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Column 907Gentleman recognises that the area south of Cleethorpes, for example, has links with the rest of Lincolnshire to the south.
Mr. Austin Mitchell: Presumably, those estuarial matters can be arranged through the Humberside Forum. When the Minister refers to working with Lincolnshire, what does "working with" mean?
Mr. Jones: As I explained to the hon. Gentleman, the authorities will have a duty to prepare their structure plans together, so obviously it is something that reflects the cross-boundary planning issues. We believe that voluntary arrangements for joint working in those groupings will achieve the desired results.
The draft orders transfer the counties' strategic planning responsibilities for the areas concerned to the new unitary authorities. Each authority will also be responsible for maintaining a local plan for its area. We look to the relevant authorities in North Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire to make the necessary voluntary arrangements for joint working on the structure plan for their respective groupings. Voluntary joint working arrangements are more accountable locally than the statutory joint authorities, which it would become necessary for us to impose if such voluntary arrangements were to fail.
The orders do not provide for ceremonial arrangements. Separate provision will be made for that in regulations. However, it may be helpful to the House if I briefly explain the arrangements that we propose to put in place. In the case of North Yorkshire, the City of York will be deemed to be part of the county of North Yorkshire for ceremonial and related purposes. It will therefore have the same lord lieutenant and high sheriff as the county.
I take this opportunity to reassure people who have expressed concern about York losing its city status. That will not happen. It would be foolish and contrary to everything that we seek to achieve by our reorganisation of local government. Before the existing authority is abolished, we shall make specific provision for the continuation of the city's status and privileges. We are discussing with the Home Office and Privy Council the most expedient way of doing that. Whatever we decide, the city will continue to be a city and it will continue to have a lord mayor.
Mr. Bayley: The Minister specifically mentioned the lord mayor of York. Will York retain its sheriff?
Mr. Jones: Yes. I shall get back to the hon. Gentleman if I am wrong.
As Humberside is to be abolished, its lord lieutenant and high sheriff will also be abolished. Instead, north of the Humber we intend to provide for both a lord lieutenant and a high sheriff of the county of the East Riding of Yorkshire. For ceremonial and related purposes, Hull will be deemed to be part of that county and will therefore have the same lord lieutenant and sheriff. South of the Humber, we propose that the North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire unitary authorities should be deemed, for ceremonial purposes, to be part of the county of Lincolnshire and to have the same lord lieutenant and high sheriff.
Column 908The Yorkshire museum has mounted a very professional campaign not to be transferred from the county council to the City of York. However, as with other property within the new York district area, the museum will pass to the city under the regulations for the transfer of assets and liabilities. The museum is a charitable trust and the terms of the trust state that the beneficial area of that trust is the city of York. As a consequence, the museum and its gardens must transfer to the City of York on reorganisation. I hope that the House agrees that, if we are to entrust the City of York with responsibility for education and social services, it would be faintly ludicrous to say that it could not be trusted to run a museum. We are, however, aware of local concern that the museum should continue to play a role as an institution serving the areas of both North Yorkshire county council and the new City of York council, and we expect the authorities to co-operate in safeguarding that role.
I believe that the changes for which the orders provide will create more comprehensible, and consequently more accountable, local government in the areas that they affect. The abolition of Humberside and the restoration of individual and independent cities of York and Kingston upon Hull will be welcomed, as will the restoration of the East Riding to Yorkshire. I commend the orders to the House. 7.42 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): Tonight we are discussing two orders. Both put asunder what the Heath Government joined together. The first breaks Humberside county into unitary authorities, as recommended by the Local Government Commission for England. The second, contrary to the commission's recommendations, does not break up the North Yorkshire county council into unitary authorities but confers unitary status on York--but York with different boundaries. Nothing could better demonstrate the inconsistency and political prejudice that have characterised the reorganisation of local government. It shows yet again that the Government are motivated largely by malice against Labour councils.
Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): The Government are motivated by malice not just against Labour councils but against local authorities in general.
Mr. Dobson: I think that there are degrees of malice.
