House Of Commons
Monday 28 March 1988
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Electricity Consumers' Council to discuss the proposed privatisation of the electricity supply industry.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Electricity Consumers' Council; and what subjects he proposes to discuss.
I meet the chairman of the Electricity Consumers' Council, John Hatch, from time to time to discuss various matters relating to the privatisation of the electricity supply industry.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Has not the Electricity Consumers' Council welcomed the proposals on privatisation, particularly those protecting consumers' rights?
My hon. Friend is right. The Electricity Consumers' Council has welcomed a number of aspects of the privatisation proposals, in particular the proposal for customers' rights, which will give customers the right to compensation if the boards fail to perform to an agreed standard.
In view of the increase in electricity prices in April, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the crucial needs of the paper, chemical and metallurgical industries, which have to compete in international markets?
Yes. As my hon. Friend knows, there is a problem under our present law about making arrangements for heavy industrial users. The industry is under a statutory obligation not to show undue preference to any customer, but we recognise the need to help the heavy industrial user, and the qualifying industrial consumers schemes and other measures that have been adopted give substantial help to the heavy user.
Will the Secretary of State explain why, now that a proportion of electricity to be generated must, by law, be nuclear, thus denying market forces, he has opened up to investors from America, where they cannot get nuclear power stations built because of market forces, the right to invest in this country? What consumer right is there in that arrangement?
We have reserved to the distribution companies the obligation to buy a proportion of their electricity from non-fossil fuel supplies, but we have not specified from where. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the proposed speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy, which he will be making in about an hour's time in America. In that speech he will make it clear that he expects the overwhelming proportion of investment in the British electricity industry to be made by British companies.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that up to 12 power stations are now redundant in Britain? What are his plans for those redundant stations under privatisation? Does he know that some local authorities, such as the one in my area, wish to purchase and develop those redundant power stations? What is the future of such plants?
The hon. Gentleman is confirming what the Government have said: that many people, other than the CEGB, wish to be involved in the generation of electricity, and we believe that that competition will provide good hope for consumers in the future.I notice that the hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, as if to ask me whether the redundant sites will be available for other development. That will be a matter for the CEGB, but there is much interest in buying redundant power stations and remodelling them to meet the highest standards. We hope that the private sector will come along and do some of that.
When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of the Electricity Consumers' Council, will he also discuss with him the rates of interest charged by regional electricity boards to their customers who want to buy cookers and similar appliances? Is he aware that the Midlands electricity board charges its customers 35 per cent. interest? Is that not horrendously high, and does it not cause hardship to pensioners and others who perhaps do not read the small print? Does it not compare badly with the rates charged by banks, building societies, credit card companies and reputable stores?
I am sure that the chairman of the East Midlands board will have noted my hon. Friend's remarks. If not, I shall certainly make sure that they are brought to his attention.
When the Secretary of State meets the chairman of the board—and such a meeting is urgent—I hope that he will discuss the 15 per cent. increase that is to be imposed on prices. In the judgment of the Electricty Consumers' Council that increase is unjustified and represents a tax on the consumer. Is he aware that that view is consistent with the view of the CBI, which says that it is unsound in business terms and will cost investment in jobs? Can the Secretary of State tell the House what group, if any, agrees with this imposition of a 15 per cent. increase? Will he review his decision and recognise that in reality the price increase is an energy privatisation tax, burdening the poor for the benefit of the better off?
I have already explained to the hon. Gentleman why I think he is wrong, and I have also explained to the CBI why I think that it is wrong in the arguments that it has put forward. The price rises are totally justifiable and necessary. The hon. Gentleman was not in the Labour Government of the time, but I can tell him that, even after these increases, there will be a fall in electricty prices in real terms, whereas there was an increase of more than 30 per cent. under the Labour Government.
Ec Energy Policy
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied with progress towards the development of a European Community energy policy; and if he will make a statement.
Yes, Sir. The prospects for attaining the Community's 1995 energy objectives are under review and Commission proposals on completion of the energy market by 1992 are expected shortly.
Does my hon. Friend agree that progress has been disappointly slow so far? Do the Government intend to take any initiatives to try to speed things up?
I know that my hon. Friend likes to see fast progress in Europe. Certainly the Government take the initiative to make sure that such progress is made. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the supply of energy in the member states is different and, therefore, it is not all that easy to make progress as fast as my hon. Friend would like.
Does the Minister agree that he is contradicting himself in advocating some sort of common European policy when the Government are operating market forces? How does he relate the two?
No, I do not agree, because, as I said in my original answer, we are working towards 1992, when there will be transparency pricing, which is market policy.
Will the Community energy policy be anything like the common agricultural policy? For example, will those who wish to import coal have to deposit heavy levies, or, like generating companies which wish to use coal in the Community, will they be able to buy that coal from the cheapest source at the cheapest possible price?
No, Sir. It will not be precisely the same, for the reasons that I gave in my second answer, namely, that the supply of fossil fuels in this country is different from the supply in other member states.
Is the Minister satisfied that, in discussions about European energy policy, full cognisance has been taken of the need to allocate orders, for example, to the fabrication yards connected with the development of North sea oil? Is he aware of the concern among workers at Ardersier about the need for the allocation of early opportunities to develop platforms for the North sea?
I know that the hon. Lady is most concerned about fabrication yards and, as she knows, I visited the one to which she referred. As she will have read, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced an 11th round. We continue to make progress in the North sea in exploration and development, and that is for the medium and longer-term good of those fabrication yards.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what is his timetable for the privatisation of the electricity supply industry.
The Government intend to introduce legislation to privatise the electricity supply industry as early as possible. I expect that this will be in the next Session of Parliament.
Has the Minister calculated the possible number of redundancies in the British coal industry as a result of privatisation of the electricity industry owing to the import of cheap, subsidised foreign coal, or does he simply not care about those redundancies?
I have explained before to the hon. Gentleman that our proposals mean that the industry will need about 75 million tonnes of coal a year and that the Government have funded the most extensive investment programme in the coal industry of any Government. We have done that because we believe that, with modern machinery and modern working methods, the British coal industry can capture a very substantial part of those 75 million tonnes.
Will my right hon. Friend, in concert with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, make it plain to pensioners and others that, despite the increase in electricity tariffs being higher than the rate of inflation, the combined effect of that and social security legislation will leave them better off?
I am happy to confirm that what my hon. Friend says is correct.
What account is the Secretary of State taking in his privatisation planning of the fact that the CEGB has been financing the fast reactor programme to the extent of 30 per cent., and that there is great anxiety about the withdrawal of that support and whether the Government intend to continue the fast reactor programme?
I know of the hon. Gentleman's deep concern about this matter, as he and I first met and discussed it at Dounreay. No decisions have yet been taken. The CEGB has to decide whether to continue with this funding. These matters are for discussion, but I recognise that they should be resolved as soon as possible and that his constituents should be kept fully informed.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there are safeguards over the operation of the local distribution networks so that privatised area boards cannot exert monoply control to prevent small local generators from delivering electricity to local industrial consumers?
Yes. We are anxious that the small generators should have an opportunity to get into the system. We believe that under our proposals that will be possible, whereas under the present arrangements it has proved difficult.
At what point in the timetable does the Secretary of State expect to be able to advise the House and the country of the price at which the electricity supply industry will be sold? Would he care to suggest whether an industry with a net asset value of £55 billion will be sold for less than 40 per cent. of its worth?
I am afraid that I do not recognise the figures that the hon. Gentleman has just used. I have never heard anyone suggest that the net assets of the organisation are worth £55 billion. I am constantly being told by Labour Members that I am seeking too high a price for the industry, so it is a relief to be told now that the Government are thinking of selling it too cheaply. We intend to get a fair price for the industry, and that will become clear as time goes on.
Open And Coke Fires
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many households are estimated to have open coal or coke fires; and if he will make a statement.
I understand from British Coal that an estimated 2·9 million households are using coal or solid smokeless fuels on open fires.
How does that figure compare with the previous known figure? Has there been a decline, or an increase? Labour Members call for cheaper fuel for poorer people, so will such people be able to burn imported cheap fuel on their open fires rather than more expensive home-produced fuel?
The available figure shows a slight decrease on the previous year, but that is hardly surprising given the mild winter.As to my hon. Friend's second point, if British Coal produces coal competitively, more households will be likely to buy.
Is the Minister aware that many coal fires are going out because—[Laughter.] I thought that that was rather good. This is happening because smokeless zones have been introduced. Therefore, people have been left with only one fire, so they cannot properly heat their homes. Could British Coal offer grants to such people when an area is made smokeless, so that they can afford to put in central heating, or will he ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to allow local authorities to give such grants?
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the polite way in which he posed that question. There will be agreement on both sides of the House that the benefits of smokeless zones are substantial.With regard to the hon. Gentleman's proposition, British Coal's time is already taken up in seeking to increase productivity. That is the most important aim and ambition of its production.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the death of coal as a heating product is due to the fact that local authorities do not build chimney breasts into houses? There has been a saving from clean-air zones, but does my hon. Friend agree that part of the price that the mining industry has had to pay is that fewer people burn coal and now use other forms of energy?
