Public Expenditure

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 9:03 pm on 15th May 1991.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East 9:03 pm, 15th May 1991

I sat through several hours of debate on the Football Spectators Bill. One of the problems that we faced was to find a definition of "hooligan". Those of us who sat through the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) today were given a prime example of hooligan behaviour. The words and actions of Conservative Members were the words and actions of hooligans. The reason for such behaviour is simply that the Conservative Government are coming to the end of their time. These are the last few months of an Administration who have run into a great crisis and have run out of ideas. The Conservative party changed its leader and, therefore, the Prime Minister, but it retained all its policies—policies that have destroyed the lives of many thousands of my constituents in Leicester.

I want to speak very briefly about a number of aspects of the Government's public expenditure programme. I make no apology for saying that public expenditure should be increased in certain areas of Government policy. One such area is policing. Leicestershire has the worst crime record in the country. That is not because of lack of activity by the police. Indeed, I pay tribute to the work of the chief constable, Michael Hirst, and his officers. The reason for the lack of person power to police Leicestershire properly is that, despite the pleas from both sides of the House—pleas to Ministers during debates, and at meetings with Ministers, the most recent of which was with Lord Ferrers—the Government still refuse to provide the county with the police officers that it needs so desperately. As a result, the crime rate has escalated.

Only two weeks ago we asked that the Government make provision for the construction of the new police station on the Hamilton estate. We pointed out the dire need for a new divisional headquarters in the eastern part of the city.

The Government's response was that there is not enough money. They would not even look at the scheme until 1994–95. Residents of the outer estates of Leicester —places like Thurnby Lodge, Nether Hall and Northfields —complain about the high level of vandalism. This cannot be curbed without greater public expenditure, and that means greater expenditure by the Government.

Only this week we received the welcome news that Leicester City football club has remained in the second division. Yet the manager and chairman of the club say that they do not know how much longer they can remain solvent while they have to meet the huge cost of policing their matches. There is a need for increased Government expenditure to help clubs like Leicester and others that are not fortunate enough to have big gates.

As hon. Members know, Leicester is the centre of the footwear and textile industries. In 1979 those vital industries employed 440,000 people; by 1990, according to the Government's own figures, the number was down to 233,000—a loss of more than 207,000. That has had a tremendous effect locally. It has affected not only the people who have lost their jobs but the families of those people. The Government's plans contain no proposals to help those two industries. There is no incentive to invest. Every week we hear about another textile or footwear firm that is suffering because of the Government's policy of high interest rates.

Later tonight we shall have a debate about education. Recently I did a survey of schools in my constituency. If one adds together the number of years those schools have been waiting for repairs, one gets a total of 200. Schools, such as Abbey school—whether in the inner city or on the outer estates—need resources to get rid of some of the 60 mobile classrooms currently in use.

The same applies to the crisis in housing. Over the past 10 years Leicester city council has been robbed of £20 million of Government support for its housing programme. It cannot build any more houses. It is not allowed to spend for that purpose the money that it raises from the sale of council houses. As a result, I and other local Members of Parliament, at our surgeries every week, meet young couples in a state of great anxiety because they are unable to secure the housing that they need so desperately. That is not the fault of the city council, which works hard to ensure that transfers are effected as quickly as possible, and there is no question of a vast number of properties remaining empty. The reason why additional housing cannot be provided, and why so many people in the outer areas cannot obtain transfers, is that not enough money is spent by central Government.

There is so much more that I should like to say. There needs to be greater expenditure on the health service, and I want to know when the Government will impose surcharges on those Ministers who initiated the poll tax. If that had been done by local government, legislation would have been rushed through the House to surcharge the councillors responsible.

In the few moments left to me, I make a special plea on behalf of nuclear test veterans. As the House knows, a constituent of mine, John Hall, is dying of leukaemia—which he contracted while serving on Christmas Island. I have met the Prime Minister and other Ministers, and recently launched an appeal in Leicestershire to support John Hall and other nuclear veterans. I believe that some money could be found in the Government's programme to pay compensation to people such as John Hall.

By this time tomorrow, the Monmouth by-election will have been decided. I predict that Labour will take Monmouth, and it will do so because the people of Monmouth are fed up with the Government. My plea today is that the people of Leicester and the rest of the country should be given the same chance to pass their verdict on this, the most disastrous of Governments.