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Column 919but I just cannot see why we had to interfere with the two-tier structure of local government in North Yorkshire, which has worked extremely well. It is England's largest county.
The Association of District Councils encouraged all its members to opt for unitary status, even though it must have been patently obvious that most were unlikely to succeed on their existing boundaries. Of course, it is subject to caveats, which I am sure that Labour Members would want to tell me about. Both Labour and Liberal Democrat policy is to have unitary local government. That was a further encouragement.
On the Local Government Commission's recommendations, the proposal for a North Riding authority was seen and will for ever be seen as a sick joke. It was not the North Riding of old--nothing like it. What was proposed was a unitary authority, measuring 100 miles from its western boundary to its eastern boundary on the edge of the North sea, in the south-eastern corner of my constituency. The commission had the audacity to say that that would bring local government closer to the people. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in Yorkshire people can see through that kind of nonsense, and in this instance they did. It was in regard to public opinion surveys that local authorities in North Yorkshire made their greatest mistake. When it was patently obvious that we would end up with a mess, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and I had warned from the start, what did the authorities do? They embarked on opinion surveys in an attempt to prove that what people wanted was a York unitary area extending to the ring road rather than to the six-mile greater York boundary. That has been the cause of all the trouble. We battled to save the county council, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary for State deserves credit for having listened to our arguments and pleas. I feel that he has received much unjustified criticism.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby said that it was not possible to hide behind the skirts of the Local Government Commission. It seems to me, however, that debates such as this are really about boundaries rather than the principle of whether Yorkshire should be a unitary area. We heard last week--and again today--that Bristol and Hull should have wider boundaries. It is extraordinary to oppose the commission's proposal for Hull because the boundaries are too tight and then oppose the York order because they are too wide, as the Labour party is doing. That is sheer humbug and hypocrisy.
All that the Minister can say with his hand on his heart is that the commission recommended the boundaries for Hull and York--subject to the five parishes that he took out at my request--and he accepted its recommendation. In that regard, I differ from my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby. Why did the commission recommend a bigger boundary for York? It was because it was not a viable unitary authority with its existing boundary. That is undoubtedly true: everyone knows that the boundary is too tight.
I believe that we could have taken more of the villages out, but there has been no cohesive agreement among all the local authorities on what the boundary ought to be. All that people say now is, "Leave the boundary where it is." York city council, however, argued for the ring road boundary month in and month out throughout the review. Anyone who considers what it would mean for local
Column 920government in York will realise that the ring road boundary would represent the worst of all possible worlds, not least because the three very successful comprehensive schools in southern Ryedale are just inside the ring road but most of the children who attend them live outside it. That is no basis for a sustainable education policy.
I have a heavy heart tonight. We have ended up with the mess and unpopularity that some of us predicted. Perhaps we have not argued against it strongly enough since the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but it was clear to many of us that the die had been cast, and that--given the controversy about the review in other parts of the country--it would be extremely difficult to change my right hon. Friend's mind about York being a unitary authority at all. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows full well, however, I asked him about six times if he would change his mind. This is a massive leap in the dark. Will it work? Well, assuming that the order is approved, tomorrow morning we must start the process of making it work. There are a good many unanswered questions about education, social services, libraries and other financial matters that have not even been considered; there is much work to be done, and people of calibre must be elected to the new body to ensure that it does not prove to be the disaster that many of its opponents fear that it will be.
Tonight, however, is the time for me to reflect the views of my constituents. There is great anger in my constituency, and because of that- -although I shall go into the Lobby with the Labour party with a heavy heart, given that Labour opposes the measure simply because it did not secure the boundary that it wanted--I shall oppose the order.
When I arrived this evening, I expected the debate to be unique for two reasons. First, we were considering two orders jointly for the first time. I feel that that was an unfortunate decision, partly because it means that on average each order has been given rather less time than any previous orders. I am not sure why the Government have it in for Humberside and North Yorkshire, which seem to me to be just as important as other areas and should be given an equal amount of debating time--and that means considering them separately. Secondly, for the first time we are discussing an area part of which will be left as a two-tier authority but from which will be taken--if the order is approved--a main town or city that will become a unitary authority. Although this is the first occasion on which we have discussed such a case, no doubt instances involving other areas will be debated in the near future. However, this instance presents particular difficulties and we could have done with a full-length debate on it.
