House Of Commons
Monday 8 July 1985
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
CAMBRIDGE CITY COUNCIL BILL
Read the third time, and passed.
Oral Answers To Questions
Unemployment And Health
asked the Secretary of State for Wales what studies are available to him of the relationship between unemployment and health; what consideration he has given to them; and if he will make a statement.
My right hon. Friend and I are aware that a number of studies have considered whether there might be any relationship between unemployment and health. All have shown how difficult it is to isolate the factors which contribute to the need for health care. We are committed to targeting health care resources in response to needs, no matter how those needs arise.
Is the Minister aware that at least 3,000 people have died because of unemployment, according to official data based on the 1971 census figures? Is he further aware that thousands more people have become chronically sick as a result of unemployment? How many more people have to die because of the Government's policies?
I repeat that there is no direct proven causal connection between unemployment and ill health. I remind the hon. Lady that when she last alleged that connection' in the Welsh Grand Committee in March, and I asked her for the material on which she based her view, she sent me an article from The Lancet, which simply reiterated what I have just said — that it is extremely difficult to prove any causal connection.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a close relationship between strike action, health and unemployment, in that many of the strikes that have been supported —
Order. The question is about unemployment and health.
I was about to point out, Mr. Speaker, that strike action creates unemployment. Does not strike action in the Health Service lengthen the waiting lists for inpatients and outpatients? How did the strike action in 1981 affect those waiting lists?
There is no doubt, because the figures prove it, that the strike action in the Health Service to which my hon. Friend referred lengthened the waiting lists.
Do not all the reports on the valley towns show the deepening crisis and the social consequences — no doubt partly due to mass unemployment, but also to other factors? Rather than making such complacent replies, why do the Minister and his right hon. Friend not go to the Cabinet to try to obtain the additional resources needed to fight the consequences of their policies?
Of course there are reports from the valley towns, but, quite frankly, the reports to which the right hon. Gentleman referred and their conclusions are certainly not helped by, for example, strike action. There is a housing problem in the Cynon Valley, represented by the hon. Lady, but it was not improved by the coal strike.
May I ask—
What has the coal strike to do with it?
Order. We must get back to unemployment and health.
Will the Minister tell us how many of those unemployed in the Health Service in Wales will be unemployed next year?
The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a tremendous increase in staffing in the NHS in Wales.
I shall answer the hon. Gentleman. There was a 15·6 per cent. increase in front-line staff in the NHS in Wales between 1979 and 1984.On current pay awards, it is very much to be hoped that they can be contained within the increased allocations given to health authorities in Wales, with, perhaps, a certain amount more being saved by authorities.
The Minister would do well to read today's Western Mail, in which Mr. Rodger Dobson's compelling and disturbing article relates the link between unemployment and bad health. Does the Minister understand that the Sneddon family, and tens of thousands like them throughout Wales, desperately need the hope of work? Was not the brutal message from Brecon that the people of Wales want more work and an end to unemployment?
One of the messages of Brecon and Radnor was that the Labour party has little to crow about today. Of course we all want a decline in unemployment.
asked the Secretary of State for Wales what information he has as to the percentage of workers in Wales employed in firms, industries, services or processes that have been established in Wales since 1965.
Comprehensive information is not available. However, new manufacturing units known to have opened in Wales since the end of 1965 and still in production directly provide some 72,000 manufacturing jobs, some 35 per cent. of the total number of employees in employment in manufacturing as at December 1984.
Is it not clear that those figures do not give the whole picture? Should not the Government concentrate greater resources on promoting the growth of new jobs and new industries and not on attempting to arrest the necessary decline of some traditional industries?
Although I agree that we should not attempt to arrest necessary decline, the introduction of new technology and the modernisation of existing industry is an important contribution to economic recovery. Some 400 manufacturing plants have opened since May 1979 and they already provide about 18,000 jobs. Many have only just started to take on employees and will provide considerably more jobs in due course.
I am aware that the Secretary of State and his Department have done much to attract new industries to south Wales, but will he devote the same attention to existing industries? When W. Ribbons in the Rhonnda wanted some help from the Department, the Secretary of State was swanning around Finland. What did he bring back from Finland?
The hon. Gentleman might be unaware that I went at the invitation of a company which directly employs 250 people in north Wales and which will provide 800 or 900 jobs in the forestry industry in Wales. I also visited a company which is the 50 per cent. shareholder of British Tissues, which employs many hundreds of people in south Wales. As the hon. Gentleman says, helping the development of existing industry is important. I hope that he will not belittle our efforts to ensure that those industries are strengthened and enlarged.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have a creditable record in promoting new jobs since 1979, especially through overseas investment in Wales? Does he further agree that that record could be even better if it were not for the negative chorus from the Opposition, who revel in high unemployment and all things unattractive?
Inward investment from overseas is undoubtedly an important contributory factor to the modernisation of Welsh industry, but we should not exaggerate. Of the 1,000 or so manufacturing units which still exist and have come into being during the past 20 years, only about 65 represent direct inward investment, whereas nearly half represent small companies starting up new businesses. That type of indigenous development is important for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman is far too complacent. He has not told us, for example, about Inmos today. Does he realise that under his regime 103,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared in Wales since he took office? Did not the Brecon electorate brutally dismiss his policies as wretched failures? Is it not the case that the policies must be changed or the endangered species behind him will lose their seats?
I do not believe that anything that I said to the House about the changes necessary in industry showed complacency. What is undoubtedly a matter of congratulation is that we are attracting new jobs. Since last Question Time there has been the announcement from Control Data at Brynmawr of 100 new jobs, from Shopco (U.K.) Ltd of 100 new jobs and that NDN Aircraft is to manufacture new aircraft in Cardiff creating 100 new jobs. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the announcement by Seddons in the Delyn enterprise zone that it will take on about 250 people. I am not for one moment suggesting that we do not need a great deal more, but to suggest that that record of attracting new business and new industry smacks of complacency is absurd.
Secondary Schools (Expenditure)
asked the Secretary of State for Wales how much was spent per pupil in secondary schools in Wales in the most recent year for which figures are available; and how this compares with the figure for 1978–79, at constant prices.
At 1983–84 prices, spending per secondary school pupil in Wales was £905 in 1978–79 and £1,006 in 1983–84. That is an increase of 11 per cent.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures show satisfactory improvements since 1978–79? Do the Government intend to make more resources available for Welsh language education?
The figures are satisfactory, yes, but I am never satisfied. The charge of complacency levelled against us on any issue is a parrot cry. The figures are a refutation of the parrot cry about cuts. There has been no cut. There has been an 11 per cent. increase. In reply to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I have been giving careful consideration to calls for the establishment of a Welsh language education development body. When I met a deputation of six different Welsh language groups on that issue on 25 June—
Come on. The hon. Gentleman is taking too long.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has a genius for interruption, but makes little constructive contribution. At that meeting I made it clear that I would not hold out any false hopes, because I must consider resources for Welsh language education alongside all other competing calls, and reconcile my final decision within the overriding public expenditure constraints, which are essential if we are to maintain the economy on the right lines.
Will the hon. Gentleman give similar figures in relation to school books and school library expenditure? I do not know whether he has children attending Welsh secondary schools. We have, and we notice the dog-eared books that they are bringing home, the lack of books and the shared books. Will we return to the slate and the chalk under this Government?
Capitation and the management of their resources is entirely a matter for the local authorities and not for central Government.
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the other changes in secondary schools in Wales since 1979, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, has been the sharp fall in the number of pupils, and that resources for pupils might be better employed were some authorities to consider school amalgamations.
Yes, of course, Mr. Speaker. I accept that local education authorities have a difficult task to perform against a background of falling rolls. I have asked them to come to see me so that we may discuss that matter constructively to see how best it can be resolved.
Does the Minister appreciate that the rosy picture that he is trying to paint is not borne out by the facts? For example, the teachers' dispute drags on, and without a contented labour force to take charge of the schools our children will be at a disadvantage. When will the Government provide the means to bring about a just settlement for the teachers?
As the House will be aware, the Government's position has been made clear all along. There is no question of more money to fund an excessive public sector wages settlement. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that responsibility for the teachers' pay negotiations does not rest with me.
asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the latest level of unemployment in North Wales.
Current levels of unemployment remain high, but considerable progress continues to be made in developing the area and attracting new investment.
Is the Minister aware that, under this Government, unemployment in north Wales has nearly doubled? Is that not a disgrace? Does the Secretary of State accept that job losses in the steel and textile industries, particularly in the Flint area, affect regions such as Merseyside, which, over the weekend, saw another 700 jobs lost at the Plessey factory at Huyton? When does the Secretary of State expect the economy to upturn so that we can provide more jobs in north Wales and Merseyside?
I am aware of the problems in north Wales and Merseyside. That is one of the reasons why the Government have spent some £350 million on roads and industrial infrastructure and enterprise zones in Clwyd since we came into office in 1979.
