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Written Answers

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 14 March 1996

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Written Answers

Thursday, 14th March 1996.

Local Government: Structure

asked Her Majesty's Government:When they will announce their decisions on the recommendations made to them by the Local Government Commission on 19th December 1995, following their review of the structure of 21 districts in England.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has announced our decisions on the recommendations made by the Local Government Commission following their review of the structure of 21 districts. In reaching these decisions we have considered the commission's report and the representations which we have received. We have also taken account of the estimates of transitional and ongoing costs, and the viability of the structures which will result—both the unitary authorities and the remaining two-tier arrangements. In each case we are satisfied that on balance my decision will best reflect the identities and interests of local communities and will best secure effective and convenient local government.We are accepting the commission's recommendations that there should be no structural change in Basildon, Broxtowe, Dartford, Exeter, Gedling, Gloucester, Gravesham, Huntingdonshire, Northampton, Norwich, Rushcliffe, and Spelthorne. We are satisfied that the case for a single tier of local government has been properly considered; we have no plans to direct the commission to carry out any further reviews of local government structure. Local authorities in all areas where there is no structural change now need to concentrate on developing and improving the delivery of services within the existing system. In most cases local authorities have given undertakings on this, however, we shall not hesitate to intervene if it appears that those undertakings to work together are not being fulfilled.The commission made recommendations for unitary authorities to be created in nine of the districts reviewed. We have decided to accept their recommendations for the reasons set out below.


We have decided to accept the commission's recommendation that there should be a unitary authority for Blackburn.

As a former county borough it has a history of unitary local government. There is good evidence that Blackburn would operate effectively as a unitary authority. There is strong local identification with the two towns of Blackburn and Darwen within the borough, and support for unitary status. With a population of 138,300 the borough would be able to provide the full range of services, and its economic future could, we believe, be more effectively addressed by a strong unitary authority.


We also accept that Blackpool should be a unitary authority. It too is a former county borough. Its separate identity from the rest of Lancashire is well-defined and is both local and national. Blackpool has clear and distinctive socio-economic problems, and tourism brings additional service pressure not shared by adjacent districts. Local residents identify strongly with the town. With a population of 152,100 it would be able to provide the full range of services. We have therefore concluded that a unitary authority would be viable and better able to address the needs and aspirations of local residents.

We are satisfied that without Blackburn and Blackpool, Lancashire County Council would be of sufficient size and strength to be viable, and to readjust its service provision to operate with no loss in cost effectiveness.

Gillingham and Rochester upon Medway

On north west Kent, we have concluded that the balance of evidence lies in favour of accepting the commission's recommendations; that there should be a joint unitary Gillingham and Rochester upon Medway but that Dartford and Gravesham should remain within the current structure of local government.

The case for a joining the Medway towns in one unitary authority is strong. It is a significant urban area, one of the largest in the south east outside London, with a population in excess of 240,000. The two boroughs form a continuous conurbation with strong cross community interests and common physical and economic interests. Uniting the two authorities would provide a clearer focus and impetus to the Medway area and its size would ensure that the new authority would be well able to deliver the full range of local services. Kent County Council would still be one of the largest county councils in England.

The commission, however, judged that on balance the case for Dartford and Gravesham was not so strong and had not been made out. It felt that the more diverse characters of the two districts along with the lack of wider support, particularly in Gravesham, would make a joint unitary authority more difficult to establish. We strongly endorse the commission's conclusion that all the local authorities concerned should support and promote a development partnership for the area to manage change and growth. We shall not hesitate to intervene if it appears that those undertakings to work together are not being fulfilled.


We accept the commission's recommendation that Halton should become a unitary authority. It has an internal cohesion and a high level of self sufficiency with most residents staying within the borough for shopping, work and leisure. It has a socio economic profile more akin to that of neighbouring metropolitan areas and is quite distinct from the rest of the county. Both Runcorn (as a new town) and Widnes (as a town expansion scheme) have experienced substantial inward migration from Merseyside in the past 25 years, contributing to the relatively low level of community identity with Cheshire.

