HC Deb 17 July 1985 vol 83 cc421-37 10.24 pm
Lord James Douglas Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

As always, I listened with the greatest interest to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), but his support for the Labour group on Edinburgh district council was the most lukewarm that I have ever heard from a shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.

On 22 May my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State initiated action and asked Edinburgh district council to reduce its rate. He was absolutely justified to take that action to protect ratepayers. The council was given three weeks in which to comment and, as it has failed voluntarily to reduce its rate, it has become necessary to lay this report.

I remind the hon. Member for Garscadden that the precedents were laid down by Labour Governments. Section 5(b) of Labour's Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966 provides that, if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the expenditure of any local authority or joint board has been excessive and unreasonable, regard being had to the financial and other relevent circumstances of the area or areas concerned … the Secretary of State may reduce the element of the grant accordingly. The principle of the Government having predominance in local authority matters was accepted by Lord Ross of Marnock, as he now is, when he was Labour Secretary of State of Scotland. On 15 December 1975 he said: restraint on spending by local authorities in the years ahead has to be of a stringency hitherto unheard of, certainly in recent times. That is necessary in the interests both of Government and of ratepayers. We have to try to keep down the level of expenditure and the level of the rates."—[Official Report, 15 December 1975; Vol. 902, c. 1100.] Besides, local authorities owe their existence to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. In the last resort, Parliament, acting in the interests of the nation, is entitled to take the grievances of ratepayers into account.

Edinburgh's budget is 48.3 per cent. in excess of my right hon. Friend's guidelines and well above the district average of 2.7 per cent. At £114.40 per head, planned expenditure is well above the average of £62.71 for all district councils. The report will reduce the average domestic rate of £494.84 by about £39.

There is evidence of substantial overspending by Edinburgh district council. It has established a women's committee at a cost of £150,000, in the interests of the promotion of women. I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done far more, by becoming the first woman Prime Minister, to advance and promote the interests of women than has that committee.

There have been leaflets, posters, car stickers and window bills at a cost of more than £42,000, which I consider to be Labour party propaganda and unnecessary. They have been paid for, not out of Labour party funds, but by Edinburgh district council. Moreover, three advertisements by Edinburgh district council in the local Evening News cost no less than £10,000. If Edinburgh district council is so confident about its policy of improving services why does it have to spend countless sums of money propagandising the electorate and advertising all over the city?

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

The hon. Gentleman is talking about propagandising and advertising. Would he care to reveal how many millions, if not hundreds of millions, were spent on advertising and propagandising the privatisation of British Telecom by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supports?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I should like to check, but I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the funds were provided by British Telecom. The hon. Gentleman will also find that the programme has been enormously successful in giving a great many working men a stake in the industry in which they work.

Recent accounts provided by the finance department show that Edinburgh district council intends to spend £52,000 on policy promotion.

I should like to give another example. Banners are flying outside the city chambers, the Usher hall, the Assembly rooms, the Meadowbank stadium and elsewhere which cost more than £6,000. The flaunting of the red flag over the city chambers was unimportant in itself, but it was symbolic of something much deeper.

Mr. Hirst

Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the actions of the Edinburgh district council were taken in the face of advice by the chief executive, and that Edinburgh district council had no interest in setting a reasonable budget but was determined to have a head-on confrontation with the Government?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The officials of the Edinburgh district council are very worried that their salaries may not be paid. If this kind of activity continues indefinitely. It was noticeable that the hon. Member for Garscadden did not support to the hilt the Labour party on Edinburgh district council, because he knows that it is grossly overspending.

I shall give another example of unwise spending namely, that of £10,000 having been spent on T-shirts. Most of my constituents who buy T-shirts do not think automatically of Edinburgh district council as the best source for their production. Furthermore, the 5,000 T-shirts which have been produced were to be sold for £2 each. but rumour has it hat they are not sufficiently popular and that some will have to be sold for £1.50.

Another example is the expenditure of £35,000 during the miners' strike, including £2,000 for a city arts centre exhibition. This sum had, I understand, been set aside for the families of miners. Whether or not it should have been spent for this purpose has been the subject of substantial political debate. I want to raise only one point, which was mentioned in The Scotsman on 19 November 1984 in an article on Bilston Glen: many men make accusations about money and food parcels reaching only pickets, not the majority of strikers.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. We cannot have two hon. Members on their feet at the same time.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The allegation which I have quoted comes from The Scotsman in an article about Bilston Glen. I want to make absolutely clear what its source is, and I repeat the allegations made in the article: many men make accusations about money and food parcels reaching only pickets, not the majority of strikers. If the £35,000 did not reach the miners' families, but went only to pickets, there would be grounds for very substantial complaint by the ratepayers. If money was voted for the families of miners and then was given merely to pickets, it would be entirely unjustified.