I have subsequently realised, however, that those are not the only two unique aspects of the debate. Another important aspect is that for the first time Conservative Members are speaking out against the Government's position, plainly and effectively. That must make your job rather difficult, Mr. Deputy Speaker: I understand that you like to call hon. Members alternately to put opposing sides
Column 921of the argument, but at present it seems that all the speakers oppose the North Yorkshire order, and that may well continue until the Minister winds up.
I will begin with the Humberside order, partly because I think that in many ways it is the easier one to deal with. One or two objections can be made to it, in particular the usual complaint about the first tranche authorities--that there was never enough consultation to establish what people really wanted, and it is therefore difficult for the House to decide how much support there is one way or the other. There is also the issue of staffing and the inadequacy of the compensation regulations. Although that issue has been raised before, it will count against the passing of the Humberside order tonight. There are, however, many points in favour of the order. One which has not been raised sufficiently so far is the possibility of long-term savings. It is clear from the commission's report that considerable savings could be made from the move to a unitary system, and that there will be a good and short pay-back term to compensate for the transitional costs which will inevitably be incurred. There is also strong evidence of popular support for the abolition of Humberside. Like Avon and Cleveland, it was an artificial creation to begin with; it has never been loved and there will be no shortage of supporters for its abolition. A MORI poll showed that some 64 per cent. of people in the area were in favour of unitary authorities in principle, and of the 19,741 direct responses to the commission some 71 per cent. favoured a unitary solution. That is a very good proportion.
North Yorkshire is a more significant case. Most of the area will remain a two-tier authority. The Liberal Democrats, however, are not necessarily against taking out a major town or city and making it into a unitary authority, if that is the right thing to do in a particular case, as long as we consider each case on its merits. The main argument tonight, therefore, is not about the principle of taking out one town or city and making it into a unitary authority, but about whether the boundaries suggested for the new York authority are correct or have been expanded too far. As has already been mentioned in relation to Hull, the arguments in favour of the new York authority are that the people who depend on facilities in York should be part of the authority which governs that city and should have to pay for those facilities. If we were to apply that principle all over the country, however, the boundaries of London, for example, would be extended well beyond Newbury. People all over the country use facilities in major towns and cities but are not part of the authority which directly governs those towns or cities. That is therefore a weak argument in favour of expanding the boundaries of York.
There are nevertheless a number of arguments against the order. First, a difficulty exists in relation to strategic services, particularly where a two-tier authority--this is a new point which has not been debated in the House before--surrounds or nearly surrounds a unitary town or city. The Government have not adequately argued their case to persuade us that such strategic services could be properly and effectively managed.
Secondly, fears have been raised, as mentioned by the Minister, that York city might not provide the necessary funding for the Yorkshire museum. The Government have not adequately answered those fears so far tonight.
Column 922Thirdly, the fear exists--here I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway)--that what remains of Ryedale district in particular and, to some extent, of the other districts from which portions are being chopped away, will be too small to be effective and will be greatly disadvantaged. I understand that Ryedale district will more or less be cut in half in population terms to some 46,000, which will make it one of the smallest districts in England, and the smallest districts face difficulties which may also harm Ryedale.
Fourthly--this has been mentioned several times and is the heart of the debate--there is the question of the gross lack of public support for the recommendations. Even the commission admitted that it could find only about 33 per cent. of people in favour of the expanded boundaries of York. The lord mayor has made it clear that he is against the order. The MORI poll made it clear that support for an expanded unitary York in a two-tier Yorkshire stood at only about 8 per cent.--a minimal level for the Government to put the order through. In addition, 64 per cent. of the population outside the ring road preferred to remain outside the new boundaries for an expanded York.
A significant level of feeling exists against the order. It is no surprise, therefore, that a number of Conservative Members representing seats in the area have felt it necessary to tell the Minister that they cannot support him tonight.
Overall, Liberal Democrat Members will support the people of Humberside in their wish to see Humberside abolished. I am sure that that is right. We shall be watching with interest to see which Labour Members support the people of Humberside, who want the order to go through tonight. We shall also be supporting the people of North Yorkshire, who do not want the order relating to their region to go through tonight. We shall be voting against that order and we shall be interested to see which Conservative Members join the hon. Member for Ryedale, who has clearly made his intentions known, in voting against it, too.
