I beg to move,
That this House notes the widespread discontent with the inadequacies of local government services in parts of Britain, particularly in many inner city areas, as demonstrated by piles of rubbish in the streets of Liverpool and the promotion of eccentric minority interests such as 'gay' advice centres and nuclear-free zones; notes that a number of councils have not collected outstanding domestic rates and have barely started their community charge collection; further notes that this civic disarray is confined to councils controlled by Labour and their allies; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to save the residents of these boroughs by insisting on value-for-money, appropriate competitive tendering and rigorous controls on overspending.
I hope that my hon. Friends will feel that on this occasion I have at least been able to introduce a timely subject, having regard to recent press reports on certain local councils. It was originally my intention to talk especially about rate support grants, local government finance Acts, rating and valuation Acts, and so on. We could have had a detailed debate on those issues. We could almost have taken them clause by clause and in such a way as to suggest that the Mace ought to be under rather than on the Table.
As we have not examined the role of local government for so many years, I hope that my hon. Friends will not be too tempted to detail the activities of individual councils, although that must be very tempting when we see who is here this morning. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) may feel tempted during the debate to mention Derbyshire council's record. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) is very close to the scene in Liverpool. If he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is possible that the word "Liverpool" will cross his lips. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), who has such detailed knowledge of the loonier London councils, may find that the word "Hackney" just drops from his lips between now and some time later this morning.
My hon. Friend is being grossly unfair to many Labour London councils. If I were to mention only Hackney, a whole bunch of lunatics would feel grossly insulted that they had been left out of the list.
My hon. Friend is probably right. I merely say, however, that I want this to be as productive a debate as possible, in which we examine the full role of local councils—principally as enablers rather than as providers. If, however, my hon. Friend feels that in London there are other examples besides Hackney where they have not got things entirely right, I hope that he will feel free, subject to catching your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to mention them—and even, perhaps, to mention them by name.
I can hardly say that the Opposition Benches are packed this morning, but unless some Opposition Member wants to admit to it now, I do not believe that the Militant Tendency wing of the Labour party is represented here this morning. There is one potential candidate, but he is busy reading the Orders of the Day, so I do not think that he is claiming to be a member of Militant Tendency.
I could send the hon. Gentleman a copy of a pamphlet that I wrote a few years ago called "The Public Face of Militant", which was an analysis and critique of its politics. It criticised them strongly and suggested a socialist alternative. The hon. Gentleman should be clear about the politics of Opposition Members. Despite the fact that there are some things of value in the Militant analysis, there are mistakes in the way that its ideas are presented. We could have a full debate on those issues, but that would reduce the time available for the motion before us today.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making his position clear and for confirming that there are only some things of value undertaken by the Militant Tendency. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's socialist purity is shown by the vivid red colour of his tie. I hope that, while criticising his hon. Friends who are members of the Militant Tendency, he is also criticising them for not being here today. I understand that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) is unable to take part in the forthcoming by-election in Liverpool, Walton.
My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) asks why. A Back Bencher is a very busy person. The by-election will last for only about three weeks, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Broadgreen has many demands on his time. I thought—and perhaps my hon. Friend also thought—that Liverpool, Broadgreen and Liverpool, Walton were some distance apart. I looked at a map of Liverpool and found that they are adjoining constituencies, so the hon. Member for Broadgreen must be a very busy man indeed.
Suffice it to say that the subject of "corpy land" will come to the fore in this debate. "Corpy" rhymes with "Gorby" and both try to look after people from womb to tomb. I read with interest an article by Mr. Ronald Faux in The Times this morning. He said that "Liverpool had a red letter day yesterday—it had a visit from the shadow Environment spokesman, our friend, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), whose view of Liverpool is rather different from most. The article reports the hon. Member for Dagenham as saying
that Liverpool had been ill-served by the Tory government as the city struggled with a legacy of a Militant-dominated council that had allowed problems in the city to fester.
So it is not the moderate or the real Labour party, but the Tory Government, who are to blame. That is one point of view but I shall draw attention to a few comments made by Mr. Keva Coombes and others who were formerly in power for the Militant Tendency in Liverpool. Unlike the hon. Member for Dagenham, even they no longer suggest that Liverpool's ills stem from a Tory Government
I rise in sorrow rather than in anger, having represented the constituency of Liverpool, Wavertree from 1974 to 1983. I was the only Conservative Member of Parliament for Liverpool at that time. I am a tremendous admirer of the Liverpudlian. He has a wonderful sense of humour; he is generous, loyal, supportive, innovatory and enterprising. However, despite this Government having pumped more public money into Liverpool than any previous Government have done, the Liverpudlian has been misled by his leaders.
They have followed extremism, Militant Tendency and militant trade unionism in the belief that that would provide salvation, instead of pursuing capitalism and private enterprise, and instead of giving the Government, who have given them so much money, an opportunity to make progress. Does not my hon. Friend deeply regret that the decent, working-class Liverpudlian has been so badly misled by the left wing and by Militant Tendency, when he could make progress along the lines suggested by the Government?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose record as the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, Wavertree—as I believe the constituency was called before reorganisation—was remarkable. I am sure that he looked after his constituents well in what was at that time already a fairly difficult area, thanks to the local council's activities. That is proof of what we have always suspected. We believe that, if we are to attract people's votes, people must feel well off and prosperous, but in a Labour-controlled area the reality is different.
I have not been to Liverpool, Walton, but I believe that the theory must be to weld together all the various factions and self-interest groups so that, in the end, everyone relies on the corporation for a job or a house. Unless one is proved to be a committed supporter of Militant or of the Labour party—they are the same thing—one will not get very far. Everyone is sucked into the system, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) for confirmation that that is so.
