolutely necessary; we believe that voluntary arrangements are more accountable. In addition, we do not think that we should tie the hands of the authorities which will be elected in May.

The local government review and reorganisation in Avon have been the subject of a long and vigorous discussion. This has, of course, resulted in uncertainty for all those involved with local government in the area. This order will end that uncertainty. What is important now is that authorities set aside their past differences and work together to make a success of reorganisation and future local government in the area. I am confident that they will do so, and I commend the order to the House.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 6:48 pm, 22nd February 1995

As with the Cleveland order, it is probably worth reminding the House—especially those Conservative Members who either do not know or have forgotten—that this order from a Tory Government is intended to abolish the Avon county council, which was set up by a previous Tory Government. Some Conservative Members try to portray the Avon, Cleveland and Humberside councils as a Labour creation. However, they were created by a previous Tory Government, and they are now being dismembered by the party that brought them into being. We might describe what we are discussing tonight as a case of municipal infanticide.

The order is also a product of the Government's local government review. We have said before—we shall say it again, because it is true—that the review was conceived in malice against several Labour county councils. The Government do not like Labour councils, irrespective of whether local people vote for them. Perhaps they dislike Labour councils even more because they know that the councils are popular, and the Government have finally decided that, if they cannot win elections to councils, the only answer is to get rid of the councils. They did it with the Greater London council and with the metropolitan counties and they are now setting about wiping out in a malignant way those county councils that they do not like.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire , Spelthorne

I served on Avon county council; I opposed it when the Conservative Government suggested it; I opposed it when it was controlled by the Conservative party to which I belong and I am delighted to vote for its abolition tonight, irrespective of who controls it.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Gentleman would do well to hide his consistency, because any consistency will obviously prevent him ever reaching the Conservative Front Bench.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I should not like to bet on it, and I am sure that my hon. Friends would not either.

Originally, the Government said that the review would cover the whole country. As the right hon. Gentleman who is now the President of the Board of Trade said in the House in January 1992: We know that most local authorities want unitary status and we believe that such status will provide a better structure for the future in most areas."—[Official Report, 20 January 1992; Vol. 232, c. 37.] If the review turns out as it appears it will, 230 or more of the 296 shire districts that existed before will continue to survive as shire districts with a county council above them, so that 80 per cent. of the councils that the Government intended to reform and to turn into unitary authorities will remain as they were. How have the Government selected the ones that are for the chop?

I return to the fact that the decision was obviously politically motivated, and go on from that to say that the conduct of the Local Government Commission for England, which should have been beyond reproach, has not been. It has not behaved in the quasi-judicial manner that one could expect from something called a Local Government Commission.

Conservative Members may not know about it, but Opposition Members are familiar with the letter front the boss of the Local Government commission for England to the Secretary of State, saying how important it was that the Government and the Commission received "an early wind". That is not usually regarded as a quasi-judicial point of view. I should not like to appear in a court where the judge was asking for an early wind for him and for the police.

That approach has been maintained throughout by the Local Government Commission. It has not conducted itself as it should have done. It has not taken a consistent approach in every part of the country. Its consultations have varied from place to place. As a result, there have been years of wrangling and vast expense. A great deal of money has been spent on court cases, and there has been a massive diversion of effort by local councillors, who would have done better, and no doubt would have preferred, to spend their time trying to ensure reasonable services.

At the end of that process, there are grotesque inconsistencies in the recommendations, ranging from Rutland, which will be a unitary all-purpose authority with 33,000 people, to Warrington and Northampton, with 180,000 people, which will not be given unitary status. Those are the recommendations of the Local Government Commission, before the Secretary of State brings his bizarre judgment to bear on those matters.

At least some progress has been made, in that the Government have conceded that they will bring all the final recommendations of the Commission to the House—a commitment that they previously refused to make.

That brings me to the Avon (Structural Change) Order. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and other hon. Friends may wish to speak about its detail, and they will no doubt do so in some depth and possibly at some length—not more than 10 minutes, of course—but we do not believe that the order creating four districts provides a good basis for future high-quality local government in the Avon area.

I am confident that councillors—not only Labour ones, but councillors of all parties—who are elected to the new authorities will do their best to make those arrangements work, but that will be difficult. For a start, it is significant that about 1,000 jobs are put at risk by the reorganisation. As we know from orders that the Government have passed through the House, the compensation terms for staff who may have to lose their jobs are less generous than those that prevailed in 1986 and certainly rather less generous than the severance arrangements that the boss of the Severn Trent water authority arranged for himself, getting about half a million quid for disappearing. That sort of money will not be available to the many staff who have put in a vast amount of dedicated effort on behalf of the people of Avon.

I expect that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood will explain his anxiety about the future of services in the Avon area. Doubts about the cost effects have been expressed by the various contending parties. I join with the Minister in having some doubts about various parts of the order. I also have doubts about anyone's predictions about savings or additional expenditure that will result from the reorganisation of local government, because I cannot think of any set of predictions that has ever been made in the House that turned out to be right.

My main worry is about the boundaries of Bristol. I am convinced that the boundaries of Bristol, as set out in the order, will leave Bristol too narrowly drawn. There are excellent Labour councillors in the city of Bristol.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Even the Government agree that the boundaries drawn for Bristol are not sensible, because they have given an undertaking that they will review those boundaries in a few years' time. The good citizens of Bristol might find themselves having to waste their council tax yet again on bureaucratic change and butchering of their services when it should be spent on building up local democracy.

Photo of Mr Michael Stern Mr Michael Stern , Bristol North West

The hon. Gentleman is too hasty in agreeing with the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo). He might like to study the details that the Government have announced, which show that there will be nothing other than minor, cosmetic change to the external boundary of Bristol.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I understand that, unless the law is changed, if the Government ask the commission to consider any local government boundaries, the commission can decide for itself the extent or otherwise of the boundary changes. I am subject to correction by the Minister when he has received his information from the civil servants in the Box.

It is obvious that all candidates standing for election in Bristol would prefer the boundaries of Bristol to be wider than they are. The Labour council in Bristol accepts the proposition before us tonight, because it considers that it is confronted with Hobson's choice, so it is thanking the Lord for small mercies. It wants the powers returned to the city of Bristol, but it believes that the boundaries should be wider, so it accepts the best that is on offer.

