asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many times the Consultative Council on Local Government Finance has met.
Once, Sir, on 12th May.
I welcome the Minister's reply, but it is disappointing that the council has not met more often than that. Does he not agree that we need to make cuts in Government expenditure this year? When will he send out the second circular, which was mentioned in the first circular, No. 51/71, for which many local authorities are waiting in order to take steps to make the necessary economies in their next year's budgets?
I hope that the consultative council will meet again before the summer holiday period. Certainly the first meeting was very helpful and constructive. I have promised before, and I underline it now, that I hope to issue another statement shortly setting out the implications for different local authorities' programmes for the reduced rate of growth this year and next year.
When may we expect this further very important statement, which I take it will include new guidance about ways of limiting local authority expenditure? Will the Minister also confirm that one of the greatest threats to local authority finance at present may be pay claims which are in excess of what the local authorities can bear and what the social contract can bear?
On the first point, I hope to issue the new guidance very shortly indeed. On the second point, it is of course the case with local government, as it is with industries, that excessive pay claims at the end of the day cause threats to employment rather than an increase in the real standard of living.
As the Secretary of State used the word "suicidal" when referring to wage claims at Grimsby recently, does he realise that ratepayers themselves are feeling suicidal about rate increases? When can we expect some action from the Government?
I am happy to see that the hon. Gentleman looks far from suicidal. He looks extremely chirpy this afternoon. We are delighted to notice that. I regret to have to tell him, however, that I have made it clear on many occasions—I make it clear this afternoon—that after the unprecedentedly generous rate support grant settlement of last year, ratepayers cannot expect any further help this year.