I agree with my hon. Friend that there are no doubt many reasons why households decide not to use coal and use instead oil, gas or electricity. I should have thought that the primary reason is cost. That is why it is crucial that British Coal and its labour force should seek ways to improve productivity.
Combined Heat And Power
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what further considerations the Government are giving; to the promotion of combined heat and power systems.
The Energy Efficiency Office will continue to promote combined heat and power technology. The privatisation of the electricity supply industry will open new business opportunities for all independent generators, including combined heat and power operators.
The Government appear to want to rely on the private sector for any development of combined heat and power. Does the Minister accept that if large areas, such as our cities, are to benefit from combined heat and power, substantial Government support and funding will be necessary? Does he further accept that if he introduces combined heat and power into our cities that would be a gigantic step towards the more effective use and conservation of energy for the future?
I accept that combined heat and power can be a great asset in a major city. I have seen examples of it in Sheffield and Leicester. However, I cannot agree with the hon. Lady that Government finance should be available. It is far better that market forces should prevail.
Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the contribution that combined heat and power can make in our cities, not only to the production of cheaper electricity and heating to overcome fuel poverty, but to the urban renewal programme? Will he speak to his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is supposed to be co-ordinating the Government programme on this, and ensure that there is an input into those programmes?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the contribution that is made, particularly in the two examples that I have seen in Leicester and Sheffield, is a great and good contribution. I shall ensure that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry sees those examples.
I join the Minister in looking forward to more combined heat and power generation. One of the ways in which that may take place is through the reopening of smaller coal-fired power stations. Following the Government's rejection of the EEC's offer to reduce sulphur and nitrogen emissions in the air and the resulting acid rain, it is possible that the opening of combined heat and power stations will increase sulphur emissions. How will the proposed privatisation affect that?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what the Government said about emissions. As I have already said in answer to previous questions, the potential for combined heat and power in certain major cities in this country, and perhaps elsewhere, can be great, but it will be subject to market conditions.
Central Electricity Generating Board
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board; and what subjects were discussed.
I meet the chairman of the CEGB regularly to discuss various matters relating to the privatisation of the electricity supply industry.
When the Secretary of State meets the chairman of the CEGB, does he have the same impression as many others, that the chairman has forgotten more about the electricity industry than the Minister will ever know, and does he agree, therefore, that his comments should be taken seriously? Will the Secretary of State respond to the statement by Graham Hadley, the secretary of the CEGB, supported by the chairman of the CEGB, that the separation of the grid from generation will cost the taxpayer up to £1 billion, or 10 per cent., on electricity charges, and will increase the threat of blackouts? What is in that for the consumer, and what makes the Minister think that he knows better than the CEGB?
I believe that if the hon. Gentleman cared to ring Mr. Graham Hadley he would now discover that he no longer maintains that it would cost £1 billion. Mr. Hadley's figure, which was absolutely impossible to understand, was based on the assumption that the Government would propose the creation of five vertically integrated power boards. We have not. It is agreed between the CEGB and our technical experts that although there may be a cost as a result of our proposals, it can be more than matched by the savings that will result. The hon. Gentleman's information is grossly out of date.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the CEGB, will he explain how welcome and well-engineered the privatisation proposals are? Will he also explain how the introduction of competition will be welcome to those who supply the CEGB with equipment, as it will enable them to put more competitive designs forward, which will in turn enable them once more to export to the world?
I should be happy to put those points to Lord Marshall, and at the same time I would remind him that the Electricity Council, the 12 area boards and the Electricity Consumers' Council totally support our proposals. I draw that to the attention of the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid).
Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the chairman of the CEGB about improving the transmission system in England and Wales to make it possible for consumers in those areas to take advantage of the substantial availability of generating capacity in Scotland?
Yes, I have discussed strengthening the interconnect. It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that there are plans to spend approximately £7 billion on strengthening the transmission system in England and Wales, including strengthening the Scottish interconnect.
Will my right hon. Friend ask Lord Marshall what he is doing to counter the recent alarmist programme on BBC "Panorama", which linked the magnetic field around high-tension cables with cancer? If my right hon. Friend disagrees with the findings of that programme, may I ask what is his Department doing to put the record straight?
I believe that the "Panorama" programme was essentially scaremongering. To date I believe that there has been one authority for this thesis, and he has said that the findings of his inquiry are suggestive rather than conclusive. The CEGB is spending £500,000 investigating that serious allegation, but it is confident that it will find that the link is extremely tenuous.
Has the Secretary of State discussed with the chairman the speech that is to be made by his Minister in Miami? Apparently the Minister is begging American capital to come to purchase the British electricity supply industry, thus removing the controls on foreign ownership. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether his promise to the House for tougher regulations to protect the consumer in a privatised electricity industry is consistent with the promise in the speech today to American capital that the regulatory controls will be less restrictive than they are in America? The increasing profits will no doubt be paid for by the consumer.
I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend's speech will not be delivered for another hour. When it is, he will find that it conclusively answers the points that he has raised. My hon. Friend's speech will make it clear that in America — it would be beyond dispute if the hon. Gentleman knew anything about it — it is accepted that the regulatory system is so restrictive that it is inhibiting the development of the electricity supply industry and putting the consumers at risk. We have said — and my hon. Friend has my total support — that although we will have a tough regulatory system, we will not have one that is so tough and mindless that it puts the customers' interests at risk.
Electricity Generating Stations
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board in order to discuss the ordering programme for electricity generating stations.
It is for the CEGB to decide when to order new power stations. My hon. Friend will be aware that the CEGB has applied for consent for a nuclear plant at Hinkley Point and two coal-fired stations at Fawley and West Burton.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as there will be a three or four-year delay before the generating side is privatised, it is important that we keep the ordering programme for nuclear and coal-fired power stations moving, especially in the light of the early closure of the Magnox nuclear stations?
I believe that it is important that we maintain a steady flow of orders for the electricity supply industry, because we have not had an order for a power station now for eight years and the supply industry has had tremendous problems. As a result of our proposals more people will come forward with proposals to build power stations. That should result in an acceleration rather than a slowing down of orders for the industry.
Does the Secretary of State accept that we found his answer to a previous question in relation to the strengthening of the transmission links between England and Scotland very interesting? Has he discussed the purchase of power from Scottish power stations with the chairman of British Coal so that we may receive a statement and some clarification about the future of coal-fired power stations in Scotland? There is a great deal of uncertainty over their future as a result of the attitude taken by the South of Scotland Electricity Board.
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, negotiations between British Coal and the SSEB are under way at the moment. I have made it clear that I want to see those negotiations succeed. I would like to see Scottish pits kept open and Scottish electricity derived from Scottish coal. There is no doubt about where I and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland stand on this matter. With regard to the interconnect, I believe that England offers a good export market for Scottish electricity. I hope that the SSEB will take advantage of its opportunities south of the border.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the timing of the power stations depends very much on the planning process? Has he noticed that Liberal-controlled Somerset county council has allocated £500,000 to tight the planning aspects and the whole concept of nuclear power on the Hinkley C site? As the rates have been increased by 12 per cent. to fund that, does my right hon. Friend agree that the ratepayers are having to pay for the anti-nuclear prejudices of the Somerset branch of the Social Liberal Democratic Alliance?
It is perfectly proper for the Somerset council to express its views and to ensure that its point of view is put over. We do not want to inhibit that. However, I hope that the council will concentrate on doing that rather than on making party political points about the nuclear power industry. In so far as the council is spending that money to promote political arguments rather than planning arguments, that must be deplored.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Coal; and what matters were discussed.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to meet the chairman of British Coal to discuss the future of the industry in the light of his proposals to privatise the electricity industry.
I meet the chairman of the British Coal Corporation regularly to discuss all aspects of the industry.
Has the Secretary of State discussed with the chairman of British Coal the plight of Leicestershire's highly skilled coal miners, whose pits are being closed one by one? Is he aware that the opening of the pit at Asfordby is not enough to provide jobs, particularly on the basis on which they are to be allocated? Is he aware that more mines should be opened in the Vale of Belvoir to provide low-cost coal and jobs and because the skilled and excellent band of miners led by Jack Jones deserve the Government's support? They are not getting nearly enough of that support.
I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Government have invested more in the coal industry than any predecessor Government. We have invested a total of nearly £9 billion since 1979. As he points out, substantial investment is being made in Asfordby. In contrast to the position when the Labour party was in office, miners now have a very generous redundancy scheme and no miner has been made compulsorily redundant. They can have either a generous redundancy scheme or another job. That is the case in Leicestershire.
