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Commons Chamber

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 11 July 1990

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 11 July 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Rights Of The Child

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to ratify the United Nations convention on the rights of the child; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

The United Kingdom signed the United Nations convention on the rights of the child on 19 April 1990. We intend to ratify the convention as soon as possible.

Can the Minister explain why, eight months after the convention was signed, and 66 years after the declaration of the rights of the child was first accepted by the League of Nations, we still do not have a timetable for ratification in Britain? Why is it that countries such as Ghana and Vietnam can ratify the United Nations convention but we cannot? Does the Minister not consider that our children are entitled to have their rights under the convention—such as the right to a decent education, a decent standard of living and access to a decent health service—enshrined in law when the rights of other children in other nations are obviously being ratified?

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that although 90 countries have said that they would sign the convention, only six have so far ratified it. The explanation is to be found in the fact that the convention covers important, wide-ranging and complex areas of legislation, and no fewer than nine Government Departments are involved. The Government take our obligations under such conventions extremely seriously and we will not ratify until we are sure that our domestic legislation is entirely in harmony with our commitments under the convention.

I welcome the Minister's declaration in principle on the ratification of the convention on the rights of the child. Does he think it appropriate that on our visit to the West Bank and the Gaza strip next week, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) and I should press the Israeli Government to look carefully at article 22, which deals with refugees, article 14, which deals with religious freedom, and article 38, which deals with children and armed conflict—especially as the purpose of our visit is to look closely at the devastating criticism of the actions of the Israeli army against the children on the West Bank and the Gaza strip by the Swedish Save the Children Fund, which instigated the new declaration of the rights of the child?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware, as we all are, that—unhappily—there are all too many countries where the clauses of the convention do not appear to be well observed. Happily, in this country, many, if not most, of the aspects of the convention are already enshrined in law, including the matters of education and health to which the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) referred. That is not so in many other countries.

Is the Under-Secretary aware that since I first wrote to the Prime Minister about this matter in November, I have been referred both to the Under Secretary—he kindly replied that he was taking the matter seriously—and to another Foreign Office Minister who referred me to the Home Office? The process has been going on for eight months.

I am glad about the signing, but can we now be told who is the overall co-ordinator for the convention? Has the programme of consultation with every Government Department, which I was told was taking place, finished? Does the Minister think it likely that the House will debate the matter before the recess and that final ratification will take place?

As I said in an earlier reply, the legislation is wide ranging and complex. Many aspects of the convention are already dealt with in our domestic legislation. We want to make sure that our domestic legislation is entirely in harmony with our commitments under the convention, because we take these matters seriously and we are determined to get them right. There are nine Government Departments involved and—inevitably, I am afraid—the consultations involve many lawyers because there are legal aspects to the matter. I am afraid that at this stage I cannot give a timetable; I can only confirm that we shall complete the work as soon as we possibly can so that we can ratify the convention.

Ethiopia

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the progress of efforts to secure peace in Ethiopia.

The negotiations between the Ethiopian Government and the rebels are, sadly, deadlocked. We shall continue to work for their resumption.

The Minister's answer is sad. What are the British Government doing to help both the rebels and the Ethiopian Government to resolve the problems and to bring peace to Ethiopia? What are the prospects for putting together a long-term aid package between Britain and the other EEC countries that could be offered to the Ethiopian Government and the rebel troops as soon as a peace treaty is signed?

If a peace treaty were signed, I am sure that the international community as a whole, and especially the European Community, would be in the vanguard of wanting to help with the rebuilding of Ethiopia, which will be a mammoth task. I am sorry to note that the Eritrean People's Liberation Front has now shifted its position. Having pressed for the presence of United Nations observers at the talks—the Ethiopian Government accepted that—the EPLF has changed its position and withdrawn from the talks. We are no further forward.

Why cannot the Foreign Office recognise that propping up the evil Mengistu regime is the most misguided policy, especially at present? Surely the time has come to dissociate ourselves from the well-meaning international pretence by the EEC and others that Ethiopia still has any form of moral or territorial integrity left, because it just does not.

There is no question of propping up one Government or another. If my hon. Friend is seeking to pursue a course that will encourage the division of Ethiopia, I must urge him to recognise that he will be recommending a course that will prolong the war indefinitely. We should be saying to the Eritreans, "You have won by force of arms as much as it is realistic to win and you should now settle for the advanced autonomy that you can negotiate."

Economic, Monetary And Political Union

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will list the principal policy objectives which Her Majesty's Government would wish to see in the twin intergovernmental conference preparations for economic and monetary union and political union, as specific components in a list of policies for the discussions at the end of the Italian presidency of the Council of Ministers in December.

We shall be working in both intergovernmental conferences to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the Community, creating strong Community institutions, but respecting the diversity of national traditions and the principle of subsidiarity.

I wish my hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Foreign Office the best of luck in developing those proposals. Does he agree that the Government and the parliamentary Conservative party can enthusiastically and totally unite behind this country's energetic and enthusiastic development of the various proposals for the twin conferences? Does he further agree that there are a number of important priorities, not least to ensure the accountability of member Governments to their national Parliaments, enhancing the role of the national Parliament, and to ensure the accountability of the Council of Ministers as a whole to the European Parliament and to increase the power of the European Parliament at the margins?

For the second intergovernmental conference, we have put forward a series of proposals for ways in which the Community can make itself more effective and better at doing those things that only the Community can do. As my hon. Friend has suggested, part of that process is to increase the accountability of Ministers to their national Parliaments. We believe that if the role of the European Parliament is to be increased, the European Commission should be held more to account. We also need to look at reinforcing the rule of law in the European Community. There are a whole range of areas in which improvements could be made and we shall be making constructive proposals.

Does the Government agree with the Italians, the Germans, the French, the Spaniards and the majority of the other members of the Community, in having as their aim the creation of a democratic federal European Community?

The hon. Gentleman is misinformed if he believes that all those countries believe in a democratic federal Europe in quite the simplistic way that he has suggested—they do not. There is no consensus or anything approaching a consensus in the Community in terms of such a development. There is, however, a growing belief that the Community should do better that which it has to do. That may involve decentralising decision making to the member states to a certain extent to enable them to do those things that do not have to be done by the Community.

Given the recent speech by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on economic and monetary union when he said that we shall not move towards a central bank, does my hon. Friend agree that the question of subsidiarity, with respect to both economic and monetary union, and political union, must be defined in such a manner as to rule out the political impetus that has been given to both the central bank and to the subservience of this House to the European Parliament and other Community institutions, which seems to be the fetish of some of the European leaders in the European Community?

There is a great deal of scope for increasing the economic and monetary integration of the Community. Our commitment to the single market is evidence of that. A good deal more can be done on monetary matters. We have wholeheartedly supported stage 1 of the Delors report and put forward some well-developed and sophisticated proposals on stage 2. Those are being seriously considered throughout the Community. A great deal can be done before developments such as those to which my hon. Friend referred take place.

Is the Minister aware that the recent Dublin summit represented a comprehensive defeat for the Prime Minister, on establishing both of the intergovernmental conferences and also on the social charter, aid to the Soviet Union, lifting sanctions on South Africa and even the reappointment of that French Socialist Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission? How on earth can any of our partners have any confidence that proposals from the United Kingdom Government can be taken seriously or seen as anything other than a cosmetic camouflage for the same old obstructionism?

To take the last example from the hon. Gentleman's list, he failed to observe that, far from being isolated on the reappointment of Monsieur Delors, the Prime Minister nominated him. That is a pretty odd way of being isolated. Virtually everything that the hon. Gentleman said was wrong. He has simply got stuck in a time warp. He is playing again records that were worn out a long time ago and should have been discarded. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we are isolated, for example, on aid to the Soviet Union, he should consider what was decided at the Houston summit. He will find that the argument of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which was widely accepted as entirely correct, has gained even greater endorsement since the summit.

Irish Republic (Extradition)

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic about the present arrangements for extradition between the two countries.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs discussed our concerns with the Irish Foreign Minister on 21 April.

Have arrangements for extradition improved or deteriorated since 15 November 1985? Would not arrangements for extradition and Anglo-Irish relations generally be improved if articles 2 and 3 were removed from the constitution of the Irish Republic?

The downturn in the success of extradition took place at about the turn of the year. I should not make the link with the Anglo-Irish Agreement that my hon. Friend implied in his question. I agree with his latter proposition.

With the approach of 1992 businesses will face greater harmonisation, as will water companies, farmers and financial institutions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only people who will not be affected by 1992 are terrorists? Does he agree that we should move towards a European treaty on extradition? Surely, instead of talking about monetary or political union, the intergovernmental conference should devote more time to the important question of extradition.

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is, of course, the European convention on the supression of terrorism. Recent events in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany show that there is ever-increasing practical and efficient co-operation between the partners of the Community against terrorism.

