§ Order for consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.—[Mr. Garel Jones.]
§ 7.1 pm
§ Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I am grateful to be called to speak on the Bill, particularly as I was not called until 9.53 pm on Second Reading and then the closure was moved. I was unable to put before the House my views on the Bill, despite the fact that the proposed race will take place largely within my constituency.
I deeply resent some of the comment that has appeared in the local press in Birmingham, especially in a free newspaper that I have never seen called the Birmingham Despatch. That newspaper suggests that the Birmingham Members of Parliament who have ensured that the Bill is properly debated in the House are in some way obstructing its passage. The implication is that the House should not use its powers to scrutinise any legislation that is put before it.
As I said at the beginning of my speech on Second Reading, which was so rudely interrupted, I hesitate to speak against or oppose a Bill which is supported by the overwhelming majority of councillors in Birmingham. My view is that local democracy should be much greater than it is at present and that the ultra vires rule should be abolished. Local authorities should be given the power to do whatever they think right and for which they have authority from the local people, provided that they can afford so to act and are given reasonable powers to raise moneys to finance such expenditure. That is not the current situation. Local authorities are severely restricted in what they can do, and they must seek parliamentary authority to go beyond those powers. It seems that those of us who are elected to represent the interests of our constituents should properly scrutinise any measures that come before us. When we have a measure that will affect the people of Birmingham, it is particularly important that Birmingham Members should pay attention to what is being proposed — [Interruption.] Would the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) please be quiet?
The second reason why I hesitate to criticise the Bill is that we have repeatedly been told that a referendum, which was taken in the area where the road race is to be run, suggested that local residents were overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal. I find that rather odd, because I have received a number of extremely critical letters and met many people who live in the area who are highly critical of the proposals in the Bill.
We are told that referendum forms were sent to 4,520 residents and that about 34 per cent. voted. Apparently 1,290 voted yes and 283 voted no. Perhaps that is a significant majority in favour of the Bill, but it means that many people did not consider the proposal. When one considers the information that was put to those who participated in the referendum, it is clear that they were not fully informed of the facts, especially the potential cost—[Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, I appeal to you to do something about the racket that is taking place on the Government Benches below the Gangway?
§ Ms. Clare Short
I am grateful to all the attentive listeners.
When those who live in the area where the race is proposed to be run were asked to participate in the referendum, a piece of paper was circulated outlining the proposals. That piece of paper was misleading in a number of serious respects. First, it was misleading to suggest that the race would become a grand prix. There is a general understanding in Birmingham that the race will be a grand prix, but that is completely wrong, and that somewhat changes the nature of the proposal.
Secondly, and more seriously, the people of Birmingham who said that they were in favour of such a race were not told the potential costs that would be incurred and might result in other less than adequate services. The council, in its publicity about the race, has misled people by not stressing that the potential cost is quite serious.
A leaflet, entitled "Road Race Facts," gives six facts, the last of which asserts that Birmingham ratepayers will not be paying for the race. It states:The cost to Birmingham ratepayers will be absolutely nothing. Indeed, they will benefit as more much needed cash will be brought into the authority's kitty.That is false and misleading, and it is bad that the council should put out such material.
In a glossy package, which was assembled and distributed in Birmingham, there is a leaflet on the jobs that the road race would create. It saysThe race will make money for the City Council so the ratepayers will not lose out. We will not be taking decisions on whether to repair leaking roofs or to support the race. The road race will bring more cash into the authority's kitty.The literature that has been issued by the council to the people of Birmingham is gravely misleading. Many people who consider the road race to be desirable are not aware of all the facts.
As I have said, many people in Birmingham think that a grand prix is proposed. One of my hon. Friends who was a member of the Committee which considered the Bill has passed to me a copy of the summary that was put before the members of the Committee. The first paragraph reads:The purpose of the Bill is to authorise a motor racing went once a year in Birmingham, not far from the centre. The event is based on the Monaco Grand Prix.Again, it is suggested that there will be a grand prix in Birmingham, but that is not so. It will be a much lower level race with less status, and it will bring fewer people into the city. That has serious implications for the money that might come into the city as a result of the road race. The people of Birmingham have been misled on this crucial issue.
My first objection to the Bill, as drafted, is the cost. We are told by the council, though the people of Birmingham have not had this information put to them, that the proposal is to spend £1.5 million on capital expenditure in the early stages to prepare the road for the race. Serious alterations to the road are to take place—widening and the removal of flower beds and other amenities in the area. In addition, it will cost £1.5 million in revenue costs for each year that the road race is run. The council's estimated figures show that it is fairly certain that at worst the road race will cover 687 its own costs. There may not be any profit for the people of Birmingham, despite what is said in the leaflets to which I have referred, but the council is fairly confident that there will not be any loss.
I shall seek to move amendments designed to ensure that there will not be a loss. I am worried that the council is giving assurances about the money that it will spend and the income it will receive, but the Bill will not protect the people of Birmingham from much greater expenditure and much smaller income than is projected. My deepest fear and greatest objection to the Bill is that the people of Birmingham could spend millions of pounds, which could be used to improve housing facilities, which are in a serious state of decline, or to protect other declining public services. All this money will be spent on a race which will be a loss maker for the people of Birmingham, most of whom will not be able to attend it because of the cost of the tickets.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)
Does the hon. Lady agree that she is speaking of the type of infrastructure spending that she and her hon. Friends spend much time complaining is not taking place in Birmingham?
§ Ms. Short
No, it is not the type of infrastructure spending that I favour. I do not favour turning the hearts of our cities into race tracks. I favour an increase in infrastructure spending to improve the facilities for all the people of our cities — for example, putting right decaying sewers.
I shall be moving amendments designed to hold the council to its financial projections. The council has given the sums of money that will be spent, but there is no guarantee that it will keep to those figures. Later in the debate we can discuss the need to hold the council to its projections so that Birmingham ratepayers are not required to spend even more.
The money that the council proposes to spend will, of course, come from the capital expenditure budgets of the people of Birmingham, who are already severely restricted financially. It is notable that the area around which the race will be run contains many tower blocks and maisonettes that are in a serious state of disrepair. Each month, when I conduct my advice bureau in that part of the city, people complain about the state of the tower blocks, with damp, condensation, mould and a general lack of repair. Caretakers lose their jobs or leave and are not replaced. There is a general air of decline and grottiness about those dwellings.
When we ask the city for more expenditure to enable people to live in dignified housing in the area where it is proposed to hold the race, we are told that, because the Government have restricted the money available for Birmingham to spend, there is no additional finance available. It seems ironic that Birmingham can find money to promote a road race, but not to repair the homes of those who live in the area surrounding the race route.
Many Birmingham people are under the illusion that the road race will be great fun, with free entertainment for anyone wishing to attend. Indeed, in an experiment to see whether the event would be popular, the city of Birmingham ran a "fun day" and invited people to come free on that day. I have received letters from people telling me not to be a spoilsport and that people would love a free day out.
688 It will not be free. The tickets will range from £5 to £25 a head for each of the two days of the race. Most Birmingham families cannot afford such expenditure. Indeed, among the 300,000 people who live in the six inner Birmingham constituencies, the rate of unemployment is 30 per cent. The unemployed of Birmingham will not be able to afford the cost of tickets for the road race. I shall be moving an amendment later to require the council to charge the residents of Birmingham half price. Anyone who argues that this will be a fun event for the people of Birmingham should be prepared to accept such an amendment.
