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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): So far, the Minister has not mentioned those who work for the local authorities involved. Can he assure us that, following negotiations with local trade unions, not one job will be lost as a result of the reorganisation?
Mr. Curry: The whole purpose of electing new councils in all-out elections in May is to give those councils responsibility for negotiating the introduction of unitary councils. That will include conditions of employment. The terms and conditions that are available have been made perfectly clear. The hon. Gentleman left his intervention until a rather late stage, but I should have felt bereft had he not made it.
Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford): Those of us with an interest in the creation of unitary authorities in other parts of the country are listening carefully to my hon. Friend's remarks about arrangements for Cleveland, which may well represent a pilot scheme. Is he satisfied that the period of 12 months allowed for a shadow authority to operate is long enough, given the new ground that is being broken? Previously, we were bringing authorities together to form larger authorities; we are now splitting them into smaller ones. A learning curve must be negotiated.
Mr. Curry: Without anticipating the outcome of deliberations about Hereford and Worcester, I can say that I consider that period sufficient. I have undertaken that, wherever possible, we will elect shadow authorities that will be responsible for preparing the new ground, and will
Column 204have a full year in which to do so. The process must be completed as quickly as can sensibly be arranged. I doubt that many people would welcome its protraction, given the obvious uncertainties: people want to know where they stand on such matters as employment, and I believe that the time scale is about right for the delivery of the responsibilities involved.
Mr. Skinner: So there are no job guarantees?
Mr. Curry: The hon. Gentleman intervenes from a sedentary position. I have already replied to his question.
Mr. Skinner: What guarantees will the Government give that not a single worker currently employed in the area will lose his job as a result of the reorganisation on which the Government are insisting?
Mr. Curry: I always find the hon. Gentleman's interventions intriguing. We are discussing the reorganisation of a council that happens to be under Labour control, which will devolve to four unitary authorities whose districts are also under Labour control. If the Labour party cannot sort out its policies without running scared in front of the unions whose heavy hand appears to be on the process, it should not assume that responsibility. I wish to give the Labour councils that responsibility, however, because it is their job: that is why we are giving them a period of "shadow working".
Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough): Will my hon. Friend ignore the frantic efforts of Opposition Members with vested interests in keeping the Cleveland gravy train on the rails? Is he aware that millions of people in Yorkshire have been living for the day that heralded the abolition of a mythical county--and that of Humberside--so that Yorkshire can stretch from the Humber to the Tees as it did for a thousand years? Will he also consider my proposal to restore the Yorkshire ridings, which were a traditional and honourable feature of our county for a thousand years?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. This is a short debate, and interventions should be brief and to the point. Hon. Members should not make speeches.
Mr. Curry: My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) was undoubtedly referring to my remarks about the possible ceremonial functions to be bestowed on the unitary authorities. Some, of course, used to belong to the historical Yorkshire, just as some belonged to the historical Durham. We shall have to consult when the time comes to decide which is the best designation.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), the Minister mentioned local authorities' freedom to determine the operation of service conditions and staff structures. To do that, they will need powers. What powers will they have in the event of detriment, when employees suffer a loss of service conditions, and what will happen when direct service organisations are transferred? I do not think that the Minister has granted any such powers yet or has announced his intentions.
Mr. Curry: I am delighted that the Trappist silence that overwhelmed Labour Members at the beginning of the debate appears to have been succeeded by more active participation.
Column 205We are currently consulting on a scheme to deal with detriment, and the outcome will depend on the result of that consultation. As for the hon. Gentleman's other question, he will know that when a DSO is transferred, its current responsibility will devolve to the new authorities. We expect successor authorities either to maintain or to review existing arrangements as the law prescribes.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): The Minister said that it would be up to the Labour party to sort out the employment issues, but surely he has considerable control over the position. As matters stand, he is responsible for determining budgets both for the current Cleveland authority in its final year and for the districts. Will those budgets permit the authorities to make the decisions that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) wants to be made? I should like to ask another question--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already pointed out that this is a short debate, and that interventions should be brief and to the point. Let me add that long interventions from hon. Members who have not put their names down to make speeches will deprive
others--probably including Cleveland Members--of the opportunity to speak.
