Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [22 June]
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign.
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament—[Sir Peter Mills.]
In this, my first speech to the House as Home Secretary, I wish to start by saying a word about my predecessor. My first ministerial appointment was to serve as his Minister of State at the Home Office. I did so for nearly two years in the last Parliament, and I saw at first hand his dedication and commitment. I also saw the respect and affection for him felt by so many hon. Members on both sides of the House. I intend to discharge my responsibilities conscious of his example, but, more specifically, I believe that the task of the Government in this area now must be to build on the foundations that he and his colleagues laid during the last Parliament.
This second term in office provides us with an opportunity to press ahead with the objectives we set out clearly on coming into office more than four years ago. Those same objectives were set out as clearly as ever in the manifesto upon which we were re-elected, which states:
The rule of law matters deeply to every one of us. Any concession to the thief, the thug or the terrorist undermines that principle which is the foundation of all our liberties".
So we shall sustain the rule of law and defend freedom wherever it is imperilled. We shall pursue the fight against crime with renewed vigour. However, we shall keep as our goal a harmonious society in which fear, discrimination and hatred have no place. In pursuing those aims we shall be building on foundations that have been firmly laid.
To fight crime effectively we have to give the police adequate resources. We have to back those resources with adequate powers, and we have to give the courts a proper range of penalties. Action was taken on all those fronts in the last Parliament, but in some areas work that was put in hand has yet to be completed and in others it has been put into effect too recently for any benefits to be expected yet.
During the last Parliament law and order was a top priority within public spending, as I as Chief Secretary fully saw. Real spending on law and order services rose by almost a quarter between 1978–79 and 1982–83. Nearly 10,000 extra policemen were recruited in England and Wales. Police strength accordingly is now at a record level. That is in stark contrast with the record of the Labour Government, under which between 1977 and 1978 police numbers actually fell. Police morale is higher than ever. We have committed the financial and human resources required to make major inroads into the problem of crime, but that is only the first stage in the process. Our main task now is to ensure that those extra resources are efficiently and effectively used. Of course, that does not depend exclusively on the Home Secretary. but I intend to do everything within my power to ensure the best possible deployment of the resources available. Progress has already been made. Many more of our policemen are back on the beat. Measures have been taken to increase community confidence in and involvement with the police. Action in that direction will continue.
The fight against crime, however, is not and cannot be the task of the police alone. It is also the task of the community. That is the other side of community policing. It is certainly clear that the battle against crime can only be won by having a framework of law that reinforces the efforts of police and community alike. The Criminal Justice Act was a major step taken in the last Parliament towards ensuring that such a framework exists. Parents were made to take more responsibility for crimes which their children committed and the powers to compensate victims of crime were improved. Those changes, however, came into effect only earlier this year.
Sentencing policy is, of course, bound to be a major concern for all those with responsibility or interest in this field. Nobody could doubt the fundamental constitutional importance of maintaining the complete independence and discretion of the courts. Equally, nobody should doubt that the community as a whole expects and has a right to expect really dangerous and violent criminals to he kept in custody for long periods.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on the recent ruling by an Old Bailey judge that a man who on his own admission had committed more than 300 offences against young boys should be released into the community for three years' probation, subject only to a one-year residential order? How can my right hon. and learned Friend justify that, and how can parents of young boys feel that their children are safe when a judge in the High Court of this country can release such a person without custodial sentence in a psychiatric unit?
I of course understand my hon. Friend's concern. I think that it is right that as Home Secretary I should state general views as to the penalties that should be available and the circumstances in which they are applied, but it would be wrong for me to comment on any individual case.
As I have said, the community has a right to expect really dangerous and violent criminals to be kept in custody for long periods. On the other hand, for appropriate offenders it is right to welcome the use of, for example, community service orders to ensure that offenders make amends to the community within the community. More generally, we value the probation service highly and shall continue to commit substantial resources to it. If the courts are to avoid custodial sentences in those cases where they are not needed or appropriate, there must be realistic alternatives. The probation service has a key role in most of these. Between June 1979 and December 1982 the number of probation officers increased by more than 10 per cent. and the number of ancillary workers by more than 36 per cent. The number of probation orders increased by 30 per cent. and community service orders by 90 per cent.
Crime and violence threaten everyone—young and old, rich and poor, black and white. The level of crime —particularly street crime, burglary and all crimes of violence — is a major worry to vast numbers of our fellow citizens. Nobody who fought the last election in any part of the country, town or county, north or south, can have the slightest doubt about that.
Recorded crime has continued to rise, with fluctuations, since the war. During the 1960s it rose by some 10 per cent. per year and during the 1970s at a lower rate. In the early 1980s it rose faster again. In this, Britain has not been alone. Our neighbours share the problem. Rising crime is a phenomenon common to all Western European countries. Crime rates in France, Italy and Germany, for instance, are similar to those in this country.
Will the Home Secretary condemn the outrageous statement made yesterday by the governor of Oxford prison, who said that offenders should be duffed up by the police, or whoever else he was referring to, as a way of resolving anti-social activities? That outrageous statement should be condemned from the Dispatch Box.
I could not possibly condone in any way a statement made by somebody involved in the criminal justice system supporting the use of unlawful violence.
In considering the problem of crime, there are no easy explanations and no easy answers. Crime has risen in times of low unemployment and high unemployment, in times of relative poverty and in times of relative affluence. I feel sure in my own mind that what happens in our homes and schools has a greater influence on the level of crime than what happens in our courts and prisons. But that is no excuse for us to shirk our particular responsibilities. As parents, teachers or members of the Government, we must do what we think will help bring about an environment, an attitude and an atmosphere less conducive to crime. Those actually responsible for handling law and order issues, however, have to deal in a practical way with the results of past influences and conditions. They cannot just wish that things had been different or assume that current social policies will change them.
Quite apart from penalties and court systems, it is now ever more widely recognised that, in the fight against crime, prevention is at least as important as deterrence. For too long that has not been fully accepted. Crime prevention is not simply a matter of locking up homes and cars, although it is that, too. It is also a matter of generating attitudes and establishing a physical environment that is not conducive to crime. In bringing that about, we in the Home Office must also look to others —individuals, groups and other agencies of Government—to make their contribution. In addition, the advisory role of the police is crucial. I intend to concentrate as a matter of the highest priority on developing a strategy for crime prevention during my tenure of office.
At this point, I want to mention one quite different source of concern and controversy—capital punishment. As a Government, we are very conscious of the concern both in the House and in the country that there should be a fresh opportunity to debate the question of capital punishment. Traditionally the Government do not take a stance on this issue, but it is left for the House to decide on a free vote. That tradition will be maintained. I can say today, however, that the Government will be making time available for a full debate on this important issue at a suitable opportunity, and in a form that will enable hon. Members to express a view on the restoration of the death penalty both generally and different categories of offence.
I think that it would be better to do that in the course of the debate. I assure any hon. Gentleman who is anxious that I shall most certainly do so then and that there will be no mistake about my views. I see no reason whatever to pre-empt that.
I said that I intended to develop a strategy for crime prevention, which is a quite specific aspect of the duties of the Home Secretary. It would be unwise for any Home Secretary to give the sort of undertaking or promise that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
To revert to crime more generally, we all care about fighting crime, but caring is not enough. Those who will the ends must also will the means. I note that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has written in his book of essays, "Framework for a Labour Britain", that the Labour party
must become the law-and-order party".
I welcome that aspiration. I hope that it will also lead to a recognition that it is simply not possible to tackle crime. and indeed to preserve personal freedom from the attacks of the criminals, who put it at risk, if the agents of law enforcement are hampered by obsolete and inappropriate laws. That is why my predecessor introduced in the last Parliament the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. The House will know that I felt it right, as an incoming Home Secretary, to delay reintroducing that Bill so as to have the opportunity of reconsidering all the representations which have been made and all the arguments raised. But in doing so I shall not lose sight of what the Bill sought to achieve and how it came into existence, and I do not wish to give the impression that I am at present persuaded that substantial changes are required.
The Bill's main purpose is to modernise and rationalise police investigative powers. The ground for that was laid in the careful and thorough work of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. Indeed, no responsible Government could have allowed the present state of affairs to continue, for the anomalies of the existing law are legion and they seriously hinder the battle against crime. They are not just academic inconsistencies. There is at the moment no power to obtain a search warrant for weapons or other evidence of serious offences against the person, including murder and rape. But, on the other hand, a warrant may be obtained to seek evidence of criminal damage or offences against wild life. There is no power of arrest for offences of indecent assault against women, but there is a power of arrest for those committing misconduct at a church service. There is a power to stop and search people for stolen birds' eggs but not for offensive weapons. It is hardly surprising that the Royal Commission and the Government sought to introduce a measure of rationality into that jungle.
While it is understandable that all the provisions in the Bill should be carefully examined so that they can be made exactly right, there can be no question about the general case for giving the police adequate powers, provided that there are also adequate safeguards. One of the most culpable misrepresentations of the Bill was that there were no such safeguards. In many areas the safeguards that were made were new and substantial. I shall, however, be ensuring that all my predecessors' undertakings, given in response to the views expressed by hon. Members, are fully honoured in the new Bill, which I shall bring forward in the autumn. I shall also bring forward proposals for an independent prosecution service.
There is a further area in which the decisions made by the Government in their first term will bear fruit in their second — the prison service. We inherited in 1979 a prison estate which had been largely built before 1900, that had seen scarcely one brick put on another to expand secure accommodation from 1918 to 1952, and the maintenance and refurbishment of which had been seriously neglected for decades.
We are now embarked upon the largest programme of building and modernisation of our prisons undertaken by any Government this century. One new prison opened last month, four more are under construction, and a further six are at various stages of design. We have also increased the size of the prison staff. There were about 15,700 prison officers in post in 1979. There will be over 18,000 next year. But, of course, it remains a fact that our prisons are seriously overcrowded. I am very conscious of the problems caused by the need to accommodate some prisoners in police cells. Some prison accommodation, particularly in London, is unfit for use. This we are progressively modernising. Doing so can require the emptying of whole wings. Capital expenditure has more than doubled since 1979.
Those who run our prisons are even more keenly aware than I am of the difficulties of running the system while it remains as overcrowded as it is now. They have often been put to the test, I fear, and have acquitted themselves well. They have shown a combination of humanity and resolve in following their difficult and important calling.
The final area of my responsibilities that I wish to mention before dealing with the other specific legislative measures is that of immigration and race relations. Since 1979, immigration for settlement has dropped sharply to the lowest level since immigration control from the Commonwealth began over 20 years ago. I contemplate no change in the policies that have led to that, for I believe that the maintenance of an effective immigration policy is one of the key elements in maintaining good community relations. I want to make it clear beyond any doubt that the Government's and my commitment to a racially fair and just society, and our opposition to racial discrimination, is absolute, unquestioned and unqualified.
Of the legislative measures mentioned in the Queen's Speech I have already dealt with the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I turn to the others. The prevention of terrorism Bill will be brought forward early in the Session. I naturally recognise that special powers of the kind embodied in the existing legislation —the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 — are unpalatable, infringing as they do important aspects of our civil liberties, but I am afraid that that is part of the price which must be paid if we are to counter the terrorism which disfigures our society. As long as the threat of terrorist outrages remains, measures to prevent such outrages must also remain. That was the view that Lord Jellicoe took when he recommended, in his review of the operation of the 1976 Act, that the special powers conferred by the Act should continue. I believe that it is a view which would be supported by the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens, who loathe the senseless and random violence committed by terrorists and want everything possible done to stamp it out. I hope that we shall proceed by common consent in this House.
Lord Jellicoe also recommended that the special powers should be embodied in new legislation whose life should be limited to five years and should, like the 1976 Act, be subject to annual renewal. He recommended that the special powers of arrest and detention should be extended to international terrorists as well as those concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland, but he also made a number of detailed recommendations designed to minimise the impact of the legislation on civil liberties. For example, a person who has lived here for three years would be exempt from the exclusion order procedure, instead of only, as at present, those who have lived here for 20 years. The system of making representations would be changed to encourage more use of the right to interview by an independent adviser. Exclusion orders would last for only three years, instead of indefinitely. The Secretary of State would be able in future to authorise an extension of detention for a flexible period instead of having to choose between no extension or the full five days. The Government have accepted the principle of those recommendations and it will be embodied in the new Bill which will, we hope, receive the Royal Assent in time to avoid the necessity of a further renewal of the 1976 Act.
As Home Secretary, I am also concerned with broadcasting policy. Here, too, the pursuit of the right balance between control and freedom, regulation and competition, is of the essence. But my chief preoccupation in broadcasting during this Session will be the legislation on cable promised in the Gracious Speech. This will give effect to the policies set out in the White Paper which the Government published shortly before the election. The Bill, which I hope to introduce before Christmas, will establish a framework within which cable can develop. We shall be debating the White Paper next Thursday, and in view of that I shall not elaborate further on the subject today.
I have on several occasions referred to the Importance of achieving balance. That again is a crucial consideration in the remaining area in which I shall bring legislative proposals before Parliament—that of data protection. A Bill to regulate the use of automatically processed personal information fell at the Dissolution. A new Bill will now be introduced. We are committed to data protection. Our aim is twofold. First, we seek to reassure those who regard computers as a threat to privacy. Secondly, the Bill will enable us to ratify the Council of Europe convention on data protection, so ensuring that we are not excluded from the enormous commercial opportunities flowing from international exchange of data.
Has my right hon. and learned Friend any comment to make on the point that I made in the opening debate on the Gracious 'Speech yesterday with regard to the aim of votes for those away on holiday, or about my hope that he will be able to consider this within the programme in the coming year?
It is wrong in principle that anybody who goes on holiday should be disfranchised. I am extremely interested in this issue, and considered it when I was last in the Home Office. So far, it has not been possible to find legislative time. It would be difficult to legislate on that without looking at other matters of electoral law. However, I need no persuasion of the validity of the case pressed over a period by my hon. Friend, as by many others.
I wish to end on a more personal note. In the past few days since my appointment, I have been labelled alternately as a liberal reformer and a reactionary conservative. My credentials to be regarded as either have been exhaustively scrutinised. It all adds spice to politics —and, I hope, circulation to the press, so I am sure that it will continue. However, a Home Secretary would be very foolish to aspire to either label. He has, in each case, on each issue, to try to define the point at which freedom becomes licence or at which control stifles, rather than protects, liberty. In each area that point is likely to be different, but the goal remains the same—the defence of the free society against its enemies wherever they may be. My hope and aim is that, like my distinguished predecessor, I shall in due course be able to claim that, in part through my efforts, that defence has been successfully maintained. It is in that spirit that I commend the proposals in the Gracious Speech to the House.
I begin by offering the Home Secretary my sincere, although unashamedly envious, congratulations on the office that he has now assumed. The envy and congratulations are in part attributable to his good fortune in inheriting a Department where there is new work to be done. It is always an advantage to a new Minister to go into a great office of state knowing that changes and progress are necessary. It is because of that that I heard much of his speech with both surprise and disappointment, for he talked to the House, particularly about building on old foundations, as if the achievements of his predecessor were something about which he could legitimately boast. He has offered us little that is new and went again through many of the old nostrums that were offered to the House 'in a previous Parliament, which were proved to be wrong and were therefore discredited.
There were times, particularly at the beginning of the Home Secretary's speech and the passage about building on sure foundations, when he seemed to be addressing us on behalf of a Government who imagine that their Home Office policies have succeeded over the previous four years. In case he is labouring under that delusion, let me remind him of the record of the Government in which he served on crime and crime detection, which are important.
When the Conservative Government came to power in 1979, the annual total of notifiable offences recorded by the police in England and Wales was 2,536,700, an annual total of 2·5 million notifiable offences. By last year that had risen to 3,262,000, an annual total of 3·25 million. That was the achievement of the Government who were elected on a blatant law and order ticket—an increase in the crime rate of 25 per cent.
I notice that in passing the Home Secretary acknowledged this deterioration and told the House that it was in large part the product of international trends. I see that he has come from the Treasury bringing his old excuses with him. He is still reading his old brief. It is the economic catastrophe that is part of the international trend. The crime rate increase is in large measure a result of the policies adopted by the Government in which he served from 1979 to 1983.
That 25 per cent. increase in the crime rate was only one of the failures, for as crime increased detection and conviction decreased. When the Government came to power in 1979, 41 per cent. of all offences resulted in conviction. By the time of the general election, that had fallen to 37 per cent. Thus, the Government are in no position to suggest either that they have a prescription for success or, if the foundations that were laid between 1979 and 1983 are built on, that there is likely to be an improvement in the disastrous state of crime and crime detection.
I am not sure that the Government understand the full price of the failure that they have encompassed in the past four years. However, the Labour party does, for it is on the vast council estates and in the decaying central areas that the increase in crime has been the greatest. The break-ins and the burglaries, the muggings and the assaults affect most the poorest citizens in our society. They are the least able to deal with the tragedy that comes about when their houses have been burgled or they have been assaulted.
The crime rate in the past four years has borne most heavily on the urban poor, and there is no evidence to suggest that the Government have the slightest idea how to deal with the phenomenon, not least because they persist, and the Home Secretary has done it again, in arguing about the symptoms of crime increase rather than its cause. To talk about stronger police powers and the resuscitation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill may help to reduce the level of violence in the 1922 Committee, but it will not have the same effect in the rest of the country. There we need something far more fundamental and understanding of the real causes of crime.
The real causes of crime and crime increase in the past four years have been the direct result of the increase in poverty, deprivation and unemployment. All the evidence now suggests that the poverty, deprivation and unemployment which have characterised this country between 1979 and 1983 are to continue in the next four or five years. That is the evidence of the Gracious Speech. The Gracious Speech contains a single cliche about unemployment, which we know is there as an alternative to the truth. The truth is that the dole queue will grow longer between now and 1989. The Queen's Speech says nothing about the poor and the need to alleviate their poverty. It says nothing about the ethnic minorities and the need to end their increasing alienation from society. It says nothing about the inner cities and the need to end the decay and deprivation which is common there.
The Home Secretary deceives himself and attempts to delude others if he pretends that the Government can increase poverty and reduce crime at the same time.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's more stupid Back Benchers will tell him that all that is needed is a series of more severe punishments which act as deterrents to crime.
I am delighted to hear the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) confirm that judgment. They will start by insisting that a return to capital punishment will not only reduce the murder rate but will have some strange knock-on effect which, in some way that no one can calculate or describe, actually reduces the crime rate in other categories as well.
I make my opposition clear. I am opposed to hanging in principle and I would not support its return, even if it possessed the magic ability to cut down all sorts of crime. But I have to say as well — I hope that the Home Secretary will nerve himself to say it by the time the debate on hanging is held—what the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows and what his predecessor was at least brave enough to say, that there is no evidence to support the notion that the severity of a sentence in itself is a deterrent—certainly when, as at present, there is no certainty of arrest and conviction.
If the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) were here, he would tell us that if capital punishment was restored the burglar would go about his work unarmed and, as a result, crimes of all sorts would decrease.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Northampton, North remains absoluely true to form. I have to tell him that the tragedy at the moment is that the burglar goes about his business pretty confident that he will not be caught, and therefore the severity of the sentence is essentially his second consideration.
Fewer than one quarter of all thefts in Great Britain result in conviction. Here in the metropolis, where the concern about crime is greatest, the figure is much less than that. About 15 per cent. of all crimes committed in London result in arrests.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a statistical point that convictions are secured for fewer than one quarter of the burglaries and thefts committed. Does that mean that fewer than one quarter of the burglars and thieves are actually convicted? That probably is not the case. I suggest that a far higher proportion of people are caught and that the deterrent works to that extent.
This is the new orthodoxy invented by people who talked about the clear-up rate as the great measurement of crime detection success when it was moving in their direction. Now they say that the clear-up rate is not a real measure of police success when it is moving the other way. I am prepared to accept the clear-up figures which our chief constables have always regarded as the proper indication of whether we are beating the crime wave of the moment. According to that analysis, we are doing worse in terms cf catching criminals and convicting them.
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has been saying about the clear-up rate and the increase in crime, does he support greater powers for the police to cope with the problems of crime, and increase in the building of prisons, the provision of more policemen on the beat, and more money devoted to resources to help the police force? If so, why is he making his speech in the terms that he is?
I should have thought that even the hon. Member for Ribble, South (Mr. Atkins) would realise that I intend to come to my comments and my party's policy on police powers. I propose to answer his question in my own time in about three pages from here on.
Not only do I support the notion that more resources are necessary for the police and the police service. The increase in police pay, for which the previous Home Secretary took so much credit, was the direct result of an inquiry into police pay which I set up in the dying days of the Labour Government. If we want to take credit for these matters, I am prepared for the first time in three years to remind the House that that is what happened. The idea that the Edmund-Davies committee should be set up and that its recommendations should be implemented was a matter not of party controversy but of agreement between the parties— [Interruption.] I am not sure whether one of the assortment of new Treasury Ministers wants to argue with me, or, for that matter, one of the assortment of other old Ministers. If anyone wishes to argue about that contention, I shall gladly give way to him.
I make one other comment on the deterrent effect of severe sentences about which we have heard and shall go on hearing. Our crime rate will not be reduced by sending more and more people to prison to serve longer and longer sentences. We send too many people to prison already, and many of the men and women whom we send to prison, who necessarily are given custodial sentences, are required to remain in prison for far too long.
