|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 932That consultation exercise ran through until September of that year and residents, public bodies, local authorities, Members of Parliament and the Audit Commission were consulted. In total, the Local Government Commission heard from about 36,500 residents and received 4,500 letters. Also, 8,000 questionnaire forms were returned and 150,000 leaflets delivered to various people. In a sense, that canvas was disappointing, because the figures are not especially large for the areas and the number of people concerned.
As the debate on what sort of future local government would have grew, especially in North Yorkshire, I must agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) that it was felt that there was pressure for unitary authorities to be established. That was not initially the case, but it became the order of the day at a later stage in the second consultation process.
In short, local councils, such as my own Harrogate borough council, not unnaturally voiced themselves vociferously for becoming unitary authorities. Similarly, North Yorkshire county council--threatened by the unitary authority process--lobbied for the status quo. I got the impression that councillors and council officials were lobbying for their own benefit and survival. I do not doubt that that was the case.
At that stage, my position was that we had to listen to what people had to say and that we should move to a different form of local government only when it was proved that the local people demanded a change and knew what they wanted.
Significantly, the striking signal that the report of the Local Government Commission reiterated was people's reference--again and again--back to the ridings. The report states:
"In north Yorkshire there is a very strong affiliation with the Ridings (and an even stronger one with Yorkshire as a whole to which 55 per cent. of respondents feel they belong very strongly)." Without any question of a doubt, I sense that to be the case. The report continues with a reference to community identity and interests and says:
"However, the strength of feeling towards both Yorkshire and the Ridings informs the Commission's approach to reviewing local government structures north of the Humber."
Having listened to all that opinion, the Local Government Commission got it hopelessly wrong at that point. Its proposals for Harrogate were for a merger, as has been said earlier, into unitary status of the districts of Craven, Harrogate, Selby and Goole, taken from Boothferry district, to be named the "West Riding (Dales and Vale) of Yorkshire". There was universal condemnation and ridicule, and I shared in that. No one in his right mind could conceivably have come up with that suggestion. Similarly, the North Riding unitary authority never got off the ground and was never acceptable. Today's order results from strong representations for the status quo, retaining as it does North Yorkshire county council. One receives little thanks from North Yorkshire county council for battling on its behalf at the time that the proposals were made. We have spent a great deal of time discussing the expansion of the city of York, but there is a good case for the new York authority to be a unitary authority. The question arises of where its boundaries should be. The proposal is that the areas of Nether Poppleton and Upper
Column 933Poppleton, which includes Rufforth, Hessay and Knapton villages, in my constituency, should be taken into Greater York and the new authority.
My opinion about that has always been that we needed to listen to what people had to say. It was interesting to read the results of the MORI poll, because it revealed that, in the village of Nether Poppleton, 46 per cent. of people questioned were in favour of merging into Greater York, whereas 35 per cent. preferred the status quo. The next-door village of Upper Poppleton differed, a margin of 6 per cent. wishing to be outside the new York authority--46 per cent. for the status quo and 40 per cent. for joining Greater York. Leaflet responses in both those areas were in favour of the status quo. We must ask ourselves why people did not want to merge into York. I do not think that anyone has considered what rankled with those people that made them want to stay where they were. Some wanted to go in and some did not want to go in. It has not been determined whether that was because they wanted to get away from Harrogate borough council or whether it was because they felt an affiliation with the schools, the shopping and the employment and a natural affinity towards York as a result of being so close to the boundary of York. I have a sense that there is a fear that, by being part of Greater York, those people will be engulfed and the character of their villages will be snuffed out by future development, which will involve them in a great urban sprawl. Of course there are green- belt areas and there is protection, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give further evidence that urbanisation of those areas will not take place. They must be protected from that awful sprawling factor.
The Secretary of State adopted the opinion, at a later date, that the name of North Yorkshire county council should be changed to the "County of the North Riding of Yorkshire". In a sense, he was reflecting the county of the East Riding of Yorkshire, and I thought that it was a reasonable idea. In fact, the chorus of disapprobation that resulted was as loud as it might have been if we had overnight decided that North Yorkshire county council should be done away with. Instead of that, one was suggesting that an extra name be added to the title.