That leads me to my next point. The Roman Catholic archbishop and our own Bishop of Liverpool were tempted to say yesterday:
We are convinced the present confrontational tactics can achieve only civic chaos and widespread hardship.
In fact, the matter could be cleared up relatively easily.
One of the most pressing problems at the moment is that of uncollected rubbish.
The Labour party's Front-Bench spokesman says that we get it here, and I acknowledge that Labour are experts on rubbish. I understand that, three weeks ago, the few Conservatives on Liverpool city council moved a motion to allow private companies to be brought in to take away the rubbish. That motion received no support from the Labour party, from Militant or from the moderates.
The hon. Gentleman says that it did. All right, we shall leave out any more suggested parties, but I do not see the same nodding from Labour's Front-Bench spokesman. Why did the council not call in a private firm to clear the rubbish three weeks ago? I am sure that we shall find out when the the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) speaks later.
At the moment, the 450 council dustmen are, if not on strike, not doing too much. In fact, I suggest that, to judge from the size of the piles of rubbish, one would have a job to tell whether they were on strike or not. However, help is at hand.
The article in The Times stated:
UK Waste Control was prepared to interview anyone looking for a job and"—
this is a novel suggestion for the area
would employ them on their merits.
However, it would not take on all 450 council dustmen even though they do not work very much, because it would need only 250 dustmen to provide the city with a good weekly collection service.
UK Waste Control realises that in the 1990s it is not necessary to recognise trade unions, but said that it would not discriminate against workers who were union members. Perhaps it has the old-fashioned notion that workers are interested in the wages that they will receive, and the 250 workers will be able to share between them the same wages—or similar—as those of the 450 workers.
I had not intended to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's speech because, as he knows, I have only just entered the Chamber, and I apologise for interrupting. However, from what I have heard, the hon. Gentleman's facts are wrong so I can only assume that the earlier part of his speech was equally incorrect. The fact is that half the work force will be employed, and I understand that it will receive a reduction, not an increase, in wages.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for just walking in. The hon. Gentleman will be flattered when I tell him that I wish to quote him at some length because he makes his point as a result of his considerable experience in London and especially through his proposals for a greater London authority. We note his view that dustmen, and presumably everyone else, should be paid according to his social dimension, rather than according to the price that they can readily command. We note especially that he has no fear that having 450 dustmen to do the jobs that 250 could readily do poses any great problem for the modern-day socialist party led by the great economist, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), who says that Labour must learn to run capitalism better than the Conservatives do. Labour could make a start by not employing 450 dustmen when only 250 are required.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) plainly supports the system that was in place in Liverpool until the council meeting on Wednesday. Let us be clear what that system is, which the Labour party supports. It was a system in which, quite corruptly, job nominations were given to the unions in the full knowledge that those unions were completely dominated by Militant. People were given jobs by the trade unions—not on merit and not on job application, but through direct placement by unions. Four years ago, the so-called "moderate" Labour party took over Liverpool, but that system is still in place. Labour left it there and knows that it is corrupt, but did not do anything about it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely and characteristically right. This may be the time to draw the attention of the House to an excellent article in The Sunday Express of 16 June. It is headed: "Focus on a Sick City", and says:
Rotting Borough. Liverpool's Labour-run council is the worst in history".
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South may have something to say about that. Certainly Liverpool is among the worst councils. In the article, Mr. Bruce Anderson says:
During most of the past two decades, the Labour party has run Liverpool.
That is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West.
The article continues:
For a time, the Militant Tendency effectively controlled the city's Labour Party and therefore the city's government, but in recent years the so-called moderates have reasserted themselves. That has made no difference to Liverpool.
That is absolutely right. Is the situation in Liverpool now any different from that of 1979?
My hon. Friend says that it is worse, but it must be a close thing. I agree with all the excellent article by Mr. Anderson—except one point. He says:
If Militant had their way Liverpool would quickly resemble Albania.
That is not fair to Albania, because in the past week or two, the ruling Albanian Labour party has had a three-day congress. The subject of the congress was to debate whether to change the name from the Labour party to the Socialist party. That is making rapid progress and will leave that lot on the Opposition Benches as by far the most left-wing party in Europe.
The hon. Member for Broadgreen is not here to advise us on Militant Tendency. I regret that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is also not here. They were here yesterday during Business Questions, when I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—this is no criticism—to use his endeavours to see that one of them was here. The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East would have been so helpful this morning. We could have heard a few emollient words from him, drawing on his experience as industrial relations officer with the Alvis car company. That makes me grateful that I never bought an Alvis car, and I am not in the least surprised that Alvis went bust.
Does my hon. Friend think that the absence of the two illustrious Members is accounted for by the fact that they have taken their place at the front of the massing crowds for the victory parade today after the gallantry of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians in the Gulf war?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In view of his comment, I am tempted to suggest that someone goes out to see whether that is true. Having regard for the number of hon. Members on the Benches this morning, I think that we had better rely on press reports in due course. There were enough who dissented in the voting Lobbies to show us that neither the hon. Members for Broadgreen and for Coventry, South-East, nor 52 or 53 of their colleagues are likely to be interested in military victory in the Gulf area.
Does my hon. Friend consider that there is any significance in the fact that today, not a single Labour Member for the city of Liverpool is present for a debate on Liverpool? May not it reflect their sheer embarrassment that Labour government in action is being paraded? They would rather keep a low profile and keep the Liverpool Labour government unexposed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. I do not entirely agree with him that it is a disgrace that none of the Liverpool Members is here this morning. I have every confidence that, when we read the Monday morning papers, we shall find that they suddenly realised the enormity of the problems of Liverpool and will be pictured with shovels in their hands helping to clear the rubbish away from the streets of Liverpool. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestion, but I believe that the reason that I have given is the only reason why Liverpool Members could not be present for our debate.