The hon. Member for Ryedale, however, blamed local councils for having failed to persuade the Government to change their mind on the order. With a Government who have a technical minority in the House, he should have been able to ensure that enough hon. Members voted against the order to make sure that it fell. The people of North Yorkshire will not lightly forgive a Government who have turned their back on the wishes of local people, especially if--as I hope will happen--hon. Members who were elected to represent their views refuse to support the Government in the Division Lobby tonight. The people of North Yorkshire will doubtless be watching carefully to see how those representatives vote.
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes): I assure the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) that I shall be speaking with enthusiasm in favour of the abolition of Humberside. I came to the House 16 years ago. I was adopted as a prospective parliamentary candidate in south Humberside 19 years ago. There has not been a day of my waking life in that incarnation when I have not railed against the existence of the county of Humberside. I accept that honourable people of all the political parties serve and have served for the benefit of the people who live in that region, but the institutions, which I readily accept were wrongly set up by my party some 24 years
Column 923ago, were fundamentally flawed. The local people of Lincolnshire are divided culturally, socially, politically and economically by that great River Humber that separates us forever from Yorkshire. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are a Yorkshireman. You and the rest of your colleagues who come from Yorkshire recognise the pride that goes with being from Yorkshire, just as we from Lincolnshire recognise the pride that goes with being a yellow belly from Lincolnshire. One may throw hundreds of millions of pounds into fusing the East Riding of Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire together by means of the Humber bridge, but the River Humber ensures that that simply has not worked and never will work.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for coming to the decision that Humberside must finally go. When Minister of State in 1989, he rightly identified the fact that the people of Humberside did not like that county, and he instructed the old Local Government Boundary Commission to investigate the case for returning district councils back to their old county councils. In 1990-91, that commission recommended that the borough councils of Great Grimsby, Cleethorpes, Scunthorpe and Glanford should be transferred as district councils in the county of Lincolnshire.
Mr. Brown: I shall not give way. I have no disrespect for the hon. Gentleman, who represents very well the constituency of Glanford and Scunthorpe, but we are under pressure of time and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) took up nearly 40 minutes of time earlier, which has effectively cut the number of speeches in the debate.
In my constituency, great support existed for those recommendations in 1990 -91, which I put to the Local Government Boundary Commission. But Glanford, Scunthorpe and Great Grimsby borough councils thought that there should be unitary authorities. I accept the likelihood that Great Grimsby borough council and Cleethorpes borough council will work together well as an entity. Although friendly rivalry exists between Grimsby and Cleethorpes, we must acknowledge and accept that the region has local cultural institutions and that it can work, whichever political party is elected by voters. It will be possible for local people to have confidence in the institutions that will be created in Grimsby and Cleethorpes.
The people of Glanford and the borough council there want to have a unitary authority with the borough of Scunthorpe and the Isle of Axholme. I opposed that originally. We should have had district councils in the county of Lincolnshire, but I accepted their wish. There is some feeling, which my hon. Friend the Minister touched on in his speech, that electoral arrangements have not yet been correctly sorted out. However, I accept, although Glanford borough council does not, that if we refer the matter back to the Local Government Commission, we shall not pass the orders in time for elections to take place this year, and so we shall not get rid of the wretched, dreaded and hated Humberside county council next year. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) was right to identify the case for the unitary authority structure. I accept that county councillors on all
Column 924sides of Humberside county council have played their part as best they can, in the finest tradition of public service. My point is that the institution of the county council was fundamentally flawed. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North was good enough to recognise that the city of Hull wanted, deserved and will now get a unitary authority. I am not sufficiently well versed in the local argument about boundaries and it is for the hon. Gentleman, and the hon. Members representing neighbouring areas, to make representations about that. The fundamental structure seems to make sense in Hull, Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes. In Glanford and Scunthorpe there should also be the opportunity for a good working relationship that will operate effectively.
I want to see the word "Humberside" expunged from the English language. I never again want to hear anybody refer to the airport in my constituency in Lincolnshire as Humberside airport. I never want to switch on my radio and listen to a thing called Radio Humberside. Once we have expunged that word from the English language, we shall have to ensure that the airport is renamed to reflect the desires and wishes of the local people. We want to have a radio station that will cover north Lincolnshire and north-east Lincolnshire but that is not referred to as Radio Humberside. I hope that the broadcasting authorities at that station will listen to my words or at least broadcast them to the people.
