§ Mr. Speaker
I understand that it will be convenient to discuss all three motions. There will be a Division at the end of the debate.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)
I beg to move,That the Welsh Revenue Support Grant Report 1991–92 (House of Commons Paper No. 78), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, be approved.I am delighted that we are taking also the associated motions:That the Welsh Revenue Support Grant Distribution Report (No. 2) (House of Commons Paper No. 79), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, be approved.That the Distribution of Non-Domestic Rates (Relevant Population) Report for Wales (No. 2) (House of Commons Paper No. 80), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, he approved.The report embody the decisions that I announced in the House on 17 January on Welsh local government finance and the settlement for 1991–92. In announcing my decisions to the House, I described the settlement as good news for local authorities and Welsh charge payers and clearly that was a realistic assessment.
It is not necessary this evening to repeat the decisions that I announced on 17 January, but I remind the House that I am allowing local authorities additional spending of 8 per cent. on 1990–91 budgets. That is I per cent. more than will be allowed in England. With the improved outlook for inflation during 1991–92, I am confident that that will be an entirely adequate level of spending to cover inflationary and other pressures and to meet the cost of new responsibilities.
As the House will know, the Audit Commission has shown that there is considerable potential for all local authorities to secure further efficiency savings. I am anxious that they should do so in order to release further resources for the development of services. On 17 January I commended the work of Welsh local authorities to secure greater efficiency and I do so again tonight. Local authorities in Wales have also recognised that much remains to be done and clearly they are getting on with the job.
The distribution report sets out the calculations for each authority's standard spending assessment. The overall increase in SSAs is 15 per cent., the average for counties being 14 per cent. and the average for districts being 21 per cent. These increases are substantial and give the lie to those who argue that the settlement is inadequate. I am pleased to tell the House that once again in Wales we have been able to reach full agreement with the local authority associations on the formulae for calculating SSAs.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
One point intrigues me. I have read the reports. In the Welsh Revenue Support Grant Distribution Report (No. 2) table 1.5 on page 11 deals with 890 the standard spending assessment. Can the Secretary of State explain on what basis the estimated expenditure additions are calculated? They do not seem to bear any relationship to the interim SSAs. For example, how is the estimated expenditure addition calculated for Neath as compared with the one for Ogwr?
§ Mr. Hunt
It is simple, if the hon. Gentleman will concentrate for a moment. The standard spending assessment for Ogwr in the 1991–92 settlement is £17,218,000 which is an increase of 16.5 per cent. A 2 per cent. decrease in population has meant, however, that the SSA increase need not be as high as the district average. That is why the figures for Ogwr are as set out. However, taking the last two years for the estimated expenditure additions and looking at the background of the SSAs, the figures have increased by 35 per cent., which is one of the highest increases in Wales. If the hon. Gentleman referred to his local authority, he would find that it agrees with the assessment.
On the interim SSA, the hon. Gentleman will see that the composite secondary indicator and the secondary factor accumulate to the current SSA. If he reads the table in that context he will see how the figures add up. Other hon. Members seem to be aware of the background to the figures. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would consult hits colleagues.
On the aggregate external finance, the level of Government support for Welsh local authority spending remains at close to 80 per cent. of total standard spending. When I announced my proposals for the settlement last July, 1 reminded the House of my predecessor's commitment that no resources would be lost to Wales as a result of moving to the new system. The settlement shows that that commitment is being honoured; indeed, when grant in support of the new community charge reduction scheme is taken into account, more than 82 per cent. of the expenditure of Welsh local government will be met from sources other than the community charge payer, if authorities spend in line with the plans which I have already described as adequate.
That takes me to the good news for the community charge payer which the settlement represents. The corollary of 82 per cent. Government support is that only 18 per cent. of the cost of local authority services will be met by charge payers. The House should further be aware that this figure is reduced to less than 15 per cent. when community charge benefit is taken into account. The average charge payable when benefits and the community charge reduction scheme are taken into account will be less than £170—always provided, as I point out time and time again, that local authorities spend in line with these plans.
§ Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)
In line with the figures that my right hon. Friend has given, I think that it would be appropriate if, at this point he told us something about collection rates.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) may try to correct me again, but I understand that the latest figures on collection show a very favourable position in Wales and that districts in Wales—where, as hon. Members will know, community charges averaged£232 this year—are now on target to collect at least 95 per cent. of this year's charge. That is the figure given by a survey conducted by the Council of Welsh Districts. That survey, which I understand to be the first in Wales, 891 suggests that council treasurers' initial assumptions in respect of non-payment are being proved correct. In Swansea, 97 per cent. of adults have made a payment towards the community charge. That figure is followed closely by those of Lliw Valley, Brecknock and Carmarthen at 96 per cent., and 95 per cent. respectively. Cardiff and Ogwr register 94 per cent. Top of the income table is Lliw Valley—where 77 per cent. of the year's cash was collected by the end of November—and it is followed closely by Carmarthen.
Those figures show a tremendous effort on the part of local authorities and all the staff concerned. They also show that, in Wales, non-collection and non-payment have been a total failure. People in Wales recognise their responsibility to pay the community charge, and they have done so.
§ Mr. Hunt
As the hon. Gentleman says, that is a record of which Rhondda has every right to be proud.
I understand that one Opposition Member has told the press that, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he may criticise the community charge reduction scheme. Let me give the House 10 reasons why I believe our scheme is a very good one which should be the envy of England.
First, 67 per cent. of charge payers—more than two in three—will get an automatic reduction which they will not even have to claim. Secondly, 612 of our 865 communities will get relief, whereas only 323 got relief this year. Thirdly, all charge payers in those communities facing the highest average increases in the transfer to the new system from the rates will benefit. Fourthly, charge payers know in advance exactly how much their reduction will be. Fifthly,£20 million is available in 1990–91 and that will increase to£62 million next year.