Another reason why I have doubts about the proposal arises from a briefing document that was circulated by the RAC prior to Second Reading. The RAC made it clear that it had grave doubts about the Bill. It did not think that road racing was desirable in Birmingham. In paragraph 8 of its briefing document, it stated:The RAC Motor Sports Association has declared its policy that motor racing should be on purpose-built circuits where there has been substantial investment of resources to ensure that adequate facilities will be available—and where there will be maximum practicable safety for competitors and for spectators. Such circuits also permit training, testing and practising at all times and safety provisions are continually being improved.That sentiment makes sense. We were told in Committee that objections to the idea had been withdrawn. When I telephoned the RAC today and spoke to Mr. Jack Smeaton, one of those under whose name the briefing document was circulated, he made it clear that the RAC's view had not changed, that it still had grave doubts about the proposal, that it was opposed in principle to road racing and that, for reasons of safety and efficiency, it should be confined to circuits. However, given the size of the vote on Second Reading, the RAC says that it is keeping its head down, that it will comply with the will of Parliament and continue to look in detail at the proposal. It is not clear, therefore, that at the end of the day the RAC will approve the race.
We could have an even worse scenario, with Birmingham spending a considerable amount on changing the roads and preparing for the race, only to find that a proper, high quality race has not been approved and that the money has been wasted. In considering the vision that inspired the road race proposal, we must note that Birmingham is in deep and dangerous economic trouble.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
My hon. Friend should perhaps reflect, when referring to silly comments made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), that that hon. Gentleman is normally paid by a Birmingham newspaper, which makes me lean to her side of the fence rather than to his.
§ Ms. Short
While I do not always agree with the hon. Member for Selly Oak, he usually behaves in a courteous fashion. He has not been behaving that way today. That is why I shall not give way to him.
689 I have explained why I have serious objections to the Bill. The people of Birmingham have been misled into thinking that the race will be a grand prix, when it will not, because of the cost involved, and the likelihood is that it will not prove profitable. The tickets will be so expensive that most Birmingham people will not be able to afford to attend.
If the Bill is amended in the ways in which I am seeking, I shall not oppose it, but it will not be with enthusiasm that I shall support it. The leadership of Birmingham city council seems to be adducing an argument similar to that put forward by the Government in trying to solve the problems of the British economy, with an apparent willingness to write off manufacturing and to look to services as a major source of income and employment.
In the Soho ward of my constituency, unemployment has reached 40 per cent. Matthew Bolton and James Watt developed the steam engine there, and that concept led to the industrial revolution.
§ Mr. Beaumont-Dark
I am pleased that my behaviour has improved sufficiently for the hon. Lady to permit me to intervene. Does she agree that if, as she says, the problems of Birmingham are great and that much needs to be done, it is time to encourage the sort of enterprise that the Bill proposes? The motor industry is important to Birmingham. The publicity that would come from the race—which I believe would be profitable—would focus attention on the way in which we were taking steps to solve our problems. It is a time for enterprise and a little risk. Why is she against that?
§ Ms. Short
I agree that the hon. Gentleman's behaviour has improved. I do not agree that a low level road race with saloon cars, held for one day, will do anything to restore Birmingham's manufacturing base. Birmingham's manufacturing, like manufacturing throughout the country, needs major new investment so that it can be modernised to use new technology.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the output of manufacturing in Britain is still lower that it was in 1979. I agree that, with intervention from central Government and local government to restructure manufacturing, it is highly likely that the number of people employed in manufacturing would decline compared with 1979, but the number would decline in a context of highly profitable industry, with people in employment, and with money available to be spent on public services and leisure amenities in which all could participate. That is the desirable way forward for Birmingham—not spending money on gimmicks such as road racing and convention centres which seek to bring in rich foreigners who might spend a little money in our city and create a few jobs in catering, or in the sales of ice cream and beer. I repeat that investment in modern high technology manufacturing is the way forward for Birmingham, not in convention centres and road races.
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
Does the hon. Lady agree that if there is a desire to show off the motor manufacturing wares of Birmingham, there are two race tracks close by which could be utilised — Silverstone and Donington? They would be happy to lend their race tracks to the city of Birmingham to enable Birmingham to display its wares in safety to the world at large.
§ Ms. Short
That is an attractive offer. I am sure that people in Birmingham will take note of it and perhaps come back to the hon. Gentleman for further information.
I have grave reservations about the Bill, and I cannot support it as presently drafted. If the amendments are made, I shall not oppose the Bill, but it should not be thought by anyone in Birmingham that Birmingham's economy will be put right by events such as this or that they can provide dignified work and proper leisure and public services.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
It may be helpful if I intervene early to re-state the Government's view on the Bill.
As the House knows, the Government traditionally stand neutral in relation to private Bills where no major matter of principle is involved. This Bill is no exception. We regard it as primarily a local matter. Listening to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), one realised the extent to which it is a local matter. We are not opposed in any way to the principle of the Bill as it stands. It will be up to Birmingham city council to make its decisions on priorities, and I am sure that during the debate we shall hear the varying views on those priorities.
The Government considered whether the concept of a city centre motor race constituted a precedent with adverse effects on national sporting interests. Hon. Members may remember that that was one of the issues raised on Second Reading. We sought assurances from the promoters of the Bill as to the construction of the circuit, the number of days per year on which racing could be permitted, and the type of racing allowed. The provisions of the Bill are very restricted; racing will take place on only one day a year. The circuit is essentially city streets marginally modified, and there will be no grand prix type racing. That is absolutely clear.
The Royal Automobile Club, the body for controlling motor sport in Britain, indicated to me that it was opposed to the Bill at the beginning. I listened carefully to its concerns, but I concluded that there was not sufficient cause to seek to influence the passage of the Bill. There was a majority in favour of the Bill on Second Reading, following which the chairman of the RAC wrote to me to say that the RAC accepted that the principle of the Bill had been approved by this House and that it intended to make no further representations on the issue.
I understand that the RAC is now discussing the organisation of any future race in accordance with its own rules, and the detailed track requirements, with Birmingham city council. That is the very spirit of co-operation that I urged on Second Reading, and I applaud the fact that at last the RAC and Birmingham city council are working together in co-operation. That will, I believe, enable Birmingham to have its motor race, and enable the RAC to ensure that the race meets its own stringent requirements — a matter about which other hon. Members and I have expressed concern.
The Government also have a duty to oversee other general matters of national concern which are relevant to the Bill.
§ Mr. Ashby
Does my hon. Friend realise that the RAC is still against the principle of the road race? On the other hand, if Parliament approves the road race, the RAC is bound, as the governing body of the sport, to ensure that 691 the race takes place according to its rules and in the safest possible manner, so of course it will co-operate and talk to Birmingham city council and do what it can. But the RAC still remains opposed to the principle of the motor race.
§ Mrs. Chalker
In the discussions that we had before the Second Reading debate I took care to find out exactly what was being said by the RAC and, indeed, by Birmingham city council.