It is understandable that the Labour council in Bristol should accept what is on offer, but I do not think that that can possibly excuse either the commission or Ministers for proposing boundaries that are plainly ridiculous in the eyes of almost everyone concerned.

That is not the opinion only of the Labour party. I quote from the opinions of the Bristol chamber of commerce. It says that it is of the view that local government in Avon has a critical role to play in providing the infrastructure necessary for promoting and maintaining economic prosperity—in partnership where appropriate with the private sector. It says that it is concerned that Bristol in its historic boundaries would not have the critical mass to tackle the key strategic issues such as transport and planning, or to deal with acute urban problems and inner city degeneration". In other words, it believes that the boundaries of Bristol will make it difficult for those elected to run that great city to do their jobs.

The Bristol council of social services shares that view. The south western regional council of the Confederation of British Industry is, if anything, even more strongly of the view that the boundaries are wrong. It said: It is vital that any restructuring of Local Government should produce a system which will facilitate the process of wealth creation for the benefit of the South Western Region. It went on to say, in its original evidence to the Local Government Commission, that it favoured a division of the existing County of Avon into three unitary authorities"— not the four that the Government are proposing— with the boundaries of the existing City of Bristol expanded to encompass the economic and social unit generally regarded as comprising Bristol. It said that that is an area much larger than the area covered by the city council. It was concerned that full and specific consultation should take place on the exact location of the boundaries for an enlarged Bristol. After the commission's proposals were published, the CBI's response was that the commission's proposals did not meet those needs. It believed that restricting the proposed Bristol unitary authority to the existing boundaries of the City Council would seriously inhibit economic growth and result in further inner-city degradation. Since the publication of the recommendations, it has canvassed its members again. The CBI has been asked by its members to stress their belief that the commission's proposals would have a "damaging effect". It goes on to say: We firmly believe that the Commission has not given sufficient weight to the economic interests of the area.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The hon. Gentleman has made a strong point about his belief that the boundaries for Bristol are inadequate. He has quoted at length business interests in Avon that have made the same point. Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to outline where he thinks the Bristol boundaries ought to lie and whether a Labour Government would review those boundaries with a view to creating a much wider Bristol? That is of great interest.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) will deal with the question of where local people—[Interruption.] I am in favour of the people of Bristol and their locally elected representatives deciding where the boundaries should be. I do not have any doubt—scarcely anybody has any doubt—that the boundaries that the Government are putting forward leave Bristol "cabinn'd, cribb'd, confin'd". They are ridiculous boundaries and we should not vote them through.

The boundaries are drawn in that way because this is a political fix. I predict that next week the Government will produce a political fix in the other direction with the proposals for York. Against the views of the people in the area, including businesses, they will create a greater York. This order will produce a lesser Bristol. Both those moves are for squalid party political purposes. That is why I urge my hon. Friends to vote against the order.

We believe that the Government are still cherry picking. They are bopping the counties that they do not like. We believe that they should insist on annual elections for the new authorities that are being established. We believe that there is some sensible concern about the cost of reorganisation.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government should insist on annual elections. He just said that the local people should decide where their boundaries lie, although he did not make it clear whether the people outside a boundary should have the same views as those inside. The current rules mean that if a local council wishes, it can ask to have the electoral system changed. Why does the hon. Gentleman believe that in one instance the local people should decide and that in another instance the Government have to tell them? I do not understand.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Some basic principles are involved. It may be that some people who are currently running a council would like the idea of not having an election for another 10 years. We believe that a third or a quarter of the members of every council should face an election each year. It is a sound approach and it works well in the areas in which it exists already. We believe that it should operate everywhere.

We are concerned that the estimates about the cost or savings that will result from the reorganisation are unsound. We are concerned about the inadequate protection that is provided for the staff, but, above all, we believe that the boundaries of Bristol are harmful. We share the views of those who believe that it will make it harder than is necessary in these difficult times for whoever is elected to represent the people of Bristol to do their job of looking after the interests of the people of Bristol as well as promoting the economic and social well-being of that great city and the neighbouring areas.

We expect that the Government will vote this through, but we are confident that Labour councillors will be elected to represent the people of Bristol and the other areas. We are confident that they will do their best, but it would be better if they were not doing it in such difficult circumstances.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon 7:05 pm, 22nd February 1995

I welcome the order and the changes that it puts in place. The commission made the right recommendations and the Government are right to agree to them. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made a partisan speech and I do not wish to do that. However, I must respond to what he said. I believe that the commission's recommendation for the boundaries of Bristol was correct and the Government are right to follow it because it is what the people of my constituency want. They do not want to be taken over by Bristol. If the hon. Gentleman wants to follow what the people want, he should know that they want to be governed by South Gloucestershire. They support the proposals, as does the Northavon chamber of commerce.

I want to look back, because it is important to consider why Avon has not worked well as a county and why it scored so low in the public consultation organised by the Local Government Commission.

In the past I have criticised individual policies of Avon county council and its management, but I do not believe that the failure of the county to work is essentially a failure of the individuals involved—either the councillors or the officers—over the past 20 years. I believe that the fundamental flaw is the structure that was set up.

Administratively, it makes sense to govern the area around Bristol with the area of Bristol and that is why, in some cases, business people and others have viewed this in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. The truth is that it defied people's feelings of place. The clashes between Avon and the six districts in particular have been acute for that reason. There has been particularly intense rivalry between the county of Avon and the city of Bristol. It is important to remember that the city of Bristol was not merely a county borough. It had been a county in its own right since 1373—over 600 years. The Local Government Act 1972 deprived it of that status which it had had for so long.

These matters, which are in some respects emotional matters, may seem unimportant when compared with administrative logic, but they are not. The deepest lesson of Avon's short life is that we neglect those roots at our peril. They go very deep into the fabric of British life. Today, 20 years after Avon was set up, people do not say that they live in Avon. They say that they live in Bristol, or Chipping Sodbury near Bristol. They do not say that they live in the county of Avon because that is not how they feel. The Local Government Commission proved that more scientifically through the opinion polls which it conducted. The old counties may be Anglo-Saxon in origin, but they are not outmoded in people's minds.

