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The Earl of Halifax: My Lords, I wish to add my voice to those of other noble Lords who support the Humberside order. In particular, I applaud the new authorities for the city of Kingston upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire, for no other part of Britain has greater cause to rue the folly of the 1974 local government reorganisation.
I can assure your Lordships that traditional loyalties to the East Riding are deep-seated and as strong as ever. The creation of a new East Riding unitary authority for the north bank will, I believe, establish a strong and effective single tier to work alongside the Kingston upon Hull authority, and will accommodate a strong community identity with Yorkshire and the East Riding. The proposed authority is perceived as a most welcome and sensible solution to a situation which has troubled us in Yorkshire for the past 21 years.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I am afraid that the debate is somewhat ragged due to having to take the two orders together. I desire to speak only to the North Yorkshire order and I strongly support the amendment that has been moved by my noble friend Lady Kinloss.
There is general agreement that the York authority should be a unitary authority. I venture strongly to support that. It brings government closer to the people who are affected by that government on the principles that were stated by the noble Baroness. As she said, it is in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.
So there is no question about the type of government: it is to be unitary. The only question is as to its boundaries. On that, there have been three main contentions. The first, not much urged, is that of the status quo, with the city remaining within its present boundaries. That has not been properly considered because the city council went for the second option, the expansion of the city up to the ring road. The third option is that which is now proposed by the Government under the name of the "Greater York area". That is nominally justified by the former strategic planning area of York. But even that is not consistently maintained because five parishes are taken away from that area. The Minister must in due course tell us the difference between those five parishes and the other rural parishes which surround York and which have been brought into the York area.
There is inevitably a certain amount of politics in these matters. It is impossible for any authority to proceed blindly and oblivious to the political repercussions of the decision. I suppose that the classic example of that is the old London County Council, which had a solid Labour majority that was distasteful to the Conservative Government of the time, so the idea of the Greater London Council was adopted, bringing into the government of London the surrounding suburbs and commuting areas. That was not a great success. The Minister will have to justify the difference between the Greater London Council and what may have impelled it, and the Greater York Council. What is the difference?
Those are the three matters that have been mainly considered, but there is a fourth which should be studied. I refer to adding to the existing York area two urban parishes which are in juxtaposition already. No one going from York City into those parishes would ever know that he was crossing a boundary. I think that I can appeal to noble Lords and my noble friends who have already spoken who know the area well.
I say that that should be considered, because we now have, as the order is before your Lordships' House, the opportunity to ask the Government to think again about it. We can very well do so because, after the order was approved in the other place, the Government decided to give fresh guidance to the Local Government Commission. They have altered the commission's personnel, including the removal of its chairman. They have decided to refer back to the new commission a great many matters that have already been discussed. What could be more appropriate than to do that in the case of York?
I mentioned the political implication. It is perfectly natural for the York City Council, which is a Labour-controlled council, to wish to expand to the York ring road. It would thereby not merely add to its rateable value, which, as I am sure the noble Baroness will bear me out, is difficult for any local authority to resist, but it would add also to its party political strength. I do not believe that any authority can be blamed for having some eye to the political repercussions. It is only because the proposal under the order is so extraordinary, so deplorable, that there are now dark mutterings about gerrymandering. One need not go so far, one can merely draw attention, as I have ventured to do, to what happened to the LCC and the GLC. No government or local authority has been blind to political advantage.
When I started in politics, Herbert Morrison was a master at the game. There was a far more recent example when a Labour Government, finding the parliamentary boundary commissions' recommendations contrary to their interests, merely laid the order before the House without, as was their constitutional duty, recommending that they should be accepted. So no government, no local authority, is blind to the political repercussions. I am therefore glad that the amendment has been moved from the Cross-Benches by my noble friend Lady Kinloss and supported by my noble friend Lord Bancroft.
The Minister rightly rehearsed the two main considerations which lie behind any local government reorganisation. The first is efficiency of service, and the second is acceptability to the local community. The Minister is to be congratulated on keeping a straight face as he enunciated that second consideration in the context of the order; but, even looking at the efficiency, it is said that York needs a bigger population. What is done? It is to be increased from roughly 100,000 to 170,000an increase of 7 per cent. But what about the area? That is increased 10-fold. What is the greater cost of delivering services in that greater area? I hope that the Minister will deal with that point too, because there are some figures which I have seen.