On 17 April last, I received a letter from the chairman of the standing joint committee of the RAC, the Automobile Association and the Royal Scottish Automobile Club which expresses their views. The letter says:Certain specific matters which were causing concern have now been the subject of acceptable assurances from the City council, but the Bill remains of interest to the Standing Joint Committee because, if enacted, it will establish a precedent for similar measures elsewhere.The Standing Joint Committee invites you"—the letter refers to me—to consider that it would be undesirable if this were relied upon before there had been time for a valid judgment of the effectiveness of the assurances which have been given relating to matters of safety, reasonable access and minimal interference with road users in general".The point is that, of course, people are bound by a vote in this House, but I am glad that Birmingham city council and the RAC, as the leading partner in the standing joint committee, have got together to discuss the matter, and it is right that they should do so.
I want also to comment on other general matters of concern, such as the effects on strategic traffic flows, safety, access, noise and pollution. They are all matters which have worried hon. Members and about which they have rightly expressed concern. The Bill contains clauses relevant to all those matters. Officials of my Department and those of the Department of the Environment and the Home Office have discussed the Bill in detail with the promoters, and several amendments have been incorporated to satisfy our reservations which existed at the earlier stage.
In our view, it would also be unreasonable for the net expense, if there were any, of this local initiative to be met from public funds. Therefore, we sought details from Birmingham city council on the anticipated income and expenditure associated with the race. We have told the council clearly that we expect the project to be self-financing, and have accepted that the estimates provided to us by the Birmingham city council demonstrate that that is indeed feasible. Those matters are important and I have seen it as our duty to ensure that they have been fully considered, and the best possible arrangements made. We are, however, content that the promoters of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre), my hon. Friends and some Opposition Members, have worked hard to make sure that they know what is required of them. I am content that the promoters are well aware of their responsibilities, as one would expect from a city with such a civic reputation as Birmingham. I said on Second Reading that this is an exciting prospect and that the Bill is undoubtedly an unusual and adventurous initiative. That is not unusual. We have come to expect 692 exciting, unusual and adventurous initiatives from Birmingham. There are no reasons for frustrating the city's attempts to promote itself.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
If the Government have such a high regard for the city of Birmingham, why are they financially penalising the city so much that we have been forced to raise rates through the roof?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I am quite ready to answer that point, but I abide by your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall leave it to another day to respond to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who, unfortunately, has recently been associated with a sludge works—[Interruption]. He is not really associated with sludge works.
The Bill was given a substantial majority in this House on Second Reading, when my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green made a lucid and open speech. I see no reason for impeding the progress of the Bill. Therefore, I recommend that it be allowed to proceed.
§ Sir Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for her positive attitude. I assure her that the city of Birmingham will take full account of and comply with the requirements that she has specified relating to safety, environmental considerations and other such matters.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) for missing the opening sentences of her speech. She raised a number of important points to which I would like to refer.
We had an opportunity to record the main purposes of the Bill on Second Reading on 1 April. It establishes a framework for the creation, in Birmingham, once a year, of a major international tourist attraction for the city and the midlands—a motor race of formula cars through the streets and a parade of historic cars and other attractive events suitable for family entertainment.
The city council believes — these matters were earnestly considered by members of the city council, as the hon. Member for Ladywood knows — that this event would help to promote Bimingham as a motor city. It would encourage the many thousands in the city who are engaged in work connected with the motor industry. From a psychological point of view, it is important to provide that kind of encouragement. The city council has considered the matter very carefully.
§ Ms. Clare Short
There are two issues—whether it would be desirable to have this road race and whether it would be profitable. At a recent meeting with the leader of the council and some of my hon. Friends, one of the officials went so far as to argue that a road race to promote Birmingham as an international tourist centre would be desirable, whether or not it was profitable. I would be grateful for the hon. Gentleman's view on that.
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
I accept the importance of jobs and profitability. If the hon. Lady will permit me, I shall try to reply to what she said about those two major issues later. 693 A list of job creation effects was discussed on Second Reading. I invite the hon. Lady to read those speeches. Perhaps I might ask her to read mine—
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
—because I said that I believe that the event will contribute to job creation in Birmingham.
The hon. Lady rightly said that we do not want to turn all our attention to service industries, but that we want a revival of manufacturing. I share her view. There is no doubt that the future of manufacturing is enormously important to Birmingham. I remind her, however, that the city's competitiveness has improved this year as a result of a revised regional policy. The regional office has received many applications for grants to further the development of manufacturing industry and other businesses. Moreover, the Government recently approved British Leyland's corporate plan. We were extremely pleased in Birmingham, because that was another contribution to our future as a manufacturing city.
I ask the hon. Lady to bear those factors in mind. I agree that it is important to create jobs in manufacturing and to modernise that section of industry. The promotion of the motor industry by this international tourist event would be a gain for people involved with the motor industry in the city.
The project enjoyed overwhelming all-party support in the city council. In November, 90 members voted for it, 13 voted against and there were only five abstentions. As the hon. Lady knows, the Bill received a Second Reading by 202 votes to 68. The city council and supporters of the project hope and believe that the project will cover the capital and revenue costs and generate income which will improve the city's revenue and therefore services.
It is difficult for the House to debate such an assumption for the future, but the city council took much advice and considered the proposition very carefully. It was extremely carefully costed. The basis of the calculation is that, if the council goes for the expenditure of £1.5 million, perhaps over two years, it is likely that the city will receive the benefit of a profit of £1 million—a 40 per cent. return on a business investment. That would be a good return for the city and benefit everyone in the long term. Those are the best estimates we have upon which to base our judgment. I have considered them and thought seriously about the matter and believe that there is a good chance of the city making that profit. I support the Bill because I do not think that the cost will fall on ratepayers.
§ Ms. Clare Short
Later, I shall move two amendments that seek to secure that the council stays within those economic projections. Will the hon. Gentleman be supporting the amendment?
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
I accept your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that I shall be able to show a positive response to the main thrust of the hon. Lady's argument. I look forward to considering the amendments. The hon. Lady will also find that stage of the debate helpful.
The Bill was amended in Committee to take account of observations by Government Departments, statutory undertakers, the county council and petitioners. All five petitions were withdrawn before the Committee stage, so 694 the Bill was unopposed. The city takes full responsibility and will take great care to observe the points of detail that the Minister has raised.
There has been a misunderstanding about the position of the RAC. At Second Reading, the RAC opposed the Bill and motor racing on a street circuit. Following the vote on Second Reading, the chairman of the general purposes committee in Birmingham, Councillor Mrs. Brown, wrote to the chairman of the RAC, Mr. J. Rose, and made it clear that the city wished to work with the RAC to pursue the promotion of motor sport in Birmingham. In reply to Mrs. Brown on 22 May, Mr. Rose said that, having had its view rejected on Second Reading, the RAC would discontinue further opposition to the principle of the Bill and would receive and deal with any application for motor racing subsequent to the passage of the Act in accordance with the published regulations governing motor sport. I accept that that is the duty and responsibility of the chairman of the RAC.
I am happy to say that Mr. Rose offered a meeting at officer level, which was accepted by the city on 6 June. The RAC was represented by its general secretary, the motoring sports chief executive and the race executive. They made helpful suggestions and provided information about the necessary competition and track licences. All those matters are being followed up. I hope that the hon. Member for Ladywood will feel that that reveals a better situation.