In the Secretary of State's discussions with the chairman of British Coal, has he talked about the future of coal imports into the United Kingdom and the possible effect that the exchange rate might have upon the cost of these imports? Has he expressed a view to him about whether the exchange rate policy should be that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or that of the Prime Minister?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity, but I hope that he will not object if I concentrate on the energy part of his supplementary question. I have discussed with the chairman of the CEGB the amount of coal-fired capacity that he has. If British Coal continues to improve its productivity, and if miners adopt modern methods to accompany the modern machinery that has been installed, I believe that British Coal can have a bright future as a supplier of choice to the electricity supply industry.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of British Coal, will he draw to his attention the views expressed to me by some of my constituents that British Coal applies double standards when offering redundancy?A number of my constituents have been refused redundancy this month, while a gentleman in Yorkshire, who is alleged to have created 51 wildcat stoppages and cost the board £14 million., has been given generous redundancy. Is there no loyalty today?
If my hon. Friend writes to me about these specific matters, I shall take them up with the chairman of British Coal.
Does my right hon. Friend think that sometimes those who purport to represent the coal industry expend rather too much energy on trying to protect their jobs regardless of the cost, when they should be seeking ways of keeping customers happy? Does he agree that that is the best way to secure real jobs?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that the best guarantee of maintaining jobs in the industry is by concentrating on ensuring that coal is supplied to the Coal Board's customers at competitive prices.
Is the Secretary of State aware that 1,094 men left the coal industry in south Wales on Friday, and that 694 of them are in my constituency? These are men who opted for redundancy. Only 130 decided to stay in the industry. This is because the majority no longer have any faith in the promises made by those who run the industry.Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to those who have worked for so long in the industry and who, through no fault of their own, are now out of a job? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the redundancies have pushed male unemployment in my constituency to 34 per cent., which is unacceptable? Will he make additional moneys available to British Coal Enterprise Ltd?
We are examining the performance of British Coal Enterprise Ltd., and funds are being made available to it on a continuing basis. We deplore pit closures, but very often pits close for good reasons. Pits become worked out, as it were, and geological faults occur. The hon. Lady has confirmed that anyone who works in the industry has the choice of staying in the industry or taking extremely generous redundancy terms.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received from alternative energy interests about the White Paper on electricity privatisation.
Our proposal for a specified minimum proportion of non-fossil-fuelled generating capacity has been well received by those involved in the development of alternative energy sources. We hope that this will encourage new ideas in generation.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his commitment to non-fossil fuels, which is in accordance with the White Paper? What role does he see for renewable energy sources following privatisation?
There could be a good possibility that there will be a role for them. My hon. Friend will appreciate that that will be subject to further research and development taking place so that renewable energy sources can become competitive. The research and development programme is proceeding. This was demonstrated by an announcement by the CEGB and another by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State last week.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if, pursuant to his statement to the House on 7 March, Official Report, column 53, he will place in the Library the technical and scientific evidence upon which he based his conclusion that the grid control will have the same ability to deal with emergencies in electricity supply under the proposed privatisation as it does under the present arrangements.
No, Sir. This is an operational matter. The full range of powers to deal with emergencies will be available to those controlling the national grid under the proposed arrangements, as under the present ones. This will be built into the contract arrangements and the operating agreements.
Is the Secretary of State aware that a number of his hon. Friends, as well as a number of mine, went to CEGB Southwark, where we heard at length from Mr. Edgar McCarthy, the controller, about the Sundon incident 20 May 1986, when, if, within two minutes, post-fault urgent action had not been taken by those who had complete command of the grid London and the home counties would have been absolutely blacked out by system voltage collapse? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure Mr. McCarthy and others, on technical grounds, that their fears are groundless?
Yes. There will be no change in either the assets or the operation of the grid. What will change will be the ownership of the generating stations. The only basis for the assertion made to the hon. Gentleman is that under private ownership generating plants will not respond to orders from the national grid. As I have explained to him, it will be built into their contracts that in an emergency the national grid will have the right to override any other agreements. Therefore, the same assets will be available to the grid controllers, who will be able to give the same instructions in an emergency as in 1986.
Enterprise Allowance Scheme
To ask the Minister for the Arts to what extent the enterprise allowance scheme has affected those involved in the arts.
At 30 September 1987 some 7,500 people in the arts—authors, artists, film and television producers—were in receipt of enterprise allowances. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that a substantial number of arts people who receive allowances go on to become self-supporting.
Those figures seem most encouraging, but can my right hon. Friend tell the House what proportion of all people they represent, and what proportion of those who have benefited have become self-sufficient?
I think that it is good news that an estimated 7 per cent. of all those who received the allowances are from the artistic world and wish to set up their own businesses, of one kind or another, in that world. Although no figures are available relating specifically to the arts, it is clear that some 77 per cent. of all those who receive the allowances are still self-supporting, on a self-employed basis, six months after the allowances have ceased.
I am sure that the arts have an enormous part to play in this regard. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that setting up a new business in the arts is a matter not only of commercial viability but of artistic quality? Where do people go for advice on that when they are setting up their business? Is such advice provided by his Office, or by the Small Firms Service?
As my hon. Friend has said, business viability must be taken into account by the assessors at the Department of Employment. But, on a question of artistic merit, it is perfectly possible to go to bodies such as the British Film Institute or the regional arts associations to seek further advice.
Does my right hon. Friend understand that, whereas the enterprise allowance scheme may not be the most effective way of helping the Horniman museum in south London, everything must be done to ensure that that museum has a continued existence as a nationally supported museum?
Yes. I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's point about the importance of the Horniman museum. It has been in existence for a very long time and provides an important service. This is a matter principally for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but I am in contact with him about it.
Arts Council Funding (Liverpool)
To ask the Minister for the Arts when he last met the chairman of the Playhouse theatre and the Everyman theatre, Liverpool, to discuss their level of Arts Council funding.
I have not met the chairmen of these theatres to discuss Arts Council funding.
The tragic abolition of the Merseyside county council created a very tenuous future for the theatres on Merseyside. Does the Minister agree that the Merseyside cultural heritage is important, not only for the people on Merseyside, but for a national, and indeed international, catchment area? Should not its continuity be ensured by regular Government assistance and certainty of security? If the Government can ensure the future of the Tate gallery on Merseyside, why not the Playhouse theatre and the Everyman theatre?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that the range of performing arts and heritage facilities in the Liverpool and Merseyside area is very remarkable. I feel that Liverpool and Merseyside should do more to get that across to the nation if they want to attract more tourists. The theatres to which he referred—the Playhouse and Everyman — have been very successful. A substantial proportion of the resources are raised by box-office means and through the private sector, but I am very glad that the Arts Council has agreed to maintain its support pending a study of funding arrangements in the Liverpool area and in acknowledgement that the city authority has come in with an extra £200,000.
I commend the Liverpool Playhouse to the Minister, especially its production of "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists", which will be on at the Theatre Royal, Stratford in my constituency in Newham from 14 April to 14 May. In view of the funding problems faced by the Theatre Royal, would the Minister care to accept an invitation from me to see this production of "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" and, if he comes, I shall buy him a curry in Stratford immediately afterwards?
That is one of the most generous and surprising offers that I have ever had and, to use Government jargon, I shall carefully consider the invitation. I have visited the Playhouse in Liverpool, which is an admirable theatre. I am keen on promoting touring around this country, not just from London to outside London but around the regions. That is very important.
To ask the Minister for the Arts how many (a) visits and (b) residencies of photographers in schools were financed by the Arts Council in the last year for which statistics are available.
Detailed information on this subject is not held centrally. The information that is available shows that at least 151 visits and eight residencies of photographers in schools were financed by the Arts Council and the regional arts associations in 1986–87.
:I think the Minister agrees that these visits and residencies should be encouraged. We are all pleased at his continuing contribution to and encouragement of photography but does he agree that even more can be done? Can he find more money within his budget to give to the Arts Council so that there can be more visits and residencies? If he cannot, will he look for a bit of creative accountancy and find out whether there can be some burseries from his Department to encourage more photographers to carry out these exercises?
I do not under-estimate the importance of photography, in which the public have a growing interest. The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the Arts Council and the regional arts associations have a limited sum of money and various priorities to determine, and it must be up to them to decide how to disburse that money. I am glad to learn that some regional authorities are promoting a closer interest between photography and education; for example, the North-West arts association held a seminar on that matter last week.
Theatre Funding (Leicester)
To ask the Minister for the Arts whether he will discuss with the Arts Council the level of funding for the theatre in Leicester.
I have no plans to do so.
I regret the Minister's lack of plans. Will he pay tribute to the work of the Haymarket theatre in Leicester and to its resilience, especially in supporting and encouraging new writing, and its successful efforts towards meeting its deficits through its plays, which are sent on to the West End stage? Will the right hon. Gentleman provide some assurance of long-term adequate funding for this tremendously useful and excellent theatre?
