HC Deb 26 March 1980 vol 981 cc1433-4
20. Mr Jim Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is now in a position to name the local authorities which have exceeded his guideline on rate increases and against which he intends to take punitive action.

Mr. Heseltine

It is still too early to say whether the transitional arrangements will be needed, and if so where the threshold should be set.

Mr. Marshall

Is the Secretary of State aware that his indecision in this area is causing a great deal of unease particularly among Labour-controlled authorities? Will he inform the House and local authorities, as a matter of urgency, what action he proposes to take?

Mr. Heseltine

I would have thought that the action should be taken by the Labour authorities which must have taken the matter into account when they set their level of rate increases.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that while Labour local councillors in Leicester and elsewhere might regard Government action to hold down the rates as punitive, that is not how ratepayers regard the issue?

Mr. Heseltine

I have made it clear that the Government expect local authorities to play their part in containing the levels of inflation and to keep their expenditure under total control. If one looks at the level of rate increases now coming through, one finds that among the list of the 10 lowest there are no Labour authorities and that among the 10 highest there are no Conservative authorities.

Mr. Allen McKay

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider absolving from any clawback arrangement those local authorities that may be forced to impose a supplementary rate increase following the House of Lords decision on the Education (No. 2) Bill? These authorities are mandated to provide services for the electorate. That is what they are doing but the Government are penalising them.

Mr. Heseltine

There is a wide range of flexibility in the hands of local authorities over choosing where to seek economies. It is for them to decide.