Western Sahara

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether Her Majesty's Government have offered any assistance to the United Nations to conduct the referendum in the western Sahara.

Like the other members of the Security Council, we support the recent efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General and stand ready to consider requests for assistance.

Nevertheless, will the Minister use his considerable influence with the Moroccan Government and with Polisario in suggesting that they should co-operate to the fullest, so that the United Nations can get the referendum under way? Will the Minister confirm that assistance will take the form of the provision of officials and observers? If we are to send observers, will the right hon. Gentleman consider including me as one of them?

I cannot but accept the hon. Gentleman's offer, because it might be a rather arduous mission and we are therefore happy to have volunteers. More seriously, as a permanent member of the Security Council, we are entirely behind the secretary-general's efforts. There again seems some hope of making progress, and we stand ready to accept requests.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that King Hassan of Morocco has moved considerably towards holding a referendum in the western Sahara? One of the difficulties with which the United Nations has to come to terms is defining who lives there and exactly where, in order that a referendum can be held. If there is any question of observers being sent to represent this Parliament or the British Government, will my right hon. Friend ensure that apologists for the Algerian Government or Polisario are not among them?

I thought for a moment that another volunteer was coming forward. However, it is a serious matter. I do not want to appear, by what I say at the Dispatch Box, to endorse one side or the other in the dispute. It is far better to support the secretary-general and to proceed on the basis of the census taken by the Spanish —which is the information the secretary-general is now working on—in compiling a proper electoral roll and arranging a referendum.

Will the Minister join us in paying tribute to the secretary-general for restarting last week the first direct talks between Iran and Iraq, the success of the referendum in Namibia, and now his work in respect of the western Sahara? Will the right hon. Gentleman respond readily and positively when, as we hope, the technical mission returns from the western Sahara at the end of the month? How seriously do the Government view the failure on Monday to establish a direct dialogue between the two sides?

I happily join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the secretary-general, who has taken full advantage of the possibilities offered by making proper use of United Nations machinery that the improvement in the general world climate and between east and west has offered him. In the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and in one or two others that one could mention, the secretary-general has played his proper, vital part. The secretary-general's initiative in respect of the referendum rather than any separate direct talks has our fullest support.

Nelson Mandela

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his discussions with Nelson Mandela, deputy president of the African National Congress of South Africa.

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his recent talks with Nelson Mandela.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I had friendly and positive discussions with Mr. Mandela on 3 July about how best to take forward the process of ending apartheid in South Africa by negotiation.

Does the Minister appreciate that there is a long way to go before negotiations on the full transfer of power can begin and that the peace process in South Africa is still very fragile? Does he accept that the people best able to judge when fundamental and irreversible change has taken place are the South African people themselves? If so, would not he be wise to listen to them and to maintain sanctions until they consider it reasonable for sanctions to be lifted?

I wholeheartedly endorse the hon. Gentleman's argument that we should listen to the people of South Africa—all the people of South Africa. Mr. Mandela represents a considerable number of them, which is why it is very important to talk to him. However, I do not endorse the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks. Nor would Mr. Mandela, who seems optimistic about the pace of progress. He has said:

"It is possible that by the next time the question arises in the European summit"—
that is, the question of sanctions—
"it will no longer be an issue because we may have reached agreement by then."
Mr. Mandela is talking in terms of a very optimistic time scale, which makes it clear that he is not now making sanctions a central issue of principle. It is just an argument about timing.

While warmly welcoming Mr. Mandela's overdue public acknowledgement of the Prime Minister's opposition to apartheid, does my right hon. Friend agree that other black South African leaders outside the ranks of the African National Congress should be encouraged to play their part in the creation of a just and equitable society in South Africa—not least because Mr. Mandela and the ANC have too long and too closely flirted with murder and Marxism?

It should be the Government's policy to talk to all those leaders in South Africa who are willing to negotiate a way to peace. There are other representatives of communities in South Africa as well as Mr. Mandela with whom we talk and with whom we should talk. However, my hon. Friend was right on one point. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is owed an apology from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) who said:

"Sheistheworld'sbestfriendofapartheid."—[Official Report, 14 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 278.]
The right hon. Gentleman constantly tells us to listen to Mr. Mandela. Will he now retract that in view of what Mr. Mandela has said?

Despite what the Minister has just said and his comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), is not it a fact that, as well as saying what he did, Mr. Mandela also asked us not to relax sanctions? Did not he ask that everywhere he went? Is not the Minister being a little gauche in the way that he just put that?

Whether gauche or not, we have had a long-standing disagreement and I am glad that the European Community and others are now coming closer to our position. As progress is made, there should be a steady relaxation of sanctions. Mr. Mandela takes a different view. As the Labour party's position is entirely that of Mr. Mandela on every other matter, we are owed an explanation of why it is different on the assessment of the Prime Minister.

Did my right hon. Friend detect any understanding by Mr. Mandela that, as South Africa puts the doctrines of apartheid behind it, the crying need of its people is for a far greater flow of international investment in that country to produce more jobs and to sustain an economy that is capable of investing far more in education and health services? Did Mr. Mandela give any sign of the encouragement that he is giving to international business men to invest in South Africa?

Mr. Mandela met leading business men in London and elsewhere. He said:

"Private capital, both domestic and international, will have a vital contribution to make to the economic and social reconstruction of South Africa…This cannot happen without large inflows of foreign capital, including British capital."
Those are welcome steps away from the old socialism which I am afraid some Opposition Members have been misleading Mr. Mandela into following for many years.

Do I take it from the Minister's quotation from Mr. Mandela, the deputy president of the African National Congress, about the Prime Minister, that the Government now take their orders from the ANC?[Interruption.]

If the Government are selectively to quote one kindly and generous reference by Mr. Mandela to the Prime Minister, will they now accept what Mr. Mandela said in the hearing of the Minister and myself when we lunched together last week—that Mr. Mandela is adamant in his insistence that sanctions should remain?

The right hon. Gentleman has answered the first part of his question with his final sentence. We disagree with the ANC about sanctions. Is it impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to admit that he was wrong?

Do my right hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues on the Front Bench agree that it cannot make the faintest sense to promote aid and credits as the best way to encourage political progress and reform in eastern Europe and sanctions as the best way to encourage exactly the same developments in South Africa?

I share my hon. Friend's view. The right hon. Member for Gorton witnessed an argument on this matter between Helen Suzman and Mr. Mandela which, I believe, once again Mrs. Suzman won. It is crazy to be seeking to bring back international capital to South Africa in six months time and to be trying to drive it away now.

Ec Foreign Affairs Ministers

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet the European Community Foreign Affairs Ministers.

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet the European Community Foreign Affairs Ministers.

My right hon. Friend will meet EC Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday next week.

Given the interest of European Foreign Ministers in easing the transition of eastern European countries from communist dictatorships to nascent democracies, does the Minister envisage that similar interest might be shown in easing the transition of Scotland from a province governed by the diktat of the House to a country that democratically elects its own representatives to the European Councils?

I thought for a moment that the hon. Gentleman sought to draw the analogy that Scotland might be transformed from a socialist economy into a free enterprise one, but I do not think that he had that in mind. East European countries are rediscovering that freedom and the ability to have a democracy and a free enterprise system is the way to go. They are keen to draw many of their lessons from the experience of the United Kingdom.

Will the Minister discuss with his European colleagues joint action to defend and protect the continent of Antarctica? What steps has he taken to ensure that Antarctica remains free from military exploitation and disturbance and from economic exploitation and pollution? What steps will he take to ensure the future of that continent as a truly international asset that belongs to the world?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not know that the Antarctica treaty system rules out any military intervention of the sort about which he appears to be anxious.

When my hon. Friend meets other EC Foreign Ministers will he check how many of them have removed visa requirements for visitors from east European countries? I suspect that he will find that a number of them have removed, or plan to remove, those requirements. In view of that will he undertake to speed up the process undertaken by the British Government to review and remove the long visa delays imposed on many business visitors, as well as tourists and others, from eastern Europe?

This is a matter in which my right hon. Friend has taken a close interest and we are looking at it carefully. It is desirable, wherever possible, that the European Community should move forward together for such purposes and it is certainly something that has been and is being discussed among the Twelve.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a growing threat to regional stability and a potential threat to Europe from the determination of military dictatorships such as Iraq and Libya to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapon capabilities, allied to a long-range delivery capability? Bearing in mind the fact that some European Governments have, in the past decade, supplied military-grade uranium to Iraq, and given the recent saga of the long gun, for which parts were provided from this country and Germany, will my hon. Friend ensure that that matter is raised at the next meeting of EC Foreign Ministers so that we do not aid and abet the future acquisition of such capabilities?

These matters are discussed regularly among the Twelve. Of course, it is important that the non-proliferation obligations to which we all sign up are observed.