I, too, should like to acknowledge the Haymarket theatre's enterprise. I am glad that the Arts Council, the city council and the county council are undertaking constructive negotiations on its long-term future and funding. It is only right that we should look to theatres to raise resources from the private sector as well. I am looking for more self-reliance by arts organisations.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should look to those who claim constantly that there is widespread support for the arts in Leicester and elsewhere and that those who want and support the arts should pay for them? Does my right hon. Friend not think it high time that the hard-pressed taxpayer was relieved of this constant burden of the arts and that those who claim that the arts have widespread support were asked to pay a greater contribution more directly?
I have introduced the concept of incentive funding so that taxpayers' money can be used to reward those who are capable of becoming more self-reliant. That is at the heart of our policies.
Premium Book Subscription Service
To ask the Minister for the Arts what evidence he has of a desire by library authorities to introduce a premium book subscription service for newly published books.
One library authority recently drew up proposals to set up a complementary premium lending service for newly published novels and biographies, but did not proceed because it was advised that to do so would be in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. I have also received letters from members of the public saying that they would like libraries to provide subscription services. My Green Paper therefore suggests that library authorities should have discretionary powers, to set up these services.
Is the Minister aware that when this harebrained scheme was introduced in New Zealand, 66 per cent. of the income was taken up in administration costs, and when it was introduced in Kiel in Germany it was dropped quickly because loans of children's books fell by 40 per cent.? Are we really to have new books for the rich, and old, dog-eared books for the poor, with each book having to meet a test discount rate and a real rate of return?
That is a nonsensical way to consider the Green Paper. The objectives of the Green Paper are to seek ways to enable local authorities to raise extra resources, not just through the public sector, but in harness with the private sector, so that they can raise extra resources to improve the library services for customers. That proposal was one of several designed to achieve just that.
My right hon. Friend knows my concern about the closure of many public libraries in London because of alleged lack of resources, particularly in Kingswood in my constituency. Will not the premium subscription lending service generate resouces to improve library services generally?
Yes, indeed. That is one reason why we introduced for consideration that suggestion, among others. Other suggestions, including the paying of charges for certain specialist services in one field or another, are all designed to increase resources and improve facilities to customers.
Since the Green Paper is a consultative document, no doubt the Minister is taking a keen interest in the public responses to his proposals. Has he seen last week's copy of the Library Association "Record", which describes his Green Paper as
Should not the Minister save himself further embarrassment by withdrawing his ridiculous proposals now?"an impenetrable forest of negatives … A dog's breakfast …. patronising … badly written … confusing … and weak on logic."
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not interested in new ways of finding extra resources. It is regrettable that he adopts that attitide. The views of the chief executive of the Library Association have been positive, constructive and helpful. I look for such an attitude of mind, but I do not expect it from the Opposition.
To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what representations he has received about the implications for the implementation of the White Paper "Improving Management in Government: The Next Steps," of the recent leak of a letter from Mr. Paul Gray to Mr. Tom Jeffrey about educational testing; and if he will make a statement.
I have received no representations about the matter.
Was it proper for Mr. Ingham's office, a Civil Service office, to give authority for the leak? Will there be a leak inquiry, and if not, why not?
Mr. Ingham must be very flattered by the amount of attention that he receives from the hon. Gentleman. The position remains quite clear. The Prime Minister stated on 14 March that it is not the usual practice to give information on such matters.
Will the Minister say why millions of pounds of public money are being spent in bringing management and computer consultants into various Government Departments to do jobs that could be done perfectly well by civil servants?
If bringing in consultants is designed to improve the management of the Civil Service and get better value for money for taxpayers, that is the right thing to do.
To ask the Minister for the Civil Service whether he has any plans to alter the present entry or promotion exams in the Civil Service.
No, Sir. Selection for entry to and promotion in the Civil Service is on merit. I expect that to continue and shall encourage it. Procedures are, however, altered as the skills and qualities civil servants need change.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he tell me why, on the examination forms for entry and promotion, the ethnic origin of candidates has to be stated? Are there two standards, one for those who are indigenous, and one for immigrants? Will he also tell me why, in the Ministry of Defence, there are at present vacancies for 535 clerical officers, while in the north of England there is a desperate shortage of work? What will he do to redress the balance?
The question about the Ministry of Defence is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Let me make it absolutely plain that the Government are equality of opportunity employers. We recruit people into the Civil Service and promote them only on the basis of equality of opportunity. The reason for obtaining information from recruits about their ethnic origin is to ensure, as best we conceivably can, that a policy of promotion on merit and equality of opportunity is properly run and devised by the Government.
I wonder whether in future, when civil servants have examinations to pass, they will also have a paper before them on how to leak without getting caught. If they need any advice on that, could the Minister suggest that it should be preceded by a seminar headed by Bernard Ingham and the Prime Minister to help them out?
I am glad to say that the Civil Service does not adhere to the standards that the hon. Gentleman seems to want.
Civil Service Reform
To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what are the implications for the Office of Arts and Libraries of the proposed reforms of the Civil Service.
Like all other Government Departments, the Office of Arts and Libraries will be considering how to apply the recommendations of the "Next Steps" report to its own operations, though most of the functions which it funds are carried out by non-departmental public bodies.
Knowing the meticulous care that my right hon. Friend brings to his Ministry, will he tell the House whether he has yet had discussions with his other half, the Minister for the Arts, and what was the outcome?
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts has a mind of his own. He is quite difficult to get alongside, but I will try.
In the light of the opportunities now offered by the reform of the Civil Service, may I enlist the support of the Minister in pressing for a Cabinet post for the arts in recognition of their importance in the United Kingdom?
I think that we are going a little beyond the Civil Service questions. However, I am flattered by the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion.
To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects to meet the Civil Service trade unions to discuss the proposals for agencies for the Civil Service.
I have no plans to meet the Civil Service unions at present but the head of the Home Civil Service has made it clear that he is open to consultations.
Is the Minister aware that one of the largest Civil Service regional centres is in Nottingham, in my constituency of Nottingham, North, where the Government buildings at Chalfont drive have the Land Registry, the district valuers, the Property Services Agency, the Wages Inspectorate and the Ordnance Survey section? Will he, or one of his colleagues, meet the trade unions representatives on that large site and reassure them that by this time next year they will not be added to the list of Nottingham's 14,000 unemployed?
I am glad that there are such a large number of civil servants in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and area. In fact, four out of five of all civil servants are well outside the London region. That policy is one that the Government are encouraging. Meetings with the unions are for the Departments concerned.
Does the Minister recognise the widespread anxiety among civil servants about the effect that the agencies will have on nationally negotiated wage rates? What can he say to the House today to reassure those civil servants, many of whom are long-standing civil servants who have made career decisions over many years, that their position will not be eroded by the Government's policies?
There is no doubt about the importance of the agencies and the wide welcome that they have received from many people in the Civil Service. They will devolve more responsibility on to the shoulders of managers and that is more likely to lead to a better use of Government and taxpayers' resources. On the matter of terms and conditions of service, they remain civil servants within the agencies. It is a matter for negotiation between the Departments concerned and the agency being set up as to the exact terms and conditions of service. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the unions concerned will be fully consulted if there are any proposals for changes in terms and conditions.
To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he is yet in a position to give the definitive list of those organisations which will be the first to be formed into agencies, as part of the implementation of the recommendations of the recent efficiency unit report, "Improving Management in Government: The Next Steps".
An initial list of possibilities was published on 18 February. These and other candidates will be considered on their merits.
I welcome the report and the Prime Minister's statement that the Government intend to implement the establishment of agencies. As the proposal has been widely welcomed, both outside and inside the Civil Service, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider keeping up the momentum and encouraging the establishment of agencies as a topmost priority?
Yes, of course I will. The project manager, Mr. Kemp, is now fully settled in the Department and we are working on drawing up the first list for implementation as soon as possible with the Departments concerned. As my hon. Friend knows, there is an initial list of 12, and we shall make an announcement as soon as we have one to make.
Is the Minister interested in efficiency a bit nearer home? Did he notice that earlier this Question Time a messenger arrived, bewigged from the Lords, and handed a bundle of documents done up in red tape to the Serjeant at Arms, who handed the bundle to the Attendant who normally marks up the times of debates, who handed it to the Doorkeeper, who brought it round via the No Lobby to behind the Chair and handed it to our Clerk? Surely there is a more efficient method for bringing messages from the Lords and carrying them the last 25 yards to our Clerk.
I have to answer for the Civil Service and not for procedures in this House, which are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. But the more that can be done to get rid of red tape, the better.
Ex-Civil Servants (Employment)
To ask the Minister for the Civil Service how many former civil servants have taken up employment with companies in a contractual relationship with Her Majesty's Government in the last five years.
I am glad to report that the system for dealing with these cases continues to work well. Comprehensive information is not available centrally. However, applications which have been referred by Departments to the Cabinet Office in accordance with the business appointment rules show that, between 1983 and 1987, 519 civil servants have sought approval to join companies with which they had had contractual contact.
