§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)
I think that by common consent the most significant measure foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech is the Local Government Bill. The words are:A Bill will be introduced to abolish the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils.When our manifesto was published in 1983 with that pledge, some people doubted our commitment. Then they thought that the legislation would not be ready in time. Now some of them think that abolition will not be completed in time. Such people have been proved to be wrong every step of the way. I do not necessarily put Mr. Kenneth Livingstone in quite that category.
As I think many hon. Members know, Mr. Livingstone has always had parliamentary ambitions. The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) knows it better than most people. Nothing would suit Mr. Livingstone's purpose less than for his own advertising campaign to succeed and for the GLC to survive. Fancy being condemned for life to be the leader of the Labour group on the GLC. That is hardly the sort of future that Chairman Ken sees for himself.
Let me make it absolutely clear. The Government are totally committed to the abolition of the GLC and the six metropolitan county councils. If Parliament passes the Bill, at midnight on 31 March 1986 those councils will cease to exist and almost all their powers will devolve on the London boroughs and metropolitan district councils. An unnecessary tier of government will have been removed. The tier in the metropolitan counties is responsible for only one quarter of the spending on local services and the tier in London is responsible for barely more than one tenth of the spending on local services. Taking account of services such as health, the police and several others, the figure falls to substantially below 10 per cent. So much for the much-vaunted case of who runs London when the GLC goes.
The Bill will be published quite soon and will necessarily be detailed. There have been attempts to spread the story that it will be only an enabling Bill, falling far short of its predecessors—the 1963 and 1972 Acts. Quite untrue! The Bill will provide in detail for the transfer of the statutory functions of the GLC and MCCs.
126 We have had to draft the Bill with little or no help from most of the local authorities concerned. Of the main metropolitan local authority associations, only the London Boroughs Association has been prepared to take any part in the talks. It is, of course , for local government to decide how to respond to Government policy initiatives. All I would say is that people can hardly grumble if the Bill does not take account of points that they might have made, but have chosen not to.
Instead of making a constructive input, the GLC—and, to a lesser extent, the MCCs—have taken refuge in what I can only describe as frivolities. Members may be unaware that today is the much trumpeted "day of protest" by Leftwing authorities in an outside London, their intention being to stop abolition and, I believe, Rate-capping with strikes and demos. Fortunately for most people it has turned out much like any other day.
Here in London, two key unions, the GLC Staff Association and the Fire Brigades Union, decided to take no part in that charade and, indeed, the Staff Association has withdrawn from the "Democracy for London" campaign, believing quite rightly that the "day of protest" will alienate public opinion. In pointless demonstrations like that the people who suffer are the children whose schools are closed, the old folk, the handicapped and those who depend on the services that cease to be provided. Once again, we see Mr. Livingstone failing to get the mass backing that he claims. I am told that at county hall itself more than half the staff are working normally—jolly good for them.
None of the MCCs has attempted to rival the extravagance of the GLC. Of course, they are only 10 years old. However, they have not seen fit to spend huge sums of ratepayers' money on nonsenses such as the GLC's so-called pink 95th birthday cake. I was told that the GLC expected about 1 million people to visit that extravaganza outside county hall, but I understand that so far attendance has fallen short by some 935,000.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Did my right hon. Friend see in today's edition of the Daily Telegraph a massive double-page advertisement inserted by the GLC, fighting the democratically elected Government? Will he hazard a guess as to how much that cost? Does he agree that it is a complete abuse of the GLC's position as custodian of the ratepayers' money? How soon can he bring an end to such massive abuse?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I share my hon. Friend's profound distaste for that style of local authority spending, and I will have something to say about it.
The success of the GLC's campaign was well measured by the success of their circus-stunt by-elections in September. Unfortunately for the GLC, the tightrope snapped. We were told that voters from every party would come out in huge numbers in order to support the four Labour candidates and the GLC. What happened? Compared with 1981, the total Labour vote fell by 8,000. So dismal was the response in London that the metropolitan counties hurriedly abandoned their plans to follow suit.
§ Mr. Jenkin
So much for the £10 million campaign of ratepayers' money squandered by the GLC. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) 127 is right to criticise it. Not only has it been a waste of ratepayers' money, but it is bogus. If one studies the lists of functions set out in the tables in annex C of the yellow book on the transfer of functions, one sees that, overwhelmingly, the functions of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils will go to local district and borough councils. A few—very few—will go to other bodies. For instance—and I believe that this arrangement has the support of the Opposition Front Bench—the historic buildings unit in London will join the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission and so join its undoubted expertise to that of the commission.
The main burden of the campaign of the GLC and the MCCs is that their powers will somehow be swallowed up by Whitehall. That was why, at Question Time the other day, I said that the advertising campaign was a tissue of lies—and so it is. But now the GLC and the MCCs have the brass to complain to me that I am being unfair.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
The right hon. Gentleman tells us that most of the functions of the GLC and—as he said—the MCCs are to be taken over by fully democratic accountable authorities. Is that really true of Merseyside? Less than 20 per cent. of the total functions of the Merseyside county council will go to directly elected smaller district councils—or 4 per cent. to each of the five district councils on Merseyside. The rest of the functions will go to quangos, probably appointed by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman persists in propagating the same errors as the MCCs. No one has ever regarded a local government joint committee or joint board as a quango. It consists of elected councillors, nominated by elected councils. That is the service which devolves upon those councils, acting jointly. If the hon. Gentleman cannot understand that now, he will have a tough time on the Standing Committee—if he is appointed to it.
I have said that the propaganda campaign was a tissue of lies. When one considers how much money has been spent on trying to bamboozle the people, one sees that the complaints are absurd. I note that the GLC's expenditure on advertising has been challenged by the district auditor. As the matter may now go before the courts, it would not be proper for me to comment, except to say that in the eyes of millions of Londoners it has been nothing but a scandal that the GLC has squandered such sums on such a campaign.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Hearing this knockabout stuff from the right hon. Gentleman is like being assaulted by a blancmange. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is about to make some points of substance. Does he not accept that the district auditor has considered the GLC's expenditure on its public information campaign and has said that nothing had been done which was out of order? On what, therefore, does the right hon. Gentleman base his final remark?
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman must await proceedings. We shall see what happens if the GLC challenges the auditor's findings.
The GLC and the MCCs should be thinking about their ratepayers and their staffs. It is their interests that should 128 be uppermost now in the minds of their elected representatives. The great majority of staff will of course have a continuing role in the new structure.
We have already established a staff commission and I shall shortly be publishing a memorandum setting out in more detail our proposals for staff transfers and for compensation for those who do not find places in the structure. I hope that in the interests of their staff, councils and the unions will start talking to the staff commission.
When the Bill is published, we shall give our estimate of savings. However, I can tell the House that our best estimate is that, on rationalisation, savings alone will be close to the figure that we suggested at the last election. My message today to all authorities involved is that the policy goes steadily forward. I am confident that the House will shortly signify its agreement in principle by giving a Second Reading to the Local Government Bill.
There are several other local government issues which, although not specifically mentioned in the Gracious Speech, are likely to figure in debates in the House. In the last Session, Parliament gave its approval to the Rates Act, and the proceedings of the Act are now being implemented. For instance, representatives of business and commercial ratepayers now have a statutory right to be consulted about local authority budgets and rating decisions. The code of practice has been published, and I hope that up and down the country chambers of commerce and other business organisations are making known their views about what they expect from local government. They may not have votes, but with the new powers their voices can and should be influential.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Lady will no doubt be able to make her points when she replies. Even she must realise that companies do not have votes.
Next year, local authorities for the first time will be obliged to provide information about their rating and spending policies to council tenants and others who pay their rates with their rents. In the following year, 1986–87, all domestic ratepayers will receive a breakdown of their rate demand to show how much of what they pay goes to each authority. These measures will help to strengthen accountability.
The House will recognise that the power to limit the rates of high-spending authorities dominated our debates. Rate limitation is an essential part of our present financial policy towards local government. For too long, a minority of extravagant and high-spending councils have snapped their fingers at the spending guidelines approved by the House of Commons, and have forced the Government, year after year, as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, to demand further economies from all authorities, the great majority of which have done their best to live within those guidelines.
The Act, for the first time, gives us the power to bring those high spenders into line and to protect their ratepayers who have been victims of their local authority's extravagance.
Last July I named the 18 councils whose rates will be capped. They account for about three quarters of the budgeted overspend by all authorities this year. In 1978–79, those 18 councils spent a total of £1.3 billion.
129 This year they are planning to spend over £3 billion. That is a far faster rate of increase than local government costs and the average local government spending.
Two of the councils, Portsmouth and Brent, have made it clear to me that they will live within the limit that we have set and will make every effort to spend no more than the target—1½ per cent. below the limit—but predictably, of course, the other 16 Labour-controlled authorities have lost no time in setting their massive rate-funded propaganda machine in motion. We have all seen the flood of propaganda claiming that rate limitation will mean the decimation of local services, the closure of nursery schools, old peoples' day centres, a massive increase in rents, and the rest. We know what to expect.
Opposition Members will have read the article in the press by councillor David Wilshire, the leader of Wansclyke district council, who recently found himself at a meeting of the Labour-dominated local government campaign unit. He wrote:I heard campaigners urge councils to make unnecessary and sensitive cuts and thus mobilise public opinion against the Government.That is what they are threatening. Those councils are trying to divert their ratepayers' attention from the fact that most other councils can provide a good service at a much lower cost by cutting waste and inefficiency. Other councils do not divert precious resources from local services to spend on the extravagant and unnecessary political causes so beloved of those high-spending councils.
§ Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)
How can the right hon. Gentleman say what he has just said about extravagance in the case of Haringey, Portsmouth, Sheffield or Thamesdown? All those authorities have been designated by him under the Rates Act, although their spending has risen by less than the national average and less than many Conservative-controlled authorities not so designated.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman is merely looking at the increases. If he considers the general spending and, specificially, the general level of rates that ratepayers have had to pay—some of my hon. Friends representing those areas have been prepared to talk about the rates—he will realise that this measure is indeed overdue.
What I am asking from the majority of these authorities is a cash freeze on what they are spending this year. In other words, we are simply asking them to absorb the cost of inflation between this year and next. When local politicians quote figures for the percentage cuts, nine times out of 10 they compare my figure not with this year's spending but with what they would like to spend next year. Of course it is easy to make a massive shortfall like that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, and as I have said many times, any authority with a genuine case has nothing to fear from the redetermination process. Yet although authorities are busy denouncing the spending levels, not one has yet seen fit to exercise the right of appeal under the Act.
There are two possible explanations for that. No doubt some authorities are prepared to live within the spending levels proposed, so they can put their hands on their hearts and say that they are adopting a principled stand and not applying for redetermination without much cost to themselves. Most of the high-spending authorities can achieve the savings that we seek without dramatic or 130 unduly painful cuts. In other cases, in which circumstances may point to a genuine need for redetermination—for instance, if there has been a substantial use of balances in the current year which cannot be repeated next year—councillors are choosing to sacrifice their ratepayers and employees for the sake of a hardline political front. To betray those interests in that way is a very dangerous game. To those misguided warriors, I stress that I am still prepared to listen to any genuine case that any council wishes to put. Bur time is running out. I shall soon have to start the process of fixing the rate which, if it is not agreed, will come before the House for sanction.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Department is actively encouraging local authorities to seek redetermination because, unless one of them takes that step, the whole process will be seen to be a sham? Does he agree that he is backing away from day to day, saying that the books will not be examined after all and that there will merely be a cursory general examination of the position? It is a sham, and unless at least one council gives in to it, it will be shown to be a sham.
§ Mr. Jenkin
That is not the situation at all. Some councils have put it to me through their spokesmen the contention that my statement that we seek merely no cash increase next year over this year bears no relation to the spending limit that we have set. The reason for that may well be that they have artificially reduced their spending this year by the use of balances, which they cannot repeat next year. I can give no categorical assurances, but that is precisely the kind of case which may be appropriate for redetermination. If those councils do not come forward and seek redetermination, they will simply have to live with a very much bigger cut than we intended. The choice is theirs. Under the act passed by the House it is for individual council to come forward.
To avoid any misunderstanding, I should make it clear that it is not the rate but the rate limit that we shall be fixing.
§ Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)
The Secretary of State is being more than usually disingenuous. As he knows, authorities have not been prepared to seek redetermination because—this includes Portsmouth, if the recorded comments of the council leader are to be believed —they genuinely believe that is a Catch 22 situation. If they appeal to the Secretary of State, he could use his powers to set a lower limit or, if a higher limit is set, impose conditions involving unacceptable interference.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I am aware that that is what they say. The leader of Portsmouth council has made it abundantly clear to me, and with his authority I made it clear on the radio in Portsmouth, that he is not applying for redetermination because he is prepared to live within the limits and perhaps even get down to the target. Nevertheless, I am aware that others have that fear. At the conference of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and in the House I have tried to make it clear that that fear is groundless and [ have explained how I envisage using my discretion under the legislation. If councils find that their rate limit forces them to make bigger savings than we sought to produce in setting the spending limit, they will have only themselves to blame if they have not used the powers provided in the Act.
131 Some councillors threaten to go further, in defiance of the law—to refuse to set a rate, to ignore the rate limit or deliberately to set a rate that will not match their budget. I urge them to pause and to think very carefully indeed. Under the law, such a course could lead to personal surcharge and disqualification. The irresponsibility of such action would be matched only by its sheer futility.
The law will take its course, with or without the support of the Labour party. However reasonable a face the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) adopt, we know that many members of their party outside the House do not support so basic a principle as the rule of law. At the Labour party conference in Blackpool the Leader of the Opposition said:We cannot sharpen legality as our main weapon for the future and simultaneously scorn legality if it doesn't suit us at the present time.The press reported that the conference cheered him to a man—perhaps with one or two exceptions.
Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Jenkin
The next day, the Labour party voted to support any council which broke the law and to recompense individual councillors if they broke the law and were surcharged. In fairness to the hon. Member for Copeland, I must make it clear that those resolutions were carried against his advice. The Guardian reported him as saying rather plaintively that they werein contradiction of everything Neil and I have been saying on this issue all along".The local government press reported that he left Blackpool dismayed and anxious—and with reason, because a house so divided against itself is not one in which anyone can put any faith at all. In fact, of course, the law will come to his aid, as we are already beginning to see. Only the other day the leader of Camden council warned ofhesitancy in our own ranksand the risk of financial commitments and responsibilities. The law will be enforced and I have no doubt that it will be obeyed, to the benefit of ratepayers. For all 18 capped councils, rate increases will be lower than they otherwise would have been and in some cases there will actually be rate cuts.
Like most of his colleagues on the Conservative Front Bench, the right hon. Gentleman constantly claims that the labour party does not believe in the rule of law. That is a deliberate untruth and he and they know it. What has been said is that the Government are bringing in laws which democratically elected people will come up against whether they like it or not. It is clear that in those circumstances certain councillors will be forced to fight laws which are unjust and bad and in some respects class laws introduced by the Government in the interests of their own dogmatic attitudes rather than in the interests of democracy in this country.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman stands condemned from his own mouth. He asserts the right of people to pick and choose which laws they will obey. Therefore, I feel strengthened in my belief that the Labour party outside the House and some Labour Members, including the chairman of the Labour party, hold the rule of law in contempt.
A moment ago I made the point that capping the rates of the high spenders would enable me to begin to help the 132 low spenders. In July I announced provisional spending targets for 1985–86 for all local authorities. Those targets implied an increase in current expenditure provision in excess of £800 million—above what was provided in the White Paper. They would allow most responsible low-spending authorities to increase spending next year by 4.25 per cent. in line with the forecast of inflation. That was a substantially better deal for low-spenders than I was able to allow for this year. It would not have been possible without the headroom provided by rate limitation.
By contrast, the highest spending authorities have provisional targets for next year implying cash cuts of up to 1.5 per cent—meaning real terms cuts of about 6 per cent. Those targets are therefore more realistic than was possible in the current year, but they do not mean relaxation of our determination to hold down all areas of public expenditure, including that by local authorities. For that reason, as the House will recall, I proposed a much tougher grant holdback tariff for next year as a deterrent to further overspending.
Naturally, I have had many comments on those proposals, which are now being considered. I hope to make the full statement at the usual time in December, and the House will then be invited to approve the relevant reports early in the new year.
While that will be the time for detailed debate, perhaps I could just say this. Since 1979, the Government have sought to bring public spending under firm control to reduce the burden on the private wealth-creating sector. Helped by the pressures of the block grant system and by the system of targets and penalties, the great majority of local authorities have played their part in that, and the Government are appreciative of their efforts. It has not been easy and some difficult decisions have had to be taken. Local government, after a prolonged period when local current spending rose steadily, year after year, by an average of around 3.5 per cent. in real terms—well ahead of the growth of GDP—has achieved a reduction in that figure to below 1 per cent. As rate capping begins to bite on the few authorities that have not contributed to that achievement, the figure will improve still further.
Not the least of the consequences of local government's achievement of bringing spending under control is that for this year, 1984–85, rate increases are the lowest for 10 years. It is right to put those achievements of local government on the record for, amid all the argument about the rate support grant system, the Government have worked with local government to secure many of our objectives.
Many councils have made and are making strenuous efforts to become more efficient. That brings me to the question of contracting out local government services. Three years' experience of the direct labour organisation legislation in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 has shown the substantial benefits of competition for local authority construction and maintenance work. In other services notably refuse collection, significant savings have been achieved either through using private firms or through improved efficiency of councils' own staff faced with competition from outside contractors.
In spite of the evidence of savings to be won, most local authorities still fight shy of seeking competitive tenders for their services. The Government therefore propose to take action to secure more competition in further areas of local government activity. We shall be consulting local authority associations and the relevant sectors of private 133 industry about extending arrangements, similar to those already applied to construction and maintenance work, to a further range of activities. Our precise proposals will be set out in the consultation paper, but I can tell the House now that they will include such areas as refuse collection, vehicle maintenance, and cleaning, where the private sector has already shown the savings that can be achieved.
That is not all. The Government are convinced that there is scope for greater involvement of the private sector in a wide range of other activities, We shall, therefore, also consult about taking power to require authorities periodically to assess the costs of some other specific activities and to report publicly to their ratepayers on how their own in-house costs compare with the costs of using private sector companies to do the work instead. By that means authorities will become more cost-conscious, and their ratepayers will see where savings could be made.
§ Mr. Jenkin
If the hon. Gentleman will wait for the consultation document, he will find out how those savings will be made.
The private sector for its part will be better able to identify opportunities to tender for work for local authorities. We are convinced that there are worthwhile savings to be made. What is needed now is more effective pressure to go out and get them.
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, if local authorities invite tenders for certain services, when those tenders are submitted the lowest tender will be accepted? Recently, the process has been carried out, the in-house price reduced but not to the lowest level and the most efficient service has not won the tender or the private sector been used.
§ Mr. Jenkin
We are well aware that some changes are necessary in the 1980 Act to make the DLO legislation effective. When we legislate, which is likely to be next session, we intend to examine and tighten the legislation.
I said a moment ago, that local government had achieved a substantial slowing down of spending and that this year's rate increase was the lowest for 10 years. Nevertheless, I am aware that there is dissatisfaction within local government and outside about the way in which the whole local government finance system works. That dissatisfaction goes much wider than the dislike of rates. It embraces the whole question of how local authorities are financed—a complex mixture of government grants, local rates and fees and charges—and the implications of the regime for local accountability and for central and local government relationships, they are major issues.
That is why I have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, together with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) to undertake a series of internal studies into the whole system. They have already started work. They will look at the main features of the present system, including the rate support grant distribution, the balance between Exchequer and local financing, measures to improve accountability, and how councils might best raise the local revenues they need.
The studies will involve very careful consideration and in due course full consultations on proposals for reform.
134 They will not be completed overnight, nor should they be, for they are intended to provide a sound basis for the financing of local government in the long term.
Concern about the way local government is working is not confined to the financial system. Many observers are worried that the conventions traditionally observed by all political parties in the conduct of local government business are beginning to break down. The way local councils are run is changing. Not all these changes are necessarily bad; indeed, many reflect the changing political and social climate in which local government operates. However, the changes put the system under great strain.
Local government legislation is based on a 19th-century model of councils controlled by part-time councillors operating for the benefit of the community as a whole, with little reference to national politics, but too often today the conventional checks and balances are by-passed, the rights of minorities on councils are overridden, and standing orders are manipulated so as to stifle debate. We see, in some areas, the politicisation of officers. Some job advertisements carry clear signals that, unless political attitudes are openly promoted by candidates, they need not bother to apply. The officers of one council become elected members of another with no recognition whatever given to the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise.
The public, whatever their political beliefs, dislike the use of ratepayers' money for political propaganda. Sections 142 and 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 give wide discretion, but today that discretion is being abused. That presents a challenge to local democracy, but, as I have said, it may also reflect deep secular trends in local government.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When Cabinet Ministers open debates on the Loyal Address it is customary for their speeches to cover the area of their responsibility. The Secretary of State has spoken for more than half an hour about local government and local government finance. However, his Department has broad responsibilities to which he has not referred, including housing and, most importantly, the Government's commitment to conservation.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a matter for me. The Secretary of State must take responsibility for his speech. As he has not yet finished, I do not know what he will say.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but the subject designated by you. Mr. Speaker, for today's debate was local government and transport. I am opening the debate on local government and, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will no doubt say something about transport. Those were the subjects chosen, I understand, after consultation with members of the Opposition Front Bench.
I was talking about abuses and the changed pattern of local government. Those changes are too involved to allow snap decisions and immediate legislation. I have concluded that we need a clear and dispassionate study not only of the abuses but of the underlying changes which those abuses reflect. I shall shortly put before the House proposals for an impartial inquiry into those issues, on which I shall consult the Opposition parties. I shall also be in touch with the local government associations. I am 135 encouraged by the reactions I have received so far to my preliminary announcement of my intention to hold such an inquiry. I am sure that local government generally recognises the value of this study aimed at protecting the future health of local democracy.
There are many other topics which hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to raise during the debate. On public expenditure, it would be inappropriate for me to say anything at this stage in the light of decisions which have yet to be taken by the Government. All I would say is that I fully recognise the deep concern expressed by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends about the need to work out a better system for local authority capital spending which so far as possible avoids the problems we have faced since I had to ask for restraint last July. I am very grateful to the overwhelming majority of local authorities which have agreed to abide by the terms of that restraint, but I am aware of the serious difficulties that it has posed for them. Given the prospective size of the cash limit breach, it was inevitable that some action had to be taken, and I am glad that we were able to stop short of a full moratorium.
The main local government debates of the Session will centre on abolition and rate capping. Those issues must be properly debated, and the debates will be fierce and no doubt controversial. But in the end let us all remember that we live in a parliamentary democracy where Parliament is the supreme authority. The rule of law, the will of Parliament, and the general common sense and temper of our people are the foundations upon which our system of parliamentary democracy and our civil freedoms rest. There may be some—very few—in local government who see their position as local councillors as a power base from which to challenge the will of Parliament and the rule of law. That is not the way. In all the debates during the coming months hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to remember that.
§ Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)
The House has just listened to a long speech based on one sentence in the Gracious Speech, which referred to local government reform, and I regret that the Secretary of State did not refer to the other sentence in the Gracious Speech, which dealt with his Department's responsibilities for the environment. They may be two brief sentences in the Gracious Speech, but they cover many highly controversial issues in local government and the environment, and I agree with the Secretary of State that the Bill to abolish the metropolitan county councils and the GLC will be the most controversial of this Session.
The Secretary of State said that people had doubted his commitment to that measure; it was not his commitment that we doubted, but any evidence for the measure or his wisdom in promoting it. He said that he hoped the issues would be fully debated in Parliament. We intend to ensure that that happens. I hope, therefore, that he will give us a guarantee that the measure will not be subject to a guillotine before it has been properly examined by the House.
