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I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Last year my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State was warmly applauded by local authorities when he was able to announce the targets in July. I hope that I shall be able to do the same if not in July—;we did, after all, miss a month for the election—;then early next month. I know that that too will be welcome. The most important thing for local authorities to know is what their spending targets are. That is important and was done.
The debate gives me an opportunity once again to spell out the Government's policy. It is important for all those who make decisions in this area to know what that policy
is. The Government have a clear commitment to control local authority expenditure. That commitment was endorsed at the general election last month when our manifesto stated clearly:
We shall maintain firm control of public spending and borrowing.
There should be no doubt in the minds of local authorities as to the strength of that commitment.
I should perhaps draw the attention of the House to one of the most astonishing statements that I have read from the pen of an Opposition Front Bench spokesman for a long time. The right hon. Member for Gorton had an article published in The Times of Monday under the title "Passing the Town Hall Buck". What he wrote demonstrated that despite his years as a Minister at the Department of the Environment his understanding of public expenditure is precisely nil. I shall read the key sentence in what the right hon. Gentleman wrote.