I joined my right hon. Friend in welcoming last week's announcement that the garment manufacturer Seddons is to set up a new plant in Delyn enterprise zone, employing initially 140 people. Is he aware that Delyn borough council expects to make a further significant job announcement within the next month?
I noticed Mr. Sharps doing a television broadcast recently in which he was optimistic about the prospects for that enterprise trust. I congratulate the local authority on the drive and energy that it has been putting behind the zone.
When will the Secretary of State be in a position to make an announcement about the availability of EC aid in areas of rural north Wales which are not at the moment within assisted area zones?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are still considering that matter. I cannot gibe him a firm date.
The right hon. Gentleman is too serene in his ignorance. Is it not the case that in Clwyd and Gwynedd there are 37,000 jobless people and some 2,000 vacancies? Has he the guts to tell the Prime Minister to change her economic policy, or does he remain her lackey?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware, if he visits his constituency, of the considerable new investment there, and the fact that it is one of the most attractive areas in the whole of the United Kingdom for foreign investment and for new companies setting up. That should be a matter for pleasure and congratulation.
asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest unemployment figures available for the Wrexham area and for Wales.
Some 7,736 and 173,422 respectively.
The Secretary of State knows that he was unable to do anything about the Courtaulds closure. Dunlop is now proposing to close, and the Secretary of State, in an answer to me on Friday, was able to say only that he could take into account Clwyd's detailed proposals for allocation of planned resources. Will the Secretary of State do something to avert the closure at Dunlop? If he cannot, how long will he stay as Secretary of State, with the appalling level of unemployment in the Principality? The right hon. Gentleman should either do something about it or resign.
The hon. Gentleman should remember that in the past 12 months, in the Wrexham area, Laura Ashley, Metal Box, F.W. Bender, TetraPak and Sharp Corporation have announced new or major expansion projects. I have already pointed out that the Government have spent at least £350 million on industrial measures in Clwyd, and we shall continue to use every means at our disposal to attract new investment to the area.
Given the fruitless hard work that the Secretary of State for Wales recently put into the Brecon and Radnor by-election, and as unemployment was one of the main issues at Brecon, what statement will the right hon. Gentleman make on the by-election result? Does he not think that he owes to Wales, now that it has given its verdict on his employment policy, a full statement as to what new steps are to be taken? Will he merely repeat the old lessons and tell Wales that under this Government it must endure the same sort of unemployment as we have seen in the past few years? Has the Minister no comment to make on the Brecon and Radnor result?
All political parties should consider carefully the results of by-elections. I shall do so. The Labour party will no doubt also consider the complete panic of the electorate when it suddenly realised that might elect a Labour Member of Parliament. When one watches and listens to the performance of the hon. Gentleman, who can blame it?
Just which of the policies being advanced by the Opposition does my right hon. Friend consider would be most productive in bringing fresh jobs into Wales?
One feature of the Brecon and Radnor by-election was that the Opposition parties did not advance any policies, and that they were careful not to do so. The only close ally and supporter of the Labour party who advanced any policies was Mr. Scargill. He was the gentleman whom everybody on the Opposition Benches supported throughout the strike but who was so destructive of Welsh industry and Welsh employment.
How would the Secretary of State explain to the man on the top deck of the Brecon omnibus the logic of falling regional aid at a time of rising unemployment? Does the new "middle way" include a rethink of regional policy?
I know enough about Brecon and Radnor to know that they do not have double-decker buses there.
Despite the arrogance of the Secretary of State in his replies to some of the questions, particularly about unemployment in Wales and the Brecon and Radnor by-election, is he prepared to offer the House and the country an apology for his statement regarding disabled people when he referred to the Brecon and Radnor by-election?
Order. That is very wide of this question, which deals with unemployment.
None the less, Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to say that I have already written to a number of people expressing my regret and apologies for a carelessly phrased off-the-cuff remark that I should not have made. As someone who has introduced a major measure for the improvement of the care of the mentally handicapped and who has a close relative who is mentally handicapped, the last thing that I should wish to do would be to cause offence. Of course I apologise.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
Order. I shall take points of order later. We are running behind time.
Vale Of Glamorgan (Road Traffic)
asked the Secretary of State for Wales what recent complaints and reports he has received of excessive traffic of heavy vehicles on roads for which he is responsible within the area of the Vale of Glamorgan; what discussions he has had with the highway authority on the matter; and what steps are contemplated to reduce or divert such traffic.
I am responsible only for trunk roads within the Vale of Glamorgan area, but I am aware of the problems that have arisen on county roads and have received representations from my hon. Friend and others about the heavy lorries travelling through Dinas Powys, Llysworney and Colwinston. I hope that the matter can be resolved in the very near future.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the excessive traffic of heavy vehicles on some of these roads has underlined the need for bypasses of Dinas Powys, Aberthin Llysworney and Colwinston? The county council asserts that the lack of capital funds limits its ability to carry out these projects. Will my hon. Friend discuss these matters with the county council?
My officials are in touch with the county council and I know that it has traffic management proposals in mind for the immediate future. It has in mind proposals for a bypass of Dinas Powys and in addition is considering the possibility of traffic management measures. I am also informed that the county council is considering whether to include in its programme the proposed bypass of Llysworney. However, I must remind the House that the priority given to any of these road improvement schemes and to any scheme at Colwinston is a matter for the county council.
asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many people in Wales are jobless; how many were jobless in May 1979; by how much the total has increased as a figure and as a percentage; and what is the current figure of long-term unemployed.
On 13 June 1985 there were 173,422 unemployed claimants in Wales. The increase over the estimated equivalent figure of 77,200 in May 1979 is 96,222 or 124·6 per cent. The latest figure for the long-term unemployed relates to April 1985, when 75,573 had been unemloyed in Wales for over one year.
Given those frightening figures, why cannot Wales benefit from a major change in economic policy? Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that the Welsh people want their welfare state strengthened and unemployment tackled with urgency? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the rejection at Brecon and Radnor of his personal nominee, Mr. Butler, who was an adviser of the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman, represents a crushing vote of no confidence in Welsh Office Ministers?
I agree that the Brecon and Radnor electorate want the welfare state to be strengthened. That aim will continue to be the Government's policy. The economic growth that is taking place provides the best guarantee for future employment. I very much welcome the recent statements by the CBI Welsh Council, which show the growing optimism of those in industry for economic activity in Wales.
Is there not much evidence throughout the Western world that politicians and other people are most anxious that economic recovery should lead to a reduction in unemployment? Is it not nonsense to pretend that there are people in this country who want high unemployment?
Whatever is happening in the rest of the Western world, can the right hon. Gentleman give my constitutuents any reassurance about the proposed closure of the Cardiff veterinary investigation centre, with the halving of staff numbers, and the possible loss of 200 staff in the Export Credits Guarantee Department? This morning I received representations from two constituents who are worried about their future employment.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food put forward a consultative paper on the future of the veterinary service. We are considering representations on that matter. On the ECGD, I understand that the management has put forward some proposals for future re-organisation within the ECGD. At present, no details of the manpower consequences are available. This matter is at an early stage of consultation.
Will my right hon. Friend remind the Labour party that last year Wales obtained nearly a quarter of the total jobs created by inward investment in the United Kingdom — four times as many as Labour's feeble Welsh Office team created during the Labour Government's last year of office?
That is true. We have had that remarkable record for a part of the United Kingdom that represents 5 per cent. of the population. I am glad to say that, of the 1,000 or so manufacturing units in Wales that are known to have opened during the past 20 years, about 400–40 per cent.— have opened since May 1979.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the unemployment percentages that he cited in answer to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) will he further increased by redundancies at BP Llandarcy and Star Wrought Products at Briton Ferry? One thousand jobs have been lost during the past three months in the borough of Neath. When will the right hon. Gentleman change his regional policies? Does he not realise that, because of the policies pursued by the Labour Government, when he came to office unemployment in Neath was much lower than it is now? When will the right hon. Gentleman do something about this? Why does he not get out?
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would at least welcome the decrease of about 5,000 in unemployment in Wales compared with last month and the considerable relative improvement in Neath's position. That improvement was introduced during the last regional policy review.
M4 (Coryton Junction)
asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he now expects to carry out repairs to the area of badly pitted road surface on the westbound carriageway of the M4 at a point about three and a half miles east of the Coryton junction.
I am pleased to say that repair work was completed on 24 June.
On 14 February the Minister told me that remedial work would take place as soon as weather conditions improved. As it has taken a considerable time to remedy the position, will the hon. Gentleman look seriously at the possibility of lighting the whole of the M4 in Wales? When repairs are needed, potential accident spots occur. Better lighting would reduce risks and the danger to lives when people are travelling on the motorway.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that I advised him on 14 February last that remedial works would take place as soon as weather conditions permitted, because repairs of this nature are best carried out in favourable weather. The point about lighting is quite outwith the terms of the question, but I shall consider the matter. I give no undertaking.
As the road in question is located in my constituency, may I urge my hon. Friend to squash flat any notion that the M4 is a disincentive in attracting people to come to Cardiff, as has happened with the way in which the Severn bridge has been hyped up out of all proportion by the media and by Opposition Members?