Mr. Tom Clarke


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I shall give one reason before I give way to the hon. Gentleman. Picketing … became a means of coercion, a substitute, an alternative for winning minds. The moral ascendency, by which I mean that overwhelming sense of decency and fair play, which should characterise all struggles of the workers, was abandoned right from the start. Those are not my words, but those of a distinguished socialist, Mr. Jimmy Reid.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the hon Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) met the district council at Strathkelvin and sympathised with it, because, he said, the districts were dealt with more harshly than the regions?

Did the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) meet Edinburgh district council to hear its views on these matters? Is he willing to emulate his hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Beardsden and promise to fight for Edinburgh district council and against deprivation in Edinburgh?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have met members of the Edinburgh district council and have corresponded with them. The circumstances of Strathkelvin and Edinburgh district councils are entirely different. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) that there is a case for fundamental reform of the rating system.

Questions have been raised by my constituents about whether the £35,000 reached those for whom it was intended. I am entitled to ask what accounts were kept, which families received money and what receipts there were. Those facts have never been put before the electorate of Edinburgh. It is in the public interest that the electors should know.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Will my hon. Friend accept that the corruption by the district council in this matter goes further? It was not even representing the interests of its own electors. The vast majority of miners in the council's areas were working during the strike. The council was supporting a minority of the miners in its area.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It would be useful to have full information about exactly where those funds went. The electorate likes to know that funds go to those for whom they are intended.

It is in character that the Labour group on Edinburgh district council should be financially supporting "the Chilean Democratico." The sum involved is £2,855, including a grant of £1,000 for a Chilean group and a charge of £300 for a public meeting. I suggest that Chilean politicking is not in the interests of my constituents.

Mr. Dewar

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that he is doing his case no good? Those of us on both sides of the argument who are interested in the serious constitutional innovation which the use of the order represents will be saddened by the trivia with which the hon. Gentleman insists on defacing the debate.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

As the hon. Gentleman failed to tell us whether he supports the budget of the Labour group on Edinburgh district council, I discount his intervention.

The council's accounts include £4,500 which, it is believed, went to an organisation called LOSS. The electors may take the view that it is a case of one dead loss supporting another.

There is a more fundamental reason for supporting the report than all those that I have given. When Lothian region put up rates substantially some years ago, a forest of "For sale" signs went up in shops in Princes street and George street. It is essential for Edinburgh's retail trade—the small shopkeepers and business men—to have reasonable rates. It is vital for Edinburgh's capacity to attract business.

I am particularly anxious about the financial sector—banking, accounting and insurance. Edinburgh is about to promote itself in the European Community and in the United States. The financial sector in Scotland employs about 100,000 people and is a growth sector. I believe that it will provide more jobs. That can be arranged only by a helpful attitude from both central and local government, and heavy rates show an unhelpful attitude towards business.

Similarly, tourism is a major employer. Edinburgh needs new facilities from the private sector, including a conference centre, another big hotel and a major leisure centre. That will require private investment, and the Secretary of State's actions are necessary to prevent investors from being irrevocably frightened away. The visual signs of alarm are now in abeyance because investors believe that the Secretary of State will go through with the report tonight with the necessary support.

Mr. Hirst


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Perhaps my hon. Friend will have a chance to speak later. I should make progress and give other hon. Members a chance to speak.

It is also necessary to build on the expertise in technology within the universities. We need more high technology companies in Edinburgh, which will have to work closely with the universities. Developments along those lines will lead to more employment in service industries. Incomers are frightened away by both high rates and a negative attitude to business. The chamber of commerce believes that Edinburgh should have better services, and the way to achieve that is to expand the economic base of the Edinburgh community so that its income is higher and the city can afford better services. The way to do that is to create more jobs in the private sector. Business men in the private sector require confidence, which is partly determined by the attitudes of local government, and greatly by those of central Government.

Finally, if the Edinburgh district council Labour group chooses to defy Parliament's decision, it will become increasingly hard within a limited period to effect the necessary economies. The Labour group must understand that it can no more overturn the democratic decisions of this House than a community council can overturn those of the Edinburgh district council. Many have sought to defy Parliament in the past, but Parliament has always won in the end.

10.41 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

On 14 May 1984 a report in the Edinburgh Evening News was headlined "Squalid Horror". A family had taken Edinburgh district council to court because of its living conditions, and it won its case. The sheriff said: I can say at once, that the evidence which I heard satisfied me beyond all doubt that the conditions in which they had latterly had to live were utterly appalling … It is difficult to find words to describe the squalid horror which was to be seen when the court had a view of this house. The debate tonight is about that squalor. The cut in the general services order will make it much more difficult to meet housing needs, as the Under-Secretary of State knows full well.