Mr. Curry: I have been hovering on the brink of my final sentence for about eight interventions. The answer to the intervention of the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) is as follows: the successor authorities will receive credit approvals and repayments will be deferred for four years to enable them to make the financial arrangements that are necessary for them to move from the present structure to the new one.
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): The Minister has yet to mention the customers--the "consumers" of council services. There are bound to be transitional difficulties. Is he confident that the long-term gains will outweigh the short-term costs? If so, how can he be so confident?
Mr. Curry: Yes, I am confident. We required the commission to present its estimate of the costs; it estimates the transitional costs to be between £13 million and £18 million, and the annual savings to be between £6 million and £11 million. The savings will clearly recur year on year.
Over the past year, there has been considerable uncertainty for all concerned in local government, but I have no doubt that the local authorities in Cleveland have the ability to make a success of the new local government structure. I therefore commend the order to the House.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): This draft order from the current Tory Government proposes abolishing the Cleveland county council which was set up by a previous Tory Government. I should like to make it clear that we will oppose the order. It is a product of the local government review, a review conceived in malice towards a limited number of Labour county councils. Since its conception, it has been conducted in confusion and litigation.
The outcome of the review, in so far as we can see it, does not resemble what the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said when he introduced it:
Column 206"We know that most local authorities want unitary status and we believe that such status will provide a better structure for the future in most areas."--[ Official Report , 20 January 1992; Vol. 232, c. 37.]
The commission has not recommended unitary status for most areas. Indeed, a rough count suggests that, of the 296 shire county districts at the start of the process, 230 or more will survive as shire county districts--80 per cent.--and will not be changed or become unitary authorities.
Things have not turned out as the right hon. Member for Henley predicted. The review has turned out exactly as the Labour party predicted, however. One of my predecessors pointed out in the debate that it looked as though the commission would roam around the countryside guided by the whim of the Secretary of State, that the recommendations would be subject to the whim of the Secretary of State and that they would leave local government in chaos--and so it has turned out. After two years of wrangling, vast expense and court cases, we do not have a sensible set of propositions from the review. After two years of councillors and officials quite understandably either promoting change or defending the status quo, we do not have a sensible set of measures. Throughout the whole period, those councillors, including Tory councillors, have been distracted from their real tasks of trying to provide decent services for local people.
It would be impossible for any Minister to convince anyone with a grain of sense that the proposals reflect rhyme or reason. The process should have been clear, consistent and straightforward. In other words, rather like those of the Boundary Commission, technically at least the proceedings of the review should have been beyond reproach, but they have not been. They are a shambles. The Government have said that they refuse to await all the
recommendations for all the counties before they start pushing through individual orders such as this one, which is the second such order. That is because they want to hide away the inconsistency of the propositions--
Mr. Curry rose --
Mr. Dobson: I do not want to give way, since large numbers of hon. Members from the area--
Mr. Curry: I seek clarification. I know that the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said that he wanted no orders to be placed before Parliament until all the orders could be placed before it. Now the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) appears to be agreeing with him. Is that Labour party policy?
Mr. Dobson: We have always made it clear that we believe that all the recommendations should be revealed to the House before it starts considering individual recommendations. The Government are proceeding with individual recommendations before everything is known because they want to distract attention from the contradictions in the propositions. For instance, Rutland, with a population of 33,000, is to become a fully independent unitary authority, while Norwich, Ipswich and Exeter, ancient cities which used to be county boroughs, and with populations of more than 100,000, are not to have unitary status. Blackburn, with 139,000 people, will not get it; nor will Warrington and Northampton, with populations of more than 180,000. We
Column 207regard the whole outcome as a shambles, which is why we think that the House should be able to see all the proposals before we proceed to vote through any of them.