Sixthly, all the £62 million is to go directly to reducing bills. Seventhly, there are no significant administrative costs and no local government bureaucracy. Eighthly, people who have moved house since 1 April 1990 will not lose out. Ninthly, people in sheltered accommodation in qualifying communities will get their assistance automatically. Finally, the Welsh local authority associations agreed in 1990 that the Welsh scheme provides the best all-round arrangement for Wales, and I believe that what has happened has proved that point.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
Does the Secretary of State accept that, despite those 10 points, people on low incomes in difficult financial circumstances will not benefit while others on high incomes who can well afford to pay, more will benefit from a £80 or £90 reduction? This is not such a finely tuned system and not all that fair to those on low incomes.
§ Mr. Rogers
Further to the rather sanctimonious point madce by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), what does the Secretary of State think about Plaid Cymru councillors, professional people on high salaries, refusing to pay their poll tax, although they can afford it, and leading campaigns against the poll tax, who avail themselves of services, sending their children to school and having their refuse collected, while old-age pensioners and others subsidise them? Will the Secretary of State condemn those Plaid Cymru councillors whose refusal to pay their poll tax means that poor people on low incomes have to pay extra? It has been calculated that in the Rhondda the surcharge may be as much as £20 to £30 extra as a result of people such as the Plaid Cymru councillor refusing to pay.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am reluctant to intervene, but I suppose that I must.
Irrespective of party, I strongly condemn any person in a position of authority who urges others to follow his or her example in not paying the community charge. It means that that individual is trying to get a free ride on the backs of others in the community. In that respect, I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers).
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) spoke about people on low incomes. We have a generous community charge rebate scheme which was not taken into account when I gave the figure of an average £200 community charge. If one takes into account the rebate as well as the community charge reduction scheme, charge payers in Wales will be paying on average less than £170, and that is a great advantage in comparison with England and Scotland.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
The Secretary of State has listed the 10 advantages, but who imposed the exorbitant charges in the first place? Does he realise that he cannot deny responsibility for that?
§ Mr. Hunt
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard me explain that the settlement for this financial year is adequate and that any extra amount over and above that predicted in the settlement is wholly due to the spending decisions of individual councils.
I hope that people will recognise that we have targeted this enhanced protection on those areas of relatively low average rateable value where the impact of the new system has been greatest. I hope that, on reflection, they will agree that this represents the right approach and one which properly reflects Welsh circumstances.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
If the Secretary of State is targeting things properly, why is it that, in communities such as mine, the Gurnos and Gellideg council estates receive no transitional benefit under the system?
§ Mr. Hunt
Because the scheme is based on areas of relatively low average rateable value. That was the basis on which it was agreed with the local authority associations. 893 That is the only basis on which one can calculate those who lose and gain when moving from a system where local taxation is based on rateable value to one based on the new community charge. It was agreed with local authorities that, that was the best system. About 300 communities will not benefit from the scheme, but the £62 million is being spent to best effect. If we introduced the English transitional scheme to Wales, many fewer people would benefit, and the amount that would feed through to them would be much lower, too.
§ Mr. Rowlands
The Minister gave an elongated reply to my question, but I can tell him that, under the old rating system, a husband and wife on the Gellideg or Gurnos estates paid about £300 a year. By any standards, they are not the wealthiest communities in my constituency or in south Wales. If the benefit is targeted as the Minister suggests, why has it missed those communities?
§ Mr. Hunt
I gave not an elongated but a factual reply, and explained that targeting is based on the average rateable value. If people individually or collectively cannot afford to pay, they may be entitled to community charge benefit, which is being received by more than 500,000 charge payers in Wales. That is special targeting over and above the reduction scheme that I described.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
In that case, why cannot the lowest-paid people in our society afford to pay even 20 per cent. of their poll tax? Also, the Audit Commission calculated that it costs more to administer that collection than it produces in revenue.
§ Mr. Hunt
If the 20 per cent. sector were removed, those who receive income support enhancement to meet that commitment would be worse off. That enhancement is calculated on the average community charge in England and Wales, which is very much higher than the average in Wales alone. Therefore, the amount received by those on income support is greater than the sum that they have to pay.
Collection costs are a factor, although I do not have precise figures. Nevertheless, the requirement to make a 20 per cent. contribution is part of a scheme to ensure that everyone pays something towards the cost of the services that they use. In Wales, those concerned receive more through the benefit system, on average, than they are required to pay.
As to local authority budgets in 1991–92, following representations from local authority associations, I have chosen not to announce community charge capping criteria but to reconsider the position in the light of the budgets set. I made it clear to the associations and to every Welsh local authority—as I have to the House on several occasions—that I am looking to them to adopt prudent budgetary policies. If local authorities fail to do so, they will place themselves in jeopardy not only of charge capping, but of lower levels of external financing and of spending in the future.
Local authorities have a responsibility to their community charge payers to spend closely in line with the settlement and to set their charges accordingly. I am encouraged by recent press reports suggesting that some local authorities have already adopted that approach, and I look to others to follow that lead. The choice is theirs.
The settlements before the House this evening will surely become a thing of the past if local authorities do not 894 respond appropriately. As it is, the settlement that I am presenting this year is good for local authorities, good for charge payers and good for Wales. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
The House is grateful to the Secretary of State for his exposition, but he was less than frank when dealing with the credits of his community charge reduction scheme. He might have told us that, as recently as 22 January, Mr. Dennis Puddle, a councillor and chairman of the Welsh district councils, wrote to the right hon. Gentleman at the Welsh Office and listed five alternative, arguably better schemes, for using the £42 million. The first two involve removing the 20 per cent. minimum payment and the others are to pay relief in Wales to individuals, as in England, not to communities.
That was a constructive letter and, in making a constructive speech, the right hon. Gentleman might have referred to Mr. Puddle's communication to him, because it puts a different gloss on the 10 points that he listed in support of his reduction scheme.