The most expensive, as well as the worst, of the three provisions which I mentioned is the so-called greater York provision. The least is the status quo. So much, then, for the efficiency of service. Why is it said that a city of 100,000 is too small to deliver efficient services? What about Rutland? That has only one-third of the population. What about Darlington, which was the subject of a decision at the end of last week only? If Darlington can do it, why cannot York do it? So much, then, for the efficiency of the service.
Even if that were a valid consideration, the scheme would fall down because it offends, and offends grossly, the second consideration: that the local authority organisation should be acceptable to the people who are affected.
My noble friend read the figuresthey are astonishingof the representations to the department: 1,066 individual members were against it, with only 30 for it; of the local authorities, seven were against it and none was for it. That included the county council itself. Of the parish councils, there are 26 parish councils and none was in favour. All 26 were against the proposal. Then there are the others to which my noble friend referred: 15 against and the odd other one in favour. I hope that the Minister will tell us from where the odd one came. So what one has is an order that does not justify itself on the score of better delivery of services, and fails utterly when one comes to consider its acceptability and whether the communities that are now to be joined are compatible.
Dr. Johnson said that marriages would be equally happy if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor. I am bound to say on the fate of this order, and perhaps being prejudiced, I would prefer a marriage to be arranged by the Lord Chancellor rather than by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The extraordinary thing is that among those who are sought to be married, every party is against it. The city council does not want the plethora of wives and concubines who are being pressed upon it by the eunuchs of Whitehallbecause what we have come to is a claim that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, and that is simply deplorable from a government who call themselves Conservative. Did the gentlemen of Whitehall know best in 1973-74? Did they know best about Humberside and about Avon? Why should we now believe that they know best about York? I hope that my noble friend will press her amendment. I hope that it will encourage the Minister to reconsider the matter.
Finally, the matter lies in the hands of the noble Viscount. He is in charge of the order, not his department. We had a notable example of that in the Criminal Justice Bill of last Session. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, a Minister of State like the noble Viscount, was faced with an amendment that sought to make touting outside games stadiums illegal, as it was outside football stadiums. His brief ended "reject". However, he yielded to the arguments. He knew that he would be defeated on a vote and he threw away his brief and accepted the amendment. I hope that the noble Viscount will follow his example.
I wish to make only two brief statements. First, the degree of unanimity as between the various levels of local government in their opposition to the boundaries of the proposed new unitary York is in my experience as a county councillor during the past few years quite unique. I believe that that, in addition to the results of the MORI polls carried out by the commission and the polls carried out by local organisations, should be taken into account and heeded.
Secondly, the proposal that York should extend to the ring road appears to offer the most economical solution net, as it were, to the change and to the establishment of a York city. I too support the amendment and ask the Minister to reconsider the boundaries of the new York authority.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I too am a Lancastrian by birth. The rivalry between the Red and White Roses, which I experienced during my childhood, in particular at Old Trafford, does not affect my judgment of the orders before us tonight.
My assessment is that Humberside is yet another authority which has not won the hearts and minds of its population. Again, as with the authorities that we waved on their way earlier this year, I pay tribute to the councillors and the staff. It must be remarkably difficult to work in an authority where one knows that the end is coming and where the county has not drawn together the communities in the way that was intended 20 years ago. I agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, about unelected government and the inherent problems for the new authorities in the Humberside area and for all the other authorities. I am grateful in particular to the right reverend Prelate for describing so vividly the feelings of the local community being tossed about at the whim of Whitehall. That is no way to go forward.
North Yorkshire is a different and significant case. It is clear that the proposed arrangements do not command support; indeed, they command articulate and loud opposition. Those inside the old boundary and those inside the new dislike the proposal. So do those in the rest of North Yorkshire. I too ask myself why the expansion is required. I drew the comparison with an authority in respect of which this House and another place has taken a decision; that is, Hartlepool. The current York has a population of some 101,000, but Hartlepool only 91,000. I agree with other noble Lords that size is by no means everything.
I was concerned to hear some of the reasons given for the decision that certain subjects would be better dealt with by an expanded York. The examples given included transport, planning and economic development. I believe that such strategic subjects need a wider area than the expanded York on its longest boundaries. I also believe that the suggestion that Whitehall knows best about the way in which local communities define themselves is extraordinarily patronising.
Some have accused the Government of gerrymandering. It is notable that tonight those accusations have come not from the party politicians in the Chamber but from the Cross-Benchers. My charge is, if anything, even more serious. By imposing a political boundary, I believe that the Government are alienating people from the political process and that strikes at the heart of democracy. I warmly support the amendment tabled by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss. If she divides the House I shall follow her into the Lobby.