Let us bear in mind the fact that a riding is defined as the third part of a shire--after all, it would be the second part of it--and the ridings were established by the Danes in the latter half of the ninth century. The word derives from the old Norse word for the third part, "thrithing", which became "riding", and the term remained with us until the reorganisation of 1974. It therefore appeared quite a reasonable thing, did it not, to want to use that terminology to put back the historic character that had distinguished North Yorkshire? North Yorkshire county council reacted in an incredible way. The chief executive issued a personal press release, headed
"Riding roughshod over a million pounds".
The chief executive reckoned that the change of name would cost £1 million. Anyone in his right mind would have asked, "Has the council gone out of its mind, even to contemplate paying such a large sum?" That included signs and the livery of approximately 1,000 vehicles, which could have had a sticker for £30 or a total respray
Column 934for £2,000. Clearly, the figure was raised for political reasons to embarrass the Government and get rid of the name "riding". Many people will, when they come to think about it, regret that. If a change is to be made, it is done sensibly by natural wastage, replenishing stocks where necessary, and as cheaply as possible. Nobody expected North Yorkshire county council to change its name to North Yorkshire Riding council overnight. That orchestration has lost us the character and attractiveness that distinguishes North Yorkshire from other local authorities in the rest of England. Last year, the York museum had 110,000 visitors and the previous year it had 256,000 visitors, only 3 per cent. of whom came from York. However, it receives £600,000--
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): I do not represent an area directly affected by the proposed change and therefore speak from a different perspective. I spent 12 years as chairman of the Yorkshire and Humberside Development Association and played a part in the economic development of Humberside as part of the Yorkshire and Humberside region. My role was to work together with members and officers of Humberside county council on the acquisition of inward investment.
When the Minister listed where the powers would go and the arrangements that would be made, he omitted to mention economic development. I did not learn whether he had discussed with his hon. Friends at the Department of Trade and Industry their reaction to the proposals and I therefore do not know what arrangements will be made for the maintenance of a service that has proved valuable, for the working of the region as a whole and to Humberside county council. That matter is important and the debate gives me an opportunity to say that I agree entirely with my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) about how this process is being carried forward. The orders are clearly political and intended to give political dividends. In the distant future, an attempt will be made to change the boundaries of York and make life more difficult for the Labour party. In the same way, my hon. Friends were right to say that Humberside is now to be abolished for the same reason as it was created--to give electoral advantage to the Conservative party. We must look at the practical consequences of that.
I was interested to see the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) bounce up and down in his condemnation of Humberside and anxiety to see the word eradicated from the English language. He is in the habit of bouncing up and down like that. I saw him do so when the Kimberly-Clark investment was announced. He and the Prime Minister claimed credit for that investment and he has raised the issue a couple of times at Prime Minister's Questions. As I was chairman of the YHDA at the time and worked with officers of both Humberside and the development association on that inward investment, I know that the hon. Gentleman had nothing to do with it, but Humberside county council had everything to do with it. It must be recognised that Humberside was a successful authority, particularly in the area of economic
Column 935development. Recently I met a group of business men in Hull who showed no great enthusiasm for the abolition of the county council. As members of the chamber of commerce, they made it clear to me that they believed that Humberside county council had done some valuable work in the area of economic development.
The work of the YHDA in co-operation with Humberside county council has resulted in some notable inward investment successes in north Yorkshire and Humberside. Kimberly-Clark was originally interested in sites elsewhere in the region. Soon after we met its representatives, they said that they were interested in sites in Yorkshire but not elsewhere in the UK. The company located in Humberside in part because of the success of the county council in preparing and marketing a suitable site. Those successes should be recognised widely.
Citizen is another well-known company name in Humberside. That company located in Scunthorpe from Japan largely because of the work of the development association in partnership with Humberside county council. There have been a number of successes of that sort, and I pay tribute to the single-mindedness of the officers and county council members involved in that work.
I experienced the abolition of the metropolitan authorities, and I think it is disgraceful that the Department of the Environment is now offering those staff who are leaving county councils much worse terms and conditions than were offered to staff when the metropolitan authorities were abolished. That is an insult to the staff who have served local government very well.
What arrangements will the Minister make to accommodate future inward investment? Inward investment is co-ordinated by the Department of Trade and Industry. As a development association which was funded by the DTI, we were encouraged to ensure that we forged effective partnerships with each of the authorities in our region. When the metropolitan authorities were replaced with separate district councils, it made our job more difficult because we had to enter into new partnerships.
