HC Deb 11 November 1992 vol 213 cc860-2
2. Mr. Deva

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has for giving local people more say in the structure of local government in their areas.

The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. John Redwood)

I have asked the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, which is reviewing the structure in shire England, to pay special attention to the views of local people and where they feel that they belong. The commission will be using a variety of techniques from radio phone-ins through use of the local press and opinion surveys. It will invite a wide range of representation of local opinion.

Mr. Deva

When my hon. Friend announces the commission's decision on Heathrow airport, will he take into account the strongly held views of local people?

Mr. Redwood

I can reassure my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will take into account all the evidence—including local opinion—relating to that crucial boundary issue in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is the Minister aware that at the time of the abolition of the Greater London council two thirds of Londoners expressed a wish for the retention of a strategic authority in the capital city? A recent opinion poll in the Evening Standard shows that two thirds of Londoners still want a strategic authority. If people's views are to be taken into account, why cannot Londoners' views be taken into account in terms of local government structure?

Mr. Redwood

Londoners do not want extra costs and extra bureaucracy. They remember how bad the GLC was. I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman should have the effrontery to suggest that London needs that kind of burden again after the absurdly high expenditure on unnecessary causes which was the hallmark on the GLC. Strategic issues for London are dealt with by the boroughs coming together and by the Cabinet Committee on London which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State chairs. Of course there is a strategic vision for London: it is co-ordinated by the Government.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Can my hon. Friend confirm that following the passage of the Local Government Bill earlier this year my constituents, and those of other hon. Members, will have the opportunity to apply for unitary authority status? Will he encourage my constituents in Southport to take advantage of that excellent piece of legislation and press the Local Government Commission to allow my constituency of Southport to recapture the unitary status that it lost in 1974 so that it may get out of Merseyside and return to Lancashire, where it rightly belongs?

Mr. Redwood

I am aware of my hon. Friend's keen concern about this matter. We have set out the parameters for the review. My hon. Friend knows that the areas specified have been made clear by the Secretary of State and that they will be reviewed in the series set out for the Local Government Boundary Commission. If the commission thinks that there is a big boundary issue or a big council management issue which overruns the boundary and spills into an area not under review, it can put that point to the Secretary of State who, on reflection, could modify his request if he thinks appropriate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend's comments and will give due consideration to them, should recommendations come forward from the Local Government Boundary Commission.

Mr. John Evans

Will the Minister acknowledge that people are as much concerned about the financial structure of local government as about its physical structure? Is he aware that the citizens of St. Helens are appalled at the unjust and corrupt standard spending assessments which effectively rob St. Helens of millions of pounds in rate support grant, which is translated into reduced services and increased council tax demands? Will the Minister agree to meet representatives of St. Helens and the Webber Craig authorities to discuss their standard spending assessments?

Mr. Redwood

The grant allocations and standard spending assessments are based on objective criteria. They take into account how many people and what kind of needs there are in the area. There is a clear method that we set out each year for hon. Members to review. The SSAs are not corrupt. That is a dreadful calumny to cast upon the officials who compiled them and upon Ministers who bring them to the House for debate. In the normal course of business we shall, of course, consider representations when the time arises.

Mr. Dunn

Will my hon. Friend please give an absolute guarantee that the integrity of the present boundaries of the county of Kent will be maintained at all costs and against all odds and that there is no question at all of part of my constituency being hived off into the former Greater London council area?

Mr. Redwood

I can give no absolute guarantees, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is also a Member of Parliament for a Kent constituency and I am sure that he is a keen defender of Kent as a county. However, the issues will be reviewed in the usual way. The Local Government Commission only has power to recommend changes in boundaries between the areas that it is reviewing. My hon. Friend may take considerable comfort from that.