Skip to main content

Duties Of Local Government Commission

Volume 204: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1992

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

' —(1) The Local Government Commission established under section 12(1) below shall have regard to the need—

  • (a) to reflect the identities and interests of local communities;
  • (b) to secure effective and convenient unitary local government;
  • (c) to establish a structure which is comprehensible to electors;
  • (d) to promote accountable local government;
  • (e) to secure the most effective, efficient and economic use of local authorities' financial resources;
  • (f) to ensure the cost-effective exercise of local authority functions and delivery of local authority services; and
  • (g) to provide for the consideration of appropriate strategic issues at a regional level.'. —[Mr. Blunkett.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this we may consider the following:

    New clause 13—Environmental protection—
    '. The Local Government Commission shall, in making recommendations under this Part, have particular regard to the need to secure effective planning for environmental purposes.'.
    New clause 14—Local Government Commission:

    'The Local Government Commission shall be required to frame all its recommendations to the Secretary of State so as to take account of the following objectives:
  • (a) to identify areas within which people expect to obtain most of their everyday services;
  • (b) to establish local government boundaries that facilitate the meeting of people's needs and the respecting of existing social organisation;
  • (c) to enhance the representative role of local government and secure its long-term future; and
  • (d) to ensure that all issues relating to the effective and efficient delivery of services can be addressed independently of defining local government territories.'.
  • New clause 17— Arrangements for direct service delivery for new unitary authorities

    '.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order give power to the Audit Commission to—
  • (a) consider the implications for functions of all changes proposed by the Local Government Commission under section 13(5) and section 14(5) and;
  • (b) make proposals to the Secretary of State on a function by function basis for separate or combined (either jointly or by one or more councils on behalf of other councils) service delivery arrangements for those functions included in subsection (1)(a) above and for the territories in which such services are to be provided.
  • (2) An order under subsection (1) above may give directions as to the exercise by the Audit Commission of any powers under this section and such directions may require that Commission to have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State as respects matters to be taken into account.'.

    It is unfortunate that we are debating the Bill in this way. Effectively, we are debating only part II on a guillotine motion on Report and Third Reading, as my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) said. We debated part II on the final day of the Committee proceedings on a guillotine motion, taking from 10.30 pm until midnight to deal with the issue of reorganisation. In one sense, we have reversed that process this afternoon because, despite the fact that the Committee's report to the House states that only one set of changes was made, in Government amendments to clause 8, it seems that we shall not be debating and scrutinising on Report that matter which was amended by the Government in Committee.

    It must therefore be put on record that the way in which the guillotine has been ordered and has fallen is less than helpful in terms of the proper scrutiny and debate of a major piece of legislation. Clearly, there is no point in pursuing the issue of selection at this stage, but it is important to put it on record that we are deeply opposed to the amendments made to clause 8 in Committee and that we shall continue to oppose those impositions.

    I regret that we are not dealing with this major issue —the reorganisation of local government in England—with unanimity and consensus. For agreement, certainty and stability to have been reached would have been a logical conclusion to the shambles consequent on previous reorganisations. For the lessons of 1972 not to be learnt in 1992 shows a deliberate and presumably intentional refusal to learn the lessons of history. If the Government have the opportunity of implementing their proposals, the nation will live to regret it.

    We could have reached a consensus about the nature of the reorganisation, and we could have had a degree of unanimity about its objectives, but we have not done so because the Government have chosen to continue on an ideological path that they commenced some 13 years ago. Local government was seen as an obstacle to the economic and social reconstruction of Britain and was believed to be a block on the reorientation of our democratic structures so that the operation of the market place rather than the ballot box would be supreme. The Government substituted their market square for our family circle. Everything was subjected to the law of Mammon. The intention was to determine whether something was profitable and whether it could be put out to tender. The key values of centralisation and privatisation were placed above those of accountability and democratisation.

    Under new clause 3, we raise today the whole question of what local government is supposed to be about. What is the reorganisation intended to achieve? Is it driven by a desire to ensure that local people have a say over their lives in a pluralistic democracy in which they can choose for themselves the nature of the provision, the extent of the services delivered, and the quality that they wish to see, and in which they have the ability to raise and spend money to achieve those objectives? Alternatively, is the Bill about reorganising local government in the image of its makers in Westminster and Whitehall—namely, the majority party in the House? It is clear to us that the answer to the latter question is yes. The reorganisation is about the Government's ideological determination to ensure that local authorities are no more than a mouthpiece for a handful of people who manage to find civic office. It is not concerned with local government as a means of community expression and a part of government rather than merely local administration.

    It is important to raise a number of key questions today about the nature of local government and what we seek to obtain in reorganising its structure and functions. It is clear to us that local government should be just that—it should be local and it should be government. The Bill and the propositions for the operation of the local government commission will achieve the exact opposite. They take away the ability of local people to act loyally, and they order government only in the sense that it is centralised in the hands of Ministers and civil servants in Westminster and Whitehall. Such government is not local because local people will not be able to determine the way in which local government operates its services. The whole design and structure of the propositions are predicated on the belief that local services will be put out to tender, and will be privatised or centralised.

    The appendix to the guidance for the commission shows clearly how major services, which we expect to be dealt with by local government, are to be taken substantially away from the determination of locally elected representatives. The guidance is explicit, so it is worth repeating—as we did briefly in Committee—the way in which it is phrased.

    Housing is currently a key function for district authorities outside the metropolitan areas. The Government's decision is clear because the guidance talks about the way in which the housing function should continue. It says:
    "Authorities also own and manage some four million units of housing but Government policy is that they should adopt an enabling role, assessing needs in their area but relying on housing associations and the private sector for new provision."
    In other words, the function of a local authority in providing directly for the needs of its electorate will be removed. The ability of a local authority to respond directly to the aspirations and the desperate needs of people will be diminished. Instead, the role of local authorities will be merely to monitor and to appeal to other people to provide for the desperate needs not only of the homeless but of the many people who seek rehousing at different times in their lives. They may need more suitable accommodation, such as sheltered provision in old age. They may need more appropriate dwellings as their families grow up or as their families are extended.

    It is clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will confirm, that the intention behind the Government's housing policy is to ensure that people no longer turn to their elected representatives to have their needs met. They will be expected to turn to the private sector and to housing associations alone. None of us says that a pluralistic approach cannot be applied to those issues.

    4.45 pm

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in some instances the sheer size of local authority housing departments militates against good management? Does he acknowledge that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), a previous Front Bench spokesman on housing, said that Birmingham was trying to manage more than 100,000 properties which simply was not practical? Is it not right that we should now talk about local authorities being concerned more with enabling than with simply trying to manage bigger and bigger departments?

    The Bill deals with authorities outside the metropolitan areas. No one could describe the housing authorities in the non-metropolitan districts as gigantic. It is interesting to reflect that a recent report has shown that there is now grave concern about the size of housing associations, and about the way in which their operations can be more centralised and more at arm's length than those of local authorities. Local authorities have sought to decentralise their management and their facilities. Birmingham tried to parish the city, but was blocked in that endeavour. It attempted to ensure that there was devolved and decentralised management, which many good local authorities have sought to achieve.

    Many of us feel that direct involvement by tenants in the running and operation of housing and housing estates is a valuable contribution in ensuring that they have genuine democratic control over what is rightly theirs. Placing tenants outside the local authority sector disables that process and makes it far more difficult. Recent studies have shown that there is far less tenant control in other sectors of housing than there is in the good authorities which have carried out Labour party policy in devolving and decentralising not only housing offices, but the management and control of their housing stock.

    There are fundamental issues about the way in which facilities are taken away from the people for whom they are supposed to be intended. The same applies to education, in which the Government have also made their intentions clear. Much of the Bill is a hidden agenda. It is difficult for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to hide anything under a bushel, so the intentions for education have been made clear. We need to make them even clearer today. The guidance to the commission says:
    "The number of schools operating as grant-maintained … is likely to rise significantly".
    [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] "Hear, hear", comes heavily from Conservative Members.

    My hon. Friend points out that it comes heavily from two Conservative Members.

    The guidance continues:
    "grant-maintained status should become over time the natural organisational model for schools … It is also intended that the local authorities should lose their present responsibility for further education colleges and sixth-form colleges and for schools inspection."
    The Further and Higher Education Bill is in Committee today, under a guillotine, for the dismemberment of the further and adult education service.

    Authorities rightly look eagerly to the notion of unitary status and being able to bring together under one umbrella the provision of a number of key services so that they can integrate their social and economic policies for the locality as a whole. Unitary authorities would mean that people would have just one door to knock on. The authorities grasp in the air for the castles promised them, but find that they disintegrate into sand between their fingers because the functions that they would inherit bear no resemblance to local government as we have known it throughout the last century.

    Instead of authorities having the power to act directly to house their people or to ensure education for children from nursery schooling to post-16 comprehensive education, just as the authorities feel that they have the opportunity to deal in a co-ordinated and integrated fashion with the needs of their people, suddenly they find that those functions are being taken from them. The illusion of new power and new responsibility is therefore turning into disillusionment. The people find that central Government are centralising and neutralising the powers that local authorities believed that they would have. The Government will determine funding arrangements from the centre and will relate directly to local schools or colleges through funding agencies rather than through the local education authority; Ministers will be responsible but not accountable for what happens locally.

    Even in social services, we see the Government's intentions spelt out in the draft guidance to the commission. It says:
    "The Government's policy is that social services authorities should concentrate more on commissioning the procurement and assessment of services and less on direct provision themselves."
    It recognises that child care has to be an exception, given the Children Act 1989, and the fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), has constantly referred to her commitment and to the need for local authorities to be able to act.

    The logic of everything said, whether on housing, education, social services or the generality of provision, is that a local authority should no longer provide directly for its citizens but should become the enabling authority that the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) used to describe, which would meet only once a year to let private sector contracts. The No Turning Back group, of which the Minister of State remains an active supporter, spelt it out in its pamphlet, "Responsibility and Choice". It said:
    "Only public health, civil defence and local amenities need remain an integral part of local government."
    What a choice—what a level of responsibility that is for local authorities to take on.

    The Association of District Councils, eagerly awaiting the message that the commission is to set out on its travels to award councils new status, new power and new functions, finds in the end that they are to have none of them. Councils will end up with local government which is no more than a telephone box with a civic car outside. A mayor may be able to visit bazaars and give out largesse in the form of annual Christmas parcels or attend spring balls, without being able to meet the needs of the people in his community.

    The legislation would make a farce of local democracy and a mockery of any attempt to devolve power to local government. Clearly, the Government have no intention of decentralising or devolving anything. They are intent on retaining power in their own hands, and on determining directly what local government should be able to raise and spend. The financial and functioning structure of local government will result in disillusionment and in people being increasingly frustrated. There is a danger of democracy being nothing more than a charade.

    That is why we are against the way in which the commission is to operate. We do not agree with the Government's view of local government merely as an appendage to the central state rather than as a partner in a pluralistic democracy. We want to encourage people to partake in the delivery of local services and to stand for elected office so that they may take pride in the civic functions by contributing to the enhancement of the wellbeing of the people around them, and by being able to sustain and protect their environment. Instead, the financial system and the structure and functions proposed for local government would reduce it to a pale shadow of what we have understood it to be over the last 100 years.