§ Mr. Hunt
No. I have only just seen the letter, and if the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside looks at it, he will see that the alternative scheme encompasses areas other than community charge relief. Against the arguments put forward, Councillor Puddle says:It is accepted that the limited 1990–91 Transitional Relief scheme avoided significant"—
§ Mr. Jones
The right hon. Gentleman wriggles. His officials sent him a copy of the letter and they marked it. It was not good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to present the case for his charge change without referring to this letter. I have brought the letter to the attention of the House and he has been forced to concede that there are other methods—Councillor Puddle lists five. The right hon. Gentleman should, in all honour, have brought that letter to the attention of the House, and I must protest at his omission.
No amount of fine words will persuade the people of Wales to support the poll tax, because the Minister's fine words do not relate to the gathering intensity of the recession in Wales. It is a fact that our local authorities want to enhance their economic development policies. Their associations say that this settlement does not encourage them to do so. The increase in the business rate of about 10.9 per cent. is twice the projected rate of inflation, and that will add to the problems of business in Wales in the current recession.
895 May I remind the hon. Gentleman about the business rate and the recession? We have heard about the pending closure of the Deep Navigation pit, with 370 jobs. Mardy colliery has been axed; there are likely to be high-tech redundancies in Gwent at Mitel; Brymbo steelworks has closed; Laura Ashley factories are closing; Holyhead port will be hit; a G-Plan furniture factory in Wrexham will close; Glendale Furniture factory on Deeside is in the hands of the receiver; quarry jobs are to be lost in Gwynedd; and on Deeside, 200 Castle Cement jobs are to go.
The local authorities have consistently stated that the settlement is insufficient to enable them to deal with existing policies, population trends and central Government initiatives and legislation. A gap of about £50 million or more was identified by the local authorities—it remains. That is the view of the Welsh counties and the Welsh districts.
The settlement is very volatile. The extremes, in relation to the revenue support grant average, are astonishing. The high, for Meirionnydd—and good luck to it—is 32.9 per cent., while the low, for contiguous Montgomery, is minus 1.5 per cent. My district council, Alyn and Deeside, will receive only 0.4 per cent.—an extra £13,000—and the borough of Colwyn only 1.2 per cent., despite its pressing problems.
I do not think that the Secretary of State has fully considered the impact on council budgets, which will be considerable. The district councils are aghast at the implications of, for example, the litter code of practice: they say that the lack of specific provision for districts is more than worrying. The forecast costs are four to six times higher than the highest Government figure.
The Welsh district councils are also worried about the implications for housing investment. Compared with the 1987–90 Welsh district housing investment average, the current figure represents a real-terms reduction of no less than £75 million, or 25 per cent. There is a housing crisis in Wales and homelessness is an increasing and, in many instances, heartbreaking problem. It is becoming more and more difficult to find a house at an affordable rent, and many Welsh people find it almost impossible to afford a mortgage. Mortgages in Wales—a land, often, of low wages—are sky-high. Opposition Members think that the Government's policies have made Wales's housing problems worse, and the most severe problems are still in the valleys; although problems exist elsewhere, sometimes to a daunting extent.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
Swansea—where 1,000 houses are defective and most will have to be demolished—faces a cost of £75 million; the Secretary of State's housing allocation is £5 million, which must cover all costs. And he describes this as a generous settlement.
§ Mr. Jones
In that instance, it cannot be described as generous. My right hon. Friend and our hon. Friend the 896 Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) are constantly making that point, on behalf of a city council with a superb housing reputation. We should remind the Secretary of State that local authorities want to improve pre-war council estates—to tackle the problem of defective pre-reinforced concrete homes, renovate private homes, implement special schemes to deal with homelessness and build new council houses and flats. Will the Government agree to allow Welsh councils to use at least 50 per cent. of council house sale receipts, as the districts ask? Will they also permit the use of non-house sale receipts, up to a limit of 75 per cent.?
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the new community charge reduction scheme. The House will recall that I broadly welcomed the news when it was announced last week. If the Government do not intend to abolish the poll tax—we can draw that conclusion—any relief is to be welcomed. According to the Government's figures, two thirds of the population of Wales will receive some relief from the scheme. That suggests that the Government have no confidence in the system.
The Secretary of State skirted round the capping issue. The inadequacy of the settlement means that local authorities will have great difficulty maintaining their current level of services and staying within the spending limits. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to apply caps? If so, why does not he announce the criteria? Will he confirm that the English criteria are to be used? In his statement on 23 July he said that he would publish in advance his capping criteria. On 31 October, however, he stated that he would not publish them in advance. The Secretary of State should have told the House why he was wobbling on this important issue. His indecision is not conducive to good government, either local or national. I hope that Ministers will respond to these questions, to which the countries and districts want an answer.
The counties are uneasy about having to face up to the impending pay settlements for teachers, firemen and the police. The legislative challenge of the national curriculum, community care and the Children Act 1989 is severe for our county authorities. The comunity charge for standard spending of £228 is a fiction. The Government have underfunded for pay awards, inflation and new central Government pressures. However, the poll tax is up and running and the Government are attempting to sweeten it. We can see that they are preparing for a general election.
I vividly remember the Secretary of State for the Environment making his Back-Bench speech during the Second Reading of the poll tax Bill. He said that it would be called a Tory tax. Of course it is a Tory tax. It is also an unjust tax. The poll tax has no support in Wales. It affronts our sense of fair play because it is unrelated to the ability to pay. Whatever the Government do, the people of Wales will reject the poll tax. No amount of finesse and no amount of repackaging will hide its glaring inadequacies and injustices. Labour Members pledge to abolish the poll tax. The incoming Labour Government will abolish the poll tax in Wales.
§ Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)
No one can deny that my right hon. Friend's settlement, announced last week, was the most appropriate and generous settlement for Wales. It was remarkably generous. The community charge was introduced only last year. It led to understandable confusion, due to the change from an old system, however discredited, to something new and different. Almost every local council in Wales took advantage of that change by imposing community charges that were far higher than necessary.