I should hate the debate to be conducted along what might be termed party political lines, and I want especially to mention the rating and valuation Acts. I leave it to my hon. Friends to make political points about individual Labour councils.
One of the most important aims at present is to control inflation. Some £1 in every £4 is now spent by local authorities. Neither this Government nor any other would have the slightest chance of controlling inflation unless they had some control over expenditure by local councils. For 40 or 50 years, we have not looked at the real role of local authorities—what they should provide in goods and services and what they should not provide. In 1946 and 1947, with hundreds of thousands of troops coming back from the war, it was necessary to have a crash building exercise. The laws of supply and demand were so separate then that even a certain amount of Government planning was necessary to meet the demand. Large council estates were built.
For the next 30 years, no one questioned whether councils should be not only the enablers of Governrnent legislation, but the providers of such houses. There were Parker Morris standards, under which a family of two was entitled to 802 sq ft of accommodation. If there were three people, it might be 846 sq ft. It was incumbent on the local council to tell people precisely what colour the front door should be. There was no question of trusting the people to make the really big decisions that affected their lives. None of that has been questioned.
We have had debate after debate about finding some popular form of tax. The reality is that people pay taxes in sorrow and rates in anger. Whatever, form of rates, council tax or community charge that we come up with, there will be people who are not happy because they have been losers. It is time that we addressed not only the way in which councils are financed, but the role that we expect them to play.
Was my hon. Friend here in the past few days? If so, he would have heard the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) say that a Labour Government would not cap any local authority unless fraud was involved. Does not that mean that the Government's announcement yesterday about the potential £35 billion overspill in spending was a gross underestimate because they did not include the environmental increases that would result from a return to the rating system?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The sayings of the hon. Member for Dagenham never cease to mystify me, although I would not wish the hon. Gentleman to know what an interest I take in them in case he should consider it a form of flattery. Having consulted the hon. Gentleman's collected works, I can only come up with one suggestion, although I should first point out that I have relatives in New Zealand and Australia. It can only be the fact that the hon. Gentleman was born down under that enables him to turn the truth on its head with such ease.
I was saying that local councils need to be enablers and not providers. We have debated the various methods of funding local authorities but not what we expect them to do. I look forward to hearing the Minister's speech in due course. I know that he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be considering not only the financing of local authorities but the paper recently published on the structure of local authorities. I ask them please not to lose sight of what we expect authorities to do. When local authorities are providers rather than enablers, they are always monopoly providers. That means socialism, and socialism means queues, as exemplified in the case of Liverpool—but I leave it to my hon. Friends to talk about Liverpool.
I am fortunate to represent a most attractive part of the country. There is some lovely countryside around Stroud. I have considerable respect for the vast majority of councillors and council officers at Stroud and it saddens me when they come in for criticism. When they do, it is always for the same reason: it is when they decide to be providers as well as enablers. It is because of that that they are permanently short of money. There is always a reason why they need more money. I examined the council's spending record this morning, and I have to say, that, even in Stroud—which is no Liverpool, thank heavens—the district council has trebled its spending in nine years, while Gloucestershire county council has doubled its expenditure in five years. That is a substantial increase. I repeat that, now that £1 in every £4 throughout the country is spent by local authorities, we must consider the matter very carefully if we are to control inflation.
Criticism of the council saddens me because I believe that the vast majority of councillors and council officers at Stroud and in the shire hall at Gloucester do their very best —although one or two Green councillors occasionally do silly things such as debating until 2 am whether a local park should be called Chico Mendes park. I wonder why no one asks what is the cost to the charge payer of the full council, with all its officers present, meeting until 2 am. That is something that local newspapers could well take up and question.
The hon. Gentleman is making a critical point about Stroud council and the cost of holding council meetings. Has he considered what is the cost of our all being here today to hear the debate that he has initiated? I suggest that it would keep Stroud in council meetings from now until the end of the decade.
The hon. Gentleman was on his feet within a few seconds of walking into the Chamber and there is no doubt that any shortlist of those who detain the House most often would include him. I remember only one brief speech from the hon. Gentleman, which was when he walked in one day and said, "We need a revolution"—a statement that appeared in the day's headlines. I do not know whether he meant that we needed a revolution in the whole country or just in Liverpool. We may be a little wiser if the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, although personally I doubt it.
As the only hon. Member present who represents a constituency in the north-east of England, may I ask the House to note the dedication of the man who was shot and killed yesterday while carrying out his work for his local authority—albeit a Labour-controlled authority? It would be nice if the House took note of that, and I should be grateful if the Minister took it on board.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Those of us who watched the news simply could not believe that that was happening in this country, and our thoughts are very much with that man's family.
Before I was so rudely interrupted by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, I was criticising not my council, as the council officers and the majority of councillors have the best needs of the area at heart, but two or three Green councillors who thought it necessary to debate the subject of Chico Mendes. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West will remember well who Chico Mendes was, although, happily, many of us do not.
The hon. Gentleman says that he was another man who gave his life for a good cause.
Problems with councils arise time after time. In the past day or two, I have read extensively in the Library and have consulted the debates in 1979, when the last Labour Government were going under. At that time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) initiated an Adjournment debate on why it was necessary to have direct labour organisations. If councils seek to be both providers and enablers, their enabling function must involve putting services out to tender, and that process is not very convincing if one of the groups of people who are tendering has a direct interest with the local authority.
On the shortlist of services that should not be permitted to be run by any council are leisure centres, which seem to soak up money at a rate of knots. For the life of me, I cannot see why local councils need to run car parks and shopping malls. If my hon. Friends or I decide that we want to invest in a shopping mall, it should be our decision, subject to negotiations with our bank managers. If we make a wrong decision, it is our fault. But when local councils go into property development and make a bish of things, they merely send the bill to the community charge payer, which is just not good enough.
Having taken the Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) Bill through the House the other night, I am used to references to the council of Lloyd's. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, have been generous in allowing a wide-ranging debate and I realise that wide-ranging speeches can be taken in a number of ways, but the debate would need to be very wide ranging for the hon. Gentleman to bring in the council of Lloyd's. Perhaps he thinks that rather than being self regulating, that, too, should be brought within the ambit of a council, in which case the hon. Member for Newham, North-West will make the case for him, albeit not very well.
As my hon. Friend says, the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) made an eloquent speech on the subject in the Finance Bill Committee. If the hon. Member for Normanton has strong feelings about it, I suggest that he reads that speech, because everyone tells me that it was excellent. As I said, I have a direct interest in the matter, so I do not especially wish to know what the hon. Gentleman said. I see that the hon. Member for Normanton is nodding. I suspect that he has already read that speech, in which case I do not understand his intervention.
My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) made yet another pledge on behalf of the Labour party. He proposed to spend more than £50 million on bailing out rich people who had put their money into Lloyd's and accepted the risk. It was very interesting—
The motion is wide-ranging, but the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) has just made it even wider. We must now return to the matter before us.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, although I would not put it past the Labour party to think of the corporation of Lloyd's as an essential feature of local government provision. I accept your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Normanton for his intervention. I am fortunate that, in Stroud, we have committed councillors and council officers. Many people want to come to live in the Cotswolds. I wish that I could say the same about other areas.
The right hon. Member for Islwyn is trying hard to get people to believe that Militant now suddenly is one party, and that the Labour party is another. In particular, he want us to believe that about Liverpool. In past months, when the headlines were different, he would have had us believe it about London—that all bad councils were under the separate Militant influence. The right hon. Gentleman may wish to ponder a few facts.
I wonder whether hon. Members remember Linda Bellos, the former leader of Lambeth council. I was surprised to find that, in a speech at Brunel university, she admitted that the people in Lambeth had been
failed by the education system, failed by the anachronistic rating system, and, yes, failed by municipal housing.
I expect that that will come as news to Labour Members. Ms. Bellos also commented on education:
The dozen education authorities with the worst GCSE results in maths and English are all Labour-controlled.
On housing, she said:
The twenty authorities with the worst rent arrears are all Labour-controlled.
All that was best summarised by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who said:
If you have a council that is as monumentally incompetent as Brent's been in the last few years, it rightly gets a major vote of censure from the public.
Referring to Camden and Haringey, he said:
I think that people running things now are just like the Vichy regime in France under the Nazis.
That is a nice statement from the Labour party.
Just in case anyone thinks that the hon. Gentleman was not correct, the Queen's counsel report on Islington council stated:
Having the cash office staffed by the innumerate, the filing done by the dyslexic and disorganised, and reception by the surly or charmless seems to us a recipe for administrative chaos.
That has been the position in London for some years.
Do not the examples quoted by my hon. Friend prove the truth of his earlier point about monopoly service provision? When Labour councillors become obsessed with playing politics and chasing their loony left ideas, they take their eye off the real reason why they are there—which is to deliver services. They can get away with that because of the monopoly provision that they enjoy. They play at their politics and could not care less about local people.
My hon. Friend makes his point exceptionally well. Any sensible person will realise that monopolies are bad, yet there has never been a speech from Labour Members admitting that—at least, not while they have been in office. That is why I chose the comments of the hon. Member for Brent, East. Once he had left office as leader of the former Greater London council, he proved that he had always known precisely what had been happening.
I hope that someone will follow up the criticism currently levelled at Lambeth, where head teachers are to make an unprecedented appeal to the Government to intervene in the running of the education system in that borough.
I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to contribute to the debate, but I want briefly to make a few points about Labour reform. I shall deal first with London. The Evening Standard said about Londoners:
They have suffered too long under loony-Left councils that charge record poll tax bills and then leave the streets unswept and the schools unstaffed while wasting millions on corruption, excessive expenses, inefficiency, waste, equal-opportunities, thought-police and lesbian and gay raffia-work co-operatives.
Is it any wonder that I am confused between London and Liverpool? That quotation is apposite to both.
It was not until I saw the ranking of authorities by percentage of vacant dwellings that I realised that I had to say something about Liverpool. At 8·1 per cent., its percentage of vacant dwellings is well ahead of anywhere else in the country. The council is a complete shambles. The right hon. Member for Islwyn says that it is not the fault of the Labour party—it is the fault of Militant. Of course, he did not always say that. The Sunday Times may
have quoted him saying that last Sunday, but it has not always been the case. Back in 1981, the right hon. Gentleman said:
The Labour Party needs to be more left wing than it's ever been before.
By 1983, he was saying that:
people over emphasise the Militant danger.
By 1985, it was:
I am deeply antagonistic towards Militant. I want nothing to do with it. I want them out of the Labour party … we shall act very toughly.
Avid followers of the right hon. Gentleman's quotations will appreciate why I have found it necessary to precis some of his remarks.
By 1990, the right hon. Gentleman made one very direct remark—that
there is no room for them"—
that is, Militant—
in this Party.
He did not think then that Militant was a separate organisation. Is the lady who is standing under the title of the "Real Labour Party" really separate from the Labour party?
Indeed, she was not even five weeks ago.