    The proposed operation of the commission reflects the Government's contempt for local democracy. The Government intend that local authorities should be dealt with piecemeal, one by one, with Labour-controlled counties being tackled first. The Government intend to carry out the structural changes in a way which leads to the abolition of Humberside, Cleveland, Avon, Derbyshire and Lancashire, simply because they happen to be Labour authorities.

    The Government do not propose to act logically or to take a comprehensive look at England as a whole so as to ensure that the structure can be fitted together as a complete jigsaw. They mean to adopt a "hide and seek" version of making a jigsaw, where bits of the jigsaw emerge one at a time and people are expected to guess what the final picture will look like. That piecemeal approach will lead to blight. As local authorities are picked off one by one, they will lose their senior staff, who will seize the opportunity to move to other authorities. There will be a bonanza for the metropolitan and London areas which, in the key areas of education and social services, will be able to call on the expertise from the counties facing abolition before the district authorities, which are the aspirants to take over those functions, can organise themselves logically to offer posts or provide a guarantee of quality of service.

    I understand that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with the Government about various activities of local government. If by some chance —or mischance, depending on one's point of view—he were to have responsibility for dealing with the legislation under a Labour Government, what would he do about the commission? There is a great deal of interest in that. The people want to know what would happen if Labour won. Would Labour go ahead with the legislation or repeal it? Would Labour change the commission or allow it to proceed so that the reform of local government, which most people accept is long overdue, may take place in a reasonable period of time?

    In the one day available to us under the guillotine in Committee, we made the position clear. We made it clear that we were in favour of a comprehensive approach to the reorganisation of local government, and that we wished the commission to operate through panels dealing with different parts of the country, being able to take consensus and agreement where they were offered, and being able to report back where there were difficulties, so that within a rapid time scale—two years would be the preferred operational time scale—we could see a pattern of local government emerging across the country. The commission could report its findings, enabling local government to be reorganised in a sane and rational fashion, providing stability for existing services prior to the final report and providing a sensible and rational means for the transfer of services to the new designated authorities. Finally, it could offer the kind of guarantees for whose provision the 1972 reorganisation, with all its failings, served as a useful model.

    Would that plan include the continuation of some two-tier authorities, or is what is being advocated a uniform single-tier system?

    5 pm

    It seems to us that there is little point in reorganising local government across the country if we end up with a shambles on our hands. Some counties will appeal to the Government to remain county councils, with their district councils continuing to act as they always have, while a neighbouring authority has unitary status having abolished its county and transferred what functions remain to the district. We illustrated that point in Committee: what is at issue is not whether one county should remain while others are removed, but the way in which authorities within a county would have to be dealt with if it was not clear that there should be a presumption of unitary status.

    We do not have to have the same uniform status across the country. We are talking about numerical parity or saying that authorities must be of similar size. We are aware of the need for diversity and sensitivity. Some authorities have an identity of community even though they are small numerically or geographically difficult to operate. We recognise that such factors will have to be taken into account.

    What we cannot countenance, however, is a shambles where one or two authorities claim unitary status within a county and the rest of the county has to be reorganised to fit in with them. We cannot have a string of authorities across a major county—the example that we gave in Committee was Essex—claiming that they should have unitary status because of their identity of community, their sense of belonging and their urban nature, only to leave a rump of a county with a disgruntled population, which wanted not a third of the original county or half the original county but the whole county or unitary status. We shall be faced with a shambles whereby people claim that they want to retain the county but retain only part of it. The county will be a shadow of its previous self without its core identity, and in some cases with the prospect of being divided in two by unitary authorities which cut right across it.

    Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that the local government commission would recommend unitary status for some authorities without paying any regard to what was left over?

    The consultation paper and the proposal before us would allow just that. That is why I say that we must choose between unitary and two-tier authorities. Once one begins the process of providing unitary authorities within a county area, one will have to decide what is to happen to the rest of the county. There is a logic to it.

    My hon. Friend reminds me that paragraph 5 of the consultation paper deals with the matter, although we do not need the consultation paper—only intelligent and rational thinking—to realise that when some authorities press for unitary status they will affect the status of other authorities with which they have a relationship within the county shire area.

    The same is happening in education. For instance, competition between schools will mean that people will head for a school that is reputedly a good school with no thought for the one that they are leaving behind, which will become a sink school if the matter is left to the Conservatives.

    My hon. Friend has put his finger on it: "I'm all right, Jack, and the devil take the hindmost" is what the Government's policy is all about. Presumably they would say that, so long as some authorities get what they are after, everyone should be satisfied. We cannot have it both ways, however. We cannot have the existing county, with the existing county structure, if some districts within it become unitary authorities.

    I think that that is a bad analogy. In Essex, and in a great many other counties, there are districts which were old county boroughs, for example. It would be perfectly possible for those old county boroughs to become unitary authorities in their own right without affecting the rest of the county at all—if that was what people in the county wanted.

    It would affect the rest of the county which, at the moment, incorporates those former county boroughs. The minute one tries to reverse the arrangements and return to the county boroughs—and there is some dispute in some areas as to whether only the former county boroughs should claim unitary status—one affects the organisation of every key county service, which then has to cope with the change. One must change the operation of education—in so far as it remains part of local government—of the social services, of highways and of everything else. The minute one makes a decision in repect of one authority, there will he a chain reaction.

    That is why we believe that there should he a comprehensive approach, rather than a piecemeal approach whereby some authorities are dealt with first arid others gradually over what the Minister of State has described as a likely five-year time scale. We should view these matters as a whole. We should review the arrangements throughout the country and come up with comprehensive proposals. We should announce them in two years' time, allowing for a period of consultation during which representations could be made and during which we could sort out disagreements.

    We could then move forward in a way which allows the existing authorities to transfer services in a stable and sensible way, maintaining the quality of those services while building up a new structure to enable those functions to be taken on. Unless we do that, we shall have a period of blight during which services in the existing authorities disintegrate and staff leave. The services will begin to fall apart before the new authorities have been established in a fashion that would allow those services and staff to transfer in an acceptable manner. That is why we shall be moving shortly on another matter—the staff commission —to which I shall come in a moment.

    In new clause 3 we advocate a sensible, logical and well-thought-out approach. We have the option of finding a solution that will provide us with a lasting settlement for local government for generations to come or of accepting a piecemeal and fragmented approach which will result in dissatisfaction and continued calls for reorganisation and which will lead to our having to go through the whole process all over again in a few years' time. That would be very foolish indeed and most unfortunate for the populations of areas facing that shambles and that failure to provide quality. The outcome in terms of cost and quality would be most unsatisfactory. Moreover, it would reflect badly on the operations of the House and the way in which it has served local government badly over the past 13 years—another example of an ideological, value-driven approach rather than a logical approach taking into account the needs of local communities and responding intelligently to the demand for reorganisation.

    We respect the demands for unitary authorities and for a return to the days when there was just one door on which to knock. We accept the need for accountability, which we applaud, to enable people to understand who is responsible for the services that they receive and who to hold to account for the results.

    We want a reorganisation that would be lasting but, above all, a reorganisation that would be able to respond to the changing needs and aspirations of the population towards the year 2000. Instead, we face a proposition which would take away services rather than provide them, which would denude local government rather than complement those services that it already carries out, which would remove functions rather than build on them and restore them, which would give a piecemeal structure rather than a coherence that people could understand and respond to, and which would result in local government becoming even more the poodle of Westminster and Whitehall than a living part of our democracy enabling people to express themselves clearly and to have an alternative point of view to respond to the different political, economic and social needs of a diverse country and, above all, to be able to provide for the community that they serve the kind of services that that community wants rather than what central Government wants.

    It happens that the rest of Europe has moved in the direction that we are advocating—that is, devolving and decentralising, giving people power to decide for themselves, providing quality services by encouraging and enabling local authorities to act on behalf of their communities, and ensuring that people have genuine choice. There should be choice as to who should provide services, choice as to whether services should be in-house or privatised, and choice as to what kind of spending and on what local authorities should spend their money. Those are the choices—about ownership, responsibility and accountability—that people have had for the past century in respect of their education services, their social services, their housing, their local refuse collection and their local environment. Now we see a threat to take it away—the threat of a commission which, from its very inception, will be disabled by a Bill and by guidance which take away those powers and denude local government of those services.

    That is why we are opposed to the way in which the Government are operating under clause 2. That is why we are vehemently opposed to clause 1 and to the way in which the Government, particularly in clauses 8 and 9, are ensuring that reorganisation is complemented by privatisation and centralisation. That is why we believe that the Bill is flawed. An opportunity that has been missed and an agenda that could have carried us forward together have been set aside and replaced by dogma—by the values that were set out by the previous Prime Minister—and with a not-so-hidden agenda that carries those values and principles forward into the 1990s.

    We know that the present Bill will not be carried into fruition. We know that we shall have the opportunity to change the guidance to the commission and to change its operation, and to ensure that it can do the job as we have described—a welcoming of partnership in local government to ensure that people receive the services that they want and deserve. That is why we know that, in rejecting the Bill and putting forward the new clause, we shall be responsible for carrying through our propositions and not the ones that the Government have put before us.

    I am grateful for the chance to speak in support of the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and the other new clauses that Mr. Speaker has selected. I shall be relatively brief and put one or two points that deserve to be put at this stage. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so, as I was not a member of the Committee.

    On new clause 3, my hon. Friends and I believe that it is right that we should seek consensus on the structure for deciding the future of local government, and the more that that can be based on the views of the people, the better. One of the faults of the previous local government review was the artificial creation of structures of local government which did not do justice to the collective sense of belonging in very disparate parts of the country. As we travel around the country, we realise the strength of people's commitment to certain areas and structures of government such as counties.

    The right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) referred to county boroughs. It is about time that we went back to a structure that reflected that view. I agree with the purport of the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, and I disagree with the hon. Member for Brightside. It is quite wrong, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) said, to prescribe that there can only ever be one form of local government. That would be to make the same mistakes as were made before.

    I cannot see why it is not possible for Essex to return to county boroughs for what is currently part of the county of Essex while the rest remains a shire county as a unitary authority. That is quite possible.

    5.15 pm

    Of course, we must make sure that the consultative process allows people to consider what the county would be like if we took out parts of it. However, county boundaries have changed. Counties such as Cambridgeshire have incorporated more than one county in the past. Therefore, the total geographical area of a county has changed over the years, and under that county structure we might find that people want district councils. It would be quite appropriate for the people of Cornwall to say that they want two tiers of government, a Cornish county council and five district councils. To say that they must have only one and that they must opt for a unitary authority flies directly against the wishes of many people throughout the country.

    From experience, I know that people in some parts of Britain would be happy to have a unitary authority. The people of Herefordshire resented greatly the amalgamation with Worcestershire. They would be happy for the county of Herefordshire as it now is to be a unitary authority. If, for example, we were discussing a Welsh authority such as Powys, which is a huge county, it would be entirely right for the people to say, "We want a two-tier government. We might be happy with the county of Powys, but we would also want the local district to be Brecknock or Breconshire." I do not see any incompatibility in having unitary authorities in some parts of the country and two-tier government in others. The Labour party is going down its traditional road of wanting everything in one-form terms. Britain is not a one-form society; it is much more pluralist and diverse. Regions and countries are different, and we should respect that and allow people to decide.

