HC Deb 02 February 1965 vol 705 cc890-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will now make a further statement on the reorganisation of London government.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 61.

The Government have examined all the changes timed to come into full operation in London government on 1st April. Our initial reservations about the London Government Act remain, but our return to office came too late to allow us to reshape the new system in any material way. The new borough councils and the Greater London Council had been elected and were far advanced in their detailed preparations for the assumption of their new responsibilities. The desirability of a different allocation of functions had to be weighed against the danger of disrupting services by a last minute change of direction.

None the less, we have been considering whether, in view of the strong feeling which exists in certain quarters, we should not even at this late date legislate to transfer to the Greater London Council responsibility for certain specialised aspects of the children's service in the Greater London area. Consultation between my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the interests concerned showed that while there is considerable support for such a step, opinion is not unanimously in favour.

There is, moreover, a widespread fear that a change of arrangements at this stage might be detrimental to the operation of the children's service and to the interests of the children themselves. We have, therefore, concluded that we must allow the transfer of functions to take effect without amendment.

In this situation we shall now do our utmost to ensure the success of the new system. But we propose to keep the working of the Act under review to ensure, for instance, that housing loses none of its impetus. We shall maintain close consultation with the Greater London Council, the London Borough Councils and the Common Council, and we will not hesitate to introduce amendments at a later date should experience suggest that it is right to do so. In particular, we shall consider the requirement to review educational arrangements in inner London before 1970 which is imposed on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science by the London Government Act, 1963.

In the meantime, it is essential that local authorities in the Greater London area should work closely together to coordinate the operation of the social services and, in particular, of the children's service.

Mr. Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people anticipated that, unfortunately, the Government would not be able to undo a great deal of the damage which is in the Act? Is he also aware that the progressive councils of East and West Ham, which have wonderful children's services, will be pleased at this result? Can my right hon. Friend say how much money will be saved by this scheme? The previous Government said that this reorganisation of London government would save a lot of money.

Mr. Crossman

This reorganisation of the children's service will cost a great deal more, because each borough has to organise its own service and this will be a heavy extra burden on the rates.

As for the previous part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I do not want to exacerbate feelings. I know that there are differences of opinion inside parties and inside boroughs, but I very much hope that now that they take over this responsibility for the children's service the boroughs will seek at all costs to maintain certain central features which were a great advantage of the central L.C.C. service. I am thinking of the statistical service, training, central control of remand homes, and so on.

I am doing everything I can to encourage them to do it together jointly and to try to reduce what, inevitably, will be a loss of certain vital efficiency in the service as a result of the break-up of these central features.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be much relief that he has resisted the attempt, even at this late stage, to alter part of the pattern of the system of local government as laid down in the Act? Is he aware that the House will agree with him that the right approach is for all of us to wish for the new authorities, which under this immense reform are taking a heavy responsibility, the best of wishes in the formidable task which they are undertaking?

Mr. Murray

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be considerable concern among the staffs of residential establishments and specialist establishments in London in view of his Answer? Is he also aware that there will be concern at his statement about the 1970 review?

Mr. Crossman

I am aware that there are people in the service, and especially in the specialist services, who will be extremely anxious that what I have said will be carried out, but still I have reasonable hope that the boroughs, by cooperation, will be able, if they are determined to do so, to maintain these specialist services by one of them keeping and running one of the services, as often happens now in the country, on behalf of the others. But it will take a great deal of effort and we must make sure that nothing is lost as a result of what I have announced.

Mr. Hogg

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to say when the educational review to which he referred in his original Answer will begin, or what form it is likely to take?

Mr. Crossman

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman must have misunderstood my Answer. The educational review is something to which the Act committed the Government before the end of the five years. I said that we were going to review whether we should have such a review.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Hogg

Whether we review the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must enable some back benchers to take part. Mr. Goodhew.

Mr. Goodhew

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's specific mention of the need to ensure that Londoners are properly housed, may I ask whether he will do his best to ensure that the Greater London Council does what it can to see that those who really need houses are provided with housing, instead of pursuing the policy of the L.C.C., which was to provide housing for people regardless of their means?

Mr. Crossman

This is going very far beyond what I stated. We are mainly concerned to ensure that, with the new responsibilities given to these borough organisations, the impetus of housing is maintained.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement today, going back on very much that was said by hon. and right hon. Members opposite in debates on the Local Government Act, will be much appreciated by the great majority of Londoners? Is he further aware that the new London boroughs feel themselves quite competent to run the children's service by themselves, and jointly, in the future?

Mr. Crossman

I suggest to the House that on this issue the best thing now is to forget the past and try to make the thing work. I say that as one of the people who disliked the whole reorganisation, but since it has happened, we have, in a democracy, to make it work now. That is what I said in my statement.

Mr. Lubbock

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any consideration to the possibility of forming an Inner London children's authority, analogous to the Inner London Education Authority, to prevent the disruption of the L.C.C. children's service, which will now, unfortunately, take place? Since the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that the impetus of the housing programme in Greater London will be maintained, may I ask what encouragement he is giving to Greater London local authorities to form consortia?

Mr. Crossman

If a special Question were put down on the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would answer it in full.

As for the first half of the hon. Member's question, we considered the possibility, but, of course, it would require legislation. It has also to be remembered that, by the time we came to consider this matter, children's officers had been, or were being, appointed in the boroughs and that an organisation had been established, which made it difficult to go back. It was only regretfully that we did not, because we were convinced that, in principle, a centralised children's service, such as the L.C.C. had previously, had everything to commend it and that we were sustaining a loss in efficiency as a result, but since this had been done we want it to work as efficiently as possible.