HC Deb 08 March 1954 vol 524 cc1737-40
55 and 56. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government (1) whether he has drawn the attention of all local authorities to the suggestions made by the Organisation and

permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the information:

Methods Division of the Treasury for increasing the efficiency of local government services in Coventry;

(2) whether he will circularise all local government authorities with a view to causing them to review their administrative organisation and machinery so as to increase efficiency and economy.

Mr. Fletcher

May I have an answer?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

With permission, I will answer this and Question No. 56 together. [HON. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] I beg the House's pardon for not being here before. I did not realise that no Members were present to ask Questions of the Minister of Fuel and Power.

Mr. Fletcher

On a point of order. It is very difficult to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary is saying. Am I right in thinking that he is apologising for the fact that the Minister is not here?

Mr. Marples

No, Sir.

Mr. Pannell

This sort of thing has occurred on a previous occasion, when the hon. Member was away from a Committee because he was putting in a television appearance. What is the reason this time?

Mr. Langford-Holt

Is it not quite unfair to accuse my hon. Friend of being absent from his duty when the last Minister who was due to answer Questions was not asked a single Question?

Mr. Speaker

There is very little time.

Mr. Marples

Local authorities already have machinery, through their associations, for discussing questions of this kind, and no special action on my right hon. Friend's part is necessary or appropriate. The Coventry investigation was a confidential one carried out by the Treasury at the request of the City Council, and its results have received wide publicity.

Mr. Fletcher

Is the Minister aware that that is a most unsatisfactory answer? The report was not entirely confidential, and long extracts from it have been very widely published. Does not the Minister think it is of very grave public importance to all local authorities, and may we not have a statement from him as to what steps his Department are taking to bring the report to the notice of all other local authorities with any guidance about it which the Minister may think it suitable to give them?

Mr. Marples

There is no statutory responsibility for the internal administrative efficiency of local authorities. I think it is a case which should be left to individual local authorities or their associations. Speaking from memory, I think the Association of Municipal Corporations was not in favour of setting up its own organisation and methods department.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is it not the case that this Coventry report is an interesting development in local government examination and that the administrative costs of local authorities are of great importance to the ratepayers and to the State? Would it not be useful if the hon. Gentleman were to prepare for publication a report on this experiment which might be of value to other local authorities and hon. Members?

Mr. Marples

I will ask my right hon. Friend to consider that suggestion.

Mr. Fletcher

Does the Minister mean that it is not the concern of his Department that there should be complete efficiency in all local authorities?

Mr. Marples

I did not use those words. I said there was no statutory responsibility. Of course, efficiency is a concern of my right hon. Friend, but if there is no statutory responsibility at Whitehall, as it were, local authorities sometimes tend to resent any undue interference in their departments.