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Mrs. Ewing : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given the importance that many hon. Members attach to policy matters, is it in order for the official Opposition in particular, but also the Liberal Democrats, to abstain in such a vital vote ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Lady is an experienced campaigner in the House ; she knows that that is not a point of order for me.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to European Community documents.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 102(9) (European Standing Committees),
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 5074/94, relating to energy and economic and social
Column 553cohesion ; and supports the Government's view that, while energy may make a welcome contribution to economic and social cohesion, energy projects, policies and programmes should not be used specifically to promote cohesion objectives unless it is clearly appropriate to do so, and that the development of an increasingly competitive and efficient energy sector has an important role to play in the economic progress of the Community.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10635/93 relating to guarantees for consumer goods and after sales service, and endorses the Government's response to the Commission.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.), That the draft Local Authorities (Charges for Land Searches) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 4th May, be approved.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.), That the draft Weights and Measures (Cosmetic Products) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 10th May, be approved.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.), That the draft Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 10th May, be approved.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.), That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 23rd May, be approved.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.), That the draft Betting and Lotteries (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 24th May, be approved.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.), That the draft Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 24th May, be approved.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.), That the draft Seed Potatoes (Fees) (Scotland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 16th June, be approved.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Question agreed to.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : It is my honour and duty to present a petition from the parishioners of Elmstead Market. It concerns a gipsy site that is proposed for Grove arm, Elmstead Market, by Essex county council. It is contrary to the local plan, and will encourage development, waste agricultural land and pose a risk to historic woodland ; it should not be proceeded with without the public inquiry to which the petition refers.
Out of an electorate of 1,353, 997 people--73.5 per cent.--have signed the petition, and 94.4 per cent. of those have supported it ; only 59 of those asked to sign it declined. It has the strong support of all the residents of Elmstead.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons should ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to establish a full public enquiry as soon as a planning application has been made. To lie upon the Table.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : I have a petition on behalf of nearly 10, 000 of my constituents, many of whom have worked with the campaign to keep the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal. It reads : To the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
The Humble petition of the residents of the District of Deal, Kent and beyond,
That there is concern in Deal and beyond about the Government's review of military bands and its impact on the Royal Marines School of Music remaining in Deal ; That the people of Deal believe the Royal Marines School of Music should remain in Deal ; That the people of Deal and beyond hereby demonstrate the considerable strength of feeling of the local community towards retaining the School of Music in Deal ; That the people of Deal trust that any review of military bands will lead to the most sensible national solution, namely the development of a combined services School of Music in Deal because of its first rate suitability for such a role, both financially and logically.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will appeal to the Secretary of State for Defence to intervene to ensure the retention of the Royal Marines Music School in Deal. And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray etc."
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to present this petition, which is hugely important to my constituents and many local societies, including the Royal Marines Association, the Men of Kent, the Deal Society and many others in Deal who have a long and close connection with the Royal Marines School of Music. To lie upon the Table .
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) : May I say at the outset that I and my parliamentary colleagues who have supported the four district option for Cleveland--my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), whom I am glad to see in his place, and the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates)--fully support the decision that the Government announced yesterday on the future of Cleveland ?
The Minister for Local Government and Planning announced that he was mindful of the need to ensure a smooth transition, with adequate time for the planning of change. It is clear, given the time needed to prepare the new unitary authorities, that a start date of 1 April 1996, with elections to be held in May 1995, will fulfil that requirement of a smooth transition with adequate time for planning. The announcement has the support of the leaders and chief executives of the four district councils of Stockton, Langbaurgh, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough. Indeed, in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the leader of Middlesbrough council, Councillor Mike Carr, stated :
"Firstly (the new arrangements) will allow us to have elections before the new authorities commence their work. We have always argued that the new authorities should have a new mandate so that local people could exercise their democratic choice, and so the new councils could genuinely be a synthesis of the best of the two tiers of the current system.
Secondly, no less importantly, it will introduce a sense of certainty in the process and a realistic timetable. We believed that we could deliver' by April 1995, but it would have been a close run thing. We certainly hope that the announcement removes a serious potential source of friction for the County Council and that they will see their way in cooperating with the transfer of
It is not necessary for me to repeat the long litany of trajectories that we have been carried along to reach the point where the Minister made his statement yesterday. Suffice it to say that Cleveland county council was in the first tranche of the rolling programme of reviews announced on 3 June 1992 by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Because they were in the first tranche of reviews, their case will be settled before others. It is right and proper, and indeed inevitable, that when the draft orders have been through a final consultative procedure--a final turn of the wringer--an order should be laid to enable the Government's stated intention to be met.
