The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Trippier) : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gavyesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick).
Mr. Flannery : Is it not clear that the Government's continuing attack on public sector housing is resulting in increasing homelessness, which is getting worse and worse, in increasingly long waiting lists for repairs because the public sector does not have the necessary money due to the cuts, and massive unemployment in the building industry? [Hon. Members : "What?"] Yes, there is. Never mind what the Government say. [Interruption.] Instead of referring me to yesterday's answer, the Minister should have answered today's question, but he is afraid to give the answer. Are we to assume that the sustained attack on public sector housing will continue, so that the poor, the sick, the homeless and the old will continue to be endangered under this Government as they have been for so long?
Mr. Trippier : If the hon. Gentleman will check the facts, he will find that there is a massive skills mismatch and a shortage of workers in the construction industry. In the twilight years of the Labour Government-- some would call them dark years--there was a 60 per cent. decrease in investment in public sector housing development.
Mr. Trippier : I expected that sort of question from the hon. Gentleman. He is concerned only about public sector housing whereas we are concerned about all housing, in which there has been a substantial increase since 1979.
Mr. Neil Hamilton : While sympathising with my hon. Friend the Minister for having to endure that embarrassing outburst, does he agree that the prime reason for homelessness, where it exists, is the Rent Acts which have prevented private landlords from letting their properties profitably? Does he further agree that once the reforms in the law that we have introduced are brought into full effect any shortfall is bound to be remedied?
Mr. Trippier : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Labour Governments concentrated only on the expansion of public sector housing, which resulted in a dramatic decline--to just 8 per cent.--in the private rented sector. We are trying to remedy that with the Housing Act 1988. It is interesting to note that the 8 per cent. for the private rented sector contrasts starkly with a level of 30 per cent. in France and 40 per cent. in Germany.
Mr. Soley : The Minister has just added to his already bad reputation as a Minister who gives misleading information, and creative statistics will not get him out of the trap. There are 1.2 million fewer homes available for rent, of which more than half have gone from the private rented sector and the rest from the public sector. The Minister's recent answer to his hon. Friend showed the catastrophic decline in the public rented sector. What does he intend to do to ensure a decent supply of good quality, low-cost accommodation for rent or sale? Will Torbay council be compensated for the £250,000 wasted on the rigged vote, and will the Government abandon their attempt to get councils such as Torbay to hand over their council housing to the private sector now that that system has fallen flat on its face?
Mr. Trippier : The hon. Gentleman completely missed the point of my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). There has been a substantial increase in house building--1.8 million since 1979. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that as a result of the 1988 Act we are providing through the Housing Corporation--and through it to housing associations--low-cost homes which will be affordable to people on low wages. As for repairs, on which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) touched, the dramatic increase in housing improvement grants since the Government came to power--a 60 per cent. increase since 1979--is in stark