§ 18. Mr. Nicholas Winterton
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if his Department is satisfied with the budget for expenditure in the next financial year by Cheshire county council; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Winterton
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that it is increasingly difficult for hon. Members to explain to their constituents why their borough council can peg the rate for four consecutive years, while the county council increases its rate by more than 25 per cent. each year? Will my right hon. Friend examine Cheshire's expenditure plans carefully with that in mind? Does he accept that borough 1509 councils can peg the rate, but that county councils are unable to do so because of their spendthrift policies?
§ Mr. King
It is important to recognise the different services provided by the different levels of authorities. One cannot ignore the impact of Clegg on county council expenditure. It has had severe implications. It is difficult to explain what is happening in county, district and metropolitan counties. It is difficult to obtain accurate information so that electors, councillors and Members of Parliament understand what is happening. Clause 2 of our Bill has been welcomed widely because it will enable more meaningful information to be published by all authorities so that we have a better understanding about what is happening.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his hon. Friend's question reflects the fact that there is a great deal of uncertainty in many authorities, particularly in the county authorities, about how the Government's policies will operate next year? If it is the Government's intention to penalise 20 authorities on the transitional arrangements, may we be assured that even if the 20 authorities cannot be named before the recess, there will be a statement about the rules under which they will be penalised, under a Bill which has not been passed, but which the Minister intends to operate in November?
§ Mr. King
The right hon. Gentleman knows that we cannot determine which authorities will be affected by the provisions until we have the revised budgets. It would be wrong not to wait for the revised budgets, which will determine the levels of spending proposed by the different authorities for this year.
At the appropriate time we shall put before the House for its approval the rules and criteria by which we hope to operate the transitional arrangements under the increase order in November. It will be for the House to determine whether the rules and the approach are fair. That is the democratic procedure. The Labour Government operated a clawback procedure which did not involve the House, but which was an arbitrary exercise by civil servants.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Will the Minister confirm that the clawback of which he is so 1510 critical will operate next year? If the Minister proposes to penalise 20 authorities in November, is it not intolerable that such authorities will not know the rules under which action might be taken? I ask not for the names, but for the rules. Is the Minister aware that if we are not given them before the House rises the Opposition will pursue the matter in every way open to them?
§ Mr. King
We have made clear in the House, in Committee and at length in circulars to local authorities, the ground rules for the transitional arrangements. They have been made absolutely clear, and local authorities understand the position. When we receive the revised budgets we shall be in a better position to give further information. We shall then put our decisions before the House for its approval or otherwise.