Many of our prisons have simply become breeding grounds for crime. That is not surprising since we incarcerate young men in Victorian buildings in conditions which the Victorians would never have tolerated. We have three men in a cell built in the 1820s to house a single prisoner. They are locked up together for 23 hours a day, with no time for training or education and with no facilities for them to meet their relations and the people who keep them in touch with the outside world.
I warn the Home Secretary that unless he reduces the prison population drastically, the long-feared and much-predicted riots will be upon him. Even before that happens, as well as causing the great anguish that the prison population as presently housed creates, he will be creating long-term criminals by sending petty offenders to gaol.
What we know about prisons today is that the way to make sure that a young man goes back to prison a second, third or fourth time is to give him a custodial sentence for his first offence. That happens all too often.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has to legislate to create genuine alternatives to custodial sentences which the courts will impose because they are in themselves deterrents and punishments. He has to ensure that the courts send a man or woman to prison only when imprisonment is absolutely necessary. We all know that people who should not be serving custodial sentences are required to do so. We all know that the courts will not change their ways just by exhortation from the Home Secretary or the Lord Chancellor. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has to legislate for that. Unless he does, our prisons will continue to be disgracefully and dangerously overcrowded.
Legislation of that sort would be a far more sensible use of the time of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House than any attempt to breathe life into the now discredited Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. If I understood the Home Secretary aright and he is considering substantial amendments to the measure which we debated so fruitlessly in the old Parliament, that is very much to be welcomed. But as I followed his drift, he began by promising change and a new examination and went on to specify some of the old ingredients which he thought were essential to the new remedy.
If a piece of legislation resembling the old Police and Criminal Evidence Bill becomes law in this Parliament, far from reducing the crime rate, it will increase it. Unemployment and poverty apart, the principal cause of increasing crime is the alienation of the police from the public whom they support and with whom the police must work.
That alienation has many causes. The age and character of new recruits to the police force is one of them. We have sociological changes. The age of deference is past. We live in a much more rebellious society, and that makes the work of the police very much more difficult.
There is also the fact that 15 years ago the foot patrol was abandoned in favour of the Panda car, which detached the policeman from the area in which he or she patrolled —[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) was responsible for that, if the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) wants to know. The hon. Gentleman should understand that all Governments make mistakes, and all Governments are entitled to be honest about them. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) exists to prove that Governments are not always right and that Governments change their minds. The excoriation that he receives daily from some young Conservative Back Benchers is a sign that from time to time Governments change their minds. I confess freely that the Government in which I served in the 1960s were wrong to think so much about mechanising the police and taking them off the beat. I am delighted that the campaign for getting the police back on the beat, which the Labour party and others mounted in the last Parliament, has been reflected in the Home Secretary's speech today. We propose to go on arguing that the police should be reunited with the public.
I have given some of the reasons for the alienation. None of them is particularly to the discredit of the police. There are many causes but a single effect, and that effect will be intensified if the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill is resuscitated in its old form. The blame for that further alienation will then be fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Government in general and the Home Secretary in particular.
As the Home Secretary did not bring himself to do so, I shall remind the House of what the Bill contained and what the House will be asked to approve if the Home Secretary brings it forward in more or less its old form. The powers apply when, in the opinion of a police officer, a "serious offence" has or may have been committed. A "serious offence" is something that the police officer feels in his judgment warrants the operation of the powers that I shall now describe. Survivors from the last Parliament will recall that the previous Home Secretary gave his definition of "serious offence" as a "circular" definition, but none the worse for that.
On the basis of that circular definition—the powers being applicable whenever a police officer believes them applicable—the police force of this country would be allowed to stop and search an individual or vehicle, to arrest without warrant, to detain in custody without charge, and to initiate an intimate body search by a doctor if the suspect agreed and by a policeman if the suspect did not. Such powers seem to us in the Labour party to be a denial of civil rights and an affront to personal liberty. Even those Conservative Members who do not share our libertarian view should recognise that giving the police such draconian powers could result only in further separating them from the people with whom they should be united.
To reduce crime, the police need to be accepted by the people whom they serve, with the old confidence and affection. We need the police to be known in the areas that they protect. We need them to be trusted by the people in those areas. The idea that that trust will be enhanced by the powers to stop and search, to arrest without warrant, to hold without charge and to perform an intimate body search seems to me the most abject nonsense. The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill would make the necessary reunion between the police and the public infinitely more difficult.
To bring about such a reunion, the creation of elected police authorities for London and the provinces is essential, as is the creation of an adequate objective complaints procedure. To restore confidence in the police, it is necessary for police authorities to be elected by and to represent the views of the people on police strategy and performance. Again, it appears to us in the Labour party that in a free society it is intolerable that the police, who spend so much of our money and influence so much of our lives, should be under absolutely no authority but their own.
I understand that the Conservative party's objection to elected police authorities is that some of them might not be Conservative-controlled. The fact is that, were we to have elected police authorities, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Hampshire would almost certainly carry out policies with which I, as a Home Secretary, would disagree. However, that is the price we pay for democracy. In the Queen's Speech the Conservative party seems to have scant regard for that democracy in the proposals to abolish the Greater London council. The abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan councils is proposed because they persist in electing Labour majorities. That is not called democracy; it is called elected tyranny.
In a democracy, a Government, no matter how large their majority, should attempt to accommodate every section of opinion. However, there is one section of our society that the Government have persistently antagonised and alienated — the black and Asian British. I was delighted, as I am sure we all are, to hear the robust statement of opposition to all forms of racism from the Home Secretary today. However, as the Asian and black community will tell him, it is by his deeds that he will be known.
The answer is seven, which is three and a half times more than those who stood for the Conservative party. However, that is not the important question. The important question is: how will the Home Secretary deal with the black and Asian population in this country? I endorse and welcome the Home Secretary's robust statement, but it has to be backed up by robust action. In some particulars—the particular to which I draw special attention is the operation of immigration control—his Department is directly responsible for one pernicious form of discrimination against the ethnic minorities.
Lest I be misrepresented as the day goes on—indeed, I know that on this occasion I shall be misrepresented as the day goes on, but I must put the position clearly—I do not call for a return to wholesale immigration into this country. However, the refusal to allow husbands to join their wives and to allow dependent parents to live with their children in this country is a disgrace. The refusal to allow legitimate visitors to spend a few weeks in this country is also a disgrace. The disgrace is compounded because we all know — and the Home Secretary must know—that those refusals apply only to the visitors of the prospective husbands and parents of the black and Asian British. The discrimination here is overt and gross. We shall judge how sincerely the Home Secretary meant his resounding declaration by whether he changes those openly and perniciously racist elements in his immigration policy.
We on these Benches do not propose to rest until we have raised the subject time after time—
—and the justice that we believe is necessary for those British citizens has been properly observed. The hon. Member for Ribble, South, who represents some of the people I have just described, cries "Kenyan Asians". As he has introduced this irrelevancy, I shall give him the opportunity to tell the House whether he. believes that the three types of discrimination that I have described apply to his Asian constituents.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Neither I nor many of my colleagues on these Benches take lectures about racism or anti-racism from a party that adopted the attitude that it did towards Kenyan Asians, compared with the Conservative party that let in Ugandan Asians and was criticised for so doing. Let us be fair. The attitude that was taken by the Labour party against the Kenyan Asians does not provide the right hon. Gentleman with the opportunity to attack us.
The hon. Gentleman has -singularly failed to answer my question, but I ask my hon. Friends to treat him with charity because, before the general election when he was relying on these Asian votes, he answered, yes to every one of the questions that I put to him.
I want to go on to say something to the more important Members on the Conservative Benches because I know that one of the reasons why the interests of those deprived and dispossessed of our community were not represented in the Queen's Speech or in any of the speeches that we have heard so far is that the Prime Minister does not even aspire to lead a Government who care for the black and Asian British. The right hon. Lady has chosen to lead part of the people, and she has pitched her appeal to the rich and uncaring. In the Prime Minister's speech yesterday there was not a single conciliatory word. There was no attempt to unite the nation, no magnanimity in victory—just the strident assertion that she had won and that her prejudices would prevail.
My more fastidious hon. Friends may at least rejoice that this time we were spared St. Francis of Assisi. But believing as I do that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, I should even have welcomed that. Yesterday, we listened to a Prime Minister who has divided the nation into north and south, rich and poor, employed and unemployed, white and black, and who chose to speak only for the prosperous and the privileged. In this Parliament it will be the Opposition's duty to speak for all the nation—[Interruption.] Let me explain what I mean to those hon. Gentlemen whose reaction all of us could have anticipated. It will be our duty to speak to all the nation, not just to those who voted for us. I know very well that in the hearts and minds of Conservative Members the idea that we might speak for people whose votes we do not expect never struck them for a moment. First, we shall speak for the poor and the deprived and then we shall go on to speak for the more fortunate men and women of Britain who have a higher vision of society than the view from behind the cash registers. That is our duty and that we shall perform.
It is with much trepidation, Mr. Speaker, that I rise in this House to speak today for the first time. You find before you a new Member who is perhaps more suprised than most to be here, particularly as I had a majority of over 8,000 in what was supposed to be a Labour marginal.
My seat of Derbyshire, South is composed of bits of four old seats and I want to pay tribute to my predecessors. Part of my seat came from Derby, North and part from Derby, South where the previous Labour Members, Mr. Phillip Whitehead and Mr. Walter Johnson, had built up considerable personal reputations. Part came from the old seat of Belper whose Member, Sheila Faith, paved the way for the ready acceptance of a woman Member of Parliament. She worked hard and her absence from the House is much regretted by her former constituents in Derbyshire. The fourth part of the seat comes from the former constituency of Derbyshire, South-East and I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) has been returned to the House with a thumping big majority. All my predecessors gave caring and responsible service to their constituents, and to follow them will be difficult.
The seat of Derbyshire, South has a bit of everything. We have farmers. One problem on election day was getting the shearing done in time to vote and there were many nicked sheep around the next day. We have horticulture, and hon. Members are likely to hear me ask in the Dining Room "But is it an English lettuce?" because if it is, it is likely to have come from my area We have engineering with many successful companies which export, even to Japan. We have an active leisure industry, power stations and coal mining. Indeed, I am looking forward to holding hands in this House from time to time with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who, I believe, also represents a few Derbyshire miners. However, the miners of Derbyshire, South are the most moderate in Britain. During the recent industrial dispute 88 per cent. voted against going on strike. I have constituents who work for Rolls-Royce and British Rail. Indeed, my seat is so diverse that I may find in it an opportunity to talk in this House on almost anything if I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
I am very lucky for the seat's greatest asset is the friendliness and the warm-heartedness of its people and I am looking forward to serving them in this House for, I hope, a long time.
My particular interest in the Gracious Speech lies in housing, particularly the Government's intention further to promote the sale of council houses. There will be many opportunities in the months and years to come for me to be controversial. I merely set out today my interest in the subject. For the last eight years I have been privileged to be a member of the Birmingham city council where I had many dealings with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I was chairman of the housing committee in the previous 12 months when I was responsible for 130,000 council properties. In that short time we sold 4,000 council properties and we used the considerable capital receipts so engendered to finance major repairs to other council properties. It was and it remains my firm view that all council tenants should benefit from the sale of some of their properties to sitting tenants. During that time I bombarded the then Minister for Housing and Construction, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley), with advice, good and perhaps not so good, about what should go into the legislation. I appreciated the prompt attention that he showed me at all times.
Whatever the views of hon. Members on the sale of council houses—I recognise that there may be differing opinions — several matters are clear. The policy is widely popular, even among those who do not wish to buy. Even solid Labour voters have taken advantage of the existing legislation to buy their homes. Even Labour councils, including those in my constituency, have willingly sold many properties. It is also clear that the policy is changing the face of the British landscape as we develop and further our property-owning democracy.
I hope that the legislation to be enacted will take account of the problems of those who, like me, have to make it work. In particular, I gripe about the unbelievably cumbersome right-to-buy form which is 10 pages long and which, I suspect, will need a degree-level education to understand, let alone to fill it in properly. Surely it must be possible to draft something simpler. The cost floor calculations for post-1974 houses were complicated and in my authority required a team of housing officers, doing nothing else but working them out, and they did not sell a single extra council house.
Please may we have legislation that is simple, clear and easy to operate, that does not need hordes of civil servants and local government officers to make sense of it?
I already find the House an exciting and thrilling place, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that I always will. My warmest thanks are due to you, to the staff of the House and to all my colleagues for the kindness and courtesy that I have enjoyed already, and to the electors of Derbyshire, South for allowing me to come here.
I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) as she has proved a point that I have long held true, which is that women, especially those in Parliament, are much better able to put their views concisely and clearly than many male hon. Members.
The important topic of family law was raised in the Gracious Speech. Family law is a matter in which reform is greatly needed to safeguard the interests of children, to alleviate the hardship suffered by many wives on the break-up of a marriage, and to try to help couples arrange their affairs without being at loggerheads in the courts. Although the Government, in the Gracious Speech, have announced their intention to introduce reform in this matter, the great shame is that they will introduce proposls that will do precisely the opposite. One of the main problems of the Government's proposals is that they will bring back into the arena of divorce law the issues of blame and guilt. If I understand the Government's proposals correctly, they will be giving men a financial vested interest by proving that their wives have been involved in misconduct, thereby reducing the amount of maintenance that they will have to pay to the wife or children.
That is the wrong direction in which to go. It will set the husband and wife at loggerheads with each other and it will be far harder to heal the wounds and establish a good relationship for the sake of the children after the marriage has broken down. Furthermore, expense will be incurred as there will be more contested divorce cases as hurtful allegations are dredged up. The Government should be moving towards an arbitration or conciliation service and not towards a position in which it is in the husband's interest to accuse his wife of misconduct, so that when a marriage has broken down maintenance for the children can be sorted out amicably.
The second problem about the Government's proposals is that they are based on the assumption that a major problem of our time is the alimony drone—a woman who after a brief marriage manages to obtain a large amount of alimony from a rich husband. That is not so. The real problem on the breakdown of marriages is not that of a few women getting a large amount of money from a few rich husbands but that of the overwhelming majority of wives who must struggle in financial hardship to bring up their children.
The notion that women are in a less advantageous financial position than men and that somehow they are parasites must be rejected. Such a proposition is insulting. It is true that women are unable at present to contribute equally to the family income because they have the main responsibility of looking after the children. If one is looking after small children in an area with inadequate child care facilities—unfortunately, that is true of most places—one will not be able to go out to work at all. If a woman is able to go out to work, she may well be able only to work part time and those women who work full time do not earn as much as men. The average woman's take-home pay is 75 per cent. of the average male take-home pay.. Such women are not parasites or alimony drones but are in a worse financial position than the other partner to the marriage.
A system should exist that sets out not to penalise alimony drones but to enable the children's father to pay alimony and there should be a proper enforcement procedure to ensure that alimony is paid rather than the wife frequently having to return to court to obtain maintenance. If the husband cannot pay the maintenance —I recognise that often the husband is not able to do so, especially if he has a new family and more children —the benefit system should be such that the first family does not suffer hardship because of the break-up.
The proposals outlined in the Gracious Speech do nothing to safeguard the interests of children against financial hardship. A problem caused by court orders made on the breakdown of a marriage is that the courts have no idea about the cost of bringing up children. Children are expensive creatures. Reform should be brought about whereby those making maintenance orders for children must take account of the guidance issued about how much it costs to bring up a child.
The National Foster Care Association produces regular and updated figures about how much it costs to bring up a child. The cost of bringing up a three-year-old and a sixyear-old child is about £60 a week. Many courts are completely unaware of the cost of bringing up a child. Another mistake in the proposals in the Gracious Speech is the idea of separating the financial interest of the wife from that of the child whom she is lcoking after. Where the court has decided to penalise the wife on the husband's allegations of misconduct, it is not possible to do so without, at the same time, penalising the children. The financial interests of the child are inseparable from those of the parent who is looking after it, who is usually the mother.
Reform of family law is desperately needed in this respect. An ACAS for parents is needed so that they can sort out their problems, but not in an adversarial way when they are encouraged by their solicitors for their own financial interests to muck-rake about each other. The courts must regularly be given guidance on the cost of bringing up children and they must take that guidance into account when making financial orders for children. Furthermore, there must be proper enforcement of maintenance awards through the courts and 'recognition that when men are unable to pay maintenance there should be proper social security benefits.
The Conservative party has often said that it is the party of the family. Its proposals for family law reform give the lie to that. In commenting on its supposed stance as the party of the family, may I say that there is nothing romantic about a family whose children are leaving school and unable to find a job or a family crowded together in a small flat because new homes are not being built or about a woman struggling to bring up young children in a small flat who is unable to work through lack of nursery facilities.
Those who are serious about the family must recognise that different reforms are needed from those that the Government have put forward. When society is hurt through unemployment and lack of services, the family roots are damaged.
I should like to extend my good wishes to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment as he sets out on a series of steps that are potentially of enormous importance to many people. I wish him well in all of them, and especially in those to which I shall confine my comments.
I refer to the passage in the Gracious Speech which states:
Proposals will be prepared for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils.
Southport is part of the metropolitan district of Sefton, which is part of the metropolitan county of Merseyside. We have had first-hand experience of life under a metropolitan county council and of running one. Some people assert that because such councils are always. under Socialist control the Government want to get rid of them, but that is not true. Merseyside, like many other districts, has been under Conservative control, and it was much less of a burden to the district during that period.
Our experience tells us, and we have been advocating for many years, that those county councils should go. We were delighted when the Government committed themselves to that course before the election. We are pleased to find that passage in the Gracious Speech indicating early progress in this first Session. Of course, we realise that there will be many matters calling for the widest consultation and most careful thought. All I want to do today is to tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of the great importance that we in Southport attach to this matter, to assure him of our fullest support and to ask of him the best assurances that he can give on the following broad aspects.
First, I hope that he will be able to say that the Government are firmly committed to the abolition of these bodies and to the implementation of that commitment at the earliest possible moment consistent with the sort of consultation that there must be on the detail and implementation. I stress consultation on the detail and implementation of their abolition, not on whether they should be abolished.
Secondly, I hope that my right hon. Friend will say a little more about the proposed joint boards. That was the subject of much debate in my area during the election and the alliance and others sought to create confusion and alarm by reference to quangos. I understand that the proposal is for boards nominated by the districts, not by the Government or anybody else. My right hon. Friend can no doubt point to numerous joint boards, such as joint police authorities, which are already in existence and working very smoothly.
Finally, I stress how pleased we are in Southport that, wherever possible, the powers are to be returned to the district, and that there is to be no new tier of government. Again, in the debates that we had in the north-west, the alliance spokesmen sought to give the impression that they, too, were committed to a course similar to ours and would have the public believe that they were leading the field. We have taken every opportunity to stress the immense differences. The first step under the alliance's proposals would be the establishment of a new tier of government — the regional assemblies — followed "eventually", to quote the Liberal manifesto, by the abolition of the metropolitan counties. That is a totally different and wholly unacceptable package, and I hope that Government spokesmen will stress that difference at every possible opportunity.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will refer to some of those matters and, above all, confirm that he intends to get straight on wth this change along the lines already stated. If he can give an estimate of the time for completion, so much the better. In any event, we in Southport look forward with eager anticipation to the next steps, wish my right hon. Friend well in every aspect of his task, pledge him our full support and will be only too pleased to give any assistance that may be required of us.
I do not know what else I have in common with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), but I certainly share her nervousness on my first attempt to address the House. If a new Member of Parliament's level of nervousness is an indicator of his suitability for service to the House, I shall surely qualify on that count alone.
Those right hon. and hon. Members who served in the previous Parliament will recall the regularity with which the previous Member for Leeds, West, Joseph Dean, addressed himself to the problems of cities and, in particular, of the constituency. He had a particular regard for housing issues and was certainly assiduous in raising in the House the problems of housing in Leeds. I know that defeat came as a great blow to Joe Dean and I can genuinely appreciate his feelings. Indeed, given the electoral record of my party, we can perhaps sympathise more than most—particularly as I know that some hon. Members believe, in the words of Rebecca West, that
To be wiped out by the Liberal party is like being run over by a hearse.
West Leeds has escaped many of the ravages of massive road construction that have carved up communities in many cities and, indeed, in other parts of Leeds. There has been, it is true, far too much clearance of houses and shops, but the individual communities within west Leeds maintain their identities with a firm but friendly rivalry. Some such as Armley, Bramley, Burley, Kirkstall and New Farnley could make an excellent case for the introduction of urban parish councils. Others with large council estates could certainly benefit from increasing tenant management of their estates. These are lively communities with very shrewd people, who certainly would not let me get away down here in Parliament with anything with which they disagreed.
I am glad to be able to make my maiden speech today, because my five years as a member of a police authority have given me a greatly enhanced respect for the police service and better perception of the problems that the police face day by day. But however it may sometimes seem to individual police officers, I doubt whether any right hon. or hon. Member, or any member of a police authority, would wish to do other than fully support the police. The question that engages us all is how best to do it. I noted the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on this point, and I have become increasingly convinced that the isolation of the police from the other services and processes of government has been a major factor in the deterioration of the stability and security of our cities and in the consequent pressures on the police.
Politicians of all parties—both locally and nationally —have tended to devise grand designs for their areas. They have demolished and rebuilt with involvement from the early stages of education, housing, social services and so on, but without any broad input from the police. In very many cases the result has been a housing estate or district centre that, by its very design, is virtually unpoliceable. There are estates in many constituency — such as Hawksworth, Fairfield, Wyther Park or Sandford; deck access flats elsewhere such as Hunslet Grange, to which my predecessor constantly referred, and "walk-up" maisonettes, such as at Raynville — whose layout and design inhibit the self-policing and psychological defence of space that is the crucial basis of local security. We have created problem areas and then wondered why the police have problems policing them.