Is the Minister not aware of the concern that exists about the number of people leaving the Civil Service to do precisely what he has just described? It seems that in the Ministry of Defence a large number of contracts are resulting in the British taxpayer being ripped off by private contractors. Would it not be better for the Ministry to prohibit civil servants from going to work for any organisation that has had any contractual relationship with the Government for a period of at least 10 years?
If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman takes a very limited view, although not necessarily a very surprising one. Just as business men have a contribution to make in periods of secondment to the Civil Service, so civil servants have a contribution to make to the outside world. All that matters is that they should take up jobs that do not conflict with their previous appointment. That is why adequate procedures have been provided to deal with the matter, through the Diamond committee.
Community Charges Regulations (Scotland)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can help us in relation to the regulations that are to be debated for an hour and a half at 10.15 this evening, which relate to the establishment of the register for the community charge — the poll tax — in Scotland. There was lengthy questioning of the Leader of the House during business questions last week, and on at least four different occasions the right hon. Gentleman described the regulations as trivial and technical.May I ask you, Sir, for your assistance and guidance? First, can the Leader of the House describe in that way a very detailed and important measure establishing the whole registration system for this unwanted and unfair tax in Scotland and get away with it? Secondly, is it in order for the Government to lay before the House regulations part of which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has described as unlawful because its provisions require registration officers to undertake something that they have no power to do? Thirdly, can the House give powers to registration officers to undertake something that the House and the Government have refused to define? Two aspects of the form to be filled in are incomplete. For instance, it asks students—
Order. Those are matters which are best put to the Minister later tonight, although I can answer the hon. Gentleman's first two questions. First, it is in order for the matter to be debated tonight. Secondly, I heard the way in which the Leader of the House described the regulations. I do not think that anything that comes before the House is trivial. I am sure that that is a very important matter and I shall listen with great interest to the debate later tonight.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I take your point, but I was going to ask you for some guidance. This is not something that is happening at some time in the future. The process of registration that—is to be debated this evening—on Monday—starts on 1 April, which is Friday of this week. Hon. Members may think, "Well, that's Good Friday," but I assure them that Good Friday is not necessarily a public holiday in Scotland. Registration starts on Friday, so matters that are not covered are of great importance to the House.Of course, Mr. Speaker, your ruling is correct when you say that you cannot interfere, but I suggest that it is time that the House asked you to look into the matter to see whether greater control of statutory instruments should be given to the House.
I have looked at the matter—
Order. I have looked at the matter and noted what the statutory instruments Committee said on it, but there are precedents for what is happening tonight. It is in order for the debate to proceed. On Friday the motion making it a debate lasting one and a half hours was passed.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that I raised this matter on Thursday, along with many of my hon. Friends. There was an expression of great outrage from the Opposition on Thursday. We hoped that the Leader of the House would take account of that and alter the timetable, but nothing has been done about it. There are 101 or more anomalies, points of question and worries that can be raised and only an hour and a half in which to do it. I know that, of the 72 hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies, the vast majority want to speak on the matter—[Interruption.] We shall have only one minute each if the debate lasts an hour and a half. Perhaps some of the exiled Scots who interfere in our debates from time to time will also want to speak.Given all the representations that were made on Thursday and the fact that the Labour Front Bench has raised a point of order today, and as I suspect that several of my hon. Friends are also concerned about it, there must be some way, Mr. Speaker, that you can say to the Government that the measure, which is important, and is not trival and technical, must be given proper time for adequate scrutiny by the House. If you are not able to do so, you should be given powers to enable you to do so, Mr. Speaker.
That is a different matter. At the moment I have no authority to intervene in such matters. If the hon. Gentleman had been here on Friday, he would have been able to object to the motion that was passed without opposition.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect to what you have just said, Mr. Speaker, about there being precedents, may I say that the nature of the tax and the intrusion into personal liberty have no precedent, particularly in modern legislation? Conservative Members might reflect on the fact that Scotland is being used as a guinea pig—I am not being disrespectful to my country. Therefore, it would behove them to look at what the statutory instruments Committee said and it would behove the House to look at the modern techniques that are available to Government to use information that the registration officers will acquire for purposes outwith the collection of the tax. Therefore, we need the protection of the House. The House exists to protect the people, not just the Executive. If we were doing our job, we should tell the Executive that the statutory instrument is out of order and ultra vires, and should not be debated.
I say to the hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies who are rising that I can do nothing about the matter. A motion was passed on Friday and it is not within my power to do anything about it. A large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in the debate on the Education Reform Bill, which is to take place under a timetable motion, and we should get to it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can we, as a matter of procedure, try to ensure that points of order are raised as points of order and not as arguments about the matter under consideration? On Friday, the House passed the motion without a Division. The Opposition had an opportunity to vote on the matter, but hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies were not here. Can we maintain the proper procedure and not have people cheating?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that it is primary legislation that gives the Government the power to introduce statutory instruments, and that that was the time when the detail should have been debated? It was debated and the Opposition lost. Will you confirm that this is not the first time that legislation such as this has been handled in this way? We can remember the selective employment tax, which was just as hideous and odious as some may believe the community charge to be. Will you confirm that there is nothing out of order in what will happen this evening?
Order. I have already said that.
I shall call two more hon. Members, but then we must get on.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You advised my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) that last Friday it was open to us to object to this procedure. Is it not a fact that that would have curtailed the debate, which is not what we want to achieve? You have said that there is nothing that you can do, but do you appreciate that the problem is that not only is there nothing that you can do but that there is nothing that the elected representatives of the people of Scotland can do? How on earth can we protect the constitution of the United Kingdom in the face of a Government who seem hell bent on breaking up the United Kingdom?
I should like to raise a point of order with you, Mr. Speaker, on the statutory instrument which was not considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and which many regard as a snoopers' charter. Many hon. Members will have a financial advantage if the poll tax and the related delegated legislation is brought into operation. Would there be a direct pecuniary interest to Conservative Scottish Members—handful of them that there are—if they voted for the statutory instrument? It would be worthwhile if you, Mr. Speaker, examined this matter to see whether they can vote for it.
It is perfectly in order for hon. Members to cast a vote where it is a matter of public policy, as this would be.
Order. I am not taking any more points of order.
Because there is a timetable motion, and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) may wish to take part in the debate on the Education Reform Bill. The House might benefit from his speech.
Northern Ireland (Termination Of Jurisdiction)
Mr. Tony Benn, supported by Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Ken Livingstone, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Bob Clay, Ms. Dawn Primarolo, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. John Hughes, Ms Mildred Gordon, Mr. Max Madden and Mr. Bernie Grant, presented a Bill to make provision with respect to the termination of Her Majesty's jurisdiction in Northern Ireland: and for purposes connected therewith: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 133.]
Statutory Instruments, &C
With the leave of the House, I will put together the two motions relating to statutory instruments.
That the Value Added Tax (Confectionery) Order 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 507), be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Redundancy Payments (Local Government) (Modification) (Amendment) Order 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Ryder.]
Orders Of The Day
Education Reform Bill
4Th Allotted Day
As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
Abolition Of Ilea
I beg to move amendment No. 375, in page 127, line 26, leave out 'On 1st April 1990', and insert
`The Secretary of State shall secure a review of the Inner London Education Authority to be undertaken in pursuance of section 22(2) of the Local Government Act 1985, and on a date not less than two years after the conclusion of that review the Secretary of State may by affirmative order provide that'.
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 499, in clause 136, in page 127, line 32, at beginning insert—
No. 356, in page 127, line 32, after 'date', insert'Subject to the provisions of subsections (3) and (4) below'.
No. 357, in page 127, line 38, at end add—'subject to subsections (3) and (4) below'.
No. 358, in page 127, line 38, at end add—'(3) The Secretary of State may by Order, which shall be subject to affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament, designate two or more inner London councils as a single education authority, to which references in this or other Acts shall apply as in subsection (1) above.'.
No. 500, in page 127, line 38, at end insert—'(4) The Secretary of State may make an Order, subject to affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament, which—
(a) may designate any former function of the inner London Education Authority which shall be discharged by a body, other than an inner London council or an education authority established by virtue of subsection (3) above;
'(3) Before the abolition date, the Secretary of State shall review development plans published in accordance with the provisions of section 138 of this Act and any other evidence or representations he considers approriate (including, in particular, reviews of matters relating to—
(a) special educational needs; and (b) further and continuing education,in the Inner London Education Area).
No. 504, in clause 138, in page 129, line 3, at end insert(4) If it appears to the Secretary of State in the case of any one or more inner London councils that all or any of those councils could with advantage make joint arrangements for the discharge of all or any of the functions of a local education authority, he shall by order under Part II of Schedule 1 of the 1944 Act establish for the whole or any part of the Inner London Education area a joint committee for the purpose of exercising such functions as he may prescribe accordingly.'.
No. 501, in clause 143, in page 133, line 16, at end insert'(5A) An Inner London council shall, in preparing a development plan under this section, ensure that there is adequate financial support for the effective running and management of each of the following—
(a) the teaching of mother-tongue or community languages, (b) the teaching of English as a second language, (c) holiday play schemes, (d) supplementary schools, (e) the Education Liaison Service, and (f) access courses leading to higher and further education.'.
'provided that for the purposes of an order made under this section, when a school is designated by an order made under section 139 (so that an inner London council has a duty to maintain a school previously maintained by the LEA) the persons employed at that school shall be regarded as members of one class or description of employees'.
The amendment raises the crucial issue of whether the abolition of ILEA should take place on 1 April 1990 with no serious study or review, or whether a review should take place first. Before I deal with that, I want to place on record my great regret that the Secretary of State is unwilling to reply to this debate. He is here, but he is putting up the Minister of State to reply—and I mean her no disrespect by saying that. It has been crystal clear throughout that this is a crucial matter that is central to the Government's and the Secretary of State's reputation and he should have had the guts to reply to the debate on it.
The hon. Gentleman knows that Mr. Speaker has selected six groups of amendments for debate and I shall reply to at least two of them—provided that we get to them, which we should be able to do. I have every confidence that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to reply.If the hon. Gentleman wants my reply to the amendment, let me say that we are wholly opposed to it. It will only lead to delay, which is not good for the interests of the children of London. The greatest service he can do is to encourage the London Labour boroughs to start planning for taking over their children's education on 1 April 1990, which is what the Conservative boroughs and Tower Hamlets are doing.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but it does not lie in his mouth to suggest that we can get on to debate the second and third groupings when he guillotined the Bill ruthlessly so that we are likely to be able to discuss only the first group, as he knew all along. He also well knows that we have the interests of the children of London at heart, which is why we are proposing a review first.There have been two major reviews of ILEA's work under this Administration — one in 1980 and one in 1984. The one in 1980 was prompted by the findings of a committee of which the Secretary of State, then a Back Bencher, was chairman. The then Secretary of State, Lord Carlisle, with the advice of Her Majesty's inspectors before him, came to the House on 4 February 1981 to announce the conclusion of the review in these terms:
A further review was conducted alongside the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" in 1983–84. I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) here—"the overriding factors are educational and financial. The weight of educational opinion, including the voluntary bodies and the churches, is that the problems of inner London call for a single authority of adequate size and with adequate resources to administer its schools as well as further and higher education, and the careers service; and that responsibility for the schools should not be separated from the rest of education. The Government share that view." —[Official Report, 4 February 1981; Vol. 998 c. 296.]
Because I can address some of my remarks to him. His presence shows at least some token concern for the education of London's children; but the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) is absent—
Because the sun is still up; he is waiting for it to go down.
In any case, his absence shows the cavalier manner in which he regards the future of inner London.The right hon. Member for Henley broke the 30-year Cabinet rule and told us that only five years ago — I hope that the Attorney-General has noted his indiscretion and that summonses under the Official Secrets Act will follow, under section 2 if not section 1 — he argued strongly within the Cabinet in 1983–84 in the run-up to the general election for the break-up of ILEA. Sad to relate, from his point of view, he failed in that, and the break-up was not included in the 1983 manifesto. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman went on arguing for the break-up of ILEA after 1983—but still failed. We had a number of arguments with Lord Joseph, but never doubted his concern about the education of our children. He said to the House:
I understand that the consolation prize for the right hon. Member for Henley was that a power of review should be written into the Local Government Bill so that there could be a facility for abolishing ILEA by order, if the Government came to that conclusion, after about five years. If at any stage I have the chronology, the history or the facts wrong, I shall give way to the former Secretary of State so that he can give away some more official secrets. The power to abolish ILEA by order was overturned by the House of Lords in mid-1985 and the matter came back to this House. May God please preserve the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), the longest serving junior Minister in this Administration. So pleased have we been with his comments that we are forming a Bob Dunn preservation society, because every time he speaks he makes our case. He said:"Those whom we consulted, in particular those Members of the House and others with a close understanding of the needs of education in inner London, were overwhelmingly in favour of a directly elected authority. We have been persuaded by their arguments. The nature, the scale and importance of the education service in inner London, taken together, justify a directly elected authority in this special casc."—[Official Report, 5 April 1984; Vol. 57, c. 1124.]
as it then was—"The strongest objection to clause 21"—
It is interesting to look back at the history of that period to see what became of section 22 of the 1985 Act. Right from the start everyone in the Government accepted that before ILEA was broken up there had to be a review. That was written into the original legislation and was accepted by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I understand that it was also accepted by the right hon. Members for Henley and for Chingford and by the Prime Minister. Indeed, it was about the only matter on which those four right hon. Members agreed. All four of them knew that before there was any serious change to the structure of an organisation as complex and important as ILEA there had to be a review. There has been some reference to well-wishers who keep sending me plain sealed envelopes containing information about what goes on in the Government or in the Conservative party. I shall come to the latest brown envelope that I have received."has been to the proposal that there should be a power for my right hon. Friend to reallocate the new ILEA's functions by order. We have been convinced by those arguments." —[Official Report, 8 July 1985; Vol. 82, c. 817.]
The hon. Gentleman should not encourage public servants to break the law.
The hon. Gentleman should be careful in his allegation.I have yet to receive a white envelope containing details of exactly what the Secretary of State said to "E(EP)", the Cabinet Sub-Committee that deals with all these matters, when he was faced with the efforts by the right hon. Members for Henley and for Chingford who were trying to railroad him into breaking up ILEA against his will. I understand, and I am certainly open to correction, that even at that stage the Secretary of State argued quite strongly against those two right hon. Gentlemen and said that there should be a review. I see that the Secretary of State is smiling like a Cheshire cat. If I am wrong, I shall give way so that the right hon. Gentleman can correct me and tell me exactly what other arguments he used against the two right hon. Gentlemen. We know, because we were able to observe it, that during the weeks when the Government were deciding whether to accept his advice or theirs he was walking around looking as black as thunder because he knew, and we knew, that he was being rolled over.
There was an argument at the time, and it was that we should make a success of getting rid of the GLC and the metropolitan counties before dealing with ILEA. Now that we have made a triumphant success of getting rid of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, there seems to be an overwhelming case for saying that ILEA should go the same way.
That was not the argument that convinced the Secretary of State or the right hon. Gentleman, the chairman of the Conservative party, because only nine months ago in the Conservative manifesto they put forward quite a different proposition. As I understand it, the right hon. Member for Henley was a party to the decision in 1983–84 that there had to be a review of ILEA before any decision was made about its abolition. If I am wrong about that, I shall give way again to the right hon. Member for Henley. Once again, the right hon. Gentleman is trying to hide behind jokes and trivialities to mask the fact that he and the Government have gone back on their word.In order to reinforce the point that the Secretary of State was rolled over, I can tell the House that I had never seen him as uncomfortable as when he made his statement to the House on 4 February. He was trying to explain that black was white, and that a manifesto commitment that he had written and the right hon. Member for Chingford had endorsed, to keep ILEA intact, with at most three boroughs and the City of London withdrawing, was the same as the manifesto commitment to destroy it altogether.
Where in the Conservative party manifesto was there an undertaking that ILEA would be kept intact and only three boroughs would be allowed to withdraw? The trouble with the hon. Gentleman is that he cannot conceive that anybody's second thoughts would be better than his first. In his case, his third, fourth and fifth thoughts would be better than the one he is putting forward now.
The Conservative party manifesto said:
"In the area covered by the Inner London Education Authority, where entire borough councils wish to become independent of the LEA, they will Be able to submit proposals to the Secretary of State requesting permission to take over the provision of education within their boundaries."
The hon. Gentleman said that there was an undertaking that ILEA would not be dismantled. There was a proposition, which has now been improved, that it should be dismantled. That is the fact.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. First, he said that this was a second thought, suggesting a complete change of policy. Now he is saying that it was a manifesto commitment, and the new policy is an improvement. He knows that there is not a word in the manifesto about the abolition of ILEA. He also knows that only three Conservative boroughs and the City of London, and possibly Tower Hamlets—I see the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) shaking his head, and he knows the Liberals in Tower Hamlets better than I do. The right hon. Member for Chingford knew the reality at the time of the general election, and he knew it when he put forward the amendment in the form of an early-day motion. If he thought that the manifesto was the mechanism for breaking up ILEA, why did he bother to have second thoughts and try to force on the Secretary of State an about-turn of policy?
To set the record straight, I should inform the hon. Gentleman that the view of Tower Hamlets council has always been that it opposes the abolition of ILEA. If ILEA were to be broken up, as was the original Tory proposal, it was considering what it should do. It never reached a conclusion because it never had time to do so, and it is opposed to the present proposal as much as any other borough in inner London that is not run by the Tories.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that explanation.