The hon. Lady mentioned road surfaces. The city is having further consultations with the RAC—I am glad to say that, following Second Reading, a friendly relationship has been maintained with the RAC—and I am informed that, in the opinion of the RAC, the road surface in Birmingham is satisfactory for racing, especially in the light of experience at Monaco, where racing has not accelerated wear on the surface.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
The hon. Gentleman is being too modest about the RAC opinion. Apparently, the RAC believes that the surface of the proposed track in Birmingham is already of a higher specification than that at Monaco.
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
The hon. Gentleman makes a helpful point, which I believe to be accurate.
It would be much in the interests of our business if we could proceed soon to deal with the new clause in the name of the hon. Member for Ladywood, and the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) and for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I am anxious to be able to show a positive attitude towards the points that they wish to raise.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
Like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre), I wish to get on to the amendments as soon as possible, so I shall speak for only a few minutes. However, we must use this opportunity to discuss what is in the Bill following its Committee stage.
The hon. Member for Hall Green read out a list of people and organisations whose worries had been met, but he mentioned none of the anxieties expressed by myself and some of my hon. Friends when we discussed a number of instructions on Second Reading. I am still unhappy about the fact that the Bill contains no financial provisions. Not one sum of money is referred to.
695 I mentioned in an intervention — it was a little underhanded, because I suspected that I was out of order when I was making it — that Birmingham faces a massive financial crises. No one can tell us that everything is financially and economically rosy in Birmingham.
On Second Reading, Conservative Members enthused over the municipal Socialism that the Bill represents, but since then the city council has announced a 43 per cent. rate increase and Conservative Members have subsequently spent their time slagging off the city council at every opportunity.
It is one thing to say that the rate increase is no fault of the city council or of the Government, but it is another to ask hon. Members to approve legislation that will result in an impost on Birmingham ratepayers — without mentioning the fact that Birmingham is in a financial crisis. I shall say more about that later, when I shall also repeat that I am still unhappy about the fact that no attempt has been made to secure the external financing which I believe could easily have been obtained.
Some ignorant comment has been made in Birmingham newspapers about my hon. Friends and myself. I take extreme exception to being classed as the sort of hooligan who caused a death at Birmingham city football ground—and merely because I seek to have every stage of the Bill debated. The hon. Member for Hall Green shakes his head, but the Birmingham Despatch said that my hon. Friends and I were like the hooligans at Birmingham city who caused the crowd trouble that led to the death of a football supporter. I take extreme exception to that, and I shall be most annoyed if Birmingham city council spends money advertising in the Birmingham Despatch. The paper made no attempt to speak to us about why we had to object to the Bill recently so that we could secure today's debate.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We understand that some of our amendments may be accepted. The hon. Member for Hall Green talked about accepting the thrust of our amendments. We want more than that. We want amendments accepted here, not in another place. There is every reason to believe that financial amendments should be inserted here, not in the House of Lords.
I am glad that clause 21, with its code of practice, was added in Committee. It is only a pity that it was not in the original Bill. Nevertheless, I applaud the Committee and the promoters for their action.
Until about 10 days ago, the promoters and their agents had made no attempt since 1 April to contact my hon. Friends or myself to discuss detailed matters that we were worried about. Therefore, they cannot complain that we tabled amendments to the Bill only recently. We did not know until a few days ago that the Bill would be debated today, and it is no good the promoters saying that they cannot amend the Bill here and that amendments will have to be made in the other place. They knew what we were worried about, and the result was new clause 21.
This will be the only opportunity that I shall have to ask the promotors about clause 22, which was not amended or discussed in great detail in Committee. I do not understand why the city council should not have to obtain the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions to institute a prosecution. The powers of prosecution that are sought are different from those that are contained in the legislation.
696 I hope that some of the amendments that are to be debated tonight will be accepted. Their acceptance would improve the Bill. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). I am worried about the financial implications. If I can be satisfied about them, I shall not oppose the Bill, but we have not yet been convinced about the financial implications and they remain our greatest concern.
The amendments demonstrate that there are other worries. For example, a meeting is taking place now in Birmingham to decide whether or not to proceed with Birmingham's bid to stage the Olympics. I am not opposed to that bid. I have not been asked for my approval or disapproval. It is not a parliamentary matter. However, after the Olympics, Birmingham would be left with many physical assets.
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Gentleman says that they would be liabilities. I believe that they would be assets. Those assets would be used by the citizens of Birmingham. Furthermore, many new jobs would be created in order to provide those assets.
We are dealing here not with assets but with a peripheral tourist attraction. This event would take place once a year. The hon. Member for Hall Green made it sound so good financially that I wondered why this event is not to take place every three months. If it is to be such a sure-fire winner and a real money spinner, why not stage the event twice or three times a year? Such an event could be staged at bank holidays.
There remain doubts about whether it would be viable. I need to be convinced that the event will be financially successful. More information needs to be made available. The capital restrictions were not accepted by all members of the council. It was not a unanimous decision. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect hon. Members to come to a unanimous decision. If councillors are so certain that this will be a money spinner that they wish no capital restrictions to be written into the Bill, there ought perhaps to be an amendment requiring them to make a contribution if a loss should be made. However, we have not gone that far.
We do not wish to be unreasonable. Those hon. Members who seek to impose financial control over the exercise have made compromises. Those compromises take the place of many amendments that we would have moved had we not been prepared to compromise. Having made compromises, during the evening we shall expect firm evidence, in the form of acceptance of certain of these amendments, that the promotors are also willing to make compromises.
§ Mr. Rooker
The idea had clearly not crossed the mind of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) who has just thanked my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) for giving him the idea.
If this project goes ahead, we wish it to be successful. Nobody wishes it to be a failure. However, it should be proceeded with only if there is sufficient evidence that it will be successful or if there is sufficient evidence that the private sector will be prepared to put its hand in its pocket to provide support. The private sector will benefit from it, as the hon. Member for Hall Green made clear on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
It is sad that this further bold venture from Birmingham has met with opposition—forgetting the interested parties representing other race tracks—from only three hon. Members with Birmingham constituencies. It is a pity that they all happen to be members of the Opposition, particularly as the city council—alas and alack Labour-controlled—is now in favour of the event. I do not doubt the motives of these hon. Members. It does not behove anybody in public life to doubt people's motives for opposing something and I know that the views of the three hon. Members are honourably held and have been honourably put forward.
However, as somebody who was involved in the local government life of the city of Birmingham for over 20 years, I have to say of some of the arguments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that I remember hearing them loud and clear from those of faint heart who thought that instead of money being spent on one project or another it should have been spent on the repair and maintenance of tower blocks, expenditure which is of course necessary, or upon schools, expenditure which is also necessary. I do not doubt the heart of the hon. Member for Ladywood because she cares for her constituents and for the city, as do we all.
When we debated all those years ago the spending of a much greater sum of money on the National Exhibition Centre, to which project two Governments gave valiant support, the sum of money involved was much larger. It amounted to £26 million, and eventually the project cost £42 million. Harry Whatton, Frank Price, Sir Frank Griffin and I said that we should probably end up in the tower if it all went wrong. However, Birmingham and all other cities have to take risks with their ratepayers' money. Of course they have to think carefully before they risk that money, so to risk £40 million was a tremendous gamble.