In 1992, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, "Whoever heard of Len Hutton turning out to play for Humberside?" My hon. Friend the Minister --he has been my good friend over many years and was a good and forthright Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment--understands local government and the problems of local government in my area. At long last, it falls to him to make this announcement, which will lead to him being the toast of north Lincolnshire and north-east Lincolnshire when we pass the order at 16 minutes past 10 o'clock.
Humberside has never been popular in my constituency. There is no support for that county. There is the prospect of an excellent working relationship between Cleethorpes and Grimbsy. One must recognise that it is impossible to get from one part of my constituency to the other without going through Great Grimsby, a town for which I have the highest regard. Great Grimsby's football club ground is in Cleethorpes. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and I are great supporters of that football team and we recognise that there is a closeness of community between the two councils. I was delighted when I heard that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, even if he cannot bring himself to vote in our Lobby, will not vote with his hon. Friends. I pay tribute to the sincere way in which he has stood up for the interests of Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes in this debate.
The sentence of death has been hanging over Humberside for far too long. It is time to carry out the final execution.
York city council as it currently exists is an outstanding local authority. Since Labour gained control of the council 10 years ago, it has been a leader and has been
Column 925acknowledged as such by the Government. It invented the citizens charter--it was the first public body to introduce it --which became the Prime Minister's flagship policy during the election. That policy has since faded from the Government's policy objectives, but not from the city council's.
It would be nice to believe that the debate and vote tonight would focus not on whether the Conservative party or the Labour party would gain from this local government boundary change but on whether it would make for more effective local government. The question of effectiveness was addressed by the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) in an Adjournment debate in July last year. He said:
"One of the best ways of ensuring that local government is effective is having local authorities that people identify with and feel committed to."- -[ Official Report , 7 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 559-60.]
In a written question that the Under-Secretary answered last week, I asked how many people had made representations to the Minister's Department in favour of the Government's proposal for York and how many were against. Thirty individual members of the public have written to the Department of the Environment expressing support, compared with 1,066 who have written in against the proposal. Among local authorities, none have supported the Government's proposal and seven have come out against. Among parish councils, none has come out in favour of the Government's proposal and 26 have come out against. Among all the other organisations that have made representations, only one has supported the Government's proposal. In total, 31 individuals or bodies support the Government and 1,114 have made representations telling the Government that they have got it wrong. The Secretary of State said that he is in favour of creating authorities with which people can identify and to which they feel committed. That is not what he is doing in north Yorkshire with this order. Last week, the Department of the Environment replied to the Yorkshire Local Councils Association, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) is vice-president. The letter said:
"Ministers recognise that there are pockets of strong local feeling against extending York's boundary".
Because an official wrote that letter, I can say what the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) could not say when he attributed those words to the Minister. That statement is a lie. There are not pockets of opposition, there is massive opposition from every single one of the wards beyond the York city ring road which are being forced against their residents' expressed will to join the city of York.
The ward beyond the ring road that came closest to voting in favour of joining the city of York was Haxby. In the referendum run by the Electoral Reform Society, 43 people in that ward voted against moving into York and three voted for. More typical was the ward of Wiggington in which 102 people voted against being absorbed into the city of York and none voted in favour. Another was New Earswick and Huntington in which 199 voted against and none voted in favour. Those figures were endorsed throughout the greater York area by a referendum carried out independently by the Electoral
Column 926Reform Society, in which more than 80 per cent. of the local population said that they did not want to be included in York. One ward only, which my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) mentioned and which is on the border of York, voted in favour of amalgamation with York.
The Government's decision shows contempt for public opinion in north Yorkshire and it ignores the requirements of the Local Government Act 1992, which, in a written answer in November the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), described as follows:
"The Local Government Act 1992 requires the Local Government Commission to have regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities . . . Public opinion is one important test of this."--[ Official Report , 2 November 1994; Vol. 248, c. 1151. ]
In another place, in a debate on the Cleveland order last month, Lord Ullswater, said:
"In all the tests of public opinion the four unitary option has been more popular than the existing system".
He used that to argue for the four-unitary option and, quoting a press release, said:
"It really is time they accepted the decision of local people".--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 23 January 1995; Vol. 560, c. 960.]
