HC Deb 03 August 1944 vol 402 cc1579-80
10. Mr. Hutchinson

asked the Minister of Health whether he is in a position to define the attitude of the Government in the matter of local government reform.

Mr. Willink

Various proposals relating to the reform of local government in England and Wales put forward by the local government associations and received from other authoritative sources have been carefully considered. It is clear from these that there is no general desire to disrupt the existing structure of local government or to abandon in favour of some form of regional government the main features of the county and county borough system; and the Government do not consider that any case has been made out for so drastic a change.

On the other hand, the Government are satisfied that within the general framework of the county and county borough system there is need and scope for improvements, and in particular for amending the machinery of the Local Government Act, 1933, relating to adjustments of status, boundaries and areas. Before putting detailed proposals before Parliament I propose to take advantage of the experience and knowledge of the local government associations and for that purpose to open discussions with these bodies as soon as may be. My intention would be, in the light of these discussions, to lay before Parliament a general outline of the Government's proposals before submitting actual legislative measures.

Mr. Hutchinson

While thanking my right hon. and learned Friend for the important statement which he has just made, and which I am sure will be welcomed, may I ask him whether he is able to give the House an indication of the date when it is expected that these consultations to which he has referred are likely to begin?

Mr. Willink

Subject to the convenience of the associations, I shall be ready, and I hope to begin discussions in the course of next month.

Mr. Shinwell

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that his predecessor replied to a similar question by saying "in the Spring" and that he now says "as soon as may be"? Can he give us an idea when that will be?

Mr. Willink

I have indicated that "as soon as may be" will be next month.

Mr. Petherick

Will the Minister have the proposals examined by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament as that is the best body for dealing with such local affairs?

Mr. Willink

I think the time to consider such a suggestion is after I have had the preliminary discussions, the result of which I promise to bring before Parliament.

Mr. Hutchinson

May I put this further point? The Minister is aware, as the House is aware, that, under recent legislation, notably the Education Bill, and under the legislation which is contemplated by his own White Paper proposals, a substantial redistribution of functions among certain authorities is likely to take place. May I ask him whether he can give an assurance that the position of authorities who will be affected by that redistribution, will not be prejudiced in those consultations, or in the subsequent proposals which he will bring before the House?

Mr. Speaker

That is a very long question.

Mr. Willink

I can certainly give that assurance.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Will the Minister's arrangements give to local authorities and the various associations adequate time to consider any proposals that he may make?

Mr. Willink

On a matter of this importance that will certainly be secured.

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