When the Minister next meets his EC colleagues will he raise with them the trade in Hong Kong ivory? Does he recall that the Government gave an assurance in the House that the reservation entered into on behalf of Hong Kong would end at midnight on 17 July? Is he aware that a major loophole has emerged? It is clear that that trade will continue under the guise of personal effects moving out of Hong Kong. I know that the Government would not wish to have misled the House, but they have been misled by the Hong Kong authorities. Will he take urgent steps to close that loophole? If not, the only sufferer will be the African elephant.

There is no question of the House being misled. I am aware of the concern that has been expressed and it is being considered.

If the discussions with other European Foreign Ministers touch on aid to eastern. Europe, will my hon. Friend impress on them that it is better to create the conditions for genuine investment in eastern Europe than to throw money at any of those countries? Would not it be even better to remove the restraints on trade imposed by the common agricultural policy and other European Commission policies?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is important that the programme of aid to eastern Europe should proceed on the basis of conditions. It should not go ahead unless the process of economic reform goes ahead, too. We believe, and others agree, that that principle should be applied to the Soviet Union. One important measure that we can take for reforming countries is to open our markets to their products, and agriculture is one such important sector.

When the Minister next meets European Community Foreign Ministers, many of whom were at the NATO summit last week, will he explain why last Thursday the Prime Minister said that she opposed a second round of conventional forces in Europe negotiations and on Friday she signed the communiqué agreeing to a second round of CFE negotiations? Did he agree with the Prime Minister before or after she was forced to change her mind?

As so often, the right hon. Gentleman is off beam. There has never been any difference and the same mandate continues.

South Africa

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy on sanctions against South Africa.

Our policy is unchanged. We continue to believe that pressure should be relaxed as progress is made in South Africa. We welcome the Dublin European Council's endorsement of this principle.

As Her Majesty's Government's attitude to sanctions, which was endorsed by my right hon. Friend the Minister this afternoon, is that they are yesterday's argument or, in the words of the Prime Minister, they have no part to play in policy towards South Africa, why do we still insist on supporting the obnoxious Gleneagles agreement which upholds sporting sanctions against that country? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the one message of encouragement for President de Klerk to pursue the path of reform that he would like would be an invitation to the Springboks to play cricket at Lord's and rugby at Twickenham?

The Gleneagles agreement was an obligation which was entered into collectively and we shall honour it. That does not argue against our belief that as progress is made we should persuade our colleagues to move in step with it.

Is the Minister aware that Labour Members have the highest respect and praise for all those in South Africa, black and white alike and in the African National Congress and outside it, who have fought and suffered all their lives, as Nelson Mandela did for more than 25 years in prison, for a democratic South Africa, but that we have the highest contempt, if that is the right expression, for people like the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) who throughout has done his best to side with the oppressors, taken free trips to South Africa and in every conceivable way opposed the progress now taking place in that country?

As usual with the hon. Member, his remarks were unfair, overblown and exaggerated. My hon. Friends who have argued for many years that those who were seeking to damage the South African economy would damage all the South African people will turn out to be right. Although the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has not yet found a formula for these matters, the hon. Gentleman should accept what Mr. Mandela said—that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is an enemy of apartheid and all kinds of racism. I hope that he will accept that all Conservative Members share those views.

May I reinforce the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies)? Has my right hon. Friend observed that those who call for the continuation of sanctions against South Africa tend to be the same people who call for economic aid to the Soviet Union? If it is right to help President Gorbachev to survive, must not it be right to help President de Klerk to survive?

The analogy is apt. Mr. de Klerk faces exactly the same dangers and pressures as Mr. Gorbachev. It is no more certain that the one will survive than the other. It is surely in the interests of progress in those countries that both do so.

Cambodia

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will review his policy regarding voting for the recognition of the Cambodian delegation at the United Nations.

With our EC partners we are reviewing our policy towards Cambodia's representation at the United Nations. In doing so, we shall be taking into account the efforts of a range of countries, notably the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to achieve a comprehensive political settlement.

Will the Minister press at the United Nations for the 12-member National Supreme Council, which represents all factions in Cambodia, to go ahead, despite the veto by the Khmer Rouge? Will he call for the cessation of all arms supplies to that area, especially from China, which supplies arms to the Khmer Rouge? Will he also ensure that a high-ranking diplomat visits Cambodia so that he can report at first hand to the Government?

The hon. Gentleman has identified a number of elements that would form a necessary part of a comprehensive political settlement. We hope that that will be done by the efforts being led by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to achieve that settlement, and to resolve the problem of the seat at the United Nations, before it comes up before the credentials committee in about mid-October.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Britain's vote on this issue should be cast not according to what other nations wish, but according to what this country thinks is right? Does he agree that our vote should not be cast in support of any organisation that has the Khmer Rouge in its membership, but should be cast for the Phnom Penh representatives, who oppose it?

As my hon. Friend is aware, we are reviewing our attitude to that important issue. He will also be aware that it was not the subject of a vote at the United Nations last year.

Is the Minister aware that the Khmer Rouge troops are now 50 miles from Phnom Penh, that thousands of refugees are pouring into that city, and that all his diplomatic procrastination is playing into the hands of Pol Pot? Surely he can say now that the Government will no longer support the seating of an illegal delegation at the United Nations, that they will support urgent action to end the arms supply and get a ceasefire, and that they will work urgently to ensure that the mass murderers are not able once again to seize power in Cambodia?

The hon. Gentleman is very well aware, as he was present at the debate last Monday, of the efforts being made by the Government in the company of the other permanent members of the Security Council to bring about a comprehensive political settlement, which is the only satisfactory way forward that will give the Cambodians the opportunity to live in peace and stability and the right to choose their own Government.

St Helena (Satellite Television)

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has received any representations about satellite television reception in St. Helena; and if he will make a statement.

We have not received any representations about satellite television reception in St. Helena. No television broadcasts are at present received on the island, and there are no facilities on the island for receiving satellite television signals.

Precisely. Will my hon. Friend have a word with the Home Secretary about devising a post-colonial system for the representation in this House of our remaining dependent territories, along the lines of the 1955 Malta settlement? Members of the dependencies—

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, it is because of the representations that my right hon. and learned Friend has received and the fact that to receive representations in the first place, we need to have Members from there in this House.

My hon. Friend asks an ingenious question. Without satellite television reception the citizens of St. Helena would be deprived of viewing our proceedings on television—if broadcasting should continue. However, my hon. Friend will be aware that the citizens of St. Helena, like the citizens of all our dependent territories, can vote for members of their own legislative council. He will also be aware that those councils have responsibility for the full internal self-government of the territories. If we went further than that, it would be a complex issue which would require careful consideration.

Bbc External Services

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to increase the funding available for the BBC external services.

Funding for the BBC is set for periods of three years. In 1990–91, the final year of the present triennium, funding is 40 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1979–80 and 13 per cent. higher than in 1987–88. Funding for the next such period, beginning in April 1991, will be decided during the 1990 public expenditure survey and announced following the autumn statement.

Does the Minister accept the unique value of a world broadcasting service which regularly reaches 120 million people worldwide and which played such a positive role in the recent and continuing political developments in eastern Europe? Is he aware of the level of support in the House for the World Service? Is he further aware that if he does not secure the public financial support from the Treasury for which he has been asked to argue in the coming expenditure survey round, it will be unable to develop its services in the way that it has in the past or retain its pre-eminent position in world broadcasting services?

I am happy to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the quality and value of the BBC World Service broadcasts, particularly to those countries where closed societies make it difficult or perhaps impossible for people to obtain accurate information not only about the rest of the world but sometimes about their own country. I am well aware of the value attached to the World Service not only by those who listen to it but by hon. Members.

Will my hon. Friend look generously at the needs of the World Service in its next funding period, bearing in mind the fact that we devotees of the BBC World Service regard it as a fine example of a service whose newsmen report the news as it is, not the newscaster's view of it?

I very much note what my hon. Friend says. The World Service has done well under this Government. As I said, its funding has increased by 40 per cent. in real terms since the Government came to power in 1979–80 and its current output is the highest since the 1950s.

Despite what the Minister says, the increased funds needed by the BBC external services cannot make up for the early damage done by the Government when they slashed funds to the British Council and massively increased fees for overseas students. Is not the Government's ill-thought out decision not to fund the world television service a continuation of that earlier Government policy?

I am not sure how the hon. Gentleman links funding for the British Council with that for the World Service. They are entirely separate. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that other English language television news services operate without a Government subsidy. I understand that the BBC is seeking to attract private sector support for a world service, and we wish it well in its efforts.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are rightly concerned about obtaining value for money, but does he agree that the BBC World Service gives superb value for money, that it reaches a large number of people—it should reach many more—and that increased funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would be welcome to the many people who value the service and would enjoy its greater audibility?

