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Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, in speaking briefly in this debate I confess that I have somewhat mixed feelings. For 23 years in another place I represented in turn Runcorn--much of which now goes into the new unitary authority of Halton--and Warrington South, much of which also goes into the new unitary authority of Warrington. I am aware of the views of the political leaders in the Warrington area and of their desires in this field.

On the other hand, I have a sense of sadness in that, like the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, having lived all my life in Cheshire, I have a strong regard for the Cheshire County Council. Like him I was one of those Members of your Lordships' House who wrote to the Secretary of State urging that in Cheshire we should retain the status quo. Like him, I welcomed Sir John's original proposals and still believe that the vast majority of people who live in Cheshire as a whole wished to see that status quo retained.

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Two points concern me. First, it is my genuine belief that Cheshire education authority is an education authority of an extremely high standard. The unitary authorities may not be able to provide the same width of services as Cheshire could. Secondly, I am concerned about the escalating cost of the reorganisation. Having said that, I realise, and repeat, particularly in relation to Warrington, that it is an extremely strong unit. It is an area, as the Member of Parliament for that constituency said in another place in a debate on the order, which has a strong community spirit. The two new towns have both been successful in encouraging inward investment into their areas. I have no doubt that they will do their best to make a great success of that unitary authority.

I believe that in relation to Halton the spirit of community between Widnes at one end and Runcorn New Town at the other may not be quite the same as that which applies within the borough of Warrington. Warrington probably never came to terms with Cheshire--at least I did not. I remember, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, remembers also, that just after our last local authority reorganisation it was said on the BBC that the Rugby League final would, as usual, be an all-Lancashire affair between Warrington and Widnes--some six months after Warrington and Widnes had been moved into Cheshire.

Cheshire is right to accept the decision that has been made. It has done so with good grace and it is clear, as the noble Lord said, that the areas are working together to achieve a successful handover of powers. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, I ask my noble friend to confirm that the Government will assist in any way they can. Though it was not necessarily my choice, I wish both unitary authorities well in the future.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful both to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and to my noble friend Lord Carlisle for the way in which they received this order. I appreciate too the sadness that they feel in that they felt that there would be no change and now there is to be change. For my noble friend who was a Member for a long while and has been associated with that part of the country for many years, any change of this kind is no doubt upsetting. However, I have no reason to believe--from what was said I am sure that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, feel the same--that the changeover will not be successful. I agree that Cheshire County Council behaved in a most plausible way and that bodes well for the future.

The fact that the second revisitation--if I can so call it--of the commission occurred is the same as for Berkshire: that there seemed to be inconsistencies across the country about some areas that were made unitary authorities and some that were not. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State asked the commission under the new chairman to look at 21 of those district councils to see whether there was any inconsistency. He found that nine district councils ought to be made into unitary authorities, whereas the others should remain with the status quo. I can understand therefore the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, saying that from his point of view it was a pity that that happened.

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I have no doubt that the new councils will do all that they can. Of course, as unitary authorities they will be a great deal closer to the people and do all that they can to serve those people to the best of their ability. Cheshire County Council's attitude since my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced the decision is to be much applauded. It has been constructive rather than obstructive and I thank the council for that. The bids for financial support will be sympathetically received. That cannot be a carte blanche, but we shall certainly listen to their problems and see how we can deal with them. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lancashire (Boroughs of Blackburn and Blackpool) (Structural Change) Order 1996

7.26 p.m.

Earl Ferrers rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th June be approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the new local government structure to be established in Lancashire will create two unitary authorities--one for Blackburn and one for Blackpool. Each will follow the existing boundaries of the respective boroughs. The rest of the county will remain two-tier.

Those changes were recommended by the Local Government Commission following the review of 21 districts, including--in Lancashire--Blackburn and Blackpool. The content of the Lancashire order, which is to implement these changes, is broadly the same as those in other orders for structural change.

The order makes provision for the creation of new unitary authorities for Blackburn and Blackpool to come into effect on 1st April 1998. In both areas there will be all-out elections for new councils in May 1997. The order provides for each unitary authority then to return to its normal electoral cycle--by thirds in the case of Blackburn, and by full elections every four years in the case of Blackpool.