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, in describing the situation that he foresaw in Essex, inadvertently used the term "unitary" in relation to the remainder of the county. We have never said that we are against the idea that a part of a county or, in very exceptional circumstances, a county itself could not be the unitary authority. We have left our minds open. Nor would we be against an authority which, in our terms, would be described as a region with districts under it, such as the one that the hon. Gentleman described for the south-west peninsula, although we are against the district county and regional model with one tier on top of another tier until everybody cries for mercy because of the number of elections that are held and the number of people who are held responsible.

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that our proposition ensures that we can retain parish and town councils, perhaps with enhanced status, which would satisfy the pluralism and diversity of which he spoke.

    May I return to parish and town councils in a moment? They are a different debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne and I, and many other hon. Members, are committed to the idea of parish, town and community councils and believe that they should continue.

    The debate is both technical and a much wider political debate. I may have inadvertently suggested that Essex minus unitary county boroughs would leave a shire which could not be other than unitary. That is not our view. There could be a two-tier structure. There could be the county of Essex, with its cricket, history and all the rest, and under it a local district authority reflecting the local community. The fact that the county had lost some of what is currently Essex does not mean that it would not be possible to have two-tier government.

    Let us take the south-west peninsula. The hon. Member for Brightside will not make his cause popular in the south-west. The people of Cornwall want to be Cornish. They want to be governed as Cornwall, not the south-west peninsula. They may be in favour of regional government devolved from Whitehall, but they certainly do not want to give up Cornwall for some greater south-west region with tiers only below that.

    Well, the people of Cornwall do not want to belong to the south-west peninsula. They want to belong to Cornwall, not Devon and Cornwall. On many occasions that is the cause of their resentment.

    I will not keep the hon. Gentleman long, but I do not want an avalanche of letters from the south-west peninsula. I was referring to the possibility of regional government. I am happy to accept the Cornish wish to be Cornish. Indeed, many have written saying that they want a region with districts under it. That is different from being a county. They certainly do not want a west region that stretches from Wiltshire all the way down to Cornwall. Given that the hon. Gentleman's party is in favour of regions, perhaps he will enlighten me on whether he is also in favour of that.

    I had David Penhaligon as a colleague for many years and now have his successor. There are many other strong Cornish voices in my party, including not only those who run our county council in Cornwall. So I assure the hon. Gentleman that if we ever dared to suggest a western region from Wiltshire to Cornwall we would be in considerable difficulty. We do not suggest that, and we never have.

    It is important that we should be clear about our respective positions. Both the Labour party and my party believe in regional government. In that context, the debate about smaller geographical units—Devon and Cornwall, or Cornwall on its own—is yet to be resolved. The aspirations of the Cornish are to their own nationality. They would put it as strongly as that. My point was that for unitary local government anything larger than Cornwall would be unacceptable. I know that from my visits and conversations with people there.

    I wish to put in a strong plea to the Minister; I think that he will be sympathetic to it. It is about the wording of new clause 3 and other similar new clauses. The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) has tabled a new clause which I guess comes from the same thought process and idea. I make a strong plea for smaller communities, especially in metropolitan Britain. Greater London—the area which both the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities and I represent—has suffered greatly as a result of the 1965 reorganisation of local government. So far the Government have resisted responding to voices in Greater London while they have not resisted voices elsewhere.

    In this debate I am not arguing about the need for a regional authority for London. The Minister knows that my party and the Labour party believe that there should be such an authority. I am arguing about the natural local tier of local government. If I understand new clauses 3 and 14 aright, the local government commission will be asked to take account of certain objectives. New clause 14 describes them as:
  • "(a) to identify areas within which people expect to obtain most of their everyday services;
  • (b) to establish local government boundaries that facilitate the meeting of people's needs and the respecting of existing social organisation".
  • In London, that means areas smaller than boroughs of 215,000 people.

    I want to put this point simply to the Minister. I am sure that he understands it, because he is a London Member. In London there is no legitimate tier of democracy below the London borough. I do not know the exact figures for Enfield—the Minister's borough—but Southwark consists of about 215,000 people. So the lowest tier of local government represents a community of about a quarter of a million people.

    In London one is not allowed by any process to set up a parish or community council. Anomalously, London is the one part of Britain that is excluded by law from having such councils. I have sought to correct that by means of a London local government Bill in the past. I beseech the Minister to say in response to the debate that he and his colleagues are not against the commission recognising, as implied by the wording of the new clauses, that, for example, people in Southwark say loudly—as they do—that they want smaller borough councils and allowing them to have such councils. They want the size that they knew and could cope with, which was relatively small. If we are to allow district councils in the shires of England, we should allow smaller borough councils in the urban areas.

    Before the hon. Gentleman moves off the point about smaller local authorities, is he saying that the functions of unitary authorities in the shire areas should also be passed to the smaller authorities that he envisages in the metropolitan areas?

    Our view is clear. The hon. Gentleman's party and mine agree that there should be a strategic authority for London to take on strategic planning, economic development and other functions. If we had such an authority, we should also have smaller borough councils, as we previously had, to administer matters such as housing, social services and other provisions. Such a council is far more likely to deliver a user-friendly service. My local authority runs 60,000 properties. That is the housing stock of Southwark. That point has been made by other colleagues. It is effectively incapable of running that stock in a way that is responsive to the needs of the individual. People feel like numbers and are treated like numbers. I do not suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate that. People want a community service that is sufficiently close for them to feel that it is the same place. I will illustrate that simply.

    A local authority in an area such as inner London may say to someone on the housing waiting list, "You cannot have a house in the place where you have lived all your life. You will go seven or eight miles away to a community which is completely different." For example, a person may be sent from Rotherhithe to Dulwich or Sydenham. But that is like saying to people in Halesowen that they must move to a village in south Herefordshire. That is the difference that is involved. It is bad for communities and for building up communities to do that. It is also expensive for the public purse. If communities and families are separated, they become dependent on public authorities for social support and not on the family and community that they know and love.

    New clause 13 makes a simple proposition. It says:
    "The Local Government Commission shall, in making recommendations under this Part, have particular regard to the need to secure effective planning for environmental purposes."
    All of us who have taken part in the debate about how best one can plan for environmental purposes know that it is important to consider what is the best tier of local government for planning. It is no secret that the planners of Britain—bodies which are competent and respected, such as the Council for the Protection of Rural England —are worried that if unitary government were imposed or if the county councils disappeared, the best tier for planning would disappear.

    In certain subject areas we plan badly at present. For example, there are no coherent planning strategies for development planning along estuaries. When people are trying to protect wildlife, the countryside, fishing, birdlife or whatever, it is no answer to say that the county or local authority boundary goes up the middle of the estuary: on the right there is Essex and on the left there is Kent or on the right there is East Sussex and on the left West Sussex. There is often a need for coherent policy for coastal, marine and estuarial protection. I am aware that there is a specific new clause on estuarine and coastal areas. We will probably not reach it. I am using them as an example and I hope that the Minister accepts that. There is a good case for saying that one ought to consider that sort of issue together and consider environmental aspects.

    The commission ought to decide whether a boundary will allow for a structure that will take into account environmental, planning and demographic considerations. My hon. Friends and I ask the House and the Minister to accept that it would not be harmful for that obligation to be imposed on the commission. We are not saying that it should take precedence, but it should be added to its lists of objectives.

    I hope that the new clause will be acceptable, either in its existing form or in some other. My hon. Friends and I dissent from the implied assertion of the hon. Member for Brightside. We expect that the Bill will become law before the general election, whenever that is. No doubt, the aim of the guillotine is to achieve that. On that basis, let us get it right as far as we can now. If the new clauses are acceptable and advantageous let us pass them. I hope that new clause 13 in particular, and new clauses 14 and 3—although I am not a signatory to the former—will be acceptable to the Government and will find their way into the Bill when we vote.

    5.30 pm

    Both the previous speeches had a common theme—let us get it right this time. I shall be the third person to say that. We do not often get a chance to put right fundamental wrongs about local government. Whatever the outcome of the general election, the Bill is probably here to stay, in some form or other: for heaven's sake, let us get it right while we are about it.

    I shall comment briefly on new clauses 3 and 13 and speak to my two new clauses 14 and 17. Before I do so, I must make a couple of general remarks. First, I must thank two people. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) had the unenviable job in Committee of moving an amendment standing in my name which focused on the importance of local people to this debate, as distinct from councillors and council officers. My hon. Friend expressed my views accurately on that matter and I am grateful to him. It was a thankless task to try to work out what I was trying to say and he said all that needs saying—from my point of view—on the question of local people. If hon. Members wish to pursue the matter. I refer them to columns 521 and 522 of the Official Report of Standing Committee D on the Bill.

    I must also thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State who, from time to time, has said nice things about the influence that I seem to have had on parts of the Bill. I am grateful, but I think that he would expect me to say that I am sorry that he took on board only some of the things that I had to say. I shall make one last attempt to persuade him to accept the rest.

    The second general point is that I deliberately did not seek to intervene on the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) because I want to couch my remarks in non-party terms. That is why I did not take him up on arguments that I disagree with. I shall try to express my remarks in a way which will not excite him, although he will disagree with some of them. What I have to say could well raise a few eyebrows on both sides of the House. For example, I agree with much of what the Labour party has said today and previously, but I fundamentally disagree with some things which they have got wrong, and will say so. Also, the Government are correct in principle in what they are trying to do, but they have to get some of the detail right. Hopefully, there will be a bit of give-and-take on both sides of the House.

    I agree with five of the seven points which the Labour party lists in new clause 3, although one of the five is incomplete. The trouble with three of the aspects of the new clause that I agree with is that they do not define in clear terms exactly what they mean. Let me explain. First, the Labour party stresses in new clause 3 the importance of local communities, but does not say what they are and how it would establish them. However, it is right—local communities are important. Secondly, the Labour party refers to the importance of local government, but does not define exactly what it means. Thirdly, it says that the Bill must be understood by electors. My only quarrel with that is that it must be understandable to electors, residents, users of services and everyone else—not merely to electors —but that is a small point. Fourthly, the clause states that the whole system needs to be accountable, but does not describe what that means. However, I agree in general terms.

    Where I fall out in a big way with Opposition Members is when they talk about service delivery. They seek to make that the same thing as defining local government when it is a separate issue. They also seek to draw into the new clause matters which I would describe as regional. They see them as part of strategic local government. For reasons that I shall explain, I do not believe that service delivery is the same thing as local government.

    The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that he hoped that new clause 13 would commend itself. The sentiments in the clause are worthy and I support them entirely, but they have nothing to do with the Bill. If the new clause was tabled in a service delivery context, I would have no difficulty in supporting it.

    The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said that we must define natural local communities but then said that if they do not suit environmental protection we should draw up something else. He cannot have it both ways. He is right that we must have some way to deal with an entire estuary, to take his example—

    I did not say that. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one must define natural communities. However, environmental considerations should be taken into account by the Boundary Commission. They should go into the balance.

    I shall pursue that later as it will become clear why I disagree and why that is not an issue when describing natural communities.

    New clauses 14 and 17 seek to set out additional detail, which the Labour party has left out, and I hope that it will find them acceptable. The clauses also seek to show why service delivery must be separated from this discussion.

