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"explore urgently the possibility of equal opportunity legislation for the employment of people with disabilities and report to Parliament upon the potential effect and costs in the Labour Market."
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : Perhaps my hon. Friend could also discuss the point that many people make as to why it is argued that this country cannot afford civil rights for disabled people on grounds of cost when so many other countries can afford full civil rights for their people.
Column 486We have not yet seen the report so urgently called for by the Select Committee on Employment in 1991 to examine the cost and the effects on the labour market of equal opportunity legislation for people with disabilities. Before comprehensive legislation was introduced in the United States, there were suggestions that it would place enormous burdens on industry and small businesses in particular. However, the evidence from the United States, which has pursued a policy of all- embracing equality legislation and adopted the civil rights approach, shows that those forebodings have not been realised. Industry has not been crippled and firms have not gone out of business as a result of civil rights measures.
The Government said that giving civil rights to disabled people would cripple industry and the competitiveness of small businesses. Will the Minister tell us how many businesses in the United States were brought down by the cost of complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act ? In fact, most employers found that the rhetoric in this country--from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Employment--is true, and that compliance with the ADA in America has benefited them because they have been able to tap a previously unknown market. There has also been a massive shift in public attitude and a massive improvement in accessibility, and the public and the media have become more aware of disabled people and their rights. The ADA works in America and it is based on the concept of civil rights. The same pattern has been followed in New Zealand, Canada and Australia, but not in Britain. The Government simply trot out the old adage, "We can't afford it."
I deal now with the Government's assessment of the cost of compliance if the Berry Bill-- [Hon. Members :-- "Measure."]--if the Berry proposals had been accepted. The £17 billion that has been quoted is wildly unrealistic. It assumes that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe wanted the legislation implemented, with full compliance, from day one when that was certainly not the case. I believe that there is also an element of double costing in the Government's assessment as they have already made available £2 million per annum for the private sector through the new access to work scheme. I do not think that they took account of that in their calculations. I also do not believe that they have made full and effective assessments of the benefits to this country.
During the debates in the House there has been some discussion about the terminology that we should use to describe disabled people. I always felt that we should use the term that disabled people themselves wish to be used. I am pleased that we used the term "disabled people" rather than "people with disabilities". The term "people with disabilities" suggests the concept that a person has a problem and we cannot do anything about it. If we use the concept "disabled people" we can perhaps consider what society does to people. Society can close doors or it can open them. Society can disable people or it can enable them. I believe there is time in this Parliament to reconsider the civil rights of disabled people and to ensure that we are an enabling rather than a disabling Parliament. 2.15 pm
Column 487For a reason which escapes me, in the past six months we have had many debates on civil rights and disabled people. Both in the Chamber and outside, every time we have debated the need for disabled people to have their civil rights, disabled people and their supporters have always won the arguments. Every vote on the issue has been won without any opposition whatever. At the end of the day, one thing remains clear. Once and for all we have seen a clear recognition by everyone that the time will come very soon when disabled people will be guaranteed their civil rights. Nobody now doubts that. That has been one of the features of the debates over the past few months ; all the arguments have been won.
The second feature of the debates on civil rights over the past few months has been disabled people's feeling that the House has not treated their concerns properly and with due respect. Numerous devices have been employed against those campaigning for civil rights for disabled people. I shall not describe those devices now. They are well known, and it is clear who has been responsible for them. The feelings of disabled people, too, are a matter of record. The one major argument against ensuring that disabled people have their civil rights relies on the costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) referred to that argument. Indeed, it is the only argument left. Only two days ago the Prime Minister said that the Bill to ensure civil rights for disabled people would "impose costs of £17 billion on private industry".--[ Official Report , 24 May 1994 ; Vol. 244, c. 180.]
That is not even what the Government's own document says, and it is a further example of the House being deliberately misled. The Government's document refers to time scales for implementing the legislation which are not being suggested by disabled people or by their supporters in the Chamber. A totally spurious time scale has been invented to give rise to totally spurious cost estimates. Everyone in the House knows that.
The inevitability of measures to secure civil rights for disabled people is recognised. There is still an opportunity this Session for that recognition to be translated into legislation. The Government still have an opportunity to rescue what, to date, has been a rather shabby performance on this matter.
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin- Walker) on his good fortune in securing time, albeit brief, once more to help to keep what all of us who have been involved in the issue over the years recognise as an important matter high on the political agenda. Some people have come somewhat lately to the matter and may have used it for their own particular purposes
Mr. Scott : The hon. Member for Woolwich, who initiated the debate this afternoon, has a long-standing interest and commitment in this area. He has always taken a most serious interest in the subject and he has taken part in our debates. I recognise his contribution-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) wishes to intervene, I am perfectly happy to give way to him.
