HC Deb 26 March 1980 vol 981 cc1411-3
3. Mr. Guy Barnett

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when next he expects to meet the chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.

Mr. Heseltine

On 15 April, when I chair the next meeting of the consultative council on local government finance.

Mr. Barnett

Is it true that Sir Godfrey Taylor has withdrawn his officers from the grants working group because he is totally opposed to the block grant system which the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward and that the other local authority associations are similarly totally opposed to it? How can he operate such a system in the face of complete opposition by all the local authority associations?

Mr. Heseltine

I understand that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities meets tomorrow to discuss its latest reply to the conversations that we have had with it over a period of time. The fact is that, especially on the recalculation of methods for needs assessment, there is a broad measure of agreement between myself and the local authority associations.

Mr. Alton

When the Secretary of State next meets the chairman of the AMA will he discuss with him the report in The Guardian yesterday which said that the entire urban aid programme may be wound up? Will he also tell the House what intentions he has for ensuring that the partnership committees, such as those meeting in Liverpool on Friday, will rethink their priorities so that schemes such as those of voluntary organisations might also be considered?

Mr. Heseltine

I do not think that I shall spend a lot of time on the first suggestion with the representatives of local government, as there is no foundation in this story and, therefore, it would not be worth discussing.

As to the question about support for the voluntary organisations, I realise that there is a part to be played by them. I am having to consider very carefully within my Department the balance between the various claims that are put forward. I am anxious that the urban programme should be used for specific areas where there is to be a one-off and conspicuous effect, rather than accumulating a range of ongoing commitments, which prejudices one's ability to make new initiatives in following years.

Mr. Michael Morris

With regard to the meeting of the consultative council, will my right hon. Friend confirm that whilst the original proposals from the local authority associations were entirely unacceptable, he has not closed his mind to any future proposals that may come from the associations, and that, if such proposals were to come forward, they would be considered in depth by the Government?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, because it enables me to repeat to the House what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said in Standing Committee D yesterday. The Government's view is quite clear. It is that we should proceed with the principle of block grant. If the local authority associations wish to come forward with amendments to the face of the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, which would enable their anxieties about specific areas of concern to be dealt with, of course we shall look at them. But the Government feel that it is important now to establish that the principle of block grant is a priority of the Government.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Secretary of State answers the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) a moment ago? Has Sir Godfrey Taylor withdrawn officials of the AMA from one of the working groups set up by the right hon. Gentleman because Sir Godfrey and the AMA disagree with the policy that the Government are now espousing?

Mr. Heseltine

No, the AMA is considering to what extent it should involve itself in the details. The meetings at which a withdrawal would have to take place have not happened. What is happening is that the AMA is considering what it should do to co-operate on the details of the scheme with the Government. It is important to understand that the Government are well in a position to proceed without detailed consultation with local government. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] However, I believe, as I have said to local authority associations, that the detailed workings will be a great deal better if local authorities co-operate in the examination of these details.