The Secretary of State will not even guarantee that he will put all the final recommendations of the review commission to the House. In refusing to do so, he is breaking the undertaking given by the right hon. Member for Henley, who said that they would be put before the House. In the absence of the Secretary of State, will the Minister guarantee that the Government will put to the House all the commission's final recommendations?
Mr. Curry: The hon. Gentleman clearly does not understand the process. He has just given us a great spiel about how Exeter, Norwich, Ipswich, and so on, will not have this status, but the Government have not yet reached conclusions on the commission's recommendations for their status. The commission has the responsibility to make recommendations; the Government have the responsibility to consult on them and then to put their recommendations before the House. I certainly give no guarantee that the recommendations, in the form in which they emerge from the commission, will necessarily be put before the House. The legislation does not provide for that and the Government would be running away from their responsibilities if they gave such an undertaking.
Mr. Dobson: That is confirmation, then, that these matters will be decided at the whim of the Secretary of State. God knows, I do not like anybody's whims, but the whims of the present Secretary of State are mindless.
Mr. Curry: If the Secretary of State concluded that it would be right to invite the commission to look again at the case of Lancashire, would the hon. Gentleman's predecessor be pleased or displeased by that decision?
Mr. Dobson: The Minister seems to be deaf as well as stupid. He failed to notice that I referred to the "final" recommendations of the commission. If the Secretary of State refers a case back to the commission and the commission comes back with truly final recommendations, will the Minister put them before the House? That is what I am asking him, and he is refusing to reply, because he wants to leave it to the whim of the Secretary of State. He has now confirmed that it will be left to the whim of the Secretary of State.
Next, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said, we are concerned that there should be proper protection for the staff who are affected by these changes, both those who are transferred and those who, if they are not transferred, should get compensation. They do not ask for anything enormous or unusual. All they want are the terms and conditions that applied to staff when the metropolitan counties were abolished in 1986. The Secretary of State will not even concede those terms. Presumably, he wants the epitaph on his tombstone to read, "Even meaner than Thatcher".
The compensation order which we are to debate later does not provide for the 84 weeks' compensation that applied in 1986; it provides for only 66 weeks. Nor does it provide for mandatory compensation for staff over 50 years of age--the very people who would really appreciate a guarantee of mandatory compensation.
Column 208What has changed since 1986? For one thing, it is harder to get a job now than it was then. There has also been a change to do with compensation, however. Since 1986, the Government have introduced ministerial severance pay, providing Ministers with compensation when they return to the Back Benches. Although they will still have their Members' pay and can get jobs in the City, the Government provide them with compensation as well. That is entirely typical of this Government: harsh treatment of people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and generous treatment for themselves when they lose their jobs by virtue of incompetence, venality or adultery. The Government should reconsider and, at the very least, come up with conditions for the staff that are as good as the ones they were prepared to concede in 1986. This matter will be dealt with at greater length when we come to the compensation order.
The process of the review should have been beyond reproach. It should have been dealt with in a quasi-judicial way. Cleveland was not dealt with like that; it has been more like a kangaroo court. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State himself have all denounced Cleveland in immoderate terms, at Tory party conferences, in the House and all over the place.
Even more important, when we talk about proper standards of conduct in public life, I think that all hon. Members would agree that the chairman of the Local Government Commission should behave in a quasi-judicial manner. We cannot expect the Secretary of State to do so. Pseudo-pontifically, he is about as near as he can get to it. Unfortunately, the chairman of the commission was not so acting when, on 19 October 1993, he wrote to the Secretary of State as follows: "It will also be important that the Commission and the Government jointly have some early wins in the difficult initial stages of the review. There is likely to be general acceptance of our recommendations for Avon, Cleveland and Humberside. It would be good to have these accepted while you sort out those areas in which, so far, support for unitary structures is limited and there is substantial opposition to the change."
Public servants who are supposed to carry out their duties in a quasi- judicial manner should not be talking about "early wins" in relation to councils.