We have just begun a new Session of Parliament, and it is clear from the Secretary of State's speech that Government policy on local authorities will be as malign 136 and malevolent as ever. It will almost certainly be characterised by the incompetence, vacillation and double standards that we have seen during the past 12 months.
Unhappily for local government, the Secretary of State does not seem to recognise the importance of its role and functions and its contribution to the national well-being of our country and to our democratic institutions and processes. Those issues are fundamentally important to us, and will remain at the forefront of the political debate. Given Britain's chronic problems of unemployment, inadequate and, in many areas, declining infrastructure in public services, the special difficulties that are faced by urban communities and inner cities, the problems of the black and ethnic minorities, and of rural decline, it is impossible for the Opposition to accept what the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues propose: that in the face of all this, the role of local government should be a declining one.
It is also unacceptable to the Opposition that the dangerous and accelerating trend of the past five years of elected local councils becoming the controlled agents of a central bureaucracy should continue. Are we expected to live in a society where more and more powers are removed from democratically elected councils and given to non-elected unaccountable elites, as has happened in the administration of the Health Service, the water industry, transport and others such as the fire service and refuse disposal? That seems to be the fate of much of the work now being carried out by the metropolitan counties and the GLC.
Since 1979 local authority expenditure powers and the ability to make local decisions based on local needs and issues have been increasingly curtailed by this Administration. The Government have pursued, for political and philosophical reasons, an attack on local government expenditure; and associated with this has been a barrage of frequently repeated and often unsubstantiated assertions about overspending and profligacy. The language of political abuse has become familiar, and we heard much more of it again this afternoon. A cool and dispassionate examination of the position could not fail to rebut most of those assertions as nonsense. I emphasise again, in view of what the Secretary of State said about the Rates Act 1984, that there are no rational macro-economic arguments in favour of central control of that part of local government expenditure raised from revenue, whatever the source. There should be control of that part of local government expenditure provided by the Exchequer; few, if any, would question that.
Even if one accepts—I do not—the Government's arguments about overspending, it represents 0.7 per cent. of total public expenditure in 1984–85. The Rates Act is unlikely to make any significant difference to that, and in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said it could make the situation worse for those authorities not designated. Although he talked about fairer targets, he did not remind the House that, as he is again reducing the total money available, those authorities will continue to be squeezed by his policy. That says nothing of the Treasury's windfall of more than £0.5 billion—£555 million—which it receives in clawback because of his penalty system. Ironically, the Treasury has a vested interest, through the failures of the present local government finance system, in allowing local authorities to overspend. It benefits as a direct result. That is one of the supreme ironies created by this Administration.
137 Frankly, the Government are aiming at the wrong targets, if indeed they are taking aim at all. The Secretary of State often seems to be shooting in the dark and hitting himself in the foot. Each time a semblance of an argument has emerged from his Department in support of existing policies, it has been obliterated by informed criticism and abundant evidence.
The right hon. Gentleman takes pride in the setting up of the Audit Commission by his colleagues. It said of the present financial arrangements:A detailed review of the present arrangements for grant distribution should be undertaken to devise solutions to the problems that this report has identified.The right hon. Gentleman is apparently setting up an internal inquiry which will not take evidence or be open to the scrutiny of the professional bodies, the local government associations, individuals or political parties. In the face of all the evidence and criticism, that is absolutely unacceptable to the Opposition.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood what I said. Of course we start with the internal study. Proposals will then be put forward on which there will be widespread consultations. That will be the point at which there will be an opportunity for people to comment and put their views forward. My right hon. and hon. Friends will be pleased to receive any proposals. Indeed, the local authority associations have already made it clear that they will put forward their proposals as part of the internal study. The first stage is the internal study, but before there is any question of legislation there will be widespread consultations. Changes of that magnitude deserve nothing less.
§ Dr. Cunningham
That is somewhat reassuring, but it is strange that the right hon. Gentleman should be insisting on coming forward with proposals before he has taken evidence from those so closely involved.
In local government today, after five years of Conservative rule, normal relationships have almost totally broken down. Massive and damaging changes have been inflicted on councils of all persuasions, major and substantial changes are being implemented even now, and after all that the right hon. Gentleman is setting up his inquiry. Many people in local government think that it is too little, too late.
At the Conservative party conference in Brighton the right hon. Gentleman talked about local councillors and the need to review their role and functions. Incidentally, if his review is carried out on an unbiased and open basis, I shall welcome it. However, the right hon. Gentleman said:What we need is a clear and dispassionate study not only of the abuses but also of those underlying changes which the abuses reflect".If that is his view of how to approach problems, why did he not adopt the same approach before deciding to abolish the metropolitan counties and the GLC? Why was there no clear and dispassionate study of the issues involved there? His attitudes are damningly inconsistent, as are those of his ministerial colleagues. Only as recently as this week the Minister of State, Department of Transport said of a proposed GLC lorry ban:I would urge, as have done repeatedly, if they decide to press ahead with the proposals that they first hold a public inquiry. This is the normal democratic procedure for subjecting major proposals like this to independent public scrutiny. Hundreds of people have asked them to hold an inquiry and I trust that they will heed those calls".138 Is it really the Government's submission that an inquiry into a proposed lorry ban in central London is more deserving of proper investigation and consideration than the abolition of the authority which governs the affairs of our capital city? Is that what the right hon. Gentleman expects the House and the people to accept? It is unacceptable.
§ The Secretary of Stae for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Dr. Cunningham
I shall in a moment. Why does not the Secretary of State for the Environment face the fact that, overwhelmingly, the evidence is against what the Government are proposing for the metropolitan counties and the GLC?
§ Dr. Cunningham
I shall give way in a moment. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman face up to the reality that in the metropolitan county and GLC areas the public are moving steadily in favour of Labour party policy and against what he is proposing? Why does he not face up to the fact that his own GLC colleague, councillor Robert Mitchell, who represents Wanstead and Woodford, recently said in The Guardian:London is the victim of a Tory deception".The right hon. Gentleman's friend and colleague added:The alleged transfer of GLC functions to the boroughs to give the electorate more direct control is quite simply a deception".We certainly agree with that, and so do most Londoners.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for quoting the Minister of State in relation to the GLC lorry ban. If people are adversely and discriminatingly affected by matters such as a new road or a major planning application, the Government have no hesitation in allowing a public inquiry. Surely that is exactly on all fours with the GLC lorry ban. It is absolutely right and proper that there should be an investigation into that. That is not a matter of policy but is a question of individuals being adversely affected compared with others.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I do not dissent from anything which the right hon. Gentleman has said. We are in favour of such an approach, all the more so in respect of the elimination of elections and the removal of people's rights to elect authorities to govern their affairs.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I shall not give way again.
What I have said is even more the case when the matter has not been based on any inquiry, evidence or examination. This is a far more serious matter for millions of people. We are asking for some consistency from the Government.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I am not giving way.
There is no evidence to support what the Secretary of State for the Environment is proposing, nor is there any evidence that public opinion, let alone the opinion of his Conservative colleague from Wanstead and Woodford.. is on his side. It is claimed that these proposals return accountability to the people and powers to the boroughs, but there is no evidence to support that either.
Indeed, it now appears that, in their haste, the Government are moving into even further difficulties 139 because organisations such as the Greater London Enterprise Board, the joint police boards, the fire boards, and perhaps others will be involved, and there is a danger that the Bill may turn out to be a hybrid Bill. I hope, in spite of what the Secretary of State for the Environment said, that the Government's proposals for all these matters will be spelt out in detail in the Bill and not left to be subject to enabling powers at some later date. That would be an abuse of Parliament and of the procedures of the House.
The Government have produced no case for the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. Their original figures for savings have disappeared without trace, and even the Treasury—so we learn from documents leaked to The Guardian a few weeks ago—does not believe that any savings will result, unless there are major reductions in services and major job losses, in what the Treasury euphemistically describes as strict manpower control. The reality seems to be, as was pointed out in the inquiry and investigation instigated by the metropolitan counties and carried out by Coopers and Lybrand, that the Government's only effective options are to cut services, to raise rates, to disguise rate rises by so-called safety nets or to subsidise the boroughs in some other way.
In none of this can it be argued that powers are being returned to the electors or to the boroughs concerned. There will be no increase in local accountability. There will be more centralisation of control. There will be no saving of money for the ratepayers, and there will be no more effective delivery of services—the contrary is likely to be the case.
Even the London and south-east regional planning conference, much lauded by the Minister for Local Government, had this to say about the Government's proposals in a recent letter. Mr. B.T. Buckle, the secretary of the conference, said:It has become clear that the principal effect of the proposal so far as planning is concerned would be to make the Secretary of State the strategic planning authority for Greater London but without the obligation to prepare an overall and detailed scrutiny through an examination in public.So much for the claims about public inquiries. Mr. Buckle continues:This would be an outcome which this conference would deplore.Mr. Buckle is quite right.
The Secretary of State said little about services and jobs, and virtually nothing about housing. That is not surprising because in housing the Government's record is shameful and appalling. There is a real housing crisis. Some 78,000 households were accepted as homeless in England in 1983, and the figure has since increased. Over 1 million households are currently on local authority waiting lists in Britain. Over 190,000 households were living in overcrowded accommodation in 1983. Over 190,000 sheltered dwellings were still needed in England to meet the urgent needs of elderly people. Thousands of dwellings were needed for people who are disabled and unable to look after themselves physically. Over 1 million dwellings were unfit for human habitation. Over 390,000 houses lack one or more basic amenity. Over 500,000 houses required repairs costing more than £7,000. Over 140 2,500,000 dwellings required repairs costing up to £7,000 and over 1,500,000 million dwellings suffered from major design defects.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the annual reductions in the housing investment programme allocation, which is now down by 70 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79. It is a scandal. Ignoring inflation, for every £100 spent on public housing in 1974–75, only £65 will be spent in the current financial year.
The reality is that not only is this an appalling record, but it is increasingly recognised as such right across the spectrum—by the building and construction industry, by the Building Employers Confederation, by the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, by the Royal Institute of British Architects, by the National Council of Building Material Producers and even, this week, by the CBI. As the Financial Times said recently:As business failures continue at record levels in this country, bankruptcies increased most steeply in the building and construction industry.Those are the real measures of the Government's approach to building and construction.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
That criticism, coming from the hon. Gentleman, is a bit thick. Does he agree that, during the period of the last Labour Government, capital spending on housing was reduced by 45 per cent. and for the corresponding period of almost exactly the same number of years under the present Government, the figure was 17 per cent? There was more than twice as fast a fall under the previous Government as under this Government.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The reality is that, in spite of the right hon. Gentleman's protestations, when this Conservative Government took office, housing investment was more than double what it is now, after six years of this Administration. We learn to our dismay that even now talks are in progress about further substantial cuts, not only in building and construction, but possibly to the urban programme, which would have a devastating impact on those areas of the inner cities where stress is already at its highest.
Sadly, it is now apparent that racial harassment in housing is widespread, and on the increase. Black and ethnic community representatives, supported by the Commission for Racial Equality, are calling for legislation to compel housing authorities to protect those threatened. I ask the Secretary of State to examine those issues as a matter of urgency, and if he is unaware of the evidence, I shall write to him about it, because this is a matter for grave concern.
This summer witnessed a shortage of water for millions of people. There was no national water shortage, simply an inefficient industry and an infrastructure unable to cope with drought in certain regions. That occurred against a background of underspend of £110 million on construction in the water industry in the past two financial years. Can we have an assurance that the Government will learn the lessons of this failure and ensure that those who suffered will have a fairer deal? Incidentally, these people will also experience—to add insult to injury—a major increase in their water rates.
There is reference in the Gracious Speech to legislation to protect the environment. Urgent action to do something is desperately needed, as we have been telling the Government for many months. We call for an urgent review of the work of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 141 and for a review of the operation and environmental impact of the energy industry, in particular of the nuclear industry.
We call for urgent action to reduce the impact of acidic precipitation on the environment. The Government should act with more vigour and urgency to protect our national heritage in the countryside from the increasingly malign impact of the agriculture industry. We must take action to halt the over-use—the abuse—of pesticides and fertilisers. Damage done to flora, fauna, topsoil and water courses is serious and increasing. The physical destruction of heaths, moorlands, marshes, meadows, wetlands, deciduous woods and sites of special scientific interest is appalling and should be halted.
The 1983 annual report of the Nature Conservancy Council said:There is just about enough habitat left to ensure continuity of Britain's wild plants and animals if it is conserved. The danger is that if it is not whole-heartedly protected now, in 10 years' time it will be too late.The reality is that over 245 sites of special scientific interest have been lost, of which 156 have disappeared in the past 12 months alone.
The 1984 annual report of the Nature Conservancy Council says:The next 18 months could well determine the future for nature conservation in many parts of the country. There are at least some glimmers of hope in the greater public awareness and an Act of Parliament which, with minor amendment must bring great benefits. The greatest imponderable of all, however, remains whether the financial structures of agriculture can be reformed in a way that befriends nature conservation. Until this happens we remain gravely concerned and there is little time to set matters right.That is a Government body which is rightly warning the House, the Government and the country of the urgency of such matters. We have said many times that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has failed and cannot combat the massive and often malign impact of the common agricultural policy on the British countryside.
I repeat my offer and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark)—which I regret has not been taken up although it was first made months ago, publicly and privately, to Ministers—to begin discussions immediately to seek an agreed Bill to end the current widespread abuses of our natural heritage.
The impact of people on their environment is increasing too as mobility and demands for sport, recreation and leisure increase. They will continue to grow and so will pressure on the countryside. The Government's funding of the development of sport and leisure facilities should be increased to take account of that.
There are many other important issues. The Royal Commission was right to have doubts about the Government's intentions on the implementation of part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. We would like to see action on sea dumping, the disposal of nuclear waste and other related matters.
The reality is that over a period the Government have been carrying out a sustained attack on local councils. In propagating that attack they have not been concerned about the impact on services or jobs. That is at a time when many communities need more assistance; when unemployment is increasing; when it is now widely recognised that Britain's infrastructure is in decay; and when, perhaps more than ever before in the recent past, it is essential for us to have an infrastructure that will be of major benefit in helping to regenerate Britain's economy. At this time 142 the Government give less support. They make cuts and intend to go on giving less and less support to those communities and people so grievously damaged by their policies over the past four or five years.
The Secretary of State's speech this afternoon and the proposals in the Gracious Speech, far from helping to correct those problems, seem, on all the evidence, likely to make them much worse. That is why the Secretary of State's speech and what is not included in the Gracious Speech are so regrettable.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) had enormous cheek when he suggested that health powers were being taken away from elected councillors and given to an elite. He may well have forgotten that the Labour party started that trend when it took responsibility for the hospitals from the London county council and created the National Health Service, but it suits him to be forgetful.
The hon. Gentleman also talked twice about the breakdown in relations between local and central Government. Yes, there has been a breakdown, deliberately engineered by those on the Left who have no interest in local government but only in confrontation.
The hon. Gentleman tried to compare the GLC's stupidity in trying to cripple London and lose jobs in restricting transport without a public inquiry with the Government decision to abolish the GLC. Doubtless the hon. Gentleman chooses to forget that to abolish the GLC was a general election commitment; that was the public inquiry endorsed by the British electorate.
It is significant that this afternoon, on a matter that is of major importance to the Labour party, there are fewer than 20 Labour Members on the Back Benches. [Interruption.] That represents about half the number of London Labour Members of Parliament.
Let me ignore the babblings from the well-known hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who threw out the previous Member for that constituency, Mr. Arthur Lewis, who had served the House remarkably well, and deal with two issues. The first is a purely local issue which affects Camden and Kensington and Chelsea in particular. A recently discovered loophole in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 is being exploited by ruthless developers. I brought that to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues some 12 months ago. I expect an answer today on what my right hon. Friend proposes to do about schedule 8 of the Town and Country Planning Act. His officials have had more than enough time to come to a conclusion on that. If that abuse goes on unchecked, it will cost ratepayers millions of pounds or make local authorities give planning permission that will be wholly wrong. I look forward to an answer later tonight.
The second issue is a wider London issue. I hope that my right hon. Friend will issue a decision swiftly—I do not mind what it is—on the stolport. A lack of decision is costing a mass of money and a reopened inquiry would be a negation of democracy.
When we listen to Labour Members and those in London who object to the abolition of the GLC, it is important to give one's credentials for the abolition of the GLC. I served for 25 years in local government in London on a borough council as well as on the GLC housing committee as a co-opted member. I opposed the creation 143 of the GLC. I resent those in this House and in another place, some even on the Conservative Benches, who believe that there is something wrong with abolishing the GLC and who equate abolition with the loss of democracy. I remind them that the boroughs are far closer to democracy than the GLC, or, indeed, the metropolitan councils.
I say to any of my right hon. or hon. Friends, who are no longer on the Front Bench, who represent London constituencies and who do not like what is being done that they had the opportunity to express their views to the London Conservative Members group. If they did not do that, we do not want to hear from them on this issue now.
I recall the campaign that was waged by the London county council against its own abolition. Indeed, on that occasion I gave evidence to the Royal Commission. It looked at all the facts some 20 years ago and there is no need for any further inquiries. On that occasion, the London county council, with a Labour majority, did not spend the ratepayers' money in the same way as the GLC is doing. Unlike the GLC, the old London county council did not indulge in an appalling campaign of lies, using a Goebbels-like technique. If one tells a lie often enough, and one tells a bigger and better lie every day, people will begin to believe that there is some truth in it. That is the view of the GLC.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
No, I will not give way.
The old London county council did not do that, for two reasons. First, Herbert Morrison would never have permitted it and would not have tolerated the Livingstones of this world in the London Labour party. Secondly, the London county council had a Labour party that was composed of honourable men and women who recognised the supremacy of Parliament and knew that ratepayers' money was not to be spent on political propaganda. Despite what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said today, I hope that he will clamp down on such expenditure and return to the position that I remember, and that he will recall from his local government days, when local authorities did not spend money on items which Parliament had not specifically authorised under statute.
Do we have to go on enduring the anti-police committees of the GLC, Camden and Islington? None of those authorities is a police authority because none of them is fit to be such. But those authorities still go on spending money and attacking the police. That money comes from the ratepayers. My right hon. Friend has not yet given the ratepayers much comfort in that regard. I hope that he will consider relating statutory functions to expenditure.
The Bill is soon to be published. I hope that it will come quickly and that it will cover such things as the enterprise board. There has been massive asset-stripping. Indeed, the GLC sold properties to that phoney body for peanuts. I hope that the situation will be rectified. However, if there is any danger of hybridity, perhaps a separate Bill should be introduced. The Greater London Enterprise Board is a wasteful body and it should not be allowed to get away with it. It is not directly elected and is, at the best of times, a pretty grim quango.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
It is clear that members of the GLC do not understand how the House runs. One day they may learn that the House believes in democracy, and that it and the other place settle what the law is to be. The minnows over the road will have to learn that lesson, and I hope that they do so sooner rather than later.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his comments about the fitness of Islington council's police committee to discuss and decide on matters relating to the policing of its area? I am a co-opted member of that committee and I trust that he was not addressing his remarks to me.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because he respects the conventions of the House and stands up instead of talking from his posterior.
Islington borough council is not fit to be an authority that controls the police. If Islington decides to set up a police committee to work along the lines set out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, that is a different matter. But that is not what is being done by authorities such as the GLC and Camden.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Islington police and enlightenment committee, of which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) is a member, is itself the subject of police investigations?
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I was trying to spare the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) that agony. It is quite clear that this legislation will be opposed—
§ Mr. Chris Smith
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State is obviously quite confused about matters relating to the policing of the area that I represent. He is referring to one body, but the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) is referring to a completely different—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Order. The hon. Gentleman has raised a point of information and not a point of order on which I can rule.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I respect the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, and I look forward with interest to reading his speech and seeing how he sets the record straight in his usual courteous way.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
There is a limited amount of time, and the hon. Lady can make her speech later.
Much of the Labour party's campaign has been fought not with Labour party funds but with those of the ratepayers. It has been run using a pretty low sort of public relations exercise. Public opinion polls are constantly being quoted. Yet another poster opposite this building tells us that 74 per cent. of Londoners do not like what the Government are doing. Apparently fewer than 20,000 Londoners have been asked their opinion in all the polls run by the organisation concerned. If I had to choose between those who had been polled and the several million who voted in London for more Tory Members of Parliament than at any time since the war, I know who I or anyone in his right mind would choose.
Londoners are being manipulated by such public opinion polls. My hon. Friends and I have received masses 145 of letters but precious few of them have been genuine. They have come from voluntary bodies that have been blackmailed by the GLC into protesting, and from people who have been scared into believing that they will lose their bus passes. That was one of the most wicked and deliberate lies to be perpetrated by the Labour party.
Yesterday we witnessed a phenomenon in the United States of America in which the silent majority spoke out in vast numbers in a clear repudiation of the vociferous outpourings of a tiny minority. It was also a repudiation of the media, who were out of touch with reality. The reality is that the public in America supported a view expressed by those who submit themselves to election and not by those who are paid to express a view which they never test personally with the voters. I believe that the same will be true in England, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may be certain that at the next general election the public will back what has been done only with the rider that it has been done a year later than it should have been.
§ 5.8 pm
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) deployed his case with his customary vigour, and I shall take up some of his points later. But first I shall concentrate on the commitment in the Gracious Speech to increased competition in the provision of local bus services.
The White Paper on which the Government's proposals are based, which was published last July, made a fair case for some change in the present arrangements. For example, it pointed out that the current system was devised 50 or more years ago and that patterns of life and transport needs have changed considerably since then. We must also recognise that, under the present arrangements, local authorities have little choice of operator and so cannot really judge whether the services that they are buying are the most efficient and the least expensive. We must also accept that the present arrangements give little encouragement to new forms of public transport or hire transport — for example, the use of minibuses and allowing taxis and hire cars to carry passengers paying separate fares.
Increasing competition does not necessarily mean doing away with all bus planning. To improve the efficiency and standards of bus services, cost-effectiveness must be combined with network planning. Scrapping all network planning in urban areas and letting buses wander wherever their fancy takes them will not necessarily lead to greater competition, improved efficiency, lower fares or better services. It might lead to operators competing on the profitable routes while they ignore the non-profitable routes. It is not feasible to have buses chasing along streets hunting for passengers in a competitive race or free-for-all.
The evidence on which the Government base their claim in the White Paper is limited. For example, the White Paper states:The changes resulting from deregulation in Devon have been rather limited in scale.Of Norfolk the White Paper states:it is not yet possible to evaluate the overall savings in revenue support.Only in Hereford have major benefits from deregulation been claimed, and they have been challenged by outside commentators.
At present, private operators undertake only about 8 per cent. of stage carriage mileage and carry only about 3 per 146 cent. of passengers. Yet the White Paper produced last July proposes that 88 per cent. of stage carriage mileage should come under private operation and that later, if Greater London is finally included, about 100 per cent. should be privately operated. Surely it is sensible to have further trials and experiments before making such a major alteration.
It is possible to imagine other means of exerting commercial pressures on operators which allow for the overall planning of bus services to ensure a decent service for all. Arrangements for franchising bus services—for example, by making bus companies compete for networks, through tendering against specifications drawn up to meet particular planning problems or commercial criteria—would be a better way to increase competition and encourage innovation.
Many hon. Members are worried about the impact of the Government's proposals on the rural areas. Ministers may say that innovation and transition grants will be available, but such grants will not last for ever. Do the Government expect us to believe that it is feasible to switch financial responsibility to local authorities when local authority expenditure is under such unprecedentedly severe pressure? Such a proposition will not commend itself to many hon. Members of both sides of the House.