The terms of the order should be such that, first, the districts can begin the preparatory work leading to the creation of the new authorities and, secondly, there can be certainty among the work force of the existing Cleveland county council as to their personal future.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : Is not it absolutely essential that the local authorities are under some compulsion, particularly Cleveland county council, to co-operate with the planning process before the new authorities are established ?
Mr. Bell : The question of compulsion in a democracy rests uneasy with us all. What we always seek is a
Column 556consensus. What we hope we will see in this situation is a consensus approach to the problems of the four new authorities when the time comes.
From a party that still believes in a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power to workers and their families, it will hardly surprise the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment that we place great store on the future of the Cleveland county council work force. We are aware, as no doubt he is aware, of the serious uncertainty over job security during the review of local government overall, which is having a corrosive effect on staff morale and, indeed, employee relations. That uncertainty helps, rather than hinders, those who wish to resist change.
The Association of District Councils takes the view, as do the Association of County Councils and the Local Government Management Board, that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 will make it impossible in practice for outgoing authorities to dismiss staff not placed in posts by vesting day, and such staff must be transferred for the successor authorities to deal with. It is my understanding that the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office are coming independently to a similar conclusion with regard to local government reorganisation in Wales.
It is, therefore, in my view and in the view of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, incumbent on the Government to give urgent consideration to making a public statement accepting the need for all staff who wish to do so to be transferred to the new authorities. Paradoxically--if we can still believe in paradoxes--it would be not only in the Government's interests to be fair to the staff concerned, but in the interests of local government finance to make such a statement because the transitional costs would then be reduced. The Opposition have always played absolutely straight on the question of local government reorganisation from the time that such reorganisation was announced. At the time the local government review was announced, Bryan Gould, late of this House and even later of these shores, stood at the Dispatch Box and said that there would be a positive response to the Government's proposals on structure, provided, of course, that the process of consultation was seen to be independent. In the case of the abolition of Cleveland county council, not only has the consultation been independent ; it has also been upheld by the law of the land.
In my local press, I read that Cleveland county council has drawn comfort from judges' comments in their judgment last week with regard to Cleveland's request for a judicial review that the court had expressed doubts about the commission's public consultations. It must have been very cold comfort indeed, since on all the counts put forward by Cleveland county council, it lost. The council said that the decision of the Local Government Commission and the Government was unreasonable. It lost. It said that the commission had misconstrued the policy guidance on joint arrangements. It lost. It said that there had been a lack of proper consultation. It lost. It said that the Secretary of State should have referred back Cleveland, as he referred Durham back. It lost. It said that it was unfair for Durham to benefit from the 1993 guidance, but not Cleveland. It lost on that, too. The court rightly pointed out that the four-district option was
Column 557supported by the majority of the local Members of Parliament. It was also supported by an opinion poll and by direct responses. The court pointed out that in the opinion poll there was a clear preference for one-tier local government--75 per cent. were in favour. As to who should comprise that tier, 31 per cent. supported the four district councils--8 per cent. favoured two councils. Direct responses showed a majority of 49 to 41 in favour of four councils. And the court, in its wisdom--whether the wisdom of Portia or the wisdom of Shylock is a matter for others to decide--referred to the submission of Cleveland county council that the Local Government Commission had paid too much attention to public opinion or vox pop, as it is now called. In the words of the learned judge, the wise and venerable judge :
"If this amounts to a submission that democracy is not the panacea for all ills, it sounds odd coming from a county council." It might also be as well to point out that in the dismissal of the action of Cleveland county council against the Local Government Commission and the Government, Cleveland was ordered to pay all the costs of the hearing. The costs have been estimated variously at between £175,000 and £200,000. The council conservatively estimates them at £100,000, although it does not state whether this is its costs as well as the costs of the Government. It is equivalent to a one-off payment of 65p per council taxpayer. Dipping one's hand into the pockets of the council tax payer to pay legal bills is not a matter of compunction for Cleveland county council.
Many far-fetched figures are bandied around by the council. It has said that the four-district option in Cleveland will cost £10 million a year more than the Teesside-Hartlepool option. But the Local Government Commission, the recommendations of which have been upheld by the court, estimates that the move away from the two-tier system will save between £6 million and £11 million a year. That means that the reorganisation will pay for itself within three years. That must be considered a satisfactory pay-back time to achieve a lasting basis for local democracy.
The four districts have said that savings should be passed on in full to service users as either reduced bills or improved services, with the merit that the services are both local and accountable. The basis of local democracy through the four-tier option will be the provision and co- ordination of services, the provision of a voice for local people, particularly those who are disadvantaged, reflecting the priorities of their communities and working as a catalyst to stimulate growth and regeneration in their specific areas. There will, indeed, be a partnership between local authority, community and other agencies. There will, indeed, be shorter lines of communication. This will mean that the views and changing needs of the communities will be constantly reflected. There will be improved targeting of resources. The new authorities will serve identifiable communities. The four districts will be able to attract inward investment and co-operate on strategic issues.