The consultation process in Cleveland has been inferior to and different from the process that has been followed in other counties and was criticised by the High Court. Estimates of costs produced by the commission have been at variance with estimates produced elsewhere. Estimates of costs were revised during the consultation procedures, but no one went back to consult the people who had already been consulted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) was promised that representations received would be made available. Until he pressed for that, nothing was done. He was eventually supplied with a summary. The Government suddenly changed their tune and announced that they would not make documents available. They said that if someone had made representations, he or she might want them regarded as confidential. As I understand it, nearly all the representations made have been suppressed and are not available. The principle should be reversed. Unless a member of the public says, "I wish my representations to be
Column 209confidential," we might assume that in a public matter of this sort they should be made available to the public. People expect them to be made public.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): Several individuals who made representations to the Secretary of State have written to me to complain. They have told me that they have written to the Secretary of State asking him to release their letters. As yet, none has been forthcoming.
Mr. Dobson: What my hon. Friend says does not surprise me in the least. There is another example. Hon. Members will remember that the Secretary of State spent about £250,000 to produce a publicity leaflet on London shortly before the London elections. That was supposed to be a consultation exercise. When requests were made for the basic, raw data so that independents could scrutinise the responses, we were told that the forms were completed in confidence and, therefore, could not be released. That is typical.
The draft order is unacceptable to us because the procedures involved have been unfair, unreasonable and chaotic. We believe that the propositions before us are inconsistent with other
recommendations. We should not proceed with the orders referred to in the Order Paper until we have guarantees that all the associated orders will be seen by the House and put to the House. We shall not support the order until the Government produce decent guarantees for the staff involved, at least on the lines of those that were agreed in 1986. That is why we shall vote against the draft order. 7.4 pm
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South): I was interested in what the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said about taking comfort from what the High Court judgment had to say about the way in which the consultation process had been carried out. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a speech by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). He said:
"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 policy 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 supported by the majority of the local Members of Parliament. It was also supported by an opinion poll and by direct responses."
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough quoted directly from the learned judge, who said:
"`If this amounts to a submission that democracy is not a panacea for all ills, it sounds odd coming from a county council.'"--[ Official Report , 7 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 556-57.]
There seem to be discrepancies in what some Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen are saying.
The order was tabled to provide local services in a cost-effective way, with local accountability of identifiable representatives, while drawing on traditional loyalties. The reason for Cleveland being first through the mill of the House is that there is no natural local affinity for the county, which was drawn up in 1974. It was constituted for administrative convenience and not to command local loyalty.
Column 210Indeed, not even Cleveland county council supported the retention of the council. It supported a Teesside authority and was backed by 12.5 per cent. of the population who were consulted in a local poll. The House should know that 75 per cent. of those consulted in a MORI poll agreed with the principle of a single-tier authority. Nearly half those who agreed with that principle--48 per cent.--supported the four unitary authorities of Stockton, Middlesbrough, Langbaurgh and Hartlepool.
Hartlepool county council felt so strongly about the matter that about 90 per cent. of residents nominated the borough as the place in which they felt at home and which they would prefer to see delivering their local services. That strength of feeling has come through in every poll and in the many submissions to the Local Government Commission.
Cleveland county council recognised the strength of that feeling in its submission. It called for Hartlepool, the smallest of the four boroughs, to be carved out as a separate unit from its proposed Teesside authority.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) has not missed an opportunity to press for the proposals set out in the local government review to be implemented. In June last year, he asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether he accepted "that there will be great disappointment among my constituents that the order implementing the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of local government in Cleveland does not feature in next week's business?"--[ Official Report , 16 June 1994; Vol. 244, c. 759.]
Later in June, he was pressing my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibilities for these matters, saying:
"Will the Minister reaffirm the Government's strong determination to create four unitary district-based councils in the present county of Cleveland? In addition to the Local Government Commission, the overwhelming majority of the public, most local Members of Parliament, the Government themselves and now the High Court, too, support his opinion. Only the House of Commons has so far not been asked to express a view".--[ Official Report , 29 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 794.]
