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Local Government

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1976.

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Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East 12:00 am, 28th April 1976

I suppose that it is difficult in framing a motion or an amendment on a subject such as this to avoid the all-embracing approach. If there is one thing that has emerged from the contributions of Members from both sides of the House it is the immense variety of circumstance and need that comes under the umbrella description of local government.

There is an immense difference in the way in which different local authorities tackle or respond to the circumstances as they see them. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) almost had the grace to admit that his speech was more related to propaganda than fact. He came close to making that admission. His speech sounded like an election address. He used the time-honoured tactic of calling for something to be done which is already taking place so that he would be able to claim credit for it.

In paragraph (a) of their motion the Opposition talk about "rigorous management". I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone else that local authorities throughout the country have made tremendous efforts to limit their expenditure. It was evident to me that the 50 local authorities in the Midland region that I studied had made great efforts to restrict their expenditure. The average of the 50 authorities was an additional 10 per cent. on domestic rates after taking into account inflation and including water authorities.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). I ask my right hon. Friend to deal with the water shortage. In industrial areas it is assumed serious proportions.

The subject of rates brings us inevitably to the Layfield Report. I noted with interest that the hon. Member for Aylesbury called for reform. That is in some distinction to what his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition calls for—namely, the abolition of the rating system. She does so without saying what will take its place.

This is not a new matter for those who have been involved in local government. It has been the subject of many investigations over the years. So far we have failed to provide a viable alternative. I hope that we can do so, but it is not easy. No one should imagine that there is a simple approach.

As regards local authority expenditure, I welcome the fact that the authorities are now involved in the planning of national expenditure on a continuing basis through the consultative councils. This is a big step forward. I hope that it will be nourished and encouraged. The fact of life in local government is that expenditure cannot be turned on and off like a tap. I hope that there will be a more corporate approach. I have vivid memories of coming here and having three meetings where one would have done.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury said "Take a chance next Thursday". I hope that the people in Coventry will remember the last time that they took a chance. I hope that they will remember the shambles that we had to pick up.