Humberside has usually been controlled by Labour, at least when it was not led by the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) who, as soon as he stopped being leader, decided that he wanted to abolish it. It will be broken up, whereas North Yorkshire county council, which, in normal circumstances has been Tory controlled, will not be broken up. York will be separated out, with boundaries which do not make sense and which practically no one supports.
Mr. John Townend: The hon. Gentleman talks about the political bias of the proposals. Is he aware that Hull district council, which has been Labour controlled ever
Column 909since I can remember, except for two years, strongly favours doing away with Humberside and getting back unitary powers for the city and county of Hull?
Mr. McNamara: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but we cannot have one intervention upon another.
Mr. Dobson: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have never been beset in that way before. In a moment, I shall deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Bridlington.
Mr. McNamara: Further to what my hon. Friend said about the record of the hon. Member for Bridlington, is he aware that, for a brief moment, the hon. Gentleman also led Hull city council? Thereafter, we went from strength to strength and now only one member of his party is there.
Mr. Dobson: Gloating is contrary to my nature.
Mr. John Townend: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I point out that that statement is incorrect? I was chairman of the finance committee of Hull council, but never leader.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair.
Mr. Dobson: I am glad that I did not gloat.
All that is a product of the deliberations of the Local Government Commission and the Secretary of State, who was supposed to be acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. I must say that it was much more quasi that judicial. The break-up of Humberside gives independence back to the city of Kingston upon Hull--not before time. It should never have been taken away from Hull in the first place by a previous Tory Government. Hull city council would rather have wider boundaries. There is considerable support, not just within the Labour party in Hull, for Hull to have wider boundaries. Even the commission recognised that wider boundaries would have made more sense. They said that they recognised the merits of the argument but decided that the proposition was not popular, so did not recommend it. If Tory Members think that this matter has been and gone and Hull could never be extended, I remind them that, on 25 October 1994, the Secretary of State did not rule out the extension of Hull's boundaries but said that, in due course, he proposed to direct the Commission to review the boundaries between East Yorkshire and Hull. Those who think that they have won that argument may find that they have not. We are asked tonight to decide boundaries which the Secretary of State proposes setting aside as soon as we have set them in place.
Mr. Robert B. Jones: There are clearly examples in Hull and the neighbouring authorities where houses or streets are divided by boundaries, and it is perfectly sensible to review those boundaries. Given the time scale, it is simply not possible for the commission to review them before the order is, I hope, passed by the House this evening. But that is what the Secretary of State will ask the commission to review and it is a matter of common sense.
Mr. Dobson: We do not know the time scale or whether the adjustments will be as large or small as the
Column 910Minister suggests. The Secretary of State asks us to agree an order on one set of boundaries while talking about changing them immediately afterwards. He threatens further changes, thereby sentencing certain areas to a further period of uncertainty, particularly as those within the city council's boundary will be unitary authorities and those outside--as in the case of East Yorkshire--will not.
That is not the only uncertainty because, as the Minister admitted, under the commission's proposals, part of Goole was to be the amazing Dales and Vales unitary authority. Despite its rhyming, it has, thankfully, disappeared as nobody supported the proposition for more than half a minute. When the Government first drafted the order, they changed that proposition in favour of transferring Goole to the Selby part of North Yorkshire which will be a two-tier authority. The Government produced a second draft order, but apparently they forgot about Goole, because it is not mentioned at all. The Secretary of State then announced that the Local Government Commission had been instructed to undertake a further review of Goole's fate. It implied that, for the next few months, Goole will be located--probably temporarily--in East Yorkshire and then it will "enter the new East Riding unitary authority".
In the context of this complex reorganisation of local government, Goole will be moved temporarily--we do not know for how long--into a unitary authority. However, as a result of further boundary changes while the reorganisation is taking place, it could be shifted into the area of a two- tier authority, thus becoming a lower tier authority again. I do not think that the Government are serious about trying to ensure that the reorganisation goes through with minimum impact on the services that the authorities concerned are supposed to provide.
It is insulting for the people of Goole to be treated as the fag-end of a local government reorganisation. They are being pushed about and shoved to one side until it is convenient for the Secretary of State to do something about their situation.