Therefore, it is particularly appropriate that the first statement on policing strategy that the new chief constable of west Yorkshire recently made to his police committee should include the following statement:
The security needs of different residential groups will be determined and, in conjunction with other agencies, security conscious architectural design concepts developed. It may be appropriate to appoint a police officer to liaise with the Architectural Services, so that new developments are geared towards 'designing out' crime.
This will clearly help to get the attitude right in the planning processes. However, I am far from convinced that the reintroduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, even taking note of the amendments made in its previous innings here, will help to improve the relationship between police and public. A retrograde tendency of much legislation in recent years has been to develop more and more detailed rules to try to govern behaviour and to accommodate the infinite varieties of need.
Apparently sound arguments are put forward based on open government, ease of challenge or appeal, and so on, but the sad fact is that in human society and relationships rules rarely improve attitudes. An increasing dependence on detailed rules, though plausible, is counter-productive, detracting, as it may, from the development of good relationships between officials and public. Clearly there must be some rules, but the Bill's provisions — for example, on stop and search, production of records and detention—are detrimental to relations between police and public and will, in the long run, damage the status of the police.
I turn briefly to the local government proposals in the Gracious Speech. In 1972 the then Conservative Administration set aside the considered conclusions of an independent Royal Commission and imposed their own structure on local government. The present Government now try to ignore their responsibility for the existence of metropolitan councils by pretending that they are too expensive. That assumes that the services that they administer would magically disappear. There would be slight savings on administration, but the overriding consideration must surely be the vitality of local democracy and the dangers of centralising power.
Already there is too much central Government power in local government, as well as the power of individual Ministers to appoint to regional bodies, such as health and water authorities. The thought of Ministers directing more services is certainly alarming. The possession of power is always dangerous. Only by spreading power can we minimise its dangerous effects. The checks and balances of local elections each year within the life of a Parliament are the best deterrents to extreme action.
What matters most is to have the appropriate level of government for the administration of services. There is no completely neat and tidy division. The problem is deciding on the best solution available. That is why I regard opposition to two-tier government as a shibboleth. Most areas of Britain have had two-tier government. Most people never noticed when that involved the urban districts and the county councils, and most parts of the country will continue to have two-tier government. In England the problem is that the metropolitan counties are neither one thing nor the other. They are neither big enough to be strategic authorities nor small enough to be local authorities. They fall between the two.
In that regard I noticed the interest displayed by the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) in the alliance manifesto. The problems in his constituency are different, because Southport desperately wishes to escape the clutches of the metropolitan county council. We cannot escape the problem of what to do with services which are genuinely regional but which have no authority to administer them. If we wish people to be accountable for those services, we must have regional councils the members of which are directly elected. Members of the Liberal party certainly support the abolition of the metropolitan counties, but only if they are replaced by regional assemblies. That was also official Labour party policy for a long time.
The proposal to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties demonstrates a lack of confidence in the ability of local Conservative candidates and associations to persuade their electors of the need for economy. If, as the Government say time and again, the high spending by certain authorities is so unpopular, why cannot Conservatives in those areas, fighting on a platform of stringent economy and tight control, win a majority of votes in those areas?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) on his maiden speech. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) on her contribution to the debate. I can understand their nervousness. The first time that I addressed the House, in 1970, it was said that I brought the House of Lords to a standstill with the strength of my voice. I was rebuked by Mr. Speaker, as I have been rebuked many times since, but I survive. I am sure that the hon. Members for Leeds, West and Derbyshire, South will survive.
In their wisdom, or otherwise, the Government have provided no time in the debate to discuss the Province that I represent. However, the concluding paragraph of the Queen's Speech states:
In Northern Ireland, my Government will continue to give the highest priority to upholding law and order. Through the Northern Ireland Assembly, the people of Northern Ireland will continue to be offered a framework for participation in local democracy and political progress on the basis of widespread acceptance throughout the community.
I want to address my remarks to that and to other matters relevant to that paragraph.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills). We experienced the hon. Gentleman's faithfulness and devotion to duty when he served in Northern Ireland. I have the privilege of having in my constituency an offshore islar.d—Rathlin—which is populated. The name of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West will always be remembered on that island because of the good and able work that he did for it when he was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the nation should acknowledge God Almighty and seek his blessing upon the nation's paths.
I have two issues to bring before the House. The first relates to security and the second to the Northern Ireland assembly. The Gracious Speech refers to the Government's determination to uphold law and order. I welcome that, but action speaks louder than words. We in Northern Ireland are in the midst of a rundown of the security forces. The Royal Ulster Constabulary had a women's reserve. Its members did signal service in dark and difficult days in our Province. The chief constable has now decided that there is no longer any place for the women police reserve in Northern Ireland. Some women reservists have been dismissed with unsigned, duplicated sheets saying that their services will no longer be required.
For those who have borne the burden and heat of the day, it is a disgrace that their services have not been honoured by the powers-that-be who were responsible for recruiting them. There is a place for women police reservists. Because of their dedication to duty, they are able to relieve the menfolk to do more difficult and dangerous jobs.
The male part-time reserve of the RUC is being run down. The full-time male reserve is also being diminished. Members engaged in elections on this side of the water fortunately did not have to break their electioneering to do what many Northern Ireland candidates had to do: they did not have to go to the homes of the sorrowing to try to bring succour and comfort to those whose relatives had been done to death by the IRA during the election campaign.
What is really happening in Northern Ireland comes home when one seeks to comfort a widow or fatherless children in their homes. That security problem can be solved not by the depletion in police reserve numbers, but by further recruitment and by recognising the service of reservists.
Ulster Defence Regiment depots are being closed and proposals have been made to close even more. That is alarming to the people of Northern Ireland. There is even a proposal in my constituency to close the famous St. Patrick's barracks which are used by the Territorial Army and the Irish regiments. I say to the Government that the Northern Ireland people are looking for action on law and order.
Yesterday the House was engaged in the ceremonial state opening of Parliament. At that very time IRA terrorists launched a mortar attack on the joint army and police depot at Crossmaglen. While this House was preparing itself for the debates in the coming Session, the IRA terrorists, with their mortars, were attacking those who seek to give security to the people of Northern Ireland.
The second matter that I wish to raise is the work of the Northern Ireland assembly. Yesterday, the leader of the Official Unionist party, the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), said that the assembly had failed. I wish to demonstrate what the assembly has achieved, arid what it will continue to achieve if its members are prepared to dedicate themselves to its work. I regret that the hon. Gentleman is not present. His first action in the assembly was rather strange. He wrote to the five IRA front men — the Sinn Fein members — and invited them to Stormont to discuss security with him and the other members. I would not take part in a meeting to discuss security with those who have declared it to be their business to bomb and to murder the Protestant community, to bring it to its knees and to force it to submit to an all-Ireland settlement.
The same hon. Gentleman who was prepared to negotiate with those men was not prepared to sit on any committee of the assembly or to do any committee work for the money that he no doubt draws in salary. The assembly has six statutory scrutiny committees, similar to the Select Committees of the House. They run their eye over the actions of the various departments and call the Ministers and departmental chiefs to account. While that does not satisfy those of us who want a proper, devolved Parliament for the Province within the United Kingdom, it gives the elected representatives the opportunity to deal with matters that concern their constituents.
I wish to list the achievements of the assembly. Northern Ireland agriculture has passed through a serious crisis, as has agriculture in the remainder of the United Kingdom. The agriculture committee of the assembly succeeded in persuading the Minister to introduce a stock feed scheme, which was of great help to the potato producers. It also prepared a report on the less favoured areas. When the EEC Commissioner visited the Province this week, he paid tribute to the report. He announced that the proposed extension of the less favoured areas had been accepted by Europe and would be put forward for ratification by the Council of Europe. That will mean that the farmers in the less favoured areas will have an opportunity to gain real benefits and will halt the drift from the land and secure employment on the farms.
The assembly secured a larger discount on the payment of rates, amendments to the housing order and the keeping open of small schools in the border areas. Those are valuable achievements by the assembly with the help of Northern Ireland Ministers. I trust that the House will give the assembly an opportunity to prove itself in stage 1 and also to prove the dedication of its representatives in ensuring that scrutiny is brought to bear on the Departments that govern Northern Ireland.
I am glad that earlier today the Prime Minister gave an assurance that there was nothing that would cause me concern in what she discussed with the Taoiseach of the Republic. I welcome the reassurance that there is no substance in the old idea that the constitution of Northern Ireland is up for grabs and that the totality of relations between these islands can be renegotiated. I echo the words of another hon. Member who said that negotiations about the constitution of Northern Ireland must always be a matter solely for the House and the people of Northern Ireland.
My first act as a new Member of this Parliament is to pay tribute to those who worked so hard to send me to this place—with a large majority, despite the continuous misrepresentation of Labour party policies in the media.
I shall bow to the convention of the House that the maiden speech of a new Member must be uncontroversial and will save for a later date some of the remarks that I wish to make to Conservative Members about the economic and social destruction that is taking place in my constituency. I am pleased to have caught your eye so early in my career, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that I shall catch it regularly in future.
My constituency comprises two former constituencies. One is Chester-le-Street, and its former Member is now the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice). He is capable of proving himself in this House without my saying anything about him.
The second constituency of Houghton-le-Spring was represented in this House by Tom Urwin, and I wish to say a few words about him. He devoted his life to the Labour movement and spent almost 20 years in this place. He was a full-time official of the Union of Construction and Allied Trades Technicians and was active in local government which he served between 1949 and 1965. In 1968–69 he was a Minister at the Department of Economic Affairs and in 1969–70 he was Minister with responsibility for the north—a position since abandoned but one that I hope will be reinstated. From 1973 he served on the Council of Europe, and from 1976 was the leader of the delegation and later chairman of the Socialist group and chairman of the political affairs committee. We know that he would have become the president of the Council had he continued to attend it.
I believe that Tom Urwin would best like to be remembered as a constituency Member of Parliament who served his people well. During my work on the doorsteps, in the clubs and in the factories, I heard nothing but praise for the way that he served his constituents. I regret that he has not been in the House during 1983 because of illness, but he is recovering and will soon be returned to health. I know that I shall speak on behalf of all hon. Members if I take a message back from the House offering him its good wishes.
My constituency is divided into two parts, one of which is a new town that is establishing its cultural standards. I have lived in a new town for 20 years and I am aware of the problems, challenges and aspirations of those who live there. The other part is a mining area with well-established traditions and culture.
In any constituency the most important feature is its people. Our people are strong, humorous, hard-working, skilled and principled. I want to say a few words about those who paved the way for the formation of the new constituency. From their skills, brains, abilities, bravery and sacrifices, the people of my constituency have provided the ships needed by the nation, the coal—our major energy source — the iron and steel needed by industry and also many of the great names in heavy engineering in the north-east. As many hon. Members will know, the people working in those industries must often tolerate bad working conditions. I illustrate this point by reference to the coal industry. Two pits are left in my constituency, although many people work in pits in other constituencies. I should like to pay tribute to those who, day after day, go down into the bowels of the earth to get the coal for us. The sacrifices that they have made on our behalf can be counted by a visit to the churchyard.
I am neither poet nor a good reader of poetry, but I should like to read two or three lines from a poem by Alex Glasgow called "Close the Coal House Door" which seems to express better than I could the problems faced and the sacrifices made by those people. The second verse of the poem reads;
Close the coal house door lad, there's bones inside Mangled splintered piles of bones
Buried 'neath a mile of stones
Not a soul to hear the groans
Close the coal house door lad, there's bones inside.
I am conscious of what people did to carve out my constituency. I realise that it is a great privilege and a responsibility, with many duties, to serve those people.
I could have illustrated the point by reference to other industries — to the people who build ships who are called on in times of war to protect these islands, using skills which have been passed front father to son to produce effectively and efficiently the things that we needed. As we faced the present and the change in demand, the men and women of my constituency, especially in the new town, responded by learning new skills. They are highly skilled and adaptable, and we got what we would expect from such people.
I return to the present. The sacrifices made by those people— some made the ultimate sacrifice— seem to have been forgotten. The Conservative Government, from 1979 to 1983, implemented policies which disregarded completely what they had done. Sine May 1979 tens of thousands of these highly skilled, principled people have been thrown on to the dole queues. Even including the doctored figures produced by the Government, in the Tyne and Wear area, 100,000 people are cut of work. Before anyone says "It's their own fault. Are they not trying to find jobs?", I should point out that there are 2,000 job vacancies. It is a simple calculation to work out the magnitude of the problem facing each of those people when trying to find work.
My constituency is one of the three forming the borough of Sunderland and contains the great shipbuilding area of the Wear. Now 29,000 people in that area are out of work. Those are the official figures which have been adjusted by the Government to keep them lower than they are. One in four males in the area and one in four males in my constituency are without work. One in six women —as we know, many women do not register—are also out of work. This is not a small blackspot. The area of the north of England that I represent is in a massive blackspot, with 300,000 people unemployed. The sacrifices of the past appear to mean nothing in the present. The reward for those sacrifices is the words "scrap heap". During my election campaign, I found that, at every door on which I knocked, someone in the family had been affected by unemployment. The saddest thing of all was when I knocked on a door to ask "Are you working?" and the answer was "Yes, but I do not know for how long." That is the atmosphere one finds in the north-east of England.
The new town and the old area of my constituency have one thing in common—unemployment. That is why I shall join my colleagues, whether they are in the local authority or in the trade union movement, Members of Parliament or individuals in the work force, to resist further cuts in any industry, particularly those threatened in shipbuilding and coal mining. We cannot afford in the north-east to lose another single job. We have paid the heaviest price for the Government's policies. Our new slogan must be "Enough is Enough".
I should like to comment on two matters—one an omission from and the other an inclusion in the Gracious Speech. There was no mention of a north of England development agency. The local authorities, the trade unions and the Labour movement were united in demanding such an organisation and I am certain that, had we won the election, one would have been created. We want a say in our destiny. We want to be able to solve some of our own problems. We have had too much suffering from the economic and social consequences of unemployment. That is why we must resist further redundancies in our area. Our people realise that no longer can they afford to be seduced by redundancy pay, because the problem affects not only them but will confront their children and grandchildren in the future.
I will mention only briefly the inclusion to which I referred, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) will deal with it in greater detail. Many of my constituents work at the royal ordnance factory at Birtley, which employs more than 1,500 people, and which is now, according to the Gracious Speech, under threat. The Mallabar report of 1971 concluded that the royal ordnance factories should remain publicly owned because they are profitable despite not being able to refuse work even when it is clearly unprofitable. It is estimated that, since 1974, the royal ordnance factories have made more than £140 million. Is it not true that costs will rise if our royal ordnance factories are privatised? Is it riot true that, in crisis, the nation could be faced with a refusal to supply materials essential for its defences unless a high financial price is paid—in other words, that we would be subjected to financial blackmail. Is it not true that we would be allowing private individuals to get hold of the country's most vital military secrets? Because of jobs, blackmail, secrets and the knock-on effects, privatisation is not the answer.
I described the people of my constituency as tacking hope and experiencing despair. We want to give them hope. I only hope that I hear from the Conservative. Benches something different from what has happened in the past.
I conclude with a few words that to me summarise the ultimate tragedy. During canvassing I called on someone I knew whose son had gone to join the foreign legion, so desperate was he about finding a job. He left behind some words—I do not know whether he wrote them or picked them up—which are as follows:
Deep despair, flooding in.
No future, no prospects.
Life in a void, going down.
Time ticks on, you remain in Limbo.
A thousand questions, but no one listens,
You don't work, you don't matter.
One more rejection, one year older.
You try to cry, no words,
Just the silent scream of despair.
In this and in future weeks I hope to hear something which suggests to my constituents that there is more than despair — there is some hope. When I heard the Gracious Speech, it appeared to me to be much of a muchness and more of what we have had in the past. My constituents will find that unacceptable.
I begin by congratulating three new Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) and the hon. Members for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) and for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) — on making their maiden speeches in, if I may say so, the best traditions of the House. All three spoke with deep feeling about their constituencies and constituents and it was a pleasure to listen to them. The hon. Members for Leeds, West and for Houghton and Washington will forgive me, out of the chivalry that I know they possess, if I refer particularly to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South. She diffidently suggested that she had been elected almost by accident, but, having listened to her speech and knowing her record in housing, I am sure that she earned every one of her 8,000 votes majority. I look forward with pleasure to hearing from her again.
This is also an interesting, refreshing and perhaps even exciting moment for me, because it is the first time for 13 years that I have spoken from the Back Benches. Therefore, I am able to speak a little more of my own mind and give a few more of my own thoughts than has been possible for some time.
Reference has already been made to the passage in the Gracious Speech about the right to buy. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will not grudge me if I claim to be one of the principal architects of that policy, having spent four years in opposition formulating and fashioning the principles underlying that policy and persuading people in local government that it was a worthwhile policy for the Conservative party to espouse.
I am happy to know that the policy has lived up to our expectations. It has transformed the housing revenue accounts of local authorities that have adopted the policy enthusiastically and not dragged their feet. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South told us that she has been able to spend considerable capital sums on renovations, repairs and maintenance of the remaining stock of council properties that might otherwise not have been possible.
Throughout the land, the policy has transformed council estates through the pride of ownership, and it has been a factor in breaking the mould of politics in those estates. Many gains made by Conservative Members in council estates might not have been made but for that policy.
However, I have to admit to a defect in the policy. When we were considering some of the details, it was decided to exclude purpose-built or specially adapted housing for disabled people on the ground that, when local authorities had incurred substantial expenditure to provide special accommodation, it might be wrong to expect them to accept that that category of accommodation should be eroded by the right to buy. It was also felt that there would be a limited market for such property and that we were not creating a hardship by denying the right to buy to disabled tenants.
We have learnt a great deal since then and, in retrospect, I believe that we were wrong. No two disabled people are alike. They vary in their disabilities, just as people vary in character. One house adapted for a disabled person will not necessarily suit another. It has to be tailor-made to the needs of one person. So one of our premises was incorrect because of our lack of knowledge at the time.
Another problem has arisen over the interpretation of the legislation and that has led me firmly to believe that it has given local authorities that are reluctant to implement the policy an escape hatch that allows them to behave unfairly and in a discriminatory way against disabled people. Schedule I to the Housing Act 1980 excludes a dwelling house that has
features which are substantially different from those in ordinary dwelling-houses and which are designed to make it suitable for occupation by physically disabled persons.
A few months ago, a paraplegic constituent of mine had a chair lift installed in her ordinary council house to enable her to go up to her bedroom. It was, essentially, a fitting to an ordinary house and it cost about £1,200. When she applied for the right to buy, the local authority denied her that right on the ground that the house was "substantially different" from others. She even offered to pay the cost of the installation of the chair hoist on top of the price of the house. The local authority was not interested. It does not wish to recognise the right to buy and will deny it wherever possible.
A few months ago the House failed to give sufficient support to an anti-discrimination Bill in respect of disabled people. Not enough hon. Members attended to pass the Bill, because the case had not been made out for it. However, even though the House was not willing to pass that Bill, we cannot tolerate legislation that enables disabled people to be discriminated against, and that is precisely what the schedule to the 1980 Act enables local authorities to do.
I hope that the new Bill to be introduced by the Government will include an amendment to the existing legislation along the lines of that proposed by Baroness Lane-Fox. I recommend that to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
The most significant issue in the general election campaign in my constituency was not unemployment, defence, disarmament, inflation or pensions—though I do not say that those matters were not raised. The question asked by everyone I canvassed—without exception — was, "What are you going to do about the rates?"
In view of the great issues debated in the media and throughout the country during the election campaign, hon. Members may be surprised that a domestic issue should be of such paramount concern. However, when I tell the House that in the London borough of Haringey the domestic rate is £2.42½ in the pound and that the rates charged for a small flat are between £800 and £1,000 a year and up to £10,000 for a large detached house, hon. Members will understand why my constituents find that burden unfair and crippling.
The rates burden is causing an exodus of constituents who can find buyers for their homes and has resulted in the closing of business after business and shop after shop as business men are unable to maintain their premises in the face of that enormous overhead. That, of course, implies a loss of jobs. We are rapidly becoming a disaster area. Expenditure by the local authority has increased from £65 million in 1978–79 to £130 million in 1983–84. That represents an increase per head of population — the population is declining—of 31 per cent. in real terms over that period. The House will readily appreciate why this issue proved to be the most important one, in the opinion of my constituents, to be discussed in the general election campaign.
I note with some satisfaction that the Queen's Speech contains a promise to introduce legislation
to curb excessive rate increases".
In the light of the picture that I have presented to the House, I wonder whether that is in itself sufficient. My constituents were asking for the rates to be reduced. They were saying before the election that the level of their rates was already intolerable.
I know that in some circles discussions of this sort are regarded as unacceptable interference by central Government in the affairs of local authorities, which are elected bodies. That is true, but only up to a point. It would be true if local authorities were completely accountable bodies, but they are not. They ceased to be so from the moment that the House removed the business man's vote. The business man now provides the greatest amount of rate revenue, but he cannot vote upon the rates that he has to pay for his business.
The result is that we have adopted the principle of taxation without representation. Conversely, there are many who vote in local government elections who, for various reasons, do not pay any rates. That means that there is representation without taxation. With those twin principles, how can it be said that local authorities are truly accountable? It is because they are not that runaway rating demands are made in many areas. With a 25 to 38 per cent. poll, a local authority can be assured that it is free to pursue whatever policies it likes, because the people who pay are not those who decide what the council should be, how it should be composed and what policies it should pursue.