    My new clauses seek to do five things. Paragraph (a) of new clause 14 seeks to define a local community for the purposes of the local government commission; (b) gives a definition of local government which is intended to make it clear to the commission what it is supposed to be setting up; (c) deals with the question of accountability and what the future of local government should be; and (d) seeks to separate out service delivery. New clause 17 explains how service delivery could then be dealt with differently.

    We all agree that we want to define local communities, but what do we really mean by them? Most discussions that I have been party to, or listened to, start with the assumption that there is one thing called a local community and that all we need to do is to discover what it is, draw boundaries round it and all will be well, and we will not have to come back in two years to try to put it right. The trouble with that analysis is that we all belong to several different sorts of local community. It is vital that we understand the differences between them.

    Let me give some examples of types of communities. We all belong to a household of some sort, we all come from a village, a street or a housing estate; we all come from a town or a rural area, and from a county or a region. They are all local communities in one form or another.

    If the local government commission is to get it right it needs to know which of those local communities it is supposed to be focusing on. All those communities have two things in common, which is why they are often confused. They are all part of the natural way in which human society organises itself. There are households, villages, towns and counties and, whether we like it or not, they are there and do not rely on Government to define them. Secondly, they are all territorial. One has only to look at what happens on the beach when one tries to stake out one's territory to realise how desperately territorial we all are.

    I expect that you would rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I were to respond to that stupid intervention on beaches.

    The hon. Gentleman should learn to be diplomatically deaf, as I am sometimes.

    I am practising that, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you could give me some instruction on it at some other time.

    The point about natural communities is that they are territorial and part of human organisation, but when we define them none of them owes anything to service delivery. As well as the differences between them, another aspect has been overlooked in the debate. Each community has a particular focus.

    The household, for example, focuses on daily life. Anyone who does not consider that the household is part of social organisation should listen to those who argue for women's rights. They would then understand that there is a clear social organisation in the household, which women want to change. In the village, the street and housing estate the community focus is on self-help and in the town or area the focus of people is on the area within which their services will be delivered. When we consider counties or regions, we become locked into the issue of sub-cultural differences. I mention that because it is absolutely vital to note that, unlike the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, I have not referred once to a sense of identity because each type of natural community has a sense of identity. It is no use appealing to a sense of identity when trying to establish local government because each community has it.

    If the household is a commune, its members will identify strongly with that community. If one asks a village resident in rural England, he will say that it is the place with which he identifies fiercely. If one speaks to the residents of the Falls road in Belfast, they will say that they identify strongly with that street.


    Yes, one could take that example. If one speaks to the residents of the Broadwater Farm estate, one will understand how closely they identify with it. Consideration of the question of identity will get us nowhere. If one speaks to people from York, they will say that they identify with that town, but they will then take a further leap and say that they identify with Yorkshire. We have awful trouble in pursuing the issue of a sense of identity to establish what we mean by natural community for the purposes of local government. We all identify with many different communities of different sizes and we have to be careful when we consider them.

    The second key issue that lies behind my new clauses is what we mean by local government. I broadly agree with the hon. Member for Brightside on what represents a good and secure future for local government. There are two definitions of local government. The first is that it is simply a vehicle for the delivery of local services; the second is that local government is part of the social fabric. The recent debate among Members on both sides of the House has tended to focus almost exclusively on local government as a vehicle for the delivery of services, which makes it an appendage of central Government. The hon. Member for Brightside said that it is increasingly being seen as an appendage. Conservative Members may have considered local government in that light, but Labour Members have also tended to do so.

    The local government commission must avoid that and see local government as part of the social fabric and as something that can neither be created nor got rid of. If we consider local government in that way, we shall arrive at its true role and see it as part of society's organisation.

    We arrive at local government's true role by my analysis of different types of community because each type focuses on something different. Each has a different role and that is their significance. The household may be informal, but it is an organisation. The village, street or housing estate has an organisation, which is typically the parish council. I support the view of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey that that concept exists in the countryside in medium-sized towns and in the metropolitan areas. That is part of the natural fabric, but the snag is that that concept does not equate to local government. We delude ourselves if we start talking about local government structures needing parishes in London. Social organisation requires them, but not local government. That is the key to my argument.

    Does the hon. Gentleman accept that an anomaly exists in one part of Britain alone, Greater London, where there is no formal democratic structure through which people can get together on their estates or in their areas to discuss issues? That is wrong and it should be corrected.

    5.45 pm

    I support the hon. Gentleman's sentiments, but I question whether there is no structure. When the House deprives people of a formal structure for debate, such structures develop on a self-help basis, for example, with the establishment of residents' associations. I accept that they are not the same as a formal structure, but such associations develop when there is no alternative. That reinforces my point about the natural development of certain structures. The House cannot deny such developments, but it can make them more democratic. However, parish councils, which have a role in the future, are not part of the issue.

    It is clear that people expect most of their daily services to be delivered to them by their town or local area. It is that level of organisation which is known as local government. On regions, I accept that a useful purpose could be served by regional assemblies. However, before any Opposition Member writes that down for future use against me—

    No, it is not too late because we both mean something totally different.

    I dispute whether one can effectively divide England, in sub-cultural terms, into the type of artificial regions for which some argue. Regions, in common with parishes, are nothing to do with local government—they are entirely separate. It is perfectly possible, as has been demonstrated in this country for a long time, to organise things without regional assemblies. Although I accept the theoretical sense of that particular model, that does not mean that I agree with their establishment. Should Opposition Members seek to dig out my comments to throw them back at me in the future, I hope that the detailed record will demonstrate that I am not as supportive of their case as they would like to think.

    The other issue arising from my new clauses was mentioned several times in Committee by the hon. Member for Brightside—he hinted at it again today—and it relates to the need to enhance the role of local government. The interesting thing is that the whole House wants to do that. Various options for enhancing local government, including making it more accountable and democratic and improving its management, have been argued to and fro. The trouble with such an approach is that, unless one understands the role of local government, how in heaven's name can one enhance it? The new clauses will draw out for the local government commission exactly what the basic role of local government should be.

    It will come as no surprise to people to learn that my approach rests on the concept of natural communities, which represent different levels of organisation. The role of local government is revealed by an analysis of natural communities. Just as each natural community focuses on something different, so the necessary level of organisation, be it parish council, local council or even regional assembly, which represents people in the community focuses on something different.

    My analysis of communities has fundamental implications, which may, I fear, be unpalatable to both sides of the House. However, that analysis gives local government the opportunity to have a worthwhile, respected and secure future. Natural communities secure a healthy role for local government because the natural communities that we call local government—social territories, as I referred to them at the outset—are areas within which local people expect their needs to be met by local services.

    It is clear from talking to local people about their services that they do not mind who runs a particular service. If people say, "We need a new supermarket; we do not have a decent supermarket in our area", they could not care less whether the supermarket is owned by somebody who lives in the town or in London or Glasgow. They simply know that they want a local supermarket. The issue of who owns what and provides what does not fire up people, which is no doubt why Labour Members will not take kindly to my analysis of the situation. Some of my hon. Friends may not take too kindly to it, because when one speaks to local people about their needs they do not differentiate between needs that are met by services provided by local government and those met by anybody else. When they say that they want their needs met by services, they mean services in general.

    If the role of local government means being involved in the provision of needs with services, local government must have a say in the provision and delivery of all services, not just those that it seeks to control for itself.

    I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. My experience is that services provided by local government are better appreciated than are services provided by other bodies because locally provided services are identified with local people. They identify, for example, with local councillors or officials, rather than with a distant provider. To cite the example of a supermarket does not fit into this category because that is a straightforward shopping area. With services in general, particularly in small rural areas, people identify with services provided by their local authority.

    The hon. Gentleman seems not to have understood the point I was making, which is that local people do not distinguish between services in the way he describes. The hon. Gentleman may think that certain services are better delivered by local government. I do not dispute that. But people do not compare the health service with local government services, supermarkets, solicitors or the water supply. They look at all services, irrespective of who supplies them, and the only point I am making in that context is that nobody would expect local government to deliver every service that local people use. I am sure that we can agree on that, and certainly we can agree that local government should not provide supermarkets.

    The debate has focused almost exclusively on the services that local government controls. The hon. Gentleman's intervention made that point. But the real role of local government concerns all the needs of the people whom it represents and all the services that they require. So the role of local government is not the delivery of services but the addressing of needs. Hence the whole question of the enabling authority and meeting needs rather than delivering services. That is how the question arises because the real role of local government is to analyse the needs of all people, irrespective of the service, and to articulate the concerns and local priorities of all people.

    Having done all that, it seeks to provide, if that seems appropriate, or to persuade others to provide, or to criticise other providers, or to assist in the provision of whatever service may be in question. Such assistance occurs from time to time, for example, by allowing planning permissions which might be socially desirable whereas, in the context of planning policy, it might not necessarily be so kindly disposed to grant permission. Rate or rent breaks and similar issues are other examples.

    I argue that all of those activities are of equal worth. Yet for long we have been locked into a debate only about those services that local government itself delivers. That very debate brings local government into disrepute, not least when we say that it should not do it and Opposition Members say that provision is all that matters. In other words, local government has a role to play in all those service matters, but it makes no difference if the service deliverer is private or voluntary sector or even central Government. Local government is involved in the whole process.

    Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the private sector can provide a planning procedure equal to that currently provided by local government? Is he also saying that the first stage of local communities—the parish councils—are not interested in planning? Is he not aware that the first consideration is planning and that people are concerned in the planning of their communities, which means that planning cannot be left to the private sector?

    I did not say that the private sector could be left to deal with town and country planning. If the Official Report shows that I said that, the hon. Gentleman is right to criticise me. If he asks whether I believe parishes have a role in this whole process, the answer is that by saying that a community focuses on an issue as its prime concern does not mean that it must close its mind to everything else. It has a lesser role. I was identifying with the key or central role, and I appreciate that other interests come into this.

    I maintain that service delivery is fundamentally different from the whole question of local communities, and this bears on a point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. Local communities as I have described them are biological, social and stable; a natural community is natural whether it is big, small or of medium size.

    Did the hon. Gentleman vote in favour of the guillotine? Does he intend to talk out the Bill?

    If I wanted to learn how to waste time and make the debate on my new clause continue until 10 o'clock, I would only need to study the Standing Committee reports to have a wonderful example of how to filibuster. Such tactics were regularly adopted by Opposition Members. I have not spoken for nearly as long as some Labour Members spoke in Committee. I have at least another hour and a half to go before catching up with the sort of length at which they spoke. I do not intend to delay the House for that length of time, but I must develop the point I was making about local communities being social and stable entities.

    Service delivery depends greatly on technology and management and on being able to change the shape and size of things. That is the opposite of what a natural community is. The trouble is that both are territorial. Natural communities are territorial, as is service delivery, which is where the trouble starts. There is a temptation for people to try to make social territories and service delivery territories coincide. That is why we ended up in 1974 with artificial territories. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey wants smaller territories. In fact, he wants natural territories, whether they are small or big. I should have thought that the Scilly Isles, with a population of 2,000 people, was a natural community. Birmingham, with I do not know how many people, is probably also natural.

    Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by social relationships and communities never coinciding with service delivery areas? That cannot be true for basic services such as waste disposal and collection. The development of household waste disposal services must relate to the houses from which the refuse is collected, which means that the service must be based on the structure of the community, simply because the waste is collected from the community.