Mr. Scott : I was paying a sincere and well-deserved tribute to the hon. Member for Woolwich, who has played such a valuable part in our processes. He was a valuable member of the Standing Committee. For seven years, as Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, I have sought, as I hope will be tolerably widely recognised in the House, to voice and to demonstrate the Government's commitment to the principle of seeking to eliminate discrimination against disabled people and to widen the opportunities available to them fully to participate in our national life. My personal belief in the work that needs to be done remains as strong as ever. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reaffirmed the Government's commitment to that principle when he said recently that the Government
"share the aim of eliminating discrimination against disabled people."-- [ Official Report , 12 April 1994 ; Vol. 241, c. 15.] Recent events, welcome in some aspects, have raised the profile, to use a modern expression, and the rightful expectations of disabled people in our society. They have probably enjoyed rather more coverage in our national media in recent days than they have ever achieved before. I sometimes wonder how many of those who have uttered so strongly and firmly on the issue have employment or access practices that reflect today's needs for disabled people. What I have done and what I shall continue to do, whatever legislation we have, as Minister with responsibility for disabled people is to seek to raise the profile of the issue and to ensure that more and more people take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of disabled people.
I deny categorically that the Government have ever sought to mislead people about their attitude towards the approach taken recently in the House by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry)
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I hope that the Minister will not stray on to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which has been the subject of controversy recently. I have already made my point clear. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask you to take into account on this matter the words following the passage which you quoted from page 320 of "Erskine May". It says :
Column 489"In general, matters which would entail legislation must not be discussed on a motion for the Adjournment ; but under Standing Order No 29 Mr. Speaker may permit such incidental reference to legislative action as he may consider relevant to any matter"
Mr. Scott : Certainly, I was not seeking to stray into the merits or otherwise of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, but was talking about the approach advanced by Opposition Members. As I have said on a number of occasions, and I shall reiterate what I have just said, we share the overall aim of eliminating discrimination against disabled people. I unashamedly and fiercely defend the record of the Government, because of the significant achievements that have been made over the past 15 years by the Government, and in the private sector with the encouragement of the Government, to eliminate discrimination, to reduce discrimination against disabled people and to expand the opportunities available to them. Frankly, although I well understand the narrow political reasons that lead Opposition Members to take such an attitude, I think that it is rather churlish of them-- [Interruption.] --rather churlish of them to dismiss the progress that has already been made.
We have made a number advances in the field of employment, the most recent being the access to work announcement of my right hon.
Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order, during this debate, for the Minister to attempt to rescue a reputation that is in tatters over this very matter ?
Mr. Scott : I believe that the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a really positive step in the right direction to remove the many barriers that we all acknowledge face disabled people in their efforts to obtain employment in this country. We all know that the quota system, which has been in existence for many decades, is not an appropriate or effective way in which to achieve equality of opportunity or to remove discrimination against disabled people.
Mr. Alfred Morris : What pride does the Minister take in the fact that the Department of Health employs only 0.7 per cent. of disabled people, the Home Office employs 0.3 per cent., or a tenth of the 3 per cent. quota, and that there is not a single disabled employee in No. 10 Downing street ?
Mr. Scott : If I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman should know better, because he was the first person to hold the job that I hold at the moment. He knows that failure to meet those quotas or failure to prosecute those who fail to meet them was the same under previous Administrations. We all know the fact about the quota is that there are not sufficient registered disabled people--the number to which the percentage figure applies--for employers to match. In my Department, the Department of Social Security, as I have said to the House on previous occasions, 1.5 per cent. of our employees are registered as disabled, but 5 per cent. of our employees identify themselves as being disabled in one way or another. I believe that that is a more realistic measure of the willingness of Government as a whole to employ and give opportunities to disabled people. We have already said that we shall continue to build on the work that the Government have already done in that important area. I recognise its importance and its sensitivity. We need to ensure that it is taken forward at a pace.
We have already announced our proposals--[ Interruption. ]--to consult widely in the following key areas affecting the quality of life of disabled people in our society. The first area is the removal of discrimination in employment. We know the importance of that, but anybody who has had my responsibilities or has taken an interest in the matter knows that employment for many disabled people is not a realistic ambition. More and more will be able to avail themselves of that opportunity as a result of technological advances and steps that the Government are considering taking and will be consulting on in the near future.
