HC Deb 19 November 1986 vol 105 cc559-61
11. Mr. Maclean

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will publish a White Paper outlining his plans to compel local authorities to contract out more services.

Mr. Ridley

We intend to introduce a Bill as early as possible this Session, which is much better than a White Paper.

Mr. Maclean

I thank my right hon. Friend for that very welcome reply. Does he understand why Labour Members so bitterly oppose contracting out services, which they describe as an attack on local government? Will he confirm that if local authority employees put in a better offer at a cheaper price that is to the benefit of local government employees and ratepayers.

Mr. Ridley

I agree entirely. I cannot understand why Labour Members are so worked up about this, especially as the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) professes to favour greater efficiency in the discharge of local authority functions. If the in-house organisation can show fairly that it is more efficient than the private sector, it will retain the work. It is surely best for the ratepayers that, whoever wins the competition, the best people carry out the function.

Mr. Clelland

Is the contracting out of local services likely to have the same effect as the contracting out of bus services to private companies, which has created chaos in public transport, and for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsible?

Mr. Ridley

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has the temerity to mention the Transport Act after the extraordinary nonsense that we heard from Labour Members during the passage of that legislation. It is astonishing how little any of them dare say about the success that is now coming through. [Interruption.] I have even heard murmurs about Glasgow, which now has a phenomenon quite shocking to Socialists, namely,instead of passengers queueing for buses, there are buses queueing for passengers.

Mr. David Atkinson

Is it true that the proposed Bill will oblige local authorities to put only five major services out to private tender? Does my right hon. Friend agree that every service that is available in the private sector should be put to the competitive test?

Mr. Ridley

I must ask my hon. Friend to await publication of the Bill, which will contain the full list of services to be put out to competitive tender. There will also be an order-making power to add further services to the list as local authorities learn how to adopt the procedures and make them work. There can, thus, be a succession of further services during the next two or three Tory Parliaments.

Mr. Freeson


Mr. Robert Atkins

Ken Livingstone's predecessor.

Mr. Freeson

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to intervene.

Mr. Atkins

The right hon. Member has given way already.

Mr. Freeson

I do not need someone else's name to stand in this place.

However desirable or undesirable their policy may be, why do the Government insist on compelling local authorities to do things when those elected authorities wish to do otherwise?

Mr. Ridley

I think I heard the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) say that the Government have not given sufficient money to local authorities to enable them to perform their functions. If local authorities are going to say that, it is perfectly fair for me to ask first whether they are performing their functions efficiently. I do not see why the Government should be criticised for not financing inefficiency.

Mr. Hill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in certain Left-wing councils, such as Southampton, which has been deeply penetrated by Militant Tendency, there is no intention of putting out any further work? In fact, that council is increasing its direct labour force and fudging its accounts to make way for the possibility that all the work in the future will be under the control of Militant in my area.

Mr. Ridley

I am happy to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the Bill will contain powers to enforce the competitive tendering regime and ensure that it is carried out fairly, including the ultimate power to direct that the service be closed down, as we did recently in relation to a direct labour organisation in a London borough. Those powers will be there to ensure fair play.

Dr. Cunningham

Is not the reality behind the Secretary of State's refusal to publish a White Paper the fact that all the evidence submitted to his Department, which he also refuses to publish, opposes enforced privatisation? Is it not also the reality that in the Health Service and local government now we see squalor, falling standards and a lack of cleanliness following privatisation? If privatisation is so effective, why do all the Conservative-controlled councils, which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends support, not privatise their services now? The reality is that even Tory-controlled local authority association oppose what the right hon. Gentleman is doing.

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman will know that we published a consultative paper on the subject. Surely that is better than a White Paper. After a Green Paper, I think that a Green Bill is appropriate, and we shall proceed. I do not for one moment accept the hon. Gentleman's premise that services have deteriorated. He does not seem to acknowledge the large savings that have been made in DLOs and the Health Service through a policy of competition. The hon. Gentleman is making a grave mistake if he believes that he will find a popular cause here, because the ratepayers want better services and they want them cheaper. It is the ratepayers who matter.