At the same time, administrative problems remain. It is undoubtedly more difficult to govern the areas north of Bristol, which I represent, from Gloucester, which is 30 miles away, than from Bristol, which is on our doorstep and far larger. That is why the right solution is the proposed unitary authorities. The new districts are an appropriate size and, apart from anything else, if Bristol were allowed against the wishes of the people concerned to extend its boundaries further north, it would leave a very awkward authority as a successor to South Gloucestershire. It is much more difficult to run a large, disparate authority with partial powers than it is a smaller, more geographically unified authority, with all the powers of local government.

There are messages, I may say to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, for those who want to foist on us an elected regional tier of government. The inhabitants of my constituency do not think that they live in the same part of the country as Bournemouth, even if both places are in the south-west economic planning district. That feeling is even more evident when comparing the inhabitants of Newent, for instance, in the Forest of Dean, with those of Newquay.

As I have said, it is important to consider the administrative complications of separate authorities in the relatively small area that has been the county of Avon. It is very important to stress that the new councils being set up under the order must work together on matters of common concern and, indeed, with neighbouring councils in the adjacent counties. I have every hope that that will work well, as my hon. Friend the Minister suggested when he moved the order.

There will be four councils instead of seven and they will be fully competent bodies dealing as equals with one another. In particular, there will he no more duplication of functions and overlapping rivalries, which have bedevilled the relationships between Avon and the districts within it. Incidentally, they will also be seen to be directly accountable to the electorate, with fewer excuses that their authority did the right thing and some other authority did not. If one asked the man in the street whether powers fell under the county council or the district council, he would have an awful job replying accurately.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the question of what is a county and what is a district. For ceremonial purposes, South Gloucestershire will go back to being part of Gloucestershire. There has been some correspondence about the duties of the lord lieutenant. I think that it is right for Bristol to have a separate lord lieutenant, even though in the past, when it did, it was usually held in plurality with the lord lieutenancy of Gloucestershire. It has in the past also been held in plurality with the lord lieutenancy of Somerset, which would not be a bad idea now. Certainly, Bristol should have a separate position of lord lieutenant, even if it is held in plurality with one of the adjacent countries.

I would like to say a word about the name of the district, to which my hon. Friend the Minister also referred. I believe strongly, as a result of my experience over the past few years, that old names are the best. I have found that, since 1983, when the name of my constituency was changed to Northavon, whenever I am more than a few miles away from the constituency and people ask me what constituency I represent and I reply Northavon, they invariably say, "Where is that?"

People do not take on board all these new names all over the country. Indeed, they have not even been taken on board by whoever drafted the order. There is a misprint on page four, which describes the district as Northwood as opposed to Northavon. That would not have occurred with Bristol, for example—the proof reader would have spotted it at once—but because of all the invented names that we have had to put up with over the past few years, such mistakes occur.

I am therefore strongly in favour of using the old name where possible. The name South Gloucestershire used to cover the entire proposed authority. It should be the name of this district and I very much welcome the creation of it.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry , Kingswood 7:14 pm, 22nd February 1995

I opposed Conservative policy on the previous reorganisation of Avon and I oppose Conservative policy on the current reorganisation for exactly the same reasons. In 1972, when the House debated the Local Government Bill, the Conservatives reorganised matters quite specifically to take control of services such as education, social services and public transport away from Labour city councils, including Bristol. Of course the purpose of that exercise was not to improve services or local accountability; it was to achieve precisely the opposite. That is what we have before us today.

I could not imagine that anyone in the House or elsewhere would think that, after 15 years of the Conservatives attacking local democracy, reorganisation under this Government would do anything other than continue that process of service cuts and redundancies. We have had capping, we have had cuts in rate support grants then revenue support grants, we have had the poll tax, we have had the virtual dismantling of local education authorities and we have had compulsory competitive tendering. After 15 years of measure after measure designed to undermine local democracy, nobody can claim that reorganisation under this Government at this time is anything other than a continuation of that process.

I do not oppose the motion because I oppose in principle unitary local authorities, although I note that Sir John Banham, who chairs the Local Government Commission, told the Association of County Councils in November: I know of no evidence that smaller unitary authorities will be better placed than county councils to deliver effective and convenient local services". Sir John Banham was on television—I think—yesterday advising us all about the importance of performance-related pay for senior executives. I would like to see a little performance-related pay for Sir John Banham based on the way in which he has dealt with the local government review.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry , Kingswood

My hon. Friend is right. It would be a rebate of gigantic proportions, which would help us preserve essential services.

I emphasise that I am speaking against the motion not because I oppose the principle of unitary authorities, but because I am opposed, as all sane people must be, to further cuts in essential local services and yet more redundancies which this Government policy will bring about.

There will be cuts because of the substantial costs of reorganisation, which should be met by central Government, but which will not. That is not only my view and the view of local councils in Avon, it is the view of the local branch of the Confederation of British Industry. In its submission to local government commissioners, the CBI said: In the event of structural changes being introduced, considerable transitional costs would be inevitable. Local revenue would not be in a position to absorb additional costs other than by means of an inordinately large increase in the Council Tax. This would entirely distort anticipated benefits of the structural changes and have the effect of discrediting any new arrangement. I am sure that the Government have thought about that. The CBI continued: This paper summits, therefore, that the costs of changes should be funded by central Government. The costs of reorganisation, to which the CBI and others refer, are substantial. The bids that the local councils in Avon submitted when seeking credit approval to cover the costs of reorganisation totalled £24 million for 1995–96 alone. I pause to contemplate what local services could be improved, or at least protected, if that £24 million were to be spent on services, not reorganisation. But that £24 million is already significantly higher than the total transitional costs estimated by the Local Government Commission for Avon. It said that over all the years that it could anticipate, the costs would be £13 million to £18 million. The local councils say that, in the year before reorganisation, transitional costs will come to £24 million.

Before anyone says, "They would say that, wouldn't they—they would put in bids on the basis of overestimates of expenditure," I should say that the people who are placing the bids are those who are likely to be responsible for running the unitary authorities afterwards. They are the people who believe in reorganisation. It is inconceivable that those who anticipate running a unitary authority and who want to make it work after reorganisation could submit bids that are overestimates. It is well known that, in Avon, the councils are collectively seeking about £50 million to cover the costs of local government reorganisation.

What has the Government's response been? In 1995–96, instead of meeting the £24 million bid, the Government are allocating £6.8 million—a little over a quarter of the amount required to fund reorganisation. That shortfall—let alone the repayment of debt in subsequent years—will inevitably mean service cuts and more redundancies. It is undeniable that there will be substantial redundancies as a result of the reorganisation—at a time when local government staff are frequently stretched to breaking point.