These issues of accountability raise constitutional questions that are possibly too complex to consider when discussing a Bill that is currently in contemplation. However, I put forward these considerations seriously because, sooner or later, we may have to consider them. When that time comes, we shall have to give them extremely serious consideration. One consideration will be whether we have so departed from the underlying principles of representation in local government that local authorities are no longer truly democratically elected bodies reflecting the interests, beliefs and views of the people whose areas they administer.
The Queen's Speech suggests that we shall see
Measures to improve the rating system".
It is suggested that such measures will be laid before Parliament. That is an enigmatic phrase. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will indicate what lies behind it when he replies.
Over the years Parliament has spent a great deal of time considering various options. We had the commission headed by Sir Frank Layfield, and we have had a number of Green and White Papers. Ideas, such as a local income, sales and poll tax, have been canvassed and considered. Each idea has been found to present as many objections as, if not more than, those that are raised against the current rating system.
The concept that I find most attractive—it is possibly the most feasible—is that of a poll tax. There may be the introduction of some element of a poll tax in the enigmatic phrase that appears in the Queen's Speech. Whether or not we have a change in the way in which local money is raised—by income tax, sales tax or a poll tax —I recognise that none of the methods that have been considered will go to the root cause of the problem, which is overspending by local authorities. If they overspend, the money has to be found by John Citizen from one pocket or another. I look forward to hearing the Government's proposals when they come before the House and, in my new-earned freedom, examining them with some relish.
I am not yet fully familiar with the rules of the House, but I should perhaps begin by declaring an interest. Part of what I have to say refers to matters that perhaps relate to the senior partnership that I hold in a firm of Sheffield solicitors.
My constituency is formed out of three parts and can be said, therefore, to be rather like Gaul. Part of it came from the old constituency of Widnes. The Member for that old constituency is still a Member of this place. I refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes). I have no doubt that he will continue in his new constituency the superb work that he performed in the Widnes part of my constituency.
A further part of the constituency has been formed by the old constituency of Huyton. As Sir Harold Wilson has now retired, I pay tribute to the work that he undertook in that part of my constituency and to the fine service that he gave to that part of my seat.
The bulk of my constituency comes from the old St. Helens constituency, which was served for about 25 years by Mr. Leslie Spriggs, who has now retired. I am sure that the whole House wishes him a long and happy retirement. Mr. Spriggs was extremely kind to me after my selection and assisted me greatly. He served the people of my town with great devotion and loyalty over a considerable period.
I consider it a great honour to be able to speak in this place on behalf of St. Helens. It is a town with friendly and kindly people. Over the past few years it has seen the decimation of its base. When I listened to the Queen's Speech I found that it contained little to comfort my constituents. The town has its part in the glass industry, and without a construction industry the glass industry has little or no future. Over the past few years thousands have lost their jobs in the industry.
St. Helens contains coal pits. We have heard only today that, in the pursuit of the mythical gods of efficiency, quality and economic progress, one of our coal mines might be said to be uneconomic. It is always baffling to hear it said that a pit has become uneconomic because of the "current situation". It always seems silly to stop production at a pit while there is still coal to be extracted. We know from the moment that the machinery is removed that the seam will never be reopened and that the coal left in it will be lost for ever. The policy that is now being suggested can have nothing but disastrous results for our industry in the long term.
St. Helens is also a town with an engineering industry. I said "with an engineering industry", but we all know what has happened to the engineering industry in the north of England — my home town of Sheffield has experienced it with great misery — because of the policies of the past four years, policies that the Gracious Speech does little to change. The area also has farming, and it could be said that the farmers in my area are the only people there who have never had it so good. However, the overall impression in my constituency is one of steady decline.
I know that the area is not entitled to assisted area or development area status until it reaches a certain level of unemployment. We are almost at 20 per cent. now, and such economic planning is like the treatment of cancer. One must wait until one is dying from it before one is given any help to cure it. Areas such as mine should have the help that they need before the point when they are entitled to it. If we could prevent unemployment, that would be far better than trying to cure it rather than waiting for it to curse those whom we seek to represent.
The Gracious Speech contains several matters relating to civil liberties. It is ironic that, many hundreds of years ago, the barons met at Brackley in May, to march to Runnymede in June, to set the basis of English civil liberties. This Gracious Speech seeks one again to attack many of the liberties that we once had. There is almost an Orwellian magnetism in the way in which we have progressed during the past four or five years. Someone said earlier today that the thug, the bully or the bandit should not lead us down a certain road and that we must do everything to stop them. Everyone must agree that we should incarcerate the criminal and arrest the wrongdoer, but we must also preserve the liberty of the individual. Serious attacks upon our civil liberties were written into the shambles of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill that came before the previous Parliament. We must turn back the tide that has tried to attack many of our basic liberties.
The Gracious Speech refers to new terrorist legislation. If we stand aside for a moment and consider the current Prevention of Terrorism Act 1976, we can see that it is a negation of our civil liberties. The Government wish to introduce a new Bill that will be reviewed only at five-yearly intervals.
Many things that have happened during the past few years have worried me increasingly. Perhaps I may give the House one simple example arising from my reference at the beginning of my speech to my profession. The House passed the Bail Act 1976, whose concept was that people should have bail. However, the effect, as any practising lawyer could tell the House, has been a negation of the right to bail. What now happens is that a person comes before the court on the first occasion and is remanded in custody. Once he is in custody, it becomes very difficult for him to get bail. The introduction of the Bail Act was an attempt to empty our prisons of people who should not be there. However, the present concept is to lock up as many people as possible. The position has been made even worse by what happened in the previous Parliament. We now bring people back "with their consent" before the courts only after long periods—sometimes three to four weeks or more, with the result that people who will ultimately not be incarcerated are imprisoned for long periods without physically appearing in a court.
Those are just a few examples that I hope in future, if I catch your eye again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to bring to the attention of the House. Although in that June many hundreds of years ago we in this land tried to create the concept of individual civil liberties, we are now in danger of running down the path where, for the sake of administrative and other convenience—because we are frightened by some event—we are beginning to negate the fundamental principle that all men are free and that all men have equal rights. The Opposition have been accused of wishing to control society from the centre. I ask Conservative Members to consider carefully the legislation proposed in the Gracious Speech, because it contains many elements of that centralised, Orwellian concept of Big Brother, bureaucracy knows best, and that the individual has few rights and that those that he has are slowly being negated.
It has been a privilege to come here today. I thank my constituents for electing me and I hope to serve them as ably as did my predecessors.
I am in a rather strange position, as I am the first male new Conservative Member to make a maiden speech. I begin by expressing my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) and to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who represent my neighbouring constituencies, not because, since the boundary reorganisation, they are among the few constituency names that I know, but because they have been extraordinarily kind and helpful in enabling me to settle in to the rather strange ways of this complex institution.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir John Langford-Holt, who had represented Shrewsbury in the House since 1945 and who was one of the longest-serving Members. I am sure that hon. Members and Sir John's former constituents would wish to join me in expressing our best wishes to him for a long and happy retirement. His service, not only in the House but in his constituency, will be long remembered.
I also thank the staff of the Palace of Westminster for their help to new Members, because it is a difficult procedure to settle into. They have been most willing to give us advice and help in settling down.
It is a privilege and an honour to represent Shrewsbury and Atcham, because it is one of the finest historic county towns in England. Apart from the interesting medieval architecture of the town of Shrewsbury, the surrounding countryside is beautiful. More importantly, the people are extraordinarily friendly. I am a Geordie by birth, and it is often said that the people from my native place are the warmest-hearted people in the country. I still believe that to be true, but, as a Salopian by adoption, I have found, politically, meteorologically and in friendly terms, the people of Shropshire are extremely warm-hearted. They have taken my wife and family to their hearts with the greatest kindness.
I thank my campaign workers, and especially my wife who is here today, for the sense of humour with which we were able to campaign in Shrewsbury and Atcham, albeit on serious issues. During the long days of campaigning, a sense of proportion is undoubtedly necessary.
It may be rather dangerous for a new Member to point out an omission from the Gracious Speech, but I must tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that 700 years ago this year, in the time of Edward I, Parliament met in the "parliament barn" at Acton Burnell in Shrewsbury. I have now spent two weeks in this rather expensive capital city, so perhaps it would be in the best interests of Parliament to return to that barn in Acton Burnell. I suspect that the fact that it has not been mentioned in the Queen's Speech is simply an oversight.
The Government unquestionably have a clear mandate for the programme before the House. I welcome especially the proposals on local government reform and the proposals to curb rate increases. I served for nine years as a borough and county councillor, and I had the privilege of leading the 44 Conservative Members on Tyne and Wear metropolitan county council. It may interest the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who is not present, to know that when I was leader of the Conservative group on that council we did not control the county council although my party polled 30,000 more votes than any other political party on the council. We did not gripe about that, but we viewed with some sourness the fact that the party that most loudly espouses proportional representation more often than not voted with the Labour party which had the minority of popular support in that election.
Overspenders affect all areas, not just metropolitan areas. The irresponsibility of those who have become high spenders in local government affects constituencies in non-metropolitan areas such as my own. In the county of Shropshire and in the borough of Shrewsbury and Atcham in particular, we are fortunate in having very sensible councillors who have contained their budgets with good sense and foresight, but that is not the case throughout the country. The top 15 overspenders indeed caused the average rate increase this year to rise from 1·3 per cent. to 5·7 per cent. The hard work and sensible management of so many non-metropolitan areas was therefore sacrificed through the irresponsibility of a very few authorities.
When we come to discuss rate increases and how to curb them, I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to pay particular attention to section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 which allows a 2p rate to be levied for any item that members of the council judge to be in the interests of the area. That has become one of the most abused sections of that Act. Too many authorities have used it to conduct political campaigns which have spoiled the finer traditions of local government. Hon Members may have read in the newspapers yesterday of a proposal by the West Midlands metropolitan county council under that section to send 10 students to Ghana to study rainmaking and fertility dancing. That kind of action has brought local government into disrepute so that it may now be necessary to change the basis of the Act.
In the context of local government reform, I welcome the use of the term "proposals" rather than "legislation" in the Gracious Speech as I am sure that that means that the Government will proceed with caution and consultation so that we get things right this time. Indeed, I have every confidence that my noble Friend the Minister for Local Government will use the vast experience that he acquired as a local councillor before joining the other place to ensure that the changes made are for the benefit of the community.
I am particularly concerned about the accountability of precepting bodies, especially industries such as the water industry which have not acquired a good reputation due to their unaccountability to those who must pay the rates or to this House. Having served on a passenger transport authority, I wonder about the openness of some precepting bodies. Reference was made earlier to the north of England development agency. I served for a few years on the north of England development council, which was not widely regarded by members of any political party as a very accountable or, indeed, effective body. I hope that any legislation on local government reform involving further precepting bodies will ensure greater accountability. It might also be considered that bodies receiving Exchequer funding as an element in heir expenditure should be more accountable not only to the relevant Secretary of State but to the House.
In 1841 Benjamin Disraeli was returned as the Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury. He wrote:
Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle; Old Age a regret.
One newspaper has commented that if I remain a Member of Parliament for as long as naturally I hope, I shall be
father of the House in the year 2023. Contrary to the last part of my predecessor's comment, that old age is a regret, I am sure that if I am fortunate enough to he in the House for as long as he was I shall have no regrets. I hope that the House, too, and especially my constituents in Shrewsbuy and Atcham, will have no regrets.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) for his very competent maiden speech. A Member with local government experience is a welcome addition to the House, even if I do not share his analysis of some of the aspects of local government to which he referred.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) for his excellent maiden speech. I am delighted that another Opposition Member has shown such commitment to civil liberties—a subject dear to my own heart. I am sure that he will be a great asset to us in future campaigns on that subject.
I should also pay tribute to the other hon. Members who have made maiden speeches today, including the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)—it is a pleasure to welcome another woman to the House, albeit on the other side—the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) and my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) who showed praiseworthy commitment and loyalty to the people who sent him here, which I fully respect.
I wish to pay one further tribute. My present constituency is considerably different in size from my previous constituency of Battersea, South. I now represent the whole of Battersea, the greater part of which was previously the constituency of Mr. Douglas Jay He represented Battersea, North for 37 years and had an illustrious career with many ministerial offices and a period in the Cabinet. He is especially known for having drawn the attention of the British public to the perils and difficulties of the Common Market. He, almost single-handed, stopped the London motorway box, which would have caused chaos in many parts of London and damaged many communities, including Battersea. I am sure that he will not mind my mentioning another aspect of his reputation of being the worst dressed Member of the House—a reputation that he seemed to carry without any apparent effort. He has been a good friend and consistently helpful to me in the past four years. The energy that he displayed shamed many younger Members. He was devoted to his constituency, where he worked extremely hard, and it is a privilege and a challenge to follow him in that part of London—an area with a fine Socialist tradition. I shall do my best to follow in his footsteps.
I apologise for any discourtesy involved, but as my local Labour party is celebrating my victory tonight I shall have to leave before long to take part in that.
Reference has been made to the need to give the right to vote to people on holiday. This certainly came up during the election campaign and people asked me why they could not vote if they were away on holiday. We shall have to tackle that problem, but it is not so simple as some hon. Members have suggested. The Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which I was a member until the election, considered this matter, but unfortunately our report was lost in the hiatus when the general election campaign began. We found that there were a number of difficulties. One is that to grant holiday voting would, in effect, be to give postal voting on demand because it is almost impossible to prove whether a person is going on holiday. That may not be a bad thing, but certain problems follow from it, one of which arose many times in my election campaign. I refer to the appalling inaccuracy of the electoral registers. It is hard to describe the dismay felt by the many people who told me that, although they had lived in the area for 10 years, they were not on the register and thus not entitled to vote. People also told me that they had filled in the registration form for the whole family, but that only one member of the family had subsequently appeared on the register. Those people wanted to know why they were not entitled to vote.
In case hon. Members think that I am making a complaint only about the quality of the electoral register in Wandsworth, I hasten to say that many hon. Members share my complaint. When the Select Committee on Home Affairs took evidence on the question, it was told that surveys showed that the inaccuracy of the voting lists varied between 7 and 15 per cent., the highest figures tending to be in inner city areas where there was multi-occupation and other difficulties in making the voting lists accurate.
I am convinced that in at least one or two wards in my constituency 15 per cent. would be a gross underestimate of the inaccuracy in the voting list. If we are to conduct our elections on a basis that is seen to be fair, just and democratic, we must try to ensure that all our citizens who have a right to vote are able to vote in general elections.
I appreciate that part of the difficulty relates to the resources that local authorities can and are willing to devote to ensuring the accuracy of voting lists. It is difficult and time-consuming, but the Government also have a responsibility. I look forward to having some response in due course from Ministers as to whether they agree with my definition of the problem and are prepared to do something about it. If nothing is done, it will be a running sore in the body politic. Had I lost the election by, say, 500 votes, I would have been entitled to say, "I was robbed", because most of the people who came to me with complaints live in areas where there was a solid Labour vote. They claimed to be people who wanted to vote Labour. It is equally alarming that a large proportion of them were black people who said, "Why are we not entitled to vote? What is happening to our right?" I leave it at that, but the accuracy of our electoral registers is a major problem.
One of my strongest memories of the recent election campaign concerns the attitude of young people. In previous election campaigns young people would lobby candidates or approach them on a wide range of issues, including commercial radio. In the recent election in Battersea there was one cry which came day after day whenever I was approached by or made approaches to young people. They said, "Can you get us a job?" They said that on countless occasions. If I learnt any lesson at all, it is that young people in my constituency want something done about unemployment, and it is more urgent to them than anything else.
I had a long discussion with a man in his early twenties. He told me that he had been unemployed for two or three years and was going out of his mind with boredom, having nothing to do all day. Then he said something important concerning the law and order issue. He said, "They had riots just down the road"—meaning Brixton—"not long ago. There will be more riots. We are in absolute despair. What are we to do? Then they will wonder what is causing the riots." that message was clear and unambiguous, yet we heard nothing about the problem in the Home Secretary's speech, and there is not a word about it in the Gracious Speech.
There is a limit to the level of unemployment that any society can stand before its social fabric is pulled apart: If unemployment continues to increase in the next four or five years, as it has in the last three or four years, the law-abiding traditions of the British people will be swept aside. Too many of our fellow countrymen and women will simply not accept that they are to be discarded by our society as unwanted, while those who have jobs can get on with whatever they are doing. That is not an acceptable basis for a modern civilised society, and it is one that many of our people will cease to accept if unemployment goes on increasing as it has over the last few years.
I was disappointed in the Home Secretary's speech. I had expected better of him. It seemed to me that if anyone had said, "Draft the sort of speech that the Home Office officials will produce for the Home Secretary", that was the speech that most of us would have drafted. I should have expected the Home Secretary to add something more to the standard Home Office draft, and it was bitterly disappointing that he failed to do so. It was a standard Home Office handout, and there was nothing in it to show that the Home Secretary had yet come to grips with the real problems facing him and his Department.
Claims have been made about the Government's record on law and order. I believe that those claims are pretty thin. The only test as to whether the Government's policy on law and order is working is the crime rate. Is it going up or down? There have been no signs that it is going down.
Reference was made to the Criminal Justice Act 1982. There is not much in it that impinges directly on law and order, no matter what claim is made for it to placate Tory Back Benchers. Mercifully, nothing was said about short, sharp, shock treatment — a term used to placate the hard-liners on the Tory Back Benches but without any direct relevance to the problems of law and order. Certainly more police may help if they are used wisely and judiciously; that is, by having more home-beat police officers.
I make a plea to the Home Secretary. I understand that the average patch covered by a home-beat officer, certainly in inner London, comprises 7,000 people. That is too large a number for the average home-beat officer. It makes it impossible to have a relationship between the home-beat police officer and the local community of such a nature that the local community, the tenants' associations, youth clubs, and so on, can get to know the local home-beat bobby well enough for there to be some sort of relationship, and above all for him to know the villains on his patch so that he can prevent crimes. We need to look again at that question rather than simply to say that it is good to have police officers on the home beat. We have to consider more critically how well that sort of policing is working. I am in favour of it, but I should like to have more analysis of how it is working and what conclusions can be drawn from the present numbers in each area.
An important aspect of law and order, to which no reference has been made, is vandalism on council estates. At present, local authorities either do not have the money or the willingness to tackle vandalism. On some of the council estates and tower blocks in my constituency I have seen stairways which are disgusting. Local authorities must make the effort to do something about them. If it seems that nobody cares about the condition of estates, stairways and corridors, the people living there will regard those parts of the blocks not as their homes but rather as alien territory. Once vandalism begins, it spreads throughout an estate, and in turn has a relationship with law-breaking, crime and damage.
It is important for local authorities — this applies particularly to Wandsworth council but also to other authorities—to tackle the problem by having a major campaign to clear up, paint and repair council properties, so that they do not look like ready targets for anyone who wants to have a go at them. Otherwise, people will not have proper respect for their environment. If they do not have that respect, the lawless members of our society will take advantage and act accordingly.
I spent four months serving on the Standing Committee dealing with the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. Together with my colleagues, I put a lot of effort into opposing some of the most reprehensible features of the Bill. If we are to tackle law and order successfully in our society, an essential precondition is to improve cooperation between police and public. That is the view not only of a politician, but of all police officers to whom one talks about the problem. Any legislation, no matter how much it is ostensibly intended to deal with law and order, will fail if its consequence is to lessen co-operation between police and local communities. That was my primary charge against the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I hope that the new Home Secretary will look hard at the Bill and at the criticisms that were made of it, and will not simply throw it back to the House of Commons in the form in which we left it two months ago.
In particular, I should like the Home Secretary to consider the parts of the Bill dealing with the police complaints procedure. I do not want to discuss it in great detail, but I should have thought that anyone who wants to restore confidence in the police ought also to take greater steps to enable people, when they have a sense of grievance, to feel their grievances are dealt with justly and impartially. The slightly modified police complaints procedure in the Bill will not do that. It will still give people who have a complaint against the police a feeling that it is the police who are investigating complaints against themselves, no matter whether we have an independent assessor supervising this process for the most serious complaints.
I make a plea to the Home Secretary on two other points about the Bill. One is an omission from it. I urge him, if he brings the Bill back, to incorporate the proposals put forward by many people for the tape recording of interviews of suspects at police stations. I appreciate that there have been experiments in a number of police stations, but the lessons that were learnt from Scotland, where there were experiments some time ago, have provided us with enough evidence to show that this is an improvement and a safeguard that should be instituted as part of the Bill, if it comes back to the House, and not kept in storage while we have further experiments and negotiation with the police to accept it.
The stop and search provisions are liable to have damaging consequences. They are far too wide. If there is no other proposal in the Bill about which the Home Secretary has a rethink, I hope that he will rethink this one. It will open the door to conflict and confrontation on the streets, and that will be damaging to law and order. In the case of young blacks, who seem to be picked up more than young whites, it will be damaging to good race relations.
The Home Secretary said that one of his problems was overcrowding in the prison system. No one would disagree with that. He then talked about building new prisons, but did not mention the most urgent new building — the replacement for Brixton. Brixton prison in London is falling down. It is in a deplorable condition. One of the urgent pleas made by hon. Members on both sides of the House is for a new remand prison in London to replace, not add to, Brixton. My fear about the building programme as a whole is that these new prisons—some of which do not command a high priority, and one of which is in great difficulties in that it is having to be rebuilt because the architects did not get it right — simply represent an addition to the number of places in prisons, and the judiciary, being what it is, will simply refill them. I fear that unless we pull down the old prisons when we build new ones we shall simply be adding to the size of our prison population by making it easier for the courts to send people to gaol.
