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5.53 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I had not intended to speak in the debate until last night when I saw many names down to speak, but not many from Berkshire. I believe that to date we are running at "two all" as regards the residents of Berkshire. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff of Chieveley, and the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, have spoken in favour of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, have made powerful speeches in favour of the Government's proposal.

I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, have lived for 30 years in Berkshire in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. I support the creation of the six unitary authorities. I have been consistent in my support of the abolition of Berkshire County Council and I see no reason to change now.

Why did I so decide? The county council proposed its own abolition, uniquely as the Minister said. Was it uniquely naive? I do not believe so, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, has shown. The district councils and all the MPs concerned also supported the abolition. Before finally making up my mind I consulted the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Your Lordships will agree that there are a good many issues on which they disagree but they were united in their support for the proposed change to unitary authorities and in their conviction that Berkshire was ideally suited and capable of making a success of it.

The Local Government Commission proposed the abolition of the county council and local people supported that. As the Minister said, it is the county council and not the Royal County of Berkshire, which is to go. I entirely understand the feelings of my noble friend Lord Palmer. I had the greatest respect and fondness for his father, who was Lord Lieutenant, and for his mother, who is now Deputy Lord Lieutenant. However, as noble Lords have said, Berkshire has changed radically since 1974. We are not abolishing the Royal County. It is interesting that the most ardent local pro-Berkshire campaigner, who has been writing to many of your Lordships, is writing to restore the county's historic boundaries pre-1974. It has nothing whatever to do with the unitary authorities.

People, very understandably, have been concerned about the ability of six smaller authorities to keep and deploy specialist facilities to meet particular needs. I am, however, very impressed by the close co-operation between the six districts. I know that they plan to maintain the specialist services, with lead authorities running particular facilities and services and providing them on a contract basis to the neighbouring authorities. I do not have the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, nor of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, but I should like briefly to describe my experience of collaboration at a local level in Windsor and Maidenhead to meet the needs of people with disabilities. That gives me hope and confidence in the development of local solutions.

I wish to talk about the Windsor and Maidenhead Users Network (WAMU). It comprises a group of disabled people, of which I am a member, and carers

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and their families can join in. It was set up to support and encourage the participation of disabled people fully in the life of the community. Among other things, it issues information and advice and ensures that disabled people receive the support and services they need. It also advises the local authorities on what disabled people need. For example, it advises the borough's access group. In partnership with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, it runs the shopmobility scheme, which provides powered wheelchairs for disabled people who want to go shopping. It is establishing a nursery/garden centre to employ disabled people on the site of a former local council nursery. One of WAMU's aims is helping to plan and effect the transfer of services to the new unitary authority.

Last night when I decided to take part in the debate I consulted Peter Field, the chairman of WAMU, on what is happening in other districts. He stated that from a user point of view, provision varies. To date, there is no active user group in Wokingham. However, Bracknell, like WAMU, has at least one councillor as an active member. Newbury has close ties with the authority and is particularly strong in the social service arena. Reading and Slough also have good communication lines and Slough is bidding to become involved with shopmobility, as has WAMU. Peter Field states:


    "This is only the beginning. The Berkshire Disability Forum, the umbrella group co-ordinating the work and development of the groups, is determined to retain a wider geographic base to ensure that equality of service is maintained and that services do not suffer as a result of splitting up the providers.


    Much has been accomplished over the last twelve to eighteen months which has provided a much better platform to ensure that the impact of decentralising services will either be lessened or at least will be recognised and brought to the attention of those who can correct the situation".

Peter Field is a level-headed, retired businessman. Many years ago he had polio. He is severely disabled and needs an electric wheelchair to move around. Therefore, he is very much a user of social services within the royal borough. He states:


    "I think things have now moved way beyond any reasonable argument in favour of retaining the status quo, and all energy should now be devoted to looking forward and making sure that all those with a contribution are heard and their views, if relevant, taken into account".
I totally agree. We must move forward. We must get the new system operating and ensure that key skills remain to meet local needs.