At the same time as the expansion of York, Ryedale is to be halved. We have heard comments about that but I cannot help believing that the continuation of the provision of services by that authority will be a challenge.
Mention has been made of the museum. It is difficult to explain why, when matters as important as education and social services are being transferred to the new authority, the museum is not being transferred. Having heard the comments from those who know the museum personally and having heard that it is a centre of research, local history and archaeology and that it is run as a local museum and resource and not as a tourist attraction, I understand their anxieties about its future. The county council invested substantially in the museum, but before 1974 the investment by York was in the building and not very much in the exhibits. I understand the anxieties about downgrading the museum to focus on York alone. I believe that York's own submission indicated that it would concentrate on the city and would be likely to stop or curtail the innovative work of the museum.
I turn from the sublime of the museum to the gorblimey of car boot sales. That matter too is important and I raise it because I wish to ask the Minister about a particular piece of local legislation. Part III of the North Yorkshire County Council Act 1991 contains powers and duties relating to the control of occasional sales and dealers in second-hand goods. I understand that those powers are enforced strictly and have proved a considerable success, in particular in the York area.
In its passage through Parliament as recently as 1991, the Act was supported by the police and the trading standards department. Howeverand this is the problemArticle 5(1) of the order provides that the new district of York:
As a result of that, the North Yorkshire County Council Act is disapplied to York. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us how the 1991 Act's provisions can be re-extended into York and, indeed, why the department, which obviously considered a number of detailed matters, has not inserted a special provision to deal with that into the order before us this evening. Your Lordships will be familiar with the difficulties in relation to unregulated, second-hand salesin particular car boot salesand the need for public protection. I make no apology for raising that issue in the same breath as mentioning the difficulties in relation to the museum.
That sounds very dry, but the possible difficulties in relation to the divisions of responsibility may have major implications for the local community. For example, a community care plan must be submitted early next year. Not for some time will the new authority have a committee or officer structure capable of dealing with the process for the York area. I need not spell out the potential rivalries or the scope for matters falling between stools as a result.
Secondly, as regards Article 17, the debate on the Avon order dealt with the differences in the powers available before and after shadow elections. The Avon order allowed all existing authorities to take certain stepsthe steps which they considered necessary. It has been mentioned already that Article 18 of the Humberside order grants that power only to the transferee authorities and not to the transferor authorities. In North Yorkshire, the power is granted only to the transferee authoritythat is, the enlarged Yorkand therefore, by definition, it is granted only after the shadow elections. Will the Minister explain the implications of the different wording between the order this evening and the Avon order and the implications of the timings in relation to the making of the order and the elections for the powers of existing authorities in each of the three areas?
My final technical point is in relation to finance; namely, the proposed timescale within which continuing authorities with a changed area and unchanged functions may apply for supplementary credit approvals. That is more restrictive than the relevant timescale for new authorities or for continuing authorities with new functions. Unchanged function authorities may apply for SCAs for expenditure incurred from the date of the order up to the reorganisation date or, exceptionally, to the date at the end of the financial year which begins on the reorganisation date. But, in contrast, new function authorities have until the end of the financial year ending three years after the reorganisation date. That builds in a double incentive for the unchanged function authority to tackle the down-sizing which is required before the reorganisation date itself and out of
The second financial point is that the eligible costs for a continuing county with unchanged functions were regarded as very tightly drawn. The eligibility criteria for those authorities limit the expenditure to staff costs. I take this opportunity to draw to the Minister's attention other costs which seem not to have been recognised up until now. The examples of which I am aware are accommodation and technology. Quite simply, items will be in the wrong place and there are no guarantees that the county will be compensated adequately for the effect of the loss on its ability to provide the same services for its continuing population. The Government have yet to acknowledgeI hope that they will do so soonthat in principle it will be possible for the loss of an asset to a unitary authority to create new costs for the remaining county.
I apologise to your Lordships for going into detail on those technical matters but they become increasingly of concern as the debate goes on. I apologise also to the Minister for not giving him notice of those questions. I should be grateful if he would answer them this evening, but I understand that there may be some questions that he cannot answer. If he will answer those questions in writing, I shall seek the leave of the House to mention the points briefly at some time so that they can be put on the record in Hansard.
Lastly, reference has been made to last week's quite staggering announcement, and there is one question on that which I should like to ask which will be of considerable interest to your Lordships. It is in relation to new guidance. Will the Minister tell us this evening how the Government intend to consult on the new guidance which will be of immense importance to the new authorities whose future is still undecided?
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