HC Deb 21 January 1980 vol 977 cc12-4
6. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from local government authorities and other organisations regarding the proposed cuts in public expenditure.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I have received 63 representations from local authorities and other organisations in Wales on reductions in public expenditure.

Mr. Evans

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies have received strong representations from the Welsh Counties Committee and the Council of the Principality representing all the district councils, expressing alarm over the effect on them of cuts in public expenditure? Will the right hon. Gentleman take on his shoulders the responsibility for these cuts and not put it on the councillors who have an impossible task in determining priorities? Such massive cuts have led to a difficult situation in Mid-Glamorgan, where school transport charges have had to be imposed.

Mr. Edwards

I note the hon. Gentleman's comments about Mid-Glamorgan. If he looks at what has happened in other Welsh authorities, he will see that many of them have taken other options. There is no reason for thinking that the choice made by the Mid-Glamorgan council is the only choice. No doubt representations will continue to be made on that point. The hon. Gentleman should not exaggerate the scale of the cuts. They amount to 2½ per cent. over two years compared with cuts of 2½ per cent. in local government expenditure in a single year under the previous Labour Government.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is the view of many of those best qualified in local government that there could be appreciable cuts in local government expenditure without any impairment of the qualiy of services? Is he further aware that there is some anxiety over: the impact of the proposed methods of controlling local government capital expenditure on job creation programmes, which may be carried out in partnership with private sources of finance and could be inhibited by Government legislation under contemplation?

Mr. Edwards

I am sure that there is plenty of room in local government and elsewhere for improvements in efficiency and manning. It is known that local government manning is at record levels at present. The other matter to which my hon. Friend refers is currently being considered in Committee. The appropriate place for discussion of capital controls is in Committee where the Education (No. 2) Bill is being considered.

Mr. Rowlands

The right hon. Gentleman referred to school bus charges. Is it not a fact that the Education (No. 2) Bill proposes to give power to local authorities to make such charges? Would not the simplest solution be to delete Clause 23 of the Bill? If the right hon. Gentleman is unwilling to go so far, will he support amendments that the Opposition might propose to the Bill to prevent discriminatory charges on denominational grounds or on grounds of bilingualism as in the case of schools in mid-Glamorgan?

Mr. Edwards

I deplore discriminatory charges and do not consider that they are necessary. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to make that point to the Mid-Glamorgan authority. We have told the Church authorities—I have said it myself—that we shall of course consider all the points that are currently being made in the Committee considering the Bill.

Mr. Wigley

Does not the Secretary of State accept that it is usual and normal in legislation to provide that there shall not be discrimination of one citizen against another under any Act of Parliament? There are plenty of precedents for that—in the Local Government Act, the Water Act and several other Acts. In these circumstances, will not the right hon. Gentleman put pressure on the Secretary of State for Education and Science to accept an amendment that will stop that type of discrimination, which will hit people very hard, particularly families with several children?

Mr. Edwards

One would hope that it was not necessary to write in that kind of rule to prevent discrimination by local authorities in Wales. It is deplorable that it should be considered necessary in this case.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Is the Secretary of State aware that, because of the serious cutbacks by local authorities, rates will be increased during the coming year? Is he in a position to say by what percentage they will be increased?

Mr. Edwards

I am not prepared to give a forecast of rate increases. What I know is that the rate settlement for Wales was particularly good. I am sure that, given restraint by the local authorities, the rate increases can be kept down.

Sir Raymond Gower

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the anxiety about the discriminatory nature of some proposals about school transport fares is not confined to one side of the House? Indeed, it is shared by many of us on the Conservative Benches.

Mr. Edwards

I am sure that it is a matter that should concern all hon. Members. But I repeat that I hope that such views will be expressed firmly to the local authorities involved.