I am in complete sympathy with the point of view of my hon. Friend. I believe that a disservice has been done by exaggerating any difficulties that may have occurred at the Severn bridge or anywhere else on the M4.
Is it not time that the Welsh Office took more interest in what is happening on the M4? For instance, can the hon. Gentle man tell the House what steps have been taken by his Department to notify the disabled of their right to travel free over the Severn bridge, particularly bearing in mind the exorbitant increases that are in operation?
I will, of course, look into the matter to see exactly what steps have been taken, and will let the hon. Gentleman know. I totally reject any suggestion that my Department has not been very closely involved in anything to do with the M4 in relation to its importance to the south Wales economy.
asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he is satisfied with the operation of the European Economic Community's sheepmeat regime in Wales; and if he will make a statement.
Yes, Sir. The sheepmeat regime has brought substantial benefits to Welsh sheep producers, who have a guaranteed price for fat lambs under the sheep variable premium scheme. Breeders also benefit from an annual premium on ewes and the breeding flock has been increasing by 2 to 3 per cent. a year. In the last full marketing year, 1983–84, the regime resulted in payments of £56·8 million to Welsh sheep producers.
How can the Secretary of State be satisfied with the operation of a regime which is now being used to penalise sheepmeat producers in the United Kingdom, and in Wales in particular? Is he satisfied with the present gap operating in the premia and what is his view of the future of the premium? Will it be phased out by the Community?
We have fought resolutely for the sheepmeat regime, which this Government introduced, and which has led to the substantial increase in the flock in Wales. I believe that is has made an enormous contribution to the rural economy. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it was not possible to secure entirely satisfactory modifications to the clawback arrangements, to which I think he was referring. However, we shall continue to press for changes to alleviate the difficulties caused by clawback. The exemption from clawback for our exports outside the Community has been renewed to the end of 1987.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the industry wants him to make a better fight for the sheep farmer than he did for the small dairy farmer?
As I pointed out, we are talking about the sheepmeat regime, which was introduced by this Government in 1980 and which has been the biggest boost to the sheep industry in Wales that there has ever been.
asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest figures for unemployment in (a) Ogmore, (b) Mid-Glamorgan and (c) Wales; what were the equivalent figures in May 1979; and what is the percentage increase in each case.
On 13 June 1985 the number of unemployed claimants were 4,545, 34,657 and 173,422 respectively. In Wales the comparable figure is 77,200 in May 1979, representing an increase of 124·6 per cent. A comparable claimant-based figure for 1979 in Ogmore and Mid-Glamorgan is not available.
Does the Secretary of State realise that the 124 per cent. increase since 1979 about which he talks means, so far as Ogmore is concerned, that, with the closure of St. John's colliery, as a result of which 830 miners have lost their jobs, the percentage increase could rise to such an extent that 45 per cent. of male people in Maesteg will be seeking employment? Does he not think it is time that the Government, as a result of their defeat in the Brecon and Radnor by-election, changed their economic and social policies, and looked seriously at communities such as Maesteg, which suffer so badly when a colliery is closed?
I understand the problems of communities such as Maesteg, but during the past year projects from Invacare, Acrian, Align Rite, Biomet and the Chronar Corporation have been announced in the Bridgend area and promise about 1,200 new jobs. There are problems among the older industries, but we are succeeding in attracting many of the new technologies and new industries to the area.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the statements of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) would sound rather more convincing if he had not supported the miners' strike, despite the fact that 70 per cent. of the miners in his constituency voted against it? However, we are all concerned about unemployment and I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend has any news about future employment prospects at Borg Warner at Kenvig Hill, which are extremely important to my constituency?
My hon. Friend will know that about 600 jobs at Borg Warner have been under threat for a considerable time. It was with a good deal of pleasure that we heard that the company is proposing a new use for the factory and has applied for selective financial assistance, which is being considered by the Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board. I am deeply concerned that the proposals that the Borg Warner management has put to the work force appear to have been rejected. I hope that the members of the work force will consider carefully the future of the plant. It would be tragic if the prospect of 600 secure jobs were put at risk by a careless and irresponsible approach to a serious proposition from the management.
asked the Paymaster-General how many staff in his Department have the responsibility for providing the Treasury with up-to-date information on central Government expenditure; and if he will make a statement.
One member of my Department's staff, a senior executive officer, is responsible for providing the Treasury with details of the amounts being paid out to meet the claims arising against central Government accounts during the course of the day's banking operations. In addition, three times each month computer tapes containing detailed analyses of voted expenditure authorised by Government Departments during the previous month are sent to the Treasury. These are produced by a computer system maintained by 13 clerical and technical staff.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. In view of the deserved reputation that his Department has in its efficient role in acting as the Government's banker, will he tell us whether he has received any representations or complaints about his role? Does he accept that it would be a good idea if the responsibilities of his Department were extended so that the Department acted as the banker for local authorities, bearing in mind the continual overshoot of local councils, which are responsible for about a quarter of all public expenditure?
I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that my staff in the Paymaster General's office have a deserved reputation for carrying out the Department's role as the Government's banker extremely efficiently. If that role were to be extended, that would be a matter for the Treasury. There is no doubt that the staff do an extremely good job.
Would it not be useful if the hon. Gentleman, as Paymaster General and chairman of the Conservative party, informed the Cabinet that there is no enthusiasm throughout the country for further public spending cuts? Surely that is the No. 1 lesson from the result of the Brecon and Radnor by-election. Why do Ministers go on about the presentation of policy when what is at issue is the policy itself?
If the hon. Gentleman had bothered to examine the facts he would have learnt that Government expenditure cuts in the National Health Service, for example, amounted to considerable increases in spending in real terms. The Government are now spending more per child in school than at any time in our history, again in real terms. The hon. Gentleman would do better to check his facts before speaking in the House. If he did that, he would never speak.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he has some say in looking after the nation's finances with such a minute staff. Does he realise that not everyone shares the desire of the Opposition for greater public expenditure? Does he further realise that if public expenditure is to be reduced, even his small staff could become smaller still?
We should boast about the expansion of public expenditure where that is a good thing, and provide better services and boast, too, about the cutting of public expenditure when that reduces the waste that was so much a mark of the Labour Government.
Is it the Government's policy to make cuts and represent them as increases, or to make increases and represent them as cuts?
It is the Government's policy not to find themselves going to the International Monetary Fund as a debtor nation, but to continue to be a nation respected throughout the world for financial probity, which was not the mark of the Government when the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister.
Will my hon. Friend ensure that none of the civil servants at present concerned with the administration of pensions will be transferred to providing other statistics for the Treasury?
That certainly would not be a good thing, because since 1984 there have been only two complaints from Members of Parliament about the administration of pensions, although we provide 1·1 million pensioners with their pensions every year. That is a very good comment about my staff, in this, their 150th anniversary year.
As chairman of the Conservative party, does the hon. Gentleman support the view that the disastrous decline of the Conservative vote in Brecon and Radnor is due entirely to presentation, not policies?
A bit wide, I think.
The question asked by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) has little to do with my responsibilities as Paymaster General, but I am willing to answer it in my role as chairman of the Conservative party. The answer is simply this—
Order. Two wrongs will not make it right. We should stick to the Paymaster General's responsibilities.
I shall answer as Paymaster General. We monitor Government expenditure, and we see clearly that the Government are spending more money in the areas that matter and less where it would be wasted.
Bearing in mind that my hon. Friend acts as the Government's banker, is he satisfied that his 840 members of staff are monitoring properly and most carefully the payment of all cheques coming out of the Crawley offices? Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is his aim not only to reduce the number of cheques being paid but to reduce public expenditure, something of which the Conservative party should be proud?
I adhere to the principle that this nation should reduce the proportion of its wealth that is spent by the Government and continue to increase the proportion of its wealth that is spent by the people who make it. That must be the principle of government. It is also the principle of government to ensure that those in need are effectively helped. For that reason we have increased Government expenditure in the areas where it provides decent homes, schools, Health Service facilities and pensions. I am proud of our record in all those areas.
On the principle of spending more money where it matters and less where it goes to waste, is the Paymaster General proud of the fact that since 1979 expenditure on overseas aid has decreased by 18 per cent. and is now at the lowest level ever?
I am proud of the fact that in a period of extreme difficulty we have a better record on overseas aid than almost any other country in the world.
Is the Paymaster General aware that, in spite of the hard work of the staff in his Department, Ministers, including the Chancellor, who does not seem to know whether he has found a "middle way" or, public spending, have made confused and conflicting statements about the role of public spending? How many staff in his Department will be transferred from providing information to providing public relations, in a belated effort, following the Brecon disaster, to soften the Government's hard-nosed image on public spending? Will not that PR in itself be a substitute for any effort to restore public spending cuts?