By any standards, Humberside county council had a good performance record and I think that anyone with any sense sympathises with the councillors and staff who worked hard in the area of service provision. The new authorities must be encouraged to perform. Hull is clearly capable of running itself, which it did for several hundred years. However, all of the new authorities will need to co-operate to provide the necessary Humber-wide planning and environmental policies. Everyone wishes them well, but they will be operating in difficult circumstances because of the boundaries and the uncertainties that the orders create.
That brings me to the second order, and I must declare an interest at this point. I was born and brought up in one of the villages on the outskirts of York. I went to school in York and I have a lot of family connections with that great city and also with East Riding, where I used to live. York, quite rightly, wants its independence, which a Tory Government should never have taken away.
However, the council does not want independence at any price and it believes that the massive extension of the city boundaries is too high a price to pay for York's independence. Proposals before the commission were to retain the present boundary, which would leave York with a population of about 100,000--three times as big as Rutland which is gaining independence- -or to extend York's boundaries roughly to the ring road, which would
Column 911leave York with a population of about 125,000. Another alternative was to extend the boundary much further to the edge of the York planning area, which is known as Greater York, which would give York a population of 170,000.
Extending the boundary to form Greater York is an enormously unpopular proposal. York city council opposes it, as does Ryedale district council, Selby district council, Harrogate district council and North Yorkshire county council. Every parish council outside the ring road is opposed to the proposition. The Labour Member of Parliament for that area--my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley)--the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) also oppose the idea. Opposition to the preposterous idea that York should be extended in that way is not exactly a Labour racket.
The Local Government Commission--I shall make no further comments on its general stumbling incompetence--recommended the Greater York proposal in its document, but it did not offer a single word to justify extending York's boundary to form Greater York. It proposed a 900 per cent. increase in the city's area which would take the boundary beyond York's natural urban or suburban boundary. York does not have three or four centres with rural patches in between. There has been gradual concentric expansion of York's urban areas and, if the boundary is to be extended, it should be extended to somewhere around the natural edge of those areas. The Greater York proposition takes in very rural areas. It leaves in some areas which are more rural than the five which were taken out at the behest of the hon. Member for Ryedale. I defy anyone to find a parish in England that is more rural than Kexby.
The people who live outside the boundaries of York do not see themselves as part of York and the people in York do not see themselves as part of York. I believe that the Local Government Commission may even--
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes): That is nonsense.
Mr. Dobson: I am sorry. The people of York do not consider the people outside the city to be part of York. I am sorry for that slip of the tongue.
There is some suspicion that the Local Government Commission did not know what it was recommending--or at least it did not know the basis of its recommendations. According to its own figures, it seems to have misunderstood the unpopularity of its proposals. It got the figures wrong in the first report. It said that only one in three of those affected were opposed to the boundary change. That was true of people living between the existing boundary and the ring road at that time, but the local government's figures, which were collected by MORI, showed that two out of three of those people living between the ring road and the proposed new boundary opposed that proposition. Those figures were collected during the early stages of consultation when the picture was not as clear as it was after the final recommendation was made. Since then, public opinion has become clearer. Hon. Members who are familiar with the area will know that, if anything, it has hardened against any extension of the boundary, not just beyond the ring road but beyond York's present
Column 912boundaries. Strong support for York as an all-purpose authority remains, but support for the extension of its boundaries is small and it is diminishing. People living outside the ring road do not consider themselves to be part of York and, according to the commission's polling, fewer than one in three support the boundary extension.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration, who has just left the Chamber, told the Craven Herald and Pioneer in November 1993 that
"York is virtually certain to get its own all-purpose council". He said that before there was any suggestion that the city's boundary would be extended. Perhaps the Minister, like the majority of people in York, believes that the city should retain its original boundary.
Mr. Dobson: I find it difficult to understand the mindset of Government Members.