A good case could have been made out for spending that money upon the infrastructure, roads and old people's homes, but the result of the venture was a new airport, a new international station, a new road link and new hotels, restaurants and jobs. It has resulted in new hope and in a new vision of what the city of Birmingham is. That was what was involved when we took that great decision on the Sunday morning when the contract was signed. Had the risk we then took gone wrong, heads would have rolled.
As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) rightly said, the reason for only modest representation from the political parties of Birmingham is that tonight they are considering another great venture, in which far larger sums of money are involved than was the case with the National Exhibition Centre. About £500 698 million will be involved if the Olympics are staged in Birmingham. Whether or not the Olympics come to Birmingham, and whether the city is controlled by a Conservative of Labour city council, the city moves best when it moves as a united team upon such ventures. I hope that if we can overcome the niggles we can move upon this venture. It may not be a great success, but I believe that Birmingham has a knack of making such things successful. The sum of money involved is small but it will attract business and people to Birmingham.
Rates have been mentioned but I do not wish to join in the controversy tonight about whether rates should have been increased. When we talk about the future of Birmingham we should not consider the problems of today but rather the direction we wish to see Birmingham take.
If one discounts rate rebates, those who pay rates will include business people large and small. They will pay for the future of our great city. It is correct to risk ratepayers' money to help people build a vision and create new hope for the city of Birmingham. It is not Government money, it is the people's money. That is why I am glad that the RAC, which I thought acted badly previously, though its motives may have been for the best, has relented and given us its support.
If one sets out on a venture one must believe that it will be successful; otherwise one would be wasting the time of the House and its servants on discussion. I believe that Birmingham is right. This is a good venture and once we have got over the niggles—the matter of half-price tickets for Birmingham citizens is not a crucial issue—and we can set at rest the genuine anxieties of hon. Members we can proceed with this or like ventures because, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood said, Birmingham needs a lift.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) mentioned the BL plan which, last week, we all agreed was a huge uplift for the city of Birmingham and for the west midlands. We should not damage Birmingham's prospects by letting those who decide Birmingham's future think that we are disunited on this matter, the Olympics, or some future venture, as we were in the past on the NEC.
It is our city, and our future should be in our hands. If we can reach a united decision tonight, our bid for the Olympics might be looked upon more favourably because we act as a united Birmingham. Labour or Conservative control does not matter. The future of our city does. It is the future of Birmingham that matters, regardless of whether the Conservatives or Socialists control it. We should vote on this tonight as a united team.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)
During this debate the hon. Members for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) have said that the Bill would create jobs. Such arguments sound strange from the lips of hon. Members who support a Government who continually cut public expenditure. I accept that public expenditure creates jobs. My objection to the Bill is not that it involves public expenditure but that it involves expenditure on a motor race instead of more worthwhile projects. Those hon. Gentlemen speak of the expenditure of £1.5 million of capital allocation on a motor race and support it on the grounds that it will create jobs. I am amazed that we have heard nothing from them at any time about the reduction 699 of £40 million in capital allocation to the city of Birmingham this year. That money would have created far more jobs than a motor race.
It is clear that the hon. Member for Hall Green does not know how many jobs would be created by the motor race. I can tell him because I raised the point with Councillor Marjorie Brown, the chairman of the general purposes committee. She told me that the expenditure would only create "up to 20 jobs". In fact she said that the clerical work to be done would involve up to 20 extra members of staff for the city council.
The issue is not whether public expenditure does or does not create jobs. I argue consistently in all economic debates that it does create jobs.
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. If the event is held and attracts the flow of visitors and the expenditure that has been taken account of, all that activity creates the prospect of further employment in a wider sector.
§ Mr. Davis
The hon. Gentleman has taken my bait. I raised that point with Councillor Brown and she could give me no estimate—I was willing to accept any rough estimate or guesstimate—of how many jobs the city council thought would be created as a spin-off from the motor race. I would not have argued. I just wanted a figure. There would be jobs. Some of them would be temporary such as selling programmes and hot dogs. Some of them might last longer than the weekend and be in hotels and restaurants. Of course there would be some extra jobs. But the answer was that the council did not know and the Bill's promoters do not know how many jobs will be created by the activities to which the hon. Member for Hall Green drew our attention.
I am not opposed to the creation of jobs. On the contrary, I argue for that in all our debates in all contexts, unlike the hon. Members for Hall Green and for Selly Oak. I accept that some jobs will be created and that some profits will be made at the same time. That is why some of the businesses in Birmingham want the Bill. They want public expenditure so that they have the opportunity for private profit.
The point is not whether we spend £1.5 million; it is whether we spend it on a motor race in preference to other activities, or projects. That is the point. Capital expenditure creates jobs. It is not only the motor race. Other forms of capital expenditure also create jobs. I am not arguing for a reduction of £1.5 million in the council's expenditure. I am arguing and I have consistently argued for that £1.5 million to be spent on other things.
§ Mr. Beaumont-Dark
I am happy to be another fish and to accept the hon. Gentleman's bait. We can, of course make out a long shopping list of things on which to spend money. As I hope I said, to spend £1 million on infrastructure or repairs may create more jobs than this project. Which does the hon. Gentleman think will attract more and better publicity for the city of Birmingham and attract people and make them believe that Birmingham is a go-ahead city? Does he think that people would be inclined to give us greater publicity for having a good and successful race or for £1 million spent upon sewerage, although the one may be essential? Do we not sometimes have to raise our minds from the temporary for the greater good in the longer term?
§ Mr. Davis
I accept the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument. We shall be using that word a great deal this evening. That is why I am favourably disposed towards a Birmingham bid for the Olympics. I think that that would do a great deal for Birmingham. But I should prefer people to take away a better image of Birmingham as a result of the expenditure of £1.5 million on some projects that I shall mention later instead of a motor race. I believe that they would have a better image of Birmingham if the money were spent on these projects rather than on a motor race.
The fact that tower blocks are fenced off because of the danger of blocks of concrete falling on people and the fact that Birmingham contains many Smith houses which are crumbling round the ears of the people living in them because the city council has no money to do anything about these problems do not do Birmingham's image much good.
§ Ms. Clare Short
What would be the impact on Birmingham's image if a foreign tourist went past one of these tower blocks, a lump of masonry fell on his head and he was severely injured?
§ Mr. Davis
Of course that would be a disaster. I do not think that it is likely to happen, because the council has fenced off many of these tower blocks.
The hon. Member for Hall Green argued that the race would be self-financing. I do not believe that he appreciated the force and strength of our belief in priorities. For the purposes of this debate, I shall accept the figures that have been cited by the city council. This is an argument not about whether the race is self-financing but about the items on which the city council should spend money under the capital allocation. The Minister of State also argued that the race would be self-financing. I do not believe that she has understood the point that it is capital expenditure. It is not a case of spending the people's money, as the hon. Member for Selly Oak put it. The money will be borrowed; it will not be raised from the rates as revenue expenditure.
For what should the city council borrow the money? On what should the council spend it? According to my understanding of the way in which capital expenditure works, the Government restrict the amount of money—they call it an allocation—that the city council can spend on capital expenditure. The Government leave it to the council to decide on what that money is spent, but they control the amount borrowed and the amount that the council can use from its capital receipts. The Government therefore restrict Birmingham's total capital expenditure.