We are conscious of the point about the importance of audibility and that is why there has been a 10-year audibility programme under this Government, involving new investment of £90 million. I am glad to say that that expenditure programme is almost complete and its results are impressive.

Romania

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Government of Romania on the development of democracy there since June 1990.

We protested formally to the Romanian authorities in London and Bucharest on 15 June about President Iliescu's use of vigilantes to crush the opposition on 14 and 15 June. We invoked the Helsinki agreement on 21 June to request information on three arrested student leaders. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and his European Community colleagues strongly condemned the violence in a statement on 18 June.

The Minister has the support of the whole House: we join him in condemning, and expressing our outrage at, the crimes of the statesponsored and state-organised lynch mobs from the Valley of Zin. One of their victims was Mr. Leon Nica, who was a recent visitor to the House. Despite assurances given to the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and me on Monday this week in Bucharest, it appears that he is still in prison, and—according to rumours in Bucharest—has been so badly disfigured by the beating that he suffered that he is not fit to be seen.

What will be the Minister's response to the new despair, pessimism and fear in Romania? Can he assure the House that we will not desert the people of Romania, and that we will redouble our efforts to build on the links that now exist between us and them, so that the barriers do not rise again and Romania does not become isolated and indifferent to western opinion?

I am grateful for the steadfast support that the hon. Gentleman has given to the line that has, I think, been taken by the majority of hon. Members—although opinion is not unanimous; the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) takes a different view. The position of Mr. Nica is one of the matters about which we are most worried. He is one of the three people about whom we inquired. There was a rumour that he had been released, but we do not believe it: his student organisation says that he has not. We will press his case strongly.

As for the general policy, we should be building and maintaining contacts, but we should not yet be offering the prizes of economic and other support that we have made conditional, for the other countries of eastern and central Europe, on progress towards law, free markets and genuine democracy.

May I strongly associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn)? Together with French and Belgian Members of Parliament, we had a meeting with the Romanian Government on Monday.

Is my right hon. Friend aware—I am sure that—he is —that the sorry events of June have left the Romanian Government floundering? There is considerable fear and even despair in Romania. Will my right hon. Friend use his best endeavours—with our partners in western Europe —to bring home to the Romanian Government the fact that help will be forthcoming for that floundering, sad country only when it puts its house in order—when democracy is practised, dialogue with the people is undertaken and the atrocities referred to by the hon. Gentleman cease?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. His views and knowledge of that country are well known, and I share them. It is, however, important to recognise the steps that have been taken. It is the fact that those initial gains seem in danger of being lost which makes us so worried, angry and frustrated. That is why we thought it right to instruct Her Majesty's ambassador to attend the inauguration of the elected President—he is, after all, the first elected President, and that is a major step, although my right hon. Friend is right to say that that alone is not enough.

Will the Minister take it from me that, having seen the democratic way in which the elections were conducted on 20 May, my Conservative colleague and I were disappointed to see what happened with the incursion into Bucharest of what I can only call Communist party vigilantes—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Miners."] I call them vigilantes.

Does the Minister agree that one way in which we can influence events in Bucharest is by having talks with the appropriate Ministers, and encouraging British business men to show what can be on offer to the Romanian economy if Romanian democracy is allowed to progress in the way in which it appeared to be progressing on 20 May, when nothing sinister was clear to the observers in that country? Does he further agree that a real effort is needed by the British Government and British business to influence further progress?

We believe that the election had many flaws; we also believe that it is likely that the National Salvation Front would have won a wholly fair election. We must recognise the steps that have been taken. I did not say—as I was quoted as saying by Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien —that there is no difference between Ceausescu and Iliescu. There have been tentative steps forward, and we should encourage them, but we should not—we cannot—yet say that the conditions for general economic aid and for our know-how fund have been met. We must keep in place the carrots for further vital progress.

Does my right hon. Friend think that democracy has any chance in Romania as long as it is up against Scargillite National Socialism?

It was the very disturbing methods used by Mr. Iliescu at the first challenge that worried us so much because they were just the same methods as Ceausescu used to use. My right hon. Friend's anxieties are well founded.

British-Soviet Relations

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on current developments in British-Soviet relations.

Anglo-Soviet relations are better than ever. We are moving steadily from an era of confrontation to one of co-operation in an increasingly broad range of areas.

I note what the Minister says. Bearing in mind the historical changes that have taken place, especially in the past year, such as the ending of the Russian empire in eastern Europe, the democratic changes in the Soviet Union and the fact that the right-wing Conservative majority—[HoN MEMBERS: "Hard left."]—delegates at the party congress did not get their way, is not there a case for taking a far more favourable and flexible attitude towards the request for assistance in the immediate period? Why is there a hostile attitude towards such assistance? Surely it could be linked to the continuance of democratic changes in the Soviet Union.

I am confused by the hon. Gentleman's terminology. His hon. Friends—or in his case perhaps not his friends—in the Militant Tendency would be deeply offended by being placed on the right wing, which is where they would have to be placed according to the hon. Gentleman's categorisation. The hon. Gentleman knows that we take the view, and got some support from the Opposition for saying, that simply pouring money into an economic system which would waste it would neither help the progress of reform nor do any favours for our taxpayers. Tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be making a statement showing why the Houston summit has clearly taken the view that much more analysis must be carried out first. What is more, we must be clear about what is being requested. The hon. Gentleman may be clear, but nobody else is.

Much as we would all like to help President Gorbachev, and bearing in mind the fact that some of the money sent to Russia might fall through their pockets, will my right hon. Friend remember that every day Russia is still producing submarines, tanks, guns and planes in undiminished numbers? Surely until that comes to an end we should be careful about how much money we lend them.

I totally agree. Mr. Shevardnadze said the other day that the Soviet Union spends about a quarter of its wealth on armaments. There would be no question of giving aid to any other country that spent that proportion of its wealth on armaments. As the Prime Minister of Canada said, Russia is still wasting thousands of millions of roubles propping up Mr. Castro. Russia could make cuts in many areas.

African National Congress

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects to meet representatives of the African National Congress; and if he will make a statement.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

In view of the historic fact that a previous British Government sowed the seeds of apartheid when the House voted for a racist constitution for South Africa in 1909, and that in more recent years the apartheid regime has been propped up by British investment and trade, would not it be better for British politicians now to maximise pressure on the South African Government to expedite the end of apartheid and the introduction of democracy, instead of attempting to lecture the ANC about the ending of sanctions? As the ANC has been in favour of a negotiated settlement since its foundation in 1912, is not it about time that we had a public apology from the Government for the statement by the Prime Minister less than three years ago in which she tried to denounce the ANC as just a typical terrorist organisation?

At this distance I cannot be held responsible for the Liberal Government of 1909. It is clear that the negotiations that have now begun and to which Mr. Mandela is as committed as Mr. de Klerk need our support. If we damage the economy of South Africa the background to those negotiations will be more bitter and more polarised.

German Unification

17.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made towards a successful outcome of the German unification process.

Progress so far is satisfactory. We look forward to the next ministerial meeting in Paris on 17 July, when the Poles will attend for a discussion of their border issue.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The unification of Germany is one of the most important and symbolic events in Europe since the war. Does not the integration of the GDR into the EC and NATO lead the way for the eventual integration of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland into the European structure?

That should be our objective—in the first instance, by means of association agreements with the Community. I should be among those who would welcome applications from those countries for full membership when they are ready for it, which will undoubtedly be in only a few years' time.

Will the Minister make it clear that the Government oppose this German super-power expanding its boundaries by various political means, including through the common market? Is not it obvious that within Germany there is a claim that the boundary should be extended towards Poland, and that the Polish people have to be reassured? Will the Minister give an assurance on that today?

The hon. Gentleman is a little confused. The chambers of the Parliaments of the Federal Republic and the GDR have already passed clear and explicit motions saying that they have no further claim to change the boundary of Poland. The Poles will be discussing that in the two plus four talks next week and the whole matter will eventually carry forward into a formal treaty in due course.

Points Of Order

3.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many of us were expecting a statement to be made by the Home Secretary about those who have become known as the Maguire Seven, and we came here expecting to listen to it. Now we are told that there will merely be an answer to a written question, so that we shall not have a chance to question the Minister. This is happening far too often, and the Government are taking refuge in such practices.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. No doubt you will look at this matter and carefully consider it, but would it not be wrong for the Home Secretary to make a statement about a case that was to go before the Court of Appeal and to prejudge it and give opinions about it before the judiciary had given the matter proper consideration?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, in January 1987, when the then Home Secretary made a statement to the House saying that the Maguires were guilty, he also placed a 22-page memorandum in the Library explaining why they were guilty. Now the present Home Secretary is taking the opposite view and is proposing to deal with it by way of a written answer.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We already know what the Director of Public Prosecutions will recommend to the Court of Appeal, and we have a precedent in the Guildford Four. But many of us who have an interest in this matter —I declare such an interest—cannot raise important matters that will come before the House and come into effect over the summer—for example, legal aid and the appointment of legal aid experts for the defence. These matters cannot be canvassed until much later in the year, and, during the course of this summer, they will affect a considerable number of criminal trials.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Most of us heard on the radio this morning a clear announcement that a statement would be made today in the House to the effect that the Home Secretary would be referring the case back to the Court of Appeal. There was even criticism of one of the judges involved. Is it not an insult to the House when the whole country is told what we shall be told but we are then not told it and all we get is a written answer?

