Special Charging Orders

Part of Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 5th April 1982.

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Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes 8:45 pm, 5th April 1982

I have sympathy with what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) said. Parish councils have tended to be the Cinderella of local authorities since 1972, but they are important.

When a parish council expresses an opinion to a Member of Parliament, one knows that is the opinion of elected representatives, not a pressure group. Some parish councils have been adversely affected because the parish rate does not always go to the parish but is absorbed by a district council, in much the same way as some EEC grants go into the Treasury maw rather than into the areas to which they should be directed. Parish councils feel that acutely.

The parish of Halewood in my constituency is big and rich. Ford operates there. The parish calls itself the town council and is regarded as such by many inhabitants. It does a tremendous amount of work in Halewood. It does more than Knowsley district council can do, because it is closer to the inhabitants and more akin to their needs.

I listened carefully to the debate. I am not sure that the new clause is the appropriate way to deal with the difficulty. I accept the Minister's view on that aspect. However, it is not beyond the wit of Her Majesty's Government to introduce an amendment in another place if the new clause is unsatisfactory.

The clause was drafted by laymen, not by Government draftsmen. Nevertheless, the Government should accept that there is a problem and that, if possible, it should be dealt with in another place. If not, the Government may be assured that hon. Members on both sides of the House will come back to this matter to do right by parish councils, whether they call themselves parish or town councils. Parish, town or community councils are often much nearer to the wishes of an area's inhabitants than the gigantic district councils created by the Local Government Act 1972.

Many urban and rural district councils, which were councils in their own right until 1972, opted to become parish or town councils. The hon. Member for Edge Hill referred to an urban area. Halewood has a population of between 20,000 and 30,000. If it were not in the sort of urban areas that the hon. Gentleman and I represent, it would be regarded as a major county town.

I accept that this may not be the right new clause, but I hope that the Government will listen carefully to what the hon. Member for Edge Hill said about it. I hope that the Government will introduce a new clause in another place which will do effectively what the hon. Gentleman wants. I assure the Government that if they do not do that, the Opposition—including the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties—will put considerable pressure on them. There will also be pressure from the Government's supporters because many of these parish councils are controlled by them. Such councils do an extremely good job, no matter who controls them.

I hope that the Minister will assure the whole House that an attempt will be made in another place to remedy the defects in the present system that have existed since 1972.