In a letter to me, the chairman of the general purposes committee of the city of Birmingham said:you are quite right in saying that this will come from capital allocations—although the phasing of the expenditure by financial year is still uncertain.The city treasurer confirmed this in a note circulated to other hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell). He said:Since total local authority spending on land, buildings, roads etc. is controlled by the Government, by spending allocations and restrictions on the use of capital receipts, the initial road alterations and setting up costs would count against City spending limits and would utilise resources which otherwise could be spent on other City services.Let there be no misunderstanding: it is a question not of the total amount of capital expenditure but of priorities.
701 In January, hon. Members received a letter from Councillor Dick Knowles, the leader of the city council. His letter complained about the Government's restrictions on Birmingham's capital expenditure. He attached a briefing note that had been prepared by the city treasurer and mentioned all the items—some of which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Selly Oak—on which the city council would not be able to spend as much as it needed in the coming year. These vital items included council house building, even for the elderly and disabled; structural repairs to dangerous high-rise blocks which were being fenced off; improvement grants; work to replace inadequate outside school toilets and essential fire precautions work. That is not my shopping list; it is a list of items that will be in jeopardy because of the Government's restrictions. That is why I and my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) object to the Bill.
The Minister of State says that it is up to Birmingham city council to decide its priorities, but we are being asked to endorse them by our votes. That is why we are entitled to object. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr put his finger on the central point when he said that money was our greatest concern. Our sense of priorities differs from that of the hon. Member for Selly Oak. That is not surprising. It is one reason why we are in different political parties. We want the money to be spent on those items to which I referred.
This morning, I received a letter from the city council and this afternoon I had discussions with a council officer. I have not been able to consult my colleagues because these events have taken place during the past few hours. The city treasurer's department has now come up with an ingenious scheme. It does not contain everything we have requested. It will still involve the city council using £1.5 million of its capital expenditure allocation for the motor race. The scheme does, however, go a long way towards meeting our objection on the ground of priorities. Our objection concerned the once-and-for-all use of that money for a motor race. However great the profit, it cannot be used for capital expenditure. The scheme proposed by the city treasurer's department would enable us to meet the priorities about which my hon. Friends and I have such strong feelings. The arrangements proposed by the council are much closer to us than the council's previous position, and it has been made clear to me that these proposals at the eleventh hour are the direct result of our refusal to allow the Bill to pass on the nod and of our meeting with the leader of the city council last Thursday afternoon. I urge my colleagues to accept the council's serious effort to meet our objection on capital expenditure priorities.
That still leaves several defects in the Bill, which are covered by the amendments that we have tabled on many aspects, including finance. We shall want to press those amendments to debate and possibly to a Division if they are not accepted by the hon. Member for Hall Green.
The hon. Member for Hall Green said that he accepted the thrust of some amendments and referred especially to some of mine. As my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr pointed out, the hon. Gentleman will have to do much more than that. For example, he will have to find a way of accommodating amendment No. 4, which has not been selected for debate. As drafted, the Bill says that the city council will liaise with Birmingham district health 702 authority, but there is no such body. There are five district health authorities in Birmingham, and none of them runs the ambulance service, which is one of the aspects on which there is supposed to be liaison. I suggest that my amendment, which refers to the West Midlands regional health authority, is an essential amendment if this is to be sensible legislation. My amendment has not been accepted by Mr. Speaker for technical reasons, which I understand. The hon. Member for Hall Green should find a way of amending the Bill, perhaps in the other place. The trouble is that, because the Bill is badly drafted, it will have to be amended in the other place and return to the House of Commons to enable hon. Members to consider the amendments.
§ Mr. Rooker
The technicalities of private legislation differ from those of public legislation. Is the reason why my hon. Friend's amendment was not selected the fact that he could not show evidence that he had consulted Birmingham district health authority, to which he was referring? I freely admit that I did not consult the Birmingham Despatch. That was a quid pro quo. How could my hon. Friend consult Birmingham district health authority? If this is the difference between the two sides of the House, surely a manuscript amendment or a change in Mr. Speaker's decision would accommodate my hon. Friend's wishes.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Hon. Members are getting a little wide of the debate. I realise that the House wishes to discuss whether the Bill should be now considered. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) has begun to refer to an amendment that has not been selected. I am sure that he appreciates that it would not be appropriate to discuss that amendment. I am wondering whether the House wishes to move on fairly soon to the amendments that have been selected.
§ Mr. Davis
We are discussing whether we should consider a Bill that is defective. From the expression on the face of the hon. Member for Hall Green, I think that he has had urgent discussions with the city council as a result of my amendment and others. He has learned that there is a defect in the Bill. It is a pity that it was not put right before.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Hall Green will rise to suggest that we should now defer consideration of the Bill to enable us to amend it properly in the House of Commons. I am not putting words into the hon. Gentleman's mouth, but that is the point that I was seeking to make.
Clearly we shall consider the Bill this evening because the hon. Gentleman has not risen to his feet. We shall consider a defective Bill that will have to be amended in the other place and will have to come back to the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, we shall seek to amend the Bill to enable it to go forward as a much more sensible Bill than it would have been if we had not objected to its passage on the nod a fortnight ago.
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
I was not able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on Second Reading. I am surprised that so many of my hon. Friends are still so keen on the municipal as opposed to the private sector being involved in the race.
703 Many of my constituents are ratepayers of the city of Birmingham. Some are in the unfortunate position of being ratepayers who do not have a vote—in the business and commercial sector. They are very concerned about the Bill. Therefore, there are some matters that I wish to raise at this stage in the hope that something can be done and that some consideration will be given to those points.
Before I refer to those matters, I should like to say something about the RAC, of which much mention has been made, because I have spoken to its representatives on many occasions about the Bill. Their position may have been misrepresented unwittingly. As we know, they were opposed to the idea of a road race on public roads. They were very concerned about the precedent and about races taking money from the private sector, where a great deal of capital had already been spent. On the other hand, as very good servants of this country and as people who watch carefully what happens in Parliament, and bearing in mind Second Reading, they realised that they should co-operate and enforce the rules and regulations to the best of their ability. To say that they are in favour is being unfair to them. They are not. The RAC is the governing body of motor sport, and it is therefore beholden to the sport, the country and the views of Parliament, and to do its best in a situation in which they disagree. I know that the RAC has been co-operating and that it will continue to do so. However, I wanted to put that matter straight.
A few points cause me a great deal of concern. The first concerns clause 5, on the restriction of traffic. The proposed route for the race covers 2.5 miles, involving parts of 45 roads bounded by a mixture of commercial and industrial and residential premises. The Bill empowers the council to close off the roads and to restrict access to any part of them between 9 am and 6 pm on the day of and the day preceding the race. That could create havoc for some commercial premises to which goods must be delivered and received.
We appreciate that trade and commerce do not grind to a halt just because of a bank holiday in England, especially as bank holidays abroad do not necessarily coincide with our bank holidays. Therefore, the powers of access granted in the Bill are not sufficient, especially considering the inconvenience of even setting up the barriers and taking them down, apart from inconvenience during the race itself.