It is clear that, compared with other countries, we send people to gaol for longer periods and in some cases we send the wrong sort of people to gaol. I am sorry that the Home Secretary said nothing about that aspect of the problem and about the tendency of the judiciary to ignore the pleas of politicians that there should be shorter sentences. I wish that the Home Secretary had not understated the problems.
One piece of evidence about the difficulties that we are in with prison overcrowding is that, at any given point, several hundred prisoners on remand are being held in police and court cells. I notice from the complaints that I have been receiving from constituents or relatives of constituents that prisoners are being held not only in inner London in police or court cells but far and wide in the home counties.
I was a member of the all-party penal affairs group that went to see the Home Secretary not long before the election campaign. I was given a number of assurances about action that was being taken and new wings that were being opened. However, as far as I can tell from the most recent figures that I have — I have put down some questions for new figures—the problem continues and, if anything, is getting worse. The Home Secretary understated the gravity of the problem.
My last points concern immigration and race relations. The Home Secretary's view seems to be that tight control of immigration — he appeared to welcome the tight control introduced by his predecessor—will lead to good community relations. We must have some control of immigration. It would be impossible for us to be the only country in the world that did not control immigration, but the criticism of our immigration controls by the black and Asian communities in our society is that our control works in a discriminatory manner against people whose skins are not white. As long as we are seen, thought and believed to practise discrimination at the point of entry into this country, people will not believe that we have turned our backs on discrimination within the country. The two surely must go together.
Therefore, I was particularly saddened that the Home Secretary had nothing to say about any positive measures to improve race relations, to achieve equality for the black and Asian populations and to put an end to discrimination against them in access to housing and, in particular, jobs.
There is also the problem of the fees that people have to pay to become British citizens. The Minister of State, Home Office will be aware, as I am, that the Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee of the Home Affairs Select Committee produced a report just before the general election campaign which contained damaging criticisms of the way in which the Home Office had calculated and set the fees. The report made a number of recommendations that the fees for becoming a citizen should be lower. As this report received a certain amount of publicity, albeit in the pre-election period, it is difficult for us to know how to advise constituents who are thinking of becoming citizens. They do not know whether the Home Office will be taking action quickly on the recommendations in the report. Can the Minister of State, as a matter of greater urgency than has normally been given by the Government to Select Committee reports, look at this important report so that individuals who are in the process of applying for citizenship will know what they have to pay? A family may have to pay several hundred pounds, but if the recommendations are accepted by the Government its members will be able to become citizens at a much lower fee. I hope that the Minister will do this, as it is an important point for those who wish to become citizens. We should encourage people to do so because it is a sign that they wish to play a full part in our society.
I have confined myself in the main to the Home Office aspects of the Gracious Speech, although many of us would have other criticisms. Even on the Home Office aspects, I am disappointed by what we have heard this afternoon. I hope that they represent only the first thoughts of the Home Secretary and that when he comes to grips with the real problems that face his Department he will show a more tolerant and conciliatory approach to the many difficulties that lie before him.
It is my pleasant task, in following two maiden speeches, to pay tribute to them. Both the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) made clear, articulate and informed contributions, which the House enjoyed and on which it will wish to congratulate them. We look forward to hearing them again and benefiting from their undoubtedly wide experience, gained before they came here.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on achieving such an outstanding election victory. Nothing could have been more damaging to our economic prospects and the prospects for the unemployed than a change of economic strategy resulting in a change of Government, to whatever colour, be it red-hot Socialist or pink alliance. Britain could not afford another damaging economic reversal to add to the seven U-turns since 1964 and people recognised that on 9 June.
If there is one measure in the Gracious Speech that will enhance future confidence, it will be the Bill to make trade unions more democratic. This will have the effect of underpinning the sense of realism and responsibility shown by so many trade union members that has been the hallmark of these past four relatively strike-free years.
There must be an end to these anachronistic mass meetings that take place in car parks and outside factory gates where strike decisions are taken on a show of hands —meetings often attended by a minority of members of a local trade union branch, with all the threats and intimidations which I know from the experience of my constituents occur. There must also be an end to the scandal of union block votes.
In my view, the Bill is long overdue. Union secret ballots should have featured in our Employment Act 1980 instead of offering public funds to finance ballots, which has proved so disappointing since.
The theme for today's debate includes local government. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mr. Rossi), I have to express my disappointment at our failure in government last time to reform our domestic rating system and at the omission of any commitment to do so in our recent manifesto. I accept that there was a good reason for no commitment in the 1979 manifesto. After five years of Socialism, there had to be other priorities. But we ought to recognise that the publication of the Green Paper nearly two years ago aroused widespread hope on the part of hard-pressed ratepayers everywhere that at last the prospect of reform was in sight.
We see in the Gracious Speech promises that measures to improve the domestic rating system will be introduced. That smacks of mere tinkering with the existing system, and I shall reserve any welcome that I have until I see details of what is proposed.
Nor am I happy with what is proposed by way of Government intervention to disallow those so-minded councils to impose excessive rate increases. That is to overrule local democracy. I go along with it only because at the moment, without rate reform, or, more exactly, without rate abolition, we have a system of representation without taxation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green pointed out. In other words, the majority of the electorate can elect a council with a policy which a minority of ratepayers have to finance.
In my view, rates must go, and we should say so loudly and clearly. I accept that a fair alternative is a local income tax based on people's ability to pay but that there are two reasons why it cannot be introduced overnight. The first is that present income tax remains still far too high. The second is that the necessary computerisation may take several years to introduce, according to the Green Paper.
Let us say now that we are committed to the abolition of the domestic rating system, and not just that but of the whole Byzantine, incomprehensible and inexplicable system of local government rate support grant. We must find a straightforward means enabling local councils to raise more of their own expenditure. Only then will they be more accountable to their local taxpayers.
As for the proposal in the Gracious Speech to abolish the Greater London council, as a London ratepayer should I give my local Lambeth council the benefit of the doubt when it sends my rate demand a day or two after the general election, some six weeks after it normally comes through, with its 28 per cent. increase, or would London ratepayers have been dissuaded from voting Labour if it had arrived at the usual time?
The banner which the GLC displays on its roof across the river advertising London's unemployment figure is a mirror of its own mismanagement. It the heavy burden of commercial rates which the council imposes upon businesses in London which has contributed to London's unemployed. For this reason alone the Greater London council should now go.
In discussing rate reform, we are talking about the entire existing costs of local government services—more than a quarter of all public expendituure. One of the best prospects of reducing the cost of local government to emerge in recent years has been the privatisation of some local government services. I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister does not like the word "privatisation". Perhaps "competition" is a better word.
During the life of the present Parliament, I hope that we shall see a revolution in our town halls and the way that services which we have always assumed that a local council should provide are transferred to private enterprise. In my view, this is what Conservatism is all about. The Government should provide those services deemed necessary which cannot otherwise be made available, and the scope is immens:, for introducing competition into local government. The tragedy is that so few councils have had the foresight or determination to take the plunge.
Southend-on-Sea pioneered the movement by putting out its refuse collection and street cleaning to private contract. That initiative is now legion. Its ratepayers benefit by nearly £500,000 a year—a half penny rate. They enjoy a better service as a result. The dustmen and cleaners benefit from better pay and better working conditions. Everyone benefits from what Southend has done, and I pay tribute to my former colleagues on that council for their courage and foresight.
Several other councills have followed along the south coast, in Birmingham and elsewhere. I hope that the House will soon hear from my new hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), whose book entitled "Reservicing Britain" is full of ideas and the experiences of councils in this country and elsewhere in the privatisation of local government services.
We all know that privatisation has not been without union opposition. My own borough council of Bournemouth was threatened even before it contemplated privatisation. I quote from the Bournemouth Evening Echo of 8 December. The main story reads:
'If Bournemouth Council start any anti-union "funny business" it will have repercussions on the Bournemouth international conference centre project — and that is a promise.' So said Mr. Cyril Speller, JP, secretary of Bournemouth and Christchurch Trades Union Council this morning. He was commenting upon reports that Blackpool"—
I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) is with us—
is losing union conferences because its borough council are recommending privatisation of some services. Mr. Speller agreed that Bournemouth Council were rot at the moment planning any measures which might be considered anti-union. But the situation would be watched.
Union Big Brother is watching Bournemouth. That is the language of the Kremlin; what we have we hold, and blow public opinion.
My constituents want the privatisation of local council services in Bournemouth. They voted for a Conservative action plan which promised this in May. No threats or intimidation on the part of local unions will be allowed to stand in their way.
I do not believe that it will be enough merely to encourage councils to consider the common sense of privatisation. No council will ever know from an officer's report what opportunities exist for real savings until it puts the matter to the test, which is to call for tenders from the private sector, have them compared fairly and honestly with existing costs and make those figures public.
Every council has a responsibility to its ratepayers to do that, and I believe that the time has come for Parliament to impose a statutory duty on councils to do it. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for the Environment on his new appointment. I hope that he will consider this when he draws up his legislation to curb excessive rate rises.
I understand that there are certain conventions in the House about maiden speeches being non-controversial. It is not merely that I do not want to be a slave to convention; it is because I am sent here by the warm-hearted and hardworking people of the West Derby constituency of Liverpool that what I shall say in my maiden speech is bound to be controversial to a considerable extent.
I shall start by saying a word about the West Derby constituency. I am very proud to represent it, particularly as I was born and brought up in Liverpool in the constituency of West Derby. Therefore, I am very proud to represent this part of my native city.
It is also a pleasure to know that before the boundary changes the part of the constituency in which I was raised was part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), a Member of Parliament who has done tremendous work on behalf of his constituency. It is a pleasure to have worked alongside him in the politics of my party in the past.
West Derby is a name that confuses many people. It can be confused with the county of Derbyshire, but I hope that that confusion will not last long. When right hon. and hon. Members hear what I have to say from time to time—hoping that I shall catch your eye again, Mr. Speaker—I am sure that they will realise that West Derby is in Liverpool.
In fact, West Derby is older than Liverpool. The name West Derby appears in the Domesday survey of 1086. At that time Liverpool was simply one of six unnamed barley fields which were dependent on the royal manor of West Derby. It was not until 1895 that all of West Derby was in the city of Liverpool. When the Normans came to West Derby they built a wooden castle to keep the Anglo-Saxons under control. When I heard the Gracious Speech yesterday, I came to the conclusion that perhaps another castle will be necessary to keep the people of West Derby under control. Perhaps the name of that castle will be Tina's castle.
The West Derby constituency is an outer city constituency. It is not an inner city area, although it has all the problems—and sometimes more besides—of the inner city. Of all the constituencies in England, it has the unenviable position at present of being the ninth worst off in terms of unemployment. According to the 1981 census, 27·1 per cent. of the adult population was unemployed. All of us in Liverpool know how desperate the situation has become since then. In June of last year, there were the same number of jobs in Croxteth, the Gillmoss ward, as in Toxteth, and everyone knows about the dreadful events that took place in the Toxteth Liverpool 8 district in 1981. In fact, the wards of Croxteth Pirrie, which covers an area usually known as Norris Green, and Dovecot have one principal feature, and that is multiple deprivation.
I could not but agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that multiple deprivation has been a major factor in delinquency and crime. The Gillmoss estate in my constituency has the unenviable record of the highest juvenile delinquency in any part of the European Community. One does not have to look far for the reasons. On the Croxteth housing estate — I hope that hon. Members will not confuse Croxteth and Toxteth — 43 per cent. of the adult population is jobless. As many as 95 per cent. of young people between the ages of 16 and 19 are without permanent occupation on that estate. Indeed, 81 per cent. of the population in that area live in supplementary benefit poverty, and that does not take into account the pensioners who do not draw supplementary benefit. Moreover, 15 per cent. of the pensioners in the Croxteth area live alone. The same situation applies in other parts of the constituency. In parts of the West Derby constituency, 75 per cent. of households are without a car or the use of a car.
A recent local working party survey in Liverpool showed that nearly all the people living in my constituency had difficulty in gaining access to general practitioners, clinics and hospitals. The world of BUPA is a very long way from the people in West Derby.
According to the survey, unemployment was having a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of people in Croxteth. Job creation programmes were simply masking the extent of the problem. One has only to look at Croxteth, Norris Green, Cantril Farm, part of which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes), to see the conditions in which people have to live. The boarded-up houses are not the type of accommodation that anyone wanting a decent home and standard of living would want to purchase. They are a testimony to years and years of domination by Liberals on the Liverpool city council.
If there is anyone in this House — I see that the Liberal-SDP Benches are empty — [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] who believes that there is something to be had from a Liberal-SDP alliance let him come to West Derby and we will show him what a decade of Liberal hegemony on Liverpool city council has done for the people in my area. Properties are left to be vandalised. There is a local bureaucracy in the housing department which is not always in sympathy with the people. People are treated like animals when they go to the housing department to get repairs and maintenance done.
An old lady came to me during the election campaign to ask for my assistance. She had been told to go to a house in Curtana crescent in West Derby where there was no lighting or heating and where the back garden and the front garden could only be described as a midden. The furniture van was actually unloading her furniture in the front garden. That was rectified temporarily, but only by my intervention.
There was the example of the young couple with a premature baby who had an operation shortly after birth for hydrocephalus. That baby was in high risk of joining the statistics of rising infant mortality in the area. The couple lived in one room. Dad slept on the sofa and mum in a chair because of the high levels of damp and mould in every other room in the flat. Ants eat away at the child's food and rats infest the gardens. The property-owning democracy is a long way from the people of West Derby.
Recently a pre-natal survey in the Croxteth ward of my constituency showed that it is in the 16 to 23-year-old age group that families are commonly started. In that area 90 per cent. of households in that age group had neither parent working. No wonder the infant mortality rate in that area is rising above the national, and indeed the city of Liverpool, average. It has risen from 10.5 per cent. in 1976–79 to 13·2 per cent. in 1979–82. That is the reality of living standards in the Tory Britain in which we live. It is a reality of which the Prime Minister appears to have no notion whatever. No wonder she failed to visit Liverpool during the general election campaign.
The Government's response to the conditions in which people have to live has been meagre. The Department of Health and Social Security staff are being cut and the people who are dependent upon supplementary benefit wait in vain at the weekend for the Giro slip to come through the letter box. They cannot turn to savings or to shares in the City of London.
The Gracious Speech said:
My Government will pursue policies for … widening parental choice and influence in relation to schools.
I am pleased to hear it. I hope that the Secretary of State for Education and Science will apply that to the Croxteth comprehensive school. The parents and pupils there have had to struggle against the Secretary of State in order to keep the school, the only non-Catholic secondary school on the estate. Those people who have sat in at the school, the teachers who have given freely of their time to teach the young people there and the people of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist faiths should be given credit for their support.
It is only since Labour took control of the Liverpool city council in May that changes have occurred. However, the struggle with the Secretary of State may continue and I beseech him through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to look again at the position of that school where 70 per cent. of the pupils receive free dinners and where 40 per cent. come from one-parent families. They are being asked to give up a precious asset with marvellous playing fields which are just the sort of leisure facilities that could benefit the entire community. Moreover, it is a school which has suffered no loss of intake since 1978. Harrow was never like that.
Before the Secretary of State for Education and Science makes any decision, I ask him to visit my constituency to see the position, which he has not done so far. I approached the Under-Secretary of State with a delegation 18 months ago about the Croxteth comprehensive school and he had to admit that he had only driven past it. Ministers should visit Liverpool and see the conditions there for themselves. They should see the fight that is being carried on by those people with backbone and guts who are struggling for the people in their community.
Yesterday the Prime Minister mentioned the understanding of Merseyside of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton). I agree with the right hon. Lady. The hon. Gentleman understood Merseyside well enough to realise that if he stayed as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston he would have lost his seat in the election. Indeed, for the first time in history no Conservative represents any constituency in the city of Liverpool. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) left the Liverpool, Wavertree constituency. Therefore, we on Merseyside know that we owe nothing at all to the Tory party.
Some may say that we have been given a Minister for Merseyside. Much good has it done us. The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was followed by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and now we have the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin). Despite the endeavour to create an international garden festival on the south dockside in Liverpool, which we all welcome, no one would say that that was priority No. 1. We require rear jobs and since we have had a so-called Minister for Merseyside we have lost 14,000 jobs. That is only counting those firms which have laid off 50 workers at a time.
One can see how bitter the people who sent me here feel about the progress that has been made under the Conservative Administration led by the Prime Minister. They contrast what the Minister for Merseyside has done for the people with that done by the Merseyside county council. For the relatively small cost of £4 million to the ratepayers, by giving grants to small businesses and by introducing a co-operative finance scheme, the council has created 6,000 jobs in the time that there has been a Minister for Merseyside. In addition, the council has enabled those people in my constituency who live in isolation on the seventh floor of a block of flats, old people wanting to visit their relatives and young people with families, to go into the city to the shops, art galleries and museums and to free themselves from the isolation of those miserable areas which so often lack facilities. We have done that by introducing our cheap transport policy. That is what is necessary if we are to free the people and give them the liberty that they need.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the need to maintain firm control over public expenditure. We all know that the Government have failed to do that, not that that should be a prime object. We know that the Government have increased public expenditure. Public expenditure as a percentage of the gross domestic product has increased from 41 to 45 per cent. during the Government's term of office, but it has been to provide for the dole queues which are the misery of those whom I represent. The multinational corporations go scot-free and it is often they who are selling Merseyside short. I have tried to spell out the social consequences.
I am proud to represent the hard-working people of West Derby as they are part of the most sophisticated electorate in England. Liverpool has suffered unemployment for a long time. We know that the experiment by the Conservative Government is not working and is never likely to work. We have also suffered the misfortune of the Liberals controlling local government. We have had poor representation from Members of Parliament who sought a lifeline by joining the Social Democratic party. I am glad that the electorate of Liverpool has been at one with the selection committees of the constituency Labour parties in Liverpool in saying that they want no more futile representation. My constituents will not be taken in by the Goebbels box that is in the corner of every living room in this land. The British Broadcasting Corporation, with its great reputation during the second world war as being the voice of freedom to the world, is no longer in that position. The BBC, with the rest of the media, was involved in the conspiracy to bring about, as it hoped—it will not be successful—the destruction of the Labour party, and the promotion of the Tory party and of capitalism's second string, the SDP.
When the people of the midlands and of the south of England realise that the unemployment that they have been suffering during the past couple of years is more than short term, and when they see their sons and daughters with CSEs, 0 and A-levels and even university degrees failing to get a job or failing to get the jobs to which they feel their youngsters are entitled, they will emulate the people of Liverpool and the people of West Derby. When they realise the truth, they will rise like lions and sweep away this reactionary Tory Government.
The longer I listened to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) the greater was my impression that this was not his first, second or third speech but nearer his fiftieth. He should not only be congratulated on the way that he fluently addressed the House and his obvious lack of nerves and on the sincerity with which he put his case, but his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) must look to his own ribbons and realise that he has a rival in the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby.
I have had the honour to listen to four maiden speeches today, all of which have shown a degree of confidence that I lacked four years ago. Having listened to two speeches by two Conservative Back Benchers, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) would do well to remember the dictum of Burke:
The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.
I trust, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will not find me out of order if I speak fairly generally on the Gracious Speech, although the points that I wish to make affecting employment and the economy generally have a relationship with law and order and rates. In the Gracious Speech, the Prime Minister laid down the five planks of the Government's strategy on which she and the Government hope to strengthen the chances of a sustained economic recovery and also to reduce the level of unemployment. The Prime Minister rightly pointed out that the Government have a limited degree of authority in these matters. She said:
Neither those measures nor any Government measures can guarantee a recovery or the creation of the new jobs that we need. They help to provide opportunity, but that opportunity can he grasped only if our industries—work force and management alike—have the will, the vitality and the flare to produce the products and the services that will sell. That is the nature of the essential partnership between the Government and the industry. I believe that there is now a much wider understanding of the link between the prosperity of our people and the performance of our industry and commerce.
I accept the Prime Minister's point in that there is a limit to what Government can do. One of the reasons why the Opposition failed so dismally to make any impact on the election is that nobody could believe that any of the planks of their policy had any chance of staying afloat any of the time. If the five planks which form the little raft on which we must travel the stormy seas over the next few years are to survive, I wish to point out two gales or hurricanes that I see on the horizon which our helmsman must navigate if the 397 crewmen are to complete the voyage. The first problem is demand. The Prime Minister said yesterday
There is plenty of demand in Britain and it is up to British industry to produce the right goods to meet it.
I accept that, having spent my life trying to manufacture and sell goods. I understand the problems of making goods and getting their quality right. However, the Government must play an important role in the competitiveness of British industry. It is not only up to British industry to maintain its competitiveness or to increase competitiveness. It can be helped by the Government's attitude towards the exchange rate. If the pound rises in value, an industrialist can do very little overnight to alter his competitiveness and to keep his products saleable and at competitive prices. As sterling rises, so the propensity to import rises and the ability to export declines. The Government must have a view on that. Even if the Chancellor has it only to himself late at night, nevertheless he must have a view on what the exchange rate should be. The Chancellor must ensure that the exchange rate is such that it enables British industry to be competitive with those outside. If that does not happen or if we have a return to the conditions that we experienced in 1980, large sections of British industry will go under and nothing can be done about that, however much imagination, flair or innovation British management or the British work force may have.
