HC Deb 21 June 1995 vol 262 cc341-3
12. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he will take to improve relations between central and local government. [28038]

Mr. Gummer

Last November, the Prime Minister and the chairmen of the local authority associations agreed written guidelines for the conduct of relations between local and national government. We are committed to seeing active and robust local government delivering quality services which their residents want and can afford.

Mr. Nicholson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way of countering the rubbish that we hear from both Opposition parties about regional assemblies is to improve further the relations between central and local government? Should that not include improving the co-ordination between the two tiers of central Government, where there are two tiers, central Government taking account of the functions that they devolve to local government, the outlawing of extremism, corruption and maladministration such as we have seen in Monklands and Hackney and, finally—building on my right hon. Friend's excellent decision last week in respect of Somerset—the relaxing of capping?

Mr. Gummer

I hope very much that we can continue the good relationships that we have built up with local authorities. That can be achieved across the party-political divide by people who are concerned to give local authorities a proper role in the way in which the government of this country operates. It does not help to pretend that local authorities had powers taken away from them when their biggest challenge at present is the implementation of community care—a major new sphere in which they can operate in an enabling way. They have accepted the challenge gladly and with enthusiasm. It does not help to threaten local authorities, whether county, district or unitary, with yet another tier of local authority—regional government—particularly without any reference to how it would be done and knowing it to be a party-political ploy.

Mr. Macdonald

What steps will the Secretary of State take to improve relations between the central Government and my local Western Isles council following its successful campaign to stop the dumping of the Brent Spar at sea? As the Government have been so completely wrong and so completely humiliated with regard to the Brent Spar, is it not time for an apology or perhaps a note of humility from the Dispatch Box?

Mr. Gummer

The solution to the Brent Spar problem is now less environmentally friendly. That is the issue, and Opposition Members will have to accept that fact.

Relations between central and local government—that is what the question is about—are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. McLoughlin

Bearing in mind the fact that central Government may have to supply some 90 per cent. of local government finance, will my right hon. Friend consider carefully whether it is time for his Department to issue to every household in the country the exact position in relation to the amount of funding going to each local authority? That will ensure that the position is readily understood, despite the misleading propaganda from local government.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend has raised this matter before and he is right to press it. I hope that the simple performance indicators that we are now publishing will help in that direction. The truth is that good local government is extremely good, but there are many examples—as we have seen from the newspapers in the past few days—of where local government has been very bad indeed. Monklands is one such example. We must try to draw a distinction not only between local authorities that are manifestly operating in an unacceptable way but between those that are just badly run. I should have thought that Hackney and Haringey would be two very good ones to start with.