HC Deb 27 January 1993 vol 217 cc1036-8
13. Mr. Amess

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has for extending market testing to white-collar local authority services.

Mr. Howard

My officials are discussing with local authority associations and other interested parties the implementation of my decisions on the extension of compulsory competitive tendering announced in November 1992. The new regime will be rigorous and challenging for all authorities—extending to local authority white-collar services the benefits of competition already demonstrated in respect of manual services.

Mr. Amess

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Conservative-controlled Basildon district council will, over a period of time, subject all its services to market testing? Is it his judgment that that process will assist in sorting out the terrible financial legacy left by the socialists, who were thrown out of office last May—when every one of their 15 candidates was defeated?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am convinced that market testing of the sort to which he referred will make Conservative-controlled Basildon council a beacon to the rest of local government.

Mr. Olner

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Attorney-General told the Committee considering the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill that, in his opinion, there was no need to change the legislation and that local authorities should certainly enjoy a level playing field with commercial organisations? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take that into account when he extends CCT to other local authority activities?

Mr. Howard

I made it clear that any local authority that invites tenders on the basis that the regulations do apply—which is not the view taken by my Department —will risk action by my Department.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the predecessor of market testing—compulsory competitive tendering—brought out much of the evidence that exposed corruption in local government? As the relevant legislation—on everything from the publication of information to compulsory competitive tendering—was opposed by Opposition Members, should not they now support market testing, to root out corruption in their own councils?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Every advance that we have made in local government has been opposed by the Opposition. But they will never learn and I cannot hold out any hope to my hon. Friend that we shall obtain their support for market testing or compulsory competitive tendering, obvious though the merits of those policies are to my hon. Friend and all dispassionate observers.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the confusion in the law to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) referred over the transfer of undertakings and the European acquired rights directive, will the Secretary of State give an assurance today to local authorities that seek to meet their obligations in that regard that he will now alter his guidance to those local authorities about so-called anti-competitive behaviour issued under the Local Government Act 1992? If he will not give that assurance, can the House assume that his motive for introducing market testing has nothing to do with local authority quality or efficiency and everything to do with cutting the wages of local authority employees?

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman will prepare his question in advance in such detail, he must be prepared to adapt it in the light of answers that have already been given. I gave a comprehensive answer on that point to the hon. Member for Nuneaton, who asked the same question just a minute or two ago. I explained to him that there is no confusion whatever about the law on this subject and I told him what advice my Department has given and will continue to give.