I greatly respect the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. He was extremely persuasive--he has a magical way with words--but I urge your Lordships to support the Government, to support the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who have spoken with a wealth of experience and local knowledge, and allow the six local authorities of Berkshire to get on with the job.

Lord Elton: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Aldington, I have two reasons for speaking. I am so sorry, I am out of turn. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Lindsey and Abingdon.

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6.1 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. Like the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, I live in Scotland and therefore have no material interest in present day Berkshire. However, in the past my family owned land both in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. My reason for speaking today is that I have retained an active interest in the town of Abingdon, where I take part in various local authority functions.

There is one point I should like to correct. My noble friend Lady Flather said that Abingdon was the county town of Berkshire until 1974 when it was transferred into Oxfordshire, together with Wantage and Farringdon, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. The historical fact is that Abingdon was the county town until the 1860s, when the county offices were transferred to Reading due to the rapid expansion of Reading at that time with the coming of the Great Western Railway, and industrial expansion.

I was very interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart--although I do not agree with all that he said. He mentioned one of the main reasons for there being so much confusion over Berkshire at the moment. The county council has been criticised unduly, because it has been in a state of confusion for the past 20 years since the reorganisation of local government in the 1970s when it lost northern Berkshire, as the noble Lord pointed out. I do not, however, agree with his point as to why that has happened. The county of Berkshire as it is presently constituted can manage as a single county council so long as the uncertainty which has been behind its troubles for the past 20 years is resolved.

I have nothing against unitary authorities. However, I must disagree with my noble friend the Minister who said that they would not result in an increase in rates and taxes. The only way a small unitary authority can carry out its duties, without having to go to central government for funds, is to increase taxes.

I therefore support my noble friend's amendment to leave the status quo as it is, and which provides that the people of Berkshire--who are the most important people to consider under this order--should be consulted again.

6.5 p.m.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I rise with trepidation having risen once, too early, to see whether the noble Lord, Lord Burnham--whose name I correctly deleted from the list--was about to rise in the same way as my noble friend, whose name I accidentally deleted, and to whom I apologise.

Like my noble friend Lord Aldington, I rise to speak for two reasons--one personal, the other logical. The personal reason is that I support my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who, at the outset, I thought was heavily outnumbered. I am not so sure now. My logical reason is that I believe that he is right.

My reasons for saying so arise from an experience different from that of other noble Lords. I took part in the principal legislation relating to this matter, and in the legislation relating to Wales, in particular. I had a

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slight interest in the legislation for Scotland. We are now reaping the fruits of that legislation and I shall revert to it.

Only three reasons have been advanced in the debate for opposing my noble friend and supporting this Motion. The first is that the people have not been consulted. My noble friend Lord Peyton suggested that the Conservative Party, to which we both belong, had an urgent need to return to its roots. He started, incidentally, with Noah's Ark and went via the Tumbrels to get there, so the roots go a long way back. But where are our roots? Our roots are in the electorate of the United Kingdom. How are those roots to express themselves if not through their elected representatives? All seven of the elected representatives of the Royal County of Berkshire as it is now constituted supported the abolition of the county council. Six out of the seven specifically supported what is proposed in this order, and the other place let it through without a Division. I should have thought that that was an expression of the opinions of the roots.

But if you want to go further down you must go to the county councillors. At the outset, and for three years thereafter, they supported their own abolition, which is what is proposed in the order. They actually set it rolling. Or, if you want to go further down, you go to the district councillors. All the district councils are in favour.

As a House we give ourselves, if not airs, at least importance, as the defenders of democracy. Democracy has spoken. We now have an order to implement that voice, and it is opposed on the grounds that it is against our roots. That is misconceived.

Incidentally, my noble friend eschews referring to polls as a reliable source of opinion, but there was a reference--was there not?--to the MORI poll where 1,800 people were consulted. In the NOP poll--which was not carried out by the commission but was carried out for it by NOP--38,000 people were consulted, of whom 72 per cent. wanted to get rid of the county council. Every indicator that we have shows that, on the evidence given, the people want change, and change which involves the abolition of the county council--not of the county, but of the county council.

