HC Deb 23 November 1983 vol 49 cc310-1
11. Mr. Gerald Howarth

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he intends to bring forward proposals for the reform of section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972.

Mr. Waldegrave

My right hon. Friend is considering whether action is needed and practicable, in the light of the study published recently by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

Mr. Howarth

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is great public concern in the country about the abuse of section 137, the 2p rate, particularly in the metropolis, where funds are being given by the GLC to bodies more worthy of private than public support? Can my hon. Friend confirm that action will be taken as soon as possible by the Government to ensure that, at a time when ratepayers are so hard pressed, their funds will not be whittled away in this squandering fashion?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree that there are places in the country where the power has been used not in the way in which Parliament originally intended it to be used.

Mr. Flannery

Name them.

Mr. Waldegrave

I can name the Greater London council and Islington council. The difficulty is that there are many worthy schemes supported by the same powers, and the matter is difficult to sort out.

Mr. Wareing

Does the Minister recognise that section 137 has been the means by which Merseyside, through the Labour-controlled Merseyside county council, has generated 6,000 jobs in small industry and co-operative enterprises? Is not one of the great concerns of people on Merseyside that the Government's proposals for the metropolitan counties, and the possible proposals for section 137, would destroy any prospects of jobs being so generated?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is true that in various parts of the country the section 137 power has been used to support the Government's urban development grant initiative and other worthy projects. It is misuse in other places that threatens section 137.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I have noticed that many Labour-controlled authorities have advertised in Labour Weekly for recruiting officers. Will my hon. Friend consider amending section 137 as a major means of preventing Labour-controlled authorities from using it to subsidise their own party from public funds and thus make it absolutely certain that they recruit Socialists?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is clear that if section 137 were used for party political purposes that would be open to legal challenge.

Mr. Loyden

Does the Minister agree that the local authorities to which he referred were democratically elected on the basis of a manifesto which they placed before the people, and will he come clean on whether it is the Government's intention, and that of his right hon. Friend, to interfere with democratically elected members of local authorities and impose the Government's will on those authorities?

Mr. Waldegrave

I fear that a large number of the sillier section 137 projects were not put before the electorate.