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Local Authorities (Expenditure)

Volume 973: debated on Wednesday 14 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what response he has received to the White Paper on relaxing controls over local government.

I have received comments from the local authority associations, individual local authorities, the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress and a number of other interested bodies and members of the public.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he allay some of the anxiety of metropolitan county councils that the proposals might remove the freedom of local government to finance capital expenditure by good housekeeping if they are able to do so? We should leave the responsibility for local government expenditure with local authorities if they are able to exercise it by good housekeeping and by the best means possible.

We have announced proposals to introduce ceilings on local government capital expenditure, but within those ceilings we have also announced changes that will give local government much greater flexibility as to how it uses its capital resources.

If controls on local authorities are to be relaxed, will that apply to the sale of council houses?

We have made it clear that we put our proposals to the electorate at the last election, and we have an overwhelming mandate to carry them into law.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a potential difficulty for councils facing a situation in which they must embark on large capital expenditure in order to meet an employment crisis, such as that in northeast Wales, but find that the new proposals seriously limit their freedom of manoeuvre?

That would depend entirely upon the ceilings that we set and the method by which we distribute the overall resources, together with other Government programmes.

What will the Secretary of State say to Conservative-controlled councils, such as North Norfolk and Guildford, which object as much as Labour-controlled authorities do to the dictatorial central controls by which the Government are to take over the sale of council houses regardless of how that will damage the ability of those councils to meet their local housing need?

I contest the assumption that this will damage the ability of authorities to meet their council house needs. I say to them what I have said to everyone else: the council house tenant is being offered one of the most generous opportunities that have ever been put before tenants. Nothing that the Opposition are able to do will stop us from carrying that to the statute book.