HC Deb 31 July 1962 vol 664 cc43-5W
Dr. Hill

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs what progress he has made in his consideration of the proposals of the Local Government Commission for England for local government reorganisation in the East and West Midlands.

Sir K. Joseph

The Government have decided to accept in principle three of the more important proposals made by the Commission for the Midland areas. These are the general pattern of county borough government proposed for the Black Country, and the promotion of Solihull and Luton to be county boroughs.

The proposals involved, and the objections made to them, raise many detailed issues as well as broad ones of principle. I shall announce my comprehensive decisions on all these as soon as I can, publishing the reports of the inquiries. Meanwhile it has been thought right to inform the House of my main conclusions before the Recess.

No great question arises on the promotion of Solihull and Luton. The county councils concerned do not object in principle.

But the pattern of local government in the Black Country is a much more difficult matter. Nearly one million people live in this more or less continuously built-up stretch of country. The local government structure is complex. It comprises at the moment five county boroughs, in which the councils are responsible for all the local government services, and a number of county districts in Staffordshire and Worcestershire, in each of which the responsibility for services is shared between the county council and the county district council.

The new structure will provide a uniform and simple system of five county boroughs, with populations ranging from 160,000 to 250,000, formed by grouping the existing areas round the five county boroughs of Dudley, Smethwick, Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton. I propose to adopt the groupings recommended by the Commission, but the precise boundaries are among the matters on which decisions will be given later.

I believe that the new structure will be well suited to the circumstances and needs of this great industrial area. Urban and industrial sprawl has obliterated many of the old boundaries, and joined up many of the communities which were separate when the present local government structure based on them was founded. I am sure that the Commission were right in their view that the county borough system—the normal local government pattern for large towns —would be most appropriate here. This system will give the people of the Black Country, through the councils they elect, direct responsibility for all the local government services in their areas. It will produce local authorities with resources and powers adequate for the many heavy responsibilities which will fall to them. It will make it easier for the authorises to join in tackling the problems common to them, and especially the attack on urban and industrial squalor which will increasingly occupy their attention.

This decision will, I realise, cause disappointment to many of the councils which will cease to exist, or whose areas will be reduced. They are justly proud of their record of service to the public. I have considered with great care, and with every sympathy, the objections and representations which they and other bodies and individuals have made. But it seems to me beyond dispute that the local government system in this part of the country has long ceased to match the pattern of development and of population, or the main tasks now confronting the local authorities. I am convinced that the needs of local government in the whole of this area, and the interests of the people it serves, will be best met in the future by a system of administration founded on a few, strongly based, county borough councils.

The local authorities concerned have been told of these conclusions. Orders to give effect to them will be laid before Parliament in due course.

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