Although one may have worked with the district councils in Humberside and north Yorkshire, it is difficult to weld together a partnership which involves a number of authorities. The development association moved from four to 11 authorities, and it will now be asked to encompass an even larger number of authorities. That will certainly make life more difficult.
The Minister failed to take into account the effect of the estuary. It makes a great deal of sense to plan strategically for the Humber as a whole. Whatever the historical or political case--that is the real determinant--may be, there is no good strategic planning case for splitting the estuary geographically. Economic development follows strategic planning, and there is some logic to a Yorkshire and Humberside position. Many of the exporters from west and south Yorkshire use the Humber ports. The county council played its part in developing that port complex which is enormously important to the successful promotion of our area overseas. I ask the Minister: what strategic bodies will consider the Humber estuary as a whole? The south Humber is particularly attractive to industry. There is plenty of space, a relatively clear environment, good road facilities and no great density of traffic. All those factors bring companies to the area and have been part of the marketing strategy of the association.
Column 936Are the present responsibilities of the regional development organisations likely to remain the same? I believe that they are most effective as they are at present and disrupting them will certainly hinder the process of inward investment. Those questions have not been answered.
I shall vote against both orders as they are primarily political. The order for Humberside will destroy a council that is working effectively in many ways, particularly in economic development. 9.40 pm
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): It is fair to say that when Humberside county council was set up in 1974, it was based on a flawed idea by a Government who could not resist meddling in local issues and local government without thinking them through properly.
In 1972, I was a student at Hull college of education. I recall being called in by the principal, Dr. Cyril Bibby, who told us all as student leaders that we should oppose that ill-thought-out reorganisation and what it would do to local services. Yet it went through in 1974, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) made clear.
Many people have invested a great deal of time, money, energy and commitment to making that authority work. Humberside county council has a great deal of which to be proud in terms of the quality of its services and what it has achieved in inward investment, and that should not be underestimated when discussing an order which brings it to an end.
It should also be recognised that Humberside county council has a great deal of support from various parts of the community. It has not been mentioned tonight that young people who were born in Humberside and have an affinity with Humberside identify with it. The business community did not want change; it felt that it worked very well for business. The voluntary sector did not want change either; the county council had tremendous support from the voluntary sector and local clubs and societies.
Humberside has delivered good, cost-effective, high-quality services, particularly in education, which many people, even its critics, recognise. When the last boundary commission undertook a review of Humberside, it did not recommend that Humberside be broken up. Although it acknowledged that there had been a job to do in trying to develop loyalty to the county, it paid tribute to the work of Humberside county council.
The decision of the Boundary Commission was overturned by the late Nicholas Ridley at the Conservative party local conference in Bridlington. His actions were based on sheer spite and malevolence. He thought that by announcing that he would refer back the recommendation of the Boundary Commission, he would win votes for the Conservative party. His objective was winning control of Humberside county council in the forthcoming local government elections. That started off the entire reorganisation. It was picked up by the then Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire county council, which made a pre-emptive bid to absorb the whole of the south bank into Lincolnshire and from that we were locked into a local government review which culminated in the Local Government Commission led by John Banham and all the problems that came with it.
Column 937We shall now have four unitary authorities in the area. I am not saying that there is no case for unitary authorities. There is an argument for unitary authorities; there is an argument for change in local government and my own local district council of Scunthorpe has a proud record of achievements. It has pioneered comprehensive education and sixth-form colleges. It has certainly been a model for industrial regeneration and attracting inward investment. Certainly, my local district council has a great deal of which to be proud and I am sure that it has the expertise and experience to make the new authority work.
Nevertheless, there are a number of serious problems with this order which have not been properly dealt with tonight. The first to which I draw attention concerns representation. The new North Lincolnshire authority is supposed to have 42 councillors to represent the amalgamated Scunthorpe borough council, Glanford borough council and the Isle of Axholme. Those 42 councillors are to replace the 100 or more sitting district and county councillors, but I do not believe that 42 councillors are sufficient adequately to represent the area.
It is also reasonable to suggest that there should be a full review of the re-warding of the new authority. I accept that it cannot be done before the shadow elections in May, but it has been a very long time since there was a re-warding in the area and the problem of re-warding in rural areas in particular needs to be considered. Incidentally, I am disappointed that the recommendation for the new authority did not involve elections of one third of councillors every year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) suggested. There has been long-standing support for that notion, especially in Scunthorpe, which has always operated such a system. I personally believe that such elections for local government should be the norm rather than the exception.