We must appreciate that the race is to take place not on a field miles from anywhere, but in the commercial heartland. I am disappointed about that aspect of the Bill. I hope that if it goes to the other place, further consideration will be given to the point that I have raised.
The other points that I should like to raise are more fundamental and go to the heart of much that I have spoken about and believe. Clause 16 deals with damage to property. The Bill provides that entitlement to damages from street closure or barrier erection is to be calculated under provisions laid down in the Land Compensation Act 1961. Under that Act, disputed claims for compensation go to the land tribunal rather than directly to the courts. That is something like a court of law. But in such cases, should not any disputes go directly to the High Court, especially since they may involve both physical loss and commercial financial loss of large sums of money? In the eyes of the public, such a crucial case would be accredited 704 with greater legitimacy if it was heard in the High Court. Why should a business action for tort not be available? Why should this procedure supplant a business action for tort?
The Bill states that damage claims must be assessed in the light of any gain to the plaintiff that the holding or the prospect of holding a motor race would give. Who will decide who gains or what those gains are? That is an unfair penalty on business interests. We must appreciate that under the Bill there will be confiscation of property rights for a time, possibly without adequate compensation.
There is another aspect that we must consider—the duration of validity for damage claims, which comes under clause 16(5). The clause provides that a period of only 12 months elapses before any claim for compensation falls. That is absolutely ridiculous. Why should Birmingham arrogantly give itself preferential treatment? After all, the limitation period in any other business is a good deal longer. It is six years. Why should Birmingham have 12 months? We must consider why it is six years. In certain trade and international commercial circles 12 months would be an insufficient time to make any assessment of the true extent of the damage incurred. That is a very important point. It is absolutely fundamental.
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Gentleman is making a meal of the matter. I do not like the way in which he is attacking Birmingham. Surely the reason is obvious. Birmingham wants to get the claims for one race out of the way and legally settled before the second race. That makes sense. Otherwise, it would be impossible to administer.
§ Mr. Ashby
One will not know whether the race has been run at a loss or a profit until one has got the claims out of the way. That may well be the point. That may be the reason for 12 months. After all, a substantial claim could turn a profit into a loss—perhaps a substantial loss. However, not only commercial interests but residents are involved. Why should those people be in a different legal position from the rest of the country? Why should they not have the same legal rights as the rest of the country? Why can they not go to the same courts, have the same limitation period, and make the same claims as the ordinary person?
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
With respect, I think that my hon. Friend has not taken full account of the deliberations of the Committee. Special provisions with regard to liability affecting Birmingham were made, which took it into a special category, part of which my hon. Friend mentioned. But the total balance is very much in favour of anyone who is injured. I think that that was a proper liability to place upon the corporation in these circumstances. It will, of course, be met by insurance. I think that, under the total scheme, the balance of advantage is with the person injured.
§ Mr. Ashby
I have not seen that. Why should Birmingham be given such preferential treatment in the courts above and beyond everyone else? The courts exist to protect ordinary citizens, and every citizen should have the right to go to court. I hope that my points will be given thought elsewhere because the position is alarming and goes far beyond the Birmingham City Council Bill.
I find another aspect equally alarming. Clause 5(7) allows the police to arrest any individual found without reasonable excuse in any street closed for the event. Under 705 the Bill the police will have the defence of taking all reasonable precautions. The Bill creates an offence, and I can see the scenario that will develop. A person with important commercial interests who requires to reach his premises will be refused access by a police officer. That person will say, "I must pass through. I have an important item to deliver to the premises." That may happen not on the bank holiday, but on the preceding day or one of the other days when the streets are closed. Then the poor fellow will be arrested, taken before the courts and fined. Only a fine is permissible under this clause. He will be extremely angry because he will have been denied access to his premises to carry out his business. He may refuse to pay—many people refuse to pay fines—and he will then be sentenced to 14 days imprisonment. That is the scenario that will arise because fundamental rights are denied under the Bill. That is a serious aspect, and it must be considered. A new offence is being created.
Equally alarming is clause 12, which deals with the compulsory purchase of land rights. The Bill gives Birmingham city council draconian powers to acquire property rights on specific land for three days before and after the day of the event, if agreement cannot be reached with the owner. I have spent most of my political life fighting against compulsory powers and for the rights of the individual. This clause fills me with horror. We are taking property rights away from the individual. There is no appeal, because this is a compulsory acquisition of property rights. In other similar cases there have been inquiries. An independent inspector has to listen to both sides and make up his mind whether the powers that have been sought are good or bad, sensible or nonsensical. After that, the matter goes to the Minister for his agreement. That happens in every other case of compulsory acquisition of land rights. However, there is no provision for that in the Bill. The powers are draconian. No other body has them in peacetime. I can imagine those powers being made available in wartime regulations, but not in peacetime.
It is monstrous that Birmingham should be given these added powers, that there should be no appeal, no independent inquiry and no safeguard for the individual. The Bill removes individuals' rights substantially in the name of a jolly good day's entertainment on the municipal rates, and without regard to the people who will be affected by the race being staged on their roads. The very people affected are having their rights taken from them. I hope that my points will be considered, because they are vital.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I wish to refer in particular to the speech by the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). At the beginning of his speech I wondered how many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents either live or work in Birmingham.
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman keeps re-emphasising points to which I listened. I am well aware that his constituents do not vote in Birmingham council elections. My point is that I see no reason why they should. It is difficult for me to speak because I am a non-Birmingham Member of Parliament. However, I can claim to be a Birmingham ratepayer and, therefore, I have some direct interest in how my money is spent. Regrettably, I am not yet represented by any of my hon. Friends, but I hope that some time in the future I shall be.
§ Mr. Snape
Regrettably, I was not in Birmingham during the general election, but I promise to vote Labour next time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) pointed out the inconvenience that her constituents will suffer if the road race goes ahead. I, too, have many constituents who live in tower blocks and who, like her constituents, wish to leave them as quickly as possible. Although I do not know my hon. Friend's constituency as well as she does, I hope that she will accept that I know a little about it. This morning I passed through part of it, and I hope that she will agree that the environment of her constituents with the present road traffic using the roads on which it is proposed to run the race is hardly the best in the country. I put it no higher than that. Perhaps she could tell the House what her constituents' views would be about the difference between the non-stop stream of heavy goods vehicles which pass through the centre of Birmingham at present on these roads, and the road vehicles that will pass down those roads if the Bill is accepted. I would not have thought that the intrusive aspect of a road race would be much greater than the nightmare that most of them must put up with at present.
§ Ms. Clare Short
We are told by an expert report that the noise from the road race will at times be deafening, but brief. Obviously, that is much more intrusive than normal heavy traffic during the day. However, that was not my major point. It was that the money that is being spent on the road race could be spent on desperately needed repairs to the tower blocks that surround the racing circuit.
§ Mr. Snape
I realise that. My hon. Friend will, however, acknowledge that £1,500,000 will not go far towards those much-needed repairs. As the Member of Parliament who represents the constituency adjacent to my hon. Friend, although outside the city of Birmingham, I hope that if millions of pounds are flying around, some will be allocated to my constituency. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) is central to our debate. I speak only for myself when I say that I would find difficulty in, on the one hand, waging a political battle for greater local government autonomy, and on the other telling an elected city council whether it can spend a small proportion of its overall budget. I was a member of a local authority, as were many of my hon. Friends, and for some time I was chairman of the finance committee. The allocation of finance and the division of any council's resources is often a hot political potato. Indeed, sometimes it is a hotter political potato among members of the same party than it is in a council where all the political parties are represented. When I did that job, I would not have wanted the House to decide those financial priorities for me.