The problem is that the Government consider that if they allow the pound to fall inflation will rise, and the Prime Minister is right to say that inflation is a deadly evil. The other side to that coin is that if exchange rates get out of kilter then business will be irreversibly lost. Britain must remain competitive and that has a direct link with employment. That direct link has something to do with the amount of vandalism and crime that exists on our streets because the devil does find work for idle hands so we must continue to see the exchange rate decline against certain currencies so that the incipient economic recovery that we are now undergoing can be maintained.
One of the ways of ensuring that such a decline does not feed through to inflation is to be extremely tough on public pay. If we let public pay get out of control in any way, it will immediately feed through to inflation. With 3·5 million people out of work, it must be possible for us to keep control of public sector pay, which can be a lesson to the private sector.
The Prime Minister again was right yesterday when she said that
The underlying increase in average earnings is still too high in relation to what we produce and the performance of our competitors." [Official Report, 22 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 55–8.]
It is a pity that Opposition Members do not occasionally point out to their union colleagues that pay increases that are not matched by productivity result in jobs being lost, and that that will continue to happen. We must stand up to the mighty parts of the public sector in order to show that we are not prepared to allow public sector pay to take so much of our resources, that unemployment will further increase and that the amount available for investment will reduce.
That brings me to my second point: the Government's determination to cut industry's costs. Of course, I was delighted to see in the Gracious Speech the Government's proposals, on rate increases. Unless people have been in industry they do not realise how damaging enormous rate increases can be to the ability to make profits and to survive. I was also delighted that the Prime Minister said that she was determined to do someting to remove the national insurance surcharge.
However, industry also depends on public utilities. It depends on them not only to provide them with cheap essential services such as electricity, gas and water at a price that is competitive with what is charged in other countries but to provide them with orders for capital investment and equipment. Investment in the public sector has fallen catastrophically over the past few years. If we do not increase investment in essential public services, they will be even more expensive. If we cannot renew the sewers now, when 3·5 million people are out of work, when will we renew them? How much will it cost to renew the sewers later? As a business man and a member of the Public Accounts Committee who was well trained by the former right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton, Joel Barnett, I have never been able to understand that borrowing for capital projects will crowd out borrowing for private investment, or, as it counts as part of the public sector borrowing requirement, will undermine confidence in the pound and the City's view of the Government's ability to keep a tight budget.
As has often been pointed out, current Government expenditure of £125 billion is matched by current revenue of £125 billion. The Government then borrow an additional £8 billion for capital spending. Therefore, one can argue that the only money borrowed by Government which is above that which they receive in revenue is the money that they borrow for capital expenditure in the public sector. I should have thought that there was nothing wrong in borrowing for capital expenditure, provided that there was a reasonable rate of return, and knowing that sooner or later the capital project would be fundamental to the survival of society and industry.
Therefore, the Government should carefully consider de-linking the concept of borrowing for capital as compared with current expenditure. We have the tightest fiscal stance in the Western world. If British industry is to compete, it needs not only a reasonable pound, but a succesful home base as a foundation for its own investment and sales and as a showpiece for overseas customers.
There are, of course, many matters that are far beyond the capacity of any Government to deal with. The debt in the Third world and the deficit of the United States of America are beyond the control of all of us. However, even if we take the Prime Minister's five sturdy planks, they will not work unless British industry's competitiveness is supported by the Government's approach to sterling and unless we increase capital investment sensibly in the infrastructure of our industries.
Those are the two points that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to tackle. I wish him well, because as a humble and ever uncomplaining member of the crew in the fo'c'sle, I certainly do not want to end up in Davy Jones' locker at the end of the voyage. The Government have set a sensible programme for what they wish to achieve in their first Session. If they follow the economic programme that they set themselves, they will avoid the obvious rocks in their path and will begin to restore confidence, both internally and externally, in the British economy. I believe, therefore, that there is a real chance that investment will increase both from outside and inside and that we may then begin to see a decline in the rate of unemployment.
I rise as the newly elected Member of Parliament for the Caerphilly constituency. It is a constituency that has a proud tradition. It includes not only the town of Caerphilly, which right hon. and hon. Members will recognise for its cheese and its castle, but substantial parts of the Rhymney valley, which has struggled painfully in the transition from dependence on the basic industries of coal, steel, transport and associated industries to a more varied economic base.
The constituency was represented in the House loyally, and with distinction, by Ness Edwards, who was Member from 1945 until his untimely death in 1968, and by Fred Evans who was Member from 1968 until his retirement in 1979. I hope to be able to restore and maintain that tradition of loyal service. I wish to take this opportunity to give my thanks to the loyal members of the Labour party in the Caerphilly constituency and also to the constituents of Caerphilly who elected me with a resounding majority to represent them in the House.
I listened with interest—but not much hope—to the Gracious Speech. I was looking for some sign that the Government recognised the scale of disaster that their policies were bringing to vast areas of the country. I shall quote selectively from the Gracious Speech. It said:
My Government will pursue policies designed to increase economic prosperity and to reduce unemployment.
There appears to be an underlying assumption that the policies followed by the Government since 1979 have been successful. That is a platitude and an assumption that I challenge.
My constituency of Caerphilly has an unemployment rate of 13·6 per cent. In May 1980, the unemployment rate in Caerphilly was 7·8 per cent. and at the Bargoed employment exchange in the north of my constituency it was 12·6 per cent. It is now 19 per cent. there. Indeed, 23 per cent. of our adult male workers are now unemployed. That means that 7.000 people over the age of 18 are without work in one valley and art deprived of the prospect of work as a result of this Government's policies.
In addition 1,000 young people are unemployed and a further 1,000 young people are participating in temporary Government schemes. That means that 2,000 young people are deprived of the opportunity that real employment would bring to them in the prime of their lives. That is a tragedy for our valley. It is a tragedy that the Government neither appear to recognise the problem nor are prepared to take action.
In my constituency 1,696 people are waiting for council accommodation. The local authority has a housing allocation of £2·4 million. If the housing needs of the valley are to be met, that allocation should be increased fourfold. The local authority should be constructing over 400 houses per year. Currently it is constructing fewer than 100 a year. That is a condemnation of this Government. It is a condemnation of those right hon. and hon. Members who claim that the country's economic prosperity can be built on people without homes.
Yesterday the Prime Minister said thnt it would cost £50 million to construct a district hospital and to run it for three years. One of the first letters that I received after I was elected was from the joint community health council of Mid Glamorgan and Gwent. In a brief it states:
In 1966 the Government published the Hospital Building Programme (Command Paper 3000) detailing the developments needed to provide a network of hospital and specialist services. These developments have been funded by the Government centrally (both in terms of capital investment and recurring revenue costs). This system is to be changed in Wales and those schemes not already completed or in progress by I April 1984
(8 out of the original 39) will have to be financed (both in capital and revenue terms) by individual Health Authorities out of their annual financial allocations.
These allocations will be increased slightly because capital developments will no longer he financed from central funds but a considerable proportion of the saving is likely to be used for other centrally funded services rather than distributed to individual Health Authorities.
The likelihood is that the Health Authorities concerned will find it extremely difficult to finance outstanding developments and that many of them will not in fact take place—at least for the foreseeable future. If the Health Authorities were to allocate sufficient capital and revenue funds for these projects, it would inevitably be at the expense of services provided in other parts of the counties concerned.
Mid Glamorgan and Gwent are the two most populous counties in Wales and between them include most of the industrial valleys. They have particularly acute housing and other environmental and economic problems which lead to high morbidity patterns. The NHS is already under severe strain in these two counties. One important indicator is the time a patient has to wait to see a consultant or to secure admission to hospital for in-patient treatment.
The statistics speak for themselves. I stress them in terms of Mid Glamorgan and Gwent as a percentage of the all-Wales figure. The total population in Mid Glamorgan and Gwent is 36·4 per cent. of that of Wales as a whole. Patients requiring urgent in-patient admission total 43·5 per cent. of the total all-Wales figure. Patients requiring non-urgent in-patient admission who have to wait more than 12 months total 51·7 per cent. of the Welsh total.
The Government have made clear their determination to restrict expenditure on the National Health Service. I, with the population of my area and the community health councils there, maintain that we have a critical need. The population of the valley is 140,000, represented by myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) who have supported the campaign by the health councils for a new district general hospital.
There is a case to be answered on medical grounds. There is a case on economic and social grounds. Right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches will argue that caring does not make economic sense; that expenditure on health care, on housing and on the creation of employment opportunities in our valley is bad for the country.
The message that I bring to the House from the Rhymney valley and from my constituency is that unless we have public sector expenditure, and unless the Government attack our housing problem, our unemployment problems and our need for a new hospital. there is no hope. My message is that caring makes economic sense. I do not look to Government Members for support. I do not even look to them for a change of hears. My message is that their policies will be opposed. They will be opposed in debate and in the votes. The argument will be won by us, although the vote may be lost. The argument will be carried from the Chamber. The argument for democratic Socialism will be carried from the House to victory.
It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the hon. Mernber for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) on his very courageous, fuent, lucid and eloquent maiden speech. Many congratulations. We hope to hear from him frequently in future. From time to time we might disagree with him slightly, but this evening we heard a fluent and eloquent speech. I remember what a terrifying ordeal it is to speak in the House for the first time, but no one having heard that speech would believe that the hon. Gentleman had any nerves whatever. He showed great courage and determination in contributing so soon. I am not surprised at the hon. Gentleman's eloquence. My wife is Welsh and I have five half-Welsh children. They are all exceedingly fluent and eloquent.
I also congratulate many of the other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches. I pick out two. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) made one of the best maiden speeches that I have heard. To come here so soon, to soak in the atmosphere of the House and to make a speech of that calibre was quite remarkable.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) also made a speech of great eloquence. We are much indebted to him for the way in which he put his argument across and for the dramatic impact that he made on us about the problems of his constituents and particularly for setting out the perils that people must endure if they are so stupid as to elect a Liberal council.
Yesterday I tried to intervene during the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. Being a decent and kind sort of chap I intended to be as helpful as I could. I wanted to suggest to him that he should come forward with something positive and to bring some ideas before the House because otherwise there was a real danger of something taking place which we would all deplore. The danger was that the parish councillors and the public opinion poll addicts in the Liberal party would take over his role as the effective Opposition.
Subsequently, the leader of the Liberal party made a speech. If the previous speech was bad, his was worse. The Leader of the Opposition can, to some extent, relax. The danger has receded for the time being.
I wish to say something in response to the speech of the leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. (Mr. Steel.) I am sorry that he is not here, although I am not surprised because those of us who have been here during the past four years have become rather used to speaking to a House without any SDP or Liberal Members, and especially without the right hon. Gentleman. I thought it might happen; indeed, I had expected it. I therefore attempted yesterday to intervene in the right hon. Gentleman's speech while he made it so that I could ask him a question face to face. Sadly, though my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took nine interventions during her speech, the right hon. Gentleman took merely two interventions and then refused to give way. I do not know what the moral is. Is it that the right hon. Gentleman is more important than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? Is it that my right hon. Friend has more humility than the right hon. Gentleman? Perhaps it is something different—despite the fact that the right hon. Gentleman delights so much in appearing on television, he cannot cope with the pressures of open debate in this Chamber. I think that that is the case.
Before I make my points I like, where possible—as my hon. Friends know—to be as kind as I possibly can. I would like to be kind to the Liberal party and to congratulate it. We all know the old story that they could all be put in a taxicab to bring them here. From what the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) said, perhaps it was a hearse rather than a taxicab. Although we do not see them, they do have a larger membership here and they cannot all get in a taxi—it must be a bus, even if it is a foreign bus.
The main burden of the right hon. Gentleman's speech concerned what he called electoral reform. I call it electoral change, because reform has some implication of something rather better than that which exists. It is no surprise that he brought that subject forward. During the election campaign the Liberal party had nothing to say about policy. Each morning the Liberals would wait for the latest dose of public opinion polls like an adolescent glue-sniffer waiting, addicted, for his sniff of early morning Uhu. So, in Parliament, we do not expect Liberals to come forward with policies but only to come forward time after time with talks of electoral reform and proportional representation. They talk not of policies, but whinge about the same old subject of electoral reform—electoral reform, whole electoral reform, and nothing but electoral reform. That is all that we shall get from them.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman seeks to make mileage out of electoral reform, and we know his reason for that. It is perfectly straightforward. It is that under the existing system he lost. But I warn him that in this country we do not like bad losers; we do not like people who say that if the rules were different they would have done better; we do not like people who disagree with the umpire; we do not like people who blame the loss of an important fixture on the fact that the referee had bad eyesight.
In many respects it is strange how recent has been the call for electoral reform and how there have been converts in the relatively recent past. It is strange how passionate in their commitment to the idea of electoral reform are yesterday's Socialists — the right hon. Members for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) and Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). Even the conversion of the Liberal party is strange. In 1906 it won about 400 seats on a vote of less that 50 per cent. It was silent then on the subject of electoral reform. It became interested in the subject only in 1922 when it began to decline. It is not for me to ascribe motives, but others—less charitable—may do so.
Let us examine the subject of proportional representation. Let us try to explode some of the myths and finish with a severe warning. The most misleading myth of all is that, if such and such a party gained a certain number of votes on 9 June, it should be entitled to a certain proportion of seats. The election on 9 June was on the basis of first past the post. How would we have fared in an election on the basis of proportional representation? Who is to say that the voting patterns would have been anything like they were a fortnight ago? Who is to say that the people would have made the same decisions? After all we know, we have heard and we understand that the Liberal vote is a wasted vote— that the Liberal party has for generations been a dumping ground for those who are temporarily disaffected either with the ideas of the Opposition or of the Government. If the last election had been held on the basis of proportional representation, it is quite possible that a large proportion of that wasted vote would have gone to the National Front, the Socialist Workers party or the Raving Monster Loony party. Those who voted Liberal or SDP a fortnight ago were not voting for Liberal Members of Parliament or an Alliance Government—they were wasting their votes. They knew that they were biding their time until the next election. Who is to say that if there had been proportional representation the Alliance would have gained anything like the number of votes that it did gain?
Of course, there is a caveat. Alliance Members do not want the National Front to be represented in this House any more than I do. They do not want the Communist party to be represented here any more than most hon. Members do. So they say "Let us have a cut-off level". What cut-off level? It is a strange coincidence that any cut-off level that they would accept would allow them to be represented here, but no one else.
There is the myth of effective government—that we need proportional representation to Lave that. It is an important point because the main purpose of our electoral system, overriding all else, is that it should produce effective government. The existing system provides the opportunity for effective government. One party or another has its programme, puts it to the public and, if there is a significant majority of opinion among the population about which party's programme is the most effective and popular, that party is duly elected and, quite rightly and properly, has the opportunity to try to put its programme into effect. Our existing system provides the opportunity for coherent and effective government.
Let us examine the experience of other countries where there has been ineffective government. In France, in the time of the Fourth Republic, there were 25 Governments and 15 Prime Ministers in 13 years. When de Gaulle came to power he swept away proportional representation and introduced a system similar to ours, since which time France has had far more effective government.
There is a lot that is right with Italy, but 40 Governments in 34 years is not effective government. There is proportional representation in the Irish Republic. It has had two hung Parliaments within eight months with a great deal of wheeler-dealering of a not especially attractive sort. Is that the effective government that the Liberal and SDP Members would have here?
There is the great democratic myth that proportional representation gives the people what they want. The major parties — the party of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and my party — are coalitions. The right hon. Gentleman probably does not agree with everything said by the hon. Member for Caerphilly in his excellent maiden speech. I am sure that he agrees with him on most issues, but not all. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) and myself agree on nine-tenths of what the Government are putting forward, but not on everything. We are hon. Friends and a coalition. But, having coalesced, we agree on a policy and, having agreed on that policy, we put it before the people of this country. If the people then elect us they know why they have done so. If the people elect the Labour party, they know why they have done that. They have made their choice. Having elected a party, that is what they will get—they choose, they get. Under a system of proportional representation, the coalition takes place after the voting and after the polls have closed—behind closed doors, which is not what the people want but what the wheeler-dealers decide.
Then there is the myth propagated by the leader of the Liberal Party that what we have under the existing system is a divided nation—two nations. I am not sure what that has to do with proportional representation, but he says that on one hand we have the Tory south and on the other we have the Labour north. That is not even correct. As it happens, more people in the north of England voted Conservative than voted Labour. There are more Conservative seats in the north-west of England than Labour seats. Before the right hon. Gentleman carries on in that vein he would do well to check on his facts.
There is also the extremist myth, that the existing system produces the opportunity for extreme Governments. In fact, the opposite is again the case. As any conviction politician will know, in this House the centrist tail wags the parliamentary dog. If I and my colleagues in the Conservative party wished to take a strong line on the right of the Conservative party—I do not say that I am on the right of the Conservative party — with which some of our colleagues in the centre disagreed, they could put pressure on the Government by saying that they would vote against. The Government have to move in that direction. There is no way that the right of the Conservative party or the left of the Labour party can move a Conservative Government or a Labour Government respectively. The centre controls this Chamber and this House of Commons. If one is frightened of extremism there is the corrective of the ballot box. Sadly for the Labour party, it went to the country on a rather extreme manifesto and subsequently did not do very well.
I am taken by the hon. Gentleman's view that the ballot box should determine issues in this country. What does the hon. Gentleman think of the attitude of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and of the Gracious Speech which calls for the abolition of the county councils and the GLC? Surely if the right hon. Lady disagrees with Mr. Ken Livingstone the right way to deal with the issue is to wait until the local elections in May 1985 when the people of London will have a free choice to decide for themselves.
The hon. Member for West Derby has taken my point completely out of context. There is a difference between the national level of government and the local level of government. In some local authority areas, more benefit from increased rates than actually pay the increased rates. Some people vote and other people pay. That is a severe political problem about which the Government must do something. It is to do, nor with the principle of democracy or the principle of elections, hut with the principle of the good government of this country and with the principle of fairness and fair play.
The myth is being built up by the protagonists of proportional representation that if one does not have it one has extremism. The opposite is the case. After all, Adolf Hitler came to power on the basis of proportional representation. With the greatest respect, one of the least moderate regimes in the Western world at the moment is the Government of Menachem Begin in Israel, who came to power on the basis of proportional representation. It does not necessarily produce moderation.
There is the myth that with proportional representation the people are better represented in some facile way or other. One of the great strengths of our system is the identification of a Member of Parliament with his constituency and with his constituents. If a constituent has a problem, he can write a letter or knock on the door and see his Member of Parliament. That Member of Parliament, whether or not he is of the same political persuasion, will do his utmost to solve that problem. I understand that the most favoured form of proportional representation is the single transferable vote. Under that system not only would that link be broken but there would be multi-Member constituencies. To whom does one then go? Which of the many Members does one choose? Who is one's Member of Parliament? Who will take the responsibility to solve one's problem? One of the great strengths of our system would be destroyed if we went down that road. Another aspect that is put forward is the idea of the list system. That is not democracy. That is not choice of Members of Parliament by the people. It is choice by the party hacks, by Central Office or by Walworth road—selection on the basis of recognition and reward for services rendered and past obsequiousness. That is selection by the party, not selection by the people. Is that a healthy form of democracy? Is that the way that the Liberal party would have us go?
The most misleading myth of all is the myth of fairness. There is, of course, unfairness in the existing system. Why is it that a constituency in England is bigger than a constituency in Scotland or Wales? Why is it that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) has twice as many constituents as the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale? Is that fair? Is it fair that some constituents could have only half the service that others receive? Actually, that is not the case, because my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby is at least twice as good a constituency Member as the leader of the Liberal party.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would not miss the opportunity to make a party political point. I do not agree with him.
We agree that there are unfairnesses in the existing system, but look what we would get if we changed to a system of proportional representation. Under the alternative vote system, instead of the most popular candidate being elected, the least unpopular candidate would become the Member of Parliament. Who is that fair to? Where is the fairness in that?
The list system favours the machine politician, rather than some of the admirable eccentrics that we have in the House. Where is the fairness and satisfaction in that?
Under the mixed system which they are so keen on in the Federal Republic of Germany, some individuals get large numbers of individual votes and others get very few, but the latter are elected and the former are not. Where is the fairness in that system? For 13 years in the Federal Republic of Germany the party that received the greatest share of the popular vote was kept out of government. Where is the fairness in that? The German system also resulted in the vice-chancellorship going to the Free Democratic party and not to the CSU, which got more popular support and more votes than the FDP. Where is the fairness in that? Look at every system of proportional representation and one will find it addled, riddled and rotten with unfairness. We do not want it and we shall not have it.
I issue a warning to the leader of the Liberal party and his hon. Friends. I hope that they will take heed of it. If the Labour party continues its commitment to its own self-destruction and turns from the old mob orator to the young mob orator, with Clive Jenkins's red-haired poodle taking over the leadership of the opposition—I am delighted to see that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook agrees with me for the first time in his life—it is possible that the Labour party will continue to decline and the Liberal party may move into the ascendancy. I should hate and deplore that and it would be a great mistake for the electors to allow that, but this is a democracy and they would be entitled to do it and the Liberal party might start to benefit from the system that the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale so avidly deplores. Would he then change his tune? Would he retract? Would he go back? I wonder.
I have gone on at length about proportional representation, but it is a non-issue. It is not going to happen. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is against it, I am against it, the overwhelming majority of my hon. Friends are against it and the Opposition are against it. Let it lie in peace.
