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Municipal Enterprise

Volume 977: debated on Wednesday 30 January 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy on the future development of municipal enterprise.

Now that the right hon. Member has turned his back completely on the tradition of Chamberlain, is he not prepared to encourage municipal enterprise? Why has he put legislation before the House which indicates that he thinks that central Government know more than local authorities about the running of their direct labour organisations?

:If Chamberlain had seen as much of municipal enterprise as I have, he might have had a rather different view from the one the hon. Member puts forward.

:Has my right hon. Friend seen the splendid example of municipal enterprise in the proposal for the in-house architects' department of the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea to form itself into a private consultancy? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this will bring financial benefits to the ratepayers and the council, and will ensure job security for those architects?

I have certainly seen the suggestion that the architects employed by that authority should have the opportunity to set themselves up as a free enterprise company. This is a very interesting initiative and one which should be considered on a much wider scale.

In view of the Secretary of State's concern about the development of municipal enterprise, what advice is he prepared to give to the mayor and leader of his own local council at Henley, who resigned this week, and to the five Conservative councillors from Henley who have called a special meeting of the council to consider the development of the £3·5 million new office block being financed by the majority Conservative group on the local council?

It is difficult for me to comment about individual decisions of individual authorities. If I dare to trespass over the dividing lines which beset every Secretary of State, I should point out that I was concerned when the local authority in South Oxfordshire decided to move forward over the building of a new headquarters. I was not Secretary of State at the time. As the hon. Mem- ber will remember, the council moved in that direction with the support of the Liberal vote.

I cannot comment on anything that has happened in that authority since I became Secretary of State. I can only report the facts, on which the House may care to make a judgment. There was much widespread debate. The local Conservative Party called an emergency meeting at which, by an overwhelming majority, it was decided to advise councillors not to proceed with the decision to build a new headquarters. That matter is totally within the decision of the local councillors. Some Conservative councillors have now called an emergency meeting of the council and it will be for the council—asa result of that meeting—to decide what to do. I wish to make one other point—[Interruption]

Order. We really have been patient with the right hon. Gentleman. I think that he should finish answering the question.

I had only one more point to make Mr. Speaker. In my opinion, in this case we can rely on the good sense of the Conservative Party.


On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to the last question answered by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The fact is that hon. Members, including myself, are often refused permission to put down questions on the grounds that responsibility for the Conservative Party is not a matter for Ministers. Indeed, recently I tried to put down a question to the Prime Minister about the document called "The Right Approach"—it is rather tattered and shabby now—but I was refused permission to do so. Today the Secretary of State for the Environment discussed the internal matters of the Conservative Party—at least in his Henley constituency. It seems as if he has set a precedent. Will you let us know in due time, Mr. Speaker, whether questions relating to Conservative Party policy can now be tabled in the House since the Secretary of State for the Environment seems to want to answer them with such alacrity.

:I think that it is within the memory of the House that the Secretary of State for the Environment, having heard his constituency mentioned, reacted in the same way as any other right hon. or hon. Member would have reacted in similar circumstances. He wanted to put the record right—in that case at any rate. It is not to be taken as a precedent that the internal affairs of either of the major parties, or indeed of any of the other parties, is a responsibility—

:Order. The hon. Gentleman can see that. I am on my feet. I am about to conclude. Nobody here is personally responsible to this House for the internal affairs of any of the parties.

:Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I really do need your guidance. I had understood that when a Minister is a Minister he cannot divorce himself from that fact or, indeed, adopt another entity. Are we to understand now that when the Minister answers from the Dispatch Box in his ministerial capacity he can divide himself in half?

The matter is quite simple. I recall that when I had the honour to be Secretary of State for Wales, if anyone mentioned Cardiff, West I was on my feet in a second. That is what happened today.