We have plenty of information about Militant. I am grateful to the 103 colleagues who signed early-day motion 992, which condemns the so-called moderate Labour party for its record in Liverpool. My only criticism is that the early-day motion states that:
the two Labour parties bicker about who is to blame.
There are not two Labour parties—Militant is part and parcel of the Labour party. Labour and its Militant wing are responsible for the terrible records on housing, education, ethnic groups and so on.
Councillor Keva Coombes—it it Mr. or Mrs?—[Hots. MEMBERS: "M r."] It is Mr. Keva Coombes. Apparently, he was a prominent Labour man. He has admitted that the council fiddled the figures to ensure that its work force, rather than a private sector company, won a contract put out to compulsory tender. The present leader of the council said:
We know we are over-staffed. We know we are inefficient.
According to Mr. Coombes, Liverpool's last major management report was made in 1965:
It took us twenty-one years to implement and even then we didn't do it all.
The council bought a very fancy computer, but nobody knows how to work it. I therefore do agree that for them actually to privatise a certain part of their business—and I say business instead of local government—is excellent news.
The council is now to arrange for its rubbish to be cleared by a private firm, at a fraction of the usual cost, yet only three weeks ago not a single Labour councillor would support such a motion. That is a great step forward, although I imagine that it sticks in the craw of Labour Members.
Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that it is rather sad that the private company that will do that work is French? The implication canvassed in the Liverpool newspapers is that no local company would dare to take the contract for fear of intimidation by the trade unionists in the city.
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point.
As I said earlier, I do not believe that councils should any longer be providers rather than enablers. Part of the business of enablers is to put contracts out to tender, but who would go to the bother of tendering—which can be both expensive and time-consuming—when they suspect that the contract is already sewn up by people who live in some annex of the city council offices? That has happened for far too long. I read out the admission by Councillor Coombes that the council fiddled the figures to ensure that its work force won the contract. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South was right to point out that people may tolerate that one, two or even three times, but they will not be fooled for ever. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.
Liverpool is a ghastly socialist mess. The aim of politics is to produce not problems but solutions. That is why I was in the Library for so long this week—reading the fascinating debates in 1979 about strike after strike throughout the country. Along came Lord Callaghan, who said, "Crisis? What crisis?" People did not appreciate his remark, or his sun tan.
People under 35 do not remember socialism. They do not remember when the unions were constantly on strike or 1979, when hospital porters decided whether a person was really ill and would have an operation. They do not remember when dock committees decided whether commodities were perishable and therefore whether they would be given permission to be unloaded.
I have listened courteously and carefully to my hon. Friend's comments about Liverpool. Much of what he said about the Liverpool branch of the Labour party is entirely correct, but Liverpool has never been finished off and will not be finished off while I have anything to do with it.
My hon. Friend is right. There is nothing wrong. There is nothing different about Liverpool, except that it is in the stranglehold of socialism and monopoly public provision.
I agree that Liverpool is definitely not finished. The hon. Gentleman referred to the port. Does he know the figures? Liverpool port, which is in my area of Sefton, trebled its profits over the past three years. I agree that the dock labour scheme was probably one of the solutions. Should not the hon. Gentleman be saying what a good job the Liverpool docks are doing?
Indeed. The Government have introduced many excellent financial and legislative initiatives to ensure that one day Liverpool will overcome the Militant Labour menace. I think that the hon. Gentleman could agree with that.
Just in case people re-elect Militant, I suggest that there is a way forward. I have one solution: we could make Liverpool into a holiday area. People under 35 and, for that matter, those who are older who need to be reminded what it is like in a socialist area may be interested in visiting it as a living museum to socialism. At one stage, I had hopes for Albania, but the Albanians are changing their ways.
I wonder whether Trusthouse Forte could be prevailed upon to offer hotel accommodation—two days of dinner, bed and breakfast and a tour of "corpy land", carefully landscaped with mountains of rubbish and teeming with wildlife. Of course, the package would have to be provided at a preferential rate because when one goes to Liverpool, Walton in "corpy land", one is subject to "out-of-pocket" expenses. When a contract says, "Subject to availability", it means, "In the unlikely event that no one is on strike." The reality is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford says, that socialism is brain dead and only the odd limb still twitches. The odd limb is still twitching in Liverpool, and it is time it was cut off.
We have heard quite a lot about Liverpool, about which I may speak as well, but we are talking about local government services. I have much sympathy with the motion, although not all of it appeals to me. Some people believe that local government is simply a system of services. Some believe that local government services should be those involving no significant national interest. I reject that view. We believe that local government's role is and must remain deep seated.
It is essential in the negotiations to have liaison and communication between local government and national Government. Since 1986, there does not appear to have been much negotiation or co-operation between the two, probably because of the intervention of the notorious poll tax. The rift became clear when the poll tax came on the scene. I am pleased that lately there has been a truce. The Prime Minister met members of organisations and associations representing local government, and I sincerely hope that from now on there will be the co-operation to which I have looked forward.
It is a pity that the poll tax came on the scene. It was a crippling blow to local government, and will remain so for at least the next 18 months to two years. It means that local authorities have to withstand the effect of £800 million in total on their budgets—that is according to Audit Commission figures, not figures that anyone has cooked up. There is a widening gulf between local government and national Government because of the poll tax. The sooner the poll tax is out of the way, the sooner local government budgets can operate effectively.
We should not at this stage speak about capping. When we think of it, we think of extra burdens on the poll tax payer, or on the ratepayer of the distant past. Figures cited in a debate the other day showed that Liverpool people were having to pay £79 more because of non-payment of the poll tax. In Bootle, because of non-payers, £31 has been added to the bills of people who pay regularly. The authority should get rid of that imposition as soon as possible.
