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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. As this is primarily an opportunity for questions, I shall refrain from commenting in detail on the content of the Statement as it applies to particular areas. I also feel quite strongly, and perhaps this is the moment to say so, that comment and responses from the remoteness of Westminster—which is how it must appear to those outside this building—are often difficult for people to stomach. Despite all the attempts at local consultation, there must have been quite a feeling among people on the ground that they were being imposed on, indeed dumped on in some cases.

I turn to the consultation on guidance for the re-review. I raised this matter with the Minister who told us on the occasion of the North Yorkshire and Humberside orders that the consultation would take place during April. I ask again whether he feels that that is an appropriate time at which to consult given that councillors and, by definition, local electors will be involved in the district elections in May. How do the

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Government intend to ensure that the consultation is effective given the distractions that the consultees will be suffering during that period.

Have the Government considered what explanation they will give to those areas where decisions are delayed because of reconsideration in neighbouring areas? What reassurances will they give as to the process? I take as an example the comment in the Statement that the Secretary of State does not intend to act on the commission's recommendation for a major boundary change in the Basildon area of Essex because decisions in neighbouring areas are still to be taken. The Statement differs a little from the response to the honourable Member for Eastbourne, to which reference was made. It is important that, where a decision has been put on ice, those involved should understand why, in order to avoid a lot of energy being spent on the promotion of options which may not in fact be on the table.

I cannot forbear but to comment on the proposals for Rutland. Hansard will not have recorded the murmur that went round the House in response to the proposal that Rutland should become a unitary authority. It may be a matter of very considerable nostalgia, and that may be all right in its place, though there are some who say that nostalgia is not what it used to be. I look forward to the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, may put forward to the order for Rutland to deal with the very thorny issue of joint working, in regard both to working with neighbouring authorities and to payment for it. I hope that the Minister can give some reassurance as to the consultation that there will be as to how strategic services will be dealt with. These are not merely a matter of strategic planning, which has featured particularly in the orders we have seen. They relate to trading standards and services for children, to take but two which I know are of interest to noble Lords.

The Minister referred to the drafting of orders to put the decisions into effect. I welcome the fact that the local authorities and the associations will be consulted. I have raised with the Minister, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and other noble Lords, a number of technical details arising out of the orders that have already gone through Parliament. The Minister will be aware of particular concerns. I accept that he answered a number of quite difficult points that I put to him on the occasion of the last order. But he will be aware that the local authority associations remain concerned about a number of transitional matters which they feel have not been properly addressed. I look forward to his reassurance on that point.

The reaction that many people give to the whole issue of the review relates particularly to the cost of it. I wonder whether the Government will shortly be in a position to assess the total costs of what, I have to say, I find a very sad and sorry exercise. Whether the money has been top-sliced from the settlement for the local authorities is not by any means the whole of the issue. That money has come from somewhere and has to be paid.

The Statement concludes with a reference to the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead. I hope that that is not as ominous a point as it at first appears. I would have welcomed the Government expressing real

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confidence in local government and commenting that they felt, following the review, that they would be able to work far more in partnership with local government, regarding it as their agent and administrator. I would be grateful for any reassurances from the Minister on that basis.

Finally, I, too, wish Sir David Cooksey and his colleagues well. Again I take the opportunity of thanking the councillors and the staff in those authorities which will cease to exist in their current form. It must be an extremely tough time for all of them.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am of course grateful to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that she broadly welcomes this Statement, as indeed she indicated that she broadly welcomed the Statement that was made on 2nd March. I am also grateful to hear from both noble Baronesses the welcome and the good wishes to Sir David Cooksey, who will take over the very important job of looking at the new districts from 1st July.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, gave, I believe, a measure of support to what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has announced in the last two Statements. However, she did comment that the Local Government Commission had not been given proper guidance and that when it did get proper guidance it was overturned in the courts. I am not prepared to comment on that but I believe that what I have been able to indicate to the House today and was indicated previously by my right honourable friend meets with broad agreement on all sides of the House. The noble Baroness indicated that, now that that is out of the way, it is important that the Secretary of State should move quickly. We hope to consult on the draft orders for change in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Durham very shortly. We shall not be laying the draft orders before Parliament until after the local elections in May. Any change in those counties will take place in 1997, elections taking place in May 1996. We hope shortly to consult on those particular draft orders.

We hope that some reorganisations resulting from the new reviews will take place in 1997. But, realistically, some will not take place until 1998, elections having taken place the previous May. The noble Baroness wanted confirmation of the timetable.

