HC Deb 11 October 1976 vol 917 cc26-8
39. Mr. Canavan

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he next intends to visit the Duchy of Lancaster; and what ministerial duties he intends to undertake during his visit.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Harold Lever)

I carry out most of my Duchy of Lancaster responsibilities from London. However, I visit the Duchy regularly, not least because my constituency lies within it.

Mr. Canavan

As Lancaster is quite near Blackpool, would it not be appropriate for my right hon. Friend to listen to some of the advice given in Blackpool and condemn any further massive cuts in public expenditure which would cause decreases in essential social services and increased unemployment in Lancaster, Scotland, North-East England and many other deprived areas of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Lever

Although Blackpool unquestionably lies within the boundaries of the Duchy, the Duchy takes no responsibility for the political conferences which from time to time occur or the oratory which accompanies those conferences.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the Chancellor please go to Lancaster City itself and while there take a look at the Housing Corporation project for building 240 houses at Scale Hall Farm, on which £500,000 has already been spent on infrastructure, roads and services but on which his colleague at the Department of the Environment has now forbidden work to proceed? Will he then return and convince his right hon. Friend that this plan must go ahead if a lot of public money is not to be wasted and great hardship caused?

Mr. Lever

Anxious as I am for the well-being of all parts of the Duchy, I sometimes find it possible to resist the claims of Lancaster upon my time. I will, however, see that the points made by the hon. Lady are fully, carefully and sympathetically looked at.

Mr. Dalyell

Since we are told that devolution is good for us, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is pressing for a legislative assembly in Preston?

Mr. Lever

No. At the moment, the Duchy is satisfied with a one-man legislative and consultative assembly.

Mr. Rost

As special economic adviser to the Cabinet, what personal responsibility does the right hon. Gentleman take for his Government's disastrous failures—or is he telling us that his advice has not been heeded?

Mr. Lever

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that all members of the Government always agree with each other on policy. That is their constitutional duty. That policy is not always agreeable to everyone else, and that is their misfortune.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the considerable agricultural estates of the Duchy of Lancaster extend to the Oswestry division of Shropshire? Can he indicate what advice he gave as to the likely consequences for British agriculture and for the tenants of the Duchy of a minimum lending rate of 15 per cent.?

Mr. Lever

I confess that, although that subject occupied a good deal of my thoughts recently, I did not have the tenant farmers of the hon. Gentleman's constituency in mind. I shall certainly reflect upon the likely consequences to his agricultural constituents. Frankly, I would think that they would not be of very great importance to the agricultural community. [Interruption.] However, all these matters are taken into account in various aspects of the present policy. If the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make a more general point which is not specific to the Duchy tenants of Oswestry, I am bound to say that of course we regret the necessity for the rise in interest rates but that, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has explained, it is in accordance with his need to keep a firm control on the money supply.

Mr. Heller

When my right hon. Friend visits the Duchy again, either in his ministerial capacity or as Member for the area, will he nip over to Merseyside and have a look at the position there, where we have 87,000 unemployed and 20,000 people in Liverpool alone on the housing waiting lists—40,000 if we include slum clearance? Is it not clear that to have any further cuts in public expenditure which would keep those workers on the dole and those people waiting for houses would be an absolute disgrace?

Mr. Lever

It is certainly the Government's policy intention to achieve the maximum of productive public expenditure and the maximum expansion of our economy on a sustainable basis.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer to my supplementary question was trivial and unsatisfactory? It indicates that the Government have not even begun to have the faintest conception of the damage that will be done to the private sector, particularly agriculture, as a consequence of rates of interest which are absolutely medieval.

Mr. Lever

The hon. Gentleman again accuses me of not weighing the consequences of these rates. I was merely supposing him to be somewhat egocentric in thinking that their major importance was in relation to his constituents within the Duchy.