The hon. Lady seems to have failed to remember that the disaster of Brecon and Radnor was the fact that her leader placed his own personal reputation on the line — [Interruption.] — and three quarters of her right hon. and hon. Friends went down to show that he did. The fact of Brecon and Radnor was this: once the people there feared that they might have a Labour Member of Parliament they did everything in their power to make sure that Labour's candidate did not win.
asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has had any recent discussions with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation concerning the future of Llanwern steelworks.
I met the chairman in May and in June for wide-ranging discussions.
How much longer is the haggling, which is doing untold harm to the steelworks, to go on? Why do the Government not resolve to reaffirm the stand taken by the Secretary of State for the Environment in December 1982, which was that the five integrated plants should remain? Why do they not also announce the Concast scheme for Llanwern?
In a debate in which the hon. Gentleman took part, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry said that the corporate plan would be presented to the Government by the end of July. In the light of that, I have nothing further to add, except to repeat that I am confident about the future of Llanwern.
Will the Secretary of State finally bring this matter to a conclusion? Can he not tell the country and the House that Llanwern will go ahead, and that it has a wonderful record? Will he finally make his mind up on the matter?
I have made my position and my confidence in the future of Llanwern absolutely clear. The right hon. Gentleman, who has had experience of the closure of steelworks while in government, will know that there are many difficult issues to be resolved about the future capacity and plans of the industry. The proper way for the Government to proceed is to wait for the proposals of the British Steel Corporation in its corporate plan, and then to take decisions on them.
Do not the splendid performances of both management and employees at the works at Llanwern and Port Talbot entitle them to some assurance that both these works will continue for a long time?
On many occasions I have said that the splendid performance of the workers at those two steel plants is by far the best guarantee of their future. As I have said, at present we are making a massive investment in Port Talbot, and I have great confidence in the future of Llanwern. While I have been in government I have, fortunately, never had to consider any proposal from the BSC for the closure of Llanwern. Therefore, some of the threats and allegations made have been purely hypothetical.
Order. I shall take points of order afterwards. Otherwise, it will take time out of the hon. Gentleman's question, which is No. 21.
Order. I shall take the point of order afterwards. Otherwise it will take time out of this short question period.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point of order is on the arts.
Order. I shall take it afterwards. Does the hon. Gentleman want to ask question 21?
Order. I have no authority to allow injury time for questions. Does the hon. Gentleman want to ask question 21?
Objects In Lieu Of Tax
asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts what recent representations the Minister for the Arts has received concerning the allocation for acceptances of works of art in lieu of tax; and whether he will make a statement.
My noble Friend is advised on the allocation of acceptance-in-lieu offers by the Museums and Galleries Commission. He occasionally receives other representations from interested parties.
While we have great respect for the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who is answering, does he accept that already nobody answers for the arts in this House, and that we are now being presented with the monkey twice removed from the organ grinder?Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are in danger of losing our heritage because of the wholly unacceptable position that pertains to works of art which are accepted in lieu of tax. Will he bear in mind that the Government make good money from the arts market? Will he also bear in mind the Government's promise to look at tax incentives for the arts? We have them for the live arts. Will he please extend those incentives to the arts in respect of pictures and museums?
On the first point, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Environment, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), wrote to the hon. Gentleman explaining that he had to be in Helsinki from 7 to 10 July to lead the United Kingdom delegation to the international convention on long-range transboundary air pollution. On the substantive question, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are reviewing arrangements for funding acceptance-in-lieu transactions. My noble Friend hopes to make an announcement at the earliest opportunity.
While I welcome what my hon. Friend said, does he agree that if the system is to fulfil its purpose it will not be satisfactory simply to lift the amount available for acceptance-in-lieu transactions from £2 million to some other arbitrary ceiling? Does he agree that we should unequivocally commit ourselves to ensuring that it will be possible to retain a strictly limited category of pre-eminent items for our heritage?
I can tell my hon. Friend that the more fundamental issues that he just mentioned are covered by the review. I shall ensure that my noble Friend is made aware of my hon. Friend's strong views.
Will the hon. Gentleman relate to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who usually answers questions on the arts in this Chamber the dissatisfaction of the House that he is away dealing not with the arts but with something different? That is unsatisfactory, because his first duty should be to the House. Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that the Getty money and the large sums that are available for the purchase of works of art mean that the Treasury will have to reconsider these matters? It has lost some good opportunities for obtaining bargains. We look forward to a further consideration of such matters by the Treasury, guided by the Minister for the Arts.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Treasury is an important partner in this review. The points that he has just made will be considered by all those who take part in it. I hope that my noble Friend will be able to announce the conclusion of the review before long.
Does the Minister agree that there has been a quite unacceptable delay in rescinding this ludicrous ceiling on the in lieu arrangements? Does he realise that all of us in this House back the Minister in his wish to smash this ceiling and ensure the retention of these treasures in Britain? Will he manage to prevail upon his hon. and noble Friend — or whatever the fellow is called — to get the Treasury to pull its costive finger out on this issue?
I cannot accept the allegation that there has been undue delay. On 24 April my noble Friend announced that the review would take place, and I have just said that he hopes to make an announcement on its conclusions in the very near future. That is not too long a period for a review on such an important subject.
National Heritage Memorial Fund
asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts how many persons employed in the Office of Arts and Libraries have direct or indirect responsibility in connection with the administration of the National Heritage Memorial Fund: and if he will make a statement.
The National Heritage Memorial Fund is an autonomous body and its administration is undertaken by its staff. However, a small percentage of the time of three Office of Arts and Libraries staff is given to administrative issues associated with the fund.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Although I appreciate that the fund is an autonomous body, does my hon. Friend accept that when the fund receives special applications for grants to save what, by any criteria, are important examples of Britain's great architectural heritage, the Department should sympathetically consider continuing to provide extra financial assistance to the fund so that it may discharge its duties for the benefit of our people?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government made a special allocation of £25 million earlier this year to enable the fund to help to ensure the future of Weston Park, Kedleston and Nostell Priory. The fund's negotiations on those three major properties are well advanced. As to my hon. Friend's broader point, the fund's annual report states:
"We have good reason for confidence not only in this Government's commitment to the objectives of conservation, but in their willingness to provide adequate funds to achieve those objectives."
Is one of those three officials responsible for monitoring section 16 of the National Heritage Act 1980? If so, will he sort out the nonsense that has arisen over the indemnity arrangements for the Kessler art exhibition?
I have seen the letter which my hon. Friend wrote to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on 2 July. I am sorry that the Tate gallery had apparently re-interpreted some rules which previously applied. We are in discussions with the Tate gallery, and I hope that the matter can be satisfactorily resolved.
asked the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if the Minister for the Arts has any plans to meet North-West Arts to discuss provision for the overall funding of the arts in the context of the Government's plans to abolish the metropolitan counties; and if he will make a statement.
My noble Friend met the director of North-West Arts and the directors of a number of other regional arts associations on 7 June and had a very useful discussion on post-abolition funding for the arts.
Is the Minister aware that we in the north-west believe that the amount of centrally allocated money that will be made available should the metropolitan authorities be abolished is grossly inadequate? Does he also recognise that the Arts Council is not considered to be an unbiased allocator of funds, especially to areas such as the north-west? In those circumstances, will he use the same principles as were used in the Priestley report to guarantee that the funding announced by central Government will go to the northwest to ensure that the Royal Exchange, the Halle Orchestra and other such organisations of national importance receive the money that they need to allow them to continue?
I am slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the Arts Council is biased in the regional distribution of funds, because this year's total allocation to North-West Arts represented a 17 per cent. increase on last year's grant. The Royal Exchange has received more funding from the Arts Council than has any other regional theatre. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that the Arts Council has discharged its obligation to the north-west as fairly as it can.
May we have an assurance that the financial grants and targets will be adjusted to make it possible for Manchester and Liverpool — both great cities — to make some contribution to the arts, as they obviously wish to do?
As my hon. Friend knows, my noble Friend was able to set aside £34 million in replacement of metropolitan county spending, of which £16 million went to the Arts Council, £1 million to the British Film Institute and £17 million to museums and galleries. The districts will be spared the task of having to raise the precept to hand on to the top tier authorities once they are abolished. That should give them the freedom to support worthwhile artistic institutions in their localities.
In view of the Arts Council's estimate that if and when the GLC and the six metropolitan counties are abolished there will be a shortfall of £46 million, and since the Arts Council is to be funded to the tune of £16 million, may we have a categorical assurance that the shortfall to North-West Arts of £790,000 will be met in full?
The Arts Council will be seeing my noble Friend shortly to discuss provisions for the 1986–87 budget, as is normal at this time of the year I am sure that that will be one of the matters that it will wish to raise with him.
Is it not unfortunate that the Minister is deputy to a deputy? He might have been warned that in the last month there was a £30 mill ton shortfall below estimate for all the arts, including North-West Arts. Is it not a fact that no guarantee has been forthcoming for the north-west or for other areas? Next year there will be £30 million short for a start. Will the Government replace that money, or not?