The second reason advanced for opposing the order and supporting the Motion is that it would be very expensive, complicated and inefficient to deliver services by unitary authorities which have hitherto been delivered by a tiered authority and by the county council.

Your Lordships may not realise it but we have been over this ground in a serious way on a number of occasions and we have always come to the same conclusion. We went over it in the Local Government (Wales) Bill. We went over it in the principal legislation for this Bill, and we went over it in the principal legislation for Scotland. I advanced that argument in two of those pieces of legislation, because, having been a Minister in the Department of the Environment and being interested in the delivery of local authority services, I have followed matters. I felt that there was merit in the argument that services would be less

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effectively and more expensively delivered by the small unitary authorities. This House overbore me on every occasion. Your Lordships have decided and you are now reopening an issue which has been decided.

That is my second reason. I would add to it by saying that what matters in the delivery of local services is immediacy. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, suggested that what mattered most about them was only their delivery in the home. What matters is when they do not arrive. What do you do then? You go to your member. Who is your member? Is he a member of a county council representing 7,500 people on average or do you go to a representative on the district council who represents 2,000 people on average? The district councillor is more than three times more likely to know you by name when you are in trouble. That must be a measure of the benefits which this order can provide.

The third argument which has been advanced is the emotional one that it is a Royal county. I notice that those who oppose the order use the term "Royal" much more frequently than others. It is an emotive term. But the county as it was constituted does not exist. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, pointed out that a great slice of it has disappeared into Oxfordshire. I do not believe that he mentioned that with it was taken Alfred's Castle and the White Horse which was the badge of the County of Berkshire. Other bits were stuck on at the other end.

The historical analogy breaks down. Even if your Lordships feel that in some way that persists, I ask your Lordships to remember that the Lord Lieutenancy and the Shrievalty will continue. I believe that my noble friend has a difficult task ahead. He started out well; I hope that he finishes it better and that the rest of you join me in the Lobby with him when it is over.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Teviot: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Elton. I support my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. Reference was made to my noble friend Lord Colnbrook. He did not wish us to have the situation which we have today. He hoped that this would all be dealt with long before your Lordships had to make this decision.

As regards the history of local government, it started off with a parish system and then there were the Poor Law units in 1834. The boroughs existed and then there were counties and rural districts and urban districts. In the 1970s, something had to be done. That was faintly disastrous. Everyone thought that it was going to be economic within five minutes flat; and it was not. It took a long time. Twenty years later, it has all been rather successful. The Royal County of Berkshire would have been better without the bits sliced off it, apart from the purlieus of Oxford, which would make sense.

This is all very expensive. Archives is the one subject which I know about. I know that it is not the most essential service in the world but it is a very important service. I am told that if County Hall is sold, a new archive will cost £5 million. I have sat here for 30 years.

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I can remember the late Lord Winterbottom asking a question of Lord Brockway when £100,000 was described as no bagatelle. I can assure your Lordships that £5 million is no bagatelle.

Archives is only one area in which there will be a great deal of expense. It will be dreadful; and to what effect? I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I thought that he was going to give a rather more stirring speech in support of Reading. I have listened to others who have tried to persuade me. I shall listen to my noble friend who might persuade me. The last part of my noble friend's amendment calls on Her Majesty's Government


    "to withdraw the order until such time as the people of Berkshire have had the opportunity to indicate support or otherwise for this position".
My noble friend Lord Elton dealt with the question of Members of Parliament very well.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Pender: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, spoke for 17 minutes. I shall speak for one minute. I support the amendment outlined so well by my noble friend Lord Peyton. One aspect causes me anxiety. What becomes of the associations and voluntary bodies who bear the county's name? Is it possible to have cohesion when associations such as the Red Cross, St. John's Ambulance and a myriad of others have to seek advice from six unitary authorities with six differing views compared with one central body of the county council? I am not suggesting that the spirit of those great organisations within the county may be broken but the prospect of clear, uniform thought is zero.