The expression of view from local people in north Yorkshire is far clearer than ever it was in Cleveland. It is high time that Ministers applied their own dictum to their own actions and reflected public opinion.
The Government's proposal is inconsistent with decisions that they have taken in other parts of country. York is the only authority in the country to be given unitary status on extended boundaries. In every other case where a unitary proposal has been endorsed by the Government, it has been on the existing boundaries of one or more than one local authority.
Nor is it the case, as the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, that York, in its existing boundaries, would not be viable as a local authority. The following authorities, which all have broadly the same or smaller populations as the present city of York, have been given unitary status: Bedford, Reading, Slough, Hartlepool, Torbay, Poole, Darlington and the Isle of Wight. Rutland has unitary status with a population of 33,400 people.
Mr. Bayley: With respect to the Minister, I am not confusing them at all. I said that, of the Government's proposals, not one has been similar to York, where the Government have combined an existing local authority with bites of two or three other local authorities. That has not happened in any other case. The York decision is inconsistent with all the other decisions that the Government have brought to the House.
The Under-Secretary said that the five parishes, which the Local Government Commission said should be included in Greater York, but which he decided should be excluded, were significantly different from all the other parishes and wards to be included because of their rural characteristics. Shipton parish, which has been excluded by the Minister despite what the Local Government Commission said, has a population density of 0.87 people per hectare. Kexby parish, which the Minister said should
Column 927be included because--presumably--it does not share the same rural characteristics, has a density of 0.12 people per hectare. It is seven times more rural than the parish that the Minister has excluded. The comparison between rural wards and urban York is quite staggering. The rural wards as a whole have about the same population density as the five parishes which have been excluded: 1.02 persons per hectare. In urban York, the present city area, the population density is 35.29 people per hectare.
The Government are simply picking and choosing parishes and wards for their own purposes. The Government's proposals for north Yorkshire as a whole and for the city of York ignore--indeed, fly in the face of--the Local Government Commission's proposals, they are inconsistent with the Government's decisions elsewhere and they are incompatible with public opinion--
Mr. James Cran (Beverley): I am very pleased to rise to support the Humberside (Structural Change) Order, although not without--I must make it clear--a little hesitation, because I think that my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary realises the opposition north of the Humber to the last-minute decision to include Goole in the proposed East Yorkshire county council. None the less, I support the order simply because I have to recognise what most of my constituents have been saying for some considerable time, indeed, ever since I was elected--that they are simply opposed to the entity called Humberside county council.
I cannot quite match the colour and malice brought to the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), but he was absolutely correct. There has been absolutely no loyalty to Humberside county council. I have discovered that all my constituents relate not to Humberside county council but to the borough of Beverley. If asked, most of them seem to think that the borough of Beverley has heretofore delivered all the services that Humberside county council is said to deliver. That simply shows that my constituents would really have liked single-tier, all- purpose local government based on the district and the borough of Beverley. Be that as it may, I entirely agree with the Opposition Members who said that the creation of Humberside was artificial. They pointed out that a Conservative Government were responsible for that artificial creation. That is absolutely correct. There is no doubt about the fact that the wrong decision was made then. It seems only fitting, therefore, that it is a Conservative Government who are undoing the wrong that was committed then.
Although Opposition Members may not like to hear this, I must say--
My constituents do not like the high-spending propensity of Humberside county council. My constituents consider themselves to be the paymasters of that council and they do not like it. Moreover, the political leadership of Humberside county council has been extraordinarily poor in the time that I have observed it.
Column 928However, I met the chief executive of Humberside county council in Central Lobby before the debate and I must pay tribute to the officers and staff of Humberside county council who have been of an extremely high order. I look to see the easy translation of most of them from the council we do not want to the one that we do want--East Yorkshire county council.
The Local Government Commission was absolutely right, therefore, to recommend abolition. I would have preferred single-tier, all-purpose local government based on the district with an expanded borough of Beverley, because that is what my constituents wanted and relate to. However, we will gladly accept an East Yorkshire county council and my colleagues in Beverley constituency will work very hard to make it a success, whereas Humberside county council could never be made a success.
