HC Deb 10 May 1978 vol 949 cc1173-4
12. Mr. Grocott

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are his criteria for establishing whether a non-metropolitan district council may be considered for increased powers in line with his views on organic change in local government.

Mr. Shore

This is one of many questions that we are discussing with the local authority associations as part of our consideration of the case for organic change. We will report to the House in due course.

Mr. Grocott

Bearing in mind that many of the old county boroughs—by far the best form of local government yet devised—had populations of less than 100,000, will my right hon. Friend not stop simply at the point of giving powers back to the "Big Ten" or even the "Big Forty"? Will he instead extend them to smaller district councils, such as Lichfield District Council and Tamworth Borough Council, in line with the wishes of the Labour Party in the area and those of local inhabitants?

Mr. Shore

I can see my hon. Friend's point. Indeed, I suggested it in a speech that I made some time ago. We must consider very carefully the sensible way to proceed, given the existence of a two-tier system of local government that everybody wishes had never been established. However, given that it exists, we must look carefully at the case for changes and for bringing greater powers and responsibility to the levels nearest to the people concerned.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Will the Minister accept the evidence of a referendum in my constituency, if it can be shown that the overwhelming support of the populace is for a one-tier authority?

Mr. Shore

I shall bear in mind the particular position of the Isle of Wight, which everyone agrees is probably one of the most difficult and anomalous because it is the smallest local authority county in the country. Nevertheless, I cannot give the hon. Member any assurance about a referendum.

Mr. Ashley

Although my right hon. Friend can see the case and understand the point for the return of powers, he is not acting on his appreciation of the case, and many people in Stoke-on-Trent and other areas have strong feelings about the need for returning these powers. Therefore, can my right hon. Friend say whether it is now a question of "when" or "if" these powers will be returned?

Mr. Shore

I not only understand the strong feelings, I share them. However, the present situation is exactly as it was defined by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he spoke at the Bristol conference. He said that there would be a series of further consultations—first of all bilaterally, with the major Ministries concerned. I myself will co-ordinate these exchanges and we will then consider collectively, as we must, what has to be done.