I used to be a banker—
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point —for the second time. Recently, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) conceded to me in a debate that in no circumstances would a Liberal Democrat Government impose capping on local authorities. For the second time, I ask the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) how he can complain about impositions on local taxpayers when his party has pledged to have no capping structure?
I do not believe that we would ever cap an authority. Capping is an imposition on people. It depends whom the people elect. They have great choice about whom to elect, and capping is no doubt a factor when they make that choice.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the Liberals' position on central Government control of local finance, or is there to be no such control? And if so, how would he control the rate of inflation, the money supply and all the rest?
I like to think that local government can get on with the job that it has been asked to do and that central Government will not continually pull the strings and restrict its resources.
It is a pity that the Government have commissioned a three-month study into the wholesale privatisation of white collar services in local government. The study, which has been well reported, is to be carried out by the PA Consulting Group. It is looking at the extension of compulsory competitive tendering to libraries, finance departments, engineering services, environmental health departments, trading standards departments, building-related services and personnel departments. Services in those areas, and especially health and safety standards, would be bound to suffer as spending cuts would put at risk more than a million local authority jobs. Those are services and jobs for which local authorities are definitely responsible. As has been recorded, there has already been a 19 per cent. cut in the number of health and safety staff in some authorities.
The public are not helped when museums struggle to survive. We need Government clarification on the status of local authority art collections to prevent the sales of works of art that are of benefit to the public. I believe that Derbyshire county council found a loophole which enabled it to make such sales. That loophole should now be closed.
The hon. Gentleman would help my hon. Friends and me if he could tell us whether the Liberal party is opposed to the contracting-out of services. Having said that the port of Liverpool has been saved by the abolition of the dock labour scheme, why on earth can he not recognise that Liverpool might be saved by the Conservative policies that are advocated by this Government instead of continuing to suffer the socialist degradation that has been going on in Liverpool not only under the control of the Labour party, but previously under the control of the Liberal party?
I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. As he is aware, I served on what was at times the notorious Merseyside county council under the pleasure or otherwise of the leadership of Keva Coombs. Naturally, I did not agree with a terrific amount of what went on, but one thing with which I did agree was that the council recognised the degradation in Liverpool's housing stock and did something about it. However, with the exception of some minor measures, I cannot say that I was ever in wholehearted agreement with anything that happened in Liverpool under socialist rule.
As has been well reported in the Chamber, about 700,000 houses are now standing empty in the country, but it is rarely stated that 600,000 of those houses are in the private sector. Central and local government must tackle private housing deterioration by an efficient and fully resourced improvement grant programme. I sincerely hope that the Minister will comment on that in his reply. Council tenants should receive an improved repair service as that would help to achieve the consumer satisfaction that has so far not been achieved in Liverpool, where estate residents have been badly let down by the council. Liverpool city council admits that 5,733 local authority properties are vacant and that some have been empty for four years. About £4·5 million in rental income has been lost in the past 12 months. That is bad management and of little service to the public.
In my authority of Sefton, which covers Southport, services to the holiday and shopping industries have been affected by a north-south war. In 1974 Bootle was lumped with Southport, Crosby and Formby as part of an unnatural local government reorganisation which we described at the time as gerrymandering and which has been referred to in similar terms since. Communities as different as chalk and cheese were unsatisfactorily lumped together. Since then, for 17 years, the people of Southport have been making their views known to the Boundary Commission. Polls have consistently shown that between 92 and 97 per cent. of local people want to be part of Lancashire. Recently 11,000 of them wrote individual letters to the Boundary Commission which had initially acted favourably, reflecting the wishes of the people in the first provision of the Local Government Act 1974. However, the commission now appears to have turned a double somersault and stated that the borough of Southport should remain part of Sefton. It appears to the people of Southport that the Boundary Commission has become political. I hope that that is not the case. Many say that the boot has been put in as a result of interventions from a higher authority. Again, I hope that that is not the case and that the Boundary Commission, which has worked well in the past, will continue to do so in the future. The wishes of the people must always be adhered to in the provision of local government services.
Liberal Democrats perform well when they get into local government. Having gained 520 seats at the last local elections—more than was gained by any other party—many more councils are now controlled by Liberal Democrats. Councils are big spenders of public money and are often the largest employer in an area. They have statutory duties and powers relating to a large number of services, many of which have a direct environmental impact. Councils can also be opinion formers and pace-setters for the area's community and businesses—not least as a result of their purchasing policies and publicity facilities. Liberal Democrats believe that the protection of the world environment must be a major priority at every level of government. That priority must be reflected in political and economic action at every level in society. It follows that, where feasible, we want local authorities, through the provision of their own services, to take action to protect the environment. Councils can bring direct influence to bear on those who might otherwise damage the environment and can raise the consciousness of the population that they serve.
Local government can provide recycling services. About 80 per cent. of household rubbish could be used again. Throwing it away is a total waste of all the energy and raw materials that went into producing it, yet only 1 per cent. of Britain's annual 43 million tonnes of household waste is recycled. Liberal Democrat councillors have long argued for recycling schemes. Where we hold power, that lobbying turns into action. Adur district council has introduced a door-to-door kerbside collection service for recyclable materials.
Local authorities should also provide nature conservancy services. Our minority administration on Colchester borough council has taken several initiatives to conserve the environment and has purchased a large landholding, Lemton lodge farm, to protect it from development threats and to open it up to the public. Adur and Somerset district councils have full programmes to ensure the protection and conservation of the environment.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to remind the House that when the Liberals were briefly in control of Devon county council, they planned to recycle the county's remaining grammar schools by abolishing them because that was the price that the Labour party demanded for keeping the Liberals in power. Had the hon. Gentleman intended to mention that bit of recycling?