Has my right hon. Friend set an increase based on his level for last year or even the year before? If he had increased his settlement for last year by 9.5 per cent. in line with inflation or 20 per cent. from two years before, local councils would need to be instituting substantial cuts in their budgets. Instead, my right hon. Friend has allowed an 8 per cent. increase on their budgets—not their spending—when he knows that those budgets were already set way too high. One leading Labour politician said to me recently that even he cannot understand how some Labour councils have increased their budgeting and levied the community charges that they have. They are not able to spend it.
I wonder if the cynical manipulation of the community charge to which the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) referred applies to the capital city of Wales —Cardiff city council. If there was any foundation in what the hon. Gentleman was trying to claim about district councils' needs, how could Cardiff city council, probably the most left-wing council in the Principality, move to cut the community charge?
Is it cynical to suggest that the sole motivation for the left-wing councillors running Cardiff city council is that they are running scared? They know that the elections will be held in May this year. They know that they took too much off the people of Cardiff last year and they are desperate to give it back, despite all the claims of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside that district councils need to levy more in the community charge. Left-wing Cardiff city council is letting him down.
I feel sure that the councils in Wales know what a friend they have in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of Slate. We should all applaud my right hon. Friend's community charge reduction scheme, providing a threefold increase in the amount of money devoted to the scheme and extending it to cover 1.4 million people in Wales. At last the people of Wales know that someone is fighting back against the impositions of the local councils.
I must tell my right hon. Friend that there are already complaints about his community charge reduction scheme. People beyond those whom he has brought in want his protection against the impositions of the local councils. Already there is a grab-back going on in Wales. My right hon. Friend has announced an excellent reduction scheme, but certain local councils are seeing the opportunity to grab that money back. Once again, the example is close to home. South Glamorgan council, again a left-wing council, controlled solely by the Labour party, is proposing an increase in the community charge of double the rate of inflation. That is totally unjustified, but I am afraid that there is not the cautionary factor of the elections this year. It is insulated from that for another two years.
898 The real answer to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been trying to deal with is to get the local authorities in Wales to set reasonable community charge levels. Again I shall cite a local example because I know it best. The Welsh Office has calculated that, on the best estimates available, the community charge in Cardiff should be about £100 less than is being levied to maintain the services. Every citizen in the capital of Wales is having to pay an extra £100, and it looks like that will get worse rather than better because of the decisions of the left-wing councillors.
The community charge is much fairer than the rating system it replaced, but we all know the practical problems and the way in which left-wing councils have sought to exploit them. I am coming round to the conclusion that. whatever changes or reductions are made in the community charge, there is a need for far greater accountability by the councils which make the decisions about the level of the community charge.
It is difficult to pursue that accountability with the confusion for the electorate of two tiers of local government. I would welcome moves in the next Parliament towards establishing one tier. Rather than having council elections once every four years, one third of councillors should be re-elected each year. Wales has led the way in proving that accountability works. We have had two examples of electors choosing to abolish community councils because they were not delivering what those electors had a right to expect.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
I was taught that a good sermon has three points, not 10 as the Secretary of State made. I shall make three points.
First, Conservative Members have preached the sermon that one does not throw bad money at a bad case. The Government have been throwing large sums at trying, to make a fatally flawed tax scheme work. I intervened on the Secretary of State briefly and mentioned two of the communities that I represent, the Gurnos and Gellideg, estates. By any criteria, they are not well-off, middle-class estates. Many of their residents will get relief from the poll tax reduction scheme, but many husbands and wives—average families—will pay much more than they paid under the old rating system, despite the fact that thin system is supposed to be well targeted. The system fails because targeting cannot relieve the fatally flawed nature of the tax—one that drags more and more people into taxation.
Time and again, Chancellors of the Exchequer have sought to remove people from marginal personal and national taxation. The poll tax scheme drags more and more people into marginal taxation under the specious concept of accountability. It drags in young students and makes them pay £40, but then other people spend half their life chasing them to find out where they live and what they do. It brings into taxation people who should be excluded. Governments of both parties have raised thresholds to take people out of taxation, but this tax system drags a whole host of people back into taxation at local level.
My second point is on the scheme's impact on local expenditure. The Government say that huge sums are being spent on local government. During the past 10 years of Thatcherite government, the Government have devised 899 means of spending money in any way but through local authorities. It has been a deliberate policy, and I understand the argument for it. They have created agencies and other means of spending money to do the things that local authorities were supposed to do. We now have housing associations, the Welsh Development Agency—
§ Mr. Rowlands
Money has been made available, so I am not complaining about the impact that that public expenditure has had in my constituency. The Secretary of State testified to the quality of Welsh local government, but why is it that in my community the pavements are cracked, there are potholes in the streets and the street lighting is as bad, as it has ever been, if not worse? The local infrastructure, which is the responsibility of local government, is in a shabby and deplorable state.
I do not believe that it is the fault of local government. The right hon. Gentleman says that large sums of money have been spent. He has testified to the fact that local government is not inefficient and is not wasting huge sums of money. At best, he can claim that there are margins for improvement. Why, despite all this, has there been such an environmental impact at local level? We all know about the condition of pavements and street lighting. Why are the fundamental facilities now shabbier and dirtier than they were more than a decade ago?
I come now to my third point. I do not know what impact recession has on local government expenditure. In recent weeks, the Secretary of State has taken some curious cold comfort from the indication that the recession is hitting the south-east harder than it is hitting Wales. Let me tell him that the recession is biting deeply and radically into the communities that I represent. It affects pits, which are being closed, deep navigation facilities and employment. It gives me no pleasure—indeed, it is horrifying—to have to say that it seems that 1991 will be much like 1981.
There will be other debates about the general economic scene. I do not know what effect recession, with the loss of jobs and of purchasing power, will have on local government services. I do not quite understand how the Government have built revenue support into their settlement factor. Rapidly deepening recession is hitting the economy and jobs in communities like mine.