In November 1994, the city council commissioned a MORI poll of a much larger sample than the survey conducted by the Local Government Commission. It also carried out a leaflet consultation exercise, whereby it sent questionnaires to the people concerned who were asked to complete and return them. Only 24 per cent. of those consulted in that way supported the idea of a Greater York. Within York, 41 per cent. of those surveyed wanted to retain the current boundaries and 36 per cent. supported the idea of a Greater York.
When the people who were affected by the Greater York extension were consulted, their rejection of the proposal was overwhelming. The MORI poll showed that 61 per cent. of those surveyed in the outer ring opposed the extension and 23 per cent. favoured it. The leaflet exercise--which had a remarkable 42 per cent. return--showed that 80 per cent. of those surveyed opposed the extension and 30 per cent. supported it. In the districts which would be taken over from Ryedale district council, the MORI figures were 68 per cent. against and 17 per cent. in favour, with the leaflet method of consultation showing 86 per cent. against and 14 per cent. in favour.
In the Selby district, which contains two of the parishes which are closest to York--anybody who did not know would think that they were already part of York--Heslington and Fulford, the figures were only 47 per cent. against and 36 per cent. in favour.
The figures for some of the individual villages are quite remarkable. None of the villages in Ryedale outside the ring road had more than 12 per cent. in favour of being taken into York, and using the leaflet method, the lowest figure against the extension in any parish outside the ring road was 87 per cent. In Selby district, as I have mentioned, Fulford and Heslington --which would be incorporated into almost any sensible extension of York-- were the only villages where as few as 50 per cent. were against the extension. Askham Bryan had 97 per cent. against and 3 per cent. in favour and Dunnington, where I was born, had 86 per cent. against and 14 per cent. in favour.
We should consider the Local Government Commission's views on how the popularity of proposals should be borne in mind. It stated: "The commission must balance the advantages of the proposed extension against the sense of community and expressed wishes of local residents".
Column 913It said that about York, where there is no doubt about the expressed wishes of local residents. In respect of Hull, it said: "In its consultation report, the commission recognises the merits of the argument for the extension, but on balance felt the weight of public opinion against expansion was too strong to disregard." So it was too strong to disregard in respect of Hull, but apparently nothing can be so strong that it cannot be disregarded in respect of the expansion of York.
If we then take the weight that the commission itself claims it gives to public opinion, the chief executive of the commission wrote an article saying that, had there not been a Local Government Commission,
"a new structure of local government would have been imposed on a largely apathetic public . . . I, for one, am glad that the Local Government Commission has undertaken its task in a very different way, which has produced recommendations enjoying solid local support and which has avoided the potentially expensive mistake of imposing an unwelcome new structure of local government on shire England." The Minister of State, who is not here, said:
"Where the commission comes up with a scheme which is endorsed by local community leaders and responds to a local sense of identity it is likely to be endorsed. However, where a recommendation appeals to defy natural gravity"--
whatever that may mean--
"and be inconsistent with other recommendations it will earn a loud popular raspberry."
We have waited in vain to hear the raspberry on the proposition for the expansion of York.
If the Government do not like the polling data or the leaflet returns that have judged opinion in those areas, they have to admit that, since the proposition was put forward, 1,066 people have argued against the extension of York and 30 in favour; seven local authorities have made representations, none of them in favour; 26 parishes have made recommendations, none of them in favour and of 15 other representations, just one was in favour. People are saying quite loudly that they do not think that the shotgun marriage of York with the outlying villages should go through. The Minister should have further second thoughts.
The Government left out Shipton and Overton from Hambleton district; they left out Upper Helmsley, Gate Helmsley and Warthill from Ryedale district-- and quite right, too. They now propose forcing into York--against the wishes of the people of York and their elected representatives and the elected representatives of every one of the districts and clearly against the wishes of the vast majority of people--Skelton, Wigginton, Haxby, Strenshall, Towthorpe, Earswick, Stockton-on-the-Forest, Holtby, Murton, Kexby, Dunnington, Elvington, Wheldrake, Deighton, Naburn, Bishopthorpe, Acaster Malbis, Copmanthorpe, Askham Bryan, Askham Richard, Rufforth, Hessay and Upper Poppleton. None of them wants to join; they all want to stay out.
