I welcome my right hon. Friend's reply, but does he agree that even at this stage we can try to rescue something from the shambles of the 1972 reorganisation by establishing a proper inquiry into the reorganisation to determine, first, how much the reorganisation has cost so far; secondly, what were the major mistakes that were made; and, thirdly, who was responsible for them? Does he agree that it is almost impossible these days to discover anyone who is prepared to defend the reorganisation? Does he accept that those who were responsible—
I think that the length of my hon. Friend's supplementary question merely reflects a widespread feeling about the unsatisfactory state of affairs following the 1972 Act. I do not think we need any post-mortem to determine who was responsible. We shall study carefully the performance of local government since reorganisation and try to draw the proper conclusions from that.
To turn to the two main points made by my hon. Friend, I am considering whether we can, as he put it, rescue something from what has been done. As my hon. Friend knows, in the context of the broader consideration of devolution we issued a Green Paper, a consultation paper, and we shall be receiving views on it during the next few weeks and months.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to have too much regard for further commissions and inquiries? Will he allow local authorities which wish to reorganise themselves to get on with the job and put their proposals to him, and will he receive them favourably? My own constituency would dearly love to be an all-purpose authority. If we put the proposals to the Minister, will he consider them gratuitously and let us get on with the job?
I do not want to overexcite expectations. I made a number of comments in a speech at Harrogate about a month ago, and they reflect the general drift of my thinking and the lines on which we are at present examining the problem.
As some of the criticism of reorganisation is from those who believe that some of the units created were too large, may we take it from the right hon. Gentleman that in no circumstances will he have English regional government, which would create even larger units?
I see, in terms of most services, why the hon. Gentleman would express that view. I share it. I should not wish to see many of the personal services and other services that are handled by local government going to larger and more remote local government units. However, there are certain powers of government and local government, and certain agencies such as those concerned with health and water, that have no democratic control. It may well be that they would be appropriate to a form of regional government.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that valour is sometimes preferable to discretion and that there are many who believe that a single tier of local government, a regional tier that is democratic, controlling functions already exercised undemocratically at regional level, might be the best form of local government we can obtain, whatever the long-term implications within the EEC?
I believe that I have already conceded that point. If I did not make it clear in a previous reply, I confirm that this is an area in which the possibility of change in the direction of a new pattern of local government may be sensibly explored.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that, of all the Ministers in this Government, he is the least likely to over-excite expectations? Does he understand that the single greit,2st cause for complaint about the rising cost of local government has been the fact that prices have increased by 69·5 per cent. since 1974 when his Government were elected? The other increasing burden on local authorities is that the House continually imposes additional financial responsibilities on local authorities without producing the financial resources to carry them out.
I think that the House will judge that as a pretty tame intervention and excuse by a spokesman of a party that is responsible for the present unsatisfactory form of local government. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what his predecessor as spokesman, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), had to say when speaking on local government matters. Only a fortnight ago the hon. Gentleman said: