HC Deb 23 January 1984 vol 52 cc621-2
9. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many representations he has received from local authorities in Gwent concerning the Government's proposals on rate capping; what reply he has sent; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I have received representations from five local authorities in Gwent. In responding I made it clear that the Government are firmly committed to curbing the excessive spending of a small minority of local authorities by selective action, and that I trust that the reserve general power we are seeking will not need to be implemented.

Mr. Hughes

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the solidly Conservative-controlled urban district council of Monmouth, which is represented by the Minister of State, Welsh Office, has described the measure as unnecessary and unjustified and as attacking the very fabric of local democracy? Bearing in mind that a vital principle is involved, are Welsh Office Ministers now considering their position, or are the perks too attractive for them to permit that to happen?

Mr. Edwards

I hope that the measure will not be necessary in Wales. If Welsh local authorities continue to spend at reasonable levels, on the lines that they have adopted in the past, it will not be necessary to use the selective powers.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

What representations has the Secretary of State received from ratepayers who have to bear the burden? Does he agree that at least equal consideration should be given to such representations about increases which have been out of all proportion and have done more than their fair share to cause job losses?

Mr. Edwards

There is no doubt that the public and ratepayers generally have far less sympathy with the case advocated by local government representatives than one might gather from the views expressed by the Opposition.

Dr. Marek

If the Secretary of State believes that local authority budgeting in Wales has been and will continue to be reasonable, why does he seek the special powers in the rate-capping legislation?

Mr. Edwards

Ratepayers are entitled to the assurance that protection is available to them. Moreover, I hope that the existence of such powers will encourage local authorities to pursue a sensible course so that we do not need to use the powers.

Mr. Barry Jones

Will the Secretary of State accept my plea that Wales should be exempt from that draconian measure, which is an insult to local government leadership in Wales? Will he name one irresponsible local authority in Wales? Why must he take a legislative sledgehammer to strip Wales of its centuries-old freedoms?

Mr. Edwards

The answer is no, Sir. If I am right in thinking that Welsh local authorities will budget sensibly and continue along the lines that they have followed so far, there need be no question of their suffering the penalties of which the hon. Gentleman complains. He is making a great song and dance about very little.