Employment is a key area, but access to goods and services is also very important for those who experience disabilities in our society and that, too, is a matter on which we shall be consulting. We shall also be considering the possibility of codes of practice for the financial services industry where I know-- [Interruption.] --I know that disabled people have to face non-actuarially based discrimination in insurance, banking and so on. That is another area that we need to tackle.
We also know about the impact of building regulations on the lives of disabled people and on their access to buildings, whether domestic or non- domestic. We need to consult on the possibility of creating a new advisory body to discuss those matters and investigate matters of discrimination against disabled people. That is the range of issues on which the Government are determined to consult in the coming months. At the end of that consultation process, the Government will consider the best way forward. I believe that that is much more sensible, realistic, practicable and affordable than the concepts embraced in the proposed legislation that was recently discussed.
Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : It gives me a little satisfaction that I may be the Back Bencher who gets in the last word before we rise for the recess, given the amount of hot air generated this morning. I am bound to say that the last debate was not hot air. It also gives me some satisfaction that I voted for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill on Second Reading. I am even more satisfied that the Government intend to make their own proposals.
The issue that I wish to raise is a national issue that affects my constituents. It is local government reform on Humberside. My constituents and I are worried about the issue and the amount of opposition to local government reform which is clearly developing in some quarters. That opposition does not form the majority of opinion, but vocal objection is beginning to develop against reform. I see it in terms of press speculation, propaganda from local authority associations, or at least some of them, and the attempts to seek judicial review by some who wish to see the status quo maintained. The question that occurs to my constituents and to me is how that opposition will affect Humberside, particularly the north bank of the Humber, where my constituency happens to be. In this short debate, I simply want to make it clear to my hon. Friend the Minister that we in north Humberside are enthusiastic about reform of the status quo. In other words, we wish to see an end of Humberside county council. Coincidentally, I received a letter from one of my councillors, Mrs. Betty Eaton, who wrote, unbeknown to me, to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday asking again that he get on with the reform of local government in Humberside. That is legitimate because it is against the background of a long campaign in my constituency and area to re-establish the ridings of Yorkshire--for our area, the east riding. That obviously involves the abolition of Humberside county council.
I am sorry to say that Humberside county council was imposed on us by a Conservative Government back in the early 1970s. That was a considerable mistake. That is evidenced, if by nothing else, by the fact that almost the day after the decision was announced, a campaign began to have Humberside abolished. That was not a very good start. The result is that in 20 years or so no loyalty or, to be fair, little loyalty has built up between the electorate and Humberside county council.
Few of my constituents are able to identify with Humberside county council. They seem to think that the borough of Beverley delivers all the services. That is evidenced by the letters. It suggests that the borough of Beverley, to take that example, has achieved a bond between it and its people whereas Humberside county council has not. There were those who believed back in 1987--I was one of them--that a change in the name of the county council was all that was needed to save it. We believed that all that was needed was to change the name from Humberside county council to another name such as East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire county council. That might, at the time, have satisfied those who wanted
Column 492north of the Humber to return to the ridings, but I do not believe that such a change would satisfy public opinion now, at least in my constituency.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me during his debate. He has made the case fairly on behalf of his constituents, but there is a feeling among a large number of people in the county that many high quality services, such as the hearing impaired service which has been very successful, are under threat from such changes. Many people have changed their opinion again in the course of the debate as they have looked at the issues. They are now beginning to question whether reorganisation is worth the cost, inconvenience and threat to high quality services. I question whether it is worth going through the change all over again after the disruptive change of 1974, which the hon. Gentleman rightly described.
Mr. Cran : The hon. Gentleman has his own view, but his fears are not reflected in the views of my constituents who write to me on the subject. All psephological evidence on the subject shows that what I have been saying to the House and my hon. Friend the Minister is true, and that the bond of loyalty between the people of Humberside and the county council simply does not exist. That is why the county council is fighting a vigorous--I do not think that it will be effective--rearguard action, the latest part of which is the attempt at a judicial review.