The authority is well placed to forge alliances and co-operative arrangements with neighbouring unitary authorities. There would be major advantages for Halton in being able to adopt a more locally focused approach to the co-ordination of services within an area which has a high level of deprivation and requires substantial regeneration.


Also in Cheshire, we accept that Warrington should also become a unitary authority. As a large maturing new town, it has the size (population 187,000) and experience (a county borough prior to 1974) to suggest that it would be well placed to deliver the full range of local authority services. It has grown rapidly since its designation as a new town, emphasising its separateness from the rest of Cheshire. Warrington itself is the main focus for the majority of residents in the borough.

We are satisfied that without Halton and Warrington Cheshire County Council would remain of sufficient size, with a population of 665,300 to deliver county services. Without these two very urban and quite distinct areas, Cheshire County Council would be able to focus more effectively on the remaining, more rural, county area.


We accept that Peterborough should become a unitary authority. The city area has a long history of being distinct from the rest of Cambridgeshire. It is also geographically marginal, situated on the edge of the county. It has a strategic importance with respect to communications, being situated on the main east coast railway link and on two major roads.

It is at the heart of an area covered by the greater Peterborough partnership, and is a major employment and retailing centre serving areas beyond the city. Its sphere of influence extends beyond the boundaries of the county. Peterborough has experienced rapid growth as a new town, and its highly urban character makes it distinct from the rest of the county. It has the size (158,300 population on present boundaries) to be capable of delivering a full range of services, and unitary status would enable it to focus on its specific urban needs.

The remaining county would be more coherent without the highly urban Peterborough, and will be of sufficient size to be viable. It will however be important for the whole area that the county council and the unitary Peterborough address the issue of revised service arrangements, and that the existing economic development partnerships involving the various agencies, local authorities and the private sector are maintained, in order to maintain the quality of service delivery.


We have decided to accept the commission's recommendation that there should be a unitary authority for Thurrock. Thurrock has a community identity which is distinct from the rest of Essex. Its strategic importance extends beyond the county boundary, a result of its location on the periphery of London and the presence of the Lakeside complex. There is good support from residents and local organisations for change and, with a population of 131,000, we believe Thurrock would be able to provide the full range of local government services.

We are satisfied that Essex—without Thurrock and Southend, which is also to become a unitary authority—would still be large enough for the county council to be a viable and cost effective provider of services for the rest of the county.

The Wrekin

In Shropshire, we have decided that The Wrekin should become a unitary authority. It has a good case for unitary status on the grounds of both community identity and convenient and effective local government within the district.

The Wrekin has a character which is distinct from the rest of Shropshire, founded in its industrial history and the more recent development of Telford New Town. The commission found that the district is largely self-contained for employment and leisure, that there are strong links between Telford and the rural part of the district, and that the population looks more towards the West Midlands conurbation than to the rest of Shropshire.

We believe that unitary local government would help The Wrekin to develop its full potential as a major growth point for the West Midlands. The benefits would extend beyond the authority's boundaries to the rest of the area. With a growing population, currently some 143,000, and a good infrastructure, we consider that a unitary council would be capable of delivering the full range of local authority services.

We are, though, mindful of the concerns which have been expressed about the impact of a unitary authority on the rest of Shropshire. I look to the new unitary authority to co-operate with Shropshire County Council and the neighbouring districts to ensure that the economic and other benefits of unitary local government in The Wrekin are felt throughout the county.

Non-structural recommendations

Where we have accepted the commission's recommendations for structural change, we also propose to accept its recommendations for associated changes.

On strategic land use and planning, we accept the recommendations that the unitary authorities in Halton, Warrington and Thurrock should be enabled to prepare unitary development plans for their areas. We consider that unitary development plans offer the best way forward for the planning in these areas which are adjacent to metropolitan areas which already prepare unitary development plans.

In the other areas which will gain unitary status, we accept the commission's recommendation that the new unitary authorities should work jointly with the county council to maintain a joint structure plan for the combined area.