Let me get back to the point. The hon. Gentleman claimed that there was an undertaking in the manifesto that what is being done in the Bill would not be done. He has to face the fact that no such undertaking was given. If he would come clean and not overstate his argument, he might do a lot better.
It is nice to know that the right hon. Gentleman now presents himself as Mr. Clean. The right hon. Gentleman has claimed for himself many reputations, but being Mr. Clean is not one of them. The phrase I used was that a manifesto commitment that he had written would result in ILEA being kept intact. On the basis of what was written in the manifesto—and he knows the words as well as I do—that was an entirely reasonable inference to draw. Not more than three boroughs would have withdrawn. We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his confirmation that these were indeed second thoughts, and a major change of policy.The fact that the Secretary of State was rolled over by the right hon. Members for Chingford and Henley is crystal clear from the information that I have been sent by well-wishers. There was first the report of Mr. Eric Bolton, the chief inspector, who wholly rebutted the claim that ILEA had not improved. That claim has been central to the argument for abolition without review. The Secretary of State knows that Mr. Bolton's minute, which was attached to the paper that no doubt went to "E(EP)"., in which the Secretary of State argued for the review of ILEA and not for its break-up, praised four out of seven ILEA services and said that two were around the average. It was critical about secondary schools, but went on to say:
"Whatever its previous shortcomings, over the past two or three years there has been a marked move towards the improvement of quality, notably through an increase in inspection and in school improvement strategies, arising from the findings of inspection, as well as from the policies of the authority. In fact, there are clear signs that the findings of inspection are beginning to have an influence on the formulation of policy in the Inner London Education Authority."
The hon. Gentleman says that ILEA has improved in recent years. Does he accept that, whatever improvements have taken place, it is still almost bottom of the league?
I do not accept that. We have had many debates about the performance of ILEA. I can claim to have some knowledge of ILEA, both as a member and as a consumer. It is a good authority. Even the Secretary of State had to correct himself when he claimed that its results were bottom of the league. He had to admit that there were about 12 authorities below it. Given the socioeconomic background of the children, both the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State know that ILEA's results are about the same as those for Oxfordshire and better than those for the borough of Waltham Forest, when it was Conservative-controlled.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall give way in a moment.The remarks of the chief inspector suggested that ILEA was improving and thus emphasise the Secretary of State's discomfort that the abolition of ILEA was forced upon him without a review. The Secretary of State and his political advisers have sought to brief Conservative Members about the fact that abolition could go ahead without review. I have no doubt that the series of questions and answers written at the Department of Education and Science and put out by Conservative central office to explain away those second thoughts—which, according to the Secretary of State, are first thoughts slightly changed—were written with the intention that no one should be convinced by them. That series of questions and answers is very defensive. Question one asks:
The right hon. Member for Chingford says that the answer is yes and that it shows second thoughts. The Secretary of State says that that is not the case. That is another indication of division. How can the Government abolish ILEA if the matter was not put to the electorate in the 1987 manifesto? Question seven reflects the second thoughts in the minds of the drafters at Conservative central office and in the Department of Education and Science. Question seven asks:"Doesn't the announcement that ILEA is to be abolished mean a complete change of policy?"
The answer states:"Why abolish the ILEA without first having a review under section 22 of the Local Government Act 1985?"
I have dealt with the issue whether there has been an improvement. The Secretary of State was so angry about the leaking of Mr. Bolton's minute because it gave the game away and showed that there has been an improvement in ILEA's secondary school system and that four of the other seven services were among the best in the country. I asked the obvious question—whether it was correct that there had been a long series of reviews such as that anticipated by section 22 of the Local Government Act 1985. It took the Secretary of State 10 days to answer that simple question and I received the answer only this morning. The Secretary of State mentioned two internal Government reviews, both of which I have referred to and both of which concluded that ILEA should remain intact. He then mentioned five other reviews. Only one review, the one that he wrote himself in 1985, said that ILEA should go. He has changed his mind since then; Lord Carlisle changed it for him. I was referred finally to a document produced by the Centre for Policy Studies entitled "The Inner London Education Authority After the Abolition of the Greater London Council", published in 1983. Conservative Members, particularly those on the Right of the party, know about the Centre for Policy Studies because it provides them with the way, the truth and the light. My heart sank when I borrowed that from the Library and saw that it was written by John McIntosh, Fred Naylor and Laurence Norcross. However, this review, the last carried out by the Government, concludes:"There have been a long series of such reviews, but these have not resulted in any noticeable improvement in the ILEA's educational or financial performance. There is no reason to believe that a new review would be any more successful in raising standards in the future. On the contrary, it would merely postpone a positive decision, leaving the current climate of uncertainty."
The review goes on to recommend a directly elected authority and says that there should be direct elections. The authors of the report got their way because they persuaded Lord Joseph to go down that road. Finally, in case the Secretary of State says, "Oh well, that was in 1983", the report goes on to say:"Although we have considered the solutions put forward by Mr. Kenneth Baker and Sir Frank Marshall, we do believe there are some powerful arguments for retaining broadly the present administrative structure of the ILEA."
Even those three ideologues on the Right of the Tory party understood that the reforms had to take time before they could bear fruit."The reform which we are advocating should be subject to review aften ten years."
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the important issues which ILEA has not faced — the constantly neglected need to go for higher expectations of its pupils, as many pupils fail to have high expectations, and its failure to relocate staff on the scale required?
I am not so pessimistic as the hon. Gentleman about teachers in London and pupil expectations, but I accept that there is a problem, not just in London but in many inner city areas. There is a vicious circle regarding teachers' expectations of their lower-achieving pupils. That is not surprising, given that over the past eight years the economic prospects of children emerging from school with either low or no examination results have been very low. The blame for that lies not with us, but with the Government. The last way to raise standards in inner London is to put ILEA and the education of inner London children through the disruption which is bound to be faced over the next 18 months or two years, if the proposal to break up ILEA is approved by the House.
I wish to bring the hon. Gentleman to the core of the point. He has been arguing about whether the manifesto should stand firm and boroughs should opt out, or whether ILEA should be abolished at a stroke. Presumably he accepts that the manifesto commitment was perfectly valid and received an overwhelming mandate. Would he prefer to see ILEA wither on the branch as boroughs opt out? Undoubtedly more than the three or four that made it clear that they would opt out would have done so. The Labour boroughs would have opted out and ILEA would have withered on the branch. The hon. Gentleman's colleague, Lady Blackstone, has advised against that and surely he does not want to see that. That is why the Government have taken those steps.
I knew that I was right in hesitating to give way to the hon. Gentleman. As both my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) have said, Lady Blackstone did not say that. The hon. Gentleman knows that. Lady Blackstone and the Labour party believe that ILEA should not be broken up. We are not going to offer the hon. Gentleman and his party advice on the best method of executing an institution that we hold dear.
The hon. Gentleman has given us an interesting review of the reviews. He has said nothing new today. Everything that he has said has been on the record and has been known for some time. One of the little ironies of his review of the reviews was that he quoted from a 1983 Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet and, as a result, managed to cast my right hon. Friends the Members for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) as being against Right-wing ideologues and pictured them, as they are correctly presented in public life, as the moderates in this matter.The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the review by the senior chief inspector reflected real concern about standards in secondary schools in ILEA. There has been no progress in improving value for money in ILEA. It is still the largest spending authority. Many other authorities are concerned that so much money is being spent. In the manifesto that the hon. Gentleman read out we clearly signalled a change of policy. My right hon. Friend Lord Joseph went for a unitary authority, but in our manifesto we signalled the end of that by allowing London boroughs to opt out. We are building upon that. The hon. Gentleman referred to my statement—[HON MEMBERS: "Come on."] Well, the hon. Gentleman wanted me to debate with him and I am happy to do so. He referred to my statement on 4 February and he said that it was unconvincing. What was unconvincing about the hour of that statement was that, the longer it went on, more and more Labour Members left the Chamber. By the end of the statement there were fewer Labour Members in the Chamber than there are even now. That shows the concern of the Labour party.
I notice that the Secretary of State was looking over his shoulder—
Mr. Two Per Cent.
I shall come in a moment to the unhappy news from the weekend polls.I forgot to answer the question posed by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey). It is well known that ILEA has had difficulties with the reallocation of teachers, but that problem has been dealt with, I accept with difficulty, but with great firmness by the current leadership of ILEA. It lies least of all in the mouth of the Secretary of State to complain about spending. It is he who has controlled its level of spending and manpower over the past five years. He endorsed that spending, yet he could have cut it at any stage. We have heard before the weasel-words about the change being signalled in the manifesto.lf an engine driver had been following that signal he would have crashed straight into the buffers. That is where the Secretary of State will end up. The most significant thing about the reply that I received from the Secretary of State this morning is that there has not been a review by the Government or by the Centre for Policy Studies, which stands behind the Government these days, in the past five years. In 1983 the decision was made to abolish the GLC, but to keep ILEA intact. That illustrates that the Secretary of State's claims are threadbare and how unconvinced he is about the case for the wanton break-up of ILEA. I believe that the Secretary of State is aware that the break-up of ILEA will damage not only London's children, but his reputation. The fact that it will damage his reputation is one of the few things about which he and the right hon. Members for Chingford and for Henley agree. I am distressed because the Secretary of State should take advice about his future political decisions from his true friends, from people such as myself. He may have forgotten that on 1 February, during the guillotine debate, I said:
"So I was distressed to read in the papers at the weekend"—this was six weeks ago—
That was before the Secretary of State was mugged by the two political hooligans."that the odds on the Secretary of State in the Conservative leadership stakes have lengthened slightly as a result of his performance. That is a matter that causes me considerable distress. As I have told him, our interest, apart from trying to defeat the Bill, is to ensure that he remains upright when the leadership contest takes place." —[Official Report, 1 February 1988; Vol. 126, c. 760.]
