HC Deb 19 November 1986 vol 105 cc557-8
9. Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to impose controls upon local councils currently spending over the rate of inflation; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope)

My right hon. Friend has selected 20 excessively high-spending local authorities for rate limitation in 1987–88. I have no plans at present to extend the scope of rate limitation.

Mr. Greenway

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. Is he aware that the new Labour council in Ealing, with its reckless spending, will cause a minimum increase in rates of 60 per cent., after a year in office? We must bear in mind that rates went down 4 per cent. during the previous year under Conservative control, and the rise is being planned at a time of 3 per cent. inflation. That will have a devastating effect upon jobs and local industry and upon the ability of ratepayers to pay their rates. Will the Government consider what action they can take to control the position?

Mr. Chope

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I sympathise enormously with many of the citizens in Ealing. However, contrary to the advice of my hon. Friend, those citizens allowed a mainstream Kinnockite council to be elected in May and will have to pay the price. If Labour is intent on a 60 per cent. rate increase in Ealing next year, that will cost the average domestic ratepayer £3.87 a week extra out of taxed income — and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition a lot more. The Government have no power to prevent that happening. Ealing spending is Kinnockism in practice, and it is up to voters to stop it spreading.

Mr. Pike

When will the Government accept that the criteria by which they judge local government spending are totally wrong and that many councils are not able to spend at the right level necessary to meet the needs of the community and the requirements of the people in the areas they represent? Is it not time that the Government allowed councils to spend the money necessary to deal with problems in the areas that they represent?

Mr. Chope

In the current financial year the 40 rate-capped and precept-limited authorities are responsible for some £1,167 million of overspending, with the remaining 7 per cent. of overspending shared among the other authorities. In itself, that is evidence that only the extreme authorities are having to overspend so substantially.

Sir George Young

Is my hon. Friend aware that until the unpopular and extravagant activities of local authorities such as Ealing are roundly denounced by the Opposition I will continue to tell my constituents that a Labour Government, if elected, will be just like Ealing council—only bigger?

Mr. Chope

I agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, there may be an opportunity in Ealing in the near future for the council's policies to be tested in a by-election. If the chairman of Ealing council's gay and lesbian committee, who was convicted earlier this week of committing an indecent act in a public lavatory, were to resign — [Interruption]—there would be an early opportunity for public opinion in Ealing to be tested on the policies of high spending and homosexuality.