Perhaps I could pre-empt further points of order. I, too, heard that on the radio, but it is not the BBC that dictates what debates are to be held in the House of Commons. I have received no request for a statement, or even a request for a question.

Further to the points of order concerning the Maguires, Mr. Speaker. Can you make a ruling? If the Government choose to refer a case back to the Court of Appeal—as they did in the case of the Guildford Four, as now, apparently, they are to do in the case of the Maguires, and as I hope they will do soon in the case of the Birmingham Six—they should make a statement to the House so that hon. Members can question the Home Secretary. Otherwise there will be a series of government-by-press releases, with Parliament completely bypassed and the Home Secretary not answerable for his actions.

I have already said that I have received no request for a statement or for a question on the matter today. I understand that there is to be an answer to a question. May I, however, point out to the House that there will be plenty of other opportunities before we rise for the summer recess to debate the matter, not least on the Adjournment motion and the Consolidated Fund Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I point out that Home Office questions are to be answered tomorrow and that all these matters could be raised then?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you, or someone else, explain why the official Front Bench spokesmen have remained silent on the issue? Surely that speaks volumes about the miscarriage of justice. They should come to the Dispatch Box to give the view, at least of the Labour party, about what is happening.

I can say no more about the matter. I am not responsible for whether or not any Front Bench spokesman rises to his feet.

No, Sir, but it relates to it. May I ask whether you approve of what in effect is an attempt politically to discount the whole matter of the Maguire Seven? Question 220, which is set down for written answer today, is clearly the one that we are dealing with. This is not the way for it to be dealt with. Home Office questions are to be answered tomorrow. Will you assure the House now that we shall be able to raise the matter by means of supplementary questions?

It all depends on whether there is a question that is pertinent to it. If there is, of course I shall bear that matter in mind.

You, Mr. Speaker, will recollect that, during questions to Foreign Office Front-Bench spokesmen, two questions were asked about the position in Scotland. You will realise that, when read or listened to, those questions will be seen as an attack upon the House and upon representation in the House. As more than 80 per cent. of the people of Scotland voted for the retention of the Union—and that means this House—it seems to me that those questions could mislead people outside Parliament. How can we be protected against that?

I see no question on the Order Paper that directly refers to Scotland. A Scottish Member of Parliament might have been called for a supplementary question, but if ever I were to call every Scottish Member of Parliament whenever any matter appertaining to Scotland was raised, we should get through very few questions.

I can say no more about it. I think that the hon. Member is one of those who wishes to participate in the debate on the charge-capping orders.

Well, many of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues wish to participate in that debate. I shall have great difficulty in accommodating them all.

Further to the previous point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may not have received a request, but may I respectfully put it to you that you ought, on behalf of the House, to make a request to the Home Office that the Home Secretary should come here to explain. I respectfully invite you also to address the point that I made earlier: that in 1987, when the Home Secretary wished to say that the conviction was satisfactory, he came here and made a statement. Now that the present Home Secretary has to say that the then Home Secretary was wrong in 1987, he does it by means of a question for written answer, No. 220. Is that not contemptuous? Will you please express a view upon it?

I do not think that the House has ever given the Chair the responsibility for initiating questions. They come from Back Benchers.

Control Of Detergent Pollution

3.39 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect the environment by amending the law relating to detergent composition and use; to control the use of phosphates and to require increased biodegradability of certain surface active agents; to require comprehensive labelling of detergents; and for connected purposes.
I am grateful for the opportunity to ask the permission of the House to introduce this Bill. I am happy to do so in the name of hon. Members on both sides of the House and in the presence of the Secretary of State for the Environment. He will recognise the importance of the matter, as do many hon. Members.

The long title of the Bill makes it clear that it has three prospective parts. As its general objective, it would have the task of protecting the environment, and would do so by amending the minimal current law relating to detergent composition and use. That would be achieved by three means: first, by controlling the use of phosphates; secondly, by requiring increased biodegradability of certain surface active agents; and, thirdly, by requiring comprehensive labelling of detergents.

Phosphates are food for the growth of plants and animals and, as such, they play a natural and normal part in our environment. However, excess phosphates in our water have had an unnatural effect. They have increasingly acted as a fertiliser for algae, which then use up the oxygen in the water as they grow rapidly. The lack of oxygen—it is almost the best possible illustration of the cycle of the ecosystem—decreases the activity of other microorganisms that are necessary to break down detergents in the water. They also have a direct effect on other plant life, and we know that they can effectively kill whole areas of water. The most famous example is Lake Erie in north America.

The release of toxins from that process is now recognised to be dangerous also to human beings. It is rightfully a matter that has come increasingly to public attention and about which there is now public concern. In particular, during the past year or so in Britain there has been a rapid increase in toxic algae growth in many British waters. Where the level of nutrients is high, especially in slow-moving waters, a rapid growth of algae most noticeably occurs.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), who is a co-sponsor of the Bill. He has had the embarrassment, problem and difficulty of witnessing that phenomenon most abundantly on Rutland Water. It is a man-made lake, which I have seen, and which is environmentally important in that part of the heart of England. The hon. Gentleman secured an Adjournment debate on, and on many occasions has asked questions about, the rapid growth of blue-green algae and how that phenomenon can be explained. It has been fatal to animal life around the shores of Rutland Water: last year, 23 sheep and 15 dogs died because they had drunk at the water's edge.

More recently, it was reported in The Sunday Times on 24 June that 10 young soldiers who were canoeing on Rudyard lake in Staffordshire became ill after falling into the water. That water contained green algae. The article, by Christopher Ward and John Rowland, made it clear that there is evidence of a link between that algae and the pneumonia that two of the soldiers contracted. It could have been fatal—although, mercifully, it was not—but it could certainly be fatal for young and elderly people.

The position is now recognised by the National Rivers Authority, which is Britain's pollution watchdog. During a recent week, it had identified algae in another 33 lakes and rivers. The total is now about 132 rivers and lakes specifically identified, including 40 reservoirs supplying tap water. Some landlords, including the National Trust, have closed their water to the public. There is concern in all parts of the country, including inland on the mainland of Great Britain, at Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, and offshore. It led to the Government issuing a warning a couple of weeks ago, when algae was forming along the east coast of Scotland and England, telling people not to eat mussels or oysters from that area as they might be affected.

The phosphate that we put into our water contributes to that environmental development. I do not pretend to be specific, but about 25 to 30 per cent. of the phosphate in our water comes from detergents. There are two other sources—human sewage and agricultural run-off—and I accept that we could also address the problem by dealing with those two sources. But detergents and washing powders are a key and easily containable source.

The Bill proposes that we should restrict to the minimum the amount of phosphate—at present not restricted—that goes into the water. Many other European countries, such as Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Holland and Austria have a total ban or a significant restriction. More recently, France has imposed a legal requirement to phase out, and parts of the United States have a similar requirement. It is therefore important that Britain should at last address the issue.

I accept that, at this late stage in the Session, the Bill is unlikely this year to become law. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government will respond positively to it. I know that they are contemplating producing a White Paper in the autumn. The sponsors of the Bill, on both sides of the House, hope that the Government will respond positively to it and that we shall be able to ensure that legislation is introduced before too long.

Those who support the Bill intend that environmentally harmful substitutes for phosphates should also be banned. We propose that these limits should be set down in legislation.

The two other proposals that I mentioned earlier are linked. The existing regulations, which date from 1978, require that detergents must be 80 per cent. biodegradable. It is now accepted that they can and should be significantly more biodegradable. We seek to increase the figure gradually over the next decade, to ensure that the products that might go into the water and cause a particular problem are biodegraded.

Petroleum-based surface agents cause the impurity that is most harmful to water. Vegetable-based surface agents are biodegradable. They are a perfectly feasible alternative and we wish them to become the most regularly used alternative. If non-biodegradable substances are put into water, a very unpleasant foaming may occur—for example, at weirs and over patches of rough water. People find that visually objectionable; and it is certainly objectionable if one is in the water.