I have lost track of the number of senior officers in Avon who have left or retired, and the number of teachers and social workers who are leaving the profession for reasons of stress and overwork. The inevitable implication of not meeting the cost of reorganisation will be that Government policy will ensure further reductions in services and further redundancies.

The councils in Avon are aware of that. As part of the bid, they have already included an estimate of £7.5 million to cover redundancy costs in 1995–96—before reorganisation. In case anyone thinks that the amounts come from the existing Avon county council, that is not true—some £2.6 million is from Avon and £5 million from existing district authorities. They anticipate, collectively, that £7.5 million will be spent on redundancy costs before reorganisation. It is as inevitable as night follows day that there will he more redundancies after reorganisation.

I spoke in the last debate on regulations on local government redundancy payments following reorganisation, and I do not want to repeat the points that I made—not least because I have only about two minutes left. The redundancy terms being offered to local government employees are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, worse than in 1986 when the metropolitan counties were abolished. They are worse than under Mrs. Thatcher. Much has happened since 1986—it is not just that Ministers have given themselves better redundancy payments, but there is more unemployment. That is a shameful way to deal with staff who have given good service to their communities.

There are a number of technical issues that I should like to have commented on, but I clearly do not have the time. I am aware, as is the Minister, that Avon county council and the Association of County Councils have diligently pursued a number of technical points which I hope that the Minister will take on board. I pay tribute to the way in which Avon county council has pursued matters on behalf of services and the people who provide them. Councillor Valerie Davey and her colleagues deserve credit for dealing with difficult problems in the best interests of the services and those who provide them.

I came into politics to secure better, not worse, public services. I wanted to secure more employment opportunities, not fewer. These proposals are a recipe for more cuts in services and more redundancies. They constitute another nail in the coffin of local democracy. I urge the House to oppose the motion.

Photo of Mr Michael Stern Mr Michael Stern , Bristol North West 7:24 pm, 22nd February 1995

I have never made any secret of the fact that, when I was first elected to the House for Bristol, North-West in 1983, I had been living in Bristol for only a few months. During my first general election campaign, at my final election meeting on the night before I was elected, I said that one of my ambitions during my time in Parliament was to see the return of the city and county of Bristol. Like any one embarking on a crusade, I did not expect to see that ambition realised in as little as 12 years. I am delighted to welcome the realisation of that ambition. Judging by the response to my comments, it was probably the most popular pledge of any that I made during that election campaign.

Much has been said tonight on the technical aspects of the change. I should like to look back further and try to explore why Avon never worked—clearly, it did not. I think that there are two reasons, both of which are inherent in the reasons for the moves to the successor authorities which we are contemplating tonight.

The first reason is that Avon clearly never had, and never had the hope of achieving, the consent of the people that it governed. As an authority, it was seen from its first day as being imposed on the people of Bristol and its surroundings. It was resented from the first day and, despite all the strong efforts of the officers and councilors to achieve acceptance for the county of Avon, the problems that beset it were inherent in its nature and the way in which it subsequently developed.

Many of the problems with us today—for example, the problems that I recently highlighted in the House on choice in secondary education—stem from the fact that a previous Conservative Government sought to impose on the people of Bristol and its surroundings a form of local government that they felt was alien to them.

There is another reason why Avon was such a conspicuous failure. It has often been said by councillors and officers of Avon that it was formed with no financial assets; it was stripped by the district councils of any assets that it might otherwise have chosen to inherit. Avon has not noticed that the same is true of many more successful councils in other parts of the county. As a result of Avon's belief that it had been hard done by, it developed a financial inferiority complex.

In my years in the House I have noticed that the effect of that attitude, which was developed in the early years of Avon's history, is that every year, without fail, instead of trying to plan financially on the basis of the resources that it had and knew it could achieve—as a more relaxed authority might have done—Avon put most of its effort into trying to obtain more. Like many fictional characters, Avon could not come to terms with the facts of its formation, particularly the financial facts. Every year, Avon's arguments for trying to find ways of obtaining more money for itself became more desperate, hopeless and unbelievable. Avon was doomed from its formation, and few people will mourn its passing.

The system with which we are replacing it has a number of advantages, and we must ensure that they are not squandered. The first advantage—in direct contradiction to the point made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)—is that the new authorities have the clearly expressed support of the people whom they are being set up to govern. The hon. Gentleman suggested—in a manner of which the current dictator of Iraq would have been proud—that, because certain people in Bristol feel that they have a divine right to rule the surrounding areas, that view should be heard. The last thing that the people outside Bristol want is to be ruled by Bristol, but the hon. Gentleman suggested that their view should be ignored.

We shall be quoting the comments of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras during the local election campaign in May in areas that have made it quite clear that the last thing they want is to be taken over by a city whose style of local government they regard as wholly alien. I strongly deprecate the hon. Gentleman's opinion—and, by implication, that of the Labour party—that only the view of Labour-controlled areas count and that the areas that they seek to govern are not entitled to hold a view at all.

I welcome the order. Tonight I am wearing a tie that bears the coat of arms of the city of Bristol. When the order is passed, I shall be wearing a tie that bears the arms of the city and the county of Bristol. I am the first Member for Bristol, North-West since the late Martin McLaren to be able to make that claim. Having achieved the abolition of the county of Avon, I shall go home and play a recording of Haydn's "Te Deum". As I listen to it, I shall reflect that, even after 22 years, it is possible for a Government to admit that they got something wrong and to make a determined effort to set it right.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel , Newbury 7:31 pm, 22nd February 1995

We have said before that the local government reform programme has turned into a shambles, but it is obvious that this case is one of the most shambolic of all. The Government admitted that drafting errors in some of the original legislation caused real problems when considering the question of Avon and its future, and clearly areas of concern remain to be resolved.

We all agree that Avon is a very unpopular county, even after 20 years of existence. From the beginning, it was an artificial creation which was never well loved. As it moves towards its grave, the House should at least pay tribute to the valuable work performed by a number of Avon councillors and officers over the years. Their contribution should not be forgotten.

