HC Deb 19 January 1994 vol 235 cc878-80
5. Mr. Wareing

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to introduce the principle of subsidiarity to relations between central Government and local authorities; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gummer

I have made clear my commitment to the principle of subsidiarity and the delegation of responsibility not only from central Government to local authorities but from local authorities to the lowest possible level, consistent with efficiency, including locally managed and grant-maintained schools.

Mr. Wareing

Alone among European Community members, Britain has a highly centralised government machine in which local self-government has been almost completely destroyed. I hope that the Minister will take on board the feelings of many people in Britain that it is time that local self-government was restored. People are fed up with the creation of quangos staffed by a Tory nomenklatura that will have to be swept away by the next Labour Government. I hope that when he talks about subsidiarity in the sweet terms that he does—

Madam Speaker

Order. I have not yet heard the hon. Gentleman ask a question. Is there one coming into view?

Mr. Wareing

You will remembers, Madam Speaker, that I asked the Minister when he would restore local self-government—or is subsidiarity to be conceded only to Wandsworth and Westminster?

Mr. Gummer

I remind the hon. Gentleman that as Minister for Local Government and now as Secretary of State for the Environment, I pioneered, and fought for, the extension of local government powers by passing community care to local government rather than to any other system. That major extension of local government powers will be completed.

I am interested to see that subsidiarity stops where the hon. Gentleman is. When he talks about subsidiarity, he means that is should stop at the local authority. Why is not the hon. Gentleman fighting for more grant-maintained schools in Liverpool, so that schools can run themselves, instead of insisting that the local authority bosses them about?

Mr. Nigel Evans

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that local authorities are able to spend more than three quarters of all the money that they have, without any specific grants? Will he further confirm that the Government will continue the policy of caring capping, which means that we shall not allow local authorities to spend and waste money and we shall continue to protect ratepayers with capping?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend underlines that the reason why we have capping is that some local authorities, including the Liverpool authority that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) supported, behaved in the most disgraceful manner and found it impossible to manage their finances properly. Therefore, I should like to see more and more freedom for the local authorities that are prepared to be responsible in the use of their money. That is why I fought for, and will continue to fight for, the extension of local authority powers, particularly in the caring services through community care.

Mr. Straw

On the issue of subsidiarity between one authority—Westminster—and central Government, and as Dame Shirley Porter said on the radio that she could not remember whether she had consulted the Government about Westminster's housing and poll tax policies, will the Secretary of State confirm that at the material time, Ministers were, indeed, working in league with Westminster and Wandsworth councils in their gerrymandering efforts and were gerrymandering grant to those local authorities just at the time when the authorities were gerrymandering for votes?

The Minister of State said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) that the grant arrangements were objective and dispassionate. Will the Secretary of State say whether the decision to give Wandsworth £33 million of the £390 million available in council tax reduction schemes comes within that category? If it does, how can it be that one authority representing about half of one per cent. of the country's population ended up with 8 per cent. of the grant—16 times its entitlement?

Mr. Gummer

Because Wandsworth has the largest cut in grant and, therefore, attracts a larger amount of the damping system which covers all London boroughs and especially benefits Labour London boroughs. It is rare that I have to say this and I shall say it directly to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] He may find it amusing to accuse people of organising a system that cannot be run in that way. His local authority associations were fully consulted on the laying down of the SSA system and they know that it is entirely objective. They asked for the damping system that he attacks. He knows that to be absolutely true and he is a disgrace to his party.