    No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The key point about emptying dustbins is that they are emptied from the back doorstep or the end of the drive. That is the important point, not whether the person coming to empty them is organised from Glasgow, London or locally. The point at which such a service is organised is of no consequence to the concept of the social community. The dustbins are in exactly the same place wherever the management is located.

    6 pm

    Every organisation except local government—that specialised area about which Opposition Members are so concerned—fully understands that the delivery of services is best organised service by service, that the territories for each service are unique to it, and that the optimum size of a service territory depends on the service. For example, one has only to compare the areas in which the national health service operates with those in which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food operates to understand that Ministries do not have the same service delivery areas. If we consider quangos and agencies, we find that the driving territories of the vehicle licensing centre at Swansea are totally different from the territories of the National Rivers Authority because they provide different services. In the voluntary sector, the Royal National Institute for the Blind organises its service delivery entirely differently from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; they offer different services with different optimum territories. In the private sector, no one would expect the regional organisation of Marks and Spencer to be the same as that of Tesco.

    If everywhere else there is a clear understanding that service delivery territories should be determined on a service-by-service basis, why do we desperately try to force local government service territories to fit social territories? That is where all the trouble comes from.

    If my analysis is correct and the Government are to separate the defining of social territories from service delivery territories, how are we to deal with the anxieties that have been expressed about the chaos that might follow? The hon. Member for Brightside expressed that anxiety and asked whether the measure would lead to the decimation of service delivery. New clause 17 seeks to deal with that. It says that the local government commission should define social territories and look for natural community areas in which people expect to receive services. Once those new unitary authorities have been set up, they will take over the functions of the existing district. There would be no difficulty with that because it would be a small change.

    A possible approach would be to place the services provided by the county councils under the care of a "service trust", which would handle the services that county councils deliver now. They would take over the running of those services in the short term, while the unitary authorities work out ways to handle these services. Thus the service would continue, service trusts would be set up and, once the unitary authorities had found their feet, they would either draw up contracts with the service trusts or they would ask a body like the Audit Commission whether they could take over a service themselves. In a separate process, the Audit Commission would then judge the best service delivery territories.

    I support five sevenths of new clause 3. I would support new clause 13 if it were relevant, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State should think seriously about new clauses 14 and 17. I hope that he will accept them, but I suspect that he cannot at this late stage. In that case, I hope that he will think seriously about the guidelines that have been issued because I find it difficult to support them as they stand. If the Bill cannot take on board the points that I have made, the guidelines must do so. Otherwise, we shall not get it right and, whoever is next in government, we shall find ourselves in this same position again and again.

    Before the guillotine falls, I wish to make a brief contribution about the duties of the local government boundary commission. I expressed my concern on Second Reading, in Committee and during the debate on the guillotine motion, about the commission's role in taking evidence locally and its procedures for making recommendations.

    I am worried about how the Government have set up the local government boundary commission's role in the Bill, because they have left out a unique and important part of it. The Local Government Act 1972 obliged the commission to seek the views of local authorities, local representatives and local community groups. It also made it clear that local people, having looked at the first draft of the boundary commission's recommendations, could make representations before a final decision was made. I have listened carefully to the Minister during previous debates, but I am unclear whether an appropriate appeals procedure will exist in respect of local investigations. That is important, although I do not see it as a party-political issue in the sense that the Government are controlling and managing the commission. A Secretary of State of any political party will be able to manipulate the commission's decisions if an appeals procedure is not set down in the Bill so that local people can have a real say in determining the final decision to be made, via the commission, by the Secretary of State.

    The local government boundary commission is currently reviewing the position in England and Wales, and has made recommendations in my area and the neighbouring area of Knowsley. The initial decision would remove Knowsley borough council from the political and administrative map of England. Its services and geographical area would be added to various other local authorities in Lancashire and Merseyside, such as Liverpool local authority. However, through the appeals procedure more than 70,000 local objections were registered with the boundary commission. That weight of objection determined the outcome, and the boundary commission changed its recommendation.

    The Bill will not give local people the ability to register an objection before a final decision is made by the Secretary of State if the local government boundary commission suggests either a partial change or total abolition of an authority. Furthermore, voluntary organisations cannot make proposals about the nature of the local authority, its geographical spread or its management. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have been involved in all forms of activity in the voluntary sector, working with youth, children, housing and the disabled. More than 600 types of voluntary organisation operate on a daily basis, directly or in conjunction with local authorities, in the delivery or preparation of services. Yet the Bill gives no idea how the voluntary sector can be involved in the consultation procedure as to the nature of the local authorities to be set up and the type of service that they will provide.

    It is important that the Minister states clearly what he intends to place in the Bill or in regulations. Local organisations and, more importantly, community groups should have a statutory right of appeal when the boundary commission first makes proposals to the Secretary of State. They should be able to object to the proposals, and hearings should be held locally and not just at the commission's or the Department of the Environment's headquarters at Marsham street.

    What guidelines will the Secretary of State lay down for the commission on setting out the procedures for local authorities and on the consideration of amendments to be put forward by the commission? The Bill is seriously flawed because it does not show how the commission will proceed in considering local areas of administration. The Secretary of State has already recommended the abolition of certain local authority units in north-east England and the midlands. Given that he has already intervened, how will the commission proceed in relation to the rest of England?

    The Minister has not made it clear in the Bill or in discussions in Committee whether a statutory period of consultation will be set down, to be publicised locally through newspapers and other means, whereby the commissioner has to follow a strict timetable for the consideration of evidence sent in by local communities. The commissioner should publish his views on that evidence and set down another strict timetable within which those views should be considered and recommendations made.

    The Minister owes it to the House to give a clear sign as to what input there will be from local communities. If the commission is to work and to be accepted as a non-political organisation which will not be manipulated by Government, we must have those safeguards. More importantly, local communities must have the ability to influence the commission's decisions.

    I wish to make a brief point about the financial constraints latent in new clause 3, which are not so specific as I would wish. There is an important need to assess the economic cost of change in the local government review process. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on Second Reading that considerable weight had been placed in the draft guidance on the need to demonstrate that there is an economic case for change.

    Paragraph 14 of the draft guidance states that
    "change to the structure of local government should be worthwhile and cost effective."
    Given the inevitable upheaval and cost involved in reorganisation, I warmly support the Government's emphasis on the need for proper justification in cost terms. In that connection, I welcome the issue on 11 February of the so-called CSL report, which the Government commissioned to advise both on costs and benefits relevant to the work of the commission and on a consistent methodology against which the commission can judge proposals for change. That is a reassuring recognition by my right hon. Friend of the central importance of assessing costs and benefits in the forthcoming review.

    I believe that the report is currently out for consultation with local authority associations. It is a useful starting point, and effectively dispels any notion that a blank cheque approach will be taken to that aspect of reorganisation. However, it was not always thus. The cost of the last major local government reorganisation, in 1974, was not evaluated at the time and I believe that it has never been fully costed. An estimate of £280 million has been made for the cost of the 1974 reorganisation, but the figure is likely to have been far higher, particularly when one recalls the early retirement pensions of town clerks, borough treasurers and the like, which would continue for some time. I am glad that my right hon. Friend's approach to the present proposals for change is more pragmatic and flexible. Economic cost and cost benefit factors must be properly monitored and measured. I am glad that the adage of the late President Harry Truman, "If it ain't bust, don't fix it", is to be allowed some influence and recognition.

    6.15 pm

    To return to a theme that I touched on when we last debated the Bill, a case can be made—at least for my own county of North Yorkshire—for keeping a second tier in operation, albeit in an attenuated form, where huge tracts of territory exist in local government terms as in the case of the premier county, the largest in the country.

    I wish to put in a good word for the counties which, by and large, have proved themselves prudent arid economical units of government. For 1992–93, counties' spending variation from the grant-related expenditure-standard spending assessment formula, before use of reserves, is minus 0·1 per cent., compared with the districts' variation of plus 11·6 per cent. Although they are main service providers, counties will add a mere £5 on average to each charge bill in 1992–93. In the past 11 years, average county spending, which approaches one half of all local government spending, has been just £80 million above the Government's desired level, compared with spending by other authorities taken together of £1·3 billion above the Government's desired level. I hope that the local government commission will not disregard a system which produces such budget-conscious authorities.

    My right hon. Friend is quoting from the voluminous paperwork of the Association of County Councils. Everything that he is saying relates to service delivery. The trouble is that some of the natural communities which exist do not conform to the big, centralised form of service delivery approach argued by the ACC.

    I fully appreciate that the ACC has deposited on us a voluminous amount of facts and figures, and I have worked hard to boil them down to a five or 10-minute speech, as I believe that they are valid.

    I shall open up the cost benefit analysis in more detail. The initial assessment of the Associaiton of County Councils is that the creation of unitary authorities based on present districts would cost more than £300 million per year for management and administration, compared with the present system, which is a substantial net addition to local government costs. Those costs represent the cost of breaking up 39 counties with 88 per cent. of the expenditure, as against abolishing 296 districts with 12 per cent. of the expenditure. We must recognise that a district takeover of the county councils would lead to twice as many management structures, chief officers, and so forth.

    The second tier of officers within the county council structure is often organised on a district level, so could we not cut off the top tier and make the second tier the chiefs of the new districts, thus saving money?

    The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I am not saying that the case is proven that the counties—even my own county of North Yorkshire—should stay as they are, or that the districts are too small and numerous to be the order of the day. I am saying that we need to evaluate the costs involved. I am not saying that those rather startling cost figures should be decisive. I fully support the argument that weight should be given to community identity and loyalties—as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) strikingly brought out in his speech—if we are to have effective and convenient local government as set out in the commission's brief.

    We all know and accept that democracy can be costly, just as justice under the rule of law cannot be had on the cheap. The notion of effective and convenient local government, however, includes the idea of economical and stable local government. We must not lose sight of the fact that small authorities might not be viable in terms either of the unit cost of their services, or of the stability and robustness of their finances—and some districts are very small.

    Services in 250 districts account for less than £15 million per year. County council services on average account for £500 million per year. The idea of course is that the district minnows should grow a bit and the county Titans should decline a bit. But let no one imagine that an Alice-in-Wonderland medicine, simply labelled "Take Me", as in the famous story, will produce the changes in size, as it did for Alice, with no prescription charge payable for the medicine. The change will cost money.

    The recent publication of the CSL report and the Government's intention to issue detailed guidance to the commission on the way to assess the costs and benefits of structural change are timely, essential and welcome. This time we must cost the menu in advance. Together, the criteria set out in the Bill and the proposed guidance to the commission will help to give us a durable and sensible basis for decision-making about future local government structure and the extent to which change is needed. I hope that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will give continuing attention to the validity of the cost evaluating structure which they have reasonably and sensibly built into the system of the commission's review.

    I shall be very brief, although, like many other hon. Members, I wanted to say a good deal. We are governed by a guillotine motion and I must defer to my hon. Friends—indeed, to hon. Members on both sides of the House. We want to vote fairly quickly, if vote there be.

    I consider it shameful for the House to be deprived of an interesting debate on the whole future of local government by the imposition of a guillotine on what is essentially a constitutional Bill—as has been revealed by every contribution to this interesting debate that we have heard so far.

