HC Deb 26 May 1976 vol 912 cc415-7
2. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement about the publication of the Layfield Committee's report on local government finance.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)

I would refer my hon. Friend to my statement to the House of 19th May.

Mr. Canavan

In respect of local income tax, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the Government's devolution proposals? Would it not be better to give the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies some revenue-raising powers, such as local income tax, in order to make them more responsible for raising the money they will spend, instead of simply relying on a block grant from the Treasury?

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend will be aware that that proposal has not been made either by the Government in our own proposals or by the Layfield Committee in its report. But, of course, the Scottish local authorities, if in fact the scheme for a local income tax found favour, would be included in the proposal.

Mr. McCrindle

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we accepted the Layfield recommendations as they are we would run the risk of getting the worst of both worlds? Would it not be far better either to retain the rating system or to go over to a system of local income tax without in the process needing to find an additional 12,000 civil servants?

Mr. Shore

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the introduction of a local income tax and the retention of the rating system being, as he says, the worst of both worlds. However, this is a matter on which he would not expect me at present to announce a view. I am genuinely seeking to hear the views not only of hon. Members but also, of course, of the many bodies outside the House with a close interest in the matter.

Mr. Corbett

In view of the sustained and continuing interest in the matter of local rates, will my right hon. Friend consider publishing a popular edition of Layfield, much attenuated and highly shortened, aiming to get it on the market for 10p or 15p, and inviting people who buy it to complete some kind of questionnaire, which would help them to face up to the hard realities of the choices involved in Layfield?

Mr. Shore

I am a little dubious about the posibility of putting this very complex report to people in quite that sense of inviting them to subscribe to particular propositions in the form of a questionnaire. However, whether or not a more popular version of Layfield could be put together and whether that would be useful in terms of consultation is something to which I shall give further thought.

Mr. Crawford

Returning to his reply to the lion. Member for West Stirling-shire (Mr. Canavan), would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the logical sequel to the establishment of a Scottish Assembly is the scrapping of the regions in Scotland?

Mr. Shore

It is not for me to deliver an opinion on that at present, but no doubt all these matters will be rehearsed and fully debated in the forthcoming debates when the House turns its mind to the proposals for devolution to Scotland.

Mr. Speed

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) mean that the Government's view on Layfield will not become clear until early next year, after the entire consultation period?

Mr. Shore

I think that our full and considered response to Layfield should await the receipt and study of the many submissions which we have asked people to make to us. There may be certain matters within Layfield on which it might be possible to announce a decision at an earlier date.