6.16 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to speak in the gap. The reason that the second Local Government Commission was set up was that the Secretary of State claimed that there was a lack of consistency and coherence if you looked at the result of the proposals of the first Local Government Commission. The proposals to break up one of the long-standing county councils surely represents an inconsistency.

Secondly, the tragedy of this whole process has been that the Government refused from the very beginning to discuss functions and finance. The process has been fundamentally flawed from the beginning. What we have heard this afternoon has been a sad, tragic catalogue of people criticising and attacking other tiers of local government than the one which they choose to support.

Democracy is too important for us to be trapped by the narrow perspective of the exercise which the Government began. I do not believe that this second look at the process with regard to the County of Berkshire has produced the consistency or coherence across the English county areas with which the Government charged the commission. I personally would be prepared to accept incoherence and inconsistency if I had been convinced that the people of Berkshire want that and want to pay for it.

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With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the Secretary of State for Wales and in particular, the Secretary of State for Scotland have had to admit that their costings for a change have been wrong. The Secretary of State for Scotland has had to find additional resources in order to prevent what was almost a revolt by the people of Scotland.

I believe that the people of Berkshire should have an opportunity to have a say, if they are going to be asked to pay for a change. At the end of that process, I, for one, would accept their verdict.

6.17 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I start by declaring an interest, as I did in the debate yesterday evening, in that I am a member of a unitary authority. It is a London borough. I have no geographical or family connections with Berkshire or any part of it.

I may say that my unitary authority runs education for a population of about 160,000, although referring to comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, I accept that we have imposed on us, because there is a matter of parental choice, the education of a number of children who live in an inner London borough and across the borough boundary. Therefore, to that extent our catchment is larger.

In previous debates on the various local government orders, I have made comments along the lines of, "We should not have started from here, should we?". The appropriate comment here is, "We didn't start from here". That is at the root of the whole confusion, and the material for the difficulties and in some cases I would say even almost ill feeling, which is a very great pity.

The county's original reaction, described as "naive" in its support for the process, should not be held against it. The Government may well feel that it has more than balanced its support by the actions that it has taken since then. But its original stance, on the basis that there would be a uniform pattern of unitary authorities, is entirely understandable.

I share with my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth the view that the Government should accept that there is nothing wrong in admitting to a change of mind. I must say that in introducing the order I felt that the Minister rather glided over the change in proposals since the joint submission was made by the county and constituent districts.

Comments have been made along the lines that almost anything would be acceptable to end the uncertainty. I understand that point of view. However, more than anything else, I believe that that is an indictment of the Government's having set up a process which, in retrospect, really cannot be supported; it is short-termism which I would not today support.

As my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood said, the Minister's introduction seemed to contain pretty good arguments for unitary authorities in a regional context--and, I would add, with widespread parish councils. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, commented

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on my noble friend's reference to quality of service. If I may speak for my noble friend, I believe that she would entirely accept that promptness of delivery is part of quality. Moreover, all of us who are members of local authorities should, in my view, be seeking to do ourselves out of a job as a court of appeal for those who are the recipients of services. I believe that the job of good local government is to ensure that the services are delivered well as a matter of routine, and not only if an appeal is made to a council member; in other words, to provide good quality overall, not individually.

I have often spoken of my concern that suitable arrangements should be made for strategic matters, including planning, transport, waste, minerals and so on. The points about Silicon Valley and the pressures for housing in the area are most important. However, to pick up a matter that I raised late last night on the Kent debate, it can at least be said for this order that it avoids the gap in legislation of which the Minister did not seem to be aware.

I regard the matter of ceremonial arrangements as less of a reason for concern. I was surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, did not claim the experience that her own borough must have in dealing with royal matters. It is, perhaps, a matter of routine and, therefore, she did not even think to mention it. It surprised me a little that, in another place, the Secretary of State said that people will still refer to themselves as coming from Berkshire. I am not really sure that that is an argument for anything; but that seemed to be his response to the point.

