HC Deb 28 November 1984 vol 68 cc909-11
1. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of the P.A. Management Consultants' report on the non-financial aspects of the proposed abolition of the metropolitan county councils, a copy of which has been sent to him; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The report is long on assertion and short on fact. I remain convinced that the proposals in the Local Government Bill will help to make local government more effective and more economical, without the need to impair the standards or the quality of services.

Mr. Fatchett

It comes well from the Government to talk about the report being long on assertion and short on fact. Is it not the case that the PA report concludes that if the Government go ahead with their proposals we shall have another change in local government structure within the next decade? Is it not the case also that the Coopers and Lybrand report, which was published this morning, shows that the Government's financial conclusions are incorrect? Against that background, would it not have been sensible for a prudent and non-dogmatic Government to establish a public inquiry? We now have dogma running ahead of common sense.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal for shorter questions.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman represents part of one of our great cities. Before 1974 the Leeds city corporation had all the powers of a former county borough. It was large, powerful, professional and effective. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed to imply that the corporation will not be able to provide the services which will be devolved to it in a better way than they are provided by West Yorkshire county council.

Mr. Tracey

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the posters which have appeared on hoardings in the latest stage of the multi-million pound propaganda campaign of the metropolitan counties and others have been pasted upside down? Does he agree that that is a fair reflection of the economic and other attitudes of the leaders of those councils?

Mr. Baker

The advertising campaign in London on behalf of the GLC and ILEA is at the ratepayers' expense and is a scandalous waste of ratepayers' money. The GLC will be spending about £7 million this year, which Mr. Livingstone thinks is peanuts. We do not have that sort of money to spend and we would not be allowed—[Interruption.] Our political budget on this issue is much more modest and we shall be spending a little of it tonight on a party political broadcast, when I shall be setting forth the reasons why Mr. Livingstone does want the GLC abolished.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House, including the Minister, that this question relates to the metropolitan counties. Question No. 3 relates to the Greater London council.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is it not the case that as a result of this legislation the provincial police will be controlled for at least three years directly from Whitehall? Is that not a constitutional aspect of the legislation which should be considered most carefully? It is certain that control will not be passed to Leeds, where it rested before 1974.

Mr. Baker

The right hon. Gentleman brings considerable experience to the debate on this issue — [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I am about to do so. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether that matter should be considered carefully. I give him the assurance that it will be debated at length in Committee. As he rightly said, there are provisions to have precept and manpower controls for a transitional period of three years for the joint authorities.

Mr. Rippon

Before we get into detail, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government have already begun the drafting of the amendments to the published Bill?

Mr. Baker

I have little doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend will be of assistance to us in that respect.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister accept that the management consultants' report on the metropolitan counties says that the result of the Government's proposals will be to provide institutionalised conflict and a failure to co-ordinate— [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] Yes, T am reading. I want to be accurate. What does the Minister say to his right hon. and hon. Friends who were reported in the Local Government Chronicle poll as being dissatisfied with the transfer of functions to joint boards?

Mr. Baker

These matters will be debated at length in Committee on the abolition Bill. The report was compiled from a series of interviews and questionnaires. The PA sent a questionnaire to all the metropolitan county councillors. Not surprisingly, their reply was that they thought that their jobs were useful and their roles effective. In the immortal words of Mandy Rice Davies, "They would, wouldn't they?"

Dr. Cunningham

As the Minister appears keen, for once, to refer to the facts, is it not true that the overwhelming burden of evidence submitted to the Government was against the proposals? Is it not a fact that the Government cannot substantiate their claims of financial savings? Is it not also a fact that, contrary to what he claimed, many of the services will not return to the boroughs or districts, but will go to quangos and joint boards? Are those not the facts?

Mr. Baker

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I have made it clear that 75 per cent. of the services which are now the responsibility of the metropolitan counties and the GLC will become the responsibility of the successor lower-tier authorities.