HC Deb 23 April 1986 vol 96 cc288-9
9. Mr. Geraint Howells

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the loss of revenue incurred by local authorities due to the late setting of rates; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

All rating authorities in England had set a rate for 1986–87 by 1 April 1986. It is for the independent district auditor to decide whether losses arose and, if so, to what extent, in those authorities which delayed setting a rate for 1985–86.

Mr. Howells

Does the Minister agree that five London boroughs have lost a total income of over £100 million this year because of the late setting of rates? What plans has she to inform the electorate before the May elections of this loss?

Mrs. Rumbold

I cannot confirm or deny the figures that the hon. Gentleman has given, as it is a matter entirely for the local district auditors to determine and then to report.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Does my hon. Friend agree that the behaviour of Left-wing Labour councils in failing to set a rate until the last minute was a breach of statutory duty? Can she estimate the amount of lost revenue in interest and say when the district auditors will be brought in, which should act as a preventive measure for any other local authorities which fail to behave in a decent and civilised way?

Mrs. Rumbold

I commend my hon. Friend for his continued attack upon the extravagance and nonsensical waste that has been a feature of the councils within his constituency. The district auditors, however, have to take these decisions for themselves, as the Secretary of State has no powers to direct them.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is the Minister aware of the chaos that will ensue, and the impact that it will have on London boroughs, if about 200 councillors find themsleves disqualified through the actions of the district auditor? Will the Minister make it quite clear to the district auditor, who I assume is always a Tory stooge and not independent, that such chaos should not be visited upon London local government structures?

Mrs. Rumbold

It is disgraceful to say that the district auditor or any other person who is appointed independently is a Tory anything. It is especially disgraceful to allege that he will be a stooge. Councillors have been disqualified quite properly because of their squalid actions and disregard of a law that has been established for some considerable time, well before the arrival of the Government. The actions of these councillors means that they have brought disqualification upon themselves. It is for the electors of the district and borough councils to pass judgment on them on 8 May, which I hope they will do.