According to recent polling of hon. Members, a clear majority in the House fears that rural bus services will be undermined. In many rural areas the continuation of a bus service is the lifeline of the community. If the Government introduce legislation based on the White Paper, we shall examine it with great care. The Government's case is far from made out.
I turn now to the commitment to abolish the GLC and the metroplitan counties. The proposed legislation does not appear in a vacuum. It comes from the same team that produced the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, the Local Government Finance Act 1982 and the Rates Act 1984. If hon. Members did not like those, in a well-worn political phrase, they "ain't seen nothing yet!". Those three Acts have two things in common. They provide for a continuing centralisation of power away from local authorities towards central Government and they were produced under pressure. We are talking about legislation on the hoof, as the Government blunder from one problem to another.
The Government claim in the yellow document produced last July that they arefirmly committed to carrying through their manifesto promise to abolish an unnecessary tier of local government and to produce a major transfer of power and responsibility to the London boroughs and the metroplitan district councils.I endorse that aim. As a former London borough council leader, I believe that the primary unit of local government is the borough and the district. However, that is not the effect of the Government's proposed legislation.
Like the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) my eye lit on the article in The Guardian on Monday this week by Mr. Robert Mitchell, the Conservative member of the GLC for Wanstead and Woodford, who said clearly:The alleged transfer of GLC function to the boroughs to give the electorate more direct control is, quite simply, a deception.That is the view of someone who is in a strong postion to see what is going on.
If the aim of the exercise is to give more power to the lowest local government levels, why are so many reserve powers being retained by the Secretary of State? Why, under the terms of the yellow paper, must the Secretary of 147 State issue "regional strategic guidance" on planning? Why do authorities have to have regard to that strategic guidance? That is a massive shift of power to Marsham street, away from elected local authorities.
Why must the Secretary of State havereserve powers to take over the operation of urban traffic control systems if the districts are unable to make satisfactory arrangements"?I cannot accept that traffic control and management can be imposed by civil servants in the centre of London on distant metropolitan districts. Waste disposal is a basic, bedrock function. Even to deal with that, the Secretary of State has areserve power to establish statutory joint arrangements … if he is not satisfied that those made by the authorities voluntarily are adequate.There is a steady, insidious shift of power away from local authorities to civil servants and Ministers in Whitehall.
My second criticism of the proposed legislation is that it is not carefully thought through. A wide measure of independent opinion deeply regrets that the Government made no attempt to make an independent analysis of the defects in the 1963 reorganisation in Greater London or the 1974 reorganisation in the provinces.
There may be a case for change. The GLC and the metropolitan counties may be far from perfect instruments. That is certainly my view and that of many others. There is a case for examination, change, reform or even replacement, but there is no case for the Government presenting us with a back-of-the-envelope commitment from their manifesto without any careful preparation or examination of what might follow from a simple and straightforward act of abolition. Proof of that is in the snowstorm of duplicated consultation documents issued from Marsham street as the Government discovered one practical problem after another which would flow from abolition. The Secretary of State told us today that the date for abolition is still firm—1 April 1986. He says that the GLC and the metropolitan counties will no longer exist after that date. But serious practical problems will flow from that tight time scale.
The Government plan to achieve enactment of the legislation by July or October 1985, depending on progress in this House and the House of Lords. That will leave about seven months for the changeover to be achieved. All the quangos will have to be established and staffed. Initial budgets will have to be prepared. GLC staff will have to be individually and collectively identified before deciding who will be transferred, and to where, and who will get the sack. GLC staff will have to be transferred to a number of new bodies. New office accommodation will have to be found. It will have to be rented or purchased within six months if the Government are determined to go ahead with their plan to sell off county hall.
Local authorities are computer-oriented. All the files, computer programmes, information systems, legal records and the rest of the paraphernalia will have to be made compatible with all the new authorities' systems. Those of us who deal with local authorities from day to day are constantly frustrated by the way in which the system is bureaucratically operated, and we are even more concerned about what will happen when we have the change that the Government propose. The Government are proposing to push through the abolition Bill without any 148 time for a real examination of the practical problems. That is a recipe for chaos, confusion, disruption and bureaucratic muddle.
It is my view that the abolition Bill will not make local government simpler in the metropolitan areas and the Greater London area. In fact, it will have the reverse effect and will be a step in the wrong direction. That view is endorsed by both parties in the alliance. There is an important case for simplifying the local government system.
There is no evidence that what is being proposed will make councils more accountable to electors. The Bill will have the reverse effect because of the indirect nature of many of the joint boards and committees that will be involved. The Government's proposals will not stop the erosion of power and the steady drift of power away from town and county halls to central Government in Whitehall. In fact, the Government's proposals will accelerate that trend.
Lastly, there is still no sign that the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties will lead to any significant financial savings. On that basis, as on all others, we in the alliance will oppose the abolition Bill as vigorously as we contested the paving Bill in the previous Session.
§ Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)
As a new member of this place of only just over a year's standing I find it curious that we should be discussing for the first time what the Government propose should take the place of the existing local government institutions in Greater London and the metropolitan counties. In effect, this debate is the first occasion on which Parliament has had the opportunity to discuss the Government's proposals.
On Second Reading of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill, as it then was, I complained that we were being asked to abolish elections without even knowing what the Government proposed should replace the GLC and the metropolitan counties. We now have the opportunity to discuss the Government's proposals, and we do so at a time when the ink is nearly dry on the Bill which is to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties. I ask the Government to take notice of the opinions that are expressed in this place. Many Members have considerable experience of local government and the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) is one of them. I hope that the Government will listen to the comments that are expressed in the Chamber on their proposals and be willing to modify them.
During our debates on the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill some of us voted in the middle of the night on various amendments and some of my hon. Friends and I found that Ministers objected to a number of our proposals. There was a handful of us in that position. The Government took no notice of our submissions until they were reinforced by a vote in another place. At that stage they made a complete turn-around and accepted them.
I urge the Ministers who are responsible for the abolition Bill to listen to the experience of this place when we come to discuss the Government's proposals following the introduction of the Bill. It should be borne in mind that the proposals were set out for the first time in a document which was published at the end of July. I do not accept the argument of the hon. Member for Woolwich that there has been deception. It is plain from reading the July document 149 that there are many functions, tasks and powers which the Government accept cannot be transferred to boroughs and which are not being transferred to boroughs. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman's claim that the effect of the proposals will be the taking by central Government of local government powers.
It is said that the object of the Government's proposals is to introduce streamlining. I accept that some streamlining could be effected by transferring functions which could be carried out by boroughs to the boroughs from the county councils. However, it makes nonsense of the concept of streamlining to transfer functions which cannot be carried out by individual boroughs and which are now being carried out by one body. Such functions should not be transferred to a mass of different bodies and authorities, some of them unelected and some of them established for completely different purposes. The object of streamlining will not be achieved by the proposals and the net result will be much more complicated residual powers than at present. In these respects the new proposals will lead to a system that is worse than the present one.
The Government have still not explained why they believe that the proposals will lead to reduced public expenditure. I have consistently supported the Government by voting for rate capping and other measures to control and limit public expenditure in central Government and local government. I support the Government's objective to control public expenditure but their abolition proposals will not achieve their objective. There is no evidence in the July document that they will lessen public expenditure or make it easier to control. Indeed, experience demonstrates that the opposite is the case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) referred to the reorganisation of the National Health Service and the taking of powers from local authorities by the implementation of a previous Labour Government's proposals. Those proposals appeared in a Green Paper at the end of the 1960s. It was suggested that they would lead to possible savings in public expenditure.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
My hon. Friend is misquoting me. I referred to the creation of the NHS in 1946 and the measures which led to the London county council becoming the GLC.
§ Mr. Ground
I accept that correction but I do not think that my hon. Friend would say that those measures led to any great savings in public expenditure. Powers were removed from local authorities in the early 1970s by the proposals of a Labour Government but that led to no financial savings. It was argued then that streamlining would lead to savings and so the concept is not new to the present Government. The moves that took place in the early 1970s did not lead to the economies desired at the time. The Water Act 1973 has led to a substantial increase in expenditure rather than a reduction of public expenditure.
The Government's planning proposals represent an advance upon the proposals set out in the original White Paper. The idea of having a separate structure plan for every London borough was nonsense and has been abandoned. There is great force in the point made by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that, while recognising the need for strategic planning in London, the 150 role of strategic planning, which has been the responsibility of the GLC, has, in paragraph 2.2.3 of the Department of the Environment document, expressly been taken over by the Secretary of State. If the Government are sincere—I am prepared to accept that they are—in their wish to keep powers within local authorities, arid if the intention to take power centrally is not the objective of the legislation, then plainly further consideration of the planning proposals will be necessary.
The proposal to make the body responsible for historic buildings also responsible for conservation areas, as mentioned in paragraph 2.16.2, seems to be an extraordinary extension of the powers of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. The designation and protection of conservation areas is a normal function of a local authority, and it is surely a more appropriate function to be carried out by an elected authority rather than an appointed authority such as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. I hope that I have understood the paragraph correctly—with its mass of semi-colons it is very difficult to understand—but that appears to be its meaning.
I think that the Government are being honest about the traffic difficulties. In the document produced by the Department of Transport, that Department is even more honest about the difficulties than is the Department of the Environment. It is plainly recognised that the work that the GLC is now doing will, in a substantial measure, have to be taken over by centrally organised initiatives, with a substantial role for central Government.
With regard to traffic management, it is specifically said in the document that borough and district councils will be given a statutory duty to consult other councils whose areas may be affected by their proposals for traffic management. It is also said that where any dispute cannot be settled by the parties themselves, the Secretary of State's consent will be needed before the proposal can go ahead.
It is recognised that there will be about 500 miles of roads in Greater London in regard to which traffic management policies will need to be considered on a comprehensive basis. That is a clear indication that the role and responsibility of the strategic authorities is not being passed to the boroughs. It shows the need for a new single body at least to carry out the residual powers which are not being delegated to the boroughs. It is not satisfactory that those powers should be taken over by joint boards or by non-elected bodies set up for different purposes. The better course would be to have a co-ordinating body, which is able to carry out the residual functions that are not delegated to the boroughs. As we have not yet invented a better method of doing it, I suggest that the co-ordinating body should be an elected one.
The experience of all the people I know who have served on joint boards or inter-borough committees —non-elected bodies to which people are nominated by local authorities—is that they are the most difficult bodies to run efficiently and well. Any hon. Member with any experience of local government will recognise the truth of that statement.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Member has mentioned something that is most significant to his own Front Bench. Will he agree that the very reason why the directly elected London county council was set up in 1889 was to replace the indirectly elected Metropolitan Board of Works in 151 London, and that the Government are now proposing to take us back to the structure that prevailed in London prior to 1889?
§ Mr. Ground
There were also other reasons, such as fear of corruption and abuse in bodies that were not directly elected and directly responsible. I do not disagree with what the hon. Gentleman said.
There are many things wrong with the local government system, but they will be made considerably worse if what is proposed is made the normal way of dealing with functions left over from the reorganisation.
I ask the Government to listen to those within our party and outside it who are urging the need for a residual elected body to carry out the necessary functions openly and in a far more efficient way than any joint board or nominated committee could possibly do it. Such a residual body could also carry out the functions more economically, in a more cost-conscious way, and with a better sense of balanced priorities.
I find it extraordinary that the Government have accepted the case for direct elections to ILEA, for not transferring any of the school functions to boroughs, and have accepted the case for the permanence of ILEA. That is a very odd position by any criteria. I know that the new Minister of State had views about the disbanding of ILEA, and whether the powers could be transferred to local authorities. He should be encouraged to look at the question again and at the whole structure of education in London. Whatever the Government's feelings about the financial irresponsibility of the GLC, ILEA has at least been in contact with elected members who had to make some judgment of financial priorities over a range of services. An elected ILEA, with the sole responsibility for education, could be an even bigger headache to the ratepayers of London than an ILEA in close cahoots with an elected authority.
I support what the hon. Member for Woolwich said about the desirability of reviewing the structure of local government. Obviously, it cannot be done before the Bill is passed, but I urge the Government, as part of their posture, to review the operation of the boroughs. There are statutory ways of doing it. It is time that it was done, because they were set up in London 20 years ago and have not worked out as well as was hoped. When they were formed, it was hoped that decisions could be taken by members on policy, that members would remain active in their work, gain experience and be able to delegate the day-to-day running of the council to officers while remaining in touch with their electors. If one looks at the operation of any London borough—I am sure that it is true of many district councils—one sees that that has not worked out. The burden of being a London borough councillor is far greater than was anticipated in 1963. There has been a complete change in the type, and the professional and business background of people becoming councillors. There are many people who do nothing else but serve as councillors. That is not what was intended. It is questionable whether they have operated as effectively or as efficiently as was hoped.
Therefore, it is particularly important, when we are thrusting more powers upon the London boroughs, that we should look at the way in which those boroughs operate 152 and see whether any improvements can be made in the way in which they operate and in which persons are attracted to the task of being councillors.
For those reasons I very much hope that the Government will look at those suggestions as well as those made by other hon. Members so that there can be discussion of the proposals rather than the locked-in confrontation in the debates that we had on the previous Bill.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
I agree with some of the remarks made by Conservative Members. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground), who put his case sincerely and obviously spoke from great knowledge of local government, especially in the London area. I agreed with most of what he said.
I should like to refer specifically to two sentences in the Gracious Speech. The first is:Legislation will be introduced for the better protection of food and the environment.I should like some undertakings from Ministers in respect of what that means. Secondly, I should like to refer to the wordsOther measures will be laid before you.That has a most ominous ring, and I should like some guidance on it.
Before referring to those two aspects of the Gracious Speech, I should like to make some observations on other issues that have been raised in the debate. The Secretary of State for the Environment referred to the privatisation of refuse collection. If he had given way to me I would have asked him to congratulate the Conservative-controlled Sefton metropolitan district council on going back on its original proposal to privatise its refuse collection. It received the lowest quotation from Grandmet, so it visited the London borough of Wandsworth to see the refuse collection service — or lack of service—provided there by Grandmet. Much is made of adhering to the law, but the council found the refuse collectors in Wandsworth breaking the law. They left vehicles with their engines running and unattended because that was the only way that they could collect the refuse according to the tender that they had submitted. The Conservative council in Sefton worked out that it would need not dustmen but supermen to collect the refuse if it accepted that tender, so it rightly rejected it, because the direct works system in that local authority, which has been considered Right-wing up to now, was considered to be effective and efficient. I should like to congratulate Sefton council even if the Secretary of State is not here to do so.
There is an argument about local government suddenly becoming so different in character—becoming political and spending money unwisely — that it justifies rate capping, central control and the abolition of councils that are behaving in that wicked manner. That argument is absolute nonsense. I have been in politics since I was 15 or 16. I was in local government and chaired the housing committee in the city of Manchester. I saw the city when it was Conservative-controlled. I saw the city of Liverpool when the Liberal-Tory alliance controlled it. There has always been politics in local government. There have always been political decisions and political propaganda campaigns run by local authorities.
The Secretary of State talks about councils spending money frivolously. When I first entered local government, 153 local authority after local authority—Tory or Labour-controlled—spent fortunes on conferences, receptions, junkets and all sorts of things. I remember Tony Crosland's famous speech when he said, "The party's over." It was made at Manchester town hall while he was tucking into an eight-course meal, and there were about 400 people there. All that has gone now. It is said that so-called Left-wing Labour councils spend money frivolously, but they have cut out all that nonsense in most cases. They are not wasting the ratepayers' money in such a way, although Conservative councils still do just that. Therefore, if the Government get down to that level and argue in support of massive proposals such as the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC, we can reply in kind.
With regard to breaking the law, the great tragedy is that the Government are putting law-abiding citizens, many of whom have dedicated their lives to serving their fellow men and women, in a position in which they either break the statute law that requires services to be provided or defy the rate capping legislation. They are in a "Catch 22" situation.
When Liverpool city council was run by the Liberals and the Tories, they broke the law. They kept illegal lists of handicapped and disabled people who were waiting for telephones and adaptations. All that was illegal. Of course, present Ministers did not intervene. It was a Labour law that was being broken — the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.
John Hamilton, the leader of Liverpool city council, a retired school teacher and justice of the peace, has never broken the law in his life, but now, because he wants to defend services to the elderly and the disabled and to protect education for children, he is being branded as a criminal by the laws that the Government are passing. What a state we are getting in, with central control of local authorities and legislation that forces the people in society who want to protect those in most need to face the dilemma of breaking the law. At the same time, unemployment is rising and it seems that lawlessness is not being dealt with effectively in the streets of Liverpool and Bootle, my constituency. Hard drug-taking seems to be increasing, which is a serious problem, yet we are told that the real criminals are people who want to defend services for those in greatest need. That is the society that the Government are creating.
In the Queen's Speech there is a suggestion that there will be legislation to protect the environment. Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), I hope that there will be legislation to deal with the problem of acid rain. The Select Committee on the Environment has reported. We have not yet had the Government's response and a date has not been announced for a debate on that response and on the report itself.
I hope that the Government will change their attitude towards action on that issue and will not continue to mouth propaganda that seems to come from the Central Electricity Generating Board. The Select Committee's report shows that the weight of evidence is overwhelming. Emissions of sulphur from power stations and of nitrogen oxide from motor cars, power stations and industry are causing damage to rivers, lakes and forests not only in Scandinavia and West Germany but in this country. There have been reductions in sulphur and nitrogen oxide 154 emissions in this country over the past few years, but we are still one of the biggest emitters in Europe, if not the biggest emitter, except for the Soviet Union.
If we wait for the conclusive proof which the CEGB—and, up to now, the Government—have said they want before they will take action, it may be too late. The damage done to lakes and forests in Scandinavia and to forests in West Germany should warn us that the cumulative build-up of emissions of sulphur and nitrogen will damage our environment. Damage is already being done, and the process will accelerate. We do not have the conclusive proof that the CEGB demands, but we have evidence similar to that which existed when we first began to realise that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer. Even if the evidence is not scientifically conclusive, it is overwhelming. Action must be taken and I hope that the Government will take it.
I believe that the CEGB figures are on the high side. The board suggests an increase of 10 to 15 per cent in electricity charges over 10 years to retrofit all fossil fuel power stations. That means an increase of a maximum of 1 to 1.5 per cent. a year to save our environment, when electricity charges have risen by over 50 per cent. in the past four years. One must look at the problem in perspective. We must save British lakes, rivers and forests before they are damaged as the European and Scandinavian forests have been.
I am worried about the phraseOther measures will be laid before you.At the Conservative party conference this year the Minister for Housing and Construction announced that new legislation was planned for the private rented housing sector. There is no mention of such legislation in the Queen's Speech. Is it included in the phrase "other measures" or has the idea been dropped? I fear that legislation by a Conservative Government in the private rented sector would involve an attempt to undermine even further the security of tenants who rent from private landlords, and another attempt to bolster the private rented sector.
Those who receive the worst treatment in housing terms are those who rent from private landlords. We do not need legislation to weaken the security and the rights of private tenants in an attempt to revitalise the private rented sector, which will inevitably die anyway. We need legislation to provide more security, to get rid of bogus holiday lets, to deal with the bed and breakfast hotel scandals and to end the use of licences to avoid giving security to those who rent from a private landlord. The worst housing conditions are concentrated in the private rented sector. There are severe problems of disrepair. There is much harassment, many illegal evictions, and rents are high. If any legislation is in view, I hope that it will be designed to protect the tenant rather than further to undermine his position. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the promise made to the party conference has been dropped or whether there is to be another attack on those in the greatest housing need.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland has said, the Secretary of State for the Environment failed to make any mention of the housing crisis which is developing apace. By the time of the next election, we shall be facing a housing crisis of 1945 proportions. The issue of the sale of council houses will have disappeard as a vote winner for the Conservatives or a vote loser for us—if that is what it was. One cannot oppose what has already been 155 done and, in any case, with the lengthening waiting lists and other problems, the housing crisis will make housing a priority issue in the next general election. That can only benefit the Labour party, and make plain the need for the policies that we will suggest to deal with it.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
The hon. Gentleman says that what is done is done. Is the Labour party withdrawing its threat to force council tenants who have brought their homes to sell them back to the council?
§ Mr. Roberts
There never was such a threat. The Conservatives were guilty of amazing misrepresentations during the general election, on the doorsteps and elsewhere, about the Labour party's attitude to the sale of council houses. It is said that we lost votes over the issue, and that, because of it, many people voted for the alliance rather than for us. However, the policy on the sale of council housing in the alliance manifesto was exactly the same as that of the Labour party. Our position has always been the same as that of the Liberals and the Social Democrats. We are in favour of local authorities determining for themselves, as democratically elected bodies, whether they sell council housing.
If all the best houses have been sold off after nine to 10 years of council house sales, and if the housing crisis has worsened and waiting lists have lengthened, we shall be in a completely new ball game. The promises of the Labour party to help those in housing need will be seen to be far more relevant than any gimmicks that the Conservatives may use, in the run-up to the next general election, to bolster the figures for houses sold.
The Minister declined to go into any details about the possibility of further cuts in the housing budget. Recent newspaper reports have suggested that the Treasury wants cuts of £600 million or more in housing investment in the next financial year. That would be a disaster. It would drastically affect the construction programmes of both the local authorities and the housing associations—although the local authorities are likely to be worst hit. Councils and housing associations are committed to spending on work in progress. New work planned for next year would, therefore, be hard hit. It has been suggested that the number of council homes started could fall by 20,000. Improvement grants would probably dry up completely. In my constituency there are no improvement grants anyway and no new capital expenditure on housing, because the Conservative Sefton council has interpreted the Minister's request for voluntary restraint as a request for a moratorium, even though the Minister said that it was not. If there is a cut of £600 million, home owners will certainly not be able to get improvement grants. That will prove that Conservatives are not—as they claim to be—the supporters of the home owner.
One must consider the proposed cuts in terms of the present housing situation. In 1983 there was a total waiting list of 1.2 million—the highest total ever. There was a transfer list of nearly 600,000. An analysis by Shelter shows that in many areas the reduction in council house building is reducing the number of lettings available to dangerously low levels. In England alone, 78,000 households were accepted by local councils as homeless in 1983, compared with 53,000 in 1978. In London, Shelter found that over 2,000 homeless families were 156 living in bed and breakfast hotels on a temporary basis last summer. The cost of such accommodation in London alone is estimated at £12 million a year—a sum which would be enough to pay off loan charges on 3,000 houses at an estimated cost of £30,000 each.
According to the Government's own housing conditions survey, 1.1 million houses in England were unfit for human habitation in 1981. Nearly a million homes lacked one or more basic amenities. Nearly 4 million homes needed repairs which would cost more than £2,500—a figure which had risen by over 20 per cent. in five years. That is the situation before the consequences of the £600 million cut mooted by the Treasury are felt. The greatest number of homes needing major repairs were in the owner-occupied sector. No money or grants for them are coming from the Government.
The housing stock is aging. According to estimates, in 1971 1.8 million homes were over 100 years old. By the turn of the century, that number will have risen to 4.3 million. That points to an increasing demand for repair and improvement, and hence an increase, not a reduction, in the moneys available. That is not just council housing, it is money provided through local authorities to housing associations and owner-occupiers.
The Housing Defects Act 1984, which the Government are planning to bring into operation on 1 December, designates as defective 170,000 homes built using precast reinforced concrete. Cuts will undermine efforts to deal with the problem in those homes, which the Government have recognised. In addition, the Minister for Housing and Construction announced just two weeks ago that all houses and flats built using large panel systems similar to Ronan Point are to be investigated for possible defects. Defects in some large panel types, for example Bison, have already been admitted. Shelter has estimated that that could mean that upwards of 100,000 dwellings could need repair or demolition. Cuts will clearly undermine repair programmes and in extreme cases there will be a possible risk to safety.