Serious points and questions about the order must be addressed, one of which taxed the Minister in his opening remarks. For the first time, the reorganisation involves two continuing authorities and two new authorities. That is clearly still causing problems for the Minister, and I for one do not accept the points that he made in reply to earlier interventions.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Is my hon. Friend concerned that, although the Minister appears to have moved in the right direction, he has not yet made it clear to the House whether any progress towards the appointment of new staff in either the new or the continuing authorities will be possible before vesting day? Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to put that question to the Minister.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel , Newbury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, and perhaps the Minister will respond to it straight away.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I realise that time is limited, but I shall make the position clear now in case I am not able to do so in my winding-up speech. As soon as the order is made, all the authorities involved will have new powers and duties to start preparing for reorganisation. They must co-operate because the order enjoins them to do so—for example, Bath and Wandsdyke can start working towards reorganisation at the same time as Bristol.

The decisions about how the new authorities will run their affairs should be made only after a new mandate has been obtained. The order says that authorities cannot make decisions or appointments until after the elections in May. In May, all four unitary authorities will have identical powers to do that. The essential point is that, when the new powers are provided, they are provided equally to all involved.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel , Newbury

As it will clearly be more difficult for the two authorities which are joining to form one authority to make even preparatory arrangements before that authority is set up, I believe that the situation is clearly unfair. The new authority which will be created from amalgamating two existing authorities will be disadvantaged compared with the continuing authorities. It is unfair to the staff concerned and to the authorities themselves. It is odd that, in spite of opting for unitaries, the Government have managed to make an enemy of not only the unitary authorities but the Association of District Councils, which is concerned about that point.

Various estimates of the short-term costs of the transition are circulating. The costs are ill-defined; that is perhaps not surprising when we consider what happened in Cleveland, when much higher estimates were made immediately after the order was passed. The Minister should promise—I hope that he will refer to the matter in his winding-up speech—that, if the costs turn out to be much higher than the Government and the commission expected, the Government will help the new authorities to meet the extra costs.

Consultation in this case was clearly inadequate and muddled. When the consultation process began, people were told that they would become part of Somerset or part of Gloucestershire, which later proved to be untrue. That must have been confusing for the people involved and the consultation process might have produced a different result if that point had been clear from the beginning. It is now impossible to gauge the extent to which that confusion might have affected people's view of the reorganisation, and I wish that the Government had engaged in more consultation after the point had been clarified fully.

The question of whether South Gloucestershire and North Somerset will become real counties has muddied the water further. I am glad that the Minister discussed that point earlier, although I do not believe that he clarified it fully.

The Government should have started from scratch in examining the role of the new authorities instead of simply talking about what areas they would cover. The fact that the Government did not consider the new authorities' role properly has led to other difficulties. They have not detailed how strategic services—strategic planning, transport, the fire service, the probation service and the police—will be managed or even how the coroner's office will work in the future.

The Government said today that they want the services to be handled in a voluntary manner because that is more flexible. I suspect that they really mean that they do not know how the services will be handled and they intend to go ahead on a wing and a prayer. That will only increase the administrative burden of those who eventually become the unitary councillors.

There are also points in favour of the order. It looks as though it will produce at least some long-term cost savings. I welcome the extra efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery which may be created as government is brought closer to the people. It is a long-standing principle of my party that government should be brought closer to the people and I look forward to seeing that happen with the new authorities.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry , Kingswood

Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the Liberal Democrats in Avon do not support the order?

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel , Newbury

I am not sure to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. There are members of all three parties who are for and against every local government order we have had so far.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry , Kingswood

The hon. Gentleman just said that it was a matter of principle.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel , Newbury

It is a matter of principle that we should bring government down to the lowest possible level.

A further point which must be made in favour of the order—perhaps the most important point—is that there is clear public support for it. Some 72 per cent. of people made it clear that they were in favour of the principle of unitary authorities in the area, while only 16 per cent. were against. That is very telling.

The fact that representations to the commission came out four to one favour was also a telling point in favour of the order. Some people said that that was a self-selected sample, and so it was. What was interesting in this case was that the self-selected sample was in favour of something. Usually, such a sample is unreliable only when it is made up of protesters.

In summary, the Government have made a mess of the order, as they made a mess of the reform of Avon. It is also clear that the public in general are behind the order and want it to be passed. There are many uncertainties about the order and, therefore, as it is passed many of its supporters—including, no doubt, the Government—will say a silent prayer that the worst fears of those who oppose it will not come true.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare 7:40 pm, 22nd February 1995

This is a day of great rejoicing for Weston-super-Mare. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on tabling the order. I also congratulate the Boundary Commission, and in particular the two commissioners responsible who took an immense amount of trouble to see that all the appropriate people were visited, and who came up with the right answer.

In olden days, there would be dancing in the streets, the church bells would be ringing and the fountains would be running with best Somerset cider. Dare I say, if I could claim any credit, a small public subscription would have raised a modest statue to the Member in gratitude for the death of the ogre of Avon county council.

Avon has been disliked and derided ever since it came into being in 1974. I am the only Member in the Chamber who was in the House at the time that local government was reorganised in 1974. As a junior and thrusting parliamentary private secretary, I abstained on the vote which brought the council into being. My only regret over many years has been that I did not vote against, and hand in my cards. This order means that my conscience is clear again.

At long last, we will be back to running our own affairs. Weston-super-Mare is the largest town in Somerset, and it does not want to be run from Taunton. It definitely does not want to be run from Bristol. I believe that my hon. Friends have analysed most sensibly the reason for the failure of Avon—it was the domination of Bristol. When a town the size of Weston-super-Mare is made to feel like a second-rate suburb, it is hardly surprising that its residents would wish to make a change.

I think that I also speak on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who, despite being silenced by his high ministerial office, will know that opinion also runs similarly in the north part of what is to be the new district.

Of course, we do want a little more money for the costs of transition. We have had a supplementary credit approval for £2.5 million, but we asked for £5 million. I am told by those in the know that there is still £27 million in the national pot, so we are hoping for some more money.

There is a minor dispute in my constituency about second-tier councils. Having got rid of Avon, there was a recommendation by the Boundary Commission for a town council. I think that that was a misapprehension. Previously, the charter trustees were told that they could not survive, and they opted naturally for the only alternative. Town councils are normally only given to towns with a population of less than 20,000, and having three town councils would be disastrous for the town.

