HC Deb 15 November 1977 vol 939 cc282-5
Q2. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Prime Minister whether he will dismiss the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) on 8th November.

Mr. Latham

Will the Prime Minister say unequivocally that neither he nor the Secretary of State has any intention of implementing the half-baked proposals approved at the Labour Party conference last month for the nationalisation of large construction companies and a massive expansion of direct labour departments?

The Prime Minister

The manifesto of the Labour Party will be drawn up in due course, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will read it carefully when it appears.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Does the Prime Minister agree that the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), if he seriously has the welfare of the construction industry at heart, would do better to try to persuade some Conservative-controlled local authorities which are quite unnecessarily cutting back housing programmes to get those programmes under way? That would have some effect on the unemployment figures.

The Prime Minister

I understand that a number of local authorities have accumulated substantial balances, in some cases because of the drop in interest rates. I hope that they will maintain and, indeed, improve on the housing programme that has been established.

Mrs. Thatcher

If the Prime Minister will not reject the proposals for the nationalisation of construction companies contained in the Labour Party programme, will he at least reject the wholesale proposals for nationalisation and State direction of the other 31 sectors of industry contained in that programme?

The Prime Minister

My answer remains the same as it was to the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham).

Mrs. Thatcher

If the Prime Minister's answer remains the same, will he tell us what the answer was? Does he repudiate that programme, or does he approve it?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry that the right hon. Lady did not hear what I said. I said that no doubt, in due course, when the manifesto is published, both she and the hon. Member for Melton will read it.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is that programme alive or dead?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady does not get the date of the General Election out of me in that way.

Mr. James Lamond

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he were to dismiss the Secretary of State for the Environment it would cause a great deal of distress among my constituents including, in particular, the Tory leader of the council, who only last week was delighted to hear the announcement that the Oldham Metropolitan Borough was to receive an additional £1 million annually to assist with its difficulties? Is he aware that Councillor Geoffrey Webb, the Tory leader, described that news as most gratifying?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I am finding a great deal of satisfaction among Conservative-controlled local authorities at the fact that we have managed to reduce interest rates so that they are much lower than they were when the Conservative Party was last in office. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is performing his duties with his usual diligence and ability and, I understand, to general satisfaction.

Mr. Percival

If the Secretary of State is to remain in his employment, will the Prime Minister have an early word with him about the damage caused by the recent gales in the North-West, and particularly in Southport? A large number of my constituents have suffered heartbreaking damage to their homes and belongings. Their response to the tragedy has been magnificent, but they are very worried and it would be a great help to them, and to the Sefton Borough Council —which has also risen splendidly to the occasion—if the Prime Minister and his right hon. Friend were able to give further consideration to what might be done.

The Prime Minister

I received a telegram this morning from the mayors of Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre asking for Government financial assistance because of the damage that has been suffered on that coast. I have already asked the Secretary of State for the Environment to look into this matter—that is another reason why he should not be dismissed —and he has undertaken to do so. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, there is no fund available for this purpose, but there are certain facilities that could be made available. I readily agree that when the three mayors have informed me, as they have told me they will, of the additional assistance that will be required, the Government will be ready to look into the matter.

Mr. Loyden

May I ask my right hon. Friend, instead of dismissing the Secretary of State for the Environment, to consult him about the question of the resources that are made available by Government to local authorities? Is he aware that I believe that these resources require greater scrutiny and that the present situation is quite ridiculous because certain local authorities have a surplus of unused capital for housing, whereas other areas, with great housing stress, are in need of such finance?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly take up that point with my right hon. Friend. He is at present meeting local authorities on the subject of the rate support grant for next year. I do not know whether local authorities have raised this matter with him at those meetings, but clearly he will want to take all these factors into account when he makes his announcement.

Mr. Clegg

Will the Prime Minister ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to visit the Lancashire coast to see the abject misery from which many of my constituents are now suffering? I do not think my constituents find this a laughing matter when they have spring water flooding through their houses. I am anxious that a Minister should see the situation, because it is still dangerous.

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly convey that request to my right hon. Friend, but I believe that the local authorities have acted with great speed on the matter. A number of people have had their homes flooded, and a great deal of damage has been done. The House will sympathise with those who have suffered in this way. I cannot go further now than to say that when we receive further information about the extent of the damage, and the sums of money involved, the Government will give careful consideration to what is proposed.

Mr. Tom King

If the Prime Minister is not willing to sack the Secretary of State for the Environment, has he noticed the Early-Day Motion inviting him to sack the Secretary of State for Energy? Is it the Prime Minister's judgment that the Secretary of State for Energy has done more damage by keeping quiet, as in the case of the miners' productivity bonus—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a separate question and should be put on the Order Paper.

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