I hope to issue a consultation paper in a few weeks setting out our proposals for simplifying the structure of the National Health Service, including proposals about area health authorities.
When that paper is published, will the Secretary of State give consideration to the desire of local authorities to undertake an exercise by which they believe that they can much better integrate the health services that they now provide with those provided by the NHS'? Will he look at the time scale involved and see that the local authorities can now get down to the job of studying the implications for them following the abolition of the area health authorities?
I know that local authorities will want to read very carefully the proposals that we shall be putting forward in our consultation document. I think that there is now widespread recognition that making the boundaries of local health authorities and local authorities coterminous was achieved at much too high a price in terms of the remoteness of the management of the Health Service.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in reforming the system we need not only greater efficiency and greater economy but greater democratic participation in the administration of the hospital services? Is it not the case that many of the recent problems with regard to temporary or partial closure of hospitals and lack of consultation might not have arisen had there been proper local participation?
Of course, one wants to try to make health authorities more responsive to the popular feelings in the areas that they administer. One of our main objectives in trying to decentralise, simplify and localise the administration of the Health Service is that people shall feel a closer involvement with their own local health services. This will be very much part of our strategy.
The question of a debate is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I think that he has indicated that he recognises the widespread desire in the House for a debate, perhaps not merely on the consultation document but on the Royal Commission report as a whole. The answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is "Yes". We may well be taking powers in a health services Bill that we shall shortly be introducing.