I should emphasise that this is a Tory idea. It was not empire building by Labour-controlled York city council; it was simply put forward by the Tory machine carrying out these local government reorganisations.
To add insult to injury, the Government propose to change the voting system for York which, not from time immemorial, but for a damned long time, has had annual elections. As the outlying districts cannot be re-warded in
Column 914a way which would permit annual elections and still have sensible wards, the people of York, who are accustomed to being able to vote in or out their council or many of the councillors every year will be deprived of that.
The city council said that annual elections should continue. Last week, when I said that I thought that annual elections should continue as a principle, I was told that councils should be given a choice. York has expressed its choice, it wants annual elections, but that would not suit the Government, so it will not have them.
Mr. Robert B. Jones: The commission recommended that there should be all-out elections, but if the new city and county of the York authority chooses a system of one third and passes the appropriate resolution, the Government will not stand in its way. We believe that the authority should decide. The hon. Gentleman is saying that part of the authority should decide. He is saying that only the old York city council should be responsible. We think that all the councillors on the new authority should have a say on whether it will be all-out elections or elections by thirds.
Mr. Dobson: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I believe that the law should be quite clear and there should be annual elections in every local authority in the country. That is right in principle. What the Government are doing now is forcing people who have never lived in York to become part of York and they are insulting them by doing that. They are insulting the people of York by saying that the right to annual elections that they have had for all those years will be taken away. Just like the rest of the process, it is a total shambles. It is the product of a incompetent and badly conducted Local Government Commission and an even worse set of Ministers.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. I remind the House of Madam Speaker's decision to limit Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes for the remainder of the debate.
Mr. Michael Alison (Selby): The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), in a disarmingly tentative declaration of interest, reminded us that some members of his family are familiar with the part of Yorkshire that I represent. I hope that I am not disclosing a confidence in alleging that he may even have a brother who lives in the locality of Wheldrake--or at least some members of his family live in that part of the world. I cannot reciprocate by declaring an interest in that connection as I am not sure that any of them vote for me, but to that extent alone I differ from the hon. Gentleman's approach to the problem.
What lies behind the order in reality is not, as my hon. Friend the Minister keeps reiterating, advice or pressure from the Local Government Commission. It is certainly not the aspirations or expression of views of local people. The only reason behind what has been proposed is that old, dreadful and inhuman syndrome--the gentleman in Whitehall knows best. That is the only rational conclusion one can draw from the way in which the Government are proceeding in these orders.
On what the Local Government Commission has contributed to this sorry scenario, let me remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State why he cannot shelter
Column 915his proposals behind the skirts of the Local Government Commission, whatever one may think of the commission itself. In its preliminary report of June 1993, addressed incidentally "to local people", and in its final report to the Secretary of State in June 1994, the commission was essentially and unmistakably tentative about the way in which York's boundaries should be drawn. It stated:
"York's boundaries should be enlarged if local people support the changes."
Local residents do not support the changes, as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made perfectly clear. I, too, shall emphasise that point presently.
If local people do not support the changes, and if the Boundary Commission says that the proposals depend on the extent to which such support exists, why have the Government ignored this fundamental condition prerequisite and gone swanning off on their own? Admittedly, the commission preferred, again tentatively, a new boundary for York extended as proposed in the order, but I repeat that it was tentative. The essential need was to reflect what local people felt and wanted. In other words, the people, not the planners, were given priority by the commission. Why, then, have the Government not reflected that approach?
In relation to its tentative proposals, the commission stated: "However a proper balance must be struck between feelings of community, and the search for the most efficient form of local government that will meet the needs of the community."
Listening to my hon. Friend the Minister introduce the order relating to York, I was shocked to hear him put into the mouth of the Boundary Commission words which exactly reversed the priorities outlined in the above quotation. The Boundary Commission said that a
"proper balance must be struck between feelings of community, and the search for the most efficient form of local government". My hon. Friend claimed that the commission said that what was sought was the most efficient form of local government which, as far as it could be, would be compatible with what local people want. The Boundary Commission made its first priority the identities and interests of local communities and the need to secure effective and convenient local government came second.