I agree with the Local Government Commission, which said that there will be substantial service improvements. In particular, I am looking for improvements for my constituency in education. When I examine the county council's decisions, I discover that most capital spending on education goes not to my constituency but to most of the constituencies south of the river. With an East Yorkshire county council, I would expect more capital spending on education in my constituency.
The reform is worth while and extremely popular in East Yorkshire and I particularly want to thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), because he has been perfectly willing to listen to all opinions. His door has been open to me and to my colleagues from Beverley. I particularly thank him for the fact that he rejected the expansionary tendencies of the city of Hull.
I noted that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) tried to sow a little discord by saying that there was to be a rather larger view of the boundaries of Hull. I believe what the Minister said. He said that the review of the boundaries is to be a minor one and not major. We look forward to that occurring fairly quickly.
The great city of Hull wanted the suburb of Haltemprice so that Haltemprice could act as the paymaster for that great city. I am delighted that the Government have rejected that idea.
All this said, my hon. Friend the Minister will be expecting me to say that there is just one cloud in an otherwise cloudless sky. He knows that I do not understand the Secretary of State's decision to include Goole within the boundaries of East Yorkshire county council; nor do my constituents. That was not recommended by the Local Government Commission--for good reasons, which other hon. Members explained.
As hon. Gentlemen said, before 1974 Goole was in the West Riding; it has never been in East Yorkshire. It is separated from that area by the River Ouse, and has little, if any, community of interest with East Yorkshire. It is, of course, an industrial port, and a successful and good one, but East Yorkshire consists of market towns and rural areas, so there is little community of interest.
Column 929I remind the House that in the first two drafts of the order Goole was not included within the boundaries of East Yorkshire county council. On 8 February, the Secretary of State changed his mind "in the light of representations received."
Mr. John Greenway Yes.
Mr. Cran: I note what my hon. Friend says. But all I ask the Minister is: from where did those representations come? That is all that we want to know in my constituency. What was said? I hope that the decision did not stem from a threat of judicial review by Selby. The position has been at least partially retrieved by the Secretary of State's decision that there will be a review of the boundaries between Goole and its neighbours. That must be done in as short a time as possible, for reasons that have already been explained by others--the uncertainty and instability not only for East Yorkshire county council but for the good people of Goole. Where are they to go? Clearly that has to be decided quickly. Will the Minister say a little more about the timing, and the how and when? Once the Boundary Commission has made recommendations, whatever those recommendations are, how will they be implemented and when?
In summary, for I must be close to my time limit, I shall support the order because I want to see an end to Humberside county council. I say that with no malice; I simply think that it has not worked. None of my constituents looks to it for services, and I want the riding of East Yorkshire to be reinstated. I would, however, repeat that we should like a speedy decision on where Goole will go, and when.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): Most of what we are debating is another example of Tory folly, in which the Minister comes to us, without an apology or admission of error in any respect, to reverse a Conservative Government policy of 25 years ago--the Peter Walker memorial system of government. Peter Walker came to us as a penniless barefoot refugee from the City, where he had been Jim Slater's dog walker, to reform the whole system of local government. He imposed a new structure on us in Grimsby, not only against our will but against the wishes of the people on the south bank, and brought the two banks together as if they were leftover bits of a jigsaw puzzle, into a Humberside county that we never wanted in the first place. Grimsby Labour party, and Grimsby's present Member of Parliament, have provided the only consistent voices in the whole debate. We have consistently said that power should be returned to unitary authorities on the south bank and that Humberside should be dismantled, and we are the only people who have said that throughout.
Now, after 25 years, when the county has woven the two banks together and it is working well, when careers have been built on it and lives have been devoted to it, and when a whole series of people have worked well to build up a good authority, along come the Government saying, "We have changed our mind; we are going to scrap it. We have changed our mind on that issue, as on most other issues, and now we are setting out to destroy what we created in the first place."
Column 930I wonder how much the whole exercise has cost--the setting up, the running and the dismantling of Humberside after 25 years of Tory folly. The Government consistently say that they have no money for any useful social purpose, but they seem to have endless money to pour out to clear up the consequences of their own folly and misguided decisions.
The reform of local government has been a mess. It has taken place under Sir John Banham, who is a misguided missile--an Iraqi Scud missile--when it comes to decision making, and is reforming local government on a Yugoslavian model. Once again, Labour will have to clear up the mess by setting up unitary authorities and regional governments above them to give us an effective system of local government.
