HC Deb 07 April 1976 vol 909 cc418-20
20. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether his two senior officials, who act as assessors on the governing body of the Centre for Environmental Studies, represented the Government's views about the facilities provided by the Centre for a four-month visit by Mr. Mundey, ex-general secretary of the Australian Builders' Labour Federation, to instruct British building workers in techniques to ensure the blacking by building workers of any development of which they do not approve.

Mr. Freeson

I do not think it right to disclose details of the proceedings of this governing body, or of any others of a largely autonomous nature, but I understand the purpose of the visit referred to was not as set out in the Question.

Mr. Smith

Nevertheless, does it not strike the Minister as somewhat bizarre that taxpayers' money should be used to subsidise somebody who is apparently dedicated to disruption and anarchy?

Mr. Russell Kerr

Who said so?

Mr. Freeson

The Centre does not receive more than a proportion of its expenditure from Government sources. I can add nothing to my answer, that the purpose of the visit was not as the hon. Gentleman described it in his Question.

Mr. Cryer

Does my hon. Friend agree that Jack Mundey and Australian trade unions might have much to contribute to the British trade union movement? Does he also agree that architects and town planners do not have sole knowledge in environmental design? Is it not true that many building workers and many people on the shop floor have just as much knowledge? For example, they might have warned the architects who designed Ronan Point that there were certain structural defects. Is it not important to get trade unionists involved more in design and development, in all walks of life?

Mr. Freeson

I certainly agree that it is desirable to get trade union and other groups involved in environmental and planning decisions. In an indirect way, that was the purpose of the visit. It was to consider urban and environmental planning in Britain, with particular reference to the parts played by trade unions and residential and citizen groups.

Mr. Tebbit

Why could not the Minister have given that straightforward answer, saying what the purpose of the visit was, when my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) asked him? Why did he have to be so arrogant and uninformative until one of his hon. Friends asked a question?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Freeson

I wish that the hon. Gentleman and his near-hearing hon. Friends had read the Question, which did not ask me for the purpose of the visit but told me, inaccurately, what it was.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Is my hon. Friend aware that Mr. Jack Mundey, far from being the drug on the market that Conservative Members have suggested, has had a major influence on environmental matters, in particular, in and around Sydney which is my home town, and—this I find somewhat incongruous—has become the darling of Conservative interests in Sydney?

Mr. Freeson

That may derive from the fact—a fact of which Mr. Mundey may not have been aware—that the environmental network pressures and influences in this country on that score are somewhat more developed than in my hon. Friend's home territory.