    I agree with nearly all of what was said by the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). Let me issue a plea on behalf of county councils. As I told the House on Second Reading, I am an honorary vice-president—completely unpaid—of the Association of County Councils. Let there be no "oohs" and "aahs"; I do not get a penny for it.

    I am proud of what county councils do. They are responsible for 88 per cent. of local government expenditure and, of the vast number who are employed by them-1·25 million—only six in 100 are employed centrally in administration. That means that the counties are giving service to the community.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) should consider these points carefully. County councils meet every one of the criteria specified in new clause 3 and this is our last chance to tell the local government commission exactly what we want it to do. That is the purpose of the debate.

    I am sorry, but I cannot give way, because of the time constraint.

    In my view, all the new clauses point to county councils being the most suitable structure to deal with—for example—environment and planning matters, which must be dealt with on a wider basis. That is particularly true of new clause 13, tabled by Liberal Democrats and presented very ably by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

    I thought at the beginning of the speech by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that he was on my side: I went along with what he said about the need for a diversity of authorities. However, when he began to talk about the establishment of a services commission on behalf of unitary authorities, I realised very quickly that he was descending into the undemocratic shambles described by my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside.

    If we want effective and convenient unitary authority local government, we should look to the county councils. My hon. Friend the Member for Brightside said that, in exceptional cases, the existing county council might be the proper authority; in my view, that might be the norm, although it is possible that exceptions would evolve from such circumstances.

    Winding up the Second Reading debate, the Minister of State said that the county councils might exist, but not necessarily for administrative purposes. I certainly do not agree with that: it would create a sort of Lord Lieutenancy, and county councils would have nothing specific to do.

    I am strongly in favour of new clause 13. We cannot have 296 unitary authorities deciding on environmental planning matters, whether they involve a region, the Government, Parliament or any other body. When dealing with the environment, we should start on a world basis and work down, rather than starting on a unitary basis and working up. The environment affects us all.

    The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey rightly mentioned estuaries and the way in which they divide counties. I have encountered a good many problems in regard to the Mersey estuary, because two counties are involved. If responsibility for such matters spread to include unitary authorities, the shambles referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside would unquestionably result. That applies not only to water, but to air—pollution and the action of CFCs, for example. Such matters must be dealt with initially on a world basis, then on a European basis, and finally—at the lowest level—on a county basis.

    I promised to be brief and I have put in my word for county councils. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Selby said about the efficiency of county councils and I strongly urge the local government commission, when considering the future structure of local government—which is so important to democracy—to take into account the historic role that counties have played for 1,000 years. I ask the commission to consider the clear identity that they are given in the minds of individual residents, and the efficiency of county government in this country.

    As the right hon. Member for Selby pointed out, the cost of transferring government from county to unitary authorities would be considerable and would greatly disrupt the work of staff. The setting up of a staff commission should be considered, because the Bill will place many jobs in jeopardy, and confusion will result. I urge the commission to give serious consideration to the establishment of county councils as the norm.

    I shall detain the House for only a few moments. I wish to highlight the fundamentally illogical position adopted by Labour Members.

    In his concluding remarks, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) spoke of the need to enhance local decision making, to ensure that people obtained the services that they wanted and deserved. He referred to the need to give people choice. Those are noble and worthy sentiments, but the hon. Gentleman went on to adopt a position that, in my view, would make it impossible for Labour to fulfil such sentiments. As my intervention elicited reasonably clearly—I hope—the hon. Gentleman would not allow the exercising of choice to extend to a decision by local people that they would prefer two-tier to one-tier authorities.

    The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either he is deciding to give people proper and meaningful local choice or he is not. If he is, that choice must, by definition, extend to allowing them to opt for two-tier authorities and not imposing unitary authorities on them.

    Would the hon. Gentleman also give a vote to allowing locally accountable people to decide whether they wanted regional civil servants to be sent out to govern their lives and make decisions for them? That is what happens at present, but it could easily be dispensed with if they were involved more closely with county councils or with other forms of regional government.

    With respect, I do not think that that is the issue that we are discussing. We are discussing unitary authorities. That brings me to what was said by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). He, too, seemed to adopt a fundamentally illogical position He seems astonished to hear me say that; let me explain.

    The hon. Gentleman entered what was, in many ways, an understandable plea for appeal procedures to be written on the face of the Bill, so that local objections could be aired and a local hearing could take fully into account the position of local people. That is perfectly reasonable as far as it goes. However, the hon. Gentleman did not go on to explain what would be his position if such an appeal favoured the retention of two-tier authorities. As his party apparently does not believe in allowing such an option, the hon. Gentleman would automatically have to refuse an appeal based on such grounds—and that, surely, is an untenable position.

    The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) put in a strong plea for county councils to become the norm. His speech revealed again the divisions that clearly exist within the Labour party in regard to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman starts with the preconception that the county councils have so much merit that only in very exceptional circumstances would they be dismantled in favour of a district authority.

    The Labour party's approach would force a preconceived formula on to local people, notwithstanding the fact that they may have expressed disagreement about the proposed change, or that they may have expressed a strong preference—possibly as strong as that expressed by residents in the area represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison)—or that they may have said that they would prefer the two-tier arrangement to be retained. The Labour party would deny them that choice and force the single-tier authority upon them. The Labour party cannot claim on the one hand to he the champion of local democracy and on the other to adopt the formula that it has adopted here.

    6.30 pm

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) has, I believe, argued the wrong case. If one wants to argue the case for county councils, the right case to put forward is that made by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) for a two-tier system. No case can be made out for a unitary authority to be based on the county council of Cumbria. I speak as a former chairman of that county council.

    Cumbria is the second largest county, North Yorkshire being the largest. I am appalled by the idea that the county council should have responsibility for housing. It would be impossible to administer. Carlisle and Barrow, the two centres of population, are 90 miles apart. The Association of County Councils ought to have tried instead to keep the two-tier system. I am in favour of the unitary system, as are my Front-Bench colleagues.

    New clause 13 deals with environmental protection. I have already asked questions about the future of the national parks. At the end of January the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, referred to the need for new legislation to cover the national parks. I understand that the proposal is that all national parks should be based on the Lake District and Peak district model.

    I am concerned about the funding of the national parks by any local government structure. The Government pay 75 per cent. towards the funding of the Lake District national park. The county council raises a precept for the other 25 per cent. The people of Cumbria, therefore, have to pay £750,000 towards the running of the national park. My constituents have to pay £150,000 towards that total sum of £750,000. No part of the national park, however, forms part of my constituency.

    If the national parks are to be affected by any change in local government, we shall have to think again about their funding. It is not right that the local population should have to pay towards the cost of running national parks. They are provided for the benefit of the whole nation, not just the local community. National parks lead to local communities having to put up with inconveniences that people who live in other parts of the country do not encounter.

    When the Government consider the funding of national parks, they should decide that the local community ought not to be burdened with the precept. If they decide otherwise, may I suggest to them that it is only right that those communities who face the precept should have the right of representation. At present, my local authority has no representatives on the board of the Lake District national park. I hope that the Minister will clarify the role of the local government commission in terms of the national parks.

    I notice a certain restlessness on the Opposition Benches, as though Opposition Members are keen to get to the Division. I shall speak for no longer than is strictly necessary, but I must reply to the points raised in the debate.

    The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is concerned about smaller communities in London. I am familiar with that question. My own borough, like so many other London boroughs, was previously three different boroughs, so I understand his concern. We have to decide where it would be beneficial to bring about unitary government in England. We are not adamant about its introduction everywhere. Given, however, that that is one of our considerations and given also that London and the metropolitan authorities already have unitary government, we do not propose that the local government commission should look at the structure of local government in London. That will be a disappointment to the hon. Gentleman.

    The local government commission will be in existence for a long time. Different views may be taken at different times. The commission will be empowered to look at boundaries in London. That might mean the re-emergence of an historic county that lies mainly within London today—Middlesex. The local government commission might want to consider that issue.

    The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) seems to have misunderstood the position. I have taken no view about whether we should have unitary authorities in some places based upon counties or upon districts. I have not said that counties would be reduced to historic, non-administrative counties. What I have said is that in some places, whatever the result may be regarding the administration of local government, it could be that, when looking at the boundaries, the local government commission might wish to recommend the re-emergence of historic counties on account of the fact that in some places the historic county, in which somebody is deemed to live, is a matter of great concern and consequence.

    I am grateful to the Minister for dealing with the point, but will he confirm that there is nothing to preclude, according to the precise wording of the Bill, smaller boroughs—unitary by nature in terms of their powers in London—from being a possible consequence of the commission's recommendations? Furthermore, will the Minister confirm that, separately from the Bill, he will get rid of the issue of the parish, at community council level, which is not governed by the Bill but which is an anomaly because London cannot have that, lowest tier of democratic responsibility and accountability?

    I can assure the hon. Gentleman that because boundaries are included in the Bill, that makes it possible to look at boroughs of different sizes. However, I do not want to mislead him. It is not the Government's intention to look towards changing the boundaries of the current boroughs in London. However, I have said that boundary issues can certainly arise in London, both between boroughs and in terms of boundaries that concern historic counties which we might wish to have considered at some point. However, there is nothing in the Bill to exclude the local government commission from considering boundaries and arriving at different arrangements, so long as they remain unitary and do not change the structure of local government in London.

    We continue to think about parishes. We may want to publish a consultation paper in due course. That does not commit me to any course of action in London, but it certainly means that the parishes continue to be on our mind.

    On the subject of estuaries, when the local government commission reports to the Secretary of State, it may recommend that joint arrangements are necessary. It may even recommend to the Secretary of State that he must impose joint arrangements. The Secretary of State has the power to impose joint arrangements. Therefore, a joint arrangement could be used in the case of estuaries, or in the case of important coastline issues.

    Can the Minister deal with the Solway Firth, part of which is in England and part in Scotland? Could joint arrangements be made for the estuary there?

    I hope that it will be possible to reach voluntary agreement. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this part of the Bill deals only with England. I recognise that such cross-boundary problems arise, but I hope that they will be dealt with by voluntary arrangements.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) made an interesting and intelligent speech. He has been influential in the drafting of the Bill and the draft guidance that, ultimately, will be considered by the local government commission. He powerfully made the point that there are two different sorts of territory—areas where people expect their needs to be met and areas across which it may be efficient to deliver services to people. I think that he has helped members of the Committee, and now hon. Members, to understand that such differences exist.

    The question has always been how much we include in the Bill. I believe that we should include the essense of the local government commission and not try to include every nuance and consideration because it would become extremely unwieldy.

    In Committee, the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). On reflection, I have decided that we do not need to amend the Bill. There are two tasks at the heart of the job that we are asking the local government commission to do—it should reflect the identities and interests of local communities and it should look out for effective and convenient local government.

    On the second point, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne expressed a fear that is not well placed. Perhaps because that phrase is drawn from previous legislation, he has drawn the conclusion that effective and convenient local government means other than effective and convenient for local people. To me, it means convenient and effective for local people, not convenient and effective for local government; nor does it mean convenient and effective to existing institutions of local government. I believe that the consumer comes first.

    I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne has made an important point. I do not agree to amend the Bill, but I agree that we need to reflect some of those points in the guidance that we give the commission. My hon. Friend reasonably said that if I was not able to accept his new clauses he would seek an assurance that I would reconsider the guidance. I give him that assurance.