Before the hon. Gentleman seeks an opportunity to get away from the substance of the case and therefore reveals the paucity of his arguments, will he explain how this trivial diversion equates with the fact that two prominent members of his party are now trying to destroy his party's leadership?
That is a diversion if ever there was one.What I am talking about is central to the issue because we all know that the reason why ILEA is now to be broken up has nothing to do with the future of London's children, but everything to do with the squalid argument between the Secretary of State and the right hon. Members for Chingford and for Henley about the future of the Tory party. 4.15 pm Today is the 20th anniversary of the Secretary of State's election to this House—he won a by-election in Acton. Has he had a card from the right hon. Members for Chingford and Henley?
The fact that I have not had a card is obviously due to the fact that my right hon. Friends could not remember that notable day. I am sure that I shall receive their congratulations later in the Smoking Room over a drink.
The Secretary of State will need more than a drink. I have already said that, second only to defeating this Bill, I am concerned about the Secretary of State's future. Yesterday I opened my copy of The Observer, and saw something about a "Tory hero". I expected to see the name "Baker" at the top, but instead it said "Heseltine". It said that, according to an opinion poll, 17 per cent. of voters would prefer him to succeed the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister. The article went on to say:
"Among Conservative voters, however, Mr. Tebbit is preferred as successor (22 per cent.) against Mr. Heseltines 16 per cent.".
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has this anything to do with the matter that we are supposed to be discussing?
I hope that both Front Benches will set a good example by speaking to the amendments before the House.
It has everything to do with the debate because the changes before us have arisen as a result of the competition for the Tory leadership between the right hon. Members for Henley and for Mole Valley (M r. Baker).I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the right hon. Member for Henley, and, according to The Observer article, he has the support of 17 per cent. and the right hon. Member for Chingford has the support of 22 per cent. of Tory voters. It appears that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has the support of 8 per cent. and the Secretary of State for Energy 6 per cent. I asked myself, where is my hero, the Secretary of State for Education? The Secretary of State for Wales had 3 per cent. support and below him was my hero, the Secretary of State for Education, with 2 per cent.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am going to see my doctor after this because I am so distressed. The case for the review, as agreed in 1983—
In this interlude of frivolity the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the popularity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley and myself has gone up, remarkably, ever since we became associated with the abolition of ILEA. In those circumstances, knowing that the hon. Gentleman is extremely ambitious, I suggest that he joins in and does himself a bit of good.
That is an interesting idea. Where does that leave Mr. Two Per Cent.? The Secretary of State keeps telling us that he agrees with the right hon. Member for Chingford, but his support has gone down to 2 per cent.I believe that there should be a review because, as Lord Joseph said, ILEA is unique, it has a small geographical area, and its services have developed without reference to borough boundaries. He also said that it was unique because of its immense good work in careers, adult education, further education and the London compact. All of those things will be put at risk because of the ad hoc, rapid changeover that will take place without review. If there was a review, however, it could take into account the views of teachers, head teachers and parents. The Secretary of State may dismiss the interests of teachers as though they do not matter. I believe that they matter greatly. The Secretary of State keeps telling us that the views of the head teachers are of crucial importance. In a survey conducted by Mass Observation, published today, nine out of 10 head teachers in inner London oppose the break-up of ILEA and believe that it will result in a lower rather than a higher standard of education. The next issue concerns parents. No man has made more of parents and their interests when it suited him than the Secretary of State. However, we have learnt that parents' interests are to be discarded whenever their conclusions differ from those of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State made much of a by-election that took place in Wandsworth last November, just before the Education Reform Bill was presented. The issue then was not the break-up of ILEA, but the withdrawal of individual boroughs from ILEA. He suggested that that was a mandate for this policy. However, it was not a mandate for this policy because the policy did not even exist. The second thoughts had not been thought. It is fascinating to consider the election literature issued by the Conservative party at the time of that by-election. That literature states:
The Conservatives in central Government have an opportunity to implement what the Conservatives in Wandsworth have a mandate for, and that is to consult parents. At the moment a parents' ballot is being conducted across London. London parents have raised £80,000 to pay for the ballot. It is a testament to the feelings of parents of all shades of opinion and none that they have been able to devote voluntary energies and fund raising to get the ballot off the ground. I do not know what results will flow from the ballot. I only know how I voted in it as a London parent. However, I received some information today in the form of a letter from Conservative central office. That letter was sent by Mr. David Simpson to Members of Parliament and others for the use either of Conservative speakers or people dealing with the press. The letter reveals that Conservative central office believes that the ballot will result in an overwhelming victory for ILEA in the form of an overwhelming "No" vote. Central office is now trying to set up disgraceful and discreditable alibis to rubbish the ballot's result."The facts about consultation are these. It is however for the people of Wandsworth to decide with particular reference to parental views."
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not.No doubt the Secretary of State, who is burying himself in his papers, has seen this document. Indeed, the Minister of State must have seen it as well. I hope that they will wholly disown it. It states:
"It is claimed that the poll will give a valid reflection of parents' views. In fact, the result is bound to be distorted for the following reasons:
It hardly lies in the mouth of the Secretary of State or members of the Conservative party to complain about flooding schools with propaganda when a head teacher cannot open his or her mail on any day of the week without finding another glossy pamphlet from the Secretary of State. Indeed, people visiting the Ideal Home exhibition to buy a new washing machine are bombarded by 24 video screens showing the Secretary of State trying to sell his wares. I hope that my hon. Friends will note these next comments very carefully. The document continues:(a.) Schools have been flooded by propaganda hostile to the Education Reform Bill and this has been paid for by the ratepayers since it represents the official view of ILEA."
What a disgraceful notion. It also shows that Tory central office believes that the ballot is being run by ILEA. In fact, it is being run by the independent London Parents Action Group."Where a child has two parents … ILEA is permitting only one vote. This obviously discriminates in favour of one-parent families."
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No; sit down.The document continues:
That is a wholly disgraceful allegation for Conservative central office or Ministers to make against the Electoral Reform Society and the independent, apolitical, nonpolitical London Parents Action Group. I ask the Secretary of State now to disown the quite scandalous and scurrilous claims made by the Conservative central office that there will be ballot rigging in the ballot. The independent London Parents Action Group has raised £80,000 precisely to ensure that the ballot can be conducted with scrupulous rules by the Electoral Reform Society. If the Secretary of State is complaining about that, let him put up the money for the ballot in the same way that he is to put up money for ballots for grant-maintained schools. Come on, let us hear from the Secretary of State. The simple fact is that the Tories are scared of a ballot of parents in inner London because they know what the result is likely to be. They are afraid of the truth and they are afraid that the result is likely to be a resounding rejection of their policies."It is claimed that the poll will be honest and above board since it is being conducted by the Electoral Reform Society. In fact, the method of organising the poll provides opportunity for ballot rigging on a considerable scale."
They are not just afraid of the truth; they are contemptuous of it. They know very well that if the ballot went ahead it would show a complete rejection of their proposals for the abolition of ILEA. We should never believe a word that the Government say when they talk about democracy. They are hypocrites and liars.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are not only contemptuous of us; they are contemptuous of the electors of London and of people like the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) who, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, received a petition today from 20,000 parents from just three boroughs — Hackney, Islington and Wandsworth — which will be presented to the House. Indeed, many more thousands of signatures will be added to petitions. The Secretary of State preaches parent power and parent participation. However, the moment that they are inconvenient to his ambitions or the views of the real Secretaries of State—the terrible twins the right hon. Members for Henley and for Chingford — he ignores them.
Does my hon. Friend realise that one of the objections that parents made this morning when they came to see the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) and myself was that the Secretary of State, unlike his predecessor Lord Joseph, had refused to see parent governors or the parents' consultative committee, and the Secretary of State's argument for not seeing them was that they might put forward views with which he disagreed?
I agree with my hon. Friend. What he says leads me to another reason for a review of inner London's education before we abolish ILEA. The Secretary of State must be able to find out about London's education for himself. He has received the chief inspector's report which concludes fundamentally that there is no case for abolition.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?