|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Holderness: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, will forgive me if I stay more closely to the right reverend Prelate at Goole than to York. I wish to speak for a few moments about the Humberside order. I doubt whether my noble friend will need from me any support in convincing your Lordships of the wisdom of the Humberside order and the creation of the four new unitary authorities. The first 50 years of my life were spent in the East Riding of Yorkshire. For the past 25 years I have lived in the County of Humberside and have therefore ceased to be a Yorkshireman. Naturally, I look forward to the restoration of my Yorkshire status when the order is carried. My qualifications in speaking to this matter are much less than those of my noble kinsman Lord Halifax, whom I see in his place and will, I hope, speak later.
I am convinced, first, that people want the change and, particularly in the East Riding, the restoration of that county. Secondly, I am convinced by the commission's advice that after a period of large transitional costs the savings will be considerable. I also believe that the services provided will be very much better than they have been recently. Finally, I am convinced by the assurances of my noble friend about the employment position of the present employees of the county. I hope that he will have no difficulty in persuading your Lordships to carry through this order.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and also to the Humberside order. I place on record my interest as chair of the Association of County Councils and stress that it is not in that capacity that I speak but on the basis of knowledge from that capacity.
It is with great trepidation that, as an adopted Lancastrian, I dare to trespass onto the subject of what is best for those who are unfortunate enough to live on the wrong side of the Pennines. I first deal with the point made by the noble Lady. The York boundaries are deeply unpopular with those who are encompassed within them. It was said at the beginning of the review of local government by the Secretary of State that the views of the people would be paramount. Therefore, it is distressing to learn that the boundaries of the new York unitary authority will encompass people who do not wish to be there. Therefore, I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, is worthy of support, if people are to be consulted. Secondly, the noble Lady referred to the need for clarity in services and the vital role of the county council during the process of change in being fully and automatically involved in the discussion of the transfer of services to a newly-created authority. I do not wish to refer to the series of technical questions that I raised in the debate on the Avon order because I am assured that I will be receiving answers from the Minister. I await those detailed answers.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield is not alone in regretting the passing of Humberside; not because Humberside, like Avon and Cleveland, the other two in the trio has the historical background dating back centuries of many other counties, but because of the quality and quantity of services provided by members and officers since the creation of the County of Humberside. I should like to place on record my tribute to the work that has been done and all that has been achieved. A range of services and activities has been undertaken by those officers and members, based as they are around the Humber estuary. I refer to the work done in the field of planning; the work in support of the views of the Heath/Walker plans of 1974, and the importance of estuarywide planning. There is also the work that has been done to develop Humberside International Airport, the work to support the development of the rail network, the education service, and the unique scholars scheme which extends real parental choice by offering half-price bus transport to scholars who would not be eligible under the statutory scheme. Nursery provision has been expanded in spite of the constraints placed on expenditure by national government; and there has been a wide variety of work in the field of environmental awareness, with conferences and co-operation. There has been work on transport and with sixth-formers on environmental issues and on the potential for the future. In your Lordships' House the problems facing social services departments have been debated.
Humberside has a fine record. It has successfully implemented care in the community strategies; it has maintained free domiciliary and day care services; and it has developed a new intensive homecare service system for the elderly disabled and resource centres for adult clients. It has achieved a high performance and has given people a wide variety of services and choice.
I spoke in the last debate on the subject of the Government's policy on local government reorganisation partly because of the issue of continuing authorities. This order for Humberside is flawed in the same way by that feature. I shall not repeat the details of the problem that it creates, but it does not provide an equal and level playing field for those who will be considered for employment in the new authority of Kingston-upon-Hull, whatever the good will of those elected.
Many references have been made in previous debates on local government reorganisation to the importance of effective delivery of strategic services. There is a tragedy behind the history of the review of local government in England of which this order represents part. It began in a spirit of malice towards local government rather than a logical and consistent plan and point of view. It was quite clear from the documents at the beginning that Avon, Cleveland and Humberside had had their futures determined before the process began. Therefore, it was not open and not equal, and the people were not given an equality of opportunity to express their point of view. There was no concentration at the beginning of the review on establishing what the
We live in a time when many people refer to subsidiarity. I would make the point to your Lordships that subsidiarity is the principle of looking at the best level at which decisions can be taken for and by the people affected by those decisions. We have also heard interpretations which refer to subsidiarity as being those appointed or those chosen by some means other than universal suffrage and universal electoral mandate. The fragmentation of that strategic function in the abolition of Humberside County Council will have one fortunate result. It will bring nearer the day when the people in England become more aware that they are governed at regional level less and less by those they elect and more and more by those who are either appointed to make decisions on their behalf or who are civil servants.
I was interested to note in the previous debate in this Chamber that the Minister, when speaking of the health service, said that it was appropriate for civil servants to be responsible for taking decisions and carrying messages from the regions to central government. That is not subsidiarity. If those decisionsstrategic planning decisions, important transport decisions, economic development decisions, all those environmental decisions that need to be taken at a larger level than unitary authority but away from Whitehall which knows little of the problems either side of the Pennines or in the north of England or the south-westare to be taken at that level, I agree that civil servants ought to be involved in the professional analysis. But so ought the people of the region be able to express their views, through the democratic process, on what happens to affect their lives. Therefore, in the tragedy of losing that good strategic capability of the county of Humberside, we shall also see brought near us the process of people becoming aware that we have regional government in England, but it is unaccountable regional government and it is Whitehall deciding for people rather than people being elected.
This is a new phase of local government reorganisation and your Lordships are being asked today to say yes to a process which began with the words that the people and their wishes would be paramount; a process that was flawed from the beginning because it did not consider functions and finance; a process which is being marred by staff compensation which is not as good as that offered in 1986. The noble Viscount can refer in vain to the fact that local authorities may pay above that level. That is of little avail when the Government say that local authority expenditure must be reduced.
The cost of the reorganisation is also a tragedy. The Government have set aside £50 million in the coming year for the cost of reorganisation of the comparatively small number of authorities that it is planned should be changed in the coming financial year. They have set aside £50 million, but it is not a new £50 million. It is £50 million that was top sliced from the total standard spending level for local government in England before
As I said, it is with some trepidation that I speak about what is right for those in other areas. It is quite clear that the services that are offered cannot be protected if the Government intend to impose decisions and then remove money intended for home helps, teachers and fire fighters instead of finding new money to carry out their policies. I thank your Lordships for listening.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page