Cuts are economically unsound. There is no sound economic logic for cutting further or for not expanding the housing investment programme. The Treasury is insisting on cuts because, contrary to most accepted accounting conventions, it treats borrowing for capital spending as the same as borrowing for current spending. It is Treasury nonsense, but that is what it does with the public sector. In other words, the Treasury does not recognise capital investment. Its approach to spending on housing has been illustrated as follows—if someone buys a house with a £20,000 mortgage and pays £2,000 in mortgage repayments during the first year after purchase, any sensible person would say that during that year a liability of £20,000 has been created and payments of £2,000 have been made. The Treasury says that £22,000 has been spent, and that there must be further cuts. It does not apply the same logic to the private sector, the owner-occupier, the bank or the insurance company.
Construction is estimated to be one of the cheapest ways in which public spending can create jobs. For every £100 million invested in house building and home repair work, up to £175 million returns to the Exchequer by way of increased payments of taxes and reduced social security payments. Looking at that another way, cutting £600 million from the housing investment budget could mean a net saving to the Treasury — because of the unemployment created—of as little as £150 million.
157 I ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to fight his corner to obtain some money for investment in capital expenditure on housing so that we can build houses for the homeless and for those in most need, and provide jobs for people who work in the construction industry.
If the Secretary of State wants to find any savings on houses, and if he is forced by the Treasury—because most of the local government and housing legislation we have from the Department of the Environment is Treasury legislation rather than local government or housing legislation—to find some money, let him turn back on the Treasury and consider the amount of money that is given in income tax relief to owner-occupiers at the higher end of the scale who are buying large houses.
We have a system of housing subsidy based on income tax relief on the interest paid on the mortgage which is founded on the unassailable British principle that the richer one is the more help one needs with housing. If we study the figures, we find that they are amazing. The latest year for which comprehensive figures are available is 1983–84. The total value of mortgage interest tax relief amounted to £2,710 million, representing £400 subsidy per mortgagor receiving tax relief. The total council house subsidy, including Exchequer subsidies and net rate fund contributions to local authority housing revenue accounts in the same year came to £1,091, million representing only £188 per local authority dwelling.
I am not opposed to income tax relief for the average mortgagor but I support equal treatment for everyone in every form of tenure in terms of Government financial assistance and subsidy. If further cuts have to be made, perhaps some of the money can be taken from the top end of the owner-occupier market. I hope that the Minister will consider that, rather than a further attack on local authority and housing association subsidies and house building programmes.
I am sure that the gap that exists between subsidies that the owner-occupier and the council tenant receive will have widened even further with higher interest rates in 1984–85 and decreased Exchequer subsidies and rate fund contributions to local authority housing accounts.
Although the reply will be made by the Secretary of State for Transport, I hope that it will cover some of the omissions in the Queen's Speech and in the speech of the Secretary of State for the Environment when he opened the debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the House of what I said earlier? Many hon. Members wish to take part today and it would be helpful if speeches were not over-long.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
In welcoming the Gracious Speech, I shall address myself to two specific matters. On the face of it, the abolition Bill may not appear to affect or interest a Member such as myself representing a district within a shire county. However, I welcome it for two reasons. First, it recognises the principle of a single-tier structure for local government, eliminating the duplication entrenched in a two-tier format, and that I heartily applaud. Both sides of the House, if pressed — the spokesman for the alliance agreed—would opt for the simplest system closest to the electorate affected.
158 Secondly, although it does not say so, the Queen's Speech recognises that the House got it wrong in the early 1970s. The Conservative party was in government at that time, but although all parties were agreed that something ought to be done, few people could agree on what. It is a little like the controversy over rates.
It seems sad that we politicians find it hard ever to say that we were wrong. There is no shame in doing so. In industry, the top people are those who can quickly recognise a wrong turn and respond accordingly I have raised the matter because of the hypocrisy of the Labour party in general and in our city of Nottingham in particular. That Labour party, using its control of our city council, seeks to support in every possible way, the Labour party's campaign to retain the upper tier of local government in the metropolitan areas while it presses me and my two Nottingham colleagues to assist it in taking back its county borough powers lost in the same early-70s reorganisation. The Labour party is completely devoid of principles in this matter.
The second issue is the White Paper on buses and what is said in the Gracious Speech about the direction that the Bill might follow. Much hysteria has been whipped up which, unless the Secretary of State has in mind that which was not in the White Paper, is completely unjustified, counter-productive, and in some cases rightly branded as unprofessional. Some of the papers seem to be saying, "Damn the public; our empires are at stake."
The Queen's Speech stated:A Bill will be introduced to increase competition in the provision of local bus services in Great Britain and to transfer to the private sector the operations of the National Bus Company.I support the floating of the National Bus Company in the hope that the Minister intends, first, that it should be broken up, and secondly, that any steps to further competition in the urban areas, such as Nottingham, will not predate that break-up or its privatisation.
Secondly, in an attempt to introduce competition for the greater benefit of a greater number of passengers—the passengers must surely be our prime concern — the Secretary of State will seek to ensure that such competition is fair and equitable and that proper public protection will be adequately provided and enforced. To achieve that, I believe that a new wholly-owned municipal PLC must be able to operate in a manner no more commercially constrained than existing or future limited or PLC operators. It should not be bound by local government or public sector financial control.
I believe that the White Paper uses the term "deregulation" — wrongly, in my view, because it actually means a different, fairer and, one hopes, more growth-oriented form of regulation. People do not want what are emotively described as cowboys or pirates with unsafe vehicles whose drivers do not meet the required standards—for example, in the number of hours worked per day—bringing a short-term, superficial gain which may then disappear, leaving people worse off. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will follow the recommendations in the White Paper and substitute quality control for quantity control. The quantity aspect will then look after itself. That quality control will require not just legal teeth but administrative enforceability. I hope that the Bill will not be vague about that.
If the new licensing authority is to concentrate on quality and enforcement, I hope that there will be a recording or co-ordinating body—perhaps a county or 159 regional group of districts—because if local authorities are to respond as the White Paper suggests to social route provision and support, someone needs to know who is doing what, where and when.
I conclude by saying, even in the absence of the Leader of the Opposition, that I am one of those ordinary folk who, after a stint in local government, have found themselves privileged to be in this place. That stint in local government seems to have given this newcomer and many others a sounder base for their views than all the platitudes that the right hon. Gentleman's Celtic charm can dream up.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Abolition of the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties will surely be the most contentious issue of this Parliament, yet it rates just 16 words in the Queen's Speech. It received a few more in the Conservative manifesto of 1983, but even adding them all together those few words are devoid of both principle and intellect and, I believe, typify the Government's contempt for local democracy.
We are about to witness a fundamental change in the structure of local government, not as the result of a Royal Commission studying the situation for some years, as preceded the setting up of the GLC in 1964, nor as the result of a distinguished commission such as that which preceded the setting up of the metropolitan counties in 1972, but as the result of party political dogma, especially on the part of the Prime Minister. Abolition of the GLC was conceived by the Prime Minister in malice and spite and Is now being nourished on ignorance and paranoia.
The Bill to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties will be an ugly, brutish creature which I believe will ultimately consume its own creators. Indeed, abolition has already guaranteed the political end of the Secretary of State for the Environment — the Tory party's equivalent of the vicar of Bray. He now holds office merely because his immediate removal would be an admission of defeat by the Prime Minister, but everyone in the House recognises that he is finished. Indeed, he has had to suffer the ultimate insult and indignity of someone else being brought in to do the job in which he has conspicuously failed. That person is the new Minister for Local Government, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). His quaintly-named constituency leads one to think of him as the mole of Marsham street. Thinking of "The Wind in the Willows", I wondered who was Ratty—probably they all are by now, in view of the job that they are expected to do. If one is permitted to mix fairy tales, there is certainly no doubt as to who would be the Mad Hatter.
The Minister for Local Government has a reputation for being clever and rather smooth. I am sure that he would make the same assessment of himself. In 1977, before doing a swift bunk out of London to represent Mole Valley, he edited an interesting pamphlet. Its title, "Maybe it's because we are Londoners", was scarcely original but the pamphlet contained views which make very interesting reading today. Indeed, when I discussed it with Ken Livingstone the other day—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name dropping."] Yes, I believe in a bit of name dropping from time to time. Mr. Livingstone said that the Minister's 160 pamphlet read rather like the GLC manifesto in 1981, as indeed it does. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the foresight that he used to have.
On planning, the right hon. Gentleman wrote in 1977:It will be generally agreed that Greater London, an area of some 610 square miles containing seven million people, must continue to be more than an agglomeration of 32 boroughs with different degrees of urban disease.That was in the GLC manifesto and we say "Hear, hear" to that. He continued:The strategic role of the GLC should be enhanced".That view was shared by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
On transport, the new Minister for Local Government wrote:The real benefits of the transport system can only be obtained by using the full range of facilities in a co-ordinated way. There is a tremendous job of work to be done in this area by County Hall.He further stated:The policy of restraining heavy lorries should be extended as quickly as possible".The Secretary of State for Transport should think about that before suggesting that the GLC is merely trying to clog up London. The Minister for Local Government expressed that view in 1977 and the lorry ban was included in the 1981 GLC manifesto.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
The hon. Gentleman may recall that the same pamphlet suggested that the Inner London education authority should be abolished. Does he agree with that, too?
§ Mr. Banks
I shall be coming to that, as it shows how inconsistent the Minister is.
In 1977, the right hon. Gentleman even had a good word for cyclists. He wrote:It is recommended that a purposeful campaign is mounted to make life safer and easier for them. Both the GLC and the boroughs should provide a proper pattern of cycle lanes and paths in inner and outer London.That, too, was in the GLC manifesto. Indeed, cyclists and cycle lanes will be major casualties if the GLC is abolished.
On housing, the new Minister said:The GLC should excercise strategic control only. Zoning densities, plot ratios and high buildings should remain GLC responsibilities.He called for the GLC to remain responsible for regional parks such as Lea valley, Colne valley, the M4 linear, and Hampstead heath.
In 1977 the Minister even described the City of London as an anomaly in the pattern of London's local government. Very few Labour Members would disagree with that. Indeed, the Conservatives should remember that the wind of abolition can blow in many directions. I trust that the next Labour Government will not only abolish the City of London as the anomaly that the Minister recognised it to be but will talk about true unitary local government and get rid of the shire counties, as consistency would demand if the metropolitan authorities are abolished.
The Minister went on to call for the GLC to have a role in tourism, race relations, employment and training—all of which it now does and for which it is bitterly criticised by Conservative Members.
The Minister's best contribution was the section on the relationship between Whitehall and county hall. He said:In recent years there has been increased direction by central Government over local government. Far from the GLC being161allowed greater independence Whitehall has, quite wrongly, interfered more and more with the activities of County Hall. The Government failed to approve the GLDP for too long, leaving a continuing vacuum in both strategic and local planning. It is impossible to have a proper strategic authority in Greater London without a change of attitude in Whitehall.Why does the Minister appear to disagree with what he said then? What has changed his mind in seven years? What has changed the minds of the authors of the pamphlet "Maybe it's because we are Londoners" — the hon. Members for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) and for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend)? Perhaps the real hon. Member for Mole Valley will stand up.
In 1977 the Minister called for the dismantling of the Inner London education authority. That is totally at variance with present Government policy. Having read what the Minister wrote in 1977, I cannot believe now that he is insufficiently intelligent to see that the abolition of the GLC makes no sense in economic, social or local government terms. It makes no sense that of all the problems that we face — mass unemployment, the destruction of our manufacturing base and the coal dispute in its ninth month—the Government seek to tie up this Session with an absurd, irrelevant piece of legislation to abolish the GLC and metropolitan county councils. All thinking hon. Members must realise that.
The matter is not even popular among the electorate—at least the London electorate. Recent opinion polls show that 74 per cent. of Londoners are opposed to the abolition. In 1983 the Prime Minister no doubt thought that the abolition would be the domestic equivalent of the Falklands factor, but a GLC factor is now much in evidence in London politics. The Tory party is losing council by-elections all the time, if not to the Labour party, then to the alliance. The GLC factor was apparent in the London results in the recent European Community elections. It is also seen in the general political attitudes of Londoners. The most recent MORI poll showed that, although the Labour party was, regrettably, 6 per cent. behind the Tory party in the country as a whole, it was 13 per cent. ahead in London. That was confirmed by a later Harris poll that showed the Labour party 18 per cent. ahead of the Tory party in London. If that were translated at a general election, 33 London Tory Members would lose their seats. In other words, the Government through its abolition policy will be signing the political death warrant for those hon. Members — but that in itself is not something with which I would disagree.
The Minister said that there would be savings. Where are they to come from? In the recent London debate between the new Minister for Local Government and the leader of the GLC, the Minister said that savings figures would be produced in two weeks, but they are still awaited. The Government must prove their point. The House is entitled to know what the savings will be and how such figures were reached. Our calculations at county hall show that savings can be achieved only by cutting services. The Government must come clean. If services are maintained after abolition, 25 of the 32 London boroughs will pay higher rates.
In that same debate the Minister said that power would be returned to the boroughs. He should brush up his knowledge of London local government. The powers that he is proposing to pass to the London boroughs have never previously been exercised by them. The Herbert 162 Commission report of 1960 examined the devolution of all possible powers to the boroughs, made some recommendations, and left a core strategic role to the GLC which has existed to the present day.
The Minister also said that £535 million from GLC services would pass to the boroughs. He relies on a bold assertion and makes no attempt to back it up with facts. We want his evidence. If he speaks in the debate, I should be interested to know how he arrived at the figure. My calculation shows that 15.7 per cent. of ILEA 1984–85 net expenditure will be devolved to the boroughs. If ILEA is excluded from that calculation, 30.9 per cent. of the GLC 1984–85 net expenditure will go to the boroughs—just one third of the services' figure in monetary value terms. I have the figures worked out, because county hall has nothing to hide. The Government must put their facts before Londoners and the House.
It is a fact that the overwhelming bulk of submissions in response to "Streamlining the Cities" were opposed to the Government's proposals. It is a fact that most informed opinion inside and outside local government in the private and public sectors is against abolition. It is a fact that the overwhelming majority of Londoners are opposed to abolition. Who, then, is in favour of abolition except for the Prime Minister and the unthinking majority on the Tory Benches?
The abolition issue will not end either in this House or in the other place. It will run right through the 1986 London borough elections. It will result in massive gains for the Labour party and the destruction of the Conservative party in London local government. There is no chance that abolition will be achieved by 1986. Therefore, the chaos that will continue thereafter will run to the general election of 1987 or 1988. The right hon. Lady may not be for turning, but her environment Ministers are spinning like tops. They have all sacrificed their former well-held views, and none more obviously than the right hon. Member for Mole Valley. They have also sacrificed their self-respect and political credibility. That is all being done to save the right hon. Lady's face. All those who are honest know that abolition makes no sense in local government or economic terms.
It is doubtful whether the promise to abolish the GLC actually won the general election for the Prime Minister. The abolition of the GLC will undoubtedly contribute significantly to the Prime Minister's defeat at the next general election. That is the GLC factor, and Tory Members, especially those who represent London constituencies, should think carefully about that before they vote for their own political extinction.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
I shall not follow the road of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) because I am one ratepayer in the Greater London council area who wholly approves of its abolition. I pay as high rates for my modest flat in Kennington as I do for my reasonably-sized house in Bournemouth. If there is one cause of high unemployment in London — the figure for unemployment no longer appears on county hall—it is high rates. That is one good reason why the GLC should be abolished. It has proved itself to be irresponsible and unnecessary.
I welcome everything in the Queen's Speech. Clearly the proposals represent another heavy programme of legislation about which my hon. Friend the Member for 163 Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) complained yesterday. Most of us have sympathy with his warning that the House and the Civil Service will once again be under strain because of it.
The Government were elected to reverse the direction towards corporatism and state Socialism which previous Governments took during the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, by 1979, one saw with alarm that, of the 10 preconditions suggested by Karl Marx as being necessary for the establishment of a Communist state, seven had already been satisfied in Britain. Labour Members should look at page 555 of volume 8 of the collected works of Karl Marx to check that list. To reverse the process requires much new legislation before the Government can assume a lower profile that will allow people to enjoy much more of what they earn without interference from the state. No Conservative Member could complain about that.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Unfortunately, that elderly imported German was involved in the textile industry in the Manchester area, which has still to be revived.
I welcome the broad reference in the Queen's Speech to the continued policy of privatisation, or more competition, as the Prime Minister likes to describe it. With most of our energy industries, the railways, steel, coal and shipbuilding still in state ownership, there is plenty of scope for denationalisation. The potential for the privatisation of the National Health Service remains almost completely unrealised. Unfortunately, there was no reference in the Queen's Speech to encouraging the demunicipalisation of local government services, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made some welcome references to that this afternoon.
The welcome exception to that was the proposal to increase competition in local bus services. The White Paper on buses has aroused much opposition among some local authority bus operators and the unions. We now see much unjustified propaganda and misinformation which is reminiscent of the propaganda put out by the unions during the passage of the Telecommunications Act 1984, and which is designed to cause unnecessary concern and alarm especially to the elderly, who rely on their local bus services, particularly in outlying areas.
In hindsight, it might have been preferable to have published a Green Paper—a consultation document—on the Government's proposals, or at least to have allowed more time for consultation than was allowed, with the publication of the White Paper at the end of July, just before not only the House but local councils went into recess. We must await the Bill to learn how existing bus services, which the private sector will not touch because they will never be profitable, will be protected. However, the White Paper states cearly that local authorities will be able to continue to subsidise services that would otherwise cease. That commitment in the White Paper has already been overlooked by local authorities and by the trade unions, which believe that their members will be affected.
It is completely wrong to assert that a bus service will cease as a result of the proposals in the White Paper. It may take some years for the private sector to develop, because the present municipal bus monopolies discourage the participation of any tangible private sector expertise, but 164 no one should underestimate the ability of private enterprise to produce a range of practical and flexible services that will offer passengers a wide choice of routes at competitive prices which will no longer be a burden to ratepayers or to taxpayers.
Until we try to put our bus services out to competition, we shall never know what the passenger will gain. I look forward to a revitalised local bus service, with new businesses and new jobs emerging as a result of the Government's proposals.
Earlier I expressed my disappointment that there was no direct reference in the Queen's Speech to measures requiring local authorities to privatise their services, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State helped to put that right in his speech by promising action to secure more competition, with a consultation paper to come and a hint of legislation during the next Session. I wholeheartedly welcome that, because the potential for savings in local government costs through privatisation is great, although it remains largely unappreciated and unrealised, with the result that small businesses in Britain are missing out on exciting opportunities which their counterparts abroad have long enjoyed.
Only about 31 councils from a total of 550 local authorities have contracted out some services. They have been restricted to refuse collection and to the cleaning of streets, public toilets and schools, although some authorities have shown a willingness to innovate by inviting tenders for services such as golf course management, grass cutting, pest control and school catering. Those examples have shown dramatic savings in existing costs, which have been passed on to the taxpayer. We often hear cited the example of the pioneering Southend borough council, which was the first to introduce the privatisation of refuse collection. As a result, it now saves £500,000 a year, which represents a ½p rate to Southend ratepayers. They enjoy a more efficient service, and the previous local authority employees are happier now with better working conditions, pay, holidays and job satisfaction.
After nearly three years' experience of the handful of courageous Conservative councils that had the foresight and the guts to explore the advantages of competitive tendering, it is a public scandal that more than 90 per cent. of local authorities have done nothing in this respect. Had every refuse-collecting authority done what Southend did, the nation would be saving about £200 million a year. When one analyses the activities and functions of local government, there is little that cannot be franchised that is not already being done by local councils using private firms to supply municipal services under contract somewhere in the western world.
I was delighted to learn that the Government are turning their attention to the demunicipalisation of local government as a matter of urgency. Perhaps as a first step my right hon. Friend will consider issuing a circular to all local authorities, similar to that sent to health authorities about a year ago, asking them to submit plans to seek competitive tenders for specified services and to explore the scope for others. There is no reason why such tenders should not be sought or submitted from European companies, because the European Community is about a common market in services as well as in goods.
The Conservative councils that have not put their services to the test of competition stand to be condemned 165 by the Conservative party for ignoring the key element of our philosophy, which remains prominent in the legislation heralded by the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
I shall follow the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) in one respect, in that I wish to talk about issues other than the abolition of the metropolitan counties. That is not because I have no sympathy with London Members but because I have no personal interest in such abolition. However, I assure my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) that during the long nights this winter I shall be trooping through the Lobby with them, because I support them in their fight to retain democracy. I am sure that they will be prepared to support hon. Members who represent other areas, particularly the depressed regions, when they fight for their democracy.
As I understand it, my hon. Friends' opposition to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties is based on the democratic argument that it is wrong to abolish a tier of local government because that removes democratic rights from the people who live and vote within those areas. An equally fatal and perhaps more insidious way of attacking democracy is the way in which the Government have approached local government generally. They have mounted a two-pronged attack. On the one hand they have enforced a whole range of new controls on local government, and on the other they have reduced resources to local councils, even though such resources are absolutely essential if those councils are to attempt to meet the needs of the people they represent. That two-pronged attack is at least as insidious in its effect on democracy.
During the last three years, the Rhymney Valley local authority has lost £70,000 per 1,000 people in rate support grant. Those Conservative Members who represent more affluent areas may appreciate the problems which that local authority faces. In 1982–83, the Rhymney Valley district council received £66,000 per 1,000 people in rate support grant. The following year that was reduced to £56,570. In Wales as a whole, the amount went down from £277,671 to £285,811 per 1,000 people. That is not a reduction in cash terms, but when inflation is taken into account it is a very real drop.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) referred to the impact which capital expenditure on housing can have on employment. I am conscious of the impact which the reduction in capital expenditure has had on employment levels in Wales. In 1981–82, capital expenditure by Welsh local authorities was £249.7 million. In 1982–83 it was £349 million, and in 1983–84 it was £408 million. That is an increase in absolute terms, but when inflation and the increasing needs of our communities are taken into account, it is a serious reduction.
In 1983–84, Rhymney Valley district council received £6,752,000 in cash grant from central Government. In 1984–85, that will go down to £5,731,000—a reduction of 15 per cent. That is the problem now faced by all local authorities, but the impact of such reductions falls particularly heavily on areas such as Wales, with its traditional problems such as unemployment.
There is a twofold impact on local communities. Local councils are unable to meet the proper demands placed upon them by their communities. I intended to quote some 166 figures in respect of housing need in the valley which I represent. They were prepared by the local authority's chief housing officer, who sent me a copy of the housing strategy and investment programme. Other hon. Members will be aware that similar programmes are being drawn up in their own constituencies. One phrase leapt out of that strategy document. It stated:it can only indicate the scale of the housing problems in the District and quantify the degree to which the Council will be unable to solve them unless there is a significant increase in the financial resources available".Local authorities are now saying, "We cannot even plan. We can do nothing but indicate the scale and nature of our problems. Unless central Government are prepared to ease the burden and make additional resources available, we can do nothing but quantify our own inability to meet our housing needs." That is the impact of this stranglehold on our communities.
There is also an impact on employment opportunities and unemployment levels. My local authority area stretches from my constituency of Caerphilly northwards to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). In that small mining valley there are now only four pits left between us and not much else, yet 10,000 people are unemployed.
Conservative Members talk about the need for investment and the generation of employment opportunities by new investment, entrepreneurs and the application of capitalism, but I wonder whether they understand what life is really like in valleys such as that. Do they really understand how destitute those communities are? Do they really understand that there is no prospect of investment coming in from outside under market forces and that only by the organisation of human endeavour, either by central Government or local government, will anything new come to our valleys?
