Political Advertising (Local Authorities)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th February 1987.

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Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Staffordshire Mid 12:00 am, 4th February 1987

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further plans the Government have to control large amounts of money spent by local authorities on political advertising.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

Later this Session we shall introduce legislation to reinforce the 1986 Act and will publish the code for which the Act provides.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Staffordshire Mid

I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement. Is it not a disgrace, and will my hon. Friend confirm, that all eight of the inner London authorities highlighted by the Audit Commission as verging on bankruptcy engaged in political propaganda and advertising at the ratepayers' expense? Will my hon. Friend have time during his busy day to look at the January edition of "Sanity" and observe that local authorities from the north of Scotland to London are wasting £2,500 or more of ratepayers' money simply issuing messages of peace and goodwill? Would it not be better if they were advertising prudence and common sense to the ratepayers?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

My attention has been drawn to some of the advertisements in the January edition of "Sanity". I suspect that most of the advertisements inserted by the local authorities are already illegal and that there is no need to impose further legislation. I hope that those authorities will be referred to the relevant auditors.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

Why did the Minister not slap down his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) for tabling such an outrageous question? Is the Minister aware that Conservative local authorities also advertise in political magazines and newspapers? What about the Tory press? Why does the Minister not be fair on this issue?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I am not aware of any Conservative-controlled authorities—

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

What about Wandsworth?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

—including Wandsworth, which advertise in party political publications. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any, I should be delighted to write to those authorities in just the same strong terms as I would to a Labour-controlled authority.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dickens Mr Geoffrey Dickens , Littleborough and Saddleworth

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is rather ironic that the very Left-wing councils which complain and bleat about Government cuts—which of course do not exist or are caused by their own overspending—spend hundreds of thousands of pounds each year on political propaganda? It must be stopped, and it will be stopped.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I agree completely with my hon. Friend, except that he understates the problem. It is not hundreds of thousands of pounds, but millions of pounds that are being wasted.