§ 6. Mr. Gwilym Roberts
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has for increasing the powers and responsibility of district councils.
§ Mr. Roberts
I welcome the provision in the Gracious Speech, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a need to increase the powers of not only the former county boroughs but of other district councils, such as Cannock Chase? Does he accept that these housing authorities should at least have responsibility for some areas of social services, where housing the elderly and adaption of homes for disabled people are really housing functions?
§ Mr. Shore
Yes, Sir. I see a strong connection between housing and social services, as have so many reports which have examined the organisation of local government services. We have not yet, of course, finally indicated what size of authorities should be eligible. But we have indicated that district councils of 100,000 people or more are those that we have most in mind. We shall be transferring certain planning functions to district councils from the counties.
§ Mr. Raison
Why does the Secretary of State think that in counties such as Nottinghamshire it would result in improved social services and, perhaps, education to remove the cities from the surrounding areas?
§ Mr. Shore
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that it was an improved service to take them away from the cities in 1974 and put them in the counties? That is the essence of the argument. I do not say that in every case one solution is better than another. The essence of the proposals that I and my colleagues have put forward is that there should be, first, an option and, secondly, that it should be a restricted option, taking into account the circumstances of the counties and districts concerned.
§ Mr. McNamara
Will my right hon. Friend inform the House of his precise timetable? We had considered that in places such as Hull and other cities the argument was over and that it was now just a question of legislation being produced. We want that done quickly and stupid thinks like increased representation for Northern Ireland dropped so that we can proceed with matters of real concern to our constituents.
§ Mr. Shore
I understand my hon. Friend's impatience. I cannot as yet give 944 him a clear timetable, but I hope before long to issue the basic consultative document on which not only he but local authorities and others interested will be able to comment. We can then move to our conclusions and get on with the proposals that we want to put to the House.
§ Mr. Alison
Can the Secretary of State come a bit more clean on the point raised by his friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara)? Is it his hope and expectation to legislate in this Session? Secondly, can he assure us that so far as any definitive change in social service dispositions is concerned he will commit himself to awaiting the conclusions of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service?
§ Mr. Shore
We shall have time, I think, to take account of the views of the Royal Commission. However, that would lead me on to explain—which I do not wish to do at the moment—the nature of the measure that we are preparing. Yes, we hope and expect to get a measure before the House during this Session. However I cannot say, nor can the hon. Gentleman, exactly how long the Session will last.