Our third proposal concerns labelling detergents. At present the labelling required is minimal: only the name and address of the seller and the name of the product have to be displayed. We believe that part of the process of increasing environmental awareness is to educate the public. That can be done only if all the ingredients are included on the label. It is equally important to educate the public on the quantities that are required. People overuse potentially or actually harmful substances in ignorance of their effect on the water, believing, for example, that they will make it softer. If we use labelling to educate the public, the purity of our water can be substantially increased and the harm to our environment can be minimised.

I am that aware that legislation is contemplated in Europe but it does not specifically deal with the control of pollution by detergents. That is why the Bill is necessary, and I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Michael Latham, Mr. Peter L. Pike, Mr. Malcolm Bruce, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Robin Squire, Mr. Andrew Welsh, Mrs. Rosie Barnes, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones, Sir George Young, and Mr. David Clelland.

Control Of Detergent Pollution

Mr. Simon Hughes accordingly presented a Bill to protect the environment by amending the law relating to detergent composition and use; to control the use of phosphates and to require increased biodegradability of certain surface active agents; to require comprehensive labelling of detergents; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 20 July and to be printed. [Bill 184.]

Community Charge

First Day's Debate

I remind the House that many right hon. and hon. Members of all parties wish to participate in the debate, which will last until midnight. I have decided not to put the 10-minute limit on speeches this evening because that would be unfair to those hon. Members who are called in that two-hour period. I do, however, urge all hon. Members to limit their speeches to 10 minutes whatever time they are called as that will enable most—I hope all —hon. Members to be called in this important debate.

3.50 pm

I beg to move,

That the draft Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 6th June, be approved.
With this it will perhaps be convenient to consider the following motions:
That the draft Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) (No. 2) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 18th June, be approved.
That the draft Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) (No. 3) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved.
The debate is the culmination of a process that began on 3 April when I announced my decision to designate 20 authorities for charge capping. Subsequently, on 10 April, I added Lambeth to that list. The three draft orders state the caps that I propose should be set, if the House agrees, for 20 of the 21 authorities. Camden accepted the cap that I proposed. I formally set that cap by serving notice on Camden on 26 April. Therefore, Camden does not feature in any of the draft orders—nor need it do so.

The first draft order deals with Hillingdon, to the affairs of which I shall return later. The second draft order refers to those authorities that did not respond to my proposed caps within the statutory 28-day period: Basildon, Bristol and Doncaster. The third draft order deals, under section 104 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, with the other 16 authorities which responded to my proposals and put forward alternatives of their own. Again, I shall come to that issue later.

If the House approves the draft orders, I shall make them. The statutory notice with the final cap figures will then be served on the designated local authorities as soon as is reasonably practical after that. The local authorities concerned will then have 21 days in which they can set lower budgets which will, in due course, feed through to lower community charges for their citizens.

Many hon. Members will be familiar with such debates, especially those who represent inner-London constituencies. The issues that we are covering today are not novel; we have visited these shores before. The limitation of local authority rates and the debate of that limitation has been a fairly regular feature of the parliamentary calendar in the past few years. The difference on this occasion is that we are acting under different legislation and spending longer debating these matters. In view of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak, I understand why that is the case.

Before the Secretary of State announced the capping, does he recall saying:

"The best place to resolve these issues is in the local government ballot box"?
Does he recall an article in The House Magazine on 18 June in which he said:
"Councils will have to answer to local voters for their performance. That's what accountability is all about"?
Will he explain what he meant by those statements?

I shall certainly come to local accountability and democracy later in my remarks.

I shall make my speech in my own way, and I shall allow interventions as frequently as seems reasonable. If I have not answered the point raised by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) by the end of my speech, the hon. Gentleman may intervene and I shall seek to respond then. I am desperately trying to be accommodating to Opposition Members. At this point I shall abandon what was clearly an ill-starred endeavour.

As the matter has been raised, perhaps I should draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that the unlamented Ealing Labour council inherited balances of £28 million. In four years it raised the rates and the community charge by 264 per cent. and left debts of £460 million to the people of Ealing. It is no wonder that the council was thrown out on its ear by the electorate. Was that not a good form of accountability?

It was a good form of accountability. We are delighted that one of the main beneficiaries in the House was the Leader of the Opposition, and that a first-class council has been elected to look after his affairs and those of Ealing.

If this occasion is fairly familiar to the House, so are some of the matters of principle to which I shall come shortly. So, too, are some of the issues that will be raised on the way in which those principles are applied in practice. Before coming to the principle and the application of the principle in practice to the designated authorities, I wish to deal briefly with the law.

Most of us would concede that, for the past three months, questions of legality have featured significantly in discussions of local government affairs. If one is to believe what one reads in the press, those questions of legality have already consumed more than £1 million in legal costs and a good deal of time and effort on the part of officers of the designated authorities which have pursued action through the courts.

Absolutely. The authorities were represented by a galaxy of five senior counsel and eight junior counsel. The number of councils fell from 20 to 19 when Hillingdon withdrew. Twenty authorities applied to the Divisional court, the court of first instance, to have my designation decisions overturned.

The Brent law centre, representing two school governors and the National Union of Teachers—both parties were represented by senior counsel—also joined in the court hearings. In the Divisional court, the applicants' case was dismissed. The applicants then appealed to the Court of Appeal, and again their appeal was dismissed. When I made my initial statement on 3 April, I said that the designation criteria that I had chosen were legally robust. Six judges have arrived at the unanimous decision that my action was lawful. Nevertheless, 16 authorities are still pursuing the matter legally in another place. That raises three issues on which the House would want me to comment.

First, the role of the courts and the concerns of this House are different. The courts are concerned with the law —that is, whether or not I am entitled to take the decisions that I do. The Master of the Rolls made the point extremely clearly in his judgment in the Court of Appeal by using a metaphor. He said that the court's role was similar to that of a referee in ensuring compliance with the rules. I seek to make this point in a non-partisan way, hoping that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House will accept it. The courts are not concerned whether my decisions—that is, if I am entitled to take them—are appropriate. That is a matter for me and for the House, and is the subject of our debate this afternoon. I want to make that distinction clear.

Secondly, the legality of my decisions are the subject of legal proceedings in another place. Obviously it would not be proper for me to comment extensively on them, but while those proceedings cannot and will not be influenced by any debate in this House, there is no impediment to this House now considering fully, in relation to the draft orders, all the matters that are rightly and properly matters for this House.

Setting the caps is a matter of considerable urgency and it is in the interests of all the local authorities and charge payers concerned that that should be done as soon as is practicable, ending uncertainty and bringing relief to about 4 million charge payers. It is right for the House to consider the draft orders now, so that, if it approves them, local authorities will be able to revise their budgets and to set lower community charges.

Thirdly, if the designation were to be deemed unlawful, my decisions and the orders could be quashed. If before such a judgment I had served the statutory notices that set the caps for designated authorities, those caps also could be quashed. I want to make clear the distinction between the issues which have been discussed in the courts and those which we are debating now, because it is no part of my argument that, because the courts found my action to be legal, they necessarily found it to be appropriate. Appropriateness is a matter for this House.

I thank the Secretary of State for spelling out that distinction, but will he confirm, and place on the record for the benefit of the millions of people affected by the action that he is now taking of his own volition, that, although the courts may have taken their time to examine his decision, just as the House will take time today and tomorrow to do so, when the House was considering the legislation, it was never allowed fully to debate the Government's proposals because the Government introduced a guillotine? So although the powers that the Secretary of State is exercising may be lawful, they were never fully debated by this House. That is why the action that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to take today and tomorrow is totally undemocratic.

Although I have not been a Member of Parliament for as long as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), it is within my recollection that a previous Labour Government frequently and enthusiastically used their powers to guillotine legislation. I believe that it was a former leader of the Labour party who, as Leader of the House, broke the record for the number of Bills that he guillotined in a day.

Over the years, we have debated capping powers. In particular, we have debated the designation criteria which I have used on this occasion. Indeed, we debated them a few months ago, and I dare say that we will debate them in future. I hope that nothing the hon. Member for Perry Barr said—I do not think that anything he said would bear this interpretation—would suggest to people outside this place that the amount of time taken to debate issues in the House justified people witholding payment of their community charge. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member would sensibly say that.

The Secretary of State appeared to be mildly criticising the local authorities which together have taken the legal action that they are still pursuing. Does he not agree that they may have felt justified—many Opposition Members believe that they were justified—in taking that action? While the Government's decisions may be lawful, the authorities are entitled to point out to the courts and to the country that the decisions of local government finance distribution this year, upon which the Secretary of State's policy is based, owe a great deal to erroneous assumption and outdated fact. If the courts cannot understand what that means, the House must.

In due course it will be for those local authorities which have taken the matter through the courts and spent a good deal of their community charge payers' money in doing so in an attempt to ensure that those same community charge payers have a higher community charge to defend their actions to their local electors. I very much hope that the amount of legal attention that those matters have received this year will ensure in future that we can proceed more expeditiously when we need to do so should I be required in future to exercise the powers that I have from Parliament to cap local authority expenditure.

