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Column 247Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Sydney Chapman
Column 247Abbott, Ms Diane
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Column 247Llwyd, Elfyn
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Alan Simpson and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn
Column 247Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994 contained in Cm. 2550.
Queen's recommendation having been signified--
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords] , it is expedient to authorise--
(a) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money provided by Parliament under any other enactment, and (b) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums to be paid into that Fund under any other enactment.
Column 248It is a pleasure to be associated with the fast tracking of the Law Commission proposals.
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South): This is a modest and uncontroversial proposal and we intend to give it a fair wind. The thanks of the whole House are due to Lord Brightman for the manner in which he dealt with the matter in the other place and got the Bill into its present shape. We hope that the Government will enable some 36 other matters in all of which the Law Commission is eagerly awaiting the disposal to be proceeded with in a similar fashion in order that the backlog of law reform and the concerns expressed by the President of the Law Commission, Mr. Justice Brooke, can be dealt with adequately. With that, we wish the measure well.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr. Robert G. Hughes be discharged from the Select Committee on Broadcasting and Mr. Timothy Kirkhope be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]
That Mr. Stephen Dorrell be discharged from the Committee of Public Accounts and Sir George Young be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]
Sir David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West): I am grateful for the opportunity to have a short debate on the future of local government in Bedfordshire. May I first welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) to the Front Bench. This is his first innings there. We in Bedfordshire are delighted at his promotion. Who better to answer the problems of local government in Bedfordshire than an adjacent Member? The people in Bedfordshire and I will listen closely to what he has to say.
May I start by saying that the Local Government Commission's preferred option for the future of local government in Bedfordshire is a north-south split, which is extremely unpopular among my constituents.
The Dunstable Gazette of 5 October drew attention to an independent poll carried out on the matter which said that the people of Dunstable and the surrounding area
"voted overwhelmingly against the setting up of a Super Luton' council"
which would be part of a north-south split.
Bedfordshire county council--obviously an interested party in these matters --said in a press release of September 30 in relation to the poll:
"This must send a clear signal to the Commission that the residents"--
of Dunstable and the surrounding area--
"do not want to be in the same authority as Luton."
I have had a very large number of letters and discussions during the long recess, not only from people in South Bedfordshire who do not want to be merged with Luton, but from people from Mid Bedfordshire who do not want to be merged with Bedford.
I have also received a considerable number of representations from companies, particularly small and medium-sized businesses where the management tend to live locally. Those letters and the discussions I have had express extreme hostility towards a merger with Luton and it is impossible to believe that people would feel comfortable with a South Bedfordshire-Luton merger.
One strong objection to the north-south split is that southern Bedfordshire would have lack of balance, with 48 councillors to 32 for the whole of the rest of the area. Luton's interest with 48 would predominate.
In central Bedfordshire, the balance would be much fairer, with Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard about the same size, with a reasonable balance between South and Mid Bedfordshire towns and with rural areas reasonably balanced against urban areas.
Education reform is clearly of the greatest importance in local government reform. Luton, as a result of its former county borough status, has a different system from the rest of the county for its schools. Although it has proved possible to run the two systems in an area the size of Bedfordshire, it would not be practical to do so in an area the size of the proposed new authority--that is, Southern Bedfordshire. Either Luton or South Bedfordshire would have to change and the considerable cost of that should be taken into account.
Column 250There are strong links between Mid and South Bedfordshire now, with Mid Bedfordshire children attending schools in Leighton Linslade and South Bedfordshire children attending Harlington upper school in Mid Bedfordshire. Because of the different school entry ages, there are very few links between South Bedfordshire parents and Luton schools. I note the commission's suggestion that Luton should not be cut off from its hinterland, but it always has been--first as a county borough and later because most planning decisions are a matter for district councils, rather than county councils. In any case, as most of the available undeveloped land in South Bedfordshire is green belt, it is difficult to see how Luton could expand in that direction. Any attempt to make major changes in the green belt would cause enormous protests. Indeed, even minor changes in recent years have been highly controversial.
On the question of housing, it is doubtful whether South Bedfordshire has enough available land to meet its own needs. There has been very rapid development in recent times, especially in Houghton Regis and Leighton Linslade, and there is considerable demand for housing from the children of those who moved into South Bedfordshire who are now grown up and getting married. We really could not accommodate Luton's needs as well.
It is simply not true to say that South Bedfordshire looks to Luton for its transport needs. Leighton Buzzard has its own station and many people from the rest of the area prefer to use that rather than Luton--a tendency which is growing since the construction of the Leighton Buzzard bypass, which makes it quicker to get to Leighton Buzzard from Dunstable. Others use stations such as Harlington and Flitwick in Mid Bedfordshire or stations in Hertfordshire. Traffic problems, too, show little in common between South Bedfordshire and Luton, but considerable connections with Mid Bedfordshire. The question whether Dunstable should have an A5 bypass is really of very little concern to Luton. The problems of heavy traffic going through Woburn in Mid Bedfordshire and Toddington in South Bedfordshire are almost identical and need a common solution if one can be found.
In the local government report on the north-south split proposal, there is considerable comment on Dunstable and Houghton Regis, but very little on Leighton Linslade, which I find quite amazing. Leighton Linslade and Dunstable are of similar size. The people of Leighton Linslade really have nothing in common with Luton. There is no common employment base; shopping outside the town tends to be done in Milton Keynes; Leighton Linslade people have their own railway station and they use Buckinghamshire hospitals. I suspect that many people who live in Leighton Linslade practically never go to Luton at all. There is also nothing in common between Luton and the villages. On the other hand, there are considerable links between South and Mid Bedfordshire through the various farming organisations.
It is traditional to consider Dunstable, Houghton Regis and Luton as linked industrially, but many of those links no longer exist. I note the commission's reference to the Bishop of Wolverhampton's report in 1988, but much has changed since then. General Motors is, alas, no longer a major employer in Dunstable, with the Bedford Trucks plant first sold off and then collapsing. Now, the component plant of AC Delco has been sold off. General Motors still has land in South Bedfordshire, much of it
Column 251used for storage, but so it does in Mid Bedfordshire with its test track at Millbrook. In any case, the 1988 report referred to links with part of South Bedfordshire, not Leighton Buzzard and most of the villages.
There is another example of the difference between Luton and Dunstable. We recently had a visit from the chief executive of English Partnership to see how he could help with the problems in Dunstable resulting from the failure of Bedford Trucks. The chief executive immediately identified the major problem of lack of access to the site and the need for the A5 bypass. That has nothing to do with Luton at all.
There are considerable links between South and Mid Bedfordshire. I have already mentioned schools, rail and roads. The parliamentary constituencies, too, cross the border, with parts of Mid Bedfordshire in my Bedfordshire, South-West seat, and both Mid and South Bedfordshire villages in Luton, North.
As for where people identify with, I suspect that everyone identifies with their smallest unit, be it town or village, and that identification with Luton or Bedford by their inhabitants is with the town rather than with the local authority.