In these areas, the commission's recommendation provides for alternative approaches to minerals and waste local planning. It recommends that these planning responsibilities should be discharged through joint arrangements with the county council, but that the unitary authorities should be authorised to include such detailed policies in their local plans, if that would secure greater efficiency without prejudicing the county-wide strategic policy. Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972 would enable joint arrangements to happen where they suit local circumstances. On the other hand the joint structure plan would include strategic policies for minerals and waste planning while the unitary authorities' local plans must be in general conformity with the structure plan; this would ensure that any detailed minerals and waste policies included in those local plans did not prejudice the jointly prepared strategic policies. We therefore accept both of the alternative approaches. We agree that these recommendations offer the best way forward for planning in these areas.

We accept the commission's recommendations on the police, fire, probation and magistrates' courts services in the unitary authorities.

The commission also made a number of recommendations for boundary and electoral changes. One, in the Basildon area, would have involved a particularly large transfer of population between Basildon, Brentwood and Rochford. This was first put forward in 1994 by the commission, following its review of Essex. Despite some local support we consider that the proposals need further examination, especially with regard to the financial consequences. We are not satisfied that the commission was able to do this within the timing constraints on the district reviews. We therefore intend to direct the commission to look again at this matter, and at other boundaries in Essex, when it conducts its periodic electoral review of the county.

The commission also recommended a number of other smaller changes involving transfers of land between Huntingdonshire and Peterborough in the area of the southern township development. Given the southern township's strategic relationship with Peterborough, and the need to facilitate effective planning and service provision there, we are satisfied that this boundary change is desirable, and we accept the commission's recommended changes. We are also provisionally accepting the recommended changes to the warding in Peterborough, which reflect the proposed boundary change, although, as mentioned below, we shall be directing the commission to carry out an electoral review of the city.

The recommended warding change in Gloucester City will rectify the under-representation in a number of the existing wards, and even out councillor to elector ratios; we accept this recommendation. The recommended boundary change in Surrey between Spelthorne and Runnymede districts takes account of changes in the course of the river Thames; former islands would be part of the district whose area they now join, thereby easing service delivery. We accept this recommendation also.

This concludes the commission's current review of the structure of local government in England, and we are grateful for its thorough and expeditious work. As we foreshadowed on 5th March, we shall be directing the commission to undertake immediate reviews of the electoral arrangements in the areas which will acquire unitary status as a result of my decisions today. Unlike the earlier county reviews, the commission did not have time in these district reviews to consider the electoral arrangements in detail. There remains considerable variation in the councillor to electoral ratios in many of these areas, and we are concerned that suitable electoral arrangements are in place in time for all out elections to the unitary authorities.

We shall be consulting very shortly on draft orders to give effect to the decisions which have been announced today, with a view to making the orders before the Summer Recess.

London: Advisory Bodies

asked Her Majesty's Government:What are the running costs of the various bodies now involved in advising on London affairs, including the costs of the Joint London Advisory Panel.

There are a number of organisations from both the public and private sectors advising on London affairs and some of these are also members of the Joint London Advisory Panel. Each organisation plays a voluntary role and as a result bears any costs which it incurs.

Glc Abolition: Cost Effect

asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the cost of transferring to the London boroughs the functions of the Greater London Council on its abolition and what are their annual running costs in respect of these functions.

It was estimated in 1987 that over 6,000 posts had been saved immediately following abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan councils. The projected long-term annual savings were of the order of some £100 million per annum resulting from staff reductions.It is not practicable to produce estimates of the current annual cost of providing these functions because of the difficulty of disaggregating data provided by the successor authorities. But in the 10 years since the GLC was abolished the savings will have been substantial.

Asylum Seekers: Help To Local Authorities

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to Lady Cumberlege's answer that local authorities will receive help with the cost of asylum seekers for "80 per cent. of their unavoidable additional expenditure above a certain threshold" (H.L. Deb., 4th March, col. 7), what is the threshold to which Lady Cumberlege referred.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health
(Baroness Cumberlege)

The threshold has not yet been determined. Necessary evidence about the scale of the possible expenditure by individual local authorities has been sought from the local authority associations. The special grant will be paid in arrears to local authorities on the basis of audited expenditure.