In respect of all three points, the right hon. Gentleman may say, "I have fought well. I have managed to cushion the worse effects of this tax." It is the silliest tax ever to have been imposed on people. The Secretary of State ought to wake up to the fact that our communities are now deeply in recession and that we need his voice on economic policies as much as on local government finance.
§ 11.7 pm
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
If there is anything that could reconcile me to poll tax, it is the synthetic indignation of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and the sheer dishonesty of the Labour party in claiming that it could abolish the tax overnight. Everybody knows perfectly well that it will not be done in one year. Nor can the dazzling display of the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box conceal the fact that 900 this system is as abstruse as any that went before it. It is with all due respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) that I say that it is not noticeably more effective in making councils responsible to their electorates.
Within the unacceptably tight limits of this still less than satisfactory system, my right hon. Friend has managed to secure a very good deal for Wales. I doubt whether even my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) could have done better—and there is no higher praise than that to bestow. However, the borough of Colwyn feels that it has done badly out of this settlement. I know that a number of communities within the borough have done very well, but they are mostly the sparsely populated ones. Apart from Betws-yn-Rhos, they are the ones outside my constituency. The formula seems to have worked to the disadvantage of the rest.
There was a good deal of force in the remarks of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). He made the point that directing the relief at communities rather than at individuals produces pretty severe anomalies. Nonetheless, I accept my right hon. Friend's assurance that, anomalies or not, the system overall has worked out better for Wales than for England.
I have no doubt that the poll tax is dead and that we shall have to forgo the pleasure of kicking it, at least in so far as it is the principal element in locally raised finance. I also have no doubt that we must go back to a property tax that is easy to collect, has some rough correspondence with ability to pay and encourages the full use of living space. There is a valid theoretical argument for keeping a flat-rate charge to bring home the cost of the things for which people vote so blithely, but the question is whether it is worth the cost just to prove the point.
It is important that whatever new system of local government finance we have, we should try now to move away from the built-in tension between central and local government which is so endemic in the present system. That suggests to me that the state should move in the direction of paying for the services that are basically national services, such as education, the police and the fire services, and that local services should be paid for by local taxation which local authorities are free to raise and to spend entirely as they see fit.
The present in-built tensions are having some bad results. Councils take bad decisions not only because they are misguided, but sometimes purely to be able to blame central Government. The ruling Labour group on Clwyd county council, for example, proposes to sell off Bodelwyddan castle. I know that that is not a money spinner, but it brings much needed investment into the area and it confers huge prestige. It is far easier to shift the blame for that on to central Government and thereby to evade the unpopularity of cutting some of the swollen administrative staff.
I will vote for a reprieve for the poll tax in Wales tonight, as I did for England, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will not take it as a sign that I have changed my mind about the tax. It is merely a token of the high regard that I have for him and of the high esteeem in which I hold the Government under their new management.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
This debate is about a failed scheme. We all know that the poll tax has utterly failed. The debate is also a commentary on the Government's failure to keep inflation down and on the problems that stem from that, which run back into local government. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) was right when he said that the country was in deep recession. I am one of 10 hon. Members who used to work for Imperial Chemical Industries and we meet the chairman every year. This December, he told us that the recession in late 1990 was just as deep as the recession in 1981 and he was full of foreboding about economic prospects for 1991. That is the background against which we are trying to operate local government.
Some councils feel that the deal is better than they had originally feared in that it is based on current spending rather than on budgeted spending by local authorities. However, the problem is the old one of inflation and of the relationship between inflation and what the Secretary of State has on offer. What he has on offer is sometimes too simplistic, in that it is a straight 8 per cent. It is really a 6 per cent. allowance for inflation plus 2 per cent. for some growth. Against the background of inflation hovering around 10 per cent., that is not acceptable for councils. They are confronted with a shortfall in relation to inflation and they have to find the difference. Their expenditure has to be committed to the most prominent spending priorities and the greatest in most counties is education.
The teachers' pay award is coming up and it is likely —and rightly—to be about 10 per cent. Within that, a hangover of pay increases from the previous year's increments has to be included. Most county councils feel that they will have to find 10.5 per cent. for teachers' pay. They will have to find the difference between 8 and 10.5 per cent.
In my county of Powys, school transport forms 10 per cent. of the education budget. That is twice the administration costs of the education department in the county. In the next 12 months we are likely to see a 20 per cent. increase in school transport costs, based on a present cost of £2.5 million. That matter is not properly taken into account in the Secretary of State's allowances. What allowance has the Secretary of State made for increased costs as a result of Government legislation over the past 12 months in particular? For example, I refer to the implementation of the Children Act 1989 and the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 and their provisions for the disabled. The litter code has already been mentioned. In my area, the additional on-costs of that legislation amount to about £1.2 million. I should like to know whether proper allowance for this has been made within the revenue support grant calculations.
To some community councils, the transitional relief and the community charge reduction scheme is helpful—certainly in my area, where some remote community councils have a substantial reduction, although it produces some rather odd inequities. One can liken it to rugby scores—Merthyr Cynog 50, Brecon nil; Llanbadarn Fynydd 33, Llandridnod Wells nil. In such communities, the ability to pay does not make much sense because many people with the least ability to pay are getting no relief. 902 Hon. Members' comments about targeting individuals rather than communities make some sense in these circumstances.
Most charge payers—certainly in Brecon and Radnor —will pay more poll tax than they did last year as a result of the situation that is emerging, in spite of the Secretary of State trying to adjust a failed system.
Housing in the districts and boroughs is critical. Repair costs are mounting. However, councils have a much reduced if not non-existent role in the building of houses. When one examines the situation in Wales—Tai Cymru has funding allocations over the past 12 months, with a target of 3,000 houses to be built—one can see that it is totally inadequate. At least 7,000 affordable houses should be built per year, but allocations to housing associations are inadequate. Some housing associations have been discriminated against by the Welsh Office. That matter should be put right. Funding for local authority housing used to feature strongly in revenue support grant settlements in the past.