The noble Baroness indicated her support for Berkshire. Obviously that is a very difficult decision and one which the Secretary of State was very concerned should be got right. I am glad that basically she endorses that decision.

The noble Baroness also said that she was interested in knowing whether there was a possibility of more districts being put forward for the list that my right honourable friend had already indicated. She mentioned particularly Oxford and Ipswich and gave the numbers which led her to believe that those districts should be put forward for re-review. My right honourable friend has indicated that, if other districts believe that they have a case, they can make their views known. However, we intend to ask the commission to carry out fresh reviews of a short list of districts, which would reflect the views around the House. Given the need for

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stability, it is very unlikely that my right honourable friend would wish to give further directions to the commission for the foreseeable future.

The noble Baroness asked about the total population in unitary districts. I am afraid that I do not have that figure in my brief but I shall write to her with the answer. Quite rightly, she was interested and concerned about the staffing arrangements. We are committed to treating the staff fairly. As the noble Baroness knows, there is an independent staff commission set up in England to advise the Secretary of State on reorganisation staffing issues. The staff commission has issued guidance to local authorities about staff transfers and recruitment. We estimate that at least 90 per cent. of staff will simply be employed by successor authorities, including all direct service providers such as teachers, care workers, fire fighters and road menders—road engineers, I stand corrected.

The noble Baroness said that now was the time to review the financial proposals for the funding of local authorities. I believe that to be a completely different subject. I understand her concerns and her wish that we should look at the SSAs; but there may be a better time to go into that and perhaps we can debate it at another time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rather surprised me by saying that she did not want to make a comment from Westminster, as though somehow Westminster was not here, with the rest of us. I certainly would like to indicate that I believe that most noble Lords in the House welcome the Statement I have been able to make.

The noble Baroness asked again about the date of the consultation on the new guidance. I can only repeat what I indicated on a previous occasion; namely, that we hope to consult on the new guidance in April and May. I understand her concerns. I have indicated them to my right honourable friend. I understand the distraction of the local elections. But I hope that we would direct the commission in June or July to carry out the new district reviews. It is essential that we should get on with the business rather than delay the matter. Again, I note her comments.

I hope that the noble Baroness understands about Essex and in particular the concern in Basildon. My right honourable friend indicated on 2nd March that he intended to ask the Local Government Commission to re-review Thurrock and Basildon on their existing boundaries. He noted what the commission was saying about looking at the boundaries of Basildon and would leave that for the time being so that there should not be any problem with Essex. Essex should know exactly where it stands, apart from those two areas of Thurrock and Basildon.

I understand the problems of Rutland. In indicating that he is concerned also with the difficulties of dealing with a district having a population of only 33,000, my right honourable friend wants to be persuaded. The Statement indicates that he is "minded" to agree, which in my terms certainly shows that he has not agreed yet but is minded to agree so long as he can be satisfied that the arrangements about which the noble Baroness is concerned on matters of planning and financing of

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services can be done in an effective way and would not put too much cost on people living in Rutland. There is some concern about that.

Finally, perhaps I may touch on the total cost. That will be affected by the decisions that the local authorities take in every individual case. The Government believe that there will be a transitional cost which will affect local areas. The £50 million I mentioned in reply to a question earlier today is not top-sliced. It is additional money which the Government have put forward. But local authorities will have to recover the transitional costs from future savings. In some cases there will be some additional costs for unitary authorities in the long run but it very much depends on how the local authorities themselves decide how they will arrange their affairs.

I believe that we should make certain that what is produced at the end of the exercise is effective government, given to local people at the best possible value for money.

4.18 p.m.

The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for the Statement and in principle support what has been said. I should declare an interest to the extent that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, I am vice-president of the Association of County Councils and an ex-chairman of Hampshire County Council. I am delighted with the news that New Forest is to remain in Hampshire.

I feel it right to take this opportunity to wish the great cities of Portsmouth and Southampton well, together with all their officers and members. In 1974 I was asked to stay on in local government to bring those two cities into Hampshire. It is sad to see them now, 20 years or so later, disappear once more into county boroughs. I do not always agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, regarding local government. But in this particular situation I agree with her, two to one. The "one" with which I disagree concerns the New Forest. But I am heartily in support of allowing those local authorities which are now free to do so to get on with their business and their chief officers to do their job without spending 50 per cent. of their time looking at reorganisation.

The other matter with which I agree with the noble Baroness —though I accept, as the noble Viscount said, that it is for another day—is that the Government must consider giving the uniform business rate back to local government.

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