I intervened on the Minister in respect of planning. I listened carefully to what he had to say, but he must be aware that the original recommendation of the Local Government Commission, in its report of June 1993 entitled "The Future of Local Government from the Humber to the Wash", was as follows:
"There is a high level of inter-dependence between the districts straddling the Humber Estuary and this needs to be reflected in an appropriate planning structure . . . the Commission accepts that there is a need for structure planning to be maintained at the level of the existing Humberside County area."
What has happened to that recommendation? What sudden change has occurred which means that the planning structure has to be based on a north bank- south bank basis? There is a strong argument for an estuary-wide structure plan, preferably based on the old county council area. It is not clear exactly what guidance the Minister intends to give the new authority to deal with it.
Although it is all right to say that there can be consultation between local authorities, issues of structural planning often lead to major differences of opinion between localities and consultation is not enough. There has to be strong and effective structural planning. The irony is that the argument has been partly accepted in the sense that the police authority area is to be retained on a Humberside basis. The same is true for the fire authority area, so I do not understand why the structural planning
Column 938area is not to be retained, as recommended in the original report. The Minister should pay extra attention to that point.
Let us consider the difficulties involved in the transfer of services, especially specialist services that are delivered on a county-wide basis. The years of smooth and effective co-operation between schools and institutions are to be swept away. That is a matter of great concern to the National Union of Teachers and other teaching unions and to local government unions such as the GMB. As has already been said, the transfer arrangements for the staff are also entirely unsatisfactory. It is unfair that, in previous local government reorganisations in the metropolitan areas, staff were given far more generous redundancy packages and transfer arrangements than are being proposed for Humberside. It is also unreasonable to treat local government staff far worse than civil servants.
I deal now with Goole, which certainly seems to get around in terms of being transferred from area to area--it is clearly a cosmopolitan kind of place. I would welcome Goole into the proposed new North Lincolnshire area. Clearly, it is a matter for the people of Goole to decide, but the Minister should take into account the parliamentary boundary of the new Brigg and Goole seat which will encompass Goole. The health authority is currently called the Goole and Scunthorpe health authority, so they are linked in that respect, too; the education division is based on Scunthorpe and Goole; Goole was in the Humberside police authority; and the Isle of Axholme is in the Goole travel-to-work area. So I think that there is a strong case to be made for transferring Goole to North Lincolnshire, if that is what the people of Goole want. I am sure that they will make their views known on that.
If the order goes through tonight, I want to see all that has been good and successful in Humberside transferred to the new authorities, particularly the North Lincolnshire authority. I must emphasise that there has been much support for Humberside. There is not unanimous opposition to Humberside. Ironically, the strongest pockets of support, as measured by letters and opinion polls, are on the south bank. The reason why there is strong support for Humberside, both at its creation and at the present time, is that people on the south bank remember what a bad deal they got from the old parochial and mean-minded Conservative-controlled Lindsey county council. That is why I believe that if people want to maintain high-quality services--all that is good about Humberside--they cannot do it through any kind of agreement. The only guarantee for that is a Labour victory in the forthcoming shadow elections.
Mr. Dobson: With the leave of the House. There has been a good debate about the past of Humberside and the future of unitary authorities, which is to be welcomed. It reflected a great deal of local knowledge, and clearly there were divisions of opinion, but I remind the Minister that, unless I misunderstood the speech of the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), there was not a single speech in the House in favour of the extension of the boundaries of York--to what is preposterously referred to as Greater York. That reflects the views of all the local authorities and Members of Parliament in the area, of whatever
Column 939political complexion, and clearly represents the views of the bulk of the people living outside York in the outer ring beyond the ring road and, in some cases, well within the ring road.
On the standard that the Government have laid down for themselves in the past--that, for any proposition to go through, it must be popular with local people so that the council will command their support--the proposition fails in relation to Greater York. It is equally obvious that all those who seek election, and the officers of the local authorities who will be the products of that, will do their best, but in the circumstances we should be giving them better boundaries within which to do their best, and we should wish them well in their task.
Mr. Robert B. Jones: With the leave of the House. I confirm what I said to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley), who asked me earlier about the sheriff. He was expressing some doubt as to whether my first answer was correct. I can confirm that that is the case. When the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said that we should maintain what is best and pass it on to the new authorities, he spoke for the whole House. Indeed, that was enhanced by his hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who said that he wanted the new authorities to do better than the outgoing authorities. Whether we think that it is one or the other, I am sure that the consensus is that we want to see local government providing good, cost-effective services and being responsive to the people of the area.