The non-domestic business rate has undoubtedly been a disaster for small businesses. In my area, shops are closing—some have been closed for the past six months —as a result of the burden of the non-domestic rate. The Secretary of State has increased it by more than 10 per cent., and that is hard to justify, because it is killing many small businesses.
Which councils is the Secretary of State thinking of capping? I hope none. However, we deserve some indication of his thoughts on this matter in relation to possible increases in poll tax in certain districts. Will he take action, given that councils are trying to operate a failed system? Poll tax payers are undoubtedly paying vastly more than they paid under the rating system.
The poll tax is clearly a complete disaster and should be abolished at the earliest possible moment. What we have heard this evening is just fiddling around with this failed system of the poll tax. It must be replaced by a system based on ability to pay. That means, in our case, the introduction of a local income tax based on people's ability to pay; this would do the job and exclude such people as students, who very often cannot afford to pay even the 20 per cent. poll tax. As I indicated in my question to the Secretary of State earlier, the administration costs of that 20 per cent. tax frequently exceed its value. Indeed, it costs councils to collect it.
So we believe that a fairer system has to be introduced at the earliest possible moment. It is at least pleasing to note that the Government are listening to people with ideas, and we hope that they will come up with ideas for a better solution of the problem, since the poll tax has clearly failed the nation.
§ Mr. Grist
Hon. Members say, "Hear, hear," but I do not know whether they will particularly like what I have to say. Nevertheless, such a reception is always welcome.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) rather agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) when he complained about the 903 cost of education. I have believed for a long time that it should be on the national rather than the local budget, for the reasons that my hon. Friend put forward.
I should like to welcome the most impressive settlement which my hon. Friend has managed to squeeze out of the Department of the Environment and the Treasury. I think that he did it just in time; if it had come subsequently, things might have been more difficult. The centre of Cardiff, and most particularly the older areas of Cardiff and the three old wards in the centre which lie in my constituency, have benefited hugely from this new community charge reduction scheme. I am most grateful for that, and I know that my constituents will be as well.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) said, if it is not being too cynical—but we are all politicans—Cardiff city council managed to increase its expenditure by 20 per cent. two years ago and raided the balances. That was one thing. Then it increased expenditure by 30 per cent. this year and blamed the community charge. And, lo and behold, this coming year, which is election year, it is to cut it. That is, of course, precisely what we said would be done. It has acted in line with what we said, so I suppose we should not complain, but I do not see why we should not complain, since this is the most mischievous piece of politicking with local people's money.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), and to some extent the hon. Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Brecon and Radnor, complained about non-domestic rates. Those rates reflect the changes in valuations since 1973. They do not raise more money than would have been raised otherwise under the rating system. So this is a reallocation through revaluation, and people should not complain about that. If they really wanted the old rates, they could have had revaluation on housing, and I do not think that people would like that very much either, seeing the amount of house improvement that has gone on since 1973.
Of course, the complaint about 10.9 per cent. is a complaint about the current inflation rate, and that is coming down. That is why the increased expenditure available to councils through the allowances this year will be greater than the rate of inflation throughout the coming 12 months. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor. It is not good enough to take the highest rate in one particular year; one has to take the average throughout the year, in which councils play a major part through their negotiations on pay rates. That is something to which they in turn must pay a great deal of attention.
The county council in South Glamorgan is putting up its community charge by twice the current inflation rate, and therefore by more than the future one, raising the community charge by £38. So between the reduction in the city and the increases in the county, some will be paying more, but some, because of the kindness of the city council and because of this new community charge reduction rate, will be paying less. I hope that, after they look at their new bills, people will be able to work out precisely what is going on.
The new system, whatever else may be said about it, is a great deal easier to understand than the old one. I do not believe that many hon. Members really understood the old 904 rating system and the rate support grant. When I joined the Welsh Office, I was given a little booklet to help me to understand it. There was an article in The Economist at the time entitled "The rates made easy—honestly." I got halfway through it and crumbled.
Unlike the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, I believe that everyone should at least attempt to make some contribution towards their local authority's expenditure, which is made on their behalf and that of the local community, whether it be £1, £2, £3, £4 or £5 a week —which is what people in Wales are asked to spend on average.
That is not an unreasonable charge. Let us take my two young sons, who live in my house. Why should I pay the rates while they live there for nothing? They are earning. They have no other responsibilities. I do not see why they should not make a contribution, whatever one may say about the present system. The principle that they and other people should contribute to their local authority is perfectly reasonable.
However, in the review being carried out, I should like to see some form of flat-rate payment allied to a return to some form of property tax. The reason is simple. Houses do not move around. Although the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) told me otherwise, even local income tax has that drawback. People move around and are a little tricky to trace, keep track of and follow. I am not a great believer in that system.
Nor am I a believer in using capital values of housing as the basis for local taxation. In the past year, we have seen differential falls in the value of housing. Some of the crazy ideas for basing capital values on the last sale price are as daft as they sound. I would not go along with them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North supported the idea of creating unitary authorities. I believe in the two-tier principle. I always have. Not least in Wales, unitary authorities would not be appropriate. In order to have a worthwhile size of population and accumulation of finance, we should have to have the most enormous authorities in mid and north Wales, or we would have over-large unitary authorities which were not properly local but were not large enough to carry out strategic planning in their own right. There would have to be another body above it, which might, of course, be called Parliament but nevertheless would be a further power removed from the locality.
I see the future as a two-tier system and a partial return to the old system, incorporating the principles of the present system. There should be minimum disruption. We have had quite enough disruption. The new review should produce a minimum of disruption and lead to a system which is clearer than the old one but will be perhaps a little more four square.
§ Mr. Wigley
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Do you not intend to call members of all parties to speak in this Welsh debate?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I am concerned that all parties, particularly 905 minority parties, should have a voice in the House. But the debate is in the hands of hon. Members who have already spoken from both the Front and Back Benches and the time that they take. I understand that the Front-Bench Members seek to reply to the debate. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman has risen, and I have called him.