I was delighted to learn that the Minister has allowed the charter trustees to continue. We need a mayor for a seaside town, and we need a body from which to elect him or her. If that body were to be consulted on planning permissions and have a touch more power, everybody would be totally satisfied. There is pressure to go for a town council on the basis that, if one asks somebody whether they want a town council, they will say yes. But there is no logic in having another tier of government in a town the size of Weston-super-Mare.

Once again, I express my strong support for the introduction of this order. It is something which I have looked forward to for 20 years, and I am delighted to be able to speed it on its way tonight.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire , Spelthorne 7:46 pm, 22nd February 1995

I consider myself to be very fortunate indeed, as I was born in Somerset and lived there for 30 years. That idyll was only blighted in 1974, when my bit of Somerset was moved into Avon. Every morning for the following 18 years until I moved, I had the discomfort of getting up, drawing my bedroom curtains and looking across my garden to the field next door, which was still in Somerset. That made me vow every morning to do everything in my power to wipe Avon from the map at the earliest possible opportunity.

During my time in Somerset, I had the great privilege of representing Somerset folk as an Avon county councillor for four years and as a Wansdyke district councillor for 11 years, six of those as leader. At every election, I stood both as a Conservative candidate and as a Back to Somerset candidate.

My mention of Wansdyke leads to me digress to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Wansdyke (Mr. Aspinwall). I am sure that the whole House wishes him well in hospital, and understands why he is not here tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) is here, and, until he took his trappist vows, he too enthused about the abolition of Avon. If he could speak tonight, he might just make the point to the Minister that he would prefer Nempnett Thrubwell to be in north-west Somerset rather than north-east Somerset, but no doubt that debate can continue outside the Chamber.

The order is not just about local issues; it raises a whole range of general issues as well. The constraints of time limit me to mentioning just three of those. First, local government only works well if it is structured on how people feel about themselves. Avon was imposed for administrative and service provision reasons. It was artificial and unloved, and it was never going to work. It proves the point that natural communities are what local government is all about, and I wish that the Local Government Commission had paid more attention to natural communities.

Secondly, the order abolishes two-tier local government in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire. The results will be better services, clearer accountability and stronger local government. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to reject all other two-tier solutions which have been suggested elsewhere.

Thirdly, the changes recognise the importance of history. My home town of Midsomer Norton has been in Somerset for 1,000 years, just as my constituency of Spelthorne has been in Middlesex for 1,000 years. I would urge the Government to do for the people of Spelthorne what they are doing for the people of Midsomer Norton. They must restore us to the historic county of Middlesex and abandon the status quo proposals for Surrey.

There are occasions when hon. Members do their duty with little enthusiasm, and when we vote out of loyalty rather than conviction. But tonight I need no persuasion. I do not need the help of the Whips, nor do I require any arm-twisting. I shall vote to abolish Avon with conviction and delight. Avon is unloved. It will not be mourned, and I rejoice at its abolition.

Finally, I send a message to friends in all political parties in Wansdyke. I note that they will have more seats on the new authority than Bath and, in my biased view—I am sure that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) will understand—that is exactly how it should be. I look forward to watching my friends restore pride in local government and pride in Somerset. I wish them well.

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight 7:49 pm, 22nd February 1995

One wonders where the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has been. He accuses the Government of a conspiracy against Labour-controlled county councils, quietly forgetting that the county council on the Isle of Wight was Liberal-controlled and campaigned for a unitary authority. The Liberal Democrat spokesman seems now oblivious to the points that he made in the debate on that occasion.

The Local Government Act 1972 clearly states that a council can he a county council authority or a district council authority. As has been explained many times, the Local Government Act 1992 stipulates that an authority can be a successor authority only if it is not to be abolished and reorganised—that is the glitch in the legislation.

I promised the Minister when we debated the Cleveland order, and before that the Isle of Wight order, that I would try to attend each of these debates to make similar points about parish and town councils. Under this order, I am told that 131 parish and town councils are covered. Of that number, six are parish meetings and five are town councils.

During the Cleveland debate, I promised to keep raising the matter with my hon. Friend until I got a result—and I think that I am getting close to a result now.

I learn from the order that there is to be a different electoral cycle for Bristol, which has no parish or town councils; it will therefore not be affected by the order, because it will be on the county council election cycle, whereas all the other authorities affected will be on the district council cycle—1995 plus four years. The county election cycle is 1997 plus four years. As a result, all the parish and town councils will, under the order, be able to come up for elections together with their local authorities, thus saving local taxpayers considerable sums of money.

My hon. Friend has heard me say often enough that the election costs for many parish and town councils amount to more than their precepts; so combining the election cycles is a good idea.

I await the day when the Minister will tell us how he intends to get out of the conundrum facing the Isle of Wight.

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay 7:51 pm, 22nd February 1995

I urge Members on both sides of the House to support this order. It is essential for local democracy that we have unitary authorities and do not continue with a two-tier system that nobody understands. In 1977, as an adopted candidate for the Greater London Council elections, I went to see Conservative Central Office and said that, having discovered what the GLC did, we ought to abolish it. I was assured that mine was a disgraceful, heretical suggestion: under no circumstances would it be abolished. Now that the GLC has been abolished, things are better for all Londoners, and the benefits have been immediately visible.

People understand what unitary authorities mean—a one-stop opportunity for local accountability and local democracy. I urge the Minister, as he sees this important flagship provision passing into law this evening, to remember that Torbay was recommended by the Local Government Commission for unitary status. I hope that he will bear in mind too that the Liberals, the Labour party and all Conservatives in Torbay are united—unlike those concerned with this order—in hoping that it will also receive unitary status, as recommended by Sir John Banham.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon 7:52 pm, 22nd February 1995

I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope), and with my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), who spoke not as a Member representing this part of the world but on the basis of personal experience of it. I heard what he said about Middlesex. It is an example of a county that still exists in ceremonial and sporting terms and which usefully shows that a county can carry on even without a local authority being associated with its name.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) concentrated on the importance of service delivery. This move has been all about service delivery—bringing services to the people, rationally organising services and trying to overcome some of the difficulties of a two-tier structure. This solution would not commend itself in all circumstances, but the commission recommended it in this case, and we thought it the right thing to do.

I well remember the representations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) on the problem that he faced with the parish council, or the charter trustees. I am delighted that we were able to find an outcome that enabled the charter trustees to continue in Weston-super-Mare. I agree with him that it is important that such towns have their ancient traditions confirmed, and have people who can be seen to represent them in their ceremonial functions.