The commission recommended that strategic planning should be retained across the area of the existing county. The order achieves that by transferring the county council's strategic planning responsibilities to the unitary authorities. The county council and the unitary authorities can then make voluntary arrangements for joint working on the structure plan for their combined areas.

The order provides also for the two unitary authorities to become fire authorities so that the Home Office can make a fire combination scheme--covering the two unitaries and the residual area of Lancashire County Council--under the Fire Services Act 1947.

The separate provision we intend to make for ceremonial arrangements will clearly show that the new unitary authorities are to continue to be part of the historic county of Lancashire for ceremonial and related

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purposes and will therefore remain within the jurisdiction of the Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff of that county.

As for other areas subject to change, separate provision will be made for policing. The intention is for the existing Lancashire county police authority to continue to cover both unitary authority areas. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th June be approved [23rd Report from the Joint Committee].--(Earl Ferrers.)

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, when I spoke in the gap to an amendment on the first of this group of orders I said that I would speak about Lancashire. What I wish to say comes from my knowledge of counties in general and from my background as a county councillor for Lancashire County Council from 1977 until now.

This is an extremely sad day for local government, not because I believe that unitary local government cannot work on the basis of the boundaries, in particular of the former county boroughs whose record and tradition I greatly respect. I refer to Blackpool and Blackburn and to my own town of Preston which has perhaps the longest tradition of all, its charter dating back for so long.

As I said earlier when speaking to the Berkshire order, the beginning of this exercise should have been function and finance. I support my party's objective which is to have genuine democratic accountability at appropriate levels. I would be happy supporting unitary local government across the north west of England with a democratically accountable regional tier of government coming in at the same time. That is what I believe the people of the north-west and other regions of England deserve.

It is a tragedy that the basis of this whole exercise has been wrong. The starting point has been wrong. People have fallen into the trap of fighting over the corpse of real local democratic accountability in England and who is responsible for the inability of local authorities to deliver the services that people in the locality want. I wish all local authorities well for the future, but I do not believe that, under this Government's current policy, the new local authorities that come into being after today will have the freedom to provide the genuine local government that would flow from my party's commitment and that of the Liberal Democratic party to the charter of local self-government. I do not believe or trust that under this Government the costs will not be recouped in the case of Blackburn and Blackpool from the people who need the services.

Why do we need a tier above the unitary local authorities being created here which ought to have been part of a much wider group of unitary local authorities? We need that because the environment needs strategic action, not a voluntary coming together, at a regional level. We need genuine, strategic action to deal with environmental problems. We need it because the north-west needs tourism and development at a strategic regional level as well as at local level. We need it in

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terms of economic development. There have been references to conflicts between economic development initiatives. The European Commission and the European Union see the north-west as an entity. KONVER programmes are needed at a regional level with democratic accountability. Defence is a major industry in the north-west. We need it for the macro-regional, public/private sector partnership that the authorities in the north-west are seeking to achieve on the basis of a voluntary association. It could be done better with a proper regional tier.

What we ought to be celebrating today is the opportunity for people to choose different means and different levels of locally delivered services. That will not emerge while current government policy stands. The opportunity for new and continuing authorities to meet the needs of the local population cannot be met while we have the rigid hand of central control. That will continue to cap the aspirations of those who seek to bring back policies to Blackpool and Blackburn that existed some time ago.

I do not make any apology for taking up your Lordships' time in what has been a long debate on a very complex issue. I wish that we had started from somewhere else. When, as a member of the committee of the regions, I attend meetings with people from other regions with democratic powers and accountability in the countries of our European partners, I am ashamed that we lack the democratic means of tackling the problem of air pollution as it affects children as a result of the lack of a proper regional transport policy in the north-west.

I wish all well for the future. My difference is not with my party, but with the Government, their motivation and the rest of their policies towards local government. Unlike some of my colleagues, I am not prepared to support wholeheartedly change until we have change from the centre. However, I wish people well. I have not put down a notice to amend the order at this stage as I said at the beginning of the debate yesterday. I respect the conventions of the House as regards wrecking amendments. I await the time when there is such a change of government that we can actually celebrate democratic diversity rather than shifting the deck chairs around on the sinking ship of democracy under this Government.


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