HC Deb 12 June 1991 vol 192 cc894-6
6. Mr. Haynes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress is being made on consultation with local authorities concerning reorganisation.

The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. Michael Portillo)

The Government's consultation paper on local government structure has been circulated widely and comments are being received. I expect a large number of responses as the deadline approaches.

Mr. Haynes

Will the consultation with local authorities on the setting up of the commission mean that local authorities will be properly consulted for their views? Bearing in mind the mess that the Government have made of the local economy—[Interruption.] It is a real mess, a right cock-up. When will that commission be reporting so that we know exactly what is to happen?

Mr. Portillo

The consultation paper has been circulated to all the principal local authorities. I have no complaints about that, and they are responding individually and through their associations, so there is no problem with consultation. The local government commission will be established by a Bill which the Government will introduce in the autumn.

Mrs. Roe

As my hon. Friend is aware, London's Metropolitan police authority boundary extends beyond the Greater London area into counties such as Hertfordshire. Will he ensure that when the local government commission reviews the structure of local government it will also consider whether the Hertfordshire constabulary boundary should include the whole of the county and not merely part of it?

Mr. Portillo

It is important that the local government commission should consider that sort of issue, and that Ministers should not jump to conclusions before the legislation to establish that commission has even been introduced. I know that when the commission is established my hon. Friend's important views on the matter will help to guide it as to the sort of questions that it ought to be considering.

Mr. O'Brien

The review of local government proposed by the Secretary of State will overlap with some of the proposals in the Widdicombe report, especially the role of the elected member. How does the Secretary of State intend to resolve that and, in doing so, will he note and act on the views, observations and concerns expressed by local authorities?

Mr. Portillo

A large number of recommendations in the Widdicombe report have already been brought into effect or will be shortly. There will be some overlap, although I think that the most important areas of overlap will be not so much with the Green Paper that has been published as with the Green Paper that is yet to be published on questions of internal management. The Government will wish to take careful account of the representations made in support of what has been done under the Widdicombe proposals and, conversely, the views of people who think that the Widdicombe reforms go in the wrong direction and believe that we can do better in future.

Mr. Alton

In the discussions with local authorities, will the Minister say what rights of redress will be provided for the citizens of cities such as Liverpool, where in some areas bins have not been emptied for the past 13 weeks? What does he intend to do to assist community charge payers in places like Liverpool, who have been called to pay an additional £70.99 in poll tax for people who did not pay the poll tax last year? Does not that run contrary to any question of natural justice?

Mr. Portillo

I am appalled by those local authorities that, through ineptness, inefficiency or lack of will, have failed to collect community charge and are now asking law-abiding citizens to bear that burden. Those citizens have every right to be angry with their local authorities and to express their feelings most strongly through the ballot box. We have tackled the question of the standards that we can expect from local authorities through the introduction of greater choice and competition for citizens within local authorities with the extension of compulsory competitive tendering. I agree with the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's question, that we need to go further to enfranchise more citizens so that they can have redress against local authorities which underperform. That is an important part of the consideration of the citizens' charter to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is giving a great deal of attention.

Mr. Holt

Will my hon. Friend hurry up and get on with the reorganisation, because those of us who live in Cleveland are fed up with a local authority in which the leader has thrown the chairman of the county council out of his civic suite to obtain greater aggrandisement, and in which today the council is trying to fiddle competitive tendering in order to charge an additional £2 million to the people of the county? The council has already wasted nearly £1 million—and it will continue to spend money —on a would-be light rapid-transport system. It has also gone out of its way to hurt a schoolboy's chances of playing football for his county.

Mr. Portillo

To pick just one of the very justifiable complaints that my hon. Friend makes, the Government are extremely concerned about those local authorities that cheat on compulsory competitive tendering and try to deprive their residents of the benefits of competition and choice. One of the points on which we are strongly focused is ensuring that we provide a level playing field so that compulsory competitive tendering works effectively and brings the benefits of competition and choice to our citizens.