HC Deb 25 February 1971 vol 812 cc839-41
Q2. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister what proposals he has for the devolution of Government power so that more decisions are made locally.

The Prime Minister

The Government are examining the possibilities of devolving power to the new local authorities to be established in accordance with the proposals for local government reorganisation published last week. It would be unrealistic to make any proposals for devolution on a regional basis until the Commission on the Constitution has reported.

Mr. Marten

Does my right hon. Friend agree with President Nixon that one of the frustrations of the last decade has been the remoteness of government from the people? In the light of what my right hon. Friend has just said, may I ask whether he will give an assurance that the new plans for local government reorganisation will not hold up devolution when we have the Crowther Report?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I read President Nixon's speech, in particular that part dealing with devolution. I do not think that conditions in our two countries, one on each side of the Atlantic, are similar. Many people would agree that the real problem of government and democracy is how to have an area of government on a sufficient scale to provide economies and the services required and, at the same time, on a small enough scale to give that local participation which we want.

Mr. Grimond

Apart from devolution on a regional basis, may I ask how we stand now on devolution for Scotland and Wales? Is it the Government's intention to give legislative effect to their proposals associated with the name of the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), or do we wait until the Crowther Commission reports? If so, when is it expected that the Commission will report?

The Prime Minister

I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman when the Commission will report. We have had no information about that.

Concerning the Scottish Assembly or Convention, we said that we would deal with this after the implementation of local government reform in Scotland. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has now produced a White Paper dealing with that matter, and legislation will follow.

Mr. John Hall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that devolution of some of the powers of government to regional authorities might lessen the load on this House, that that in turn might make it possible to reduce the number of Members of Parliament, and that that in turn might enable us to devote the money saved to improve the facilities available to the rest?

The Prime Minister

I agree that devolution might ease the load on this House. I should not like to follow my hon. Friend further in his argument.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this side of the House agrees with what he said, that, as a result of local government reform, whatever form it takes, this is an opportunity, as stated in our White Paper and, I understand, in the statement of his right hon. Friend, for allowing more decisions to be taken locally without central Government interference. On the major question, we must, of course, await the Crowther Report. This House has just lost a very good colleague of many hon. Members, Arthur Skeffington. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in relation to the words which he used about participation, the report of the Committee presided over by Arthur Skeffington on participation in planning decisions broke new ground on these questions? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make sure that his Ministers work towards the kind of ideals set out by our late colleague?

The Prime Minister

I would certainly ask the members of the Government to consider this. I think that it is common ground on both sides of the House that local government requires greater participation and understanding, and we would be anxious to devolve further functions on it in the legislation which we are bringing forward. Of course, this is also tied up with the question of local government finance, which the Government are examining, and on which they will publish a Green Paper shortly.

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