It is strange indeed, as the editorial in last night's edition of The Mail of Hartlepool remarked--the hon. Member for Hartlepool is an Opposition Whip and is drumming up support among his colleagues to defeat the motion--
"And if Labour with the help of Tory rebels succeeds in blocking the change . . . will the town ever forgive him?"
The editor put it so well, and the answer is, probably not. That is why I am given to understand that the hon. Gentleman may resign his post to stay true to his constituents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates) and I will tell him, all great political careers involve at least one resignation.
Why is Labour opposing the order? As we see from early-day motion 347, it is, or was, in line with official Labour policy. The motion was tabled by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) and signed by the hon. Members for Middlesbrough and for Hartlepool, among others. It sees unitary tier local government
"as a building block towards elective regional government." Why is Labour opposed to the measure? Perhaps it is for the reason that I read in an article in today's edition of The Northern Echo , under the headline:
"Unions' plea to Blair to save County".
Column 211It reads:
"The request comes from Britain's three biggest unions . . . Unison . . . GMB and the Transport and General Workers' Union. They have written to Mr. Blair calling on him to make sure there is maximum opposition from Labour MPs to the order to wind up Cleveland--by imposing a three line whip."
We do not know whether Labour Members are on a three-line Whip or a two- line Whip--or possibly a four-line Whip--but I look forward to seeing two Labour Members stepping across the Floor later this evening.
Let me remind the House that the hon. Members for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and for Middlesbrough are sponsored by the GMB. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam)--I cannot see her at the moment--is sponsored by Unison. Perhaps that explains why she has taken the view she has.
What of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough? Not only has he chaired the co- ordinating group to establish unitary district councils; he initiated an Adjournment debate, in July last year, in which he excoriated the county council's handling of local government reorganisation. He pointed out, quite rightly, that Bryan Gould, the previous Member for Dagenham, had 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."--[ Official Report , 7 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 556.]
The hon. Member for Hartlepool, who was present at that debate, fully supported him.
So there we have it. Two members of Labour's Front-Bench scheme [Hon. Members:-- "Scheme?"]--I mean team, but perhaps it is a scheme-- apparently take the view that the order is marvellous and should be approved post haste. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman tonight suddenly seems to be backtracking on what the former Member for Dagenham had to say not so long ago.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Surely no assurance was given to the unions that Labour would save the county of Hartlepool. None was given to the county of Cleveland, and none to the people of Hartlepool or Stockton, that they would get local government power into their own hands and their own authorities.
Mr. Devlin: The fact is that a disgraceful amount of local taxpayers' money in my constituency has been wasted on the campaign against the abolition of Cleveland county council. My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh and I have stood up on many occasions, in the House and elsewhere, to protest about the serious waste of public money that has gone on. It has been squandered. I personally have not seen anything like it since the abolition of the Greater London council.
We have seen press releases, press conferences at every turn, judicial reviews, which have been unceremoniously thrown out of the High Court, the packing of public meetings throughout Cleveland, letter-writing campaigns, which have gone on relentlessly, the employment of public affairs consultants on huge salaries, employing various people to hold lunches around the place, and niggling at every possible opportunity. I understand that those people have stopped at nothing. Last week, Tory
Column 212rebels were being contacted in a final attempt to block the move. Every possible stone that could be turned in the campaign has been turned.
But I have to say that, while turmoil and shenanigans have reigned in the Labour party on the issue--it is unable to say whether it is for or against the retention of Cleveland county council--my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh and I have been at one. Our local parties agree with us substantially. On cost, accountability and local identity, the proposals of the local government review meet the needs of local people, and they deserve the support of the House tonight.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): I should point out for the benefit of the House that the person who contacted the Tory dissidents to test their views on the issue was in fact County Councillor Hazel Pearson, leader of the Conservative group on Cleveland county council. So let us set the record straight. Furthermore, I am rather pleased that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) is quite unable to distort any of my comments on the issue.
