HL Deb 20 December 1983 vol 446 cc594-6

3.2 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether consideration is being given to the response by the School for Advanced Urban Studies on Government proposals on the reform of the rating system, rate limitation and the proposals contained in Streamlining the Cities.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, the response in so far as it refers to the White Paper Rates has already been considered. It is not clear as to whether or not this document is the official view of SAUS. It certainly does not share the Government's commitment to the need to protect ratepayers, to reduce public expenditure, and to achieve the Government's overall economic plans. The more recent response, which combines these comments with observations on the proposals in Streamlining the Cities, is currently being considered.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, can we assume that the Government and the noble Lord welcome the observations of these distinguished academic individuals? On the very day on which the rate capping proposals of the Government are to be published, has the attention of the Minister been drawn to the conclusions in the report in respect of rate capping, which indicate that there will be a significant increase of central control over local government? Lastly, in respect of the proposals to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties has the noble Lord noticed that so far as the case in the White Paper is concerned the report says that it is totally unconvincing, ill-prepared, and wholly unjustified?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I had noticed that, but in fact the signatories to the document clearly do not share the Government's view of the need to contain public expenditure within what the country can afford. But we have that view and we were elected on the basis of it. As to the other references to the abolition, and so on, clearly the noble Lord and those who put their names to this paper have a totally different view from that of the Government and certainly from mine.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord not aware that it is perfectly possible for the Government to maintain their mistaken policies about limiting Government expenditure without dismantling big city government?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, there is no intention to dismantle big city government.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend what is an advanced urban study?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, there are those who might fairly question that, certainly by reading the conclusions which the signatories to this paper reach. But far be it from me at Question Time to attempt such a definition.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, perhaps the Minister is not aware that the School for Advanced Urban Studies was set up by the Department of the Environment. Apart from the opposition in the noble Lord's own party and by the local authority associations which has been expressed today when the Bill has been published, is he aware that Professor Jones, professor of government at the LSE, and Professor John Stewart, professor of local government at Birmingham, in a recent paper demonstrated that the rate limitation proposals destroy the basis of local accountability? It was this on which Professor Jones expounded on radio this morning. Can the noble Lord find and let us know of any objective academic or other impartial specialist opinion which supports the Government's proposals and the so-called reasoning in the White Paper? If so, we should be grateful if he could let us know so that we can read it and find Out from whom and where it comes.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the noble Baroness pleads in aid the cause and the writings of the academics. I prefer to plead in aid the needs of the people who pay the bills at the end of the day.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a natural mnemonic for the School for Advanced Urban Studies is "sauce"?

Lord Bellwin

I pronounce it "sowse", my Lords.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the Minister seemed to dismiss my noble friend's question as to whether he is aware that the general attitude of this report is also reflected by the three local authority associations. As there was a White Paper seemingly for consultation, what notice have the Government taken of the wholesale rejection of the Government's White Paper by the three local authority associations?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I have to repeat something I said a moment ago, that the one group of people who do not reject wholesale the Government's proposals are the mass of people throughout the country, businesses and individuals, who have to pay the bills at the end of the day.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am sorry to come back again, but is the Minister really saying that these proposals are based on ignorance rather than knowledge and experience—that one should just take the objective and view of keeping down rates—and that the proposals do not make financial, social, or economic sense?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes her own judgments as to what the proposals mean. I would only say that the criticisms in this particular report, or paper, are based largely on value judgments which, at the end of the day, are clearly political in character.

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