I understand that leave to bring in a judicial review has been refused and an appeal is pending--perhaps the Minister can confirm that. The mere fact that a judicial review is being sought does not reflect popular public opinion in my constituency or, I would venture to say, the whole of the north bank of the Humber. Therefore, if I get nothing more out of my hon. Friend the Minister this afternoon, my constituents and I would like him at least to restate the Government's commitment to reform on the north bank of the Humber. Before the Local Government Commission put forward its proposals I was in favour of single-tier, all-purpose local government, based on the district, as that was what all my experience told me would be best. It would be small enough to attract the sort of loyalty that a local authority requires to get consent. However, the commission did not come up with that, but with what will be, in effect, an East Yorkshire county council. As a result, there has been a bit of difficulty--I put it no higher than that--with some of the districts in considering that proposal, but there has been no profound objection. I am sure that the Minister already knows that the districts are unofficially beginning to work together to consider the practicalities of how they should be organised when the change is implemented. Therefore, I underline the fact that I have no doubt that the districts, and all of us who will be affected by the change when it comes--I hope that it does--will make the recommendations work. That should give the Minister some satisfaction when the proposals are brought forward after any judicial review, if it takes place--I do not expect that it will. I am not here to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to get the Secretary of State to give us the decision, which will come in the fullness of time. All that I want the Minister to say is that reform is on its way, irrespective of what may be happening in other parts of the country.
Column 493Why am I emphasising this issue ? I could be doing all sorts of things. I could be on my way to my constituency to help win Humberside for the Conservatives in the European election, which is what I expect to happen. I am asking these questions because one hears rumours--admittedly mainly in the press--that the Government are thinking again about the pace of reform. I have given them no credence, but I am providing the Minister with the opportunity to give no credence to the rumour that Government zeal for reform is waning, that Ministers are not as keen as they were about the reforms that I am talking about and that the status quo would give them fewer problems.
I hope that that is not the prevailing Government view. Judging from my hon. Friend's reaction to one or two of my remarks, I think that I now know what his and the Government's views are. If it were any different, my constituents would feel let down. They rightly feel that they have been promised reform and that is what they want. To use a cricketing metaphor, if the Government want some runs on the board, we can provide them in Humberside. Reform does not run counter to the Government's philosophy over the local government review. As I recall it, that philosophy was that there should be no blanket solutions or iron rigidity and that what is agreed for the south-west of England should not be forced on us in Humberside. We need flexible solutions. If there is to be no reform in the south-west, it should not mean no reform in my constituency. I need clarification from the Minister this afternoon so that he can reassure me and my constituents. He could best do so in the following way. First, he could make a clear statement that local government reform will come about in Humberside. He and I both know that there is the complication posed by the judicial review. If he cannot answer this now, perhaps he will do so in a letter, but if the review succeeds by some mischance--I do not think that it will-- what will be the Government's strategy for my constituency ?
Secondly, will my hon. Friend say something about the timetable and reconfirm what we all understand to be the case--that in May 1995 we expect shadow elections for the new authority, whatever it is to be, which would lead to the starting date for the new council or councils in April 1996 ? I want to know that we are going to achieve that target, if he thinks that it is the correct one. Or does he anticipate any slippage, perhaps not due to the judicial review, but to any other consideration that none of us knows about ?
Finally, will the Government introduce separate parliamentary orders ? He may not have the information, but perhaps he can write to me. I am aware of the written answer, which stated :
"we shall decide on handling at the time, taking into account the pressure of parliamentary business."--[ Official Report , 3 May 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 444 .]
What would be the effect if a contentious reorganisation--I guess that there is none--were coupled with a non-contentious change, which is what I expect in the case of Humberside ?
Could my hon. Friend also tell me a little about the timetable ? I note that the implementing order for Cleveland is likely to be laid in June and made in July--at least, that was the position as I understood it at the last time of looking. What is the position for Humberside ?
Column 494That is all I want to say. I merely thank my hon. Friend the Minister and everybody else for listening to me--all two of them plus the Minister on the Front Bench. My hon. Friend the Minister should bear in mind the fact that we are enthusiastic about his proposals and we want him to get on with them without any delay.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) for giving me the opportunity to give a further report to the House on our progress in undertaking the review of the structure of local government in England and for providing me with the opportunity to make it absolutely clear that we are on timetable. The review is on track.
Naturally, my hon. Friend has taken the opportunity to make clear his views about the review in relation to Humberside. I know that he understands that it is not possible today to provide him with a definitive answer to his questions about the future structure of local government in Humberside. We are giving careful consideration to the Local Government Commission's recommendations for the review area, which includes Humberside, and also two other large county areas, North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
As my hon. Friend said, the commission recommended that the county of Humberside and the county council should be abolished and replaced with four unitary authorities. It is clear that there is widespread support for that recommendation throughout the Humberside area. The recommendation does not stand alone. The commission has provided us with a complex series of recommendations covering the future of all three of those counties and the 23 district councils within their areas. As my hon. Friend would expect, the interrelationship between the recommendations needs to be carefully considered. That notwithstanding, I am sure that my hon. Friend and his constituents will be reassured to know that I do not expect that it will be too long before we can announce our decisions on Humberside.