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
Are not many local authorities sitting like a dog in the manger on building land within their areas and denying it to private developers who would contribute to housing and employment, simply because those authorities want the right to build the houses themselves?
§ Mr. Davies
I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman fails to understand that I am not talking about dogma or about the application of an abstract philosophy but about the real problems of a real community. I assure the hon. Gentleman and all other hon. Members that anyone who wishes to embark on a construction programme in my valley will find land aplenty. The local authority's housing investment programme has identified the need for 500 new dwellings every year. We cannot attract private capital to the valley to build. That is the nature of our problem. I am not prepared to accept the dogmatic view of local authorities stifling enterprise or development for political reasons. That is utter nonsense. If the hon. Gentleman visited some areas of the country which faced real problems, he would begin to understand the human side of the tragedy which the Government are inflicting.
In Rhymney Valley there is average male unemployment of 22 per cent. In the Pontlottyn employment exchange area, the figure is 42 per cent. When Conservative Members talk about Government investment, aid, expenditure and rate support grant, do they appreciate the impact on a small valley community of male 167 unemployment of between 42 per cent. and 44 per cent.? Do they understand how the wealth of a community is sucked out by unemployment of that sort?
§ Mr. Davies
Indeed. Do they understand how the strength of a community is weakened? Do they understand how the health of individuals is adversely affected by unemployment of that sort? I suspect that they neither know, understand nor care, but in my local authority area people do understand and care.
The area has an industrial development committee, with a part-time chairman, who incidentally works in the royal ordnance factory in Cardiff and will be lucky to have a job next year, as a result of the Government's privatisation programme. If the Secretary of State for Wales spent one tenth as much time in trying to get new investment and employment in Wales as that part-time chairman, we should have a much healthier economy in Rhymney Valley. However, the Government neither care nor understand.
I contacted my county council to ask for some figures about youth unemployment in Mid-Glamorgan. In October 1984, there were 8,616 16 to 17-year-olds. Of those, 31 per cent. were staying in school, and 11 per cent. were going into further education. Some 40 per cent. were placed on the youth training scheme, 8 per cent. were wholly unemployed, and 5 per cent. were in employment. Some 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. were on special measures, or had left the district for an unknown destination.
One could say that those figures were not too bad because, of the whole age group, only 45 per cent. are available for employment, so only 40 per cent. are out of work. However, if one excludes the 2,700 who remain in school or are on further education, there is an appalling figure of 80 per cent. unemployment. That is the real level of youth unemployment in that small mining valley. Eight out of 10 young people who leave school will not get a job.
I know that some Conservative Members will say that there is the youth training scheme, which provides opportunities, and that if young people go into this scheme they will increase their employability because they will get new skills. However, it is no good providing skills if there are no jobs to use those skills. The figures from my valley show that only 30 per cent. of those who leave YTS will get a job, and that figure goes down to a tragic 20 per cent. in the Rhondda valley.
My local authority wishes to do something about unemployment, and that is why it has an industrial development committee. That is why it goes to the Welsh Office, sends deputations to the Secretary of State for Wales, co-operates with the Land Authority for Wales and makes submissions to the Welsh Development Agency and applications for finance to clear derelict land. It builds new industrial estates and starter units. It co-operates to its utmost with the industry department of the Welsh Office. It publicises the area, by coming to London and having publicity stalls. It does all that it can to attract investment and to make sure that people understand the nature of the problem. What do the Government do? They cut the money available to the local authority.
I do not wish to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West. Conservative Members have spoken about frivolous expenditure and 168 extravaganzas and money that goes to support groups, and so on. My hon. Friend may argue that that expenditure is essential to the fabric of inner-city life, and I shall not disagree. However, nobody can accuse my authority, or any of the Welsh authorities struggling to exist, of extravagance. Least of all can anyone accuse them of being too highly paid.
The new vogue idea is that we must accept wage cuts. I have dug out from the Welsh Office this month's publication of "Welsh Economic Trends" to see how Wales compares with every other region, in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There are eight regions for the purpose of economic indexation in England. In terms of GDP, Wales is worse off than any of the eight. It is worse off than Scotland, but marginally better off than Northern Ireland, with all the support that goes into that region. In terms of personal disposable income, we are a poorer region than every English region and than Scotland.
If the Government's suggestion of a cure for unemployment is more unemployment, and if they think that the answer to our problem is wage cuts, I ask them how much poorer we have to become before we start to get richer. How much more unemployment do we have to have before we start to get new employment? How destitute do they want us to become? The message that the Government are giving to regions such as mine and to local authorities, through the Gracious Speech and the legislative programme that they have mapped out for the 12 months ahead, is one of destitution and unemployment.
If any hon. Member is tempted to say that that is the price that we have to pay for being in a deprived region, and that the Government went to the country in 1983 and have a mandate because more people voted for them and there are more Tory Members of Parliament and it is their right to pass whatever legislation they wish, I can give them a little advice. I have here a quotation:True democracy cannot just mean one man, one vote. It must mean also that our citizens see clearly the stake they hold in the stability and prosperity of our country.That is not Karl Marx, but the introduction to a CBI pamphlet called "A share in the action". If the Government will not accept criticism from their political enemies, they should at least be prepared to accept advice from their political friends. Unless they do so, the Government will store up a wealth of bitterness for the years ahead, and that bitterness will come crashing down on their heads.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
I shall not presume to comment on what the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said about Wales, but I shall say something about the portion of the Gracious Speech that concerns my area of Greater London, and in particular my constituency of Surbiton. I do not imagine that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground), I shall receive applause from the Opposition Benches when I say that I very much welcome the part of the Gracious Speech that pledges the Government to the abolition of the Greater London council in this Session. We fought the election on that pledge and we received overwhelming support in London, where 56 of the 84 constituencies returned Conservative Members — a larger number than the Conservative party has ever won before.
It is not before time that we are abolishing the GLC. I have a slight disagreement with the Government. I wish that we had brought this legislation forward in the last 169 Session. We might then have avoided all the complications and confusion of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Act, and we might have cleaned up the whole matter by 1985 and spared the people and industry of London a further year of the GLC being able to tinker around with the affairs of London.
We have heard something in his debate about percentages. One percentage that is being quoted is stuck up on a hoarding on the other side of the river. It claims that 74 per cent. of Londoners disagree with the Government and wish to retain the GLC. I wish that the hoarding included another percentage, and I wish that Labour Members would occasionally turn their minds to another percentage. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister talked yesterday about an 11 per cent. figure, but I have been told today that on a narrow interpretation, if one takes out such things as police spending, which is broadly considered local government spending, the GLC handles less than 10 per cent., in rough terms, of the local government spending in this great conurbation. If that is the case, it is clear, and should be spelt out clearly to the people of London, that the primary local government authority in the Greater London conurbation is the borough council. That was what was intended in the legislation in the early 1960s. It was the way that the urban commission intended it. Certainly there is no reason to believe that anything other than the borough councils are needed for the correct government of London.
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is also true that the Department of Health and Social Security spends vastly more than the Foreign Office but that that is not necessarily a reason for abolishing the Foreign Office?
§ Mr. Tracey
The hon. Gentleman is making a rather abstruse point. He makes a bit of a habit of that, coming from a distant corner of our land. However, it is not relevant to local government in the Greater London conurbation. The fact is—it should be repeated time and again even if the GLC propagandists will not put it up on the front of their building—that the GLC manages less than 10 per cent. of local government spending in the conurbation.
Since the general election last year people have been confused by the spending of £12 million of ratepayers' money on propaganda. I am not talking simply about the hoarding across the river. On practically every corner in London a hoarding has been put up by Mr. Livingstone and his propagandists in the GLC. The newspapers—The Times, the Daily Telegraph — have double-page spreads of propaganda paid for by ratepayers' money. A lot of brainwashing can be done with £12 million. It can have a great deal of influence on the sort of answers that a few people in London will give to opinion polls.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
In fairness to the House, the hon. Gentleman should not pluck figures from the air. There is no basis in fact for a figure of £12 million. I shall gladly admit to the figure of £6 million in the present financial year. How much are the Government spending on advertising their services through different Departments, much of which we would consider to be party political propaganda? That figure is about £100 million. How much is the Department of the Environment spending on the leaflet that it is distributing through all the rate-capped areas?
§ Mr. Tracey
I would accept some criticism from the hon. Gentleman if he could convince me that any one of the GLC advertisements that I am talking about mentioned services. Apart from telling us that the GLC is apparently working for London, nothing else is said about services. The expenditure of £12 million is perfectly well documented. It includes not only direct expenditure on advertising hoardings, advertising in newspapers, and so on, but numerous leaflets coming not simply from the GLC but from many other bodies that the GLC has been conveniently propping up as indirect propaganda sources in its scurrilous campaign of misinformation in the capital city .
Only two or three years ago the people of London hardly knew what the GLC did for them. Indeed, those hon. Members who, like myself, have canvassed in GLC elections over the years will know perfectly well that: one could stand on a doorstep and talk about voting in the GLC election and people would ask whether there was really any need to vote, what the GLC did, what it was about and whether the local councils and Parliament were not far more important. I am sure that that is perfectly well accepted by Labour Members, if they are honest with themselves and if they think back. Until the propaganda campaign started, the GLC was virtually unknown to the people of London as a real force.
Those who attempted to approach the GLC to ask for any task to be carried out would meet exactly the kind of image that the GLC is now claiming for Whitehall. On another of those massive hoardings that we see on the street corners there is depicted a brick wall wearing a pinstripe suit and a bowler hat. That is the true interpretation of the attitudes of so many people in the GLC—both now and a few years ago.
The idea of the abolition of the GLC in the Conservative party has been building up for several years. I recollect only too well that in 1977, after Sir Horace Cutler had won a memorable election victory, there was talk in the Conservative party to the effect that if we were to carry out our intended policy of devolving the housing responsibilities of the GLC to the boroughs there would not be much left to do.
Well, the Conservative party devolved the housing responsibilities to the boroughs in about 1979. The GLC's responsibilities for local government work in London fell from between 25 and 30 per cent. to between 20 and 15 per cent. We know now that since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport piloted through the excellent London Regional Transport Act those responsibilities have fallen even further. Indeed, as I said earlier, they have fallen to the point that the GLC is now responsible for 10 per cent., probably less, of the work of Greater London.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Would the hon. Gentleman care to go back to that election victory of 1977 when the Conservatives won and the then leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, described the GLC Tory victory as being the jewel in the crown? What has changed her mind about the jewel, or indeed the crown?
§ Mr. Tracey
The hon. Gentleman may or may not accept that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister felt that Londoners were beginning to accept the essential Conservative philosophy of cleaning up local government expenditure and devolving powers where they truly 171 belonged, according to Sir Horace Cutler's policy which was endorsed. The jewel in the crown was the fact that it was a major breakthrough that the electorate should understand that Conservative policy.
While we are talking about past policies let me remind the hon. Gentleman—does he need reminding?—that in 1979 the friend to whom he talks so regularly, Mr. Ken Livingstone, said in a debate in county hall:I feel a degree of regret that Marshall"—Lord Marshall, who had just conducted an inquiry—did not push on and say 'abolish the GLC', because I think it would have been a major saving and would have released massive resources which could have been put into far more productive use.Perhaps Mr. Ken Livingstone would like to put that quotation on the front of county hall so that Londoners can see what he said in 1979.
Even better, perhaps Mr. Livingstone would like to put up another quote which was given more recently, in June 1982. He spoke to a conference of council treasurers—the conference of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy—and said:I have always at heart been committed to the borough council rather than to regional government.How can a man change his mind so much and commit himself to so much hypocritical advertising when he has said twice in the past few years that he believes in precisely what this Government now propose?
At the risk of embarrassing Opposition Members and of reminding them of their true hypocrisy, I must give two more quotations. They are essential, and should be grasped by the people when considering this timely Bill. Here is an interesting quotation:The Labour party is now preparing a major programme of local government reform. The time has come once and for all to introduce what most people devoted to local government now recognise as the most democratic as well as the most efficient form of authority. We shall therefore legislate to create unitary district authorities which will be responsible for all of the functions in their area that they can sensibly undertake".That quotation comes from a press release issued on 11 February 1983 — I believe at the time of the local government conference of the Labour party in Portsmouth —by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who was then shadow Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ Mr. Tracey
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) seems to be muttering from a sedentary position. It may be suggested that that was the individual view of the right hon. Member for Gorton, but what about this quotation:We aim to end if we can the confusing division of services between two tiers of authority. Unitary district authorities in England and Wales could be responsible for all the functions in this area that they could sensibly undertake"?That quotation comes from the Labour party's manifesto for the general election in June 1983. Presumably it was subscribed to by the massed ranks on the Opposition Benches. How can Labour Members seriously tell us this afternoon that they believe in the two tiers, the GLC and the London borough councils, which are, of course, the primary authorities? The fact is that Labour Members genuinely believe in the same policies as us. It is simply for reasons of hypocrisy and political cant that they say that this afternoon—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot accuse other hon. Members of hypocrisy. I ask him to withdraw that word. I am sure that he can find another word with which to express the meaning that he wishes to convey.
§ Mr. Tracey
I withdraw that word, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps Labour Members believe in factual inexactitude and a certain amount of dyslexia. I hope that you will accept the word cynical, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I believe that some extremely cynical political campaigning has come from Opposition Members and their colleagues across the river. They suggest that Londoners will be worse off under this Government's policies which will shortly be set out in a Bill.
We believe that local government does mean local. That is what we are aiming at. We believe that people will get better value for money and more attention and sensitivity if they deal with their local borough councils. I suspect that that view is shared by the staff across the river. It was interesting to hear, during this so-called day of action when there has been talk of democracy and so on from some Opposition Members, that the members of the GLC's staff association were advised by their leaders not to have any part in the charade that is being played by their political masters in county hall.
The people of London will be better served by their borough councillors than by those in county hall. In my borough, the people will be served by 50 councillors as against two members of the GLC. I believe that they will be served better by their town hall than by county hall, which is superfluous to the local government of London.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
I am glad to speak after the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) and to correct some of his misconceptions. He said that in London only 10 per cent. of expenditure was spent by the GLC and that that was a good reason for abolishing it. The Secretary of State referred to the same figures when he opened the debate. There is an inconsistency in the Government's argument. In one breath they say that the GLC is extravagant and wastes money and in the next they say that it cannot be serving any useful purpose because its expenditure is less than 10 per cent. of expenditure in London.
However, there is no inconsistency in the Labour party's attitude or in the quotations that have been given from different spokesmen who say that they believe that most of the powers should rest with the borough authorities. At present that is exactly the position in London and the metropolitan counties. Indeed, there would be support for a Bill introduced during this Session if it reorganised local government throughout the country and if that reorganisation was based on unitary authorities and involved passing power back to the boroughs in the non-metropolitan counties.
I represent a non-metropolitan borough that was a county borough and we have always fought, and will continue to fight, for some of the services to be returned to a more local level, where they can be administered more closely to the people, thus providing a better service. I certainly believe that the social services should be tied to the authorities with housing departments. It is nonsense that boroughs such as Burnley, Blackburn, Preston, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Bristol and so on do not have 173 any responsibility for the social services. The Labour party stands for returning more powers to the local boroughs where applicable.
The hon. Member for Surbiton gave a quotation containing the wordsthat they could sensibly undertake.That brings us back to the old argument. We would argue that some services and powers need to rest with a tier of local government that is above the borough level and that there is thus a need for a second tier of government. However, the services must be at the right level. In the metropolitan counties, the division of services is probably reasonable and fair, but in the shire counties there is a need to bring them back closer to the people.
I was a councillor in London in the early 1960s at the time of the Herbert commission report, which led to the 1963 reorganisation of London. I accept that the Labour party was then mainly opposed to that legislation. However, I happened to be in favour of it, as I believed that it was the right way forward. After all, the boundaries that then existed for London county council had been drawn in 1889. They may have been fair and sensible then, but they did not take account of the urban development and sprawl that took place at the end of the last century and the beginning of this.
Therefore, that reorganisation merely recognised London's boundaries as they were in 1963. I was on Merton and Morden district council in the old Surrey county council area. I did not believe that we were part of Surrey in that context. Our affinity was with London. Transport and other responsibilities had to be tied in with London. We need the GLC and metropolitan counties because planning and co-operation cannot be dealt with by the individual boroughs.
I was in Manchester when the metropolitan counties were established in the 1970s. Before reorganisation, as many as six different bus services could operate, charging six different fares on some routes. That was nonsense. It is right that greater Manchester should run transport for the whole area.
Although I had no traditional roots in the area, I always recognised that Manchester was not just the city but greater Manchester. Bolton, Rochdale, Oldham and other places belong to greater Manchester and have to be tied for certain aspects of local government.
We still await the exact proposals, but I believe that the joint boards and quangos will be undemocratic. They will not operate in the interests of good local government. The Bill will not improve services for the people. Its motive is purely political. The Bill is certainly not in the interests of local government. We need some reorganisation, but the shire counties should have priority.
Local government should be able to spend more money. Central Government restrictions are tying the hands of local government behind its back. Local authorities are tied on capital and revenue expenditure, yet in 1979 the Government were elected on the commitment to give freedom to local government. They have provided that freedom, but they have stopped local government from doing anything because they have withdrawn its financial power. Local government needs more money so that it can provide the services and meet the needs of the community. The people at local level know which services are required. I do not believe that local government has been irresponsible in that respect.
174 I accept that central Government, whether Labour or Conservative, has the right to say how much funding will come from central Government. Local government has the right to argue that that amount is insufficient. The Opposition have the same right. I accept that the Government have the right to say, "This is what we are prepared to spend," but they do not then have the right to tell local government that it cannot raise funds locally if the local people are prepared to let them do it. That is how the Government are going wrong. They should allow local councils the freedom to raise funds to provide the required services.
The Secretary of State referred to the privatisation of refuse collection. The proposition is nonsense. In my many years in local government I have seen the results of the pressures on direct labour organisations. I remember a company in Burnley which beat direct labour on a contract for sheltered housing. Soon after the contract was completed, the company went out of business. Some companies are prepared to cut corners and prices, but once they have put direct labour out of business they will be free to charge what they want, because there will be no competition. A direct labour organisation cannot be recreated overnight. That is what the Tory legislation is about. The Government say, "Let's get rid of direct labour and cleansing departments." Once they succeed, local government will have to pay a high price.
More money should be spent on the provision of homes for the elderly. Councils are unable to provide homes for the elderly because they do not have the resources. They are tied by revenue restrictions. At the same time, there is a massive growth throughout the country of private residential homes for the elderly. The people who need the homes cannot afford them and are subsidised by about £45 a week each by the DHSS. I am not against that money being paid to look after our elderly people, but I am against people making profit out of the elderly. It is a disgrace. Local government has a responsibility to care for the elderly and it should be given sufficient money to provide homes for all the elderly people who require them.
Local government must also provide more sheltered housing. Sufficient resources are not available to meet the demand. About £15 million-worth of applications for grant have been made in Burnley, but only £3 minion is available. It will be at least 15 years before Burnley is able to modernise its pre-war council houses and bring them up to an acceptable standard. That is deplorable and unacceptable. We need more resources. Despite that, the Government talk of cutting £500 million or £600 million off the money that might be available for next year's housing programme. We need more resources, not fewer.
The White Paper on transport, published in July.. is appalling and will be a disaster for bus services. In the last five days, I have received about 300 communications from constituents protesting at the proposed Bill. They are worried about the future of bus services in their area. Many Conservatives will have to worry about what will happen to their local bus services.
There will be competition. People will want to run buses in the rush hours along the busiest routes, but they will not want to run them out of the rush hours when pensioners want to go to do their shopping or in the evening when people want to go into town. The people will not then have the transport to which they are entitled.
I served on Burnley's joint transport committee. Burnley has run its transport with a neighbouring borough 175 for 50 years. Of all the committees on which I served that was the most difficult. It is difficult to balance the charge to the passenger, the Government and the rate subsidy with breaking even' and providing a service.
Burnley and Pendle made the first agency agreement with the National Bus Company and other operators. We signed it a number of years ago and it became a model. From that date all the services were co-ordinated. If we have spare buses they run on the Ribble route; if Ribble has spare buses they operate on our routes. We use the buses sensibly and logically to reduce the overall commitment. Manchester and west Yorkshire buses, and others, run on our routes. We try to reduce the cost to ratepayers.
In Lancashire, 10 operators carry 110 million passengers a year on nearly 1,000 buses and the turnover is more than £54 million. The Lancashire bus network is the biggest for any shire county. About 60 per cent. of the county's bus routes require subsidy and 40 per cent. of Lancashire households do not have a car. The percentage of non-car owners in my constituency is higher than that. About 50 per cent. of the constituents in Blackburn and Burnley do not have cars. Only one bus route in Burnley makes a profit and it does so for only part of the day. In many outlying rural areas it is not possible to run an economic bus service, but we must provide a service. It is the elderly and the young who will be hit hardest if we eliminate the public service.
The National Bus Company has said, "If you wish to privatise go ahead, because we do not want to get involved in the privatisation argument." However, it has added, "If you do privatise, do not split up the company, because that would be a disaster." That is the view that Lord Shepherd would express and it is the view of the Ribble management in Lancashire.
I believe that there will be a massive public outcry against the Bill if it is drafted along the lines of the White Paper. Privatisation and deregulation will mean the withdrawal of many evening, Saturday and off-peak services. It will mean substantial cuts to essential rural and suburban routes. There will be massive reductions in the size of the bus network. Co-ordinated bus timetables will be replaced with irregular and sporadic ones. It has been said in some of the trial areas that some buses will not run unless it is commercially viable for them to do so. There will be more older buses and a consequent reduction in the standards of safety, maintenance and cleanliness. In some trial areas, buses have operated with a bucket in which to throw the fare and a cardboard sticker stating the bus's destination. There will be major problems for the young, the elderly and all who are dependent on bus services. The Bill will be a tragedy for bus transport and the Government must think again.
Bus transport should be available when it is needed. It does not matter much whether we are car owners now because at some stage we shall all depend on public transport. Buses should be available when we want to travel on them and not only at peak hours. We want to know that there is a service that will take us to where we want to get. It must be a regular and efficient service and we should ensure that it is made available. The Government's proposals in the White Paper will not lead to such provision. They may lead to some who live on the route of a good service enjoying a benefit, but the majority 176 will lose. It will be a disaster and the Government must think again, discard the proposals in the White Paper and reject the idea of introducing a privatisation Bill.
§ Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)
I am grateful to be able to participate in the debate after the remarks of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) about the possibility of transferring certain services from county councils and his assertion that the services provided by the metropolitan counties are about right.
I presumed that this debate would provide an opportunity for Opposition Members to express their seething anger and opposition to the abolition of the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties. Does the present attendance of Opposition Members reflect the Opposition's display of seething anger against the abolition of the authorities? For the past 10 or 15 minutes there have been more Opposition Members present representing Welsh constituencies than those representing metropolitan counties. There have been more Opposition Members present representing Lancashire than those representing constituencies in the GLC. This is the Opposition's seething anger against abolition!
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) has pointed several times to the Government Benches, but this debate is the Opposition's opportunity to express opposition to the proposed abolition. It is not necessary on this occasion for large numbers of Members to express their support for the proposal. It is traditional for those who oppose a proposal to take their place in the Chamber and to oppose it.
We are witnessing the attendance of those who oppose the Government's proposed abolition Bill. They consist of Members representing Welsh and Lancashire seats: there are few from the metropolitan counties. Throughout the debate, only one Opposition Member has been present who represents a constituency within the area of the West Midlands county council, and he was on the Opposition Front Bench. This is the seething resentment of the Opposition that we are facing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) and I opposed the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill, as it then was, but I do not share the views that he expressed on the proposed abolition Bill. I also understand that my hon. Friend's views are not shared by one or two of my hon. Friends who voted against the interim provisions Bill in the previous Session.