In my view--and I stress that this is my view--these proposals are good in parts. For example, the character of Newbury is rural and more westward looking than the other parts of Berkshire, while the areas of Slough and Reading quite clearly have their own urban centres; indeed, they have an urban character. I cannot say the same for Wokingham. I hope that its citizens will not think it pejorative if I say that it is substantially commuter land for Reading. It is quite a different sort of authority. That is why, as I said, the proposals are good in parts.

I should also say that I have been very impressed by the co-operation which has been shown by the district councils, which I believe have dealt with the proposals and plans most calmly and professionally. Quite clearly, they are already undertaking much work jointly. However, those are my views; they are not the views of the people who will be affected. We do not know what those are.

If the Government really had serious thoughts about the kind of slapdash polling that the Minister described--where the outcome depends on the question--they had no business not to ensure that the guidance to the commission required professional and objective polling. Comments have been made on polling this afternoon which have compared quite different types of poll. Indeed, polls which involve a relatively small number of people, undertaken in this instance by MORI, are not the same as NOP polls or questionnaires sent out to large numbers of people. I have made the

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point before and, although I have no brief to defend pollsters, I must say that good polling does not depend on numbers.

There has also been mention of cost. In my view, it is not just a matter of the costs of transition and the extra costs which may be incurred by a unitary solution. I am very conscious that, in addition to those costs, there are also the uncosted person hours that have been spent in responding to what has been happening. I believe that that is understandable. The main point on cost is probably the overall loss of cash to local government services. It is from such services that the payment for this farrago--I believe that that is the word that has been used--has come.

I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who referred to the question of function. We should, perhaps, have started by addressing the issue of what local government should do. In my very early days in your Lordships' House, I remember debating that issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who has come into the Chamber today to listen to the debate. That was my first Bill. Indeed, had we first addressed function, then perhaps the issues of structure would have been easier to deal with.

I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, quite simply because of the failure to consult on the proposal which is the basis of the order. I regard that as a real failure. There has been comment about those who have come to your Lordships' House this afternoon to put, in some cases, a very personal perspective. However, that is the nature of this House. Whatever the outcome, I should like to use the occasion to thank both members and officers of all the authorities concerned, who must have had an extraordinarily unsettling and difficult time but who I have no doubt have been doing their best to continue to provide good services. I end with a plea that none of the authorities is served an unremitting diet of either Karl Marx or Jeffrey Archer.

6.26 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, on these Benches we oppose the amendment and support the orders. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I emphasise briefly two points made last night in the Kent debate. First, since 1974, the Labour Party has broadly supported the principle of unitary authorities. We have done so because we believe that they offer a more transparent, "getatable" and accountable form of local government in which important services are not splintered between two tiers of local government. We know that that splintering generates confusion.

Reading District Council carried out its own survey in 1994. It found that 28 per cent. of the people of Reading thought that Reading provided education: it does not. It also found that 30 per cent. of the people thought that Reading provided social services: it does not. Finally, it found that 52 per cent. of the people thought that Reading provided libraries: it does not. What does accountability mean? How does any library user in Reading hold Berkshire County Council responsible for its library services if it believes, wrongly, that Reading Borough Council provides the libraries?

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The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said that, although the county council may be remote, services were nonetheless locally administered and delivered. I do not believe that local administration is a satisfactory substitute for local democracy. That is perhaps the difference between our points. A two-tier structure generates confusion. Moreover, in my view, it undermines the competence of local government to meet the major challenges facing it in the decades ahead--for example, the issues of care in the community and of economic regeneration. How can local government deliver the best services for the public when, in response to the needs of care in the community, housing is the responsibility of one tier and social services another? Some of the most fragile and most vulnerable people in our society may fall in the gap between the two.

It is precisely for that reason that tomorrow afternoon, on the Third Reading of the Housing Bill, we shall be moving an amendment with which I know the Minister will sympathise. Of course, he may think that it is unnecessary, but I do not believe that he will disagree with the purpose of the amendment; namely, to require housing and social services to co-operate in order to make the services under care in the community appropriate and effective. We have to move such an amendment on a housing Bill precisely because that co-operation is now not happening between two tiers of local government.