As many of my hon. Friends have said, continuity is an important aspect of local traditions and democracy. We are trying to reach down to ancient roots and give them modern shape so that they may continue to flourish. That is why local government has always been subject to reform and change, drawing on the best traditions and bringing it into a world in which it can use modern techniques to deliver the services that are now in demand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare also mentioned resources. Of the £50 million that we have nationally for 1995–96, I have deliberately held back more than half, so that we can allocate it later in the year when the authorities have had a chance to develop their plans. So further resources will be allocated to the Avon authorities. Of course I cannot promise to meet in full what they estimate to be their needs, but some additional resources will be available. I thought it sensible to wait and see how their plans developed, and then make the allocations. We shall keep the matter under close scrutiny.

We have made it clear that this reorganisation will be economically financed. We do not intend people to take the opportunity to see whether it would be nice to have a new town hall on the back of the reorganisation. Indeed, one local authority already decided that that would be a good wheeze. We shall ensure that authorities do what is necessary. As everyone agrees, the money needs to go to services. There is little point in reorganisation to improve services if the resources are diverted to structural agglomeration.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am sure that many people listening will be delighted to hear that. When should bids be made for the additional money?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

When the new authorities have been constituted—once the elections are over and the new authorities are in place—I would expect to receive the additional bids. That would seem to be the sensible time.

I was intrigued by the speech made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, and especially by the interplay between him and the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry). The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that he would defer to his hon. Friend, to allow him to provide us with much greater detail about where the boundaries of Bristol should lie. But answer came there none.

The hon. Member for Kingswood offered no illumination; we were deeply disappointed. It is clearly a case of one general handing over to another, but neither gave the command—

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

One corporal to another, surely?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I am being charitable. I am always willing to over-promote Opposition Members.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras went on about how wicked all these boundary notions were. We are not changing Bristol's boundaries, because the commission did not recommend such a change, but we have said that the Boundary Commission will be invited to look at anomalies in the boundary.

I would, however, ask the House to imagine what the hon. Gentleman would have said if, contrary to the commission's recommendation, we had changed the local boundaries. Imagine the hon. Gentleman's Miltonic indignation—the peals of thunder that would have emanated from him—had we interfered with the commission's recommendations on boundaries. Yet all the hon. Gentleman's indignation today was because we did not interfere. I should be interested to learn from him in what circumstances we ought to interfere and when we should not interfere in the matter of boundaries.

The hon. Gentleman said directly that he believes that there should be a significant widening of Bristol's boundaries. I understood him to say that it should follow consultation with the people of Bristol. I should be interested to know whether he has any plans to consult people outside Bristol, and to find out where they think the boundaries should be. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to consult all involved. I have an inkling that the answers will not be unanimous.

Photo of Mr Michael Stern Mr Michael Stern , Bristol North West

Such consultation did take place. The result was an overwhelming negative in terms of Bristol. It is clear that that does not matter to the Labour party.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The Labour party's technique is clear. There are many Opposition Members who wish to see unitary authorities. They bring their delegations to us to ask for unitary authorities. Many local Labour leaders want to see unitary authorities. They come and ask for them. The Labour-led local authority associations also want to see unitary authorities. They say, "Please can we have more unitary authorities?"

There is a great deal of private canvassing for unitary authorities. The only thing that Labour will not do is to be seen to vote for unitary authorities. Labour wants them, pleads for them and leads delegations to ask for them, but it wants to have it both ways. That is arrant hypocrisy. If Opposition Members believe in something, they should put their money where their mouths are, along with their votes in the House. They do not do that. That is dishonourable, and I hope that their electorates note it. I commend the order to the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 290, Noes 202.