The more I give way, the more I eat into the time available to hon. Members to make contributions about their local authorities.

It is crystal clear that the orders limit the level of expenditure of specified local authorities. The Secretary of State said that that would feed through to local poll tax or community charges. Is he saying that the effect of the orders is a specific enforceable lower level of poll tax? Because of the delay and uncertainty over the past few months, the income of many of those local authorities, particularly my own, will be much lower over the year and the expenditure, because of the cost of recalculation, will be much higher. Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the irony is that it may be necessary to set a higher poll tax to pay for the even lower expenditure because of the level of non-payment as a result of the long delays and the confusion created by the orders?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on a matter of politics and on a matter of law. When local authorities set new budgets where a cap has been designated, they will have to apply precisely the same criteria and considerations that they applied when they set their original budgets. They will be determining how the same number of community charge payers should meet a lower level of spending. That will mean a lower community charge for their citizens. The law is perfectly plain about that.

With regard to the matter of politics, it has of course been the choice of those local authorities to pursue their cases through the courts. That choice has not been exercised by every local authority. For example, Camden did not choose to do that. It accepted the cap that I proposed and the statutory notice on 26 April. That is not the case with Hillingdon. I shall return to its affairs in a moment, but I wanted to deal with those legal points at the outset.

The principle that we should debate in the House is whether it is right for central Government to take the power and, having taken that power, to use it to constrain local authority spending and hence constrain local authority tax-raising powers. This is not a new issue, but something of an old chestnut. At the heart of debates in this House for about 15 years has been the relationship between local and central Government.

With great respect to the hon. Lady, that matter has been at the heart of debate for the past 15 years.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; he has been especially generous to Opposition Members, who now dispute what he tells the House. Those in local government before 1979 will recall the action of the then Government when they introduced primary and secondary clawback. Perhaps there was less squealing then from Labour Members who were part of a Government who were trying to curb local government and who said that the party was over.

It is fair to say that, in the late 1970s, local authorities were predominantly controlled by Conservatives. When two successive Secretaries of State for the Environment tried to end the party, they were dealing with local authorities that accepted the role of central Government in establishing national economic priorities and implementing a national economic strategy. I should remind the House that the only cut in current local authority expenditure was made in 1976–77, when local authority expenditure fell by 6 per cent.

I do not believe that anyone on either side of the House has ever made the case, at least theoretically, that local authorities should be treated as independent fiefdoms whose actions and spending are of no concern to the House or central Government. Local authorities were created by Parliament and their powers and duties are laid down by it. We prescribe, for example, in detail how local authorities should regulate tattooing parlours. We prescribe in detail how local authorities monitor the operation of every ear-piercing establishment and the qualifications required for local authority meat inspectors. As we prescribe such detailed matters and many others, it would be illogical if we came to the conclusion that the amount of money that local authorities spend and the amount of taxes that they raise are of no concern to us.

This House has also prescribed local authorities' duties in terms of education. There has been an increase in their duties as a result of the Education Reform Act 1988. The Secretary of State's actions are making it impossible for some local education authorities to carry out their statutory responsibilities.

Ninety education authorities which are not capped are carrying out their statutory responsibilities. I believe that that is an adequate answer to the hon. Lady'sobservation—[Interruption.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that what is objected to is not just the simple fact of the cap, although it is bad enough, but the highly selective way in which it has been imposed? My local authority has spent only 4 per cent. over its target, which is closer to its target than 90 per cent. of all other local authorities, including Conservative ones, yet it is Labour authorities that we are discussing. That is not fair, and this action has brought his office into disrepute.

I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman by referring to the facts. His local authority is spending 16·1 per cent., or £178, per adult above its SSA. If he says, "The SSA is jolly unfair"—

Let me finish the point, because I am anxious to help the hon. Gentleman. It is spending 27·3 per cent. above its resealed GRE. It is overspending more under the old grant formula than under the SSA. The hon. Gentleman's argument does not hold up.

Let us consider the figures. Brent's notional poll tax target was £481. It set a poll tax of £498 —4 per cent. higher. The reality is that the average for all councils is 31 per cent. over target, so Brent is closer to its target than 90 per cent. of all local authorities. That is the fact.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the assumed community charge, not the standard spending assessment. As he is a shadow Treasury spokesman, I am sure that, should he become the real thing in due course, he will want to know the difference between the assumed charge and the SSA.

Will my hon. Friend be kind enough to bear in mind that the spending of several Conservative councils has been 16 to 32 per cent. higher over the past two years? Many Conservative community charge payers wonder why those authorities have not been capped. Will he bear in mind in future the fact that increases in expenditure by local authorities, of whatever political complexion, should be subject to the same capping?

I shall come, with enthusiasm—at least on my part; I do not know whether it will be matched on the part of others—to our ability in law to constrain year-on-year increases in spending.

The total amount of local government expenditure, and therefore the amount spent by local authorities, which in aggregate makes up that total, is and must be a matter of concern to any Government who wish to manage the nation's economic affairs prudently. Equally, the total amount of local authority spending and the spending decisions made by local authorities are certainly of concern to this Government—I hope that they would be of concern to any Government—because of their repercussions for local community charge payers. That is an important argument for the community charge, the principle of which is that virtually everyone should make some—I repeat, some—direct contribution to the cost of local government services, from which everyone benefits.

I have no doubt that the introduction of the community charge is already starting to have an effect on attitudes to local government spending and that the community charge will introduce a more direct translation mechanism between local authority spending and local electors. I very much hope that, as a result, in due course it will be unnecessary for the holder of my office to exercise powers under the Local Government Finance Act 1988 to constrain local authority spending. Unfortunately, that happy state of affairs has not yet arrived. I certainly do not think that it arrived this year, when several local authorities plainly increased spending thinking that they could blame the consequences on the introduction of the community charge.

I used my powers seriously—I did not take my decisions lightly—and I have no doubt that it was right and proper to use them.

My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware, and the public must be made aware, that the community charge will be used as a political tool in the approach to a general election by parties that wish unscrupulously to advance their parliamentary representation. Therefore, I hope that he will carefully watch Labour-controlled Lancashire county council and other councils, which will have no hesitation in unnecessarily increasing the community charge for political gain during a general election campaign.

I can well understand my hon. Friend's concern. The whole House will want to be assured that, when I make a statement about the local government settlement for next year—I hope that it will be later this month—and about the outcome of our review of the community charge, I shall give the House my intentions in broad terms, about charge capping for the future. I hope that I shall be able to satisfy my hon. Friend on that occasion.

I repeat that this central issue—the relationship between this House, central Government's responsibility for managing the economy, and the totality of local authority spending—is one on which the Government have made their position plain, even if the Opposition do not like it. The Opposition's views on the matter are less than crystal clear.

We begin with the attitude of the Opposition to the principle and practice of community charge capping. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, was interviewed by John Humphrys on the "Today" programme on 27 March. The exchange went like this:

Mr. Humphrys asked:
"But if councils are profligate with rate-payers or Charge-payers', money, then what is wrong with Charge capping?"
The hon. Member for Dagenham:
"Well of course there must always be in extremis that reserve power."
Mr. Humphrys:
"Would a Labour Government accept the principle—the very broad principle—of rate-capping, Charge-capping, whatever you want to call it?"
The hon. Member for Dagenham:
"Well, as I have already said, in extremis, there must always be that reserve power, but the Government's going well beyond that reserve power."
Mr. Humphrys:
"You say a Labour Government would have to do it in extremis—any Government would have to do it in extremis —how would you describe 'in extremis'?"
The hon. Member for Dagenham:
"Well, it's not our problem at the moment".
Mr. Humphrys—he did not give up—said:
"It's going to be, if you're in power".
The hon. Member for Dagenham:
"Well, yes, of course … But … it's really just a hypothetical question to ask us to define what would be extreme circumstances. What I am saying to you is—I am not ducking your question in any sense"—
I do not think that belief in that observation will outlast the end of the sentence—
"I am saying in extremis that reserve power would have to be reserved, but it's impossible to say in advance what those circumstances would be."
We have waited four months since the interview to hear a definition of what "in extremis" means, and of when the reserve powers that would be reserved would be used. We have had no clarification from the shadow Cabinet, or from the Leader of the Opposition or—I am working in ascending order—from Mr. Peter Mandelson. Nor have we had any clarification from the hon. Gentleman.

We are waiting for that clarification to be given any second now. As I said when I last debated these matters, we know that the hon. Gentleman believes that such reserve powers should be used in extremis, but not in Lambeth or in Basildon.

The Secretary of State has been speaking for 30 minutes and he has not justified, or sought to justify, the poll tax capping which will have such a devastating effect on the services upon which our constituents depend. Will he address himself to the issues that concern people, instead of this disgraceful political knockabout, which is an insult to the services that we are discussing? It is shameful.