The Secretary of State made great play of what he called excessive and unreasonable expenditure. He based his judgment almost entirely on the guidelines. What about the guidelines? They were changed. The idea was that the client group approach was more objective and independent, but it is not. In the letter sent to Edinburgh district council on 22 May, appendix A states: Up until 1981–82, guidelines were largely based on historical patterns of expenditure but since 1982–83 they have been based on the client group assessments of the relative expenditure needs of local authorities … Adjustments have been made to the client group assessments to arrive at guidelines for each year. While the adjustments have varied from year to year the aim throughout has been to provide attainable targets for authorities having regard to previous levels of expenditure. That is the reality. If the Tory Government's 1983–84 Budget had been within the guidelines—it was not—this year's guideline for Edinburgh would have been £2 million less. When we discuss guidelines, we talk about the disastrous neglect of housing and services in Edinburgh, which has been the consequence of years of inadequate expenditure.

I am aware that others wish to contribute to the debate, so I shall eschew quoting some of the figures which I had intended to draw to the attention of the House. It is ridiculous for the Secretary of State to talk about Falkirk, Kirkcaldy, Aberdeen, Kyle and Carrick and Renfrew as comparable authorities. It is nonsense to refer to guidelines and objectivity when talking about a previous year's expenditure. It is grotesque to pay civil servants to produce such nonsense when the authorities have been specially selected to make out the Secretary of State's case.

If we are to make comparisons with other authorities, let us compare the four cities. I have with me the expenditure on general recreation for the four cities from 1976–77 to 1983–84. There are 32 figures, as there are four cities and eight years. Edinburgh was the lowest spender each year on general recreation. I remind the House that Edinburgh has to put on the Commonwealth games and that it has the Meadowbank Stadium and Commonwealth swimming pool. These major sporting facilities are for Scotland and not just Edinburgh but we are expected to spend less each year on recreation, and sometimes much less, than the other cities per head of population.

The same is true of libraries and museums. Again I have 32 figures in front of me for the years of Tory administrations. What has the abysmal expenditure in Edinburgh meant? Instead of opening new facilities—for example, providing new bowling greens and tennis courts—the old facilities have been shut. Bowling greens are very important to my constituents fifteen tennis courts have been closed in the past 10 years and four have been privatised. Fourteen bowling greens have been closed during the 10 years of Tory control.

Edinburgh has some of the worst housing conditions in Scotland. They are disgraceful. Our services have been run down. The response of people of Edinburgh was to elect a Labour council. Labour has been the largest party in Edinburgh before, but this is the first time that the city hs had a majority Labour council.

Contrary to the Secretary of State's impression—I can remember this vividly listening to the Leader of the Labour group on local radio—the Labour party spelled out that the election of a Labour council would mean rates increases. It was made clear that extra money could be found only by forcing up the rates. Rating was an issue during the election campaign and the issue was put to the people fairly and squarely. What has been the response?

Mr. Hirst


Mr. Strang

I shall not give way, as I am aware that others want to participate in the debate. The Labour party was elected in Edinburgh on the clear mandate of reversing the appalling neglect and misery that was the legacy of Conservative administrations. The people wanted the council to start re-opening bowling greens and tennis courts instead of closing them, and to raise standards in the area.

The Government's response was to impose on the elected council of Edinburgh a budget which was defeated by the council on 5 March. The minority Tory budget was defeated by 40 votes to 22. As the Secretary of State knows, the proposed cut is identical to 0.1 of a penny. The cuts in the housing revenue budget and the associated rate cut and the cut in the general service rate would have reduced the rate from 22.7p to 15.7p which was the precise figure submitted by the Tories.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Which parties voted to defeat that district council budget?

Mr. Strang

A Scottish Nationalist party representative and an alliance representative certainly voted in that way. It is a constitutional outrage to impose that defeated Tory budget on the Edinburgh people. These cuts are massive. This measure is much more drastic than that faced by Lothian. It is true that Lothian regional council said that it would have to make massive lay-offs, and that it managed to avoid doing that. If the Government do not realise that this measure is much more severe than that, they should talk to Edinburgh district council officials. I hope that the Government will recognise the enormity of what they are trying to impose on the Edinburgh people.

The Secretary of State said, in a curious remark, that Edinburgh district council had not suggested in its submissions that a lower level of expenditure would be acceptable. The right hon. Gentleman implied that the council was not prepared to settle on a figure between the minimal Tory figure and the figure outlined in the budget. Every hon. Member knows that that is not true. The leadership of the council asked the Secretary of State for a meeting, and got it. The Government's position was in black and white—an order was laid in the House—and it was clear that they were not prepared to discuss the position with Edinburgh district council in a reasonable way. The Government were satisfied that they would force the minority Tory party's budget on the Edinburgh people.