Division No. 83][8.00 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Boswell, Tim
Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanBottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Bowden, Sir Andrew
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Bowis, John
Alton, DavidBoyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Amess, DavidBrandreth, Gyles
Ancram, MichaelBrazier, Julian
Arbuthnot, JamesBright, Sir Graham
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Ashby, DavidBrowning, Mrs Angela
Atkins, RobertBruce, Ian (South Dorset)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Burns, Simon
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)Burt, Alistair
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Butcher, John
Baldry, TonyButler, Peter
Batiste, SpencerButterfill, John
Beith, Rt Hon A JCarlisle, John (Luton North)
Bellingham, HenryCarlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bendall, VivianCarrington, Matthew
Beresford, Sir PaulCarttiss, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnChannon, Rt Hon Paul
Bonsor, Sir NicholasChapman, Sydney
Booth, HartleyChidgey, David
Churchill, MrHicks, Robert
Clappison, JamesHiggins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHoram, John
Coe, SebastianHordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Colvin, MichaelHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Congdon, DavidHowarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Conway, DerekHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnHunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Cormack, Sir PatrickHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Couchman, JamesHunter, Andrew
Cran, JamesHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)Jack, Michael
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Day, StephenJenkin, Bernard
Deva, Nirj JosephJessel, Toby
Devlin, TimJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dicks, TerryJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenJones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dover, DenKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Duncan, AlanKilfedder, Sir James
Duncan-Smith, IainKirkhope, Timothy
Dunn, BobKnapman, Roger
Durant, Sir AnthonyKnight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Eggar, Rt Hon TimKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Elletson, HaroldKnight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)Knox, Sir David
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Lamont Rt Hon Norman
Evennett, DavidLawrence, Sir Ivan
Faber, DavidLegg, Barry
Fabricant, MichaelLennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Fenner, Dame PeggyLidington, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lightbown, David
Fishburn, DudleyLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Forman, NigelLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Forth, EricLord, Michael
Foster, Don (Bath)Luff, Peter
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
French, DouglasLynne, Ms Liz
Gale, RogerMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gallie, PhilMacKay, Andrew
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMcLoughlin, Patrick
Garnier, EdwardMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gill, ChristopherMaddock, Diana
Gillan, CherylMadel, Sir David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMaitland, Lady Olga
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMalone, Gerald
Gorst, Sir JohnMarland, Paul
Grant Sir A (SW Cambs)Marlow, Tony
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grylls, Sir MichaelMates, Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynMawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Hague, WilliamMerchant, Piers
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchibaldMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Mills, Iain
Hampson, Dr KeithMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hanley, Rt Hon JeremyMitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hamam, Sir JohnMoate, Sir Roger
Harris, DavidMonro, Sir Hector
Harvey, NickMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Haselhurst, AlanNelson, Anthony
Hawkins, NickNeubert, Sir Michael
Hawksley, WarrenNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Hayes, JerryNicholls, Patrick
Heald, OliverNicholson, David (Taunton)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidNorris, Steve
Hendry, CharlesOnslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelOppenheim, Phillip
Ottaway, RichardSweeney, Walter
Page, RichardSykes, John
Paice, JamesTapsell, Sir Peter
Patnick, Sir IrvineTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Patten, Rt Hon JohnTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Pawsey, JamesTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethTemple-Morris, Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Thomason, Roy
Porter, David (Waveney)Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Powell, William (Corby)Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rathbone, TimThornton, Sir Malcolm
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnThumham, Peter
Rendel, DavidTownend, John (Bridlington)
Renton, Rt Hon TimTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Richards, RodTracey, Richard
Riddick, GrahamTredinnick, David
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmTrend, Michael
Robathan, AndrewTrotter, Neville
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)Twinn, Dr Ian
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Viggers, Peter
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame AngelaWalden, George
Ryder, Rt Hon RichardWallace, James
Sackville, TomWaller, Gary
Scott, Rt Hon Sir NicholasWard, John
Shaw, David (Dover)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Waterson, Nigel
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Watts, John
Shersby, MichaelWells, Bowen
Sims, RogerWheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Whitney, Ray
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Whittingdale, John
Speed, Sir KeithWiddecombe, Ann
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Willetts, David
Spink, Dr RobertWilshire, David
Spring, RichardWinterton, Mrs Arm (Congleton)
Sproat, IainWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)Wolfson, Mark
Steel, Rt Hon Sir DavidWood, Timothy
Steen, AnthonyYeo, Tim
Stephen, MichaelYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Stern, Michael
Stewart, AllanTellers for the Ayes:
Streeter, GaryDr. Liam Fox and Mr. Michael Bates.
Sumberg, David
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Ainger, NickCaravan, Dennis
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Cann, Jamie
Allen, GrahamChisholm, Malcolm
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Church, Judith
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Clapham, Michael
Armstrong, HilaryClark, Dr David (South Shields)
Ashton, JoeClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Austin-Walker, JohnClarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Barnes, HarryClelland, David
Battle, JohnClwyd, Mrs Ann
Bayley, HughCoffey, Ann
Beggs, RoyConnarty, Michael
Bennett, Andrew FCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Benton, JoeCorbett, Robin
Bermingham, GeraldCousins, Jim
Berry, RogerCunliffe, Lawrence
Betts, CliveCunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Blunkett, DavidDalyell, Tam
Boateng, PaulDavidson, Ian
Boyes, RolandDavies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Bradley, KeithDavis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)
Bray, Dr JeremyDixon, Don
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)Dobson, Frank
Burden, RichardDonohoe, Brian H
Cabom, RichardDowd, Jim
Callaghan, JimDunnachie, Jimmy
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Eagle, Ms Angela
Enright, DerekMeale, Alan
Etherington, BillMichael, Alun
Evans, John (St Helens N)Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Miller, Andrew
Flynn, PaulMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMorgan, Rhodri
Foulkes, GeorgeMorley, Elliot
Fraser, JohnMorris, Fit Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Fyfe, MariaMorris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Galbraith, SamMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Galloway, GeorgeMudie, George
Gapes, MikeMullin, Chris
George, BruceMurphy, Paul
Gerrard, NeilOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Godman, Dr Norman AO'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Godsiff, RogerO'Hara, Edward
Golding, Mrs LlinOlner, Bill
Graham, ThomasPearson, Ian
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Pendry, Tom
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Pickthall, Colin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Pike, Peter L
Hain, PeterPope, Greg
Hanson, DavidPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hardy, PeterPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyPrimarolo, Dawn
Henderson, DougPurchase, Ken
Heppell, John
Hill. Keith (Streatham)Quin, Ms Joyce
Hinchliffe, DavidRadice, Giles
Hodge, MargaretRandall, Stuart
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)Raynsford, Nick
Home Robertson, JohnRedmond, Martin
Hood, JimmyReid, Dr John
Hoon, GeoffreyRobinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Hoyle, DougRooker, Jeff
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Rooney, Terry
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hutton, JohnRowlands, Ted
Illsley, EricRuddock, Joan
Ingram, AdamSedgemore, Brian
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)Sheerman, Barry
Jackson, HelenShore, Rt Hon Peter
Jamieson, DavidShort, Clare
Janner, GrevilleSkinner, Dennis
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)Soley, Clive
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)Spellar, John
Jowell, TessaSteinberg, Gerry
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldStrang, Dr. Gavin
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)Straw, Jack
Khabra, Piara SSutcliffe, Gerry
Kilfoyle, PeterTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Liddell, Mrs HelenTaylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Livingstone, KenTimms, Stephen
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Tipping, Paddy
Loyden, EddieTouhig Don
McAllion, John
McAvoy, ThomasTurner, Dennis
McCartney, IanVaz, Keith
Macdonald, CalumWalker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
McFall, JohnWalley, Joan
McKelvey, WilliamWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mackinlay, AndrewWatson, Mike
MacShane, DenisWicks, Malcolm
McWilliam, JohnWiliams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Mahon, AliceWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Mandelson, PeterWise, Audrey
Marek, Dr JohnWorthington, Tony
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Wray, Jimmy
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)Wright, Dr Tony
Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Martlew, EricTellers for the Noes:
Maxton, JohnMr. Stephen Byers and Mr. Jon Owen Jones.
Meacher, Michael

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 9th February, be approved.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Secretary of State

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have given notice to the office of the Leader of the House that I intend to raise a point of order. You will be aware that the business this evening is somewhat unusual in that we have three one-and-a-half-hour debates. It is therefore perfectly reasonable for Ministers, in exceptional circumstances or when something urgent needs to be said, to come to the House to make a statement without interrupting the flow of business. I therefore wonder whether you have had any response to the request made earlier by my hon. Friends that the Secretary of State for Health should make a statement to the House about the increase in prescription charges, which has been announced by way of a written answer.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

That is not really a point of order for the Chair. As far as I am aware, the Chair has not been notified of any Government intentions whatever.