I must make it clear that the Government do not accept the Arts Council's estimate of the shortfall, which includes provision for some capital items which the GLC and the metropolitan counties have not provided, and a number of other items which fall more appropriately to the district councils. I cannot accept the premise. Of course, my hon. friend the Member for Bristol, West would have answered the question better than I, but at least my answers have been shorn of the Latin and Greek analogies, which I understand adorn his remarks.
Parliamentary Questions (Stratford-On-Avon)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Question No. 28 begins
:"The hon. Gentleman, who is a very admirable and likeable Member, has the privilege of representing myself, my wife, my daughter and my two grandsons and some dozen thousand others. He is wrong, or the Table Office is wrong, in giving to that historic and distinguished town the name of "Stratford-on-Avon". There is no such place. It is called "Stratford-upon-Avon".
It is probably an abbreviation.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This matter has been the subject of a long-running discussion over many years. Any hope of resolving the issue this afternoon requires more courage than the history of the controversy justifies.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Continuing my campaign against the boundary commissioners, not against their chairman, I was most perturbed to hear that a mistake had been made in the name of Stratford-upon-Avon. Will you, as Chairman, keep an eye on the boundary commissioners as they are so daft that they will rename it at the drop of a hat?
I, too, feel very strongly about constituency names. I shall keep a careful eye on the matter.
Secretary Of State For Wales (Statement)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You were kind enough to listen to my point of order a week ago concerning the occasion when my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) asked the Prime Minister about the statement by the Secretary of State for Wales, in which he compared the opposition in the Brecon and Radnor by-election to a mixture of the Mafia and the mentally handicapped, on the ground that neither candidate was allowed out without a minder. The Prime Minister denied that her Secretary of State for Wales would make such a statement. You, Mr. Speaker, said that it was not a point of order. Is it now a point of order? Will you request the Prime Minister, who made a false declaration to the House of Commons, to apologise? We have received an apology from the Secretary of State, but I thought that I should raise the issue at Question Time so that the Secretary of State can apologise not only to the House and the nation but particularly to the people whom he tried to debase—
Order. I think that I have got the drift. It was not a point of order for me when the hon. Gentleman first raised it and it is not a point of order for me now. I heard what the Secretary of State said and I hope that honour is now satisfied.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your further advice and guidance. If you cannot make a ruling on the matter, although the Prime Minister deliberately misled the nation and the House, can the Leader of the House advise us when he will ask the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House on the issue that I have raised?
The Leader of the House is in the Chamber.
Arts Question Time
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will accept that Question Time gives Members the opportunity to question a Minister who has specific responsibilities. You will also know that the subject of the arts is allocated 10 minutes every three weeks. I hope that you will make a ruling on this. As the Minister responsible is already far removed from us and has a junior Minister answering for him, what is the point in having questions answered by yet another Minister, even further removed from the relevant responsibility, as happened today?
It is not a matter for me which Minister answers questions. That is clearly not one of my responsibilities.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We all recognise that this is not your direct responsibility, but you are the guardian of the interests of the House and especially of Back Benchers. For nearly two years we have suffered the disadvantage of having to deal with the deputy of a deputy. As the distinguished hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) put it, it is not even the organ grinder's monkey but the monkey's monkey. The deputy has been absent from the House in connection with a totally different matter. If we cannot have more than 10 minutes in three weeks, there should be some guarantee that the questions are answered by a Minister with some direct involvement in and responsibility for the arts. I accept the comment of the deputy's deputy that his answers were at least devoid of Latin tags, but the Latin tag was usually the best part of the answer. I hope that something can be said through you, Mr. Speaker, to the effect that safeguarding the interests of the house should have some precedence in the mind of the First Lord of the Treasury.
So far as I am concerned, this House should always have priority. The Leader of the House is here. No doubt he has heard what has been said. I cannot pursue the matter further, as it is not my responsibility.
Board And Lodging Regulations
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Is this a different point of order?
It is a completely different point of order, Mr. Speaker.
You and I share a common concern, Mr. Speaker, when Ministers make announcements to the press and not to Members of Parliament. This weekend the Minister for Social Security informed us through The Observer newspaper that Ernst and Whinney is to carry out an inquiry into provisions on residential care in relation to the new board and lodging regulations. I seek your advice on how best to go about getting the Minister into the Chamber to inform Members of Parliament of his intentions so that we can question him. More importantly, as the board and lodging regulations have been proved to be flawed, as shown by the fact that the Government have already had to change them, and as Ernst and Whinney was involved in determining the level of payment to youngsters, would not the Government do better to listen to what the Opposition have to say about the regulations so that we can help to get them correct? I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on how to get the Minister into the Chamber.
It is true that the hon. Gentleman and I share a concern about these matters, but it is not a matter for me whether statements are made outside the House. The hon. Gentleman may have his opportunity during DHSS questions on 16 July.
Local Government Bill
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a fellow keeper of law and order in debating chambers, may I crave your indulgence—especially as the Leader of the House is present—on an important matter relating to the business on which we are about to embark? Until Thursday, hon. Members were unaware of its timetabling, which has clearly left hon. Members on both sides of the House insufficient time to consider the reasoned amendments made by their Lordships in another place.The complication arises because, I assume, it was organised some time ago that the Scottish Grand Committee should meet this morning at the Crown Office buildings in Regent road, Edinburgh. How is it possible for hon. Members in this Chamber so to delay the commencement of the next piece of business that it will allow a number of concerned Scottish Members to get back to the House to vote?
The hon. Gentleman shares with me an extremely difficult task, but I do not think that he would expect me to advise him on tactics, any more than he would advise his members in county hall on the tactics that they might use.
Local Government Bill (Allocation Of Time)
I beg to move, That the Order of the House [11th February] be supplemented as follows:—
1. — (1) The proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments shall he completed at this day's sitting, Those Amendments shall be taken in the order shown in the Table set out below, and, subject to the provisions of the Order of 1lth February, each part of those proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of that Table.
|Lords Amendments||Time for conclusion|
|Nos. 1 to 3||6.00 p.m.|
|Nos. 4 to 8||7.45 p.m.|
|Nos. 9 to 12||8.45 p.m.|
|Nos. 13 to 42||9.15 p.m.|
|Nos. 43 to 47||10.00 p.m.|
|Nos. 48, 92 to 94, 49 to 91 and 95 to 98||Midnight|
(2) Paragraph (1) of the Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings for two hours after Ten o'clock.
2. —(1) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1 above:—
(2) Proceeding under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
Stages Subsequent To Firs, Consideration Of Lords Amendments
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion one hour after the commencement of the proceedings.
4. For the purpose of bringing those proceedings to a conclusion—
5. — (1) In this paragraph 'the proceedings' means proceedings on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the Report of such a Committee.
(2) Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the consideration forthwith of the Message or, as the case may be, for the appointment and quorum of the Committee.
(3) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which they are appointed.
(4) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(5) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(6) If the proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on the Motion shall be added to the period at the end of which the proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion.
As last week, so today the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has made a great fuss about the fact that we are debating the Bill and that we intended to move this motion. I would have more sympathy if the GLC and the metropolitan counties had not obviously devoted all their energies between then and now to putting advertisements in the press rather than tabling amendments to the House, but that is exactly their priority, and it has been their priority throughout.
We shall be debating amendments that have come to this Chamber from another place. I am astonished that, if the issues are so serious, the Opposition actually want to spend time debating the timetable motion. I would have been quite happy to move the motion and take it on the nod so that we could get on to the substantive issues.
No one can now claim that the Bill has not had adequate time for debate. Despite the guillotine in this House, the time spent was over 200 hours. That was double the time spent on the 1963 London Government Bill, and nearly as much as on the 1972 Local Government Bill—almost twice the length of this Bill and covering the whole of England and Wales.
So it was also in another place. There was a long day's debate on Second reading, with a formidable list of speakers. There were 10 days of Committee stage discussion stretching late into the night on virtually every occasion. There were then six days on Report and a full day's debate on Third Reading—all in all, almost 120 hours of debate altogether in the other place. Lord Buckmaster calculated that that amounted to over a million words.
The principles of the Bill have been widely supported in both Houses of Parliament. The Bill received a Second Reading in this House by a majority of 135 and a Third Reading by a majority of 155. In another place the reasoned amendment moved on Second Reading was rejected by a majority of 126—a majority of more than two to one in the Government's favour. On some issues, notably the so-called "Voice for London" issue, the votes in another place came a trifle closer — that I shall concede—but always the proposal was rejected. I might remind the House that when that issue was debated on Report in this House the proposal was rejected by 335 votes to 193—a majority of 142.
The other place has returned the Bill to us with 98 amendments—far fewer than the 280 Lords amendments on the London Government Bill. Of these 98, 76 are straightforward and the Government will invite the House to accept them as they stand or with minor drafting changes. Worthy of note are the amendments which provide for a committee of councillors from the London boroughs to consider planning issues in place of the London Planning Commission originally proposed in the Bill, the amendment calling for a report on countryside matters, the amendment deleting the order-making power to break up the Inner London Education Authority, and the amendments providing for the continuity of a number of specialist services.