The Government have done a disservice to local government by putting the planners first and the people second. That essential imbalance is perverse and undesirable. The people in and around York have expressed their feelings about the way in which they want local government to be organised in their locality. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras vividly brought out the facts.
My hon. Friend the Minister will know of the local referendum to which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras referred. In it, more than 32,000 valid votes were cast, the overwhelming majority--more than 80 per cent.-- in favour of restricting the York city boundary and repudiating the recommendations of the Boundary Commission.
It is interesting and significant that the Boundary Commission itself, in paragraph 66 of its final report to the Secretary of State, said:
"Bearing in mind that city extensions are usually strongly contested (as can be seen in the case of both Kingston upon Hull and Bristol) the Commission considers that the opposition to the proposed extension is relatively weak. Only 800 direct representations were received from the area that would be affected by the two boundary extensions."
Column 916I hesitate to cite a letter sent to me on 17 January by my hon. Friend the Minister because I do not think that he can have read it before he added his signature to it. The letter states:
"However, whilst we recognise that there are pockets of strong local feeling--and this perhaps is not accurately reflected in the relatively low level of those who responded to the canvass you refer to in your letter-- against extending the City's boundaries to include the major part of the Greater Planning Area, we remain convinced that the Commission's recommendation was correct."
My hon. Friend refers to a "relatively low level" of participation, but the Boundary Commission managed to get 800 people to respond to its canvas in its final report and then embarked on the path that we are now disputing. The poll to which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras referred involved 32,000 people, but my hon. Friend the Minister talks about
"pockets of strong local feeling . . . perhaps . . . not accurately reflected in the relatively low level of those who responded to the canvass".
What does my hon. Friend really believe is the basis for his seeking to shelter behind the skirts of the Boundary Commission in going ahead with these proposals? Does he honestly believe that, had the Boundary Commission received not 800 responses to its inquiry but 32,000--something approaching 42 per cent. of the electorate, way above the average level of participation in local government polls and getting on for the level of participation in parliamentary polls--the Local Government Commission would have recommended ignoring the feelings of local people and proceeding as proposed? No, it would not. My hon. Friend cannot shelter behind the local government boundary commission.
I shall not vote against the order only because my hon. Friend the Minister has been helpful and constructive about Humberside. I give him credit for that and appreciate his help in making certain that Goole did not come into the Selby district.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North): I must first apologise to the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) in his absence for wrongly having promoted him above his station and accused him of being leader of the Conservative majority on Hull city council. However, I must admit that I owe him a debt of gratitude as Townend's rent rise meant that my then marginal seat became safe, and Townend is a name that young mothers still use to urge their children to hurry home early and safely. He had the same distinction when leader of Humberside county council in that he cut services so much that, apart from one brief period of a hung council, Humberside, after Townend--like after Hull had had Townend--has remained Labour ever since. That brings me to the purpose of the debate.
Humberside was created out of malice and is being destroyed out of malice. It was created out of malice to try to defeat the strong Labour control in Hull, Grimsby and Scunthorpe. It was felt that going into the new county, using the excuse of an estuarial authority, would enable it to become Conservative controlled. That did not happen except for the one occasion when the hon. Member for Bridlington was leader of the Tory group.
The decision to abolish Humberside is being taken for exactly the same reason. It has been a very strong Labour council. Under its first leader, Harry Lewis, until its
Column 917present one, Maggie Smith, it has provided good, efficient and cost-effective education services, social services, transport, leisure and environmental services and good economic development. People can be proud of the county council, and that applies also to the people who have served it. But despite the attempts of the Labour group on that county council over a long period, and the great quality of the services that it produced, it never succeeded in capturing the public's imagination to gain the loyalty and support that I believe it was entitled to expect, although I have always supported the case for Hull being a unitary authority. I do not know whether it was the new name that rankled with the Yorkshire people from the old East Riding, and Lincolnshire people from north Lincolnshire, or whether it was the old northbank-southbank rivalries between the "Hully Gullies" and the "Lincolnshire Yellow Bellies", but, whatever it was, despite the best efforts of many of my county council colleagues, it never won that support.
