HC Deb 27 November 1975 vol 901 cc1031-3
13. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what guidance Her Majesty's Government have given the Local Government Boundary Commission for England about the numbers of members of county and district councils in relation to the reviews of electoral arrangements now being undertaken by the Commission.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

No directions have been given to the Commission on this matter. The criteria promulgated by the Commission in December 1973 as a guide to local authorities when drawing up proposals for revised schemes of representation were:

County Councils 60–100
Metropolitan district councils 50–80
Non-metropolitan district councils 30–60
Dr. Marshall

Is not the size of a local council a key factor for determining the effectiveness of democracy in local government? Does my right hon. Friend, therefore, agree that the criteria laid down by the Boundary Commission are the best criteria?

Mr. Jenkins

I would not wish to get anywhere near giving a direction. However, what I can tell my hon. Friend and the House is that I think that the Boundary Commission regards these guidelines as being fairly tentative. It is prepared to consider the matter flexibly and to receive representations, particularly from the larger areas, on the question whether a larger size would be justified.

Mr. Farr

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the big difference in the expenses and attendance allowance being claimed by district and county councils? In some parts of the country some district councils are claiming thousands of pounds for such allowances, cheek by jowl with councils for which nothing has been claimed. Will the right hon. Gentleman urge some restraint on the claims by some councils?

Mr. Jenkins

That is entirely a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. John Evans

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many councillors who are at present absolutely fed up with being everyone's whipping boy are appalled by the suggestion that there should be any further reduction in their numbers, because of the already arduous work that they do? Does he accept the views of the Metropolitan District Authorities Association that this matter should be postponed? Is he also prepared to accept that the question of boundary reorganisation should be postponed indefinitely, until such time as a decision has been made on the question whether there should be regional councils for England?

Mr. Jenkins

If councillors were fed up with being everyone's whipping boy, I am not sure that they would remain keen to be councillors. However, it is desirable that they should do so. As I have indicated, the Boundary Commission has expressed the view and, indeed, in discussions with local councils has made it clear, that it is open to representations about the appropriate size of councils, particularly in large areas. I do not think that it would be right to postpone the operation of the Boundary Commission in relation to part of the job which it has not yet completed.