§ 15. Mr. Michael Spicer
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he plans to meet representatives of the Association of County Councils.
§ Mr. Spicer
When the Secretary of State next meets the representatives of the 1248 ACC, will he tell them—particularly in view of answers given today to the effect that the rates in most counties are likely to go up by about 30 per cent.—whether the Government have any plans to reform this increasingly unfair method of taxation?
§ Mr. Shore
I do not accept that, and I repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I have said to the House on previous occasions, but not today, that, following the change in the allocation of needs element between shire counties and shire districts, there is an exceptional and inevitable increase in county rates this time, just as we believe there will be a somewhat exceptional reduction in shire district rates as a consequence of that change.
§ Mr. Grocott
Will my right hon. Friend point out to the Association of County Councils that its reactions to his plans for organic change have been entirely predictable and very boring? Does he agree that by far and away the best form of local government that this country has seen is the county borough form of local government, which was largely controlled by the Labour Party? Does he look forward, with me, to the day when we shall have unitary authorities throughout the country and get rid of county councils and the Association of County Councils?
§ Mr. Shore
I readily endorse my hon. Friend's tribute to the work of the county boroughs in the past, and I very much regret the way in which they were submerged in the reorganisation of 1972. May I encourage my hon. Friend now to look to the future? I understand that the proposals that we have put forward for organic change—for giving more powers to districts and taking some of the powers away from the remote counties—now have the agreement and endorsement, at least in principle, of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). That, after all, is a quite considerable conversion.
§ Mr. Heseltine
When the Secretary of State meets the ACC, will he discuss with it its recent publication on the growth of central Government control over local authorities? Will he explore the values to the ratepayer and taxpayer which could emerge if there were a freeing of the discretions of local government and the benefits which could come as a result 1249 of the greater efficiency and the lower cost of far less detailed central scrutiny?
§ Mr. Shore
I shall discuss that with the ACC. Indeed, I willingly joined the local authorities and encouraged them to set up precisely this study. I hope, however, that my discussions with the ACC will not be confined to those matters. I very much want to hear the results of the studies in which the ACC is engaged in the new working party set up by the hon. Gentleman to consider further the question of organic change.