I shall now direct my remarks specifically to airports. Many decisions will be taken within the next few months affecting airports throughout the country. These decisions will have an effect for the next decade and could well have a bearing on air services into the year 2000 and beyond.
The fourth terminal at Heathrow is to be opened next year and there is a commitment that when it is opened the air traffic movements should be limited to 275,000 per annum. That commitment was entered into but it was said that the limit would be reviewed when new aircraft, capable of operating at much lower noise levels, were introduced. The new noise limits will be come effective on 1 January 1986. The new limit of 275,000 ATMs will be imposed in October 1985 and there will be an opportunity for review on 1 January 1986. Surely it would be logical for the review to begin now so that any decision on the level of ATMs can be taken in advance of the opening of the fourth terminal at Heathrow.
177 When it was decided in 1979 that the limit of 275,000 ATMs should apply, the nature of the aircraft then flying was very different from the nature of those currently flying and which will be flying out of Heathrow in 1986. The noise nuisance which was presumed in 1979 was very different from that which applies now and it will be substantially different from that which will apply from 1 January 1986. I ask the Government seriously to consider removing the limit and accepting the part of the Civil Aviation Authority's report which advocates a possible limit of 315,000 ATMs per annum. Paragraph 35 of the CAA's report states:Indubitably so far as the needs of all categories of users and the effcient development of airlines are concerned, the national interest is best served by developing to the full the potential of those airports to which the market-place has awarded the accolade of success and growth. In the national commercial interest, the right policy must surely be to maximise the opportunities for British airlines to exploit the positive attributes of the best airports that we have. We should look therefore to every possibility for increasing their opportunities to serve Heathrow and Gatwick. The first priority must be to build on proven success.I share that view, as do most of the British airways and international airways. It seems sensible to follow the policy that is advocated by the CAA. Paragraph 37 of its report states:These restrictions were adopted on the basis of expectations about the levels of aircraft noise and other developments which have largely been falsified by subsequent events.We must grapple with the problem of growing air traffic movement. If we do not, we shall have to decide whether there should be a fifth terminal at Heathrow or whether we should go ahead and develop Stansted. The Government will probably have to take up that issue during the Session also.
If the limit of 275,000 air traffic movements is retained, the excess will have to go somewhere. If it goes to other countries in Europe, we shall, as a country, lose the revenue from the movements of those aircraft. In addition, there will be the loss sustained as a result of some tourists not coming to Britain. The other possibility is that the flights will be forced to go to somewhere else, such as Stansted.
If there is an environmental difficulty in flying in and out of Heathrow, or if it causes a problem to have one movement or 15,000 movements in and out of Heathrow over and above the 275,000, surely there is an environmental problem wherever those flights go.
I share the views of large numbers of hon. Members in all parts of the House that it is not in the nation's interest that a third major airport should be developed in the south-east of England. When we advocate that Stansted should be expanded, we seem to assume that no one lives around Stansted, but large numbers of people live in that area, and the population is growing very rapidly on both sides of the county border of Essex and Hertfordshire. The population around Heathrow airport, by contrast, is relatively static. By having a third major airport at Stansted we shall only move the problem from one place to another, to the detriment not only of Heathrow and Gatwick but of the provincial airports.
§ Mr. Ground
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene on what, I fear, may be another matter on which I shall disagree with him. Will he agree that for every 10,000 people affected at Stansted there are hundreds of thousands of people affected in west London?
§ Mr. Hayward
No. I referred to the noise footprints at the different NNI levels, using them as an assessment of the disturbance caused to local residents, but because of the change in technology in aero engines and aero wings, we are no longer talking about hundreds of thousands or millions of people in the way that we did previously. The footprints have progressively narrowed and will continue to do so. I accept that there will always be substantially more people affected at Heathrow, but the people in that area are already inconvenienced by 275,000 movements per annum. To take up huge areas of land in Essex for the expansion of a third south-eastern airport cannot be in the best interests of the area's of the nation's economy.
In arguing that the figure should be raised to about 315,000 air traffic movements, I am not advocating that the night flight restrictions should be removed. The figure of 315,000 can well be accommodated with ordinary daytime operations. Circumstances have changed. When the original application was made for 260,000 ATMs as a limit, that was the assumed capacity of Heathrow's runways. That is no longer so. It is now probably about 330,000 on daytime movements alone.
The solution to part of the problem—and it is a very limited solution—lies in the stolport, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) referred earlier. The problem of the stolport has been with us for longer than I realised. In preparing my comments I looked at the Financial Times of 12 October 1983, which said thatThe inquiry into the scheme is still in progress and a decision by the Secretary of State for the Environment is not likely before early next year.That report referred to early 1984, and it now looks as though the decision will not be taken before early 1985. The longer any decision on airports is delayed — and particularly on a project such as the stolport—the more likely it is that there will be increasing pressure for the development of Stansted.
Provincial airports have a major service to offer in the overall provision of air movements, not only within Britain but within Europe as a whole. I have in mind airports such as East Midlands, Birmingham, Manchester, those in Scotland and Bristol airport. I have already referred to Heathrow airport, which is close to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston, and I hestitate to mention Bristol airport, as it is within your own constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But those provincial airports can ease the burden on the south-eastern airports by providing routes into Europe at a greater level than at present. There is an indication from most provincial airports that the demand is growing. There are applications from a large number of provincial airports for extra funding. If, with the support of the Government, that extra funding is granted, the improved facilities will be able to provide services into Europe and will ease the problem for the south-east.
I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my comments fall within the words of the Gracious speech to which the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) referred:Other matters will be laid before you".It is with those comments that I should like to conclude.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
When I heard the Gracious Speech from the Throne 179 yesterday I was waiting for some proposals which would have been of assistance to my constituents and to the rest of the people of Liverpool. I heard nothing whatever which would help them or which was relevant in any way to their problems.
I listened this afternoon to the Secretary of State for the Environment in the hope that we might hear something from the Government about how they intend to help local authorities to keep within the law by meeting the needs of people who require social services, adequate housing, and proper fire precautions in their flats. I heard nothing whatever about such matters.
When the Government talk about law breakers, they should ask themselves which laws they do not want local authorities to break. Throughout his speech the Secretary of State spoke of the need for controls over local authorities' public expenditure. None of that was relevant. Incidentally, when the Government talk of law breakers, do they include the people who broke the law some years ago by exporting goods illegally to the rebel regime in Southern Rhodesia? When the next Labour Government come to power we shall need to dust the Bingham report and take it down from the shelves, so that we can see who were the real law breakers then.
I looked for a glimmer of hope for the 29,000 people in Liverpool with unmet housing needs. There was no mention of housing. The Minister for Housing and Construction, who has at least seen some of the conditions in part of my constituency, has been silent. He sat on the Government Front Bench like an ornament. I do not know whether he intends to intervene in the debate at some point, but we have a right to hear what he intends to do as a result of his recent visit to Liverpool.
In Liverpool we have a long queue of people who are supposed to have medical priority for rehousing. There are cancer patients and people suffering from emphysema who visit me in my surgery. They do not ask me when the Government intend to privatise this, that or the other concern. Such things are totally irrelevant to their problems. In Liverpool, 5,000 corporation houses are lying empty after 10 years of neglect by the Liberals—that other Tory party on the Liverpool city council—aided and abetted by the rump of the Tory party. The Tory party has only nine members on the Liverpool city council, so that there is no prospect whatever of the Tory party ever again coming to power in Liverpool. Labour city councillors in Liverpool had to face the problem of housing neglect when they came to office in 1983. That is why they are dealing with it by looking at 17 priority areas for which they need Government assistance.
There is nothing in the Queen's Speech to help those in my constituency and other parts of the city of Liverpool who, every morning, have to clear up the open areas outside their flats because drug addicts have been there the night before. Drug addicts did not exist in large numbers in the city until it was ravaged by the Government's economic policies — [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I assure Conservative Members that that is so. The people on Croxteth housing estate never knew what heroin was until we had massive unemployment, with 94 per cent. of young people on that estate without permanent employment. That is the serious issue to which the Government should address themselves.
180 Old people and one-parent families are isolated on huge housing estates. Their only hope lies in the Merseyside county council giving assistance through cheaper fares policies on the buses. Those fares allow relatives—often unemployed — to visit the old folk. There was no mention of such policies in the Gracious Speech. There was only one glimmer of hope, in the sentence that read:Other measures will be laid before you.We live in hope, for that is all that we have under the Government. We hope that there will be some measures laid before us that will help the chronically sick and disabled to get their rights under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. We hope that there will be measures to allow old folk to be properly cared for instead of put up in hotels, as thousands are—at a huge cost to the ratepayers, about whom the Conservative party is supposed to be so concerned. Some 2,200 families in London alone are housed in hotels at an average cost of £200 a week. That is more than right hon. and hon. Members receive as an allowance for living in London to do our duties in the House.
We read that the Government are deeply concerned about unemployment, yet at the same time as we have such serious problems, we find that the Secretary of State is trying—he has not been successful so far—to argue his corner in the Cabinet in a bid to save £600 million that his right hon. Friend—he is not a friend to many people—the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to lop off expenditure on housing, construction and improvement grants.
When the Conservative party talks about feathering the nests of its friends in private industry, it should consider how much private industry depends upon tenders from local authorities. Conservative Members should consider how many people in the building industry—perhaps in a small way—are dependent upon contracts from local authorities. The Government now refuse to give adequate housing investment aid to our people, so some private companies face bankruptcy and are having to shed their labour force.
In our country, we have the obscenity of 400,000 building workers on the dole at the same time as 1.2 million people are on housing waiting lists. Some 300,000 people are classified as homeless and 1.2 million houses are officially classified as unfit for human habitation.
Since 1979, 700,000 council houses have been sold but only 275,000 have been built. The other Tories in Liverpool—the Liberal party — did not build a single council house for four or five years before the Labour party came to office. One cannot tell people to buy their own house. Where does an unemployed person get a mortgage to buy a house, even his own council house? It is impossible. I say to hon. Members who look for a property-owning democracy that for people who live in large areas of Liverpool the property-owning democracy is a long way away. Although the Secretary of State has seen some of the housing problems in Liverpool, and has said that they are the worst that he has seen anywhere, all that we get from him are threats about what will happen next year to Liverpool city council if it does not carry out his diktat.
We often compare this Tory Government with the more compassionate—in inverted commas, perhaps—period of Harold Macmillan, Eden or Churchill after the war. However, we could even compare this extremist Tory Government with the Government of the 1930s. I recall 181 that some years ago Lord Boothby said that that Government were a disaster, but even they managed to reflate the economy. In 1932, 22 per cent. of working people were unemployed, but by 1937 a figure of only 9.7 per cent. unemployment reigned. Part of the reason for the reduction was the huge housing investment in the building of council and municipal estates in probably every city in the United Kingdom. We can see the result today. However, the present Government turn their face from the problem.
We are used to the fact that the Government are blind to the needs of people in the large conurbations. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) accused Labour Members of not being here in large numbers to argue the case for the metropolitan counties. I notice that he is no longer here, but I assure him that the Bill that the Secretary of State threatens to bring before the House in the next few weeks will be bitterly opposed. We in the Opposition know that it will be bitterly opposed, with the support of the overwhelming majority of people in our areas. I know that I can speak with authority for the people of Merseyside, who are overwhelmingly in support of their county council.
A parish magazine was sent to me only this morning from St. Andrew's church in my constituency. One of the articles states that the church hall is being rebuilt, thanks to help from Merseyside Improvements Ltd, which is working for us because it is part of Merseyside county council's enterprise for creating jobs. We have created 8,000 jobs through our assistance schemes on Merseyside for small businesses and co-operatives. I can tell the people of Merseyside that, if the Government get their way, many services will disappear for ever. We can say goodbye to ferries on the river Mersey. We can say goodbye to Liverpool airport. The speech of the hon. Member for Kingswood was mainly concerned with airports and the need for airports in provincial towns.
There will be an end to cheaper bus fares. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), I represent a constituency where a considerable number of people have no car. In one area, according to the 1981 census, 75 per cent. are not car owners. Like the old people, they depend upon cheaper fares. There will be an end to all Merseyside council's schemes to help the unemployed by providing special centres and encouraging small businesses and co-operatives.
No assistance will be forthcoming — or none is suggested in the Queen's Speech—for drug addicts. I know that this is not the province of the Secretary of State, but local authorities such as Liverpool and Merseyside have been giving positive assistance to voluntary efforts to treat those who need help because of their addiction to heroin. There was no mention of any help in that area, despite all the wonderful words at the Tory party conference only a few weeks ago.
The Secretary of State tells us that there will still be democratically elected local authorities. He points to the districts and the London boroughs. The fact is, however, that on Merseyside only 4 per cent. of the functions of the Merseyside county council will go to each of the five directly elected local authorities. Eighty per cent. of the expenditure of Merseyside county council is on the police, the fire service, the highways and passenger transport, and all those services will be administered by joint boards. The feeling of integration which a large county council such as Merseyside has will be lacking.
182 All the problems which existed before 1974 will reappear — the problems of overspill, overlap and duplication. We will see a return to the situation before the local government reform of the 1880s and 1890s, when there was a chaos of authorities. If the Bill becomes law, there will a chaos of authorities, each with the right to levy a rate. The ratepayers may receive not just one rate demand but a score of them.
Let us not be under the impression that the Government are doing what they are doing because they are incompetent. They are not incompetent. They may be evil. They may be wicked. They are certainly immoral. I accuse the Government of deliberately creating the class society which the Prime Minister idealises. The Prime Minister wants a return to Victorian values, and the Government are doing their job.
There is a lesson here for the Labour party. We must appreciate that we live in a class society — a society which is becoming even more divided as a result of the Government's policies. None of their policies is more divisive than the attack upon the organisations which exist to protect the working people—the mass of the people—from the tremors of the economic system. There has been an attack on the trade unions which protect the workers at their place of work. There is an attack on local authorities. People who elect Labour councils want them to protect them in their community. We are facing the most class-generating Government that there has been since the end of the second world war or earlier.
We must recognise the Government for what they are. I expect from the Government no redress for the ills of our society. I hope, however, that those Conservative Members who have some guts and some spirit and who still believe in a more compassionate society will rid themselves of the scourge of the present Prime Minister and a Front Bench of men who are nothing but her puppets and who are incapable of leading the country into a more just and generous society.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)
As a London Member, I am pleased to have the opportunity warmly to welcome the proposals in the Queen's Speech for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.
I had a unique opportunity this summer to find out exactly what my electors thought about the GLC. The GLC wished on London a series of four mock by-elections, and one of them fell in the old Edmonton constituency, which coincides with much of the area that I represent. I went out of my way to talk to as many of my constituents as possible. It was a golden opportunity to canvass their views, although we did not put up candidates ourselves in the spurious by-elections. We found that well over 70 per cent. of the electors in Edmonton thought that the Government's proposals would bring local government closer to them and that they would feel more able to influence decision making in local government. That is the key argument in favour of the Government's proposal, because the Government are concerned with democracy and accountability.
On the day of the by-election, the electors reacted in some ways as hon. Members have reacted today—they stayed away from the event. There was a turnout of only 20 per cent. I am pleased to say that my Conservative association had worked hard to persuade people of what they should do. It was no coincidence that there was a low 183 turnout. We had done a full canvass. No Opposition Member could claim that people were misled or uninterested. We found that people on the doorstep were passionately interested. They saw through the gimmick of the Labour party in London in calling the by-elections, and they stayed away in droves.
There is a conflict —I am the first to admit it—between the voting behaviour of electors on election day and the results of polls in London, advertised by the GLC, which show that many Londoners are worried about the abolition of the GLC and seem to show some support—spurious support, in my view—for the Labour group on the GLC. However, it is not surprising that London electors feel confused and worried. If I had had over £12 million over the past two or three years to spend on putting my views to the electors of London, I am sure that I could have persuaded them of the virtues of those views.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) has talked about morality. What can one say about the morality of the Labour members of the GLC who have spent £12 million of ratepayers' money on party political propaganda designed to bribe the electors of London and persuade them to support their views? The expenditure of such a sum of money is bound to have some effect. If advertisements had no effect, we should hardly have an advertising industry as strong as we do. The money spent by the GLC on advertising may have been better spent on some of the voluntary organisations that the GLC shouts about so much. The £12 million would have gone a long way. There are causes in my constituency that would have benefited greatly from cash handouts from the GLC.
§ Dr. Twinn
They have had very little.
During the last Session of Parliament the director general of the GLC produced for us a list of the great works that the GLC had managed over the years. I went through it. I admit that it was not a full list but the best examples of the grants and help that had been given to Londoners. There were only 2,000 or 3,000 given to my constituents despite the fact that we have areas of need. Over the boundary in Haringey we find that money has been pouring out to women's groups and all sorts of other fringe groups. They may be worthy. I am not necessarily criticising the aims of those groups.
§ Dr. Twinn
I am suggesting that the activities of some of the groups that call themselves women's groups are fringe activities. Some of them are fringe groups. I hasten to add that women should not be described as "fringe", as so ably demonstrated by the hon. Lady. Perhaps I may congratulate her on her new appointment to speak on transport matters for the Opposition.
The GLC has done precious little for Edmonton over the years. The results of that neglect have been shown by the attitude of voters in Edmonton.
I regularly see refugees pouring over the boundary from Haringey. There are firms which, with the combination of the high rates in the London borough of Haringey and the crippling rates piled on by the GLC, can no longer conduct 184 their businesses there and move into the relative haven of Enfield where we have only the GLC's crippling rate. Unfortunately, too many of those firms jump the London boroughs. They miss Enfield and fly to the counties where there are more sympathetic councils that are far more interested in retaining jobs for their residents. That is something that the GLC has neglected.
The Edmonton electors have carefully considered the GLC's record on transport. There are its proposals for night and weekend lorry bans in London. I represent a strong manufacturing area. We rely upon the regular movement of goods from factories working through the night. We are to be told that they can move their goods in and out of their factories only at the whim of the GLC. That will force out manufacturing jobs from my constituency, jobs from London generally and jobs beyond the M25 ring. That is a disgrace.
We hear pious platitudes from county hall about saving jobs, although there are proposals for weekend and night lorry bans which will destroy jobs in our areas. The GLC has done more than that. It has held up useful lorry bans which could have been implemented—for example, the Barnet-Enfield lorry ban. It is a small area lorry ban. We could have had many more lorry bans in London to protect residential areas. [Interruption.] Opposition transport spokespersons choose to laugh about that. They find it humorous that they can create discomfort for residential areas so that they can implement their infamous schemes for banning commercial traffic from the whole of London.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
Can the hon. Gentleman give the House any good reason why the citizens of other parts of Greater London should not enjoy the same benefits of lorry bans as those whom he represents in Enfield?
§ Dr. Twinn
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is no reason why other areas of Greater London should not benefit from lorry bans, but they should not be blanket lorry bans. They should be lorry bans to protect distinct small residential areas from noise and fume pollution. It is no answer to implement a complete blanket lorry ban.
§ Dr. Twinn
I continue because I know that the hon. Gentleman will take every opportunity to divert me on to other roads and it is other roads that I wish to deal with—for example, the north circular road. I welcome the Government's programme for road improvement and the benefit that it will bring to my constituents. Despite the literary associations of the constituency, being well known for John Gilpin and an earlier form of transport, we are also far too well known as a vast bottleneck and traffic jam at the Angel in Edmonton where traffic piles up east, west, north and south, as any listener to Capital Radio knows. We receive free publicity for the constituency in a rather unfortunate way.
The Department of Transport has just announced preferred routes for road improvements on the north circular. They will be greatly welcomed in the constituency. Unfortunately, they are opposed by the GLC, which again shows its cavalier disregard for the need to protect local residents and to encourage local industry; to allow it to remain, expand and invest in a secure future knowing that it can move its goods in and out.
I welcome the Government's approach to the reform of local government—to make local government in London 185 more democratic and to give my electors a chance to have a greater say in how local government is organised. Although I welcome it, I urge the Government to bring all powers down to the lowest possible level — the boroughs. I hope that when the Government introduce the legislation they will avoid giving power to those sombre towers that dominate London — the Departments of Transport and the Environment in Marsham street. If there is a worry that my constituents share with me, it is that civil servants in the Departments of Environment and Transport, however ably they are led by my right hon. and hon. Friends, will not be in touch with what my electors want.
I hope to hear that the Government will not keep powers unnecessarily and how they intend necessary reserve powers to be used. It will be necessary for the Departments of the Environment and Transport to use reserve powers, because however much we love our neighbours, whether they are Socialist or Conservative, one London borough will at times disagree with another. They will come into conflict, and that will have to be resolved. I hope that the Government will be able to help London on that.
I am not impressed by the rumours I hear that the House might be persuaded to have a committee of London Members as a talking shop to oversee London matters. I find that idea repellent, because of what we have witnessed today. On these Benches there are two London Members. During previous Sessions of Parliament few London Members on either side have turned up for London debates. I am not convinced that regular committee meetings will have a better turnout, or that people elected to this place are necessarily those who should be talking about the local government needs of London. If I were to believe that, I should contradict myself. I have spent some minutes in trying to persuade Opposition Members that we want more local democracy. To institute discussions in the House would be contrary to that.
I certainly do not believe that I have a mandate from June 1983 to talk about local government issues here in terms of day-to-day organisation. Grand principles such as those proposed in legislation to outlaw the GLC and the metropolitan counties are, of course, quite right for this place. The detail, however, is not. [Interruption.] Lest I be misunderstood, I should make it clear that I welcome the reform of local government in London and I am a firm believer in the abolition of the GLC. Nevertheless, I believe that the Government should tread very carefully in handling the detail. I do not believe that there should be another elected authority for London. I entirely reject that, but the idea of another bottleneck of discussion without power in the shape of a committee in this place would also be a great mistake.
§ Mr. Jim Callaghan (Heywood and Middleton)
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak on the Queen's Speech. I wish to deal with the section which states:Legislation will be introduced for the better protection of food and the environment.I welcome any legislation for the better protection of the environment.
Some years ago I was canvassing with a friend, Frank Aveyard in the Moss Side by-election campaign caused by the death of my great personal friend Frank Hatton, whose loss was shared by the whole House. When we knocked at a ground floor flat a young mother with a child came 186 to the door. Having listened to our entreaties on behalf of our candidate she asked why she should vote for any politician—no doubt this experience is familiar to many hon. Members—and asked us to tell her of one thing that politicians had done for her. My reply was rather unusual. I asked whether she could tell me the correct time. She glanced over my shoulder at the clock on the tower of the Refuge insurance building in Manchester's Oxford street, a considerable distance from her home, and told me the time. She was naturally rather puzzled by my question. I explained to her, "That, madam, is what we politicians have done for you. Years ago you could not possibly have seen that clock from this distance."
I was able to say that because the Clean Air Act 1956 had been brought in, with the support of Members on both sides of the House. I told her that I well remembered the shroud of death that used to descend at the beginning of November, not just on Manchester but on every industrial city in Great Britain. Indeed, it killed many senior members of the population, including my own grandparents who, I believe, went to an early death due to the desperate attempts needed to breathe the foul smog —a mixture of smoke and fog—which descended on the area.