§ Mr. Wigley
I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, but that is not acceptable. Every party in Wales that is represented in the House should have an opportunity to speak in a debate which is so important to the people of Wales. One and a half hours on matters of critical importance to the poll tax payers of Wales is simply not acceptable—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I appreciate how important the matter is to the people of Wales and the hon. Members who represent them, but it is not for the Chair to determine the length of debates in the House. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman has sought to catch my eye so that he can reply to the debate. I call Mr. Alun Michael.
§ Mr. Wigley
I am not prepared to accept that. It is in your hands to decide in which order you choose hon. Members to speak. It is within your capability to allow every party—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I require the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. I call Mr. Alun Michael.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am requiring the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. Is he prepared to resume his seat?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
If not, I am going to ask him to remove himself from the Chamber for the remainder of today's debate.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to do me the courtesy of resuming his seat. If not, I will ask him to remove himself from the Chamber for the remainder of this day's sitting.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I regret to do it, but if the hon. Gentleman will not resume his seat—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to remove himself from the Chamber for the remainder of this day's sitting.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to leave the Chamber for the remainder of this day's session.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. On this point of order, I am attempting to be as fair as possible in the Chair. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to do the honourable thing to his colleagues in the House and to the Chair. If he will not resume his seat, I am asking him to leave the Chamber.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Name him."] I do not wish to name the hon. Gentleman. I am simply asking him either to resume his seat so that we can get on with the debate, which has about 16 minutes left, or to leave the Chamber. Will the hon. Gentleman resume his seat? I call Mr. Alun Michael.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
It is easy to understand the frustration of hon. Members who are unable to take part in the debate. I must make the point that hon. Members on the Conservative Benches have had their time. Many of my hon. Friends have been equally frustrated by the shortness of the debate.
The debate has proved that, squirm as the Conservatives may, it is crystal clear that the settlement is completely inadequate to allow local authorities in Wales to deliver the services that their communities have a right to expect and that it forces an increase in poll tax levels.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist) should understand better than most how unsatisfactory the settlement is. His loyalty is greater than his sense, and greater than the sense that he has shown in previous contributions, although I note that he has come some way —a little belatedly—to meet the Labour party's proposal to replace the poll tax.
The Secretary of State for Wales tells us that an increase, as he calls it, which amounts to 8 per cent. above last year's budget levels, is good for Wales. That is nonsense, although the position is even worse for English authorities which are offered the more derisory increase of 7 per cent. It does not even cover inflation. He then had the cheek to growl at Welsh local authorities as if he had been 907 generous, and as if it would be ungrateful of them not to stick to the unrealistic poll tax levels which he has demanded.
Let me cut through all the jargon and set the record straight with four statements that do not brook argument. First, local authorities in Wales set reasonable budgets, according to the Government's own criteria. For 1990–91, English local authorities set levels that average 12.3 per cent. above their standard spending assessments. That is 12.3 per cent. above the level that the Government recognise that councils need to spend. In Wales, they went only 5.7 per cent. above the level that the parsimonious Government recognise as essential. Welsh counties as a whole were only 4 per cent. over their level.
In case the Secretary of State is tempted to follow the line urged on him by the backwoods warrior, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), who ought to know better, let him consider that last year South Glamorgan was only 2.9 per cent. above its SSA—a remarkable achievement. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North criticised that county for its proposal to increase the poll tax for 1991–92, but it allows for spending at a level only 0.9 per cent.—less than 1 per cent.—above standard spending assessment. So it is closer to the Government's target than last year.
It is even closer to the target that the Secretary of State for Wales, at the Dispatch Box, praised fulsomely as being fair and reasonable. As his own words proved, a prudent and responsible authority is being forced by the Minister's parsimony to raise its poll tax. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North should be fighting for his constituents instead of fawning on the Secretary of State. That illustrates the dilemma for councils throughout Wales, which are desperate to keep down the burden on their own people.
Secondly, it is the Government who are failing to pull their weight and pay their fair share of the bill. In 1981–82, the Government met 73.4 per cent. of local authority expenditure. After their onslaught on local councils year after year, that has been cut ruthlessly. In 1991–92, the figure will be down to about 58 per cent. That is why councils have to consider increasing their poll tax levels, despite having increased efficiency, despite having pruned the dead wood and despite having cut services in recent years. Ministers know that that is a simple fact, which is why tonight's statement by the Secretary of State, the right hon. Gentleman's press releases and the words of his Back Benchers amount to gross misrepresentation.
Thirdly, the Government have heaped additional responsibilities and burdens on local authorities without providing them with the resources necessary to do the job. Several have been mentioned tonight. They include local management of schools, the national curriculum, care in the community, the demands of the Children Act 1989, and the demands of other authorities—I would cite the inadequate increase in the police authority budget—over which local authorities have no control. They also include housing benefit administration and the loss of interest to local authorities due to the changeover from rates to poll tax—a loss of £1 million this year to Cardiff city council alone. They include the costs of competition, which this crazy Government have forced on local authorities and of implementing the environment legislation. On top of all 908 those and more, there is the homelessness to which my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) referred. Frankly, the financial burden of the Government's failure to allow councils to provide housing for rent falls on poll tax payers as surely as the personal burden of misery falls on the homeless themselves.
My fourth statement is simple: the Secretary of State's relief scheme is absolutely crazy. In his statement tonight, the right hon. Gentleman said that more poll tax payers will get a reduction. That is a distortion. What it means is that still more people will get a softening to the edge with which this silly and unfair tax cuts into their standard of living.
How the Minister has arrived at the relief levels for different communities in Wales is a mystery. He has deepened that mystery by failing to seek the advice of local councils and, as a result, the anomalies are ludicrous.
