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Local Authority Committees

Volume 893: debated on Wednesday 11 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will introduce legislation designed to ensure that the membership of local authority committees fully reflects the balance of political parties in the parent councils.

No, Sir. I think such matters are best left for each local authority to decide for itself.

Is the Minister aware that, with the generosity typical of my party, I have received a complaint from members of the Liberal Party in the Bromley area that members of the Labour Party were excluded from membership of the policy and resources committee of that borough by the controlling Conservative group, and that this practice unhappily occurs in different parts of the country'? Is not that compounded by the fact that one, at least, of the new authorities in Scotland has decided to pay its members an attendance allowance of £10 a day at party meetings? Should not that be looked at afresh by the Government?

The Scottish illustration mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is obviously a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland. I should welcome not being concerned with that.

On the other part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I appreciate his generosity, and I thank him for it. However, there is one difficulty. It is customary, as I think he probably knows, for the policy and co-ordinating committee of a local authority to come from the ruling party. If that were not done, and if the membership were divided out, my feeling is that we should tend to get less open government, that discussions would go away from the centre, and take place behind closed doors. Frankly, I am against that.

Is the Minister aware that the exclusion of the Labour minority in Bromley followed the leakage of confidential information by that group to the local Press, and that in any case that minority group has its full right of debate within the council chamber?

I was not aware of the situation in Bromley. However I am aware that my Department, with my full-co-operation, assent and willingness, recently issued a circular to all local authorities calling for more open government, and for more co-operation with the Press.