Equally, however, as far as the Labour party is concerned, since my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) was Minister for the Environment in 1978 and the proposal of organic change was brought forward, the main large county boroughs, which had lost their status as a result of the Local Government Act 1972, had campaigned long and furiously to return to their old status and powers. Indeed, it was the policy of my party then--and still is--to have decentralised Westminster Government represented in strong regional authorities and to have strong unitary authorities for local government purposes.
It is an irony of fate that the order, with the exception of North Riding, or north Yorkshire, creates just the form of organisation that a future Labour Secretary of State may immediately implement to give Yorkshire its own regional authority and its strong local unitary authority, because the pattern of the old West Riding and East Riding is now of unitary authorities.
The attitude of the Government to Humberside has been particularly vindictive, but, having said that, the city of Hull has always wanted to return to its former glories. It is ready, willing and eager to seize that chance and opportunity. That has been shown overwhelmingly by the citizens of Hull and by the members of Hull city council. But it will not be an easy task for many of them, and those who were members of the old city council and who are standing as candidates for the new city council will find that many of the old powers that they once enjoyed have disappeared. They will no longer have responsibility for tertiary education, for example, and in many ways they will be only a cipher for the Government in the administration of rather than the creation of services. The new responsibilities that social services and education services have gained will be a burden that they will not have experienced over the past 20 years. It is something with which they will have to wrestle. Fortunately 12 existing members of the county council will be local government candidates in Hull. I am sure that their experience of administration of those services which they will bring to the posts will be welcomed by the new city council.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. I merely reiterate the point that Humberside county council has been badly treated. It has been destroyed out of malice
Column 918by the Government, but I believe that Hull is entitled to and should have always maintained its role as an independent, strong unitary authority. Therefore, I welcome the creation of those powers for the city of Hull. I would have liked to see its boundaries extended. Over the years, I have often thought it wrong for people to earn their living in Hull, to use many of Hull's services, whether cultural or otherwise, its libraries, theatres and subsidised orchestras, and yet live outside the city boundary. It would have been right for them to have been brought in. One of the new city constituencies--that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall)--will be Kingston upon Hull, West and Hessle. It will be divided by a county boundary, contrary to the usual recommendations given to the parliamentary commissioners when drawing up constituency boundaries. I hope that it will be part of East Riding, which will come into the city of Hull. It is true, as the Minister who opened the debate said, that there will be little bits on the margins-- little bits of housing estates, old school sites and so on. But more than that should come into the city.
I welcome the order in so far as it gives unitary status to Hull, but, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), which will no doubt be repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley), if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will vote against the order for York. 8.25 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I must tell the House that I shall be voting against the order tonight, and for two reasons: first to reflect the anger and betrayal that is felt by tens of thousands of my constituents at the proposed Greater York authority, as the opinion surveys referred to have made clear. Secondly, from the very start of the local government review, my opinion was that there should be no change in the structure of local government in North Yorkshire. The debate today has shown that no one has made any case in favour of a change. That includes York remaining part of the two-tier structure of North Yorkshire. The Ryedale district population is effectively chopped in half. I think that the figure is that 49.8 per cent. goes in and 50.2 per cent. stays out. Although there is rejoicing that we have managed to save the county council from the worst excesses of the Local Government Commission's recommendations, there is grave concern that the residual part of Ryedale, which will remain within that two-tier structure, will have a small population and only 23 councillors to deal with an area of some 600 square miles. It will be a truly rural authority, and there may be some advantages in that; nevertheless, the people who have escaped going into Greater York are no happier about the overall position than those who are going into York.
When we reflect on the last two or three years of the local government review, few people--if any--will emerge with much credit. The Government's preferences were muddled. There was far too much of the nod and a wink, "We think that unitary is what you are going to end up with," kind of attitude. I cannot for the life of me see why we had to review North Yorkshire at all. By all means deal with Humberside, Avon, Cleveland, which seems to have been very popular with our colleagues affected by the changes, and the support for the Humberside order tonight contrasts with the lack of support from those affected by the North Yorkshire order,