This report is about democracy and a constitutional outrage, but it is also about the quality of life. I have had the privilege to represent an Edinburgh constituency for more than 15 years. some of the poorest parts of the city lie within my constituency, and Ministers know that. During the past five years I have seen the decline in housing and the people who once had a chance of getting a house, but now have no chance. I have seen the squalor of parts of the city. The majority of young people leave school with no prospect of getting a job. Facilities have been closed and football pitches and bowling greens have been shut. The Labour council wants people to be able to get work. It wants to give them hope and and to start to reverse the decline in housing decline.

We want to improve the houses, to open the bowling greens and to improve facilities. The Government want to force up charges, we want to let the people use the facilities. The Tories forced up prices at the Jack Kene centre in Craigmillar so high that the people could not afford to use the centre. We cut the charges, and the people are starting to use it. This is what the debate is about—an Edinburgh Labour council trying to help the people confronted by the new hard Right, the authoritarian Right-wing Tory Government. That is why, at the end of the day, the Government will lose, no matter how the House votes tonight.

10.53 pm
Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

I am pleased to follow two Edinburgh Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang)—and to give a slightly less introverted view of the position in Edinburgh.

Mr. Nellist

They would never call the hon. and learned Gentleman "introverted" in those trousers.

Mr. Fairbairn

I do not know whether the hard Left understand what tartan is all about. I doubt that it does. If those hon. Members understood the kinship and civility that it represents, they would not sit there as a sort of shadow of eagles above the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland who did not dare state his true opinion and clung to the Dispatch Box as his only friend.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East started with a piece of sentimentality about a story in the Edinburgh Evening News. I notice that Opposition Members believe the reports in the Evening News, but they mocked the reports that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West quoted from The Scotsman. They believe what they want to believe.

Similar absurd sentimentality was directed towards me when I stood for Edinburgh, Central. False stories of squalor were spread. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East wants to see squalor and humility, he should come to the country. He will see the services provided for those who live in the country, but they do not complain because they are not manipulated by politicians.

I have great respect for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. Tonight he was not the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland; he was the shadow of the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. Only a lawyer could have given a so pellucidly false defence of a rotten case in which he clearly did not believe. If it had not been for the fact that the clients were behind him warning him that he had better pretend that he was in favour of the Edinburgh mafia, he would not have done so.

I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman what doctrine of law or morals of politics it is when he says, "Speaking for myself." I am surprised that he did not get off the Front Bench and go behind himself to speak for himself, then in front of himself and say to himself, "Me and the Dispatch Box, believing in one another, have a private opinion which we believe is acceptable to us and our conscience but which we must not share with the shadow Cabinet or the rest of the party behind me." I have never heard of a doctrine by which he can say that he believes in law and order and say, "Speaking from the Dispatch Box, and the Box and I, both being made of wood, understand one another." The leader of the Edinburgh council is also called Wood. "We are in league. We understand one another, and I shall not extend my responsibilities to my colleagues because I know that they would not share them." I regard that as disgraceful. I am amazed that it came from the hon. Member for Garscadden.

Mr. Dewar

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I use the word "learned" only as a courtesy of the House. May I make it clear to him and to any other hon. Gentleman who wishes to listen, and I hope to put it beyond misrepresentation, that we believe that the court order must be observed.

Mr. Fairbairn

Who is "we"?

Mr. Dewar

The Labour party believes that the court order must be observed. It should not be ignored. I want to make that clear. That is part of the demomcratic process in which we all operate. A court order exists and that is something that we and everyone must take into account. That statement is unambiguous and made without any caveat. In two or three years we shall have a different Government and different laws, but I am sure that he would want to obey court orders, as we obey them at the moment.

Mr. Fairbairn

If, as is unlikely, in two or three years it were to be a Government of the hon. Gentleman's persuasion, we should not seek to say that we obey the law only so far as it suits us, and call only for the Dispatch Box as our ally. If the hon. Member for Garscadden is not willing to allow me the courtesy of the title to which I am entitled, and does so only out of courtesy, that demonstrates the pellucid fallacy of his arguments and judgment.

The rating and voting system which Opposition Members care to call democracy have always been of great benefit to Socialists. It has always amazed me that the English gentlemen here tonight have never seen the advantage that can so easily be taken of the system.

Of the electorate who provide local funds, the industrial third has no vote and the commercial third has no vote. Of the domestic sector which has a vote, more than 50 per cent. benefit from increased expenditure without having to contribute to it. It is an absolute mug's paradise. If I had been a Socialist, I would have taken advantage of it long ago. I would have been spending through the roof, because votes can be bought. One can have any number of bowling greens and one can besmirch a city with notices saying, "We are providing services with jobs." [Interruption.] If hon. Members would listen rather than shout, they might learn something.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East raised a very important point. Edinburgh is about to have to service the Commonwealth games. I am informed, from the most impartial sources of all persuasions, that those who would have been contributing to the Edinburgh Commonwealth games are ceasing to do so because of the policies of Edinburgh district council. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] People can be given free bowling greens in Craigmillar; but what is provided in an equivalent part of Edinburgh, in Pilton? That is real prosperity. Instead of being run by a local authority as a housing encampment, the houses in Pilton have been privatised and sold off, and jobs and services are coming from those sales.

