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Column 200O'Neill, Martin
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Paisley, The Reverend Ian
Pike, Peter L
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Quin, Ms Joyce
Reid, Dr John
Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Column 200Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert N
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Wright, Dr Tony
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes: Mrs. Barbara Roche and Mr. Joe Benton.
Column 200Question accordingly agreed to.
That, unless and until the party which achieved an overall majority of Members elected at the preceding general election loses that majority either as a result of by-elections or through the secession of Members to another party, the Committee of Selection shall interpret paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees) in such a way as to give that party a majority on any standing committee.
Madam Speaker: Before we come to the motion on local government, I should inform the House that I have limited Back-Bench speeches during the debate to 10 minutes. Of course that does not include the two Front Benches, nor does it include the spokesman for the third party.
That the draft Cleveland (Structural Change) Order 1994, which was laid before the House on 8th December, be approved.
The Local Government Commission published its final recommendations for Cleveland on 8 November 1993 and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced his decision on 18 January 1994. We agree with the commission that more effective and convenient local government in Cleveland will best be achieved by establishing four unitary authorities on the boundaries of the existing borough councils of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees and Langbaurgh-on-Tees--the latter to be named Redcar and Cleveland--and that that will reflect the interests and identities of local people. It is important to emphasise what the work and recommendations of the Local Government Commission are intended to achieve--which is not to pass judgment on the merits or otherwise of individual councils. The policy guidance to the commission contains the message again and again that its job is to explore whether better structures for local government are available.
Not all hon. Gentlemen have felt themselves bound by the same constraints. The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) has been fierce in his defence of Cleveland council. The hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) have been fierce in their denunciation of Cleveland council. The task of reconciling their views is not for me, but is one, I assume, for the Labour Whips, among whose number is, was or perhaps is no longer to be the hon. Member for Hartlepool--unless the Labour party has invented a new form of the Silken Whip, which strikes but does not bite. I remain to be enlightened on that particular phenomenon.
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): Can my hon. Friend clarify the position? The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) spoke out strongly in support of the order in the House on 29 June 1994 and in other places, yet we understand from his local press that he now proposes either to vote against or to abstain on the motion. How can that be?
Mr. Curry: My hon. Friend draws my attention to the strong representations made by the hon. Members for Hartlepool and for Middlesbrough. It is a subject that raises strong passions which I fully understand. It is for me to look at the commission's recommendations in the light of the functioning and the structures of local government. Of course, hon. Gentlemen will reconcile their views with those of their hon. Friends during the debate and the voting.
Article 3 gives effect to the Local Government Commission's main recommendations for local government structure in Cleveland and provides for
Column 202reorganisation on 1 April 1996. On that date, Cleveland county council will be wound up and functions and powers will be transferred to the four borough authorities.
The original intention was for reorganisation from 1 April 1995; however, the county council's judicial review application, which was turned down by the High Court in June, made it impossible to stick to that timetable without putting at risk smooth transition and proper provision of essential services.
Although there are no proceedings currently before the courts, Cleveland county council has applied for leave to appeal by means of an oral hearing before the Court of Appeal. The date of that hearing has not yet been set. Before the order was laid, we carefully considered whether that outstanding request for leave to appeal should prevent laying and debating the order, but we concluded that it should not. If Parliament approves the draft order, we shall, of course, take stock of the position on legal proceedings before the order is made.
The Local Government Commission recommended in its final report on Cleveland and Durham that, for ceremonial and related purposes, the county area of Cleveland should be divided between County Durham and Yorkshire. Although we have accepted that proposal in principle, we shall not be taking a final decision until we have reached conclusions on the future structure of local government in County Durham and North Yorkshire. The present order does not address that issue.
Having considered local views, we are providing for all-out elections to all four borough councils, including Hartlepool, which normally elects by thirds, in May 1995. The councillors elected then will have a fresh mandate from the people of Cleveland to plan for change, and then to take over responsibility for running all local authority services from the following April.
To ensure a smooth transition and to safeguard essential services, the five Cleveland authorities will be given extra duties and powers to prepare for the reorganisation. The order draws a distinction between what the successor authorities can do before and after the elections in May. They should be able to prepare for reorganisation from the time the order is made, but we strongly believe that the decisions that will determine the outlook and culture of the successor authorities, along with appointments of chief officers, should be taken after the elections in May by the councillors who are elected with the mandate for the change in functions.
There will be a duty on all five existing councils to co-operate in implementing reorganisation. The borough councils will also have access to information which they need and will be able to make the necessary preparations, including budget setting and appointing staff, in advance of the transfer and exercise of the functions which they will inherit from 1 April 1996. The new authorities will also be required to consider whether particular functions can best be carried out from voluntary joint arrangements.
The order also provides for a number of other matters on which the Local Government Commission made recommendations or which result from reorganisation. It paves the way for a combined fire authority for Cleveland, which will be created by a separate order under the Fire Services Act 1947, to be made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. It also provides for representatives of the new unitary authorities to replace the county council's nominees on the Cleveland police authority from 1 October 1995 for certain purposes so that
Column 203they can be involved in the decision on the 1996-97 budget and policing plans. The county council's representatives will stay on the authority for all other purposes until the county council is abolished in the following April. The order vests the county council's superannuation fund in Middlesbrough borough council, which is also designated for the purposes of certain financial regulations.
As unitary authorities, the four Cleveland boroughs will be responsible for both strategic and local land use planning for their areas. We are determined that, wherever there is reorganisation, there should be adequate arrangements for strategic planning. In the case of Cleveland, the commission proposed that the four unitary authorities should maintain separate local plans but work together on a joint structure plan; we have accepted that recommendation. The order gives effect to the recommendation by transferring the county's strategic planning responsibilities to the four borough councils, which can then make the necessary voluntary arrangements for joint working on the structure plan. We anticipate that the authorities in Cleveland will establish satisfactory arrangements, and are much encouraged by the proposals that they have published for joint work on strategic planning for the Tees valley.
Finally, the order implements the commission's recommendation that the borough of Langbaurgh-on-Tees be renamed Redcar and Cleveland, and provides for representatives of that council to take the place of the county council on the North York Moors national park committee. The Government, and everyone concerned with local government in Cleveland, must now make the reorganisation a success.