HC Deb 26 May 1993 vol 225 cc918-9
12. Mr. Barry Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next plans to meet representatives of the Association of County Councils to discuss the powers of local authorities.

Mr. Howard

The ACC has not asked for such a discussion. The next of my regular informal two-monthly meetings with the chairmen of the three local authority associations will take place on 7 June, and the ACC is at liberty to raise this or any other issue it wishes at that meeting.

Mr. Jones

Have not the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his Government set out deliberately to undermine county government? Why did the Government not listen to the warnings from the counties that the poll tax—the right hon. and learned Gentleman's biggest mistake—would end in tears? Why does he not take this opportunity—his last appearance at the Dispatch Box as Secretary of State for the Environment—to acknowledge that he was wrong on the poll tax? As a Llanelli boy, born and bred, would he not say that he is in some small danger of exchanging his present post with that of the Secretary of State for Wales?

Mr. Howard

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has to go back to the community charge because he finds so little in contemporary policies of which he can complain. When the Opposition go back to the community charge, we know that they are absolutely bereft of contemporary issues that they can raise.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

When considering the powers of local authorities, will my right hon. and learned Friend give some thought to the needs of people who live in areas such as Hackney and Lambeth, which are bywords for inefficiency and incompetence and, often, for corruption? Given the fact that Lambeth—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not in order. If he relates his question to the Association of County Councils and the powers of local authorities, he must be heard, but questions must be in order.

Mr. Coombs

When discussing the matter with the Association of County Councils, will my right hon. and learned Friend place much stronger emphasis on the possibility of bringing in special commissioners to deal with councils where the ratepayer is not properly protected from the depredations of councils such as Lambeth and Hackney?

Mr. Howard

As my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Planning and Construction pointed out a few moments ago, voters in the areas to which my hon. Friend has referred will have their opportunity within months to make it clear at the ballot box that they want no more of the disreputable government from which they suffered at Labour's hands.

Mr. Vaz

The Secretary of State may be about to lose his voice, but I hope that he has not lost his memory. Does he not remember what happened on 6 May? Does he not agree that Labour's stunning success in the recent county council elections and the humiliating defeat of the Conservatives represent a powerful message from the electors of Britain, who do not want local government to be kicked around by the present Administration?

Will the Secretary of State give the House an undertaking in regard to the Government's crude attempt to undermine local democracy and weaken the process of local accountability? He knows that, since 1979, 145 Acts of Parliament have been passed to curtail the powers of democratically elected local councils. Is not the true message of 6 May that power must be handed back to the people and taken away from the bureaucracy of central Government?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that, far from undermining local government, we have given it new powers and responsibilities. Far from imposing new controls on local government, one of the first things that the Government did in 1980 was sweep away 300 detailed controls on local government. Things may be different in Leicester, but I have never heard this issue raised on the doorstep.

Mr. Gallie

When considering the affairs of local authorities with the Association of County Councils, will my right hon. and learned Friend ascertain whether it has ever discussed local authorities' input with regard to security in prisons in their areas? Is he aware that yesterday five prisoners—serious offenders—escaped from Saughton prison—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The House is obviously demob-happy; it had better pull itself together. Let us move on to a question from another Scot.

Forward to