The reform has been a piece of wilful vandalism. It has not come from the desire of the Government to listen to the people, the desire to create efficient units or the desire to give the units optimum size. It is not a carefully thought-out reform, based on a full analysis. It is a piece of pure political prejudice, as all Conservative Members have been saying. They hate Humberside because it has been an efficient, Labour-controlled authority which has provided good services for the people of Humberside. Their real accusation against the council is that it has been Labour controlled and has done a good deal for the people of the area.
Look at Humberside's record on education. School budgets have been kept at 6 per cent. ahead of the standard spending assessment, which is why very few schools in Humberside have opted out. Social services, trading standards, development, transport, leisure, the police and the fire service have all done well in Humberside.
I come to praise Humberside, but also to bury it, because the expertise to which I have referred will now be dispersed. The reform is being carried out with the same Gradgrind, mean-minded and petty-minded brutality that typifies the Government. Some 36,000 staff have been treated abominably by the Government. They are getting not 82 weeks' redundancy, as staff involved in other local government reforms have done, but 66 weeks. The provision is only £50 million for all the areas, but Humberside alone calculates that its costs will be £25 million.
Too many costs will fall on the successor authorities, which will be crippled with a burden of debt. The successor authorities--rightly, in my view--have promised a 100 per cent. take-up of staff. Will the Government make a proper financial provision to allow them to carry through an effective transition? The SSAs will need to be revised appropriately to allow us to develop the same efficient and effective services which Humberside has provided. Only the Government can make proper provision for that. We do not want council services strangled by the council tax, which penalises any small increase in expenditure by a much bigger increase in council tax. On top of that, the council tax has a capping system which cripples local authority spending. We cannot maintain the same quality of services unless the Government work with us and help us. It will be impossible to carry through an effective reform of local government while trying to cripple local government spending in the way in which the Government will do with their stringent controls. If we have unitary authorities--and I want them--they must be allowed to
Column 931live up to the high standard set by Humberside by working with the Government. The Government must help them, and not try to strangle them. The relationship between central Government and local government should be one of co-operation, and not a war. We should not have the litany of blame which central Government impose on local Government.
I have been consistent, as have Grimsby Labour party and Grimsby council, in wanting a unitary authority. In my evidence to the commission, I asked for exactly what we have got, and it was very good of the commission to reproduce my evidence as its report. That was a sensible move on its part and it was the only sensible part of the report, I might add. Grimsby council, Cleethorpes council, all political parties and the people want this unitary status for our area.
I could even vote for the order, despite the fact that the Opposition are on a 2.75 line Whip, which is known on this side of the House as the Hartlepool Whip. I could vote for it, were it not for the fact that it has been done in such a mean, nasty and Gradgrind way by the Government. As it is, I shall abstain, but I shall abstain enthusiastically because we are getting what we wanted in Grimsby and Cleethorpes. We are getting a Lincolnshire identification, we will have control of our own destinies and we will have an intimate and accountable unit of local government which is close to the people and is well-served by good councillors. We have the benefit of starting out with huge good will, which Humberside never started out with. As a unitary authority, we are moving up in the world, Mr. Deputy Speaker--up to the big league. This is professional stuff.
In Grimsby and Cleethorpes, we are certainly moving up to face the challenge of providing the same quality of services that Humberside provided to our people and trying to do better than Humberside. It is a challenge--an exciting opportunity. After 20 years of being run from somewhere else, we are able to take control and to be masters of our own destiny, which is a very exciting prospect.
If the Government let us carry this through effectively, we will take control and we will serve the people. We want to co-operate. That is why it is important for the Government to co-operate and allow us to carry through the logic of what they are imposing in the order.
Together, Grimsby and Cleethorpes, will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of Peter Walker's funeral pyre, which we are igniting tonight. We will rise, and it is more than time that we did, so let us go forward together, building on Humberside's achievement, but doing better.
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate): I find it confusing to follow the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) because, on the one hand, he says that he has got what he wants but, on the other, he is not prepared to vote for it. That seems rather two-faced.
When the review began in September 1992, views from local authorities and other interests in Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire were canvassed. By December of that year, the draft recommendations in the consultation reports were produced for further consultation. Those were published in June 1993 and at that stage we went through an "unprecedented consultation programme", to quote the concluding report of the local government commissioners.