HC Deb 25 July 1979 vol 971 cc598-9
18. Mr. John H. Osborn

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will introduce legislation to make elected councillors personally liable for irresponsible and discriminatory action.

Mr. King

While it would not be right to introduce legislation to make councillors personally liable for all decisions taken by their local authority, it would be open to any citizen to take his local authority to court if he felt they were discriminating against him.

Mr. Osborn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Sheffield ratepayers represented through chambers of commerce, the chamber of trade and Conservative associations welcome the initiative of the Conservative Government to reduce public expenditure? What is a matter of concern is the outburst, that has since been withdrawn, by the leader of the Sheffield city council designed to limit public expenditure in Conservative wards in a Conservative constituency, namely, Hallam. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that and on the need, perhaps, for a constitution and a Bill of Rights affecting local government?

Mr. King

I am sure the whole House welcomes the fact that Councillor Wilson, the leader of the council, has now made clear that it is not the council's policy to discriminate against particular parts of the city. Any such proposition would be quite intolerable and unacceptable, quite apart from being a total nonsense.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Minister aware that all councillors are liable to their electorate? That is why the city of Sheffield has had a Labour council for 50 years. Is he also aware that, when a Conservative Government insist on slashing the resources available to any city, it is reasonable that the city councillors should concentrate what resources they have on the most deprived sections of that city?

Mr. King

Of course any local authority must use its discretion as to where it commits its expenditure. The proposition put forward was entirely different, and was based entirely on party political grounds. I merely make the point that it totally overlooked the fact that there were many Labour voters in the areas that would be discriminated against and many Conservative voters in the areas that would have benefited. The thing was palpably nonsense, and, quite apart from that, utterly repugnant on any moral principle.