I do not believe that that enters into recycling.
Concern about the side effects of pesticides has already galvanised Liberal Democrats on South Somerset district council, who have adopted comprehensive nature conservancy strategies, banned the use of many pesticides and substituted safer management methods. Purchasing policies should be geared to the service of consumers. There again, Liberal Democrat groups have successfully proposed environmentally sensitive purchasing policies.
Adur has banned the purchase of aerosols with CFCs and has called on manufacturers to label their products so that consumers can make informed purchases. Swale borough council is implementing lead-free petrol policies.
Britain lags behind its European neighbours when it comes to greening and protecting residential areas in towns and cities from fast rat-running traffic.
That is a bit rich. It is bunkum to think that it is only tightly knit groups of politically motivated Liberal Democrats who are interested in recycling, conservation, environmental good practice and the protection of the environment. It would be just as reasonable for the Labour party to suggest that it is doing the same or for me to suggest that Conservative groups are. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that none of those Liberal cliques would be able to make such claims if it were not for the introduction of legislation by the Conservative Government on vital matters, notably the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
I would like to agree with the Minister. Perhaps as the debate continues many instances will be given of Conservative councils that are doing that. I have been a member of a council for 25 years and I still am. We had a tough time in the earlier years as there were only three of us, but during that time we suggested using recycling methods and policies that would not harm the environment. The Conservatives suggested nothing.
I used to go round the country 25 years ago, and I never found Conservative groups suggesting anything of the sort, apart from in rural areas where people spoke about hedgerows, even in those days. I never heard anything until seven or eight years ago, when the Greens made us start thinking about the environment and it became fashionable.
On the subject of the environment and the Liberal Democrats, I have been a member of the Select Committee on the Environment for six years. There is no Liberal Democrat on that Committee because of the way that this place works, but neither has a Liberal Democrat ever sat in on a meeting or submitted a paper. No Liberal Democrat has ever expressed agreement or disagreement with our reports. In the House, the Liberal Democrats take no interest in the environment unless it is for cheap popular political reasons.
I cannot believe that. A document called "Shared Earth" was submitted to the Committee and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not read it.
I am not saying that Conservative councils will not jump on the band wagon and introduce such measures—
I have given way eight times, which is a lot for such a debate. There are not many of us on this side of the House today—[Interruption.] I am a great percentage of our party here today.
I am talking about customer services. I am not haranguing or criticising too much, although certainly some criticism must be levelled at Liverpool. We have always been a party of action rather than words. We stand for value for money and for service. The best thing that could happen to the proud city of Liverpool is for the sensible and friendly people of Walton to give both Labour parties a boot up the arse and elect a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament.
The fact that it is old fashioned does not make it any the less vulgar.
I am not here to take part in the Walton by-election and I am definitely not here to indulge in a Liverpool-bashing expedition. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) with some interest. One of our troubles is that the people of Liverpool—as shown in the leader in the Liverpool Daily Post—rightly or wrongly take exception to people from Dagenham, Stroud and other places, who have probably never been to Liverpool, thinking that Liverpool is a sort of Albania of the north. It is not.
I am not criticising, as they obviously have other things to do, but I am sorry that some of the Liverpool Members of Parliament are not here today. I was born on Merseyside, I have a family there, and have worked there as a solicitor and am not unknown in the courts of Liverpool—as an advocate, I hasten to add. I have had a ringside seat of what has been happening in the past decade. I have watched the fight for the soul of Liverpool and I do not like what I have seen any more than anyone else. As a Merseysider, and as someone with relations who earn their living in the city of Liverpool, I have a right to try to set the record straight, as far as I can and as a friend of Liverpool.
Every city has its difficulties. Liverpool has geographical problems—it is on the wrong side of the country because patterns of trade have changed. Corn and cotton have gone and the port has had to be reduced in size. The population has reduced. I wonder why Liverpool has gained its reputation when Glasgow, which has suffered equal geographical historical difficulties and has suffered the decline of its basic industries, does not have the same reputation and is called the "city of culture". Glasgow pulled itself up by its own bootstraps, largely under a Labout administration, and the man who led that renaissance was Provost Kelly. If Glasgow and other cities that have faced decline could do it, why not Liverpool? That is why I have to make this attack, because the blame for what has happened to Liverpool in the past decade lies with the politicians who are purported to lead that city.
The first political statement that I made was at school when Mrs. Eilzabeth Braddock, the then Labour Member of Parliament for the Exchange Division of Liverpool, came to lecture the sixth form. I offered the vote of thanks and I remember saying that I trusted that she would remain as a Member of Parliament and a member of the Opposition for many years to come—I was right about that. I wish that Elizabeth Braddock and her like were in Liverpool now, but they are not.
One only had to look at the leader of the Liverpool council on television the other night—he was in tears. He is the alleged moderate. I felt sorry for him. However, it is fair to say that he and those who follow him have connived in doing little to stop the hard left, the broad left or the narrow left, or whatever one wants to call it. Such labels mean nothing to me and are part of a parlour game played by people of socialist inclination. The people out there do not care what faction one belongs to or even what they are or what they do. They are interested in a clean city, a city with decent schools and a city which is prudently run. Sadly, in the past 10 years, none of those aims has been achieved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud referred to the breast-beating of councillor Keva Coombes. I do not propose to repeat that, but, to encapsulate what Coombes said, it was simply, "We failed."
I do not mind people failing if they have tried to the best of their ability and worked hard with great honesty, but, no, it was not like that. They did not try. They did not want to succeed. They wanted confrontation, not just within the city, but with the Government of whom they disapproved. The way to achieve that was to make the city ungovernable.
