asked the Secretary of State for the Environment, when considering the proposed legislation to abolish the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties, if he will endeavour to ensure that as many of the functions as are currently undertaken by them will either be abandoned or returned to the lowest level of local authority and not be given to appointed bodies.
Yes, Sir. Our aim will be to transfer as many continuing functions as possible to the borough or district councils. One or two functions will be administered by joint boards of borough or district councillors.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that one of the most important factors in carrying out the manifesto pledge is the reduction of rates for people who live in these areas? If so, is it not exceedingly important that this legislation be brought forward at the earliest possible moment?
During the last Parliament much was heard from Conservatives about the need to reduce the number of quangos. If the Secretary of State intends to abolish the metropolitan authorities, how does he intend to deal with services which must cover a large area, such as transport and fire services, without creating more quangos?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the joint police authority formed by Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, which is a joint board of the two authorities. That is by no stretch of the imagination a quango. We envisage that that type of joint board will be necessary to administer the fire and police services outside London and the Inner London education authority, which would consist of councillors nominated by the district councils. By no stretch of the imagination could that be called a quango.
When my right hon. Friend is considering legislation to abolish the GLC, will he consider abolishing the discretionary power to spend the equivalent of a 2p rate which is leading to massive abuse and the making of grants to weird and outlandish organisations which are not approved of by London ratepayers? Will he examine the possibility of replacing that provision with the power to spend a 1/2p rate, or something much lower than the large amount currently being doled out to these extraordinary organisations?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government regard that provision as unsatisfactory. Last year we proposed legislation to replace it with something more rational, but the legislature felt unable to accept it. It is a problem that we must tackle. The abuses by some councils are quite unacceptable.
As the Conservatives now desire to destroy the metropolitan councils, which were their own creation just over 10 years ago, merely because they are Labour-controlled authorities, will the right hon. Gentleman explain how he intends police authorities to operate? Will he abolish them? Will he reinstate the old borough type police forces? If he creates joint bodies, will they not be appointed bodies of the type to which the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) objects?
The general principle is that as many functions as possible should be devolved to the district and borough councils. That principle has a large number of Labour as well as Conservative supporters.
As I told the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown), the solution that we envisage for police authorities is a joint board of the same type as exists in other parts of the country.
Does the Secretary of Slate accept that the creation of the county councils was one of the most unmitigated disasters of the 1970–74 Conservative Government? The majority of Merseyside people would welcome the abolition of their county council, but how much will it cost to wind up the county councils and will it be in time to prevent the next round of county council and GLC elections from taking place?
As I said in the debate on the Queen's Speech, there will be a White Paper this Session and a Bill next Session, and the changeover will take place on 1 April 1986. We shall have to take some steps in the meantime if we decide that the next round of elections should not be held. Experience suggests that these authorities are an unnecessary and extravagant tier of local government. We wish to make local government more local wherever possible.