HC Deb 27 June 1979 vol 969 cc430-1
15. Mr. Palmer

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he plans to take to restore the city of Bristol powers transferred to the county of Avon at the time of the last local government reorganisation.

25. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what powers he is considering transferring from county to district councils, or vice versa, in England; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. King

We are not pursuing the previous Government's plans for the reallocation of certain major functions to selected districts such as Bristol. However, we are reviewing the 1972 Act to identify areas in which shared or overlapping functions may be causing unnecessary waste or duplication, and are currently discussing these matters with the local authority associations.

Mr. Palmer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on 3 May the Labour Party in Bristol greatly increased its majority on the city council on a programme of the restoration of powers? Is he aware that such a restoration was promised by the previous Secretary of State, and that his answer will do him no good in the eyes of the citizens of Bristol?

Mr. King

I am aware that on 3 May the Conservative Party gained two parliamentary constituencies in Bristol on a programme of not introducing the organic changes proposed by the previous Secretary of State. However, we shall urgently tackle the question of duplication and overlapping of powers. We believe that that is the most sensible way to proceed, and that we should not start hacking up the whole system of local government again because that would undoubtedly cause great confusion.

Mr. Madel

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable duplication in planning matters between county and district authorities in England which could be avoided, thereby reducing expenditure? Given the Government's commitment to control local authority expenditure, should not either the county or the district be responsible for planning, but not both as at present?

Mr. King

That is one of the matters which we are looking at. The areas on which we are concentrating are planning, highways, traffic management and concurrent powers. We are having discussions with local authority associations on those matters.

Mr. Freeson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in the previous Parliament, the proposals for organic change, as they came to be known, had all-party support in local government in the big cities? What is happening to the working party, supposed to be operating from Conservative Central Office, which was set up by the Secretary of State when he was on the Opposition Front Bench? Only a few months ago a change of policy was indicated by the right hon. Gentleman. What has happened to that working party?

Mr. King

We are having discussions with the local authority associations. They are able to draw on the preparatory work which was done when my right hon. Friend gave them notice last March that we should be looking at these matters when the Conservative Government came to power. It has, therefore, been possible for them to be that much further advanced in their consideration, and only this week I received advice from them on their separate views on these matters.