Equally, when it comes to economic regeneration, what sense does it make to have planning at district level, highways at county level, youth and community services at district level, education and training at county level, and economic development run by both at the same time? Who knows who does what? How can you ensure a seamless service when officers duplicate each other, run side by side, send letters to each other and spend most of their time trying to co-ordinate with each other? That cannot offer competent and value-for-money services to the public.

The first reason why we on these Benches support the order is that we believe that in most parts of the country, and certainly here, unitary authorities will provide more effective services. We also take a stand on the issue of wrecking or "fatal" Motions. We believe it is wrong to support Motions or amendments to statutory orders which effectively overturn the will of the elected House. It is not a matter of convenience but of principle. We have no problem at all--in fact we are delighted--if, on an amendment to a Bill, we can persuade your Lordships' House to ask the other place to think again. We do that whenever we can and whenever we can persuade your Lordships to support us. On rare occasions--sadly, too rare--we sometimes succeed. But when that other place has declared its intention, either on the first round or if necessary on the second, we defer to the hegemony of the elected House. That deference was reaffirmed by very many of your Lordships just a few days ago when we had that same constitutional debate. We, as a House of Lords, respect and defer to the authority, in these matters of statutory instruments and orders, of the elected chamber. To do otherwise would be for the unelected House to overrule the considered view of the elected House. The elected

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House, on this matter, did not have a single voice in dissent to the Berkshire order. There was a not a single vote against the Berkshire order. I think we should take the view of the elected House very seriously indeed and not seek irrevocably to overturn it.

I come now to Berkshire itself. First, the order does not abolish the historic county, as many of your Lordships have said tonight. It is the county that is historic, not the county council, which came into existence only in 1888. Before then the county was run by the lord lieutenant, the JPs in quarter sessions and the Poor Law guardians. The county council ran that county territory only until 1974. As the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, said, in 1974 one third--not a trivial amount--of the county jurisdiction changed county area. The Vale of White Horse and Abingdon went to Oxfordshire; Slough and Eton went from Buckinghamshire to Berkshire. A third of the territory of Berkshire is new or has changed since 1974. So much for the historic county.

The order abolishes the county council. That is not entirely surprising because, until recently, the council was trying desperately hard to abolish itself. As my noble friend Lord Stoddart said, in May 1992, before the review began, the county council said:


    "Unitary councils offer the best way forward for local government. The [county] council sees the benefits of such a system as one single point of contact for all the local government services the public needs; a single voice to represent areas; no opportunity for passing the buck between tiers of local government; the avoidance of duplication of effort; and therefore the opportunities for greater economies and efficiencies."
As the Minister said in his opening remarks--and it bears repeating--in their joint submission to the Local Government Commission the county council with the district councils said:


    "All councils, including the county council, recognise that unitary authorities are the best way of delivering services in Berkshire."

There has been much speculation in your Lordships' House as to why Berkshire County Council appears to have performed a volte-face over what was an unambiguous assertion that Berkshire County Council was in favour of unitary authorities and also in favour of its own abolition. Its policies changed when there was a change of leadership among the Liberal Democratic group 18 months ago. That leadership has a perfect right to change its views; I am not disputing that. The other parties, I believe, remained consistent and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said, Berkshire county administration has remained exceedingly--one might say excessively--fluid. I understand that committee chairmen have to be individually and separately elected at each and every committee meeting. It is not surprising that in that situation county policies have not been exactly consistent.

This reorganisation, on almost every test of opinion that I am aware of, commands wide public support, including the support of all Members of Parliament. The MORI poll has been quoted. That poll shows 69 per cent. of the people of Berkshire to be in favour of unitary authorities, 49 per cent. in favour of the reorganisation of the existing boundaries, and the rest split between "don't knows" and "opposed".

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The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, mentioned the opposition of voluntary organisations. I do not know whether it applies to Berkshire, but I know--I repeat, I know--that in many counties voluntary organisations have been clearly told that if they do not write appropriate letters of support for the county council to the Local Government Commission their applications for grant will not be sympathetically considered the following year. Those letters have subsequently been checked by county council staff--


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