My old adversary, Richard Holt, would have revelled in tonight's joust. He started the campaign to crucify Cleveland years ago, and Tory Ministers have continued the vendetta ever since. It is an indication of the Government's obsession with carrying out their vendetta that they are prepared to put the matter before Parliament while it still remains subject to decision in the courts, despite statements from the Minister, including the Leader of the House, that it would be improper to do so.
The Local Government Commission clearly knew the answer that it had to produce for Cleveland before it had even begun its work. Why else did Sir John Banham write to the Secretary of State about its joint interest in achieving an early win in Cleveland, Avon and Humberside? Why else accuse Cleveland county council of producing fairyland figures when it warned of the inevitable cost implications of speeding up such a massive range of services? Now, of course, we know that those warnings were entirely justified.
Sir John Banham now admits that he knows of
"not one single solitary shred of evidence"
to suggest that unitary authorities of the kind that he proposes to impose on the people of Teesside would be able to provide better services. Indeed, he goes further and concedes that the entire exercise is "a gamble". Why, then, did he and his commission colleagues not say that to the people of Teesside before producing the paltry 40,000 leaflets that were meant to measure the views of more than half a million people? His efforts in Cleveland would have been inadequate even for tiny Rutland.
Why did the commission and the Government refuse the people of Teesside the balanced and accurate information about the options, both for the change and for retention of the present system? Why were the people not told, for example, that the commission's proposal is the most expensive option for change, with the highest level of transitional cost? Why were they not told that the alternative proposal of an authority for Teesside, with a second for Hartlepool, would have been far more cost-effective, in terms of both on-going savings and one-off transitional costs?
Column 213Indeed, the Audit Commission, when asked to comment, said in its report:
"Having regard to the costs of readjusting operational services and the way in which the Teesside conurbation functions as a single urban entity, there are features of the two authority option which appear attractive. The structure among all those proposed which best fits community realities and likely to perform best in terms of the three Es."
That paragraph was removed from the Audit Commission's report by the Local Government Commission.
Why did the commission originally estimate the additional cost of its options at around £2 million a year, yet subsequently revise that estimate to £10 million a year, and eventually to £18 million a year, after the end of its discredited and shambolic consultation process? It is little wonder that, when the High Court judges to whom the hon. Member for Stockton, South referred examined the so-called "consultation" process in Cleveland, they concluded that, if a second-hand car salesman had acted with the same attitude to the truth, he would have ended up in the Old Bailey.
Why did the commission, in its report on Cleveland to the Secretary of State, fail to reflect the overwhelming strength of feeling against its proposals, expressed by so very many national and local organisations?
In reports for other areas, all such respondents are listed, with a summary of each individual organisation's views. No such information was provided in the Cleveland report. Why the secrecy? Why has the Secretary of State sought to hide from hon. Members similar information about representations that he has received? On several occasions, Ministers have assured the House that such information would be made available for inspection. In reality, Ministers have done everything possible to deny access to that information. Those representations remain hidden today.
The Secretary of State has reluctantly conceded that the majority of those representations are opposed to the proposals. Of the submissions that he has been prepared to release, there is not one independent voice in favour of the proposals. If such representations exist, why is he keeping them secret? Let us be honest: if they existed at all, he would be parading them proudly in Parliament square, with an escort of the Household Cavalry.
The strength of opposition and alarm over what is proposed cannot be overstated. It covers every service and every sector. Every key representative body from the area's business community--not just the trade unions, but the CBI, the chamber of commerce, the small business club--all regard the idea of fragmenting the Teesside conurbation as economic lunacy- - [Interruption.] --despite the laughter of the hon. Member for Stockton, South.
Only in Teesside is such a fragmentation of a major industrial community proposed--nowhere else in the country. Why in Cleveland? Health authorities in the area are horrified by the implications for the splitting of social services, and for such key initiatives as care in the community and the Children Act 1989. What nonsense that, at a time when various health authorities are being brought together under a single body, it is proposed that key partners in social services should be broken up.
The health authorities' fears are echoed by health professionals, including the area's general practitioners and the Government's own chief inspector of social