That apart, the debate has revealed that local government reform divides all parties. That is clearly true on the Conservative Benches, from the speeches of my hon. Friends about the extension of the city of York; but it is just as true of Labour Members, and we heard the views of the Jacobins, from the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Great Grimsby, who wanted to sweep away the authority which they thought should never have been created in the first place and which was a mistake; of the Dantonites, who wanted unitary authorities, but did not quite want them on the present boundaries; of the remnants of the ancien re gime, represented by the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell); and of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe, who saw merit in what Humberside county council had done.
It is almost impossible to understand how the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) can come to the House and say that he is in favour of extending the boundaries of Bristol, even though the commission did not recommend it, and that he wanted to extend them at the behest of the people of Bristol, but not with any regard to the people living outside the city. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North came along with exactly the same proposition about the boundaries of the city of Kingston upon Hull, saying that people who take advantage of the services in that area, who use the libraries, the schools, the leisure facilities and so on, should be within the city of Kingston upon Hull, but that somehow that argument could not apply to the city of York.
Column 940Mr. McNamara: The hon. Gentleman applies that argument to York, but not to the other places involved. It is he who is being inconsistent.
Mr. Jones: I am applying the test of what the commission recommended. Opposition Members would kick up a pretty row if the Government extended or contracted boundaries against the commission's recommendation: they would soon say that we were up to some political shenanigans.
The city of York has dominated the debate. The solution recommended by a number of Opposition Members is what my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) described as the worst of all possible worlds: the ring road. The ring road not only breaches the boundaries of parishes, but leaves outside it some of the parishes that are most urban and most dependent on the city of York. Anyone who looked at a map of the city, or visited it, would see a continuous built-up area that extends beyond the ring road in a number of directions. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras illustrated that with respect to Fulford, saying that someone in Fulford would not realise that he was anywhere other than York. I think that that is true.
Mr. Jones: No. I am trying to reply to a large number of hon. Members, but time will prove the truth of what I have said. Other hon. Members have rightly said that Goole is a difficult issue. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe, for example, presented some of the arguments for it to be linked with the new Glanford and Scunthorpe authority. He probably advanced those arguments to the commission; he certainly presented some of them in a letter a copy of which he kindly sent to the Department. There are links, in that the Isle of Axholme and Goole work together in the Boothferry authority, but there have been links between Goole and the rest of Boothferry under the present Boothferry authority, and it was Boothferry borough council that argued that the two should go together into East Yorkshire.
There are arguments for Goole to be linked with Selby and the other river towns in part of what was the West Riding. It is also argued that it has links with the metropolitan borough of Doncaster to the south. I think that the only way of achieving a solution is for the commission to examine the matter specifically, consulting the people of Goole and presenting the Government with a recommendation. We want that to be done speedily. I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran), who raised the point, that we shall ask the commission to consider the issue as quickly as possible: that is essential to the local authority's planning procedures, and for staff to know where they are.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale raised the problems of the rump Ryedale, as it might be called. Even as a rump, Ryedale is not the smallest of non-metropolitan districts. I have every confidence that the leadership of the authority will do a very good job in running the remainder of Ryedale, but my hon. Friend raised a valid point when he pointed out that only 23 councillors were left. As I said in my opening speech, we think that that problem also should be resolved.
Column 941On Friday 17 February, the Yorkshire Evening Press summarised the issue of York. I think that it hit the nail on the head. It said: "The danger is that the self evident commonsense of having one authority running the affairs of York is lost in the melee of councillors and MPs who are too busy jumping on a bandwagon of their own making to take a clear-sighted view of the situation. Anybody would think that the absurdity of the existing set up is worth preserving, and absurd it is that people who live within two miles of the Minster should find themselves in Harrogate borough or Ryedale district or ruled over from Selby, and that all of them should have their overlords in a North Allerton based county council." That newspaper hit the nail on the head. That is why I commend both orders to the House.
Question put :--
The House divided : Ayes 283, Noes 243.
Division No. 90] [9.59 pm
Column 941Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Bowden, Sir Andrew
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Bright, Sir Graham
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs Angela
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)