The Clean Air Act completely abolished the smog, enabling the lady whom I canvassed to see what we politicians had done for the community. I welcomed that Act, unaware that industrialists would be allowed to get away with practices not permitted for the average domestic fuel user. As stopping sulphur dioxide emissions would be very expensive for industry, they found a way round the problem by building tall chimneys. In my constituency there is a famous chimney known as the Schwabes chimney and I remember hearing as a boy the proud boast of Middletonians, which I could never understand, that we had the tallest chimney in Europe. That chimney was dwarfed by those built after the passing of the Clean Air Act. The policy was to tell industrialists to build tall chimneys and get rid of the sulphur dioxide into the higher atmosphere. I did not realise then that, in effect, we were simply exporting our dreadful smog to other countries.
On 30 July 1984 this year the Select Committee on the Environment produced its fourth report, dealing with acid rain. An Opposition Front Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), invited me to accompany him and a delegation of Members from both sides of the House to visit Scandinavia to see the problems caused by acid rain—which, in my view, is one of the major hazards facing the industrialised world today. Enough is now known, however, to justify the development and application of technology to remove the causes of the effects now so abundantly apparent in Europe and America. The term "acid rain" was first used in 1872 to describe the atmospheric chemical process whereby sulphur dioxide emitted when coal is burnt falls as sulphuric acid in rain. Today it is used to describe the acid deposition caused by a number of pollutants emitted when fossil fuels are burnt.
The United Kingdom, unfortunately, is the largest producer of acid rain in western Europe. Although the CEGB is the main burner of fossil fuels in this country it has made virtually no reduction in its emissions of SO2, the chemical formula by which acid rain is known. The tall stacks policy has lessened deposition close to power stations, causing the pollutants to be transported over great distances and increasing deposition in areas as remote as 187 Norway and Sweden. Indeed, Great Britain is the principal foreign depositor of SO2 in Scandinavia and by 1990 the United Kingdom will be the biggest single polluter of Swedish forests and lakes. Already we deposit 50 per cent. more pollutants in Norway than does any other country. The Government have the opportunity to reverse that state of affairs by implementing the EEC draft directive to reduce SO2, emissions by 60 per cent. between 1980 and 1995, but will they do so?
During our visit to Norway and Sweden we considered the damage to freshwater life. In doing so we considered the research undertaken in Scandinavia. We found that the clearer the lake, the more poison it contained. Some were crystal-clear because they contained no fish or fauna whatever. The Norwegian state pollution authority told us that in an area of 13,000 sq kms covering four counties of southern Norway all the lakes were practically devoid of fish and in an additional area of 20,000 sq kms, which is 7,720 square miles, fish stocks were reduced. A separate survey showed that of 2,840 lakes 1,711 had lost their fish and in 941 fish stocks were declining. Losses were heaviest for brown trout. The Tovdal river, once a major salmon river, had not had a fish in it for 10 years. In southern Sweden, out of a total of 20,000 lakes, more than 18,000 had been acidified, 4,000 of them seriously enough to damage aquatic life.
Damage to forests was observed as early as the 1970s and a survey in 1982 showed, for instance, that 8 per cent. of the total forest area of West Germany was affected. A survey in 1983 showed that the proportion had increased to 34 per cent. and it was estimated that the figure for 1984 would be more than 50 per cent. Apart from the extent of the damage, one of the most disturbing features of acid rain damage is the suddenness with which it occurs and increases. Forest damage in Scandinavia and Europe is extensive, accelerating, and of immense economic significance.
Acid rain affects aquatic freshwater life, plants, trees, human health and historic buildings. Acid rainwater dissolves stonework. During the past 10 years £5 million have been spent on the restoration of the stonework of Westminster abbey. On the south face 44 flying buttresses, built only nine years ago, now require replacement because of SO2, attack. Similar problems have been observed on the Palace of Westminster. Despite the 1956 Act, SO2 levels in Westminster remain high and cause surface powdering, blistering and spalling.
Each year £1.5 million is spent on Cologne cathedral in West Germany to replace damaged stone. They are replacing a medieval monument with a copy. The renovation of stonework of historic buildings in West Germany costs about £80 million a year. Official sources put the total cost of stone repair at more than £1,000 million a year.
Despite all the evidence from European countries, there appears to be little anxiety in the United Kingdom about the effect of acid rain on fish, plants, trees and buildings. Why is that so? A reporter for the popular press said:When acid rain burns babies, then it's news. Otherwise don't bother us.Those words reveal the attitude of one section of the popular press to acid rain, and partially explain the difference of perception of the phenomenon between the United Kingdom and the continent.
188 Widespread anxiety about acid rain deposition has not yet found significant expression in the United Kingdom. The reason for that is probably complex, and may include our geographical position and the funding and organisation of our scientific research. However, we should be worried about our emission of SO2, because the United Kingdom is the largest emitter of SO2, in the whole of Western Europe. We emit 5,120,000 tonnes a year. Italy emits 4,400,000 a year, West Germany emits 3,620,000 a year and France emits 3,600,000 a year. Between 1980 and 1990 United Kingdom emissions are projected to fall by only 5 per cent. In West Germany they are projected to fall by 60 per cent. by 1988. In many other countries they are projected to fall by 30 per cent. by 1985.
We export 70 per cent. of our emissions. Half of it falls on the sea and 20 per cent. is deposited in other countries, principally in Scandinavia. Therefore, we are the worst polluter in Western Europe.
Technology exists to achieve SO2 emission reductions of 90 per cent. or more. There is a considerable market in Europe for emission control technology. The Select Committee's report recommends further encouragement for the development of British technology through the national Coal Board and the Central Electricity Generating Board, and grants towards development costs from the Department of Trade and Industry. I welcome that. It also stated that the quickest way to reduce SO2 emissions is by retrofitting power stations. Although the technology is costly and difficult, it is available, and we saw it in Norway. The report recommends that the United Kingdom should join those European countries that have agreed to cut emissions by 30 per cent. immediately.
I strongly recommend that the Government also make a long-term commitment to further air pollution research to produce a more fundamental strategy based on energy conservation. The solution to the problem is needed urgently. We must not procrastinate.
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
I shall speak on that part of the Gracious Speech which deals with local authorities and Government. Local authorities are in the business of providing services which they are under a statutory duty to provide. The Goverment should be in the business of reducing those duties of local authorities, not increasing them. Local authorities are under obligation to provide those services economically and to provide value for money. They are not in the business of promoting their own mini macro-economic schemes, of grant-aiding ever minority interest group that they can find, nor of running advertising campaigns. They are in the business of providing efficient, cost-effective, local services, which they have a statutory duty to provide for those whom they serve.
Local authorities should examine those areas of their operations to find where they can obtain the best and cheapest service form the private sector. Those areas include refuse collection, street cleaning, garden and parks maintenance, social service laundry maintenance, vehicle maintenance and housing maintenance. They should invite tenders for the performance of those services and accept the lowest tender submitted. Local authorities must provide value for money and must not behave like municipal Prussians. They must not be insensitive to local views and demands or run vast bureaucracies whose vested interest is self-expansion.
189 Local authorities play an increasingly important role in employment and the level of unemployment. It must be appreciated that high rates affect jobs. I find increasingly extraordinary the statements of leaders of Labour councils that high rates do not affect jobs and have little or no effect on employment.
My constituency is serviced by Humberside county council. In one year it increased the rates by 61 per cent. and imposed a supplementary rate. It moved from being one of the lowest rated to one of the highest rated authorities, and increased its establishment from 36,000 to 40,000 people. The Labour leader of that authority wrote to me saying that there was no demonstrable evidence that high rate policies had effects on unemployment or employment.
As a result of this Government's policies there will be no more supplementary rates, and no more 61 per cent. rate increases. The ratepayers of Humberside have been saved from that sort of lunacy. Meanwhile the rates on a small house in Scunthorpe exceed those paid in some London boroughs — admittedly Tory-controlled boroughs. High rates prevent investment, drive firms away, and put firms out of business. That adds up to fewer jobs and more unemployment. I had the privilege to serve on Wandsworth borough council. It has the lowest rates in inner London and, consequently, one of the lowest rates of unemployment.
On the subject of rates, will the Secretary of State tell the House what he proposes to do about water rates? Those who live in the Anglian region have the misfortune to pay the highest water rates in the country. A widow who lives alone, pays the same rate as is paid on a house full of people who are earning, when the properties are similar. Is it not possible to introduce a rate rebate in respect of water rates? Can we introduce legislation to cap water rates and to make water authorities answerable to public demand?
My constituency has three enterprise zones, development area status and access to European money, and we have the prospect of increasing employment if we exploit those resources carefully. But with unemployment of more than 21 per cent. it is essential that the constituency retains its development area status or, preferably, when the regional map is redrawn, is given special development area status.
While I have the opportunity, may I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the important role that the Trent wharves play in my constituency? Compared with 10 years ago, when little use was made of the wharves, the private sector is increasingly using them. In that way the private sector can get round the inefficient port of Hull, where union intransigence, the national dock labour scheme and sheer bloody-mindedness have seen the slow death of a once great port.
We now have about 10 wharves on the Trent handling several million tonnes of produce a year. There is the prospect of doubling the amount of wharves by using the agricultural land abutting the river Trent. That would create several hundred more jobs and provide the customer with what he wants, which is speed, efficiency and a cost-effective means of getting his goods in and out of the country. Any mention of this causes the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to threaten a public inquiry, because grade 1 agricultural land will be affected. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that and to advise 190 Glandford borough council as to how the proper development of the Trent wharves can be encouraged. They are a national resource that should be available to the country. I remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, in its draft structure plan, Humberside county council has dismissed the proposal, which means that there is the danger that we shall be cut off from any European regional development fund money to develop the port infrastructure.
I welcome the proposals to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan authorities, but I want to know why the Secretary of State has victimised my constituency. Why has he not introduced proposals to abolish Humberside and Avon county councils? Those estuarial authorities, created in 1974, remain unpopular and have not been a success, and it is about time that their futures were reviewed. My constituency is run by Hull county councillors, who do not have the interests of south Humberside at heart. My side of the county has been starved of investment. The council is too big, too remote and inefficient. The people of Lincolnshire want Lincolnshire brought back, and the people of Yorkshire want the re-establishment of the East Riding of Yorkshire. If we could only get the names back, it would be something, but it is about time that Aeon and Humberside councils were abolished.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islinton, South and Finsbury)
I must take up remarks made by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) and by the Secretary of State for the Environment, both of whom should have known better. They referred to organisations in my constituency that deal with the police, but they have clearly confused two completely separate organisations. The first organisation referred to was Islington council's police committee, which is an admirable body on which I serve as a co-opted member, and which has done much good work during the past two and a half years, especially on crime on council estates and the problems of heroin addiction among young people.
The second organisation, which was mentioned in a chance remark by the Secretary of State, is a police monitoring organisation that offers assistance to people who have complaints about their treatment by the police. In recent days, that organisation has attracted some bad publicity over the actions of one employee. Nothing has yet been proved, and until proved guilty, an individual must be regarded as innocent. However, questions have been raised, rightly and properly, and a thorough investigation is under way. I hope that the Secretary of State will think more carefully before he makes such a chance and snide remark again.
There was not a single word in the Queen's Speech, or in the speech of the Secretary of State, about housing. One would have thought that the omission of such a central and crucial area of Government policy meant that the Government were completely satisfied with housing conditions. They seem to believe that the miserable measures that they introduced last year—the Housing and Building Control Act and the Housing Defects Act —are sufficient to answer all the housing problems of the country and especially of my constituency. Of course that is not the case.
One would have thought from the Governrnent's silence on housing that there was no housing crisis. One would have thought that no people came week after week 191 to my constituency surgery with desperate housing problems that only a major programme of investment in housing can begin to solve. One would have thought that the family I visited last week in their flat did not exist. They have four children of different sexes, whose ages range between seven and 20, who sleep in one bedroom. The family is cooped up in that over-crowded and cramped flat and cannot move simply because no accommodation of the right size is available. One would have thought from the Government's silence about housing, and especially bad and inadequate housing, that those people's needs did not exist.
Neither the Queen's Speech nor the Secretary of State's speech said anything about the scandalous lack of proper investment in housing construction over which the Government have presided. There was no mention of the projected £600 million cut in housing investment programme allocations which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is widely reported as being about to announce. There was no mention of the further tinkering with the rules about the way in which local authorities can use their capital receipts, which it is widely reported will be uppermost in the Chancellor's mind when he reaches for his axe on public spending during the next few weeks.
The speeches said nothing about the impact of rate-capping measures on the ability of local authorities properly to maintain and repair their housing stocks, which are too often inadequately maintained and in desperate need of attention. The speeches said nothing about the way in which the Government have manipulated the subsidy system for public housing so that local authority housing revenue accounts are now in surplus, with tenants paying enormously high rents to subsidise the ratepayers of those areas. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet), who claims with surprising pride to have been a member of Wandsworth borough council, should consider the rents that tenants in Wandsworth must pay and the inadequate services that they receive in return. He should perhaps think about their needs as well as those of others whom the Wandsworth council claims to serve.
None of the major housing problems which face people in my constituency were mentioned in the Queen's Speech or in any of the Government speeches. However, one measure is reported in the Queen's Speech which will affect housing in my constituency — the proposal to abolish the GLC. There are many reasons why I passionately oppose the Government's intentions in this respect, but I wish to dwell on the specific area of housing and the GLC's remaining housing responsibilities which will be dismembered if it goes.
One must also remember that, through using their Back Benchers to table amendments to the Greater London Council (Money) Bill, the Government have already profoundly affected much of the capital housing work scheduled by the GLC around London and in my constituency. Just a week ago at a tenants' meeting, I was asked what had happened to the environmental improvement work on an estate which was supposed to begin this year. The answer was that that work which had been arrived at in concert with the tenants — and to which they are still looking forward — fell with the changes to that Bill which were introduced by Conservative Members.
192 If the GLC goes, many other problems will come in train. I want to ask five specific questions, which I know the Secretary of State for Transport will be unable to answer. He is even unable to answer questions on transport, but these questions on housing will pose an even greater problem for him. I therefore ask him to pass them on to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and I hope that I shall receive answers.
How will access to the seaside and country homes which the GLC at present owns outside London be guaranteed for Londoners after the GLC goes? Many elderly people in my constituency and elsewhere in London will be deprived of a real opportunity if no guarantees are given about access to that available accommodation.
Secondly, what will happen to the housing investment programme allocation which is at present made available to the GLC from the Government and used for the transferred ex-GLC housing stock in the various boroughs? Will the borough allocations be increased accordingly if the GLC goes?
Thirdly, what role will be played by the borough councils or anyone after the disappearance of the GLC to meet the needs of the single homeless in London, when only the GLC and a handful of borough councils are at present tackling the real problems that exist? At present, the GLC spends more money in London than the Government do in the country as a whole in the funding of hostels for single homeless people and the running expenses of providing that desperately needed accommodation. What will happen to that accommodation and the needs of those people when the GLC goes?
Fourthly, what will happen to the housing research role, as well as to housing needs and conditions in London, when the GLC goes?
Fifthly, what will happen to the need for strategic planning of housing resources in London as a whole? That highlights as a microcosm the whole problem of the abolition of a cross-London authority which at present can look at things on a London-wide basis. If all the powers and decision-making functions of the GLC are transferred downwards to the boroughs or outwards to quangos or joint boards, no elected authority will be carrying out any strategic planning work for the capital city.
Those five questions highlight the problems which will face the boroughs and people in housing need in London if the abolition of the GLC goes ahead. This proposal will be deeply damaging to the needs of the people of London and my constituency. It will heap greater injustice on top of the existing unfairness of the Government's housing policies. Just like housing policy as a whole, it will ignore completely the needs of the homeless, the badly housed, those who are patiently waiting for accommodation and even the needs of owner-occupiers who are suffering from problems in accommodation which they purchased and which is now proving less than ideal.
The Government's policies on housing and the abolition of the GLC completely ignore the needs of Londoners, my constituents and the people for whom the Government are supposed to be working.
§ Sir Ian Percival (Southport)
The temptation to reply to some of the spurious and tendentious propositions of Opposition Members is almost irresistible, but I have two good reasons for resisting it. One is time, and the other is 193 that I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will answer the five questions put by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) together with all the other points that have been raised.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) is not in his place. It is not that I wish to answer all his points about doom and gloom— we have differed about those often enough—but rather that I share his concern about the increase in heroin taking in that area. All of us, including the Government, have a great responsibility to do what we can to fight it, but I totally repudiate the idea that that increase is the Government's responsibility.
I welcome the delightful sentence—the shortest but most important—in the Queen's Speech, which reads:A Bill will be introduced to abolish the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils".Much has been said about the GLC, but not so much about the metropolitan county councils. As my right hon. Friend knows, we in Southport greatly welcome this commitment. We look forward greatly to the promised early return to a situation in which our district is the unit of local government for us, and we are responsible directly to our constituents, on the one hand, and to the Secretary of State, on the other. We are looking forward to getting this burden off our backs. My right hon. Friend will have the full support of my constituency, and my full support as the representative of it, in the passage of the Bill.
Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave some details of the amount of money being spent by the GLC in fighting a political battle at the expense of the ratepayer. I wish to draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the fact that the Merseyside county council is doing the same thing. I do not know how much it is spending, as I do not have the figures, but we all know that a full-page advertisement in a daily newspaper costs a lot of money. My constituents find it difficult enough to find money that the Merseyside county council is spending more or less with propriety. They consider it outrageous, and so do I, that they should now be called upon to find extra money to finance this political campaign.
I dare say that the Merseyside county council has taken legal advice and has a way of avoiding the responsibility. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to take notice of the fact that the Merseyside county council is spending money in the same way as the GLC. Will they make inquiries as to how much the council is spending and whether it is legitimate expenditure that the council can incur within the law?
With those few words, I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench the best of luck with the Bill, and I hope that we get it through very soon.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Our debate today has not been specific. I have been here for 10 years and have witnessed several debates on the Queen's Speech, and I know that they are not specific in content. However, I should appreciate some guidance as to when a party polling some 4 million votes was not given one second in such a debate, despite the fact that the hon. Member who was to be the spokesman has been here throughout the debate and would have liked a chance to argue the rural transport case, which the Secretary of State for Transport will no doubt admit has not been aired throughout today's debate. That seems a 194 tragedy, and I suspect that rural transport will affect more people than the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
I understand the hon. Gentleman's resentment, and I regret that he was not able to catch my eye. He would have been able to had some hon. Members made rather shorter speeches than they did. For hon. Members to make speeches of 20 minutes when other hon. Members are waiting to speak is not being fair, and I hope that hon. Members will bear it in mind, but I have to take many factors into account when deciding which hon. Members I shall call.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I recognise your difficulty, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but can you confirm that the Labour party was given 30 minutes to open the debate and will have 30 minutes to close it, whereas the alliance opposition's contribution to the debate has been 13 minutes?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I cannot enter into such a dialogue with any hon. Member. The facts will be obvious both from what the Doorkeeper records and from what will be printed in the Official Report tomorrow morning.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
When the present Government were in opposition, before 1979, they specialised in producing a particular kind of fiction, which was called, in general terms, "a number of transport reports". The Secretary of State for Transport was involved in many of the discussions that took place then, not necessarily on transport, but on attempts to turn the clock back in legislation on practically every subject.
It is important to note, in a Queen's Speech that has two major innovations on transport, that it is the Secretary of State for Transport who believes most fervently that we should privatise public transport. I agree that the Secretary of State understands public transport. I do not accept the theory that he believes that public transport is something that brings the gardeners to the door of the estate. I know that he knows that it is something of importance to every one of us.
However, many of the Secretary of State's views have a slightly Marie Antoinette aspect. For example, he appears to be saying, through the Queen's Speech that even if there are no buses, one can always take a taxi. The changes that he is proposing have one thing in common with many of the Bills that he has already brought before the House as Secretary of State for Transport. That is that this massive change to do with deregulation of public transport, the creation of a cowboys' charter, the wrecking of the National Bus Company, are all based on a report that was put together by the Adam Smith Institute. The main contributor to that report was a man whose private bus company went bankrupt. That sums up the Government's entire attitude towards public transport.
First, we have a White Paper on buses. Secondly, we are told that legislation will be brought in based entirely on trial areas. Therefore, it is important that we should look at the whole programme of trial areas and try to understand how it is that the Government can possibly have come to the conclusion, after five years of chipping away at the foundations of public transport, that this will be the year of the great give-away. In effect, the Secretary 195 of State is going to hand over control of public transport to anybody who thinks that they can run it on the basis of making a quick buck here and there.
The main experimental evidence for the White Paper plans was based, after the Transport Act 1980, on 10 local authorities which were to consider the idea of new trial means of transport. Only three authorities — Devon, Hereford and Norfolk — set up schemes. Hereford decided to scrap all subsidies and then no company tendered for any of the 53 rural routes and only four operators came forward, one of which had its licence revoked. A second company had its licence limited before it was renewed.
In Norfolk, the subsidies were kept but there was little change. The Transport Road Research laboratory — a Government laboratory—said:it is clear that the changes are due to financial restriction and not to deregulation.The Eastern Counties bus company, which is part of the National Bus Company and still the major provider of bus transport in Norfolk, put up its fares 10 per cent. and cut its services.
The third area to run a trial was Devon. Of that experiment, the White Paper says:results of this exercise were disappointing, with substantial reductions in services not leading to the anticipated savings in revenue support.In other words, of the three experimental areas, which were being used as an excuse for a major change, not one could produce evidence of the benefits to anybody that we are told will follow from this massive change.
The Federation of Public Passenger Transport Employers said that the Hereford price cuts would produce instability in transport because they ignored the need for cash to buy new buses and to replace existing stock. It suggests that the reality of the economics is that there will need to be a 25 per cent. increase in fares if the company is to remain viable.
We should look at some other aspects of those experiments, because they are instructive. Hereford showed the dangers of what happens when private enterprise comes in looking not for the public service element but for a way of making easy money.
When the Flashes company lost its licence, 47 maintenance defects were discovered in its existing transport. Twenty-seven of those defects were immediate, which means that they could have had an effect upon any one of the buses at any moment — buses that are carrying members of the public.
The Traffic Commissioners — the arbiters of those decisions—will now be merged with the road haulage licensors. On 12 July, the Minister of State told Transport 2000 at a press conference that there would not be any extra financial problems because the manpower involved would be less than it is at present.
We should understand the effect of the end of road licensing. In the Transport Act 1980, coaches on journeys over 30 miles were freed from regulations. The National Bus Company miles came down from 543 million to 274 million between 1980 and 1982.
The new scheme extends those 1980 requirements to give a licence to anyone who wants one as long as it is not against the public interest. But there are very grave doubts about whether that definition will be adhered to. It is highly likely that there will not be adequate restrictions on 196 the driver's hours. We have already been told that there could be a fiftyfold increase in the number of operators. However, that may be an initial reaction and there is no evidence whatever that that number of companies will remain viable in the long run.
It is certain that, if there are to be fewer people monitoring the safety records, it will be very difficult to enforce safety standards. More important, competition in profitable areas means that the viability of a company can be undercut by having to compete on routes on which it would normally expect to make money. Inevitably all the companies will go for those routes that are already popular and other areas such as rural transport will be affected disastrously.
The Government seem to believe that there is, in some odd way, a political reason for doing away with cross-subsidisation. Anyone who has anything to do with transport knows very well that not only bus operators but other transport authorities rely heavily on the cross-subsidisation between one service and another in order to balance their books. The Government do not accept that. They oppose cross-subsidy from one route to another, but they never discuss, in any sense, the cross-subsidy that takes place between one type of fare and another. What about the cross-subsidisation between child and adult fares, weekend and weekday fares or between the fares for those who travel in the rush hour and those who travel during off-peak hours?
Are we to believe that those who want to travel on less popular services at more difficult hours, or those who are schoolchildren will not in future be entitled to any form of adequate bus service? Deregulation would allow an operator to run buses just in the rush hour. Even in the experimental areas we saw the result of that — great competition on particular routes but hardly any attempt to provide services in rural areas.
