§ 16. Mr. MacGregor
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next expects to discuss cash limits with the local authority associations.
§ 21. Mr. Lawson
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to discuss cash limits with the local authority associations.
§ 22. Mr. Budgen
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects next to discuss cash limits with the local authority associations.
§ Mr. MacGregor
Is the Minister aware that although these steps towards cash limits are welcome, many people regard them as only the first stage? Will he not agree that cash limits over the totality of local government expenditure, coupled with local independence within these cash limits, are likely to be a more effective way of ensuring that the whole expenditure of local government is more coordinated with capacity to pay and with national economic needs than any reform of local government revenue, however much the latter is to be welcomed? Will he take steps to discuss with the local authority associations ways of bringing 381 the totality of expenditure within this system?
§ Mr. Oakes
No, Sir, the limit is on grant and not on expenditure. Indeed, it would require legislation to put it on expenditure, even if the Government so wished, which they do not. We rely upon local authorities. My right hon. Friends and I have constantly urged local authorities to keep the closest possible watch on expenditure. I think that most local authorities are well aware of this.
§ Mr. Lawson
Is not the Minister aware, however, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his letter to the International Monetary Fund, said that cash limits would be introduced for three-quarters of Government spending? Why is it to be a lesser proportion of local government spending? Does not the Minister agree that in the circumstances it is necessary to support cash limits by manpower limits in the local authority sector?
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Meanwhile, does not last week's cut of 7 per cent. in local authority housing expenditure, other than that on new building, exclude the effect of inflation, which means a cut in real terms of 33 per cent. in mortgages, in municipalisation and in renovation of council properties?
§ Mr. Speed
Is not the Minister aware, however, that these cash limits in the rate support grant are not really cash limits and that a coach and horses could be driven through them? Referring to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), as local government expenditure is one-third of all public expenditure, should we not be looking at real cash limits on the whole total and much greater freedom within that for individual local authorities?
§ Mr. Oakes
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by "real cash limits". If by that he means that this House and my Department should control in detail the expenditure of each local authority, I must tell him that the bureaucratic costs that would arise from trying to do that would probably be far greater than any achievement that might result.