The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) made a good speech about proportional representation, but it had little to do with the Gracious Speech. On occasions in the previous Parliament I found myself in the same Lobby as the hon. Gentleman, particularly on EC matters, and no doubt that will happen again in the near future. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's views on proportional representation. There is undoubtedly a groundswell of opinion in the country, and the House will have to come to terms with that by debating the subject in the Chamber to get it out of the way.
I also agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the maiden speeches that have been made. The House will be well served by the many new hon. Members on both sides, and I look forward to hearing the maiden speeches that are still to come. I know that those new members have marvellous contributions to make.
The hon. Member for Northampton, North, towards the end of his contribution, talked about fairness. There is no fairness in the Queen's Speech for the British public. It is true that the Labour party was much criticised by various people on the hustings for its defence policy. Perhaps that was due to the party's failure to convey to the people exactly what it meant. The media and the propaganda machine of our Tory opponents were effective in making people think that we would throw every armament away. In fact, the Labour party was advocating only nuclear unilateral disarmament.
The truth is that we cannot afford Trident. We cannot afford £10 billion, especially when the Government are saying that money is short for hospital and welfare services. It seems immoral to spend £10 billion on Trident when it could be out of date in about 20 years. The Opposition question the need for cruise missiles. It is argued that cruise, like Polaris, could be a bargaining factor. We failed to get our message over to the electorate.
It remains our policy to stay within NATO. Why should we have an independent deterrent? Why has no one talked about a NATO deterrent, if we have to have a so-called deterrent at all? These are some of the questions that still remain to he answered.
The Queen's Speech refers to giving greater control to trade union members. Why are the Government not more honest about their intentions? Within the trade union rule books there are provisions to enable members to give themselves greater control if that is what they want. They can attend union meetings and alter the rules according to their wishes. There is no need to legislate against trade unions and their wishes when the members can decide for themselves. We should encourage them to do so and refrain from legislating to force them to act against their will.
The Government's policy—this, of course, has not been presented to the public— is designed to cut the financial link between the trade union movement and the Labour party. The Government think that they can weaken the trade union movement and, by severing the financial link between it and the Labour party, undermine the party. They will not get away with that. The trade union movement is greater than they think and will not allow that to happen.
When this threat is presented to the trade union movement, it will remember that the parliamentary Labour party is the political wing of the movement. The Labour party came into being because the trade union movement wanted a voice in this place. The movement will recognise the danger and will rally round to overcome the problems that would be presented by the Government's proposed legislation.
It is stated in the Queen's Speech that the Government will introduce legislation
to make more farming tenancies available in England and Wales.
I look forward to hearing what the Government intend to do for tenant farmers. The great landowners are throwing tenant farmers off their land so that they can create extremely large and viable businesses. This has happened in my constituency. Small tenant farmers who were making a living were thrown off their land by absentee landlords. Let us consider the problems of all tenant farmers, especially those with the smaller units.
Like a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, I spent many years as a member of a local authority. It is both unfair and wrong to legislate against local authorities and, therefore, against the wishes of those whom they represent. If the Government wish to cut block grants to local authorities, so be it. That is for them to decide. But to say that local authorities cannot raise finance by increasing rates above a certain ceiling goes against the wishes of the people who elected those local authorities. The Government wish to legislate against those whom they are supposed to represent, but each year the local authorities will go to their electorates with their policies and the costs of those policies, and the electorate will decide whether they wish to bear those costs.
The Government should be open and above board about the proposed legislation against county councils. It is a question not of costs, but of the Prime Minister having failed to impose her will upon the county councils to bring them into line. However, what matters is what the people wish. If the people of South Yorkshire wish to vote for an authority that provides cheap bus fares, why should they not do so and enjoy those cheap fares? The Prime Minister has been unable to curb local authority spending as she would wish, so she is now going against the direct wishes of the people.
The local authorities and the Labour party played a great part in bringing to the people what they desire in education, housing and welfare. No one else can provide that, and the Government's proposals mean that local government can no longer supply those services. They can no longer provide the welfare system that the people want and they cannot build the houses that the people need. By deciding to legislate, the Government will have willingly and knowingly legislated against the people. The Labour party has lost this general election, but the time will come soon when the people will realise what that legislation means.
The House will discuss the National Coal Board in another debate, so I shall not mention it now. I shall leave that matter to the consciences of those who will frame this legislation against the people whom they are supposed to represent. They will certainly regret it in future.
At this late hour I shall not attempt to pursue the path trodden by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), except to say that no day has been set aside in the debate on the Gracious Speech specifically for energy. However, I hope that I shall have his support, and the support of his colleagues who represent mining constituencies, in my continuing campaign to obtain better compensation for people whose homes, businesses, farms and smallholdings suffer from coal mining subsidence.
The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone, when describing the historic links between the trade union movement and the Labour party, gave the House a lesson in the politics of yesteryear. Times have changed, things have moved on and people's aspirations have increased. The reason why there are so many hon. Members on the Conservative Benches today is that the only political party in Britain that is really in tune with the aims, ambitions and aspirations of the majority of the British people is the Conservative party. I hope that, for the benefit of the Government and for the better health of this Parliament, the Labour party comes to terms with electoral reality quickly, because the Chamber depends upon an effective and constructive Opposition.
I quote from this week's edition of The Economist. In an article entitled "New England on old England" an American journalist, Steven Erlanger, says:
Britain's Labour party now half-represents a new, naive intellectual left, not an old one. It has grown more radical in the European style as most of Britain has grown more conservative. Union members in America have become astonishingly conservative, especially the young ones, despite having habits of life which still owe much to the 1960s. It should be no surprise that the same has happened in Britain, or that a party dominated by sloppy nostalgia for bourgeois socialism is unable to make an honest appraisal of what the working class really wants.
I hope that Labour Members will bear that in mind when we debate in this Chamber on Second Reading and line by line and clause by clause in Standing Committee the measures introduced by the Government, especially those introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to expand home ownership and to improve people's stake in the communities, the villages, and the towns of the society' in which they live and move
and have their being. I hope that Labour Members will remember those words because if they forget them they will do so at their peril in the next election.
The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), leader of the Liberal party, whose members have been so conspicuously absent today—surely a debate on home affairs and local government is tailor made for the paragons of community politics, the party that espouses paving stones and gutters, the voice of the people, talk-back and focusing on all the problems —said:
The Government, with some justification, are proud of the increased manning in the police service and the improved conditions of the police. However, in spite of that achievement, serious crimes recorded last year went above 3 million for the first time.
The right hon. Gentleman is an intelligent man. He knows that what has happened for many years past — the neglect of our inner cities, the seedbed of crime, vandalism, violence and hard core truancy—cannot be put right in one brief Parliament. It will take time. I was therefore surprised when he went on:
The Government cannot respond to that by simply resurrecting the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill … They must look again at their social and economic priorities and the deep-seated causes of this increase in crime." — [Official Report, 22 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 64.]
In fact, it is to the credit of the Conservative party to have been the only party in Government to recognise the terminal and long-term decay in our inner cities and to have had the courage to start to do something about it.
I believe that the inner cities will be revived only when there is a wide social mix, in which tenant lives next door to owner-occupier and small businesses and the mixed economy live and move. That revival will be achieved only when owner-occupiers are encouraged to return to the inner cities and businesses are encouraged to start up there again. Any public spending on infrastructure must necessarily be accompanied by private investment in homes and jobs. Yet the Labour party and the Liberal party, especially in Liverpool—the voice of Liverpool was eloquently heard today from the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing)—have controlled our major cities for most of the post-war period. Declining inner city areas have become demoralised by insensitive planning and slum clearance programmmes involving not real slums but merely houses that perhaps fronted on to the street. Those houses could have been rehabilitated, refurbished and revived with improvement grants, thus stimulating the construction industry, but they were cleared because they were inconvenient to the planner's pencil and sketch pad. Those areas have been demoralised by insensitive planning. [Interruption.] I shall deal in a moment with the constituency of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and talk about inner city decay and neglect.
Areas have been demoralised by insensitive planning, by clearance schemes and housing policies, a poor environment, unlettable council houses, decaying private rented housing, a poor social balance with very little owner-occupation, poor schools, street crime and vandalism. That was the inheritance of the previous Conservative Government and, notwithstanding the fact that we are now pursuing policies to breathe fresh air back into the inner cities, we must still continue to solve those problems. How is it to be done?
A welcome addition to the Gracious Speech was our commitment to reintroduce — because it fell on the Dissolution—the Housing and Building Control Bill, with the exception, I am happy to say, of the clause relating to charitable housing associations.
One of the significant clauses in the Housing and Building Control Bill, soon to be considered again by the House, is that giving the right to buy not only to those who already have it under the Housing Act 1980 but to those who, through circumstances perhaps beyond their control at present, cannot afford to buy the whole of their property with a generous discount. I refer to the shared purchase provisions of the Bill.
It is only by giving people a stake in their home, and by enabling them to take one or two steps on the ladder of advancement, that they will be enabled to take a pride in their homes and their environment and ultimately to improve their lot and pass on the benefit of their life's labours to their children. But, while pursuing policies which will increase the social mix and enable people once again to become proud of their communities by having a stake in them, we must not forget those who deserve the right to rent. I am disappointed that there is no reference in the Gracious Speech to any legislation in this Session of Parliament to enable the building societies to be able themselves to provide homes to rent on a cost-rent basis.
I look forward to the time when the next Gracious Speech will perhaps include a commitment to legislate for the building society movement, to enable it to update itself and to drag itself into the latter part of the 20th century, so that it can become a provider of first resort of homes to rent.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to look at the conduct of local authorities in the management of their own properties. The right hon. Member for Gorton—he was previously the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick, so he has travelled some way down the road to Damascus—will know that there are properties within his constituency, owned by the Labour-controlled Manchester city council, which have been left empty not just for two years but for four, five, and in some cases 10 years. In such cases, it is right that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should take power to compel local authorities to let those properties on a let-as-seen basis to enable people, who deserve the right to rent, to rent them in their existing condition. Perhaps in exchange for a rent-free period they would be able to improve and modernise the properties themselves, thus relieving the local authorities of the responsibility for so doing.
My hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mr. Rossi) and Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) referred specifically to the rating system. I propose not to dwell upon that subject this evening but simply to say that I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to rating reform in general. I believe that the present rating system, with all its faults, warts, inconsistencies and anomalies, is no less imperfect than any of the other alternatives considered by Sir Frank Layfield in 1975, or by this House since.
In the west midlands generally — certainly in constituencies and towns not far removed from my constituency of Mid-Staffordshire — industrialists who have tried to let or to sell factories that may have become surplus to their requirements in the recent past have been forced—because of the insensitivity of certain Labour-controlled local authorities which have been hell-bent on pursuing them for their rates—either to take off the roofs or even to demolish the properties to avoid paying rates on empty property. In the last Parliament the Government reduced the amount by which local authorities could levy empty property rates from 100 per cent. to 50 per cent. I hope that in the Bill that my right hon. Friend will be bringing forward in the context of improving the rating system generally there will be a specific clause in line with our manifesto commitment that local authorities shall no longer be allowed to levy rates on empty industrial and commercial premises.
I welcome the contents of the Gracious Speech in general, and in particular because, by pursuing the policies that are in line with the aims and aspirations of the majority of Great Britain, we shall be seen once again to be a Government who are in tune with those people, and they will be grateful that they elected us on 9 June with such a resounding majority.
I hope that the House will permit me, as the new Member for the Manchester, Gorton constituency, to pay tribute to Mr. Ken Marks who was the Member for the constituency but did not seek reselection. He served in the House for 16 years with great distinction. He was parliamentary private secretary to the Prime Minister, and as a Minister in the Department of the Environment was well versed in the subject that we are debating. He represented this country abroad as leader of the Labour delegation to the North Atlantic Assembly. Above all, he is remembered for his dedicated services to the people of Gorton, as I found in my constituency during the election campaign. I know that the whole House will wish Ken Marks and his wife a long and happy retirement.
I pay tribute to the many hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. My hon. Friends the Members for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) and for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) are welcome recruits to the Opposition Benches. Their eloquence in their speeches today will be welcome when we come to the more routine parts of this Session. Each of them made a distinguished contribution relating to the problems of their contituencies, and we particularly welcome in each case what they have had to say about our colleagues who have gone and whom they follow here, such as Tom Urwin, Sir Harold Wilson, Leslie Spriggs and others. What was remarkable and significant about the speeches of all my hon. Friends who spoke was that the one thing that united them was the unemployment that is devastating their contituencies.
I also compliment the new Conservative Members who made their maiden speeches, such as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), who had the distinction of making the first maiden speech of this Parliament. We greatly appreciated what she had to say about our good friends and colleagues, Phillip Whitehead and Walter Johnson, who are no longer with us. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) for his comments about Joe Dean, who is greatly missed. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) ventured a little into controversiality by talking about the need to curb high rate rises. I hope that, in considering high rate rises, he will consider the rate rise in Shrewsbury and Atcham, which he will be sorry to know is well above the national average. When he votes to curb rate rises, he will be voting to deal with the problems in his constituency.
In what is perhaps becoming a somewhat wearisomely glutinous opening to my speech, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) on taking office as Secretary of State for the Environment. I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman's appointment was as great a surprise to him as it was to everyone else. After all, that poor fellow the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), after waiting years for the job, had only just got his feet under the table.
It is a curious succession. First at the Department of the Environment we had the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who did not want the job and did not know how to do it. Next came the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, who desperately wanted the job but was not allowed to do it. Now we have the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, who knows nothing about the job but, without any delay, has started to make as big a mess of it as his predecessors. The legislation announced in the Gracious Speech will throw local government into even more confusion and uncertainty than the previous statutes introduced by this Government — and that is saying something.
We well remember the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford. He is famous if for nothing else for having told us to brush our teeth in the dark. He is now reforming local government in the dark. No one knows what he will do. He does not yet know himself.
The Gracious Speech deals not only with local government. It deals with other matters relating to the Department of the Environment as well, and we heard some of them stated by the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle). The hon. Gentleman keeps talking about my constituency. I wish that he would visit it, partly because my constituents have never seen anything quite like him and partly also because, if he came to look at some of the houses which he asks my local authority to let because they are empty, he would discover that they were demolished several years ago. It would be very difficult to get anyone to live in them.
The Gracious Speech does not deal with house building, which my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly rightly raised as a very important gap in this Government's policy. It does not deal with the serious problems on council estates that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) mentioned. It deals with home ownership, and the Housing and Building Control Bill has already been reintroduced. This is the Bill which originally was intended to rob charitable housing associations of their properties. It is the Bill which, when last apprehended in the House of Lords, was being amended to force the sale of houses adapted for the use of the disabled.
We now have a new Minister for Housing, and I congratulate him on his appointment. Like his predecessor, he was the Prime Minister's parliamentary private secretary. I suppose that being Minister for Housing has now become a kind of hereditary and ceremonial position which is to be succeeded to regularly by anyone who has held the sinecure of "carrier of the regal handbag". The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has spent four years walking two respectful paces behind the Prime Minister. I hope that he will now demonstrate his independence by not proceeding any further in the Housing and Building Control Bill with the attacks upon the disabled which his predecessor attempted so zestfully.
We shall study the Bill with great interest when it is published, and we shall scrutinise it with meticulous care during its passage through the House. Of course, we shall expect the Secretary of State to serve on the Standing Committee when it begins its Committee progress.
The Housing and Building Control Bill will still continue with a proposal to increase to 60 per cent. discounts on houses sold compulsorily and the Government will continue to preen themselves on their promotion of home ownership. I hope that in his speech the Secretary of State will spare us any self-congratulation of that kind. It rings particularly hollow on the very day after a massive increase in the mortgage interest rate—an increase which, as I warned during the election campaign, was being withheld deliberately until after polling day was safely over.
The conduct of the building societies in this matter is quite disreputable. They knew what they intended to do. They knew when they would do it. Yet they deliberately colluded with the Government to suppress their intention to raise the mortgage rate so as to assist the Conservative party in the election. If the Church of England used to be known as the Conservative party at prayer, the building societies will in future be known as the Conservative party in usury.
The right hon. Gentleman has accused the leaders of the building society movement of colluding with the Government in some disreputable way. Will he say that outside?
The right hon. Gentleman is new to these matters. In the last Parliament his principal achievement was to be rebuked by the courts of law for his activities on other matters. He may be interested to know that I made this accusation of collusion outside the House in the general election campaign. [Interruption.] Of course I knew that it was coming, but the act of collusion is no less an act of collusion for being foreseen.
The Conservative party was elected in 1979 on a promise to cut mortgate rates. This is what its manifesto said:
Mortgage rates have risen steeply because of the Government's"—
that is, the Labour Government—
financial mismanagement. Our plans for cutting government spending and borrowing will lower them".
That is what the Conservatives said. Nevertheless, during their period of office mortgage interest rates rose to their highest level ever, and people buying their houses have already paid an extra £3,000 million in higher interest payments. How right we were to warn home owners in the election "Vote now, pay later". All this, of course, followed a personal pledge by the Prime Minister when she was shadow environment spokesman that she would reduce mortgage interest rates to 9½ per cent., and, moreover, that she would do it by Christmas. We are
entitled to ask "Which Christmas?" This Christmas, mortgage payers will be paying an extra £500 million as a result of yesterday's announcement alone.
The Prime Minister made another personal pledge. She promised that she would abolish the domestic rating system. No commitment could have been more specific or more personal. It was repeated in the Conservative party manifesto under the heading
A responsible approach to taxation".
That promise read:
Within the normal lifetime of a Parliament we shall abolish the domestic rating system".
Where is that promise today?
I shall come to other election manifestos. I am well aware of the constitutional innovation of the Prime Minister whereby a promise that she makes is invalid if she loses the election in which she makes it.
Let us look at the promise that the right hon. Lady made on 18 May. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, sent a briefing note to all Conservative candidates. It was headed "Questions of policy", and contained this very pertinent question:
Why aren't you abolishing the domestic rates?
The anser given was:
We conducted the most thorough examination and widest possible consultation on possible alternatives. It was clear that no alternatives could be introduced at any early date, that they would all involve extra costs, and that there was no general agreement on any particular alternative. Because of the need to take early action to help the ratepayer, we therefore decided"—
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall do my best to advance my case. I repeat:
Because of the need to take early action to help the ratepayer, we therefore decided to put forward our proposals to curb excessive increases".
Never could a Minister have so brutally repudiated his own leader. Perhaps that is why she sacked him.
The new Secretary of State, fearful of losing his job even more swiftly than his predecessor, points to the later pledge which stated:
Cutting income tax must take priority for the time being over abolition of the domestic rating system.
Note that the commitment to abolish rates was still very much there. But if ratepayers have to wait until income tax is cut they will have to wait for a long time because income tax now is far higher than it was when the Government took office. The average family with the man on average earnings is paying £9·75 a week more in tax than four years ago. Therefore, the Government have a long way to go before they fulfil their self-imposed precondition.
It is difficult to understand why the Government have got themselves so worked up about rates and local government expenditure. After all, in the past four years local government expenditure has not risen at all while central Government expenditure has risen by 4·2 per cent., all to finance unemployment. Rate bills have risen one-eighth as much as central Government taxation. Yet the Government go on increasing their expenditure and taxation while blaming local councils for profligacy and high rates.
It is true that some local authorities are more highly rated than others. The ratepayers with the highest bills in the country are those in the Tory-controlled borough of Kensington and Chelsea. They pay an average of £13·64 a week. Next come those in the city of Westminster who pay £13·09 a week. Of the 10 highest rated authorities in the country, five are non-Labour controlled and five are Labour controlled. The Secretary of State may say that the Government are not planning to deal with rate bills, but are aiming in their new legislation to prevent high rate increases. In that case his principal target will be the Tory borough of Wandsworth, which this year increased its rates by 159 per cent. Wandsworth, of course, is the apple of the Government's eye and it leads the field.
Next comes Tory Broxbourne. Its rate is up 112 per cent. Of the top 10 rate rises this year, five are in Tory-controlled councils. The Secretary of State will be relieved to hear that his Tory borough of Redbridge does not come in the top 10, but it is not far behind. It is number 31 out of 414 councils, with a 16·57 per cent. rate increase this year. It is only a little way ahead of the Prime Minister's borough of Barnet, with a 16·35 per cent. rate increase.
Then there are the rates in Surrey. A few weeks ago in the House the Prime Minister became greatly worked up and declared that the rates in Surrey were much too high this year. But what is the explanation for that outrage? Here it is in a note circulated to Surrey ratepayers by their Tory-controlled county council:
In the coming financial year, the County Council is asking you to pay 13·7 per cent more for your services. Why? As you may know, the cost of County services — like education, roads, fire brigade, libraries, social services and police—is met partly from the rates and partly by grants from the Government. This year the Government have reduced by £16 million the amount of grant support to Surrey's ratepayers. Almost 8 per cent of the rate increase is directly due to grant loss.
I have a feeling that the authorities that I have mentioned, culpable as they are in Tory eyes, are not the Government's main targets. What the Government have in mind are what they call overspenders. As the House is only too wearily aware, there is objectively no such species as an overspender since there is no objective criterion for overspending. Instead, we have authorities which spend above artificial and arbitrary ceilings imposed upon them by the Government and then they are penalised for doing so. I have the strange conviction that it is not necessarily even these authorities that the Government have in mind. After all, councils that have been penalised in the past couple of years for the alleged crime of overspending include Bury, Chester, Harrogate, East Sussex, Oxfordshire, Portsmouth and Kensington and Chelsea, all of which are solid Tory authorities that would be pained if they were accused of harbouring anything but the most loyal feelings towards the Government. All of them have been penalised for disloyal overspending.
