HC Deb 27 June 1979 vol 969 cc417-9
4. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next expects to meet representatives from the local authority organisations.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I am maintaining close contact with representatives of the local authority associations. Meetings of the housing consultative council and the consultative council on local government finance have been arranged for 4 July and 9 July respectively.

Mr. Cryer

What will the Secretary of State say to those local authority representatives who point out that the savage cuts in the rate support grant will mean a reduction in nursery provision and a reduction in a range of local authority services while his Government have handed over £50 million to the independent schools run for the sons and daughters of the rich? What will he do about the £3 million cut proposed by the local Tories in Bradford, which will almost certainly mean a reduction in local authority services and redundancies? Does he welcome redundancies in local authority services?

Mr. Heseltine

I shall say to the local authority associations much the same as the hon. Gentleman would have said to them after 22 December 1976 when he voted for substantially the same sort of cuts.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, although reform of our rating system is important, it is a matter for the long term and has occupied Parliament's attention for the whole of my time here? The revision of the rate support grant formula is urgent. Will he consider particularly the views of the shire counties, with a view to removing the inequities and anomalies which have so far prejudiced their position?

Mr. Heseltine

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that I have consistently attacked the drift of RSG settlements. I have made it clear that this Government will not allow that drift to continue further.

Mr. Beith

When the Secretary of State meets the representatives of the County Councils Association, will he be able to tell them whether there is any truth in the rumour in the press this morning that he is considering scrapping the Development Commission? Does he realise how much the county councils value the work of that commission, particularly those councils controlled by the Conservative Party?

Mr. Heseltine

I spend a considerable part of each day reading in the national press about the decisions that I am supposed to have taken. It is a helpful way of keeping abreast of what I am supposed to do. The trouble is that usually it is not accurate.

Mr. Allan Roberts

When the Secretary of State meets the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, will he explain how he will penalise individual authorities which increase rates more than the Minister wants them to? Will he stop making punitive statements attacking local authorities for having to consider increasing rates as a result of the cuts announced in the Budget?

Mr. Heseltine

No, I shall not stop doing that. I have made it clear that the Government's view is that we must reduce public expenditure. The local authorities must play their part, along with all other public sector bodies. That is an important part of our strategy for releasing resources to the private sector in order to bring about national recovery.

Mr. Marlow

When examining the rate support grant, will the Secretary of State do something about the resources element, which gives more money to those who spend most? It is a profligates' charter. Will he also examine the problems of expanding countries, where the rate support grant is based on a historic population and has little to do with today's population?

Mr. Heseltine

I shall certainly take into account all the factors that my hon. Friend and others have raised with me when I come to decide what I should recommend to the House about the composition of the rate support grant. I am also prepared to look at what my hon. Friend referred to as the profligate authorities. But to deal with the profligate authorities, which spend regardless of national priorities requires a profound change in the relationship between national and local government.

Mr. Hattersley

The Secretary of State described some authorities as profligate That might not be the view of some of us. Does he recall that on 13 June newspapers quoted him as saying that he proposed to take punitive action against those authorities which used their autonomous powers to protect their services against the proposed cuts? Does he propose to introduce legislation to give him that power, or has he decided that that threat is pointless and that he will, therefore, withdraw it?

Mr. Heseltine

I am considering legislation for that purpose.

Mr. Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood that my question No. 10 was linked with this question. Is it now intended to take that question later?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member may have been misled. His question is not linked.

Mr. Cryer

In view of the highly unsatisfactory nature of that reply and the grave discourtesy to the House in its inadequacy, I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.

Mr. Speaker

May I appeal to the House? All hon. Members must use the formula that, in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, they propose to raise the matter on the Adjournment. If they do not do that, it will be untidy.