707 The Labour party has waged the battle that it has on the Local Government Bill because the Government wish to centralise the decisions of local authorities. Again, I stress that I speak personally, but I support the right of Birmingham city council to decide its priorities. I represent a constituency adjacent to Birmingham and within the borough of Sandwell, and I can tell the House that such arguments and controversies are nothing new in my borough. We run an annual historic vehicle parade for which it is necessary to close some roads. The parade was started by two people about seven years ago, but because it was so successful, Sandwell council became directly involved and now contributes financially to the project. During the years, there has been some criticism within the borough and on the council about spending money in that way.
I have another interest to declare, in that it is extremely worrying that each time I see the historic vehicle parade, I realise that I used to travel on most of the buses on parade. The allocation of a small part of the council's resources often causes controversy in the borough. I do not always agree with the council's decisions, but I believe that the allocation of resources is better left—
§ Mr. Snape
I cannot give way to both my hon. Friends. Perhaps they can decide between themselves who will cast the first stone. The allocation of those resources should be left to the local council. That is why, on the previous occasion when this Bill was before the House, I could not support my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Terry Davis
My hon. Friend has made it clear that he is speaking for himself. However, does he understand that there is a difference? Here we are being asked to vote on the priorities because we must vote on a Bill. It is not a case of leaving the decision to the council. We are being asked to endorse or vote against its priorities. I must tell my hon. Friend that four of the six Birmingham, Labour Members of Parliament do not regard themselves as rubber stamps for the council.
§ Mr. Snape
It is exactly the same thing. Of course, four of the six Birmingham Labour Members of Parliament must make up their minds and vote accordingly on this Bill, as on any legislation. I make no complaint about that.
However, the city council recently commissioned an eminently reputable organisation—Market and Opinion Research International, which the Labour party uses for its opinion polls—to conduct an opinion poll into what people thought about decision-making at local level, the accountancy procedures of the council and the way in which their money is spent. The result of the poll will bring no comfort to Conservative Members, who troop continually through the Lobby to restrict the powers of local authority expenditure. The poll states: 708Even among those who believe the Council, not the Government, is more to blame for rate rises"—that is a very small proportion of the citizens of Birmingham—over twice as many say the Council (62 per cent.) rather than the Government (28 per cent.) should be mainly responsible for how much the Council spends.The people were not asked whether the Opposition should play a part in decision-making. The result shows that the ratepayers of Birmingham, regardless of their political affiliations, believe that those decisions are best made at city council level. I agree with them.
§ Mr. Rooker
I should be interested to see that document, because none of us has received it. I do not know why that should be so. Perhaps the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) has a copy. Does my hon. Friend believe that it should be a matter of local government choice to have racing on the public highway? That is what the Bill is about. If it was possible for a council to decide to close the highways and to have racing on them, they would not need a Bill. No one is arguing about the priorities of choice among the heads of expenditure within the competence of the city council. It is not within the competence of Birmingham city council to close the public highway for racing. That is why it must come to the House for permission. That is why we are asking some questions about the financial arrangements. There is nothing wrong with that, and I cannot understand why my hon. Friend has this holier-than-thou attitude on this matter. We are not attacking local democracy. It is simply not within the competence of Birmingham city council to do as it wishes in this respect.
§ Mr. Snape
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would not shout at me, because that does make a valid point better. If we cannot conduct this debate without going for each other's throats, at least verbally, we are in a bad way.
As to my hon. Friend's first point, I do not know how the document was distributed. I received it only today, and I have no idea whether other hon. Members received copies. It is entitled, "Residents' attitudes to Birmingham city council", and it is a research study conducted for the council by MORI.
§ Mr. Snape
I got it from the city council today. I thought that I had made that plain. My hon. Friend, who is a fellow ratepayer in Birmingham, is welcome to take the document with him at the end of the debate. There is no reason why it should be kept secret and, as far as I am aware, it has not been.
§ Mr. Snape
I do not wish to labour the point. There is the document; if my hon. Friend wishes to read it, he can take it with him at the end of the debate.
My hon. Friend's second point was that the controversy is about road closures rather than financial matters, but that is not what my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill said. I do not complain about what he said, but he and my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood both said that this is a question of financial priorities and that, rather than spend £1.5 million on a road race, they could find—we 709 all could—better purposes for the expenditure than the city council has chosen. That is a different point from the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr.
§ Mr. Snape
No. We shall reach my hon. Friend's amendments in due course. One of the amendments concerns half-price tickets for those wishing to watch the race. I shall vote against that proposal because it is unfair. I shall directly benefit from such a provision, but others will have to pay twice as much to watch the race.
I do not know whether the city council is right in its suggestion on the tourist aspect. The council must make its own decision. I find some contributions by my hon. Friends vaguely off-putting because they claim to be concerned about the future economy of the city. When one considers what has happened to that economy in the last six years it is ridiculous to suggest that the scheme could go even a fraction of the way to replace the jobs lost in manufacturing industry in Birmingham and the black country. Any impact that the scheme could have on the economies of Birmingham and the surrounding area is at best marginal. It might even cost money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr was anxious to persuade members of the local authority to stand the financial loss if that were necessary. However, he has said that that is unacceptable to the city council and that therefore he would not proceed with that suggestion.
We are talking about a decision by a majority on the city council. That is not good enough, although I know that some of my hon. Friends do not agree with me. The Bill received an overwhelming majority on Second Reading. That leads me to believe that I should support the Bill as I did then.
§ Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
I shall take note of your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and my remarks will be brief.
Throughout the Bill's consideration two important features have been prominent. The first is the closing of roads, and the second the financial stricture relating to the rates. I represent not a Birmingham constituency but a constituency in the heart of the black country. I am able to tell the House that there is a tremendous amount of support for the Bill in the black country. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is in the same position as I am, in that we are not contributors to the area in rateable terms, but we both support the event.
The closing of roads takes place in all areas for all sorts of reasons, particularly in the summer. The contribution of my hon. Friend for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) was saturated with wisdom. He gave us the vision of what happened some years ago when Birmingham's city fathers took the decision about the national exhibition centre. I spent three years involved in 710 the construction of the NEC and the buildings attached to it. It is a jewel in the crown of the west midlands. I believe that the events that we are debating tonight will be another jewel in the crown.
I am prompted to say that because another city has roads which are closed once a year. They are closed so that a race might take place. If one asked the people of Liverpool, "Why do you close the roads?", they would say "Because we are able to have an international event which is well renowned. You can speak to people throughout the world and mention Melling road and they know what you mean."
§ Dr. Blackburn
It is not up to me to educate the House. Because roads are closed by Act of Parliament, the Grand National steeplechase can take place at Aintree. That is a tremendous source of income for Liverpool. Equally, this evening represents an historic occasion. Closing roads in Birmingham will have the same historic success, and I wish the Bill godspeed.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill, as amended, considered.