It is ironic that the Government, who for many years have pretended to represent the rural communities, should now make a consistent and concerted attack upon the services in those areas. A large part of my constituency relies heavily on rural buses and those who live in the villages will now find themselves deprived of even their present fairly inadequate service. The Crossville bus company has estimated that at present it has 900 vehicles, but if this Bill is enacted, that number will fall to 300. The effect on the villages in rural Cheshire will be dramatic. Yet there is no attempt to discuss the implications, or even the wishes of the people in those areas.
I must tell the Secretary of State that it is not just Labour party councillors who are concerned about the provision of rural transport, but also the National Federation of Women's Institutes, parish councillors and many of the elected representatives who are themselves members of the Conservative party. They have made it plain that they think that the scheme is incredibly crazy and that they would not wish to see it enacted in any circumstances.
Certain authorities have proved that the way to make transport services effective is to run them as fully integrated services. The Tyne and Wear metro service works efficiently because it links buses with a metro. This year the Select Committee on Transport concluded—
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It might be helpful, Sir, if you took this opportunity to reiterate what Mr. Deputy Speaker said 197 just before you resumed the Chair — that, if hon. Members would limit their speeches to a reasonable length, many more hon. Members could be called.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) limited his remarks to 13 minutes. If the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) took the same time, other hon. Members could be called to speak before the debate ends.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman, who is a Whip, will understand that a limit has never been put on Front-Bench speeches.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The debate started nearly an hour late because of spurious points of order. Those of us who care about rural transport find such childish behaviour demonstrative of the level of politics in which the alliance indulges.
What do the Government intend to do about concessionary fares? Many elderly people can travel away from home only because they have concessionary bus passes. The different schemes operated by the various councils are already causing difficulty.
There is a ritual mention in the Queen's Speech of some concessionary fare system for the elderly and disabled, but no thought has been given to how it will be financed. Handing tokens to elderly people to be used on any bus that comes along is unreasonable. Concessionary fares already cause difficulties between authorities because of the different fares charged. There is no evidence that the Government have thought about the scheme so that private operators can provide suitable transport for the elderly.
The sufferers will be not only the disabled and those most in need of contact with shops and social facilities, but those who need transport to take their children to school and the schoolchildren themselves. London Regional Transport has already secretly decided to raise children's fares by 50 per cent. If that is repeated throughout the country, those most in need will be penalised under an unworkable scheme.
The rural areas will be so badly hit that the Government have decided that they must make a gesture in their direction. They suggest a donation of £1 million for special work. The National Federation of Women's Institutes, not known for its Socialist views, said that this represented no more than 100 minibuses. Those buses would have to provide across the country the level of transport now provided by a nationalised industry.
The second idea is that a subsidy of £20 million should be given during the first transitional year and that this should be reduced to £15 million in the second year, £10 million in the third, £5 million in the fourth and then be phased out. There is no hard and fast evidence that even such sums would compensate for the changes that the bus companies will have to accept under the new legislation.
The selling off of the National Bus Company is not only a devastating change for those who use public transport; it has never been argued, and it has no logic. The Transport Act 1982 made attempts to undermine the National Bus Company, but it failed. The operating profits of the company are now £47 million. In response, the Government have decided to break up the National Bus Company. Having broken it up, they intend to sell off the constituent parts. The stockbrokers Grieveson Grant and Co. have said that this would produce the least cash for the Government of all their give-away schemes. As usual, 198 they will flog off any national asset that they find, but in this instance they will not even receive a suitable sum in return.
Cross-subsidisation will disappear and services which are unprofitable but which are needed by many, will go when the National Bus Company is broken up. There is no reason for the change proposed. The NBC is not a burden on the Government. It receives 14 per cent. of relevent subsidies but it runs 39 per cent. of the country's buses. The return on capital invested is 17 per cent.— one that many Conservative business men would be happy to have. The NBC received £140 million in subsidy but £38 million of that was for concessionary fares. We have already been told by the Government that the subsidy for concessionary fares will not be cut. If we subtract the £57 million of historic debts, we find that £45 million is left.
There is no logic in destroying an efficient and useful service for sheer and unimaginative dogma. The NBC's productivity increased per employee from 11,600 miles per employee in 1982 to 11,900 in 1983. However, none of these facts concerns the Government. Their attitude is that, if a nationalised company works, is efficient and provides a service, it is their task to destroy it.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
Will the hon. Lady comment on the statement by Lord Shepherd, the chairman of the National Bus Company, on cross-subsidisation? He said in the NBC's most recent report:In many areas cross-subsidy is being taken to the point where the benefits obtained in meeting certain social objectives have been outweighed by the long-term damage being inflicted on the future performance of routes now suffering from overpricing and going into premature decline.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
That does not destroy the case for cross-subsidisation. The hon. Gentleman will rapidly find in his constituency that those who do not live on the most populated routes will explain the theory of cross-subsidisation to him in considerable detail once the proposed legislation is implemented.
The district councils will be very much affected by the proposed change in the law. They will be forced to turn their bus operations into private companies. Having done so, they will probably be sold off as independent parts. If not, the councils will still have to tender for any non-profitable routes. The metropolitan counties will first form passenger transport authorities, which will replace the present passenger transport executives, and then they will have to make plans to break up the companies that they have created. That will be incredibly inefficient and expensive as well as unacceptable.
If the Secretary of State thinks that it is only for dogmatic reasons that we oppose the proposed changes, I remind him of some of the responses of other interested parties. The National Bus Company has stated:deregulation will increase this level of inadequacy to grotesque levels.The National Federation of Women's Organisations reports:we are disturbed that legislation to deregulate almost the entire bus industry is being based on three small experiments.It is the opinion of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that werisk wasteful competition in the profitable areas and reduced services elsewhere.What are the Government's answers to these complaints? They say, in effect, "If you do not have buses you must use taxis." They intend to increase the number 199 taxis plying for hire and they will allow separate fares to be charged for carrying more than one passenger. In case anyone imagines that that will meet with the approval of taxi drivers, I quote what was said by John Oswell, secretary of the National Federation of Taxicab Associations. He said:This will be a disaster for the taxi trade. The Government will propose provisions to relax progressively restrictions on the numbers of taxis which operate in some areas".The economics of the proposal is so bizarre that cabs which cost 95p per mile to run will replace buses which cost 16p per mile. We have to remember that 75 per cent. of the people cannot afford to travel by taxi, and with a growing number of unemployed it is clear that yet again we are faced with a bizarre suggestion.
Unfortunately, the proposed changes will not only affect the bus industry. On 16 October the Government announced that the TSG would no longer be available. The suggestion is that, somehow or other, in future the cash will come from local authorities' rate support grants.
Throughout the debate we have heard of the impossibility of local authorities being able to maintain their existing levels of services, whether in housing, social services or education. Yet now we are told that there is no need to worry, that we can do away with the transport subsidy, and that in future the money will come from the rate support grant. What utter, stinking hypocrisy. With rate capping there will be no possibility whatever of local authorities replacing the money—
§ Mr. Speaker
"Stinking" is not an unparliamentary word, if that is what the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) was about to say.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
It may not be unparliamentary but, by goodness, it goes home. The Government intend to rate-cap authorities to such an extent that there will be no question of the revenue being made up to provide the bus and rail services—and the effect will be immediate.
In 1983, British Rail received £80 million from the TSG in the metropolitan areas. That is 10 per cent. of the money that British Rail needs to run its services. In Manchester, it is now expected that as a result there will be a cut of 25 per cent. in rail services. Those who live in the greater Manchester area will feel the immediate effect. It will be yet another nail in the economics of British Rail.
By contrast, we know what the Labour party can do when it is given the opportunity to provide the services needed by the general public. London Transport officers calculated that an extra £10 million subsidy in 1985–86 would produce £12.5 million benefits in fares. When the fares on the underground were reduced by 25 percent., the use of the services increased very considerably. In addition there were 3,000 fewer accidents than in a normal year, and there was an 8 per cent. fall in the use of cars.
It is extraordinary that a party which cares so much about road transport never makes public the fact that if the underground services and the bus services are running efficiently, it is far easier for drivers to find room on the roads to use their vehicles.
Tyne and Wear produced a 63.7 million increase in passenger journeys. It demonstrates that the public want efficient transport and will use it when it is at very low rates. Increasingly they have shown their response to 200 an imaginative fares policy. South Yorkshire put another 3 million passengers on to its buses by using a low fare structure.
The cuts in the metropolitan county grants will have a direct effect. Tyne and Wear reports that the recent changes will mean a 25 to 30 per cent. cut in the next three years. There will be a cut of 25 per cent. of 99 million passenger boardings over the network. Redundancy pay for the staff who lose their jobs will amount to £8 million. All those effects come from a desire to cut subsidies from £29.5 million to £15.8 million.
Let the Government tell us tonight what they intend to do about concessionary fares. Let us hear from them how they genuinely think this hotchpotch of nonsense can protect the elderly, the young or those who at present need the concessionary fare system. Above all, let them tell us how they justify an idea that will deprive the rural areas of any sort of efficient bus service, make many of the town services unviable and lead in a very short time to the decimation of a system of public transport that has been the pride of many people in this country.
American companies have come here from Dallas to look at the level of service provided in areas such as Tyne and Wear. What will the Secretary of State say to them? Will it be: "We are very sorry, the Conservative Government have at last admitted that they care little for the old or for those who do not have their own cars, and even less for the provision of an efficient public transport system."?
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)
It is my pleasant duty to congratulate the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and welcome her to her new responsibilities in transport on the Opposition Front Bench. She is an old enemy and an old friend. I am sure that we shall have many pleasant teach-ins arranged for her on transport matters.
§ Mr. Ridley
I gather that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will remain, which means that we shall have two National Union of Railwaymen-sponsored Front Bench spokesmen on transport. Having listened to the hon. Lady's speech, I must tell her that I wanted to go to Birmingham, and she has taken me to Crewe.
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) made an earnest and sincere speech at the opening of the debate. I noted with approval the care that he took to dissociate himself from the imprudent comments about selective illegality by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) compounded the error by suggesting that local government was put in a position in which it had to break one law or another. I do not think that we can have selective illegality. I say to the hon. Member for Bootle that many councils have succeeded, in equally difficult circumstances, in living within their means. There is no cause for overspending to maintain the law.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland on being firm enough at least to go that far with his colleagues. I am also pleased that he was able to welcome the inquiry that the Government propose to hold into the current 201 practices and procedures of local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will shortly consult him and representatives of the alliance on the way in which that inquiry will proceed. However, the House will not expect me to agree with the remainder of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. For example, with regard to the abolition Bill, he sought to cast doubt on the savings that will be made with the dissappearance of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House this afternoon that the savings from elimination of duplication alone will be substantial, but his more detailed estimate will be available when the Bill is published.
I should like to underline what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) said, that the savings from political spending alone will be pretty considerable. I shall quote two figures for savings that will be made in transport. This year, the GLC is giving £122,000 to an organisation called Transport for an Improved City and £235,480 to an organisation called Capital. These organisations indulge in scaremongering to try to deceive Londoners about the Government's intentions on transport. Saving such expenditure will be a bonus.
It is also odd that the Opposition should place so much stress on the need for an inquiry into our policy of abolition. When the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was Opposition spokesman on the environment, speaking at the 1983 local government conference he said—as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) has reminded us:We shall therefore legislate to create unitary district authorities which will be responsible for all of the functions in their area that they can sensibly undertake".My hon. Friend did not complete the quotation. The right hon. Gentleman continued:We shall set up no more inquiries. We shall legislate".How can it be right for the Labour party to say that it will make its local government reforms without further inquiries, but to insist that the Government should have an inquiry? My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport and my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and for Surbiton, as well as others of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches, feel that the time has come to proceed with the Bill. They feel that we should not waste any more time.
The hon. Member for Copeland referred to the GLC proposal for a lorry ban. As I have said, that is a decision of a quite different order. It is an administrative decision. Many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn), are strongly opposed to it. However, it is not an issue on which the House will be asked to legislate; it is an administrative decision in which the House will have no say. It must be right that in decisions not to be taken by the House there should be public inquiry procedures. I have repeatedly told the GLC that a public inquiry will provide a well-established democratic way of subjecting such a major proposal to impartial assessment by an independent inspector. If the Government can hold proper public inquiries for road schemes, why should not the GLC do so on a proposal of such importance? When I challenged the hon. Member for Copeland, he said that the Opposition are all in favour of holding public inquiries on matters such as that. Will he now write to the GLC and say that, as spokesman for the 202 Labour party, he believes that there should be a public inquiry so that all the facts and figures may be properly considered and the costs and benefits properly analysed?
Finally, we have heard, yet again, complaints about increased centralisation and the breakdown of the relationship between central Government and local government as a result of rate limitation. May I correct those assertions? It is the consensus that has broken down —the convention accepted by local authorities in the past that in a unitary rather than a federal state, central Government are entitled to lay down financial guidelines within which local government operates. It was because certain extravagant and high-spending authorities had flouted that convention that rate limitation became necessary. Within the overall expenditure levels set for rate-limited authorities, it will remain for locally elected councillors to decide on priorities within and between services. There is no question of a Whitehall takeover.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not leave the subject of local government without answering my specific question.
§ Mr. Ridley
I have the answer to the specific question of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg). The Government are actively assessing the best way forward in the difficult matter he raised, which concerns a long-established provision in planning law affecting different interests in different ways. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction is considering the matter and will be in touch with my hon. Friend.
My right hon. Friend has explained to the House why the Government consider that the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils—an unnecessary and extravagant tier of local government—will enable the services that they provide, or in some cases fail to provide, to be more economically and efficiently provided. That is particularly true of transport services. On the highways and traffic management side there is substantial duplication. The London boroughs and most of the metropolitan districts have considerable and long experience in these matters. They often resent the pettifogging interference of the upper-tier authorities. That is an area in which I, too, expect substantial manpower savings, about which the House will hear in due course
Of course there will be a need for co-operation among the boroughs and districts to ensure that their roads programmes and traffic management policies are sensibly co-ordinated. I see no reason to doubt that the type of cooperation will be the normal rule, although I shall have reserve powers to ensure that wider traffic interests are taken into account. I think that perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) gives us too much credit for honesty in that respect. I suspect that those powers will seldom, if ever, be necessary.
In the metropolitan counties we accept the need to provide a continuing mechanism for decisions on a county-wide basis—for instance, on the provision of subsidy for socially necessary but unprofitable services. That is why we shall provide for joint passenger authorities with members appointed by the constituent districts. That reverts to the previous arrangements which worked perfectly satisfactorily. Those joint boards are not quangos. They will consist of district councillors directly responsible to their own councils, and so, in turn, to the ratepayers.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Member keeps talking about concessionary fares. The arrangements whereby concessionary fares are paid at the discretion of local authorities will remain untouched. Throughout the abolition process and whatever I seek to do about bus policy, it will remain for them to do what they think is right about concessionary fares.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
In some rural areas there are a number of private entrepreneurs who run, with little or no subsidy, small networks which provide a good and efficient service. They are terrified that they are about to lose their mini-monopoly. Is there any risk that in the legislation the operators will lose the monopoly and that these small businesses that have served the community well will suddenly find themselves in enormous financial difficulties?
§ Mr. Ridley
I shall be saying a great deal about buses and I should like to answer the hon. Gentleman's question when I reach that point.
The Government have been pursuing a consistent policy of opening transport services to competition. The interests of the consumer must come first. He must have freedom of choice. Competition ensures that the consumer can choose the best services and the best prices. It also has the effect of forcing operators to provide services at keen fares. We accept competition in other areas; why not in transport?
The Labour Government made the road haulage industry fully competitive. In 1980, long-distance express bus services were deregulated. The predicted disasters did not happen. In fact, the number of long-distance coach services has increased by 50 per cent. Standards have increased and fares have gone down by an average of 40 per cent. in real terms. There has been no jeopardising of safety standards.
The Government have also set about providing competition in air services wherever competition can be fair and Britain's interests are not prejudiced. Hon. Members are aware of the dramatic improvement in domestic services that competition has brought about. The north Atlantic, Hong Kong and Holland are examples. When we achieved a liberal air regime with the Dutch, fares came down by one third and demand increased. It was good for all. We are determined to bring competition into all European air travel as fast as we can. Our White Paper on civil aviation is designed to ensure that we will have the maximum number of healthy competitors as we open these markets.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) spoke at length about airports policy. I do not have time to discuss airports policy today, but I suspect that the House will return to the subject on several occasions. Indeed, there will probably be plenty of opportunities in the future to discuss the air industry.
We are also moving to a more competitive environment for ports. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) referred to the Trent wharves. I assure him that the Department welcomes investment in port facilities wherever they occur and there are no controls that we seek to place on them. I noted his comments about the planning difficulties encountered by his constituents and I will relay them to my right hon. 204 Friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who seem to be most concerned. We will certainly see what we can do to help.
In shipping, we believe that we must do everything possible to maintain a fair, competitive international market. We face problems of subsidy and protectionism all over the world and our shipping industry is having an extremely difficult time. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is at this very moment addressing a dinner of the General Council of British Shipping. He has some hopeful things to say and much evidence of what the Government have done to try to help that industry.
I never understand why the Opposition cannot see, after all that I have said, the clear and obvious benefits that competition brings. The results in transport alone are quite dramatic. Yet the Opposition oppose the extension of competition every time, as we heard today from the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Crewe and Nantwich. Once more, we shall have to take the Labour party through the well-rehearsed arguments that it is the customer who matters, not the operators, and that competition is what helps the customer. One day the Opposition will realise that the reason for their ever-shrinking base of electoral support is that they have always put the unions before the customers, and they are still doing it even now.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to quote the views of Viscount Ridley on the proposed changes? Is he aware that that previous chairman of a county council said that the scheme was totally unacceptable?
§ Mr. Ridley
The extent to which the Opposition increasingly rely on the other place to save their bacon never ceases to amaze me.
Returning to the buses, in the light of the undoubted benefits that flow from competition the Government have brought in proposals for stage buses. Throughout our many and long debates on the legislation the House should remember that it is the ratepayers and passengers who will benefit from the policy, and that is the reason for it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East welcomed our policy and I am grateful for that, but he wondered why there was such a short time for consultation. There have been seven consultative documents. I will send copies of the relevant ones to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich as clearly she has not read them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East should not forget that there will also be a very long Committee stage, which is probably the best form of consultation. Moreover, a balance must be struck between consultation and uncertainty in the industry. The sooner these matters are brought into effect, the sooner benefits will flow and the better it will be.
Regarding the bus industry, first, it is a fact that revenue support for the industry was increased from £10 million in 1972 to more than £500 million in 1982. Secondly, the unit costs of the bus industry in real terms have increased by about 20 per cent. over the same period. Thirdly, the costs of the private sector are at least 30 to 40 per cent. below the costs of public sector operators. As the White Paper says:Leaving London aside, if costs were to fall by 15 per cent. —which is less than the increase since 1970 in the unit costs of public sector operators—the saving would be over £200 million a year.205 That compares with the total cost of revenue support outside London of about £350 million.
Therefore, if we can achieve those potential cost reductions, we can do with less subsidy, while providing similar levels of service and benefiting the passenger. Moreover, if we bring fares down, patronage will increase, leading to more income from the fare box, not less. Experience tells us that standards of service will also improve.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich talked about cross-subsidy. I object to cross-subsidy because it caused excessively high fares on many busy routes, as one of my hon. Friends pointed out when he quoted Lord Shepherd. That caused a loss of passengers and, therefore, a loss of income to the fare box, and further decline. This point will appeal to the hon. Lady.
Cross-subsidy is also unfair. I suspect that the direction of the flows of cross-subsidy in the bus industry are from the industrial north to the rural south. They are certainly from the city centre to the suburbs, and are probably from urban areas to rural areas. They are, therefore, from the poor to the rich. I never realised that the hon. Lady was in favour of a policy of hidden cross-subsidies from the poor to the rich. That is exactly what she seeks to defend. Perhaps she has more to learn about the bus industry than she thinks.
I wish to draw attention to the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for contracting-out local authority services. They were warmly welcomed by my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth. East and for Glanford and Scunthorpe. They are important proposals. Vehicle maintenance, refuse collection and cleaning will have to be put out to tender and the lowest offer will have to be accepted. Whether local authority buses are PTEs or municipal bus companies, local authorities will be asked to put their bus operations at arm's length and invite tenders for providing services on uneconomic routes. That is merely an extension of the principle of the direct labour organisations, which have been with us for three years.
I entirely accept the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), who said that competition between municipal operators when they are at arm's length in a public limited company, the private sector and parts of the National Bus Company must be on all fours and must be fair. Our careful working out of the timetable necessary under the forthcoming Transport Bill will be designed to get the best possible fairness in the system.
My hon. Friend asked about quality control enforcement, and I again draw his attention to the White Paper. Extra resources will be provided to ensure that quality control is stiffened in relation to vehicle safety and the mechanical condition of vehicles and in relation to the behaviour of drivers on the road to ensure that they do not do silly, dangerous or selfish things. It will be possible to remove the licence of an operator who refuses to behave sensibly on the road. Fears about safety and conduct will be assuaged by what we intend to do, and I can develop those points in Committee.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am coming to the hon. Gentleman's point. He has intervened three times to ask questions, but I knew exactly what the questions were and would have 206 answered them anyway. His questions are so obvious that they would have been answered whether or not he had been here.
In rural areas, tendering for uneconomic services will provide the same services for less money or more services for the same money. The trial area of Hereford and Worcester, which the hon. Lady got completely wrong — I advise her again to do her homework — demonstrated that that principle is true. With a roughly similar service provision, annual subsidy to the bus operators in the trial area fell by 38 per cent.; fares fell dramatically, in some cases by as much as 50 per cent.; and the standard of service was maintained. Therefore, we have the evidence of what would happen in rural areas, and the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) should note that. I have never claimed that the experience of Hereford and Worcester was applicable to municipal and metropolitan areas, but that is the evidence for rural areas. I invite hon. Members to visit Hereford and Worcester and to talk not only to the county council but to the people on the streets, who would tell them that if anyone removed their regime of bus services they would be furious.
Other advantages will come to the rural areas. Deregulation will also bring new opportunities to try new types of service, including shared taxis. Despite the disparaging remarks of the hon. Member for Crewe, more poor people and women are travelling by taxi, and they will be able to travel more cheaply if the taxis can be shared.
§ Mr. Hayward
Will my right hon. Friend lend one of the taxis to Labour Back-Bench Members, who would fit easily into one this evening? They are displaying their opposition to the Government's proposals by being represented by only three hon. Members.
§ Mr. Ridley
They would certainly qualify for an innovation grant, since their ideas are as stale and as old-fashioned as can be.
In the rural areas we shall have the benefit of competition to reduce subsidies, as happened in Hereford and Worcester. There will also be an innovation grant, and we can examine the results of shared taxis and minibuses. I also mention the £20 million transitional rural bus grant. All those factors, together with the continuing resources of county councils, in future through the GREA system rather than the transport supplementary grant system, will mean that the ability of rural areas to provide services will be enhanced. The hon. Lady did not get that point right, but she need do only a little homework to discover that that will be the case. We can forget this rubbish about decimating rural bus services, and should acknowledge the fact that the Government's proposals are designed to improve, and will succeed in improving, rural bus services.
The Government's policy is toencourage the competition which in some—though not all—industries promotes competition and holds down prices, provide the customer—again in some though not all industries—with the alternative choices which create consumer power; ensure that industrial power and commercial influence are diffused in a way which prevents the tyranny and inefficiency of either massive state ownership or the domination of unaccountable private monopolies".207 Those were the words of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), spoken on 16 October 1984—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.