HC Deb 20 October 1993 vol 230 cc271-2
11. Mr. Hall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many meetings he has had with representatives of the local authority associations since April 1992.

Mr. Baldry

Between April 1992 and May 1993, my right hon. and learned Friend the then Secretary of State met representatives of the major local authority associations on nine occasions. My right hon. Friend has since met representatives of those associations on four occasions, most recently at the Consultative Council on Local Government Finance on 12 October.

Mr. Hall

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that section 143 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 has not yet been given a commencement date? That section requires local authorities to compile a register of contaminated land. So far, only six local authorities, including my local authority in Warrington, have compiled such a register. Those registers enable local authorities to identify tracts of contamination, neutralise them and allow development to take place, thus removing areas of blight in our towns. Has the Minister informed the local authority associations when section 143 will be implemented? If he has not been able to give them a date, can he say when implementation will commence?

Mr. Baldry

The policy review of contaminated land is going extremely well. Every developer has to be responsible for discovering the history of particular pieces of land. Our work on the register of contaminated land has made sure that every solicitor and every developer is conscious of his need and responsibility to discover the history of any land that he wishes to develop.

Mr. Vaz

Does the Minister recall that on 14 September the local authority associations discussed with the Secretary of State an agreed list of members for the Committee of the Regions and that on 29 September that list was submitted in writing? As the Minister knows, the list was carefully prepared and agreed by all the parties, including his own. Why has the Secretary of State refused to accept that list and why has he ignored the views of the associations? Will the Minister assure us that the Secretary of State will stop delaying this matter and accept the views of the associations, or is this just another example of the Government's blatant disregard for democracy and consultation?

Mr. Baldry

It is a function of the local authority associations to nominate and it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to choose. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will choose extremely well.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

When my hon. Friend met the local authority associations, did he discuss market testing and compulsory competitive tendering, because there is still a huge cultural barrier to overcome with local authorities in this respect? This is the second-largest area of public expenditure, and a substantial sum could be saved if those concepts were advanced.

Mr. Baldry

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Independent research by Birmingham university shows that substantial savings of between 7 and 20 per cent. have been made through competitive tendering. Every local authority will need to be able to demonstrate to local council tax payers that they have made the maximum possible savings through competitive tendering. I hope that, increasingly, we will not have to force local authorities to do that through compulsory competitive tendering regulations, but that they will see the value and virtue of exposing services to competitive tendering to get the best cost and results for their council tax payers.