The two issues of substance on which the Government will invite the House to take a different view from their Lordships concern highways and road traffic and waste disposal.
There is plenty of time to debate those issues. Although I recognise that the Opposition and some of my hon. Friends want to add to or amend some of the Lords amendments, as far as I can see they all concern issues which have already been argued fully in this House and in another place at earlier stages of the Bill. Although it is perfectly right to return to those matters now, we consider that the proposed time is reasonable.
I understand that the Opposition will oppose the timetable motion. Are they really saying that the whole day, extending, as the motion provides, until midnight, is too little time to debate these issues fully? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Opposition Members have had but one tactic throughout this legislation — to delay it just as long as they can. They failed to win the case on its merits. They had hoped to emasculate the Bill in another place, but they failed there too. It is now right and proper that we bring debate on the Bill to a conclusion and get on with the job. That is the purpose of this motion, and I commend it to the House.
The Question is, The Local Government Bill allocation of time motion. Mr. Tony Banks.
Does the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) wish to speak first?
Yes. I defer, as always, to the chairman of the Greater London council, but I hope that he will not mind, if, this time, I speak before him, with, of course, his permission.My good and hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is unavoidably absent today. Nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to be here to lead the fight. We oppose the motion because it is constitutionally unacceptable that seven major debates on issues central to the operation of the Bill should be crammed into no more than six hours of debate today. For the Government to suggest that we should not have taken the one hour to discuss general principles is verging on the hypocritical because, had they thought that the principles were important enough to be discussed, they could have allowed more time. The Bill would implement the Conservative party's manifesto commitment of June 1983, which said:
The White Paper — the so-called "Streamlining the Cities" White Paper — tried to expand on those aims. We were told that the Bill would do three things: transfer most functions to the lower tier, remove an unnecessary tier of government and achieve major savings. The electorate was told before June 1983 that £120 million would be saved. Another reason why we need much more time to debate the Bill is that, even if it is passed in its present form, it will be a failure when set against the aims which the Government have set for it. The Secretary of State said the Bill had not been emasculated. He has obviously not read or listened to what happened to the Bill in this House and in the other place. It does not transfer most functions to lower-tier authorities. Of 42 major functions currently operated by the GLC or the metropolitan counties, 32, that is 75 per cent., are to be transferred wholly or substantially to countywide bodies, including fire, police, almost certainly waste disposal, passenger transport, financial services and waste management. In case the Secretary of State has missed this, since the White Paper, thanks to the effectiveness of the opposition in this House and outside, 25 functions have been substantially altered to provide now for countywide control. Secondly, this measure does not remove an unnecessary tier of government. Indeed, progress on the Bill has confirmed the unavoidable need for countywide services, but what the Bill has removed is democratically elected control of those countywide services. If anybody denies that, let the Secretary of State contradict the figures which show that in the Greater London area 60 per cent. of the spending will still be undertaken by countywide bodies. In the metropolitan areas, it will be 90 per cent. of spending. Thirdly, this measure will not produce the savings which were so wildly claimed for it at the general election. That claim of £120 million is in today's prices worth £140 million. It was scaled down in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill when it was first published at the end of last November, and it is an issue on which Ministers are coy, to say the least. We have had a succession of Ministers from other Departments, such as the Minister of State, Department of Transport, saying, "Wherever that £100 million is coming from, it is not coming from passenger transport." The Minister of State, Home Office is saying, "Wherever that £100 million is coming from., it is not coming from the fire service or the police or from civil defence." In the Secretary of State's speech, not a word was said about the great claim that this measure would save £120 million. The Public Accounts Committee will find him out after others have seen to his demise from his present high office. However much creative accounting it goes in for, the Public Accounts Committee will find that this measure will not save money, but will increase costs. The Coopers and Lybrand studies, which the Minister has never sought to contradict, show that for marginal recurrent savings there had to be set against one-off savings of between £272 million and £407 million. Another reason why we need more time to debate this measure is that it will in no way streamline the cities, because in the place of seven great authorities there will be 62 quangos, joint boards and joint committees and five Government Departments with enhanced powers. Did any Conservative Members in supporting the manifestos in 1979 and 1983, take account of the fact that it would be a matter of voting for more quangos, more joint boards and more centralised control? That will be the result of the Bill. The Bill has never been anything more than an unprincipled, spiteful and vindictive attack on seven great local authorities for no reason other than that they are Labour. Many Ministers, including the Minister of State, have had to eat their hats, and to eat their former words in support of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. Will the Secretary of State seek the Prime Minister's approval to release the letter which the Prime Minister sent after the Marshall inquiry to Mr. Cutler when he was leader of the Greater London council? We have not heard of that letter before, I understand on the very best of authority that after the Marshall inquiry Mr. Cutler wrote to the Prime Minister who was then Leader of the Opposition, asking her whether she wanted a further statutory inquiry. As I understand it, the right hon. Lady replied that she did not wish for a further statutory inquiry into the GLC, but wished to see the GLC preserved and said that the GLC was"The Metropolitan Councils and the Greater London Council have been shown to be a wasteful and unnecessary tier of government. We shall abolish them and return most of their functions to the boroughs and the districts."
"the jewel in the crown of Conservative local government."
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that if his party were ever returned to government it would not bring back the GLC and the metropolitan counties in their present form? I emphasise "in their present form".
We should bring back a strategic authority for London in a better form. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has today released a letter which contains a categorical assurance that we shall reinstate democratic and directly elected control of countrywide services in every area to which the Bill applies.We should be grateful for the fact that in piloting the measure through the House the Secretary of State has greatly contributed to the decline in the Government's popular support. There is no doubt that the Government forced this measure into their manifesto because they thought that it would increase their popularity, but, thanks to the opposition in the House and outside, it is one of the main reasons why the Government suffered a humiliating defeat last week and why they will suffer further such humiliating defeats next May in the local elections. The Secretary of State claims to have won a series of votes. We are aware of the supine nature of the Government's supporters. We are aware that we may lose votes today, but we fight to win. Whatever votes we may lose, the Labour party has overwhelmingly won the arguments about this mean and nasty Bill, which will result in worse services, staff uncertainty, administrative chaos and increased costs for ratepayers and taxpayers. Above all, the Bill reduces the rights of 13 million electors to have a proper say about the services which directly affect them. We shall fight the measure now. We shall continue to fight it in the future. At the next election, we shall be pledged to its repeal. Not least because of that pledge to repeal, when we are elected to power in 1987, we shall make the repeal of this measure one of the next Labour Government's first acts.
During the debates on the Bill I have often found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), but not today. I strongly support the timetable motion, in general, because I believe that Bills should be timetabled — a good Bill should not need 170 hours of debate—but in particular, because the sooner we get rid of this unfortunate Bill, this embarrassment for the Government, the sooner it is out of the way, the sooner will most people forget it and the better therefore will be the future chance of a Conservative Government.I am one of that band, which has been small up to now, of Conservative Members who consistently over the past year or two have done their best to persuade the Government to desist from flinging down banana skins upon which they then slip. Unfortunately, the failure of my powers of persuasion were demonstrated with painful clarity by last Thursday's events. In future, I shall have to try harder and, I hope, with more support from my hon. Friends. I should not be arguing for a quick end to the debate if there were a snowball's chance in hell of the Government listening to what was said, but with a severe attack of political deafness and a majority as large as it is, mere words are useless. I should argue differently if the majority were a more normal 40 or 50. If it had been, I doubt whether we would ever have had the Bill. Even if we had, such a majority would have ensured that we could have knocked more sense into the Bill. I had high hopes of the other place. It has improved the Bill, and my hopes were raised when I saw it reported that my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw was against it. With his great political experience, that was not the least surprising. Sadly, however, even he and his colleagues were mostly, with honourable and noble exceptions, in the end whipped into line. The sooner we are done with this Bill the better. But though it may be forgotten by the majority, its ill effect will live with all those who live in London and the metropolitan counties. In the metropolitan areas a mass of districts, mostly controlled by the Left of the Labour party, will replace a mere six Labour metropolitan councils. That is hardly a good Conservative recipe for administration. In London, the powers of the GLC will be administered partly by the London boroughs, mostly controlled by Labour, partly by an elected ILEA, but sure always to be controlled by Labour, partly by a residuary body, which has the benefit of an excellent chairman, and partly, and increasingly in my judgment, by Whitehall, as will become steadily clearer. The change-over will be chaotic and the cost very high. That will hardly please the electorate, nor will it uphold the old classical Tory belief in the maximum distribution of power. I trust that a general election will come before the chaos becomes too obvious. All this is to satisfy a sudden and ill-thought-out whim. It is a strange world in which we live, but it is time that a little more common sense was introduced into it.
