HC Deb 13 June 1984 vol 61 cc897-8
3. Mr. George

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he proposes designating any authorities under the Rates Act 1984 at the same time as he issues provisional expenditure guidance for local authorities.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)

Subject to parliamentary approval of the Rates Bill, I hope to be in a position to announce the principles of selection, the list of selected authorities and the proposed expenditure levels by the end of July. I cannot, however, commit myself at this stage to the exact timing of those announcements.

Mr. George

As the Secretary of State clearly has a hit list of authorities to be proceeded against, will he make an announcement of the names even sooner than he said? Is he aware that many local authorities are anxious to know what action will be taken against them, and that if he makes a statement to the House hon. Members on both sides will have an opportunity of questioning him?

Mr. Jenkin

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's question. The only point that I would make is that I am not sure how valuable it would be to announce the list of authorities and not announce at the same time the expenditure levels to which we would expect them to conform. However, I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's points in mind.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Secretary of State confirm, if he has not already done so, that a list is circulating in his Department that includes Tory-controlled Portsmouth as one of the councils that will be hit by the Government? It will be hit because it has been trying to give services to the community. Is it true that the reason why it is on the list—people are trying to devise criteria to get it off the list—is that the council spends more money on one basis than does the council in Labour-controlled Sheffield? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that when the so-called hit list is drawn up it will not be devised in such a way as to allow Tory authorities such as Portsmouth to escape when there is an important by-election, when the Labour authorities against which the Government have a vendetta cannot escape?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman misses the point of the Rates Bill, which is to control the rates of high-spending authorities, to protect ratepayers. I have confirmed that Portsmouth is on some of the several draft lists—

Mr. Skinner

Is that right?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman knows that. It was said on the radio at lunchtime by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Portsmouth is on some of the lists. I have no doubt that the ratepayers of Portsmouth will look forward to the protection from high rates that they will get, whatever political complexion the council may be.

Dr. Cunningham

The House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for at last admitting the truth about what is going on in his Department, having denied it in a letter to me earlier this week. Does not what the right hon. Gentleman has now said absolutely invalidate what the Prime Minister told the House yesterday at Question Time, when she said that it would be premature to devise a list before the Bill had even become an Act? Did not the Prime Minister mislead the House in saying that, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said? Do not all these squalid little manoeuvres in his Department — of sending for lists and then rejecting them because they do not contain particular local authorities—demonstrate beyond doubt the right hon. Gentleman's determination to use this legislation simply to ensnare, without any principle whatever, the councils which he wants to trap, and does this not completely debase the whole of local democracy?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman has got himself thoroughly ensnared with delusions of conspiracy. The Prime Minister would be justifiably critical of her Secretary of State for the Environment if he were not making advance plans, including a variety of criteria and a variety of lists, pending the passing of the Rates Bill. I assure the hon. Gentleman that when the principles are published they will be applicable to any authority, whatever its political control, which falls within those principles.

Mr. Adley

With the exception of the scowl on the face and the gnashing of the teeth by Mr. Livingstone, will my right hon. Friend say what changes will be seen or heard by Londoners after the local government reorganisation that he is planning takes place in London?

Mr. Jenkin

That matter will arise on a later question. A large number of Londoners will recognise the advantage to them of lower rates and a simpler, streamlined structure of government in London.