Middlesbrough has already attracted more than £700 million in Government and European Union grants. This has led to the creation of 7,000 jobs. The Tees Valley Development Company will be a genuine partnership between the public and the private sectors. It will aim to provide a professional, one-step service to potential investors in our region. It will maximise and co-ordinate
Column 558the efforts going on in all sectors to create employment. The Tees Valley Development Company will allow much more co-ordinated and effective marketing. The Tees Valley Development Company will be a catalyst for growth and economic regeneration. This is a vital issue of job creation.
In short, the four districts are on course, the Tees Valley Development Company is on course and, with the Government's commitment to a timetable of May l995 elections and a new authority in April 1996, the people of Cleveland will be on course to have their wishes respected. The question is then how soon can we assure those who work in Cleveland county council that they have a future. All four districts realise and fully accept that employees are their main resources and that reorganisation must be about creating structures in which they can work to best effect.
The Local Government Commission has estimated job reductions of about 2 per cent. across all authorities. The calculations by boroughs have led to similar assumptions. The reductions can be achieved by early retirement or voluntary redundancy, but the four districts wish to stress--through me on the Floor of the House--that they will be concentrating on job retention not job shedding. The four authorities fully recognise that they will need staff commitment and experience to make a success of their new authorities. We are anxious about jobs, not redundancies. There is no doubt, however, that concern has been expressed about the current redundancy package envisaged. It is essential for there to be a fair and mandatory system of compensation. That is essential to complete the local government review successfully in Cleveland and, indeed, elsewhere.
I would, therefore, ask the Under-Secretary of State to consider carefully the outcome of the consultations that are taking place between various parties in local government--members, managers and employees alike--to smooth their local government review and to settle staff uncertainty.
As I said earlier, the Opposition have never played politics with local government reviews ; nor do they seek to do so now. We are anxious that the review of local government should extend beyond Cleveland to cover the whole of shire England, within the framework laid down on 3 June 1992 by the then Secretary of State for the Environment.
We do not regard local government as "The Cherry Orchard" of Anton Chekhov- -no cherry picking there please. Just as the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, so those Cleveland Members of Parliament who support the four-district option expect the order to be laid before this House at the earliest convenient moment, with appropriate powers given to the districts to create the new authority, and that the dates of May 1995 for elections and April 1996 for the new authority will be strictly adhered to.
As an Opposition, we shall also be looking over and beyond the boundaries of Cleveland, to be sure that there is no gerrymandering of commission recommendations for narrow party political advantage. We are glad that, in the case of Cleveland, full start-up elections will be held at the beginning of the shadow period for all new councils--as well as those in Cleveland, including those based on existing district boundaries.
Since a good point is always worth repeating, as Lloyd George might have said, we say again that the vast majority
Column 559of staff should automatically be transferred to the new councils and satisfactory compensation provided for any not transferred. It is true that we live in a world where reality and the perception of reality become intermingled and where the perception of reality becomes more important than the reality itself. I am sorry to say that Cleveland county council has long passed that point. It must be in the interests of the work force of Cleveland county council for appropriate arrangements to begin to be made for their transfer to the new authorities. It must be in the interests of the people of Cleveland that the business community rallies around the Tees Valley Development Company.
There must be full officer co-operation on the ground between the four districts and the county council, so that there is a straightforward and homogenous transfer of services, in the interests of our local community. And there is the ultimate--respect for the sovereignty of Parliament, for this House and the other place. The Government have announced their intention to lay the appropriate order for elections and for the new authorities. The will of this House, in the event the order being carried, is not something which can be dissipated before courts, before judicial reviews, before delaying tactics, before obfuscation and distortion.
The people of Cleveland will demand no less than the fullest co-operation from those councillors who may themselves be candidates for the new authorities, and who may wish to submit themselves to the people of Cleveland on the principle that to be elected to the four districts is to serve, rather than to rule.
Cleveland county council cannot now be saved. It has fought a long and arduous battle for survival. It still has dignity and respect for the work that it has done during its existence. It would be sad for the work force, members and officers if it were now to lose that dignity and respect. It is a case of those who have ears, let them hear.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : I welcome this debate on the future of local government in Cleveland, and I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) for reorganisation in Cleveland and for the decision yesterday that the new unitary authorities should be established on 1 April 1996.
I am also pleased to see in the Chamber my hon. Friends the Members for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates) and for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), who have been tireless champions in favour of unitary authorities for Langbaurgh and Stockton respectively.
It may be helpful if I set out briefly how we have reached our current position. In July 1992, the then Secretary of State for the Environment issued a direction to the Local Government Commission to undertake a review of Cleveland and County Durham.