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) is clearly the voice of reason within the Conservative party. It is an echo that we have heard gathering strength throughout the passage of the Bill but it has still not convinced the Conservative Front Bench, particularly the person who inhabits No. 10 Downing Street. The hon. Gentleman has expressed fears that are clearly held by many reasonable Conservative Members.The Government's guillotining of this latest stage of the Bill is entirely consistent with their tactics, which have been shoddy in the extreme throughout its passage through both Houses. We have been told that the Bill was conceived in haste and in malice by the Prime Minister. It has been nurtured on the lies propagated by the Daily Mail, The Sun, and the Daily Express and it has been dragooned through Parliament by a bunch of placemen prostituting what is left of their political principles. From that, I exonerate both the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government who clearly revealed that they had no political principles to start with. We have been told by the Secretary of State that we have had many hours of debate on the Bill. Indeed, we have, but most of it has been sustained by the Opposition during the Committee stage. When we reach the later amendments we shall no doubt have a repeat of what we have seen before. The Conservative Benches will be completely denuded of Members, save the few miserable rejects on the Government Front Bench and some of their Parliamentary Private Secretaries who are forced to sit behind them and appear loyal. The rest will disappear because Tories are embarrassed by what their Government are doing. The Government have used secrecy, deceit and plain dishonesty in their efforts to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.
Conservative Members are asleep.
I do not believe that they are asleep. I believe that it is a new thing called "political osmosis". They hope to get some sense through the green leather of the Benches on which their heads rest. There is no credible support for the Bill. Ninety amendments were made in another place and major principles were established and changed, yet we are to have only about six hours' debate.
I apologise for intervening in my hon. Friend's speech, but had the Secretary of State not been windy I would have said the same to him. Does my hon. Friend realise that those amendments were made at 11.30 pm last Wednesday in the other place, yet here we are on Monday, less than 48 sitting hours later, talking about those very amendments? Not only is the Bill being subjected to the guillotine, but it is being pushed through the House at the speed of light, which is a gross misuse of parliamentary privilege.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, but I believe that the hon. Member for Devizes got it right. The Government are severely embarrassed by the Bill. They want to try to rush it out as fast as they can. The hon. Member for Devizes was quite wrong to expect that, merely because the Bill is likely to be passed, somehow the electorate will forget about it. I remind him that the GLC and the metropolitan county councils will still exist until 31 March and no one believes that the GLC, of all bodies, will allow the London electorate to forget about this particular legislation.I was on the point of reminding the House that "Streamlining the Cities" received about 5,000 responses, the overwhelming majority of which were implacably opposed to the Government's proposals. The Government cannot and have never been able to cite one independent, authoritative academic or professional body in support of abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. The Prime Minister's determination, which in certain respects, from a political point of view, can be considered to be admirable, has turned into sheer boneheadedness. She has permitted her judgment to be dominated by her political vindictiveness towards the GLC, and not one of the bunch of gutless ministerial nonentities who surround her has the courage to tell her the truth. She is taking her party towards political annihilation in London, and local government towards chaos throughout the country. There is overwhelming opposition to the Bill among the electorate as council by-elections and opinion polls clearly show. The Tory party in London is now too frightened to fight elections. Of the four GLC by-elections called since May this year, the Tories have decided to fight only one, at Romford. That shows that no political principle can be involved. That by-election will be contested on Thursday and the Tories will lose it because of the Bill.
I can see why the Government are worried about elections and why they want to abolish the ballot box. Despite what goes out in the media, the Tories lost two of the safest seats in Sheffield in last Thursday's by-election. Are the Government to start abolishing district council elections as well?
I do not know whether they are about to abolish district council elections, but given their authoritarian nature it would not surprise me. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) is quite correct. The real impact of this Bill will be seen in the borough council elections in London and the district council elections in May 1986. From a Labour point of view, we expect to make a clean sweep throughout London. Westminster city council will go Labour in 1986 because of the Bill and the Government will be surrounded by their political enemies. Such thoughts comfort me at times like this.Whatever happens to the Bill, there will be no comfort for the Government. They have never made anything other than the most generalised statements about their overall objectives. They have talked about massive savings as the reason for abolition, but those savings have never been quantified in any detail. The Government claim that £50 million a year will be saved by the abolition of the GLC, offset by £20 million in the first year because of transitional costs. We have never been given a breakdown of these figures despite repeated requests, and one or two parliamentary questions by myself. Coopers and Lybrand estimate that the transitional costs resulting from abolition will total between £122 million and £167 million. Early-day motion 795, tabled in the names of a number of Conservative Members, draws the Government's attention to the estimate. I should like to know whether Ministers have asked their civil servants to look at the figures produced by Coopers and Lybrand to see whether they can fill any gaps in their woeful lack of information. The Government's £50 million a year estimate is considered by Coopers and Lybrand to be a substantial over-estimate because it takes no account of the increased costs of debt financing. These figures cannot be verified. Policy changes, as Alan Greengross, the leader of the Conservative party at County hall has pointed out, could produce for the Government far more savings than they could ever get through abolition, but policy changes would mean that the Tory party would have to go out and win an election at the ballot box. That they have refused to do, and they have abolished the county level ballot box in London.
The hon. Gentleman is concerned about depriving Londoners of the democratic right to vote, but will he explain how many seats will be contested next year in the borough elections? Is that not an opportunity for Londoners to exercise their democratic rights?
Yes, and Londoners will take it, and they will sweep the Tories out of London. However, we are talking about county level elections, which have effectively been abolished in London, but which will be maintained in the shire elections. I cannot see what principle the hon. Gentleman as trying to prove.The Government have claimed that the GLC services will be transferred to the boroughs and a so-called unnecessary tier of local government will be removed. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has confirmed, it is not the GLC and the metropolitan council services that are to be abolished but rather democratic control over those who administer most of those services. He went on to show the number of functions that would be transferred wholly or substantially to countywide bodies. Far from streamlining local government, Ministers are introducing proposals that will lead to about 195 successor bodies and authorities taking on GLC and metropolitan county council activities after abolition. If the Secretary of State believes that that is streamlining, it is clear that he would make an even worse job of design engineering than of local government.
Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that four key metropolitan county councils, the Labour parties in those districts and the GLC leader in London have called for the abolition of these authorities, and that it has taken the Leader of the Opposition since April, when he was asked by the leader of the West Yorkshire county council whether he would restore the metropolitan county councils, to come up with a fudged compromise?
I have sat through every debate on this Bill, here and in Committee. I have heard our Front Bench clearly make statements that the GLC will be restored and that the next Labour Government will have to look at the whole structure of local government in the metropolitan areas. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we are going to respond in the same knee-jerk way as the Prime Minister reacted when she read some of the bad publicity that the GLC was getting and said, "We will abolish it, off with its head", he does not understand the way that the Labour party works. We shall make sure that local government is put on a firm and sound footing, and that will involve us approaching the matter properly and democratically and not in the haphazard and undemocratic way of the Conservative party.The electorate knows that this Bill is nonsense. It started off as a botched-up exercise in political vindictiveness and has now become the most absurd legislative proposal since the window tax. Everybody knows that the Bill will not work. We all know that it is nonsense, and yet it still limps towards the statute book. It does so simply because it is now all about the Prime Minister's face — the most expensive commodity in British politics today. That face sinks ships in the south Atlantic, wages war on trade unionists and the unemployed and undermines the economy. It is now set, against all reason, natural justice and the facts, to abolish the GLC and the MCCs. The Bill is immoral and unworkable. It seeks to use parliamentary sovereignty to destroy an important part of local democracy and, by doing so, it brings both the law and the House into disrepute. In my first speech in this House I said that the abolition of the GLC would eventually destroy the Government. I see no reason to change that prediction. The coming Labour Government, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made clear, will have to reorganise local government in London. At County hall, we are already working on a new, super and improved GLC, for the years to come. It will be larger and more powerful, and it will undoubtedly involve the abolition of the City of London. Perhaps, using some of the precedents established in the Bill, we shall abolish the City of London by Order in Council. We shall cite certain things that the Government have attempted to do with ILEA. Politics is a funny business. It appears from the way that selections for parliamentary candidates in my party are going that half the current Labour group from County hall will be here to see the new, super, improved GLC being created, and I look forward to that. In the meantime, abolition of the GLC will not end as an issue, even after the Royal Assent has been given. As chairman of the GLC, I give an unyielding promise to the Government that no political goodwill will be forthcoming from County hall between now and 31 March 1986. We shall do all that is necessary to protect jobs and services in London. The Bill has become a spectacular embarrassment for the Government that even now most of them regret. It is no wonder that the Government wish to force the Bill through tonight by using the guillotine. The destruction of this particularly loathsome Government is all the consolation that I need if the GLC is to be abolished. The Bill will achieve that destruction.
We have just heard a turkey voting against Christmas.One of the reassuring things about the Bill is that authoritarians in the Labour party say that it will lead to a reduction in democracy, but Mr. Ted Knight, the leader of Lambeth council, when he was defeated last week on a vote about rates, said that it did not make any difference and that he would continue his policies. He spat in the face of democracy, and that is what authoritarians in the Labour party always do. One thing that the Bill will do—
I shall not give way.One thing that the Bill will do — this is not its purpose, but a by-product of it — is to rid London of Ken Livingstone as leader of the GLC. That is ridding us of somebody who has done for local democracy what Josef Mengele has done for medicine—perverted his art with brutal and idiosyncratic practices—[Interruption.]
