HC Deb 17 February 1982 vol 18 cc279-80
16. Mr. David

Atkinson asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will review the statutory responsibilities of local authorities.

Mr. Giles Shaw

The Government examined the statutory duties of local authorities very thoroughly shortly after taking office and have made proposals for repealing or amending many of them. In addition, we have already removed about 200 of the 300 central controls, which we promised in our White Paper of 1979 (Cmnd. 7634).

Mr. Atkinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that among the wealth of legislation that has been passed over the years and which imposes statutory responsibilities on local authorities, there still exists much that is out of date and no longer relevant to local needs which could be repealed, thereby reducing significantly the cost of local government?

Mr. Shaw

I agree with my hon. Friend. There are prospects for doing that. That is why consultations are now going on with the local authority associations. No doubt there will be a legislative opportunity to deal with this matter in due course.

Mr. Hooley

Does the Minister agree that where local authorities have statutory duties, such as running an effective transport service for the benefit of their electorates, there is now a need to make those statutory duties so clear as to put their powers beyond peradventure and the reach of the Law Lords?

Mr. Shaw

Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that no local authority duty should be carried out in defiance or against the wishes of the law. The fact remains that local authorities have the power to carry out their statutory duties.

Dr. Mawhinney

Does my hon. Friend agree that the statutory responsibilities of local authorities might be extended to take greater note of advice from local business men and industrialists on the efficient working of councils? Is he aware that ratepayers in Peterborough face a 20 per cent. reduction in their rates next year because of that type of activity?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is right. He will also recall the audit commission proposals in the Bill now passing through the House, which will go some way towards introducing management efficiency audits, which could have a great bearing on local government.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State is already guilty of shackling local authorities? I suggest that if he pokes his nose any further into this he will get it punched by local authorities. Indeed, I shall probably be the first one in.

Mr. Shaw

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's observation.