Not only on the present inequalities of the voting system does extravagance pay. If I had been a good Socialist I would have noticed that extravagance has paid hand over fist. The Secretary of State has announced tonight that he will not even ask Edinburgh district council to come down to its guideline. He will not even ask it to come within £1 million of its guideline. As a result of its extravagance last year, the guideline of Edinburgh district council is infinitely higher that it was. The Secretary of State rightly said that it would be impossible to make the council come reasonably within its guideline, so he will meet the council half way. But the guideline of responsible authorities, such as Perth and Kinross district council, is kept miles below where it should be. So Edinburgh district council, in this great battle, will discover, as the Secretary of State has just announced, that it will be allowed to spend miles above its guideline and to benefit from it for the second year running.

I understand that Labour Members know how to work the system. If I were with Mr. Wood and his little clique of Marxists, I would do the same.

Mr. David Lambie (Cunninghame, South)

What about the legal aid system?

Mr. Fairbairn

If the hon. Member for Cunninghame. South (Mr. Lambie) wishes to question legal aid, he can do so; but let him remember that legal aid in Scotland did not start for criminal matters until I had been at the Bar for five years and I had defended without fee 17 people who were in line for the death penalty. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to say that people at the Bar are on the gravy train, let him say it to the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Garscadden, who is a solicitor. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not raise that matter again.

Edinburgh's income comes from its commerce and from a few of its citizens, and that commerce and those citizens are being driven out. Edinburgh is destroying the goose that lays the golden eggs. It may have a few more bowling green attendants and people who paint banners and hang them up, and, when they are torn down, hang them up again; it may have people who work in the legal department in order to get round the fact that they do not have planning permission to besmirch the city; but it is defying by extravagance, because the people who are doing it believe it to be to their electoral advantage. They are spending other people's money to promote their hideous doctrine. The Labour Government introduced the system, but, as the Secretary of State said tonight, one cannot feed from the ratepayers.

11.6 pm

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Being a member of the Leith Labour party and not the Edinburgh Labour party, I may be allowed to say that this is a timely debate and sums up many things happening in this country. Democratic, basic rights are under attack: that is what this debate is all about. The Secretary of State is, in effect, a governor-general. He is imposing the diktat of Whitehall, the diktat of a discredited regime, and whatever he says will not wash in Scotland, not even in the Tory press. That is an indication of what the electorate in Scotland thinks of the Conservative party.

Despite all the comments in the past about the Tories being concerned to see less interference in local affairs, less government, more freedom, we see now that the mask has dropped. Not only has this Government double standards, they are two-faced, because in reality they represent a police state. One has only to look at the catalogue of laws they have brought in since they came to office in 1979. It is sheer hypocrisy for Conservative Members to talk about cutting public expenditure. During the Government's term of office, they have cut over £1 billion from the rate support grant in Scotland. That is not money saved, because it has been transferred elsewhere. It has been invested, so called, in Trident and in a new breed of nuclear weapons. That is hypocrisy, and I use that term advisedly.

The Government have priorities, but they are not interested in the people of England or Scotland or wherever. One recalls the old reactionary slogan of guns before butter, but today the slogan is missiles before life, before health. [Interruption.] We hear a lot of criticism in this debate of Labour councils, but we know from looking at the record, that those councils do not throw money around: they do not have it to throw around. Given a chance, they invest in their communities, they invest in people, because they are the greatest asset and resource we have. Some of my colleagues are in Edinburgh, and they are defending jobs, services, and living standards. Some Conservative Members seem to think that that is a crime nowadays.

All local authorities have mandates, which they must follow. To do otherwise would mean that they were doing the Tory party's dirty work, and our colleagues in Edinburgh certainly do not intend to do that. In some newspapers, including The Sun, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, my colleagues in Edinburgh are called doctrinaire extremists. If that is the case, let us have more of it. I prefer to call it sticking to principles, which is important in politics nowadays.

In case Conservative Members have forgotten it, the Labour party won last year's local elections with a record swing—[Interruption.)

Mr. Michael Forsyth

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the thread of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but is it in order for him to use the Chamber of the House of Commons as a flyposting board to display his propaganda? Should he not be asked to remove that banner?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As a mere Englishman, I have not seen or heard anything that is out of order.

Mr. Brown

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was saying that the Labour party won last year's election with a record swing in support. Why did that happen? Was it simply a fluke that Labour took control of Edinburgh? Of course, we know the reason. Edinburgh, like Britain, is in a mess because of the Tory administration. The so-called Athens of the north had become the slum of the north, and the Labour party had to move in and deal with the problems.

