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Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am pleased to hear what the noble Earl said in relation to Hampshire. I am glad that he approves of the stand taken by my right honourable friend that Portsmouth and Southampton should be returned to county borough status, as he put it; unitary authority status as it will be in the future.
I am glad too that the noble Earl is delighted with the news in relation to the New Forest. That is of particular concern being, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, indicated, the district with the largest population which has not been accorded unitary status. However, it does not have the tradition of unitary local government; it is a largely rural area and it is right to leave it as part of
Baroness David: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question for clarification. Cambridgeshire was not mentioned in the Statement. However, in the Statement of the Secretary of State on 2nd March he said that he was minded to look at Peterborough, among other cities, as a possible unitary authority, and also at Huntingdonshire. Is that still the position or, as they were not mentioned today, has there been a change?
Lord Gisborough: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend about Cleveland, which was mentioned by those opposite if not by the Minister. As I understand it, the county council is to be abolished and we are to go to four district councils. But there will remain the Cleveland police, the fire brigade, the probation service, child care and so forth, along with all the charities operating in the area. As far as I know, it has not been decided whether the county will remain as a geographical county without a county council. Can my noble friend say when that will be announced? There is also the question of the lieutenancy and so forth, in which I am obviously interested.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am not sure that I shall be able to answer all my noble friend's questions. The order has passed and I confess that I cannot remember all the details of it. However, the police authorities are now independent of local government and will have their own authority area. The fire brigade is relatively the same and the lieutenancy of Cleveland will remain.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for the calm and deliberate way in which he repeated the Statement, but it is worth pointing out to the House why we are in the middle of reorganising local government. The story goes back some 10 years or more to when in local elections the metropolitan county councils were all won for the Labour Party; the Tory Government could not stomach that and had to abolish them. We pointed out at the time that when the shire counties made the same sort of decision the Government would come after them; and they have done. They have either torn the heart out of some of the counties in our fair land or dismembered them.
Although we can sometimes understand local people wanting to obtain more control over their services, in large measure local people have lessened their control over local services, particularly in relation to the police, the fire brigade and other county-wide services which will no longer come under direct effective locally elected control.
While we understand those issues, some of which are more important than others, I am concernedfollowing 10 years of attack by this Government on the education systemthat one of the effects of these further
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, the noble Lord appears to be more conservative than most people in this House, who recognise that there is room for diversity and that decisions should be based on the most appropriate structure for each area. The noble Lord appeared to indicate that he wanted no change at all. History, traditions and local preferences are all relevant. The Government's aim remains to create a local government structure that can deliver effective services and help build vigorous self-sustaining communities.
I understand the noble Lord's point in regard to education. However, he should reflect on the amount of money that the Government have injected into the education system over the past three years. Everybody recognises that this year's is a tough settlement, but most authorities have been able to provide the same level of service and education as they provided previously. Much of what the noble Lord said has a rather tangential bearing on my Statement, and we shall have an opportunity of discussing his points in more detail at another time.
Lord Aldington: My Lords, did I detect in my noble friend's interesting Statement a slight switch of policy in that the Government have decided to go for, in the case of the shire counties, a national blueprint of two-tier authorities in the major part of the counties, but in the large towns, particularly those which have been county boroughs, to have unitary authorities? If so, does that not depart from what we were told on the Second Reading of the Bill and from what we have been told in letters from the Prime Minister and Statements by Ministers?
Does not my noble friend realise that that departure affects particularly my county of Kent? There were no county boroughs before, but there has been a reference backI refer to the Statement of 2nd Marchregarding two possible unitary authorities in the north-west of Kent. Exactly the same proposal was put to the citizens of Kent by the commission as a first option and rejected by 70 per cent. of them. Is the Government's new policy designed to impose that blueprint somehow or other without taking any account of local wishes? Will he give us an assurance that under the new guidance local people will have to be consulted and their opinions taken account of?
I note what my noble friend says about referring the Medway towns in Kent for re-review by the newly constituted commission, with its new chairman and new guidance. Whatever guidance the commission is given, it is independent and it will certainly take note of local opinion.
Baroness Macleod of Borve: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. He mentioned Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Those proud counties will be delighted with the Minister's decision to separate them again. He also made an announcement about the Malvern Hills. However, I did not quite gather what will happen with regard to the organisation of the hills. The Minister will know that conservators are appointed for about three years to look after the considerable amount of acreage of the Malvern Hills. Will that be continued or will another organisation have the custody of the very gracious and beautiful hills?
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I did indeed indicate that Herefordshire would be returned to its old county boundary, including part of the Malvern Hills district which was part of Herefordshire in 1974. So the unitary authority area of Herefordshire would be as it was. I shall have to take advice on the organisation of the conservators now that that decision has been taken because it effectively means that there is a split in the Malvern Hills district between Worcestershire and Herefordshire. If I may, I shall write to my noble friend with the answer.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, perhaps I may raise one or two points with regard to Wiltshire and Berkshire. The Minister's statement about Thamesdownthat is, Swindonwas very welcome to me because this is an opportune moment for the people of that area to consider naming the unitary authority Swindon rather than Thamesdown. Everyone would then know exactly where it was. Is the noble Viscount aware that the people in Swindon will welcome the Statement with the greatest of pleasure? They have been waiting for nearly 25 years to have unitary status. They represent 30 per cent. of the population and provide 40 per cent. of the finance of Wiltshire County Council. I had the honour to represent Swindon for 13 years. I can assure the Minister that I very much welcome the Statement and I feel sure that the people of Swindon, Thamesdown or whatever one likes to call it will also do so.
In the case of Berkshire, I support what the Secretary of State has done in accepting that Berkshire is not a viable unit in itself and that there are six viable unitary authorities there. What is proposed will be welcomed by most people in Berkshire, and it will work. Has he had an indication from the county council, which advocated its own abolition on the basis that the county would be
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