Consultant Physicians: Classification

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they now classify consultant physicians in public health medicine as managers in the National Health Service and whether their number is being reduced, in the light of recent reports that 26 senior registrars in this specialty have resigned because of deteriorating promotion prospects, seven of whom have emigrated.

Consultant physicians in public health medicine are not classified as managers by the Department of Health, although they contribute to the core functions of health authorities and may undertake management functions. We have no evidence to suggest that their numbers are being reduced. In fact, the latest information available, as follows, shows an increase in the number of consultants (including directors) in public health medicine in England.

  • 1992: 390
  • 1993: 390
  • 1994: 440
(Whole time equivalents; numbers rounded to the nearest 10; figures were as at 30th September in the relevant year; source: medical and dental workforce census 1992–1994).

Lloyd's: Compliance

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the Council of Lloyd's decision to allow certain groups, including Lloyd's insurance brokers, to acquire an interest in managing agents contravenes Sections 10 to 12 of the Lloyd's Act 1982.

The Council of Lloyd's has made it clear that compliance with the Lloyd's Act 1982, including Sections 10 to 12, will be one of the main tests in implementing this decision.

Ecgd: Payments

asked Her Majesty's Government:What sums have been paid to exporters in each year since 1st April 1988 by the Export Credits Guarantee Department, and whether they can break down the total paid according to the countries involved.

The amounts paid by ECGD by way of claims since 1st April 1988 are as follows:

Year£ million
1 To 31st December.
A breakdown of these totals by country, detailing the top 10 markets for each year, is attached.

Ford Motor Company: Subsidy

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to their written reply (H.L. Deb, 16th October 1995, col.

WA 71), whether they have yet secured the permission of the Commission of the European Union to pay the proposed subsidy of £80 million to the Ford Motor Company in order to secure the expansion of the capacity of the Jaguar car company.

A favourable decision by the Commission is expected very shortly.A small portion of the package of support will remain to be clarified but it is not expected that this will cause difficulties with the Commission.

Business Support Agencies

asked Her Majesty's Government:What are the respective objectives and purposes of Training and Enterprise Councils, Business Links and Enterprise Agencies.

Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) have a remit to develop strategies for training and enterprise which are key elements in the drive towards improving the competitiveness performance of businesses. The TEC role is, therefore, essentially long-term and strategic. It is about defining what needs to be done in each area to improve the effectiveness of training and enterprise support and doubt deploying the available funds effectively in order to reach agreed objectives.Business Links are partnerships of all the relevant local business support agencies. Their job is to improve the effectiveness of the delivery of business support services. In doing so, they will need to work within the overall strategy agreed between the TEC and the government office and within the constraints of the resources made available by the TEC and by other partners.Local Enterprise Agencies promote or encourage industrial and commercial activity or enterprise in locally defined areas of the UK with particular reference to encouraging the formation and development of small businesses. They are usually Business Link partners and provide a range of business services to new and established small firms including business advice and counselling, specialist financial services, business skills training and the provision of managed workspace.

Nursery Education Voucher Scheme

asked Her Majesty's Government:What progress is being made with their pilot study of the voucher scheme for the support of nursery education, what percentage of those eligible for such vouchers in the areas under study have applied, how it is proposed to assess the outcome and acceptability of the scheme, and when it is anticipated that a formal report will be made.

Good progress is being made with Phase 1 of the nursery education voucher scheme. Almost 600 providers in the private and voluntary sectors have applied to join the scheme, alongside maintained schools. The parents of almost half the estimated number of eligible children have been sent vouchers.The department will monitor the operational arrangements for Phase 1, including the issue and redemption of vouchers, and will make available its findings. Inspection reports on the quality of provision at individual institutions will become available from later this year. The benefits of the scheme for children's later education will be evaluated over the longer term.

Sex Discrimination And Equal Pay Regulations

asked Her Majesty's Government:What were their reasons for postponing the coming into force of regulation 3 of the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 1996 until 31st July 1996.