I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to make her own speech in her own time. One reason why I have spoken for such an inordinate time is that I have given way to a large number of hon. Members.

I want—I am sure that it is an important issue for both sides of the House—to deal with the principle behind charge capping and the extent to which the Government should try to constrain the totality of local authority spending and individual spending decisions by local authorities. That must be an issue of great significance and importance to the shadow Chancellor and to his Gladstonian team of shadow Treasury Ministers, one of whom I see on the Back Benches. When I look at what Labour spokesmen have said on the issue, I am aware once again, to quote from the nautical log books, that they are afloat on a high and confused sea.

When we consider what Labour spokesmen have said, it is extremely difficult to find any observation on the matter from the hon. Member for Dagenham, but I have found what I guess is the kernel of the Opposition's case—put not by the hon. Gentleman but by his predecessor, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) in the rate limitation debate two years ago. I shall set out the views of the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition reasonably extensively.

What are the Secretary of State's views?

I shall come to my views.

I begin with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), who is with us today. He is always an incisive and informed contributor to these debates. Intervening in a speech by the hon. Member for Copeland, my hon. Friend said:
"Nobody will dispute the needs of many London boroughs and inner cities throughout Britain, but the theme of the hon. Gentleman's speech so far seems to give a clear message from the Opposition Benches that local authority spending should not be restrained or limited. Is it the Labour party's policy that, in the totality of national spending, the one area which is not the business of the House and should in no way be constrained is local authority spending? That seems to have been the message for the past 10 minutes.

Of course that is not the message. The hon. Gentleman is a regular attender of these debates and often contributes. He knows very well that that is not Labour party policy, because I have had the opportunity to tell him so on several occasions. But since his memory seems to be as defective as his political reasoning, let me put it on the record again.

I took the trouble to re-read the previous two debates on this subject last year and the year before." So did I. The hon. Member for Copeland continued:

"If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to do that, he would have known the answer that I am about to give. It is simply that the Labour party's policy makes it clear that what the Government provide to local authorities would, of necessity, be controlled and limited—

Because the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would come to a decision. That is how, fathead.

The difference between us and the Government is simply that we do not believe that local government's revenue-raising powers should be subject to Government control. Whatever revenue-raising powers local government has, it should be free to determine how to use them."— [Official Report, 18 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 1217–18.]

Let me finish the point. Let me summarise for fatheads and non-fatheads the Labour party's position.

The Labour party's position is that it is appropriate for the House and central Government to take a view, to consider, and presumably to attempt to constrain the totality of local authority spending—

If the Secretary of State wants to discuss Labour party policy, the Government should call a general election and let the people decide.

The Opposition's position on this central point of principle is that it is reasonable for Parliament and central Government to have a view about the totality of local authority spending, and that to exercise that constraint they will determine—this is good news for all of us—what Government will provide for local authorities; however, at the end of the day local authorities can raise whatever funds they want, and can spend whatever they want.

There is a flaw in that argument. Let me make the obvious point by means of a metaphor. If we are concerned about the level of water in the bath, we must take account of the fact that there are invariably two taps, and that it is not enough to control only one of them. Similarly, if we want to control local authority expenditure, it is important not only to constrain the amount of money that goes from central Government to local authorities, but, if necessary, to constrain the total amount that they raise themselves through rates or through the community charge.

I intervene reluctantly, Mr. Speaker, in view of your comments about time. However, the Secretary or State is abusing the House. The three orders laid by the Government are complex, and he should address them. So far he has given us a basic lecture on constitutional law that could only be described as a painful elaboration of the obvious. We then had a bit of political knockabout. The Secretary of State has not addressed the issues of why and what is involved.

The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the cuts in Wandsworth—according to an independent assessment report—led to the death of a child. That is not something to laugh about. What we are talking about today could lead to similar events in other areas: and that is what not only hon. Members but people outside want to know about. What effect, in the Government's view, will the charges have on services?

I have been attempting to deal with the principle that lies behind any attempt to constrain local authority expenditure. I have pointed out that the Labour party is passing muddled on the issue—

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman—and twice in an afternoon would be too much.

I do not think that anyone could say airily to local authorities, "Go for it: borrow what you can and tax what you can."

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is not accurate. He should listen for a change. That was said not by me but by the hon. Member for Dagenham in an interview in Tribune. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman no longer reads that publication. He makes comments, but he presents us with no arguments or proposals relating to how local authorities can be stopped from borrowing whatever they can and taxing whatever they can.

Let me now deal with the application of the principle to the designated authorities. The Local Government Finance Act 1988 gives me power to cap authorities on two bases. First, it says that I am entitled to cap authorities on the basis of excessive spending. Secondly, it says that I am entitled to cap authorities if the increase in their spending from one year to the next is excessive. I mentioned that earlier. I have not been able to pursue that second approach in the first year of the community charge, mainly because so many other charges have been taking place in local authority expenditure. For example, the housing revenue account has been ring-fenced and changes have been made in the capital rules.

If I had wished to use the second approach—capping on the basis of excessive increases from year to year—I would have had to construct for all local authorities a notional budget for 1989–90 in order to be able to compare like with like. The view that I was legally advised to take was that that would have led to far too imprecise a foundation for designation criteria this year. I based my criteria on the first approach, and those criteria were debated when I made my statement a few weeks ago. They have also been widely discussed outside the House and in the courts.

My right hon. Friend is talking about the criteria by which he selects authorities for capping. Many authorities have set the charge too high, and even though the majority of our constituents accept the principle of the community charge, they cannot take any action against the amount of the charge if expenditure by the authority is below a certain limit, which from memory is about £15 million. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the excessive charges that my constituents and others have to pay because of that limitation?

As I said in my statement on the local government financial settlement for next year, I hope to be able to make clear in outline my views on charge capping should it be necessary in future. It should be possible to take either of the two approaches that I have mentioned in relation to excessive spending or in relation to excessive increases year on year.

As I have said, we have discussed the criteria in the House and outside. Camden was one of the designated authorities. It concluded that it could accept the cap even though it disagreed with it and I issued a statutory notice for Camden on 26 April. Three authorities—Basildon, Bristol and Doncaster—did not respond to my designation by putting forward an alternative within the statutory 28 days. I assume that if they had thought that my proposals were unachievable they would have responded and put forward other proposals. I would be astonished if any local authority which thought that my proposals were unachievable failed to respond.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons, or perhaps the main reason, for Bristol not responding to the order was that it was scared stiff that if his Department had a look at Bristol's books it would have imposed a larger cap?

I understand why many of my hon. Friend's constituents and others in Bristol take that view. Bristol's spending record of 96·3 per cent. over standard spending assessment, or £108 per adult, speaks volumes.

After dealing with Camden and the three authorities which did not respond, we were left with 17. I shall deal with Hillingdon, which is one of the 17, in a moment. Representatives from the other 16 authorities were seen by my hon. Friends in the Department. As a result of those representations, we adjusted the caps on Brent, Southwark and Wigan, and I have confirmed the cap for the other 13 authorities.

Our proposed budgets are achievable and reasonable. If the House approves the order, it will be for the authorities to decide how to reduce their budgets to conform with the caps. It is for those authorities to set their own spending priorities within those caps; it is not for me.

I have three points to make about the application of this principle and these criteria to those local authorities. First, year after year, we have had debates on rate limitation. In all those debates there has been a lot of theoretical argument about whether the Secretary of State for the Environment is behaving in a reasonable and appropriate way. There have been assertions and counter-assertions. This year, we have something more substantial—we have direct evidence to hand, in the case of Hillingdon.

Hillingdon was one of the local authorities that I designated for capping. It had set a budget of £151 million —20 per cent. above the SSA, or £143 per adult. That led to a community charge of £367. I proposed a cap on Hillingdon, in early April, of £141·7. Hillingdon responded at the end of the month by saying that that budget was inadequate to meet its needs. It said that it needed £151 million and not a penny less.

Three days later, the political control of Hillingdon changed. The new council proposed a new budget, below the level of my cap, which implied a community charge of £290—£77 below the community charge that had been set by its predecessor and £25 below the community charge that would have resulted from my cap. It has set a budget below the level of the cap that still allows for an increase in expenditure on schools. After all the assertions and counter-assertions, it is not unreasonable for me to say that, if it is possible for Hillingdon, it should be possible for others.

I hope that, if I am successful in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, I shall be able to tell the House exactly how the new Hillingdon council achieved those cuts.

I am sure that, as Labour Members are only too keen to take the good news back to their local authorities, they will be all ears when my hon. Friend speaks.

The Secretary of State is aware that this is a key issue. Is he saying that the new Conservative administration in Hillingdon has cut no services in any department as a result of its new budget? If not, he is conceding the point that capping means cutting. That is the simple implication.

Mr. Patten