    The Bill goes some way to meeting some of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne made. If one considers together the two needs of reflecting the interests and identities of local communities and of effective local government, it omits the householder in the street but retains the town and county as possibilities. It is extremely important that the commission should listen to local people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne knows, I intend shortly to issue draft procedural guidance that will set out the stages through which I expect the local government commission to proceed in establishing the interests and identities of local communities and the means by which it consults and draws its information.

    6.45 pm

    My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne will be interested in that and in the studies of communities that I shall publish at the beginning of next week. Those studies have considered how communities identify themselves and the geographical data that might help us to identify communities. His comments on that work would be extremely welcome.

    The CSL report was welcomed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a different context from the welcome given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne is studying that report, and he will have seen in the list of intangible benefits a first attempt to establish a community index, which, among other things, seeks to identify what people regard as important in their local community.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby was concerned about structural change. I confirm that that is an important matter, although, as the CSL report says, the costs and benefits that are tangible and easily quantified must eventually be set against the costs and benefits that are intangible and which constitute the community index that I have just described.

    The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) began by regretting that our debate was guillotined. That is his party's fault. Unfortunately, it decided to waste a lot of time in debates Upstairs. I cannot regret that we are giving a fair amount of time to consideration of part II, which is an important part of the Bill. This evening, we have had one of our most serious and effective debates on the subject. If the hon. Member for Brightside wants to get on to part I, that is in his hands rather than mine.

    The hon. Member for Brightside expressed regret that there is no consensus on the subject. It took a real effort by the Labour party for there to be no consensus on the structural reform of local government. The initial reaction of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) was to welcome the establishment of the local government commission and the moves being made by the Government. It took an incredible hand-stand—an incredible fixing and changing of the hon. Gentleman's mind—to manufacture some disagreement with the Government.

    Perhaps the Minister will confirm that, on the final day of the Committee stage, I told him that we would be willing to co-operate in the establishment of the commission and its work in return for his being willing to consult us about a balanced and reasonable membership—an offer that was rejected by the Minister.

    The hon. Gentleman is not being entirely accurate. I reassured him that the membership will be balanced. He wished to be consulted not on ballots but on its membership, which is a matter for the Government and will remain so.

    There is a danger that, in all this nit-picking by the Labour party, we may miss the importance of part II, which is a remarkable opportunity and a most unusual piece of legislation. It establishes a local government commission to discover how people view themselves and their communities and how they wish to be governed.

    The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) wanted to know about the procedures by which the local government commission would proceed. He wrongly thought that there was an appeal procedure under the local government boundary commission. I propose that the local government commission should move in line with the local government boundary commission procedures. It will start a review with publicity and consultation, will take into account the representations that it receives in drawing up draft recommendations, will publish and consult on its draft recommendations, will take account again of representations in preparing final recommendations and will publish and submit its final recommendations to the Secretary of State. There will then be a further opportunity for public comment to the Secretary of State before he makes an order giving effect to the commission's recommendation, which will then be debated in Parliament. It is a process of many stages, which proves that we wish to be reasonable and to take the opinions of local people with us at all times.

    What is remarkable about part II is that it enables different structures to emerge in different places. That diversity, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) paid tribute, offends the Labour party. It complains that local people will not be able to shape events, so what does it propose? It proposes unitary authorities everywhere, whether or not people want them. It proposes annual elections everywhere, whether or not people want them. It also proposes a big bang solution with everything done on one day as in the 1970s, even though members of all parties believe that that is not the correct approach.

    On top of that, the Labour party proposes that we should impose regional government although there is no evidence that most people in England have any wish for it whatsoever. Because of a possible untidiness that might arise in Essex under one of the plans which the hon. Member for Brightside has in mind, it is important to him that the people of North Yorkshire represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby should have no opportunity to argue for two tiers of local government if that is what suits them. The Labour party puts forward its usual solution—everything must be standardised and socialist and, inevitably, short lived.

    The hon. Member for Brightside argues about the removal of functions from local authorities. Whenever we discuss finance in the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman complains about the enormous burdens thrust on to local government, but when he wants to argue about structure, he says that all their functions have been removed from them. He does not even blush at the obvious inconsistency between those two positions.

    The hon. Gentleman says that he is concerned about satisfying local people, but he has never understood that the case for local government—for people taking decisions about their own lives and what happens in their communities—is not necessarily the same as that for local authorities. He always argues for local authorities, but never argues for local people.

    The hon. Member for Brightside also talks about the need for choice in housing and education. All the people who have been living under Labour authorities will have let out a belly laugh when they heard that. The first opportunities in housing and education that have been given to many people have been given under this Government's reforms, a point recently recognised in an article in The Sunday Times by two American authors who rightly said:
    "The Conservatives are now building an unbreakable bridge between the Government of this country and the underprivileged who demand better services in education and better services in housing and have suffered from poor services from Labour local government for far too long."
    We are offering the House a truly remarkable piece of legislation. It is unusually enlightened in wishing to identify the true aspirations of local people and to translate them into a system of local government with which people can identify. In return, the Labour party can offer only a system of local government devised in Whitehall and imposed on local people all in one go in one big bang, a system which is standardised and socialist in outlook. Hon. Members will no doubt join me in rejecting the new clause and accepting the spirit of part II of the Bill which is a truly remarkable step forward in identifying the interests of local people.

    It is very disappointing to hear the Minister merely playing to his own Back Benches. In his final paragraphs he threw reason to the wind and ranted through a Conservative central office brief in a way that insulted hon. Members' intelligence. He had to find two Americans to give purported support to the Government's approach to local government. The only bridge between the Conservative party and the underprivileged is the fact that the Government have created the underprivileged and have caused pain and misery to people, not least in the way in which they have attacked local government and the services that people need.

    The Minister thought that he detected agitation among the Opposition. What he detected was anger because he and the Conservative party are frustrating debate on important issues affecting the lives of ordinary people. This debate has demonstrated clearly how a guillotine stimulates long speeches from Conservative hon. Members in order to mop up the time available for debate without changing or improving the legislation. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) about the Conservative party's outrageous disrespect for constitutional issues as illustrated by tonight's guillotine. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said, when the Minister says, "It is not our fault", he is merely parroting a ministerial cry which, after 13 years, comes a bit thick.

    I shall not be drawn into the debate about counties and districts because I hesitate to be drawn into any argument about local government in England. However, I shall say what I have said to colleagues in Wales. It is a question not of county or district but of the appropriate element of local government for a given area. What is important, and what the Government have run away from, is the setting of the right criteria on which the unit of local government will be decided.

    The Minister's reply to the debate gave soft words but no substance. It gave commitments to nothing and reassurance to no one except perhaps to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire)—which is hardly reassuring to us—about the way in which the Minister will give direction to the local government commission. That worries us because we know that there is a hidden agenda to be drawn out after the election were the Conservative party—God forbid that it should be so—again to be in control of this country.

    The trouble is that the Minister does not understand the arguments about local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham welcomed the idea of a local government commission, if it were to be done properly. That was also set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and by those of us who speak on these matters in Scotland and Wales, those of us who care about and who understand local government.

    The Minister says that membership of the commission is a matter for Government. We have seen what that means—we have seen it in Wales. I see the Minister of State, Welsh Office, hovering in the background. This is the first time that we have seen a Welsh Office Minister throughout our consideration of the Bill. In Wales, quangos have been appointed and packed with people who have failed to be elected to office in Wales. It is they who run Wales rather than people who have been elected. That is also the future that the Minister wants to impose on the people of England. The Conservative party does not want democracy to obstruct the way in which it runs the country.

    The elements of the new clause set out a number of important functions. We might ask why only England will have a local government commission and why, if it is such a good idea, it has been omitted for Wales and Scotland. What is important in each of the three countries is the principles on which local government is reorganised, but that is what the Government have run away from in their approach to the commission.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) rightly reminded us about the commission which considered the boundaries in the 1973 reorganisation. There was a great deal wrong with that reorganisation, but one of the few things that it got right was that it used as building blocks the most local areas with which people identified and of which they felt a part in order to build the units of local government. The new clause, too, seeks to reflect the identities and interests of local communities and to secure the correct units for a structure that is comprehensible to the electors. People care about the unit of government which deals with local affairs, but the Government are not interested in these issues.

    In response to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), let me say that we believe that there can be a variety of types of local government which suit different local areas, but the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) got into the county versus district argument instead of considering the unit appropriate for an individual area. It is that consideration which the new clause seeks to impose on the local government commission as the criterion on which decisions are taken.

    We talk about promoting accountable local government, but the Government are certainly not interested in that. We also talk about cost effectiveness. The hon. Member for Spelthorne was right to say that it is usually a thankless task to work out what he is getting at. It was fine when he told us that he agreed with five of the seven points in the new clause, but he thinks that it could be better drafted. Unfortunately, he does not know the difference between refuse collection and refuse disposal, and he is clueless about the inter-relation of services appropriate to a local authority.

    In the half-baked lecture on sociology to which he treated us, the hon. Member for Spelthorne complained that the new clause does not define what local government is. That is hardly fair because the Labour party, above all, has published documents and has gone into detail about the quality commission. We have said exactly what we think. We have clearly and well defined the nature and functions of quality local government to which we and local government aspire. The hon. Gentleman has criticised precisely what the Government are doing now—failing to define the functions that they consider should be exercised by local government.

    7 pm

    The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) referred to the size of local government units dealing with housing. The Welsh Office commissioned a report which was published in 1989. It examined housing management in the local authority sector and in the housing association sector. The report was intended to say, "Housing association good; local authority bad." Surprise, surprise! It was an objective report which said that there were strengths and weaknesses in both styles of management. The report was quickly forgotten and buried by the Welsh Office because it was not interested in good practice and it was not interested in the right way to develop housing.

    The problem is that the Government's policies have pushed housing associations into becoming too large to deliver the best quality management, which used to be their forte. We need to go back to providing the appropriate service, whether from the housing association sector or from the local authority sector. We do not want the Conservative dogmatism which tries to wipe out one sector so that it cannot make a useful contribution.

    The Government approach education by taking matters out of the hands of locally elected representatives. They are killing off the development towards tertiary education which has made such a positive contribution to the lives of many of our young people aged between 16 arid 19. They have placed a planning blight on our colleges.

    If the Conservative party has its way, local government will be so damaged that there will not be a mechanism for the delivery of community care services. Community care is already a disaster which is being left for us to inherit when the Government go the way that they must before long.

    Let us consider services for the mentally handicapped, for the mentally ill and for adults with learning difficulties. The Government have no interest in or understanding of the issues, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister's appalling answer in December. We need local government services to be provided on a basis which understands the local needs of people and which delivers that service in the way that is required by those hidden people.

    Economic development, education, child care, transport, housing and planning affect the daily lives of ordinary people and that has not come out of the speeches by Ministers or by Conservative Members. That is why the local government structures that provide those services need to be right, and that is why the Minister and Conservative Members appear to have no interest in and no care for the local government structures that we shall have in future.

    I could go on with the list of functions that are important to all of us. Local government cannot exist in a vacuum. It is about people and communities, which the Minister does not seem to understand.

