HC Deb 10 July 1991 vol 194 cc943-4
11. Mrs. Currie

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many responses he has received to his consultation paper on the reform of local government.

Mr. Key

The Department has received more than 1,700 responses to the recent consultation paper on the structure of local government in England and some 750 responses to the consultation paper on the council tax.

Mrs. Currie

Has the Minister received an all-party response from the Tory-controlled city of Derby, which wants to be a unitary authority and which would like to see the abolition of the county council? Has he received in addition an all-party response from the Labour-controlled South Derbyshire district council, which wants to be a unitary authority and which wishes to see the abolition of the county council? Will my hon. Friend ignore what is certain to come—the response from Derbyshire county council? The only people who wish to see that retained are the members of it. Will he kindly get on with the reform and the abolition of the said county council as quickly as possible?

Mr. Key

It is well known that there is antipathy between the county council and the districts in Derbyshire. I am sure that my hon. Friend will draw that to the attention of what we hope will be the local government commission, which will have the responsibility for listening to the important voices in the community. I am sure that my hon. Friend's voice will be heard loudly and clearly.

Mr. Hardy

How many responses reflected the view that this is now the most overcentralised country in the free world? Will the Government accept that the tendency must soon be to shift power from the centre, rather than seek to accumulate ever more?

Mr. Key

I am all for having local accountability and for local responsibility in local government, so I find it very hard to understand why the Opposition wish to take power from local people and give it to yet another tier of government which they laughingly call regional government.

Mr. Burt

Has my hon. Friend received, and would he be prepared to receive, any submissions relating to how local authorities make their financial investment decisions? Is he aware of the considerable anger and distress in my constituency this morning as my constituents woke up to find that they had lost £6.5 million because of a decision to invest in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International? Does my hon. Friend agree that the way in which councils make those decisions must come into question? Will he again state the status of the document which was sent out and which did not give any approval to the BCCI in terms of its probity but merely required local authorities to look to their laurels and therefore accept responsibility for their investments?

Mr. Key

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can understand his constituents' concern about this matter. Of course, financial decisions are entirely the responsibility of the treasurer of the council. I confirm that we do not issue a list of preferred investments. We give absolutely no advice on that matter; it is entirely for the council.

Mr. Trimble

The Government have made clear their preference for single-tier local authorities. Does the Minister therefore agree that one of the great advantages of single tier local authorities is that they would provide the space in which one could create regional assemblies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions to which the House could then devolve some of its functions?

Mr. Key

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the desirability of unitary authorities.

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