HC Deb 28 February 1977 vol 927 cc7-9
6. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has initiated any future plans to simplify the structure of local government.

10. Mr. Roderick

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has any proposals for the reform of local government in Wales.

Mr. John Morris

There is disquiet in Wales about the present structure of local government. I have made it clear that it will be one of the earliest tasks of the Welsh Assembly to consider the matter.

Mr. Hughes

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is an imperative need to create a one-tier system of local government throughout Wales to restore local ties and identities and, in the process, to save the taxpayer and the ratepayer a great deal of money?

Mr. Morris

We shall have to wait and see what emerges, but there is undoubtedly grave disquiet in Wales about the present system of local government foisted upon Wales by the Conservative Party. It is expensive, and the sooner it is examined and reformed the better.

Mr. Roderick

Will my right hon. and learned Friend realise that he will be very popular in Wales if he produces plans and does not leave it to the Assembly to produce plans to create a one-tier system, and that he will be even more popular if he brings about changes simultaneous with the creation of the Assembly which would allay the fears of local government officers by allowing them to apply for the jobs needed in the Assembly?

Mr. Morris

I believe that the main hope for local government reform—there is obviously a great need to study the implication of what should be done—lies in the Welsh Assembly.

Sir Raymond Gower

Is the Secretary of State aware that questions like this are causing grave disquiet among many people employed in local government in the Principality? They, like myself, feel that what local government needs now is a period to settle down rather than further disturbance.

Mr. Morris

That could be said to a man serving a life sentence in prison. It is true that in Wales there is disquiet and that this question is bound to be asked while we are working a system with which, on all the evidence from every side, people are more and more unhappy.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

When the Secretary of State considers the reorganisation of local government, will he consider simultaneously the position of the area health authorities in Wales, which are coterminous with the local authorities and undemocratic in structure? Will he also look at ways in which both could be simultaneously reorganised?

Mr. Morris

Of course, in the Government's proposals, which we are determined to implement, that would be within the jurisdiction of the Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall the party putting forward proposals for an elected Council in Wales? Although he is right to say that the Conservative reorganisation of local government left much to be desired, it would be wrong to leave that as it is, and then to put another tier on top of it and ask those concerned to do the job. There is deep concern among associations of local government officers in Wales, who understand that an authority will be set up to be serviced by civil servants and that a tier of local government serviced by local government officers will be done away with.

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend must understand by now that we were not proposing another tier on top of all the existing tiers of local government but that it was the functions of the Secretary of State and the nominated bodies that we were proposing. That is rather a different matter from the existing surplusage of tiers. The evidence has been made more and more manifest that from the point of view of local government in Wales, with or without the Assembly this will have to be tackled sooner rather than later.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Does the Secretary of State agree that the majority of Welsh people are in favour of a Welsh Parliament and a multi-purpose authority based on the old county boundaries, in order to give more support and financial help to the community councils?

Mr. Morris

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that what is important in local government—because services have to go on and people have to have the schools and roads and other services that they require—is not to prejudge what emerges but, rather, to get it right.

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