Regulation 3 of the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations requires consequential amendments to the Industrial Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 1993. These and other amendments to the regulations are not expected to come into force until 31st July 1996. It made sense, therefore, to bring Regulation 3 of the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations into effect on the same date.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination Bill Hl

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to Lord Henley's comment during the Second Reading debate on the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Bill that "strong and compelling evidence from those making the case is necessary" (H.L. Deb., col. 405), what would, in the Government's view, constitute such evidence.

The evidence would have to be sufficiently strong and compelling to outweigh the Government's long-standing and well-known opposition to further legislation in the employment field the effect of which would be to add to the burdens on business and adversely affect job creation.

"Sea Empress" Incident

asked Her Majesty's Government:Pending the results of the inquiry into the accident to the "Sea Empress" in Milford Haven, what steps they are taking to minimise the risk of further marine accidents there.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Viscount Goschen)

The Government minimise the risk of marine accidents through a wide range of policies and measures, including a rigorous regime of port state control inspections to ensure high safety standards for vessels entering all UK ports. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch are investigating the circumstances and cause of the grounding of the "Sea Empress", with the aim of improving the safety of life at sea and the avoidance of accidents at sea. If, during the course of the investigation, the inspector considers that he should make interim recommendations, he will do so.

Northern Ireland: Resettlement And Rehabilitation Organisations

asked Her Majesty's Government:What consultations they have undertaken since the 1994 ceasefires and when (other than arranging research into employment opportunities) with the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, Extern, NIACRO and other voluntary organisations, into the resettlement and future employment of paramilitaries both convicted and non-convicted.

Government officials are in regular contact with the Probation Board, Extern and NIACRO on a range of issues, including resettlement and rehabilitation, relating to all offenders and those at risk of offending.

Housing Benefit: Arrangements

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the continuous linking period of 26 weeks for extended payments of housing benefit will result in a claimant being disqualified from benefit for (a) one day's sickness; (b) one week's sickness; (c) two weeks' sickness.

Where a person's qualifying benefit comes to an end because of incapacity for work the 26 week qualifying period will he broken. However, from October payment of Jobseeker's Allowance will normally continue for up to two weeks where jobseekers are unable to be available for or actively seek work because they are sick. Consequently, from that date, anyone who satisfies the qualifying conditions for an extended payment of housing and council tax benefit will not be affected by short periods of sickness unless he chooses to claim an incapacity benefit.

asked Her Majesty's Government:When a review of the extended housing benefits scheme is to be carried out; and whether the scheme will be expanded to include people who were previously entitled to (a) a disability premium (except on grounds of incapacity) and (b) incapacity benefit.

Extended payments of housing benefit and council tax benefit, which start on 1st April, are expected to help some 350,000 unemployed people a year to make the move back into work. We shall be monitoring the arrangements carefully before giving any thought to widening the qualifying criteria.

Lone Parents Ceasing To Receive Benefit

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to their Written Answer of 31st January (H.L. Deb.,

WA 111) why they are unable to give figures for the numbers of single parents coming off income support before the year 1993–94.

Prior to 1993, income support statistics were based on an annual sampling exercise which did not identify numbers of benefit terminations over the relevant year.

Diplomatic Service: Ethnic Minorities

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the answer given by Baroness Chalker of Wallasey on 5th March 1996 (H.L. Deb.,

WA 15), whether they will introduce measures to encourage the recruitment and promotion of ethnic minorities in the senior grades of the Diplomatic Service, and, if not, why not.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

We have a comprehensive programme for action for ethnic minority staff. This aims to ensure equal access to recruitment, promotion, career development and training for ethnic minority officers, especially in grades where they are under represented. Our personnel procedures are monitored to ensure equal opportunities policies are implemented.We are targeting our recruitment of ethnic minority graduates (our future senior grade potential) with an active recruitment programme. Ethnic minority officers speak at recruitment fairs, we advertise in publications aimed at ethnic minority readers and work closely with the Windsor Fellowship, holding two open days a year.