To follow what my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) said, may I remind the House that the Labour administration in Edinburgh inherited a housing waiting list of 13,000 families, and a backlog of sub-standard local authority housing? About 6,000 houses were without baths. I am sure that some Conservatives Members have several baths in their houses. Thanks to Tory maladministration, Edinburgh had litter-strewn streets, and libraries without books—not even the Dandy or the Beano. Recreation facilities were closed.

All that happened in a city which talks about a festival—

Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Brown

—for the middle classes and the rich. It talks about hosting the Commonwealth games. It talks about many things—[Interruption.]

Mrs. McCurley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to decorate the Opposition Benches with—[Interruption.] I see that the banner has just come down, so I withdraw my point of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I dealt with that point of order earlier. May I remind the House that this is a short debate, and that the Minister hopes to reply at 11.20 pm.

Mr. Brown

Much more could be said about the Tory record in Edinburgh. Indeed, much more should be said about it. We had criminals operating in Edinburgh for a long time, not doing the jobs that they were elected to do, but working contrary to the interests of Edinburgh's citizens. We hear about the two nations of the Conservative party. In Edinburgh, we have two cities. Visitors to Edinburgh notice better than anyone that, in the new town, there are fine new buildings. They see Bute house, where the Secretary of State resides in all his finery and with his 10 baths. If one goes there, one is very impressed, that is, until one goes to the new houses.

To give the Secretary of State his due, he does occasionally come out of his fantastic mansion. He came out of his tied cottage, for example, a year or so ago when he went to West Pilton to visit some friends who had acquired, thanks to the Tory council, a number of houses which had been modernised. Of course, the houses were bought at a knock-down price. The houses were being sold off to the private sector for a record profit. The right hon. Gentleman quite naturally goes to see his friends, the building fraternity. After all, they are very good at financing the Tory party. They are very generous at putting money into the coffers. One company alone in Edinburgh, Smart the builders, in one year gave £30,000 to the Tory party, so quite naturally the Tories look after their friends.

Talking about kick-backs, we can observe this on the Government Benches, because the Secretary of State and the Tory party know all about kick-backs.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does my hon. Friend recall that when the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs visited Edinburgh, we were discussing the serious problem of dampness? Does he recall the appalling conditions that we found? Does he recall that the then Conservative convenor of housing, Councillor Drummond-Young, appealed for more capital to be invested in Edinburgh? Is not one of the most appalling features of the order the fact that that capital is going to be reduced?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The former councillor to whom he refers, Councillor Drummond-Young, was obviously very concerned about the situation. He was an extreme Right-winger. I do not know whether he is still around these days. He lost his seat, quite naturally, in the last local elections.

I think that that sums up the role of the Tory party. Even within that Tory group, there was concern about the indifference of its own Government. Undoubtedly, Councillor Drummond-Young made that point to the Select Committee. I am sure that this could be repeated throughout the country. No doubt we would hear the same in Liverpool.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool. Riverside)

In the last session of Parliament, I represented Liverpool, Scotland. I fully support the fight which my hon. Friend is making on behalf of the people of Edinburgh. I can assure him, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) of the support of the Liverpool people. I note that the Secretary of State is shaking his hands, but he is the monkey grinder for Mrs. Thatcher, like the Secretary of State for the Environment—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief.

Mr. Parry

It appears that in the battle in Edinburgh in Scotland and in Liverpool in England, the cold hand of the Prime Minister is behind the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Brown

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. What he says can be summed up in this way. What the Tories are saying is, take it or leave it. That is the message being given from the Dispatch Box by the Secretary of State, who knows full well that his political role is to support big business. It is to redistribute wealth from the working class to the bosses. That is his job. He does it in a certain way, and he tries a little flannel, but he does not con many people. He may suggest that in better times it is possible to be more generous, and it is true that in good times in the past a few crumbs were given to the working class. Now they are being taken back.

Why is this action being taken against Edinburgh? Is it because the Secretary of State is vicious and vindictive? [Interruption.] The real reason is that there is an almighty crisis in the economy and the Tories want to take back all the gains that the working class has won since the war. They want to reduce real wages, attack the welfare state and reduce the social wage. That is why they are having a go at Edinburgh, which is sticking its neck out and is in the front line. The Government feel that they must challenge that position.

Some say that what is happening is the result of monetarism. Let us be clear that that is not a new word. Monetarism was tried years ago, especially in the 1920s, when, like today, the working class was told that the nation had to save money, and there were calls for a return to the gold standard. That resulted in attacks on jobs and living standards, and the working class suffered.

