HC Deb 30 July 1980 vol 989 cc745-7W
Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what representations he has received from Mr. H. Richmond, president of the National Association of Independent Businessmen, following its meeting on 17 April with his chief inspector of audit, on the subject of local authorities charging for the collection of refuse from small shops and other business premises and following the High Court judgment of 1973 in the case of Iron Trades Mutual Employers' Insurance Association Ltd. v. Sheffield corporation; and what reply he has sent;

(2) whether, in the light of the statement by the Under-Secretary of State in a letter to the hon. Member for Melton dated 7 July and the opinion of his chief inspector of audit given at a meeting with the National Association of Independent Businessmen in Leicestershire on 17 April that the arrangements by which local authorities charged small businesses for the collection of dustbins arose from a law which had not been clearly defined, and which imposed upon local authorities requirements which they found extremely difficult to meet, he will introduce legislation to discharge local authorities from this duty.

Mr. Fox

The president of the National Association of Independent Businessmen wrote to my right hon. Friend on 7 May asking him to issue a directive to all authorities informing them that those councils which did not, prior to the High Court judgment, charge for the collection of certain types of trade refuse could continue not to do so without fear of the district auditor's recommending any surcharge.

The reply to Mr. Richmond said: "I am afraid that it would be inappropriate for the Secretary of State to issue a directive of this kind for two reasons. First, because the law requires a charge to be made. The Secretary of State could not therefore issue a directive which would, in effect, be telling local authorities to ignore the law. Secondly, because such an action would be tantamount to directing local government auditors in the way they should discharge their statutory responsibilities. The duties of local government auditors are laid upon them directly by Parliament, and neither the Secretary of State, nor the Chief Inspector of Audit, has powers to direct them in the way they discharge those statutory functions.

I have noted with interest your exchanges with the Chief Inspector. I understand, however, that Mr. Kimmance has yet to complete his inquiries into this issue. When he has done so and submitted his report we will, of course, give close consideration to any recommendations he makes in the light of the advice we receive from the Advisory Committee on Local Government Audit, with which I believe you are already in contact.

In the circumstances I believe it would be premature to comment further on the points raised in your discussion with him."

Further consideration of this matter must await the outcome of the chief inspector's inquiries.