Given that I cannot say a great deal about the specific detail on Humberside, it will, I hope, be helpful to the House if I speak briefly about the commission's progress on the review generally, and helpful if I restated the principles that lie behind our proposals for the reorganisation of local government. I emphasise first that we are not seeking to impose from the centre a blueprint on local government. Through the review process, we are seeking to provide local government and local people within each review area with an opportunity to consider the best means of delivering effective and convenient local government, which at the same time recognises an individual community's particular identity and needs.
We believe that there is a strong case to be made for unitary authorities. In a unitary authority, the public knows who is responsible for the delivery of local services. That clarity of responsibility for provision enhances accountability. People need to know who is responsible for what and that makes the ballot more effective when services are delivered well or, indeed, if they are delivered badly. The voters' message will be clearer if there is no confusion as to who in local government is responsible. Also unitary
Column 495authorities can accommodate and represent strong community identities. If people identify with their council, they will be more interested in what their council is doing.
There can also be substantial savings in costs when only one authority is responsible for providing a complete range of services, because of the lack of duplication and the consequent reduction in bureaucracy. That can also result in the improvement of those services. If all services are under one roof there is tremendous scope for co-ordinating them from a consumer standpoint. It will be possible to bring together housing and social service issues, so that the person who has needs that cross those two responsibilities is not shunted from one set of officials to another or from one office to another.
One can co-ordinate development control and transport issues, which will be much better from the citizen's point of view.
Mr. Morley : I thank the Minister for giving way. I wish to raise just two quick points. First, does the Minister accept that there is a great deal of concern in Humberside and among my constituents about issues that are not resolved, such as specialist education services and specialist social services, which will be difficult for unitary authorities to maintain ? I know that joint arrangements have been mentioned, but in a letter from the Minister for Local Government and Planning all that was said was that he hoped that local authorities would get together on a voluntary basis and provide those services. That is not much of an assurance to people who are concerned about a threat to the high quality services that are provided by Humberside and supported by a great many people. Even though there is a difference of opinion, I hope that the Minister will seriously take into account the representations of those who are opposed to the changes.
Mr. Baldry : Although I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concerns, I find them strange. Many of his colleagues who represent constituencies with unitary authority areas do not experience problems of co-ordination on specialist education or whatever. It is therefore surprising that the hon. Gentleman raises that as a point of concern.
Unitary authorities can enhance accountability and provide a desirable balance between efficiency and access. I thought that we had achieved a strong measure of cross-party support for that approach. That was evident in the recent debate on the order establishing a unitary authority on the Isle of Wight--the first order under reorganisation to come before the House. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who speaks for the Labour party on local government matters, said :
"I make it absolutely clear that the Opposition firmly support the principle of the establishment of unitary authorities in England. We have not been converted recently to that : we have believed in it for a long time, and even before the 1974 reorganisation of local government. We support the principle because we believe that boundaries that can be established on a unitary basis in many instances better reflect the communities that the local authorities based in those boundaries seek to represent. There is a sense of identity that is sometimes missing from the structure of local government in some parts of the country.
The Opposition have also supported the principle of unitary authorities because an effective and efficient unitary authority can avoid duplication- -of which, as many hon. Members know, there are many instances in local government. On planning, for example, district and county councils have to liaise and there is sometimes a certain amount of difficulty in understanding who
Column 496has responsibility for what. On recreation and the link with school sports, there can often be different responsibilities for providing similar facilities . . .
One strong argument in favour of unitary authorities is that the public know who is responsible for issues affecting them and administered by local government. I have always found that helpful in my own local authority. The public know that if the matter is one dealt with by local government . . . they do not have to determine whether it is a district or county council issue. Those arguments have long been held by the Opposition in supporting unitary councils."--[ Official Report , 18 April 1994 ; Vol. 241, c. 690.] There is clearly broad cross-party support for what we are seeking to achieve.
I shall repeat something I have said often before. We are determined that transitional costs will not fall to the council tax payer. We expect local government reorganisation to be worth while and cost-effective over time. We expect substantial and continuing savings in the longer term to follow the commission's reviews. Estimates for the costs and savings for the changes agreed so far--Cleveland and the Isle of Wight--look good. The 1994 -95 council taxes in both areas include nothing for transitional costs. They do not think that they will incur transitional costs. However, there will need to be some investment to secure savings in the future. For example, in Cleveland the authorities estimate that the £2 million they may be required to spend on redundancies will secure savings of £1.5 million a year thereafter, in each and every year.
