Orders of the Day — EDUCATION BILL [Money]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 10th November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 10:15 pm, 10th November 1992

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friends on the Bench beside me have been making that very point. It is disturbing, particularly when hon. Members are making serious points about money. The House lets money resolutions go through far too easily.

I have yet to hear the Minister's reply. It may be that some hon. Members who are beyond the Bar of the House are getting near the door so that they can go home. The more noise that emanates from that area, the more I shall feel bound to call a Division if the Minister's reply is less than satisfactory. On the other hand, if there is rapt, silent attention to my remarks in recognition of the seriousness of the occasion, the Minister may take more time to explain the position and I may be satisfied and may not have to call a Division. I do not want to cause disruption needlessly. As the House knows, that is not my style all the time.

I am seeking information because we are very concerned. My hon. Friends have been discussing seriously with me the aims of the Secretary of State Truth to tell, the section on the financial effects of the Bill is very bland. We are told that, when expenditure is moved from one area to another, one will offset the other and there will be no cost. That is not good enough.

The Department should have made guesstimates at the very worst and informed calculations at best. Those should have been placed before the House. We are not asking the Department for information on sums of money by which they will be bound but, as the money resolution is couched in extensive terms, it gives the Secretary of State virtual carte blanche to spend what he likes. That is not good enough. People would not accept that the Government should use taxpayers' money under the balloting provisions for Tory propaganda in support of the Government's cause. That is what it seems like to me. I hope that the Minister will prove me wrong.

Another point causes me extraordinary concern. On the Tory Benches. we have a collection of merchant bankers, Lloyd's members, estate agents and all the rest [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Some of them may not like to be associated with Lloyd's now, but they did at one time. They are always concerned about public expenditure and say that it should be cut. Yet when it comes to this, they want carte blanche in the amount that they can spend. Given their attitude towards public expenditure, I should have thought that they would not want a general power under the money resolution but would want detailed calculations from the Department. The figures could have been brought before the Minister, who could then have presented them, in general terms, to the House, to show what good housekeepers the Government really are—to show that they are not prepared to hand out taxpayers' money for secret propaganda.

Some of these Tory Members voted last Wednesday because they were worried about the shift of sovereignty from this House to the Common Market. Twenty-six of them went into the Lobbies with us. They should not be prepared to ignore a bland money resolution of this nature, which gives widespread powers to Ministers. It is inconsistent of them to worry about the sovereignty of the House but not to worry about handing over unqualified, unquantified powers to the Secretary of State, to spend as he likes.

That is why I have raised these issues, against a background of noise emanating from indifferent Conservative Members standing beyond the Bar of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are your hon. Friends?"] I do not need large numbers of Labour Members behind me. They know that I am capable of raising all these issues on my own, with the support of those of my hon. Friends who are sitting beside me.

I hope that some of the Conservatives here tonight are not here only because they have been told to stay by the Whips in case there is a Division. I hope that they are interested in this subject and that they have not been bribed, arm-twisted or intimidated, as they were last week to give the Government a majority of three. The subject merits attention in its own right.