The commission must make its recommendations having regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities and to secure effective and convenient local government. I believe that in many ways these two criteria are mutually reinforcing. One of the best
Column 560ways of ensuring that local government is effective is having local authorities that people identify with and feel committed to. The commission submitted its final report to the Secretary of State last November. The commission's main recommendation was that Cleveland county council should be abolished and there should be four unitary authorities covering the areas of the existing districts of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stockton and Langbaurgh. In Cleveland, a survey by the commission had shown a massive 75 per cent. of residents supporting the principle of unitary authorities. The survey had also shown that of the various options offered to them, the option of four unitary authorities had the greatest support among local people. This option also proved the most popular among those who responded to the commission's consultation.
In January, we accepted the commission's main recommendation of abolishing the county council and establishing four unitary authorities. This amply fulfils the criteria set out in the 1992 Act ; that is, that there would be effective and convenient local government and that the identities of local people would be reflected. I believe that this decision has been widely welcomed in Cleveland.
We hope that the local authorities involved will work together to plan future services. It is important to make it clear that there can be no place for continuing trench warfare by those authorities that will disappear as a consequence of the review and, as the hon. Member made clear, of the decisions of Parliament. Such behaviour is to the detriment of local people and to the detriment of local government as a whole, and there is no place for that.
The Government's decision to abolish Cleveland county council was widely welcomed. However, there was and is one organisation that did not welcome it--the county council itself. As a result, it instituted judicial review proceedings against both the Local Government Commission and the Government.
The county council put forward various grounds for its legal challenge. As the hon. Member for Middlesbrough has said, the High Court has given judgment against the county council and condemned it in costs. As the judges in the High Court suggested, there was nothing wrong with the commission's recommendations or with the Government's decision to accept them ; it was simply a case of the county council not liking what the commission proposed.
Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : I endorse fully what the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) said. Many of us find it deeply repugnant that one of reasons why the case was taken to the High Court, at the expense of the local taxpayer, was brought to light in the judgment. It said that the council had accused the Local Government Commission of paying too much attention to local opinion. Does my hon. Friend recognise that when four times as many people support the commission's recommendation as favour the
Teesside-Hartlepool option, taxpayers resent deeply the idea of having to contribute between £175,000 and £200,000 of their money for something with which they do not agree ? I advise my hon. Friend of my intention to take this matter to the district auditor at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Baldry : Everything that my hon. Friend said is absolutely right. As I said earlier, a survey conducted by the commission showed that a massive 75 per cent. of
Column 561residents supported the principle of unitary authorities. The fact that Cleveland county council could seek to pray in aid, against the commission, the fact that so many people supported the commission's proposals underlines the comment of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough that the county council has long since ceased to be able to distinguish between reality and imagination.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had originally said in May that his provisional decision, subject to the outcome of the judicial review, was that reorganisation should go ahead from 1 April 1995, with the elections to the new unitary authorities in May 1995. That timetable was certainly achievable and the district councils were keen to pursue it. There could have been a smooth transition with sufficient time for planning change so that there would be no risk to the delivery of services. The length of the legal proceedings, however, means that there is now a relatively short time between making an order and a start date of 1 April 1995.
Those circumstances have led us to the conclusion that it would be wiser to put back implementation to April 1996. However, and it is an important however, the elections to unitary councils will still be held in May 1995, giving the newly elected councils almost a year to prepare for their new functions. I know that some hon. Members had been concerned about having elections to the new authorities after they had been set up and I am sure that the new timetable will satisfy their concerns.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough raised understandable concerns about the implications of reorganisation for local government employees. We are totally committed to a fair treatment for staff. The Local Government Staff Commission was set up in England in May 1993 to advise my right hon. Friend on staffing issues arising from reorganisation. The staff commission has
Column 562visited all the authorities in the first tranche of the review to listen to their concerns and those of their staff. It has since issued a circular, which set out the rules for deciding which employees will be transferred to the successor authorities by staff transfer order. It describes the scope for open competition for senior posts and defines which employees will be eligible for prior consideration appointment to posts.
The majority of the county council's staff will, of course, simply transfer to successor councils. The staff commission will be advising on those categories of staff to be covered by automatic transfer. We expect that these will include almost all operational staff who provide services direct to local people, for example, teachers and care workers.
For those staff who do not transfer by transfer order, it will be for the district councils, in consultation with Cleveland county council, to decide whether any of them will nevertheless transfer on 1 April 1996 under existing employment legislation.
We have also issued further guidance to the staff commission, drawn up in consultation with the local authority associations and the staff commission itself, in order to provide as level a playing field as possible for staff of outgoing authorities compared with those of the continuing authorities.
Last month, we also issued a consultation paper which set out the Government's proposals for redundancy schemes specific to local government
The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.
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