We accept that the review may not always lead to a unitary authority solution--it may well be that in certain circumstances arguments in favour of the status quo will prevail and the two-tier system will be retained. It is, of course, in the first instance for the commission to recommend what the future structure of local government in any area under review should be.
I come now to the progress that the commission has made to date. We have received its final recommendations on 10 review areas. We have accepted, and this House and another place have passed, orders implementing the commission's recommendations for the Isle of Wight--one unitary. We have also accepted its recommendations for Cleveland--four unitaries. However, we have found it necessary to refer back to the commission for further consideration its recommendations for Gloucestershire, Derbyshire and Durham. As I have said, we shall be announcing our decisions on the commission's outstanding recommendations--including those for Humberside-- in due course.
I am sure that the House will agree that it is in everyone's interest for uncertainty about the review to last for as short a time as possible. Inevitably, when we announced the acceleration of the commission's review timetable last autumn, scepticism was expressed in some quarters about whether the revised targets could be met. I am pleased to be able to confirm that all the local authorities in the first phase had made their initial representations by the due date--8 April--and that the commission is now preparing its draft reports on the areas involved. I am confident that reports on most areas will be published by early June.
Success in meeting the timetable has depended to a great extent on the willingness of local authorities to co-operate with each other in designing future structural arrangements that meet local needs. I would expect the commission to reflect that local consensus in its recommendations to us. In areas where consensus has not been achieved, I very much hope that the review process
Column 497will provide an impetus for authorities to get together : only if local authorities and local people get together can we be confident that local wishes are being addressed and will be met.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley explained that his constituents, who have welcomed the proposals for the abolition of Humberside county council, feared that the review of the structure of local government might in some way be abandoned, or that its momentum had somehow faltered. Let me make it clear that the review of the structure of local government in England is on time and on track, and we are determined for it to stay on time and on track. We are determined to complete the task fully, thoroughly and expeditiously, to the benefit of all concerned. If we had intended to bale out of the review, the time to do so would have been about a year ago. It would not have been now--and it certainly will not be now, or at any time in the future.
As I have explained, the review is on course, the commission is on schedule and the timetable is being adhered to. The fact that a number of councils have chosen to seek judicial review of the commission's recommendations has meant that the short-term timetable has needed to be amended--nothing more. Ultimately, what matters is our intention that in May 1997 the last of the new authorities will assume their full responsibilities, and we are still well on target to reach that date.
My hon. Friend asked what we would do if the court reached a certain decision. We can only trust in the court's good judgment ; certainly, it is impossible to anticipate its decision. We are confident, however, that all the new authorities will be able to assume their full responsibilities by May 1997, and, as I have said, we are well on target and determined to meet that deadline. This is the last debate before the Whitsun recess. Like my hon. Friend, I suspect that it is less a recess than an
Column 498adjournment to enable us all to help campaign in the European elections. Those elections will be as important to the people of Humberside in the immediate future as the reorganisation of local government.
The elections on 9 June will present the people of Humberside, and those elsewhere, with a straightforward choice between two types of Europe. There is the Conservative choice of a thriving, open, deregulated and decentralised Europe where opportunities are grasped, trade is encouraged and jobs are created--a Europe where nation states work more effectively together to solve all the problems that they share, but where individual nation states retain responsibility for most areas of policy.
Then there is the Lib-Lab vision of Europe, which is very different. Both parties are signed up to more controls, more regulations and new costs and burdens for employers. Just when Britain is showing the way to economic recovery and shrinking dole queues, Labour and the Liberals are proposing a charter for job destruction on Humberside and elsewhere. Instead of making Europe less remote and more accountable to the citizens of Humberside and elsewhere, they are proposing to centralise decision making in Brussels by signing away Britain's national veto.
I suspect that that is not what people in Humberside want, or what the British people want. We shall make every effort, therefore, to spell out the facts between now and 9 June. The British people want a very different sort of Europe. They want a European Parliament that uses its powers to deliver benefits to ordinary people--such benefits as a real single market, a crackdown on European Community fraud and better control of the Brussels Commission. It means a strong Britain in a strong Europe. That is the choice on 9 June ; for Britain's sake and for Europe's sake, we are determined to make it a Conservative choice.
Question put and agreed to .
Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock till Tuesday 14th June, pursuant to the Resolution [19 May] .
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