Order. Only one hon. Member should be on his feet at a time. Is the hon. Gentleman giving way?
Not at the moment, Mr. Speaker, but I shall give way later.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the general guffawing that usually surrounds the speeches of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), perhaps hon. Members missed the fact that he compared Ken Livingstone with the mass murderer of Jews in concentration camps. Is that not exceeding the normal bounds of decent debate?.
Order. Every hon. Member must take responsibility for his speech.
I have no intention whatever of withdrawing my remark, because of the way that I made it. We all know that Ken Livingstone is not a mass murderer, and that is not the point that I was making. I was making the point that he perverted the trust that was put in him in terms of local government, and he perverted that art through idiosyncratic and brutal experimentation against the people of London. Not only that, but he abused his trust by using vast amounts of ratepayers' money for publicity and propaganda that has fuelled the interests of the Labour party. This a disgrace, and the sooner the Widdicombe report comes out and does something about it the better.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's remarks about Mr. Ted Knight, but how will the Bill improve the position if it is to give more power to Mr. Ted Knight?
We shall have to see what happens to Mr. Ted Knight in the fullness of time and what the ballot box says about him. My hon. Friend will then see that true democracy works. My hon. Friend views the Bill in a different way from me. He is in a small minority in the Conservative party. The reason why I am making these points is that the vast majority of Conservative Members are whole-heartedly behind this measure. It brings democracy closer to the people and gives more control over what is happening to local people. That is why I support the motion.
I can follow neither the extremism nor the bombast of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). He is no doubt aggrieved that his rates in Lambeth are going down, and he will no doubt exercise his single ballot box vote there next year.We have seven hours and twenty minutes in which to discuss the 98 amendments which were made by the other place. This is the exercise of the Government's use of the parliamentary chopper. Their first exercise of the chopper was to provide no debate within the Conservative party. They chopped any debate within the Cabinet. The Prime Minister decided to include this proposal in the general election manifesto. The second exercise of the electoral chopper was to chop any opportunity to hold a public inquiry and take expert evidence, as has always happened in the past when local government has been reformed. The Government have chopped any opportunity to listen to those who might know a little more about the working of local government than either the Secretary of State or his colleagues who have been given charge of the Bill. The Government's third exercise of the parliamentary chopper was to chop the 1985 elections in London and in the six metropolitan counties of Britain. The Tories did not do all that well in the elections on their own ground, namely, the shire counties, let alone in the elections that might have taken place in the urban areas of Great Britain. Their fourth exercise of the parliamentary chopper was to chop the elected government of our capital city after a history that goes back 100 years. They have chopped regional government, municipal government and strategic government for the majority of citizens who live in the urban counties. Another exercise of the chopper is to guillotine this debate. The history of the reaction to these proposals suggests that there is a bigger chop yet to come. The Government included this promise in their general election manifesto of 1983. Their vote went down. At the beginning of the general election campaign 44 per cent. of the population supported the Government, but three weeks later only 42 per cent. supported them. The shire county elections in England and Wales took place earlier this year. Throughout their history the Conservative party has been in control of the majority of the shire counties. It also controlled the Association of County Councils. The result of the Government's policies emanating from the Department of the Environment, their policies relating to local government and local government finance and their policy to make the people out there pay for what the Government are doing here means that they have lost control of the majority of shire counties in England. Their vote has gone down. For the first time ever they have lost control of the Association of County Councils. What has happened when Members of Parliament have been elected? There have been a few by-elections since the Government first came to office. Only two seats have changed hands in by-elections. They were Tory seats. The Government had a majority of over 12,000 in Portsmouth, but they lost that by-election. That failure was also connected with their local government policies. In Brecon and Radnor the Government had a majority of over 8,000, but they lost that by-election, too. It will not have escaped the attention of the House that the Government lost those by-elections, not to the Labour party, but to the alliance. The message from the electorate of Brecon and Radnor and everywhere else is that because the Government do not respect local government, or local services, or the views of local people, they will be up for the chop at the end of this Parliament. That will be the result of the folly of their policies.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why, since the Conservative party lost control of the Association of County Councils, it has managed to take the majority of the chairmanships, with the support of the Liberals?
The reason is that the Labour party is incompetent at organising itself and the Association of County Councils is unused to holding the balance of power. It was only under pressure from the alliance that it nominated a member of the Labour party to chair the Burnham committee to look after education, because of the protests of the Labour party.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?
No, I shall not give way again. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his speech.The result of this policy is that, contrary to all their protests and to what was said by the Secretary of State's predecessor, who is now the Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Government are giving more power to the Secretary of State and his successors, to quangos and to nominated or indirectly elected bodies. They are all equally inappropriate and inadequate substitutes for local government. We have watched the flight of confidence as people have been driven from their jobs, not only in county hall, but in the metropolitan county councils. Crucial matters are to be debated today. However, they reflect only bits of policy, because the Government's policy was formed on the run and has not been thought out properly. All those who served on the Committee know that the Government had no answer to the question about who supported their proposals. They did not even have an answer, for half of the time, about their proposals. The bits of the Bill which were amended by the other place deal with strategic planning — hardly something which the Government presume can be carried out by borough or district councils. Highways and traffic management do not stop at borough boundaries and suddenly become somebody else's responsibility at a handover point, as happens when one crosses the Channel. It is ludicrous that these matters are not to be dealt with by countywide authorities. The Government had no policy on waste disposal when the Bill was previously considered in this House. Waste disposal may not be one of the most exciting parts of the Bill, but if waste disposal goes wrong it will be an important matter for those who are concerned about the environment and who will have to cope with waste and rubbish in their cities and urban areas. As for the Government's education proposals, it has been said for decades that education in London is better looked after by a cross-borough authority. The Government, it is said, ought therefore to have left it alone. Instead, they are not allowing county education structures to remain in place. The details and the principles need to be considered fully, not in a rushed debate. That is what the guillotine will imply.
I take on board entirely and agree with the point made by the hon. Gentleman. His argument about waste disposal applies precisely to Merseyside, as it does to many of these other services. However, can the hon. Gentleman say what advice he would give to the electors of Liverpool, Mossley Hill? I understand that his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has consistently supported the abolition of the metropolitan counties, against the interests of the people of Merseyside. Is not the only way to deal with the matter in Mossley Hill at the next general election to vote for the Labour candidate?
I shall deal in a moment with that matter and all that goes with it, as well as with the statement this morning by the Leader of the Opposition. I repeat what the Government ought to bear in mind. At the beginning of the debate on the Bill the alliance made its view clear. —[Laughter.] It is no use the Labour party laughing, because it still does not have a clear policy.Our position has been made clear for decades. London should again have — whatever the Government do— a regional authority. The rest of England should have regional authorities. The Labour party is still — it is entitled to take its time — sorting out whether it will replace county authorities with metropolitan authorities, whether it will have only district authorities, or whether it will have a combination of the two. However, we repeat what we said at the beginning, that the only satisfactory answer is to give London and the other areas proper regional government. Under that form of government regional functions such as transport, planning and waste disposal, which should have been provided many years ago, will be carried out.
Can the House determine from that statement that the official view of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties is that the metropolitan counties should be abolished?
We have always believed that the metropolitan counties should be replaced by regional government. We opposed the setting up of the metropolitan counties, and we have never liked them. [Interruption.] It will be done by regional government, with many of the powers which Whitehall and this Secretary of State and his successors will inherit. Perhaps the Government should have paid more heed to that message at the beginning.I end with these two notes of warning to the Labour party and its policy makers and to the Government. They should notice that since 1982 the alliance, and not the Labour party, has done best in local elections in London — [HON. MEMBERS: "Not in London."] It is true. Labour Members may try to prove me wrong but they will not succeed. We have done better in London in local elections. We have been consistent in our policies and arguments on the issue. I hope that, one day, the Labour party will have a consistent approach and policy. Labour Members will not be the victims of what is primarily a Government folly. The Government intend passing powers to a residuary body. As a body, the Government were withering when the Bill was introduced. They will be the residuary body at the end of this exercise, and they will have only themselves to blame.
I wonder whether any hon. Member or any person outside who hears this debate will be able to consider this as a serious debate. I suspect that this is the type of debate that brings the House into some disrepute. There is no doubt that the people know full well that the Government, who were elected with an overwhelming majority in 1983, had a policy to abolish the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties. In June 1983 a poll conducted by National Opinion Polls clearly showed that the public had little idea what the GLC did and saw no reason why it might not just as well be abolished. In the general election which followed soon after that poll the Conservatives won 56 of the 84 London seats that were up for election. If that did not represent an overwhelming majority vote for the Conservative party's policies, I should like to know what did.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?