Despite the setback of 1926, when the working class was let down badly because of weak-kneed individuals—the TUC of that period—in the local authorities there were individuals such as George Lansbury in Poplar who led the way forward. I say in all modesty—[Interruption.]—that Edinburgh typifies the Poplar spirit, the spirit of Lansbury. If we are to learn from history, we must look back to what was achieved by the individuals of the time, because the same can be achieved now.

Conservative Members may smile at what I am saying, but in Edinburgh the members of the Labour group are still concerned with fighting injustice, although the Secretary of State is bound to disagree with anything that we say on behalf of the working class. He and his hon. Friends will continue to jump up and down and assert, "We represent parliamentary democracy," and pontificate on what that means. When Conservative Members speak about democracy, they do so as a front for the capitalist system, a system that is unfair, inefficient, corrupt and dangerous.

It is unfair because wealth is concentrated into fewer hands; it is inefficient because it creates massive unemployment and results in foodstuffs, like industries, being destroyed; it is corrupt because it fosters the black economy and harbours, for example, the Vestey family; and that it is dangerous was demonstrated by the conflict in the south Atlantic.

For all those reasons, the capitalist system is condemned. My advice to my colleagues in the Public Gallery—[Interruption.]—is that they should stick to their guns. It is not simply a question—[Interruption]—of breaking the law. Laws can be made and they can be unmade. Laws made by the Conservatives are not designed to improve society but to destroy the decent things in life. If Tory Members speak to working class people they will have that explained, though I am beginning to wonder whether they would even want to speak to Conservative Members.

Why not bend the knee, and let things develop? Why not concede certain things? That would not be just a gesture, of the sort that many in this place are used to. It would mean that services and jobs would be decimated. One could not consider what would happen as a result. If we described what would happen, we would be describing a real horror story. Somebody could make a video of it, and sell it off to ITV.

We must emphasise that the order does not cover housing, although it has been mentioned, because housing policy has been decided in the other place.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is the hon. Member for Edinburgh Leith (Mr. Brown) giving way?

Mr. Brown

Yes, I am.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend agree that the struggles against the Tory party by Labour Members, cities such as Sheffield, Edinburgh and Liverpool and boroughs such as Lambeth, have resulted, whether the Tories like it or not, in the latest Gallup poll? It shows that the Tories are third at 28 per cent., with the alliance taking 32 per cent. of the poll, and the Labour party 38 per cent. The Tories will read this in the Daily Telegraph tomorrow. and realise where their policies are taking them

Mr. Brown

I thank my hon. Friend for his important point.

It was interesting that earlier on, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Harnilton) attacked the Labour group for flying the red flag. I assume that he would prefer the stars and stripes, or a white flag, but for us, the red flag is a nice colour and quite appropriate. He thinks that the members of the Labour group in Edinburgh are extremists, but far from it. Even the figures produced by the Government show that Edinburgh is spending £9.1; per head of population, compared with the Scottish average of £11.04.

If the rate support grant of 1974 were paid today, Edinburgh would be £2 million better off, but because of the repeated cuts, Edinburgh has suffered.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appeal to you to have regard to the provisions of standing order No. 3(1)(b), bearing in mind that the confrontation that is going on is likely to have the effect of excluding my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) from expressing the views of 25 per cent. of the people of Scotland, who have as much claim as anybody else to take advantage of the debate. Therefore, I ask you to rule that, because of the importance of the subject matter, the time for debate has not been adequate, and under the provisions of the standing order, you will allow the business to stand over until the next day's sitting.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I realise that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House will not have the opportunity to speak in the debate, but I am not prepared to exercise my discretion in that regard, and I intend to put the question at 11.30.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to the point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) to take precedence over those of us who represent some of the district under discussion?

Mr. Brown

It has been suggested that Edinburgh councillors want confrontation. It is the Government who want confrontation. They are on a loser if they think that electors do not back the councillors. If the Secretary of State knows anything about Edinburgh—when he occasionally goes there he no doubt reads the Edinburgh Evening News—he knows that the Evening News is not a revolutionary newspaper and that it carried a poll—

It being half past Eleven o'clock MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

The House divided: Ayes 229, Noes 137.