People thought like that and, sadly, still think like that. If any Labour Member thinks that Militant will fold up its tent and steal away into the night, think again because it will not. I know, because we have heard some windy rhetoric about it, that the Labour leadership wishes to see such people out of the Labour party. Think again. It will not be so easy. Besides, I am not entirely certain that every Labour Member wishes that to be the case.
My hon. Friend is making a most interesting speech. As so many Members wish to speak, I do not expect to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I intervene briefly. I, too, represent a seat which is on the Mersey and is about 30 miles from Liverpool. When the people of Stockport look at Liverpool, they wonder whether those living there realise what an appalling advertisement for Liverpool the council is. Industrialists are deterred from investing in it by what they read in the newspapers and watch on television. I know the Liverpool people. Recently I visited Halewood and was impressed at what was going on there, but many people do not know. The people of Liverpool should realise that their councillors are the worst possible advertisement for that city which was once great.
Every year I used to go to the Isle of Man for my family holidays and I used to see the port of Liverpool full of great ships. At that time it vied with Manchester. It was a great thrill for me and part of the holiday to go there. Now Liverpool is notorious purely as a result of the activities of its appalling left-wing council.
If that was a question, I think that the answer is yes. Clearly, there is a problem with inward investment in Liverpool, but we should not overstate it. The politicians there have the effect that my hon. Friend described, but it is not something which cannot be overcome. It will be overcome. There are still major industries in Liverpool. There is Littlewoods. Royal Insurance has its head office there and will not move. General Motors is investing a further £200 million. There is the Tate gallery of the north and the Albert dock. If hon. Members have a moment, they should pause at the Albert dock, which is absolutely marvellous. Why is it there? Because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, in a previous incarnation, went there and started the Merseyside development corporation. What is the advantage of the MDC? It does not have to bother with the council which has let Liverpool down.
Liverpool is there for all to see. It is not a once great city; it is a great city. It is a city of humour. I assure the hon. Member for Southport that Liverpool is environmentally aware. It has more lead-free churches than anywhere else in the kingdom. That is the sort of self-deprecating joke which people on Merseyside make about themselves. What is a scouser with a collar and tie called? Answer: the defendant. What is a scouser in a four-bedroomed, detached house called? Answer: a burglar. The people of Liverpool make jokes like that about themselves. I like that. They are not pompous people. They are willing to work. When I hear attacks on the city close to which I was born, I do not like it because the vast majority of its people do not bear out the view that some people in the rest of the country have of them.
Over the past years the people of Liverpool have chosen to elect the sort of representatives that I have described. They are now beginning to realise that that was an error. Obviously, I think and hope that the Conservative party's fortunes will revive there. We have put money into that city; we have not abandoned it. Conservative principles will work in a place like Liverpool.
I represent part of the Wirral, two miles over the river. This year, slightly to my surprise, there was a swing on the Wirral in favour of the Conservative party. We gained seats and defeated the local leader of the Labour party. Why? Because our campaign was based on the question, "Do you want Liverpool over here?" We did not mean the city, but the politicians. The answer was and is a resounding, no, we do not want such people running our local authority.
It is for the people of Liverpool now to determine what sort of city they want. Do they want a city where the streets are swept and the schools are good, and of which they can be proud? If they do, it is available for the taking, but never while the men that I have described still run the local Labour party. Mistake me not, they think that they are the Labour party, they will remain in the Labour party, whether Walworth road or the national executive council says so, their spirit is in the Labour party, they have to an extent taken it over and they will not go away. It would be the leaving of Liverpool if those men were allowed to continue.
The introductory speech of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) was astonishing. It was supposed to deal with the problems of local government, yet he deliberately avoided the whole problem of local government finance. He mentioned it only in passing to claim that the financial position facing local authorities was in some way irrelevant. Liverpool has been hit as much as any authority by the financial game that the Government have been playing since 1979.
It was my privilege to address a meeting together with the former hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, Eric Heifer, whom we wish was here today to take part in the debate and share with us his vast experience and understanding of Liverpool. The meeting was to consider what was to be done in the light of the assault on local government. The tactics of that assault were being set out as early as 1979 and were followed by continuing cuts in grants, fiddles in standard spending assessments and the poll tax, which the hon. Member for Stroud managed not to mention. He can claim that he did not vote for the legislation on Second Reading because he happened to get himself into the wrong Lobby. He was locked in, and there were points of order about the fact that he was stuck in the No Lobby when he wanted to be in the Aye Lobby. His speech today revealed that his confusion on that occasion is continuing.
If it was not the hon. Gentleman, I certainly apologise, but my understanding is that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) raised a point of order and said that the hon. Member for Stroud was locked in the No Lobby, hiding behind the curtains and could not be persuaded to come out. He added that it would be a long time before his release. It may have been one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues.
It was one of my colleagues, but modesty forbids me to say which one; it was not me. The hon. Gentleman's research is not what it might be. If he cannot get that right, what on earth can he get right? I look forward to his apology.
Incidentally, will the hon. Gentleman ask his Front-Bench spokesman to cover the point about Lloyd's because Labour's resident expert is here to speak for himself? If the hon. Gentleman wants a copy of that excellent speech, I am sure that the author will be happy to oblige.
I apologise if I referred wrongly to the hon. Member for Stroud. My confusion was caused by the presence on the Government Benches of a host of Thatcherite clones. I confused the hon. Gentleman with whichever clone happened to get locked in the No Lobby. Clearly, the whole issue of the poll tax must be considered as part of this debate, and the hon. Member for Stroud avoided referring to it as having caused difficulties for the operation of local government services.