    The new clause contains a proposal to provide for the consideration of appropriate strategic issues at a regional level, which is important. It was tragic that today at the Dispatch Box the Prime Minister appeared to rule that out for the people of England, Wales and Scotland. The Prime Minister, Ministers and Conservative Members who will stand for election throughout the country will be held accountable for that. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said, it is an issue that needs to be addressed in detail. If the proposal in the new clause is not accepted, it will not be addressed in detail. We know what direction would be given by the Minister to the local government commission.

    In answer to one of my questions recently, the Prime Minister said that he was in favour of subsidiarity. The problem is that the Prime Minister and Conservative Members do not understand the term. The Government are against subsidiarity because they are against passing power and decision making down to the most local level that is capable of dealing with issues and with the delivery of services. The Government are against subsidiarity within the United Kingdom, just as they are against democracy within the United Kingdom.

    The Government have failed to accept the simple, healthy, democratic principles which are set out in the new clause. That exposes the Conservative party's aim to kill off local government in the United Kingdom and to dictate to local people what they shall do and what they shall get. It is outrageous for the Minister to accuse the Labour party of the things of which he and his party are guilty. It is Labour which understands and respects the principles on which local government should be based.

    On the Government's hidden agenda, I warn the Minister and the Government that local contract-placing bodies would not constitute local government. The job of local government is to build communities, not just houses. Co-ordination of inter-agency work is important. Law and order, to return to another item that has been abandoned by the Government, is not just a police job; it demands proper local authorities delivering integrated services.

    We see today the nonsense of a Government who are out of step with European and worldwide moves to local democracy and the local determination of policies and priorities. We have heard the nonsense of Conservative Members who want to sort out the bit that suits them. They have jumped up to talk about their particular bits of Essex, or wherever, and they are not interested in the whole picture or in the development of integrated local government services, based on the right type of areas to serve local people and to meet the aspirations of local people.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Brightside has rightly exposed the Conservative party's outrageous intention to undermine local democracy in the United Kingdom. If the Government, as they appear to intend to do, vote against the new clause, they will demonstrate that they are not serious about the work of the local government commission. Even worse, they will demonstrate that they are not serious and do not care about local government at all. They will be condemned by their votes as surely as they stand condemned by their words and policies.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 191, Noes 276.

    Division No. 94]

    [7.07 pm


    Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.)Clelland, David
    Allen, GrahamCohen, Harry
    Alton, DavidCook, Frank (Stockton N)
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterCook, Robin (Livingston)
    Armstrong, HilaryCorbett, Robin
    Ashley, Rt Hon JackCorbyn, Jeremy
    Ashton, JoeCousins, Jim
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Cryer, Bob
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Cunlitfe, Lawrence
    Barron, KevinCunningham, Dr John
    Battle, JohnDalyell, Tam
    Beckett, MargaretDarling, Alistair
    Beith, A. J.Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
    Bell, StuartDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
    Bellotti, DavidDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyDewar, Donald
    Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Dixon, Don
    Benton, JosephDoran, Frank
    Bermingham, GeraldDuffy, Sir A. E. P.
    Bidwell, SydneyDunnachie, Jimmy
    Blair, TonyEadie, Alexander
    Blunkett, DavidEdwards, Huw
    Boyes, RolandEnright, Derek
    Bradley, KeithEvans, John (St Helens N)
    Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
    Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Fatchett, Derek
    Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Faulds, Andrew
    Caborn, RichardFearn, Ronald
    Callaghan, JimField, Frank (Birkenhead)
    Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
    Canavan, DennisFisher, Mark
    Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Flannery, Martin
    Carr, MichaelFIynn, Paul
    Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Foot, Rt Hon Michael
    Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Foster, Derek

    Foulkes, GeorgeMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
    Fraser, JohnMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
    Fyfe, MariaMullin, Chris
    Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Murphy, Paul
    George, BruceNellist, Dave
    Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
    Godman, Dr Norman A.O'Brien, William
    Golding, Mrs LlinO'Hara, Edward
    Gould, BryanParry, Robert
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Patchett, Terry
    Grocott, BrucePendry, Tom
    Hain, PeterPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
    Hardy, PeterPrescott, John
    Haynes, FrankPrimarolo, Dawn
    Heal, Mrs SylviaQuin, Ms Joyce
    Healey, Rt Hon DenisRadice, Giles
    Henderson, DougRandall, Stuart
    Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Redmond, Martin
    Home Robertson, JohnReid, Dr John
    Hood, JimmyRobertson, George
    Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Robinson, Geoffrey
    Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)Rogers, Allan
    Howells, GeraintRooney, Terence
    Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Rowlands, Ted
    Hoyle, DougRuddock, Joan
    Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Sedgemore, Brian
    Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
    Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
    Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Short, Clare
    Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Skinner, Dennis
    Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
    Kennedy, CharlesSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
    Kilfoyle, PeterSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
    Kirkwood, ArchySmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
    Kumar, Dr. AshokSnape, Peter
    Lambie, DavidSoley, Clive
    Lamond, JamesSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
    Leadbitter, TedSteinberg, Gerry
    Lewis, TerryStephen, Nicol
    Litherland, RobertStrang, Gavin
    Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Straw, Jack
    Lofthouse, GeoffreyTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
    Loyden, EddieTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
    McAllion, JohnThomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
    McAvoy, ThomasThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
    McCartney, IanTurner, Dennis
    Macdonald, Calum A.Vaz, Keith
    McFall, JohnWallace, James
    McLeish, HenryWalley, Joan
    McMaster, GordonWarden, Gareth (Gower)
    Madden, MaxWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
    Marek, Dr JohnWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
    Marshall, David (Shettleston)Williams, Rt Hon Alan
    Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
    Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Wilson, Brian
    Martlew, EricWinnick, David
    Maxton, JohnWorthington, Tony
    Meacher, MichaelWray, Jimmy
    Meale, Alan
    Michael, Alun

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

    Mr. Eric Illsey and

    Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)

    Mr. Allen McKay.

    Morley, Elliot


    Adley, RobertBeaumont-Dark, Anthony
    Aitken, JonathanBellingham, Henry
    Alexander, RichardBendall, Vivian
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
    Amess, DavidBenyon, W.
    Amos, AlanBevan, David Gilroy
    Arbuthnot, JamesBiffen, Rt Hon John
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Blackburn, Dr John G.
    Arnold, Sir ThomasBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
    Aspinwall, JackBody, Sir Richard
    Atkinson, DavidBonsor, Sir Nicholas
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Boscawen, Hon Robert
    Baldry, TonyBoswell, Tim
    Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Bottomley, Peter
    Batiste, SpencerBottomley, Mrs Virginia

    Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n)Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Hayward, Robert
    Bowis, JohnHeathcoat-Amory, David
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
    Brazier, JulianHill, James
    Bright, GrahamHind, Kenneth
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
    Browne, John (Winchester)Hordern, Sir Peter
    Buck, Sir AntonyHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
    Budgen, NicholasHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
    Burns, SimonHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
    Butcher, JohnHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
    Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
    Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
    Carrington, MatthewHunter, Andrew
    Carttiss, MichaelIrvine, Michael
    Cartwright, JohnIrving, Sir Charles
    Cash, WilliamJack, Michael
    Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs LyndaJackson, Robert
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulJessel, Toby
    Chapman, SydneyJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
    Chope, ChristopherJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
    Churchill, MrJopling, Rt Hon Michael
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
    Clark, Rt Hon Sir WilliamKey, Robert
    Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Kilfedder, James
    Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
    Cormack, PatrickKirkhope, Timothy
    Couchman, JamesKnapman, Roger
    Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Knight, Greg (Derby North)
    Day, StephenKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
    Devlin, TimKnox, David
    Dicks, TerryLang, Rt Hon Ian
    Dorrell, StephenLatham, Michael
    Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLawrence, Ivan
    Dover, DenLee, John (Pendle)
    Dunn, BobLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
    Durant, Sir AnthonyLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
    Eggar, TimLightbown, David
    Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Lillley, Rt Hon Peter
    Evennett, DavidLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
    Fallon, MichaelLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
    Farr, Sir JohnLord, Michael
    Fenner, Dame PeggyLuce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
    Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
    Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMcCrindle, Sir Robert
    Fishburn, John DudleyMcNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
    Fookes, Dame JanetMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
    Forman, NigelMans, Keith
    Forth, EricMaples, John
    Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMarland, Paul
    Fox, Sir MarcusMarshall, John (Hendon S)
    Freeman, RogerMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
    French, DouglasMaude, Hon Francis
    Fry, PeterMaxwell-Hyslop, Sir Robin
    Gale, RogerMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
    Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
    Gill, ChristopherMitchell, Sir David
    Glyn, Dr Sir AlanMoate, Roger
    Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairMonro, Sir Hector
    Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMoore, Rt Hon John
    Gorman, Mrs TeresaMorrison, Sir Charles
    Gorst, JohnMoss, Malcolm
    Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Mudd, David
    Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Neale, Sir Gerrard
    Greenway, John (Ryedale)Nelson, Anthony
    Gregory, ConalNeubert, Sir Michael
    Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Nicholls, Patrick
    Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
    Grist, IanNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
    Hague, WilliamOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
    Hamilton, Rt Hon ArchieOppenheim, Phillip
    Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Page, Richard
    Hampson, Dr KeithPaice, James
    Hannam, Sir JohnPatnick, Irvine
    Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
    Harris, DavidPatten, Rt Hon John
    Hawkins, ChristopherPawsey, James
    Hayes, JerryPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth

    Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Summerson, Hugo
    Porter, David (Waveney)Tapsell, Sir Peter
    Portillo, MichaelTaylor, Ian (Esher)
    Powell, William (Corby)Taylor, Sir Teddy
    Price, Sir DavidTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
    Raison, Rt Hon Sir TimothyTemple-Morris, Peter
    Rathbone, TimThompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly)
    Rhodes James, Sir RobertThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Riddick, GrahamThorne, Neil
    Ridsdale, Sir JulianThornton, Malcolm
    Roberts, Rt Hon Sir WynThurnham, Peter
    Roe, Mrs MarionTownend, John (Bridlington)
    Rossi, Sir HughTracey, Richard
    Rost, PeterTredinnick, David
    Rowe, AndrewTrippier, David
    Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs AngelaTrotter, Neville
    Ryder, Rt Hon RichardTwinn, Dr Ian
    Sackville, Hon TomVaughan, Sir Gerard
    Sainsbury, Rt Hon TimWakeham, Rt Hon John
    Sayeed, JonathanWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
    Scott, Rt Hon NicholasWalden, George
    Shaw, David (Dover)Walker, Bill (T'side North)
    Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
    Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Waller, Gary
    Shelton, Sir WilliamWalters, Sir Dennis
    Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
    Shersby, MichaelWarren, Kenneth
    Skeet, Sir TrevorWatts, John
    Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Wells, Bowen
    Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Wheeler, Sir John
    Soames, Hon NicholasWhitney, Ray
    Speller, TonyWiddecombe, Ann
    Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Wiggin, Jerry
    Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wilkinson, John
    Squire, RobinWilshire, David
    Stanbrook, IvorWinterton, Mrs Ann
    Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWolfson, Mark
    Steen, AnthonyWood, Timothy
    Stern, MichaelWoodcock, Dr. Mike
    Stevens, LewisYeo, Tim
    Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Young, Sir George (Acton)
    Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
    Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian

    Tellers for the Noes

    Stokes, Sir John

    Mr. John M. Taylor and

    Sumberg, David

    Mr. David Davies.

    Question accordingly negatived.