Division No. 282] [11.30 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Amess, David Bellingham, Henry
Ancram, Michael Bevan, David Gilroy
Arnold, Tom Biffen, Rt Hon John
Ashby, David Blackburn, John
Aspinwall, Jack Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Boscawen, Hon Robert
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Bottomley, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Baldry, Tony Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)
Batiste, Spencer Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hickmet, Richard
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hind, Kenneth
Bright, Graham Hirst, Michael
Brinton, Tim Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Brooke, Hon Peter Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Holt, Richard
Browne, John Howard, Michael
Bruinvels, Peter Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Buck, Sir Antony Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Budgen, Nick Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Burt, Alistair Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Butterfill, John Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Hunt, David (Wirral)
Carttiss, Michael Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cash, William Hunter, Andrew
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Jessel, Toby
Chapman, Sydney Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Chope, Christopher Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Colvin, Michael Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Coombs, Simon Key, Robert
Cope, John King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Corrie, John King, Rt Hon Tom
Couchman, James Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Cranborne, Viscount Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Crouch, David Knowles, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Lamont, Norman
Dicks, Terry Lang, Ian
Dorrell, Stephen Latham, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Lawler, Geoffrey
Dover, Den Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Dunn, Robert Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Durant, Tony Lightbown, David
Dykes, Hugh Lilley, Peter
Eggar, Tim Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Emery, Sir Peter Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Evennett, David Luce, Richard
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lyell, Nicholas
Fallon, Michael McCrindle, Robert
Farr, Sir John McCurley, Mrs Anna
Favell, Anthony Macfarlane, Neil
Fenner, Mrs Peggy MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Fletcher, Alexander MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Forman, Nigel Maclean, David John
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Forth, Eric McQuarrie, Albert
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Madel, David
Fox, Marcus Major, John
Franks, Cecil Malins, Humfrey
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Maples, John
Freeman, Roger Mates, Michael
Fry, Peter Mather, Carol
Gale, Roger Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Galley, Roy Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Mellor, David
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Merchant, Piers
Garel-Jones, Tristan Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gow, Ian Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Grant, Sir Anthony Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Gregory, Conal Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Moate, Roger
Grist, Ian Monro, Sir Hector
Ground, Patrick Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Grylls, Michael Moore, John
Gummer, John Selwyn Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hampson, Dr Keith Moynihan, Hon C.
Hanley, Jeremy Murphy, Christopher
Hannam, John Neale, Gerrard
Hargreaves, Kenneth Needham, Richard
Harris, David Nelson, Anthony
Haselhurst, Alan Neubert, Michael
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Newton, Tony
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Nicholls, Patrick
Hawksley, Warren Normanton, Tom
Hayes, J. Norris, Steven
Hayward, Robert Oppenheim, Phillip
Heathcoat-Amory, David Osborn, Sir John
Henderson, Barry Ottaway, Richard
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Speed, Keith
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Squire, Robin
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Stern, Michael
Parris, Matthew Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Pawsey, James Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Stokes, John
Pollock, Alexander Terlezki, Stefan
Portillo, Michael Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Powell, William (Corby) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Thurnham, Peter
Price, Sir David Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Proctor, K. Harvey Viggers, Peter
Raffan, Keith Walden, George
Rathbone, Tim Walker, Bill (Tside N)
Renton, Tim Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Rhodes James, Robert Warren, Kenneth
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wiggin, Jerry
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Wood, Timothy
Rifkind, Malcolm Younger, Rt Hon George
Rost, Peter
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Tellers for the Ayes:
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Silvester, Fred Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Fisher, Mark
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Flannery, Martin
Barnett, Guy Forrester, John
Barron, Kevin Foster, Derek
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Beggs, Roy Garrett, W. E.
Bell, Stuart Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Benn, Tony Godman, Dr Norman
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Hardy, Peter
Bermingham, Gerald Harman, Ms Harriet
Bidwell, Sydney Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Haynes, Frank
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Buchan, Norman Home Robertson, John
Caborn, Richard Hoyle, Douglas
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Clarke, Thomas Hume, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann John, Brynmor
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cohen, Harry Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Coleman, Donald Kilfedder, James A.
Conlan, Bernard Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Lambie, David
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Lamond, James
Corbett, Robin Leadbitter, Ted
Corbyn, Jeremy Leighton, Ronald
Cowans, Harry Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Litherland, Robert
Craigen, J. M. Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Crowther, Stan Loyden, Edward
Cunningham, Dr John McCartney, Hugh
Dalyell, Tam McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Deakins, Eric McKelvey, William
Dewar, Donald MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dixon, Donald McTaggart, Robert
Dobson, Frank McWilliam, John
Dormand, Jack Madden, Max
Douglas, Dick Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dubs, Alfred Martin, Michael
Duffy, A. E. P. Maynard, Miss Joan
Eadie, Alex Meacher, Michael
Eastham, Ken Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Ewing, Harry Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Fatchett, Derek Nellist, David
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Nicholson, J.
O'Brien, William Silkin, Rt Hon J.
O'Neill, Martin Skinner, Dennis
Parry, Robert Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Pavitt, Laurie Snape, Peter
Pike, Peter Soley, Clive
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Prescott, John Stott, Roger
Radice, Giles Strang, Gavin
Randall, Stuart Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Redmond, M. Wareing, Robert
Richardson, Ms Jo Wilson, Gordon
Robertson, George Winnick, David
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Woodall, Alec
Rogers, Allan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rowlands, Ted
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Noes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Mr. James Hamilton and
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved That the Rate Reduction (City of Edinburgh District) 1985–86 Report, which was laid before this House on 3rd July, be approved.