The Government are not taking these unwarranted and dictatorial powers to deal with authorities, often Tory, whose ratepayers have the highest bills, nor with the authorities, often Tory, that are responsible for the highest rate increases, nor with the authorities, often Tory, that have violated the Government's spending ceilings and have been penalised for doing so. The Government's real target is a small handful of local councils that have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) pointed out, committed two unforgivable crimes, the first being that their electorates had the impertinence to elect Labour majorities and the second being that those Labour majorities have sought to implement the policies for which their electorates voted. That is the motivation behind the proposal in the Gracious Speech to take a general power for limiting rate increases.
That is the intention behind the proposal for a selective scheme to curb excessive rate increases by individual local authorities. I will have a bet with the Secretary of State that that power will not be used to reduce the 159 per cent. rate increase in Wandsworth or even the 16·57 per cent. rate increase in Redbridge. That, above all, is the reason for the decision to abolish the Greater London council and the metropolitan county councils. One would think that these monstrous organisations were the hideous brain child of some dogma-crazed Socialist zealot.
The arguments for creating these councils were put forward with immense conviction when the House was asked to create them. The Minister in charge advanced a pretty compelling case when he was advocating the creation of the Greater London council, and said:
these great strategic tasks of planning, traffic, roads, overspill housing and all other needs affecting the whole of Greater London should be made the responsibility of a directly elected Greater London Council. One would have thought that this proposal that Londoners should have an effective say in the shaping of their own environment would have an obvious appeal. Those who find it unpalatable must face up to the question of what they would have instead." — [Official Report, 10 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 53.]
That was said by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), the then Minister for Housing and Local Government, now Secretary of State for Education and Science. His arguments were reinforced by a Minister junior to him, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who insisted:
the continuous built up area, inhabited by 8 million people, calls for a single administration of the strategic and planning services … This Bill offers to the Metropolis the renewal of civic life in modern terms. To large parts of Greater London it offers for the first time the opportunity of government which is at once really local and really responsible. I ask the House not 10 deny these benefits to the capital city of the empire." —[Official Report, 11 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 338.]
The right hon. Member is now too busy advocating nuclear disarmament to bother with anything so petty as local government reform.
When the House was asked to set up the metropolitan councils, much the same arguments were advanced. The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), now Secretary of State for Energy, then Secretary of State for the Environment, said:
in our manifesto and in a number of speeches, I outlined the basis upon which a Conservative Government would reform local government. This was on the basis of endeavouring to ensure that there would be two tiers. One tier would deal with matters which were better organised over a wider catchment area. I accepted that education, social services, the strategic planning of an area and transportation were matters that of necessity are of interest to the public at large; and that it was right that a wider authority, such as a new county authority, should have responsibility."—[Official Report, 16 November, 1971; Vol. 806, c. 228.]
So these authorities—essential and sensible not so long ago in the eyes of Tory Ministers — are now, according to the Prime Minister's words yesterday,
wasteful and unnecessary. Did she think that they were wasteful and unnecessary when she voted for them to come into being? I have checked the Division lists and I know that she voted for them. If she did, she was hypocritical then. Alternatively, did she feel at that time that her right hon. Friend was right and that these authorities were essential? If so, she is hypocritical now. The House will want a great many answers from the Secretary of State tonight, and will want to know what time scale the Government have in mind.
We shall want to know whether the 1985 elections for these doomed councils will be cancelled. We shall want to know what powers will be handed over to the district authorities. We shall want to know who will be responsible for transport policy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Derby referred. Who will decide the level of fares? What arrangements will be made for subsidy? We shall also want to know what say the fare-paying public will have in all these matters in place of the right they now have to elect these authorities on programmes openly placed before them. Above all, we shall want to know what democratic machinery the Government have in mind to replace these democratically elected bodies.
There is no doubt that the Government are great ones for democracy. Their manifesto is full of references to that highly valued substance. Here is a moving declaration on the subject from the manifesto:
All of us have a vital interest in ensuring that this power is used democratically and responsibly.
Terrific stuff! In the manifesto we also find a promise to give people the right to hold 'ballots for the election of governing bodies. There is a commitment to a "fair and secret ballot". There is a stirring call for
measures to guarantee the free and effective right of choice.
There is another about the sanctity of secret ballots.
We are all much moved by those references, but unfortunately they are references not to the importance of electors having the guarantee of the free and effective choice of their councillors, or to the importance of a fair and secret ballot for governing our cities, or to the free and effective right of choice in the election of local representives — no — but are all manifesto quotations about democracy in trade unions. They are the proposals of the Secretary of State for Employment, who was prevented from becoming Home Secretary by Viscount Whitelaw in the last and perhaps greatest of his many public services. So democracy in a form invented and decided by the Government is to be forced on the trade unions, but democracy—
—in a form invented by this very Government, is to be removed from millions of citizens in our great conurbations. What are they to have in its place? The only authoritative information is in the briefing note distributed to Tory candidates by the new Secretary of State for Transport which says:
Joint boards will be needed for Police and Fire and in the Metropolitan Counties … ILEA will be replaced by a joint
Board … There should be no need for joint Boards for highways or traffic in the Metropolitan Counties. These matters can be co-ordinated by the regional office of the Department of Transport … GLC roads can be passed to the Secretary of State.
There we are. Partly the place of these democratically elected councils will be taken by quangos and partly their powers will be taken over by functionaries in Government Departments. Therefore, a Government claiming to be committed to democracy in our trade unions are abolishing democracy in our local authorities. They are replacing elected councillors by Government placemen and biddable officials. I have no doubt that any day now the process will be completed and that the Department of the Environment will be renamed the Ministry of the Interior.
It is no wonder that Tory leaders of local authorities are denouncing the Government and that the Tory chairman of the Tory-controlled Association of District Councils, Mr. Ian McCallum, said yesterday that he feared for the future of local democracy. He described the legislation as
the latest attack on local government autonomy and democracy.
He said it had
grave institutional implications
because it would be
another big step towards central Government control".
We shall oppose the proposals. We shall co-operate with the many people who will fight to defend democracy in local government. Every major piece of legislation emanating from the new Secretary of State's Department in the past four years has been mauled in both Houses of Parliament and has not been enacted in its original form. The Government should not believe that the size of their majority in the House will allow them to steamroller these odious proposals through Parliament. We have stopped them before, and we shall do it again.
My first and pleasant duty is to congratulate a remarkable number of eloquent maiden speakers. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, they all paid graceful tributes to their predecessors. That was much appreciated by the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) spoke with all the authority and confidence appropriate to a former chairman of the Birmingham housing committee. She spoke rightly about the popularity of the right-to-buy policy which she said is changing the face of Britain. The right hon. Member for Gorton knows that that policy played its part in ensuring the Government's enhanced majority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South urged the introduction of a simpler application form for tenants applying under the right to buy. She knows that we must have a procedure which protects the right to buy in the face of authorities which are reluctant or even obstructive. I assure her that when we revise the form we shall consider the suggestions that she has made to my Department.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) spoke about his constituency. He has had experience on a police committee, and he spoke about the lack of defensibility of some of the housing estates built in the 1960s and 1970s. The Government readily understand his concern. Modern designs must take more account of the problems.
The hon. Members for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) and St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) spoke movingly about the impact of unemployment on their constituents. No one in the Government underestimates the gravity of the unemployment problem or in any way minimises the personal and family hardships involved. During the election campaign I spoke about little else.
My hon. Friend the Member or Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) is a former Conservative leader of a metropolitan county council—Tyne and Wear—and I therefore welcomed his support of our proposal to abolish the metropolitan councils. I assure him that we are determined to consult and get it right.
I am sorry that I did not hear the speech by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing). I am told that he spoke robustly about the problems in his constituency, of which the Government are well aware. I shall read his perceptive analysis in Hansard and bear it in mind as our policies for Merseyside develop. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that I am proposing to visit Merseyside early next month.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) spoke with confidence about the National Health Service in his constituency. His constituents will welcome the fact that they have a forceful advocate in the House. The House looks forward to hearing all the maiden speakers again in our debates.
My right hon. Friend spoke of the considerable number of maiden speeches tonight. Will he note that the only hon. Gentleman who is not here to hear his remarks is the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft)?
I have no doubt that the House has taken note of my hon. Friend's remark.
The debate was opened by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I remember speaking after him in a similar debate at the beginning of the previous Parliament. In exactly the same way as then, he today engaged in his customary re-writing of history. He always does that. He claimed credit for implementing the Edmund Davies report. Actually, he did about half the work on that. He left the other half to us— with no money to pay for it. We implemented the report in full and also updated the award in September 1979.
The right hon. Gentleman made the remarkable claim that it was the duty of the Opposition to speak for all the nation. In the light of the nation's total rejection of the policies upon which he fought the election, that was a presumptuous claim. More seriously, the right hon. Gentleman accused the Government of neglecting inner cities and ethnic minorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordhire (Mr. Heddle) addressed himself to that subject in his speech. The Government will maintain their strong commitment to the inner cities, which we developed during the past four years and underlined in our election manifesto, which stated:
We shall encourage greater opportunity for all those who live in our inner cities, including our ethnic minorities.
During the past four years the Government increased the total of the urban programme in cash from £165 million in 1979–80 to £348 million in the current year. Within those totals, funding for projects for the specific benefit of ethnic minority groups has increased substantially. During the past two years it rose from £8 mil ion to £15 million, and this year's figure will be more than £20 million. The
right hon. Member for Sparkbrook may care to note that I have asked my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) to continue to take a special interest in the concerns of ethnic minorities.
The Government will continue to give special priority to the areas most in need and use public money to support self-help and to attract private sector investment. Urban development grant is now attracting £4 of private money for every £1 of public money given by way of grant.
We have learnt much from our experience in Merseyside, not least about the co-operation between the public and private sectors in order to tackle some of the ugly and demoralising manifestations of urban decline—the spoilt and derelict areas of land, the rundown council estates and the unemployment to which the aura of decay contributes.
The right hon. Member for Gorton questioned the legality of certain points. The Government today reintroduced the Local Authorities (Expenditure Powers) Bill to remove the technical legal doubts that might impede some authorities implementing urban development grant schemes.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that Bill will be reintroduced in the form that was agreed by his predecessor and myself, and that there will be no accretions to it, so that we can guarantee its speedy passage?
It will be reintroduced in the form in which it was left when the previous Parliament was dissolved. It will be published tomorrow, when the right hon. Gentleman can assure himself that it is in the form that he wants.
The right hon. Gentleman made his customary speech, and, having heard it, we are not altogether surprised that he has abandoned his bid for the deputy leadership of the Labour party. He committed himself to a number of remarkable propositions during the election campaign, but the one that I like best is one that he announced to his constituents at his adoption meeting. He said:
Labour will not join Mrs. Thatcher in making empty reckless promises".
He followed that with an immediate pledge to pay local government £9 billion—
The right hon. Gentleman referred to mortgage interest rates. I share the Prime Minister's regret that mortgage interest rates had to rise, especially when the recent trend in interest rates generally has been downwards. But the fact is that more people than ever before are buying their homes—1 million more than four years ago. One million people are buying their homes and nearly 500,000 council tenants are buying their homes. It is for the societies to judge the market. Savings have not been keeping pace with the high level of lending. I must point out that by May this year the societies had lent more than £8 billion compared with less than £5 billion in the same period last year. The right hon. Gentleman made the serious charge that the building societies had colluded with the Government to hide the increase from the voters.
The hon. Gentleman says "Spot on", but he should consider these facts. There were repeated warnings throughout the spring that the building societies were not attracting enough savings to keep pace with the growth in lending. At the building societies' conference on 4 May, the chairman said publicly that the societies faced a dilemma and that one of three things would have to happen—further falls in base rates, a cut in mortgage lending or an increase in interest rates. On the eve of polling, the Daily Express said:
home loans set to rise whoever wins the election".
The Daily Mirror said:
mortgage rates going up again by up to 2 per cent.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who had, if I may say so, a most undistinguished election campaign, was quoted in The Times of 7 June as forecasting that mortgage rates would rise just after the election. Everyone knew that that was likely to happen and was aware of the risk. For the right hon. Member for Gorton to argue that there was collusion between the building societies and the Government is disreputable and does him no credit whatever.
There is a widespread desire for home ownership. As I said, nearly 1 million more people are buying their homes. The Housing and Building Control Bill, which was introduced today, proposes important extensions to tenants whose landlords do not own the freehold of their dwelling and new rights for tenants to buy on shared ownership terms. It will also increase the present maximum discount and will pave the way for a more flexible and comprehensive system of building regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mr. Rossi) raised the issue of the right to buy for the disabled. I assure him that the Bill will give more disabled tenants the chance to buy their homes. At present not only purpose-built but even adapted dwellings for the disabled are excluded from the right to buy. We have received bitter letters from tenants, particularly where, as a result of adaptations of a normal house to meet the needs of one member of a family who is disabled, the whole family is denied the right to buy. We intend to give those tenants the same rights as other tenants. I assure the House that that is in the Bill as it will be published tomorrow.
The right hon. Member for Gorton devoted a great deal of his speech to the two main local government measures foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech. I should like to answer some of his questions and some of the questions asked by my right hon. and hon. Friends. We propose to bring forward in this Session a Bill to give the Government power to curb excessive and irresponsible rate increases by high-spending local authorities in England and Wales. The provision for that already exists in Scotland. The Bill will also contain a fall-back provision, to be used only if necessary, to cap rate increases for all local authorities.
I remind the House of some of the facts. Until 1979–80, the increase in local government current spending was relentless and had been at the expense of the ratepayer, both domestic and business, and of capital spending by local authorities. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Gorton will bear in mind that, although there was much talk by the Labour party during the election campaign about increasing public capital spending, when a Labour Government were in office between 1974 and 1979 and the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister capital spending by local authorities in England fell by about half in real terms while current spending continued to increase.
Since 1979 the Government have given high priority to checking and reversing that trend, and our policies have met with some success. From 1979–80 the volume of current spending began to move down instead of up, and the great majority of authorities are making valiant efforts to comply with the Government's guidelines. There has also been a significant reduction in local authority manpower.
However, as every hon. Member will have heard during the election campaign, rates have continued to rise faster than incomes and have led to bitter criticism. Although expenditure is down, it has not yet gone down far enough. More important, our policies have been deliberately frustrated by a small number of high-spending, high-rating, extravagant authorities and, despite all our efforts, they have been determined to spend money regardless of the impact on ratepayers and jobs. My hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green and Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) referred to that.
In the current year, 1983–84, four fifths of English local authorities have budgets at or close to the target figures, but in total there is a prospective substantial overspend. Half of it is due to the wildly extravagant budgets of the ILEA and the GLC and most of the rest is due to a small number of other Labour authorities.
Let me spell out the facts. On average, domestic rates have increased this year by 7 per cent. That is well ahead of the cost of but the increase would have been nil if only 18 high-spending authorities—every one Labour-controlled— had budgeted to keep within their targets.
Like many hon. Members, I have been a member of a local authority, and I attach great importance to the principles of local democracy on which our local government system has been based for many years. However, for all those years there was a convention that, although local authorities were free to spend and rate in ways that reflected their own needs and circumstances, they did so broadly in conformity with the total spending guidelines laid down by central Government.
The Government are accountable to the House for the totality of public spending. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is answerable at the Dispatch Box and is also responsible for the overall management of the economy.
We have reluctantly come to the conclusion that more direct action is needed to set a limit on rate increases by high-spending councils. The legislation is essential to protect ratepayers, both householders and businesses.
The public disquiet about the level of rates, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green spoke so eloquently, is not confined to the few extravagant councils. Every hon. Member knows that that concern goes much wider, and it is a concern that the Government cannot ignore.
Ratepayers turn to us for protection. They turn to their Members of Parliament and to the Government. We hope that we shall never have to use such powers, but we believe that we must ask the House to give the Government a fallback power to put a cap on rate increases imposed by local authorities generally. I know that many in local government will find this difficult to take, but I must tell them that the rising anger of ratepayers throughout the country makes such a fall-back power a political imperative.
If authorities are prepared to budget responsibly and sensibly, the power need never be used. Before it could be used, we would have to return to the House for express authority.
Before introducing such a Bill I want widely to consult local authorities and others. I therefore told the local authority associations, nearly all of which I have now seen, that it is our intention to publish a White Paper on rating limitation. I hope that we shall be able to do that before the end of July. If the House rises before the end of that month, I cannot guarantee to publish it while the House is still sitting. We shall then introduce a Bill early in the new year so that the selective system can apply to the rates to be set for 1985–86.
We are ready to listen to the views of local authorities and others on the details of our proposals, but I have made it clear to the associations that our commitment is firm both for the selective and for the general scheme.
We propose a number of rate reforms that are designed to make local authorities more accountable to ratepayers and to offer some relief to hard-pressed business ratepayers. We shall propose a statutory duty on local authorities to consult representatives of non-domestic ratepayers before setting their rates. We propose to require each main precepting and rating authority to provide a separate statement to each ratepayer annually.
We propose that council tenants, who generally pay their rates with their rents, should receive each year a separate notice spelling out what rates they are being charged. We propose to help non-domestic ratepayers by raising the rate levels below which a business ratepayer can pay by instalments. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire that we propose to stop the rating of empty industrial buildings. Although the Bill cannot apply before the 1985–86 rating year, we are considering reducing the present 50 per cent. maximum to a lower percentage from next April.
It is rubbish to suggest that local government is any less democratic if it follows the convention that applied for years in respect of its total spending.
We propose to simplify the structure of local government in London and in the areas covered by the metropolitan county councils. There has been increasing criticism of the two-tier system. There has been growing support — when I heard the right hon. Member for Gorton speaking in a television interview during the election campaign I thought that he might be part of it, although he was extremely coy—for the contention that the upper tier of government in these areas is an extravagant way of providing services which can be exercised by individual boroughs in London and by the district councils in the metropolitan areas. I am grateful for the support of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir. I. Percival) and my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham and for Bournemouth, East.
In the upper tier areas the great majority of services are already provided by the boroughs or districts, unlike the counties, which are responsible for 80 per cent of local government spending. In the metropolitan counties they spend only 23 per cent. of total expenditure while the GLC, excluding ILEA, spends only 12 per cent. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Gorton has taken account of the changes since, for example, the GLC was established. Housing responsibilities, for instance, have gone to the boroughs while sewerage and sewage disposal responsibilities have gone to the Thames water authority. The ambulance service has gone to the regional health authority. Under the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, public transport responsibility will go to a new London transport authority. Many of the minor functions of the GLC are already taken and exercised in parallel with the boroughs, the metropolitan counties and the districts. This is a frequent source of discord, delay and extra expense.
I assure my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport that our intention to implement our election pledge will be carried out. The upper tier authorities are superfluous and should be abolished. Their functions can be more economically, effectively and efficiently discharged by the individual boroughs or districts, and, in the few cases where functions must be exercised over a wider area, they could be more simply administered by joint boards. Those joint boards will consist of elected members of the boroughs or districts nominated by those authorities.
We must make arrangements for magistrates to be members of police authorities.
Education in inner London is best provided by a single authority, and there is no proposal to break up the Inner London Education Authority. Instead, we shall replace it with a joint board composed of elected representatives of the inner London boroughs and the City. Since that joint board would be precepting directly on its London boroughs, and the councillors in the boroughs will decide on the precept, there will be a stronger incentive to budget economically, which does not happen at present.
We shall consult widely with those affected, including staff, before legislation is introduced, and the timetable will be rather slower than that for rate limitation. At some time in the autumn we shall publish a White Paper setting out our proposals in detail, after which there will be time for consultation. I aim to have a Bill ready for introduction at the start of the next Session of Parliament. If the House accepts it, the changeover could take place on 1 April 1986.
I assure the House that we shall consult the staff in the authorities concerned, and we are determined that the changes will take place without an increase in staffing and without some of the major salary increases that took place last time. We wish to have a reduction in staff numbers, but I assure the House that pensions will be fully safeguarded. We realise that this will be a period of some turbulence in local government, but we do not intend that the creditworthiness of the authorities should be affected. The authorities that are to be abolished will retain full access to borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, and we shall make arrangements for the continued administration of the debt that remains outstanding at abolition.
I recognise, too, that our policies will be subject to debate both in individual councils and in local government generally, and no doubt there will be tensions and difficulties. We have already heard that local government associations may split because of differences of view within them. However, I hope that everyone in local government will recognise the Government's right to propose, and Parliament's right to decide, changes in the structure of local government. I hope also that the dialogue that is essential between local and central Government can be carried on as before, using the consultative machinery that represents all shades of political opinion and which has served us well for many years.
The changes command widespread public support. Although we are ready to listen to reasonable suggestions about the details, the main thrust of our proposals is clear and will be carried out. We have a firm manifesto commitment to fairer local taxation, to protecting ratepayers from unreasonable rate demands and to eliminating unnecessary and costly bureaucracy.
When we bring the Bills before the House, we shall ask the House to support them. They form an important part of the Government's programme as spelt out in the Gracious Speech. We believe that the Gracious Speech represents a worthwhile, workmanlike programme for the first Session of this new Parliament. I know that many of my hon. Friends will wish to express their views on the legislation when it goes through the House, but I have no doubt that when we legislate for this we shall have the overwhelming support not only—
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Neubert.]