In Cardiff, for instance, an individual living in the community of Adamsdown gets relief of £86. That is reasonable. But an individual in the community of Butetown—the most deprived community in Wales, on a whole range of factors—gets a miserable £5. The Riverside community, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), has its social problems, but a well-off individual in a large valuable house near the top of Cathedral road gets the same relief —£50—as someone in the deprived parts of that ward. Someone on the Llanrumney estate gets only £23. Someone in St. Donats gets £59. Where is the sense or reason in that?
The scheme is equally nonsensical elsewhere in Wales —and I have looked at the figures for the areas that I know well. In Colwyn bay, one gets just £3, whether one is rich or poor. In Petrefoelas, one gets £87. In Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, one gets only £1. In every community in the Rhondda, one gets the same—£81. In the Ringland area of Newport, one gets only £3.
Take the village where my grandmother was born. If one lives in Llanrhaeadr Ym Mochnant in Glyndwyr, one gets £107, but if one lives in Llanrhaeadr Ym Mochnant in Montgomeryshire, one gets only £18. I know that there are virtues in living in that area, but such anomalies are crazy. To take the words of the Secretary of State for Wales, "Some system—some targeting." This mess has been created because the Minister wants to get over the unpalatable fact that the poll tax cannot be made fair.
The Secretary of State claims that, in reviewing the poll tax, he will consider the interest of the people of Wales. That is patently false, because the interests of the Welsh people have been clear from the beginning and the will of the people of Wales is absolutely clear: they and we want the right hon. Gentleman to swallow his pride and get rid of the poll tax for once and for all.
The settlement is financially inadequate. It is mere tinkering, which makes the system even more ludicrous and unfair for the local authorities and people of Wales.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Under-Secretary of State will be the fourth Conservative Member for Wales to speak in this debate. Not a single Member of my party has been called, and that is a disgrace. Will you, Madam Deputy Speaker, suggest to the Under-Secretary that, in the spirit of fairness which the House should uphold, he 909 forgoes his opportunity to reply and allows my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) to make his contribution?
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Bennett)
I should have liked to respond to the request of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones), but unfortunately it is my responsibility—
§ Mr. Rogers
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) is wrong. The Under-Secretary of State will be the fifth Conservative Member to be called and, considering the strength of support for the Conservative party among the population in Wales, it is deplorable that so many should be called.
§ Mr. Bennett
I wish that other Labour Members had been as numerate as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) in their contributions to the debate.
During the past two years Labour Members have adopted two approaches to local government finance. Out of office, year after year they have always said that the rate support grant is inadequate and underfunded. But in office the story is different. If one goes back—[Interruption.] Labour Members do not like the Government looking at their record as opposed to their promises. In 1975—
§ Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it within your power to direct the Under-Secretary of State to keep to the matter in hand—local government finance under the Government?
§ Mr. Bennett
It is interesting that Labour Members prefer us not to look at their policies in government, but would rather talk about their policies for the future. If one looks at debates on RSG from 1974 to 1979, there was no mention then of inadequate or insufficient funding—
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This has nothing to do with the motion. The Under-Secretary of State is referring to Labour party policy.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
I am sure that the Minister, who has very little time left, will refer to the motion.
§ Mr. Bennett
It is clear that the Opposition do not want to hear the facts. Let me give them. Under the previous Labour Government, we saw no increases in local government spending, only reductions. In 1976–77., local government spending was reduced by 4 per cent. The following year, it went down by 8 per cent. In their last year in office, it went down by a further 4 per cent. That is the Labour party's record. We need no lectures about local government spending from a party that consistently cut local authority spending in each year that it held office.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), in a speech which piled cliché on to cliché, said that his authorities had seen an increase in spending of only £13,000. That is not correct. The aggregate external finance figure for Alyn and Deeside for the coming year shows an extra £456,000—8—4 per cent. The hon. Gentleman preferred not to look at the complete figures.
910 My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), in a sensible speech, fought for his constituents against the way in which Cardiff and South Glamorgan have increased year on year their spending regardless of what the charge payer can pay. If one looks at the figures for different authorities, one sees some appalling increases. Neath has increased spending by more than 70 per cent. in the past three years. That is the sort of problem that we have in local authorities throughout Wales. All they think about is whether they can rake in some more money from the community charge payer, and they do so without any thought for the charge payers themselves.
§ Mr. Bennett
No, I will not.
Time and time again, Labour Members say that the non-domestic rate is too high, the community charge is too high and Government spending is too low. But we hear nothing about what they would do if they were in office. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside simply said that the Labour party would abolish the poll tax in Wales. There was then a deathly silence, and he sat down. When the hon. Gentleman held my place at the Dispatch Box in 1974, he said that the rating system was an anomaly and should be abolished. We discover now that Labour wants to return to a property tax—to the very system which, up to three years ago, the Opposition considered so unfair. Labour's problem is that it has no policies.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As the Minister is concentrating on matters more appropriate to the history classroom, should not he declare an interest, as a history teacher, before he entered Parliament?
§ Mr. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman may therefore rest assured that the facts that I put before the House a re correct.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Is the hon. Member sure that it is a point of order and not a debating point?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am not 100 per cent. certain—which is why I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to inform the House whether you have any control over all those present in the Chamber, because during the Minister's speech, six of the eight experts in the Box occupied by civil servants left because they could not stand what the Minister was saying.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Admissions to, and exits from, the Chamber have nothing to do with me—other than in the case of those whom I name.
§ Mr. Bennett
I do not need experts in responding to the debate, because I have the information that I need at my fingertips.
This generous settlement—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER, 911 pursuant to the Order [25 January] to put the Questions necessary to dispose of the motion, and of the other motion relating to Local Government Finance (Wales).914
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Welsh Revenue Support Grant Report 1991–92 (House of Commons Paper No. 78), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, be approved.
That the Welsh Revenue Support Grant Distribution Report (No. 2) (House of Commons Paper No. 79), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, be approved.—[Mr. David Hunt.]
That the Distribution of Non-Domestic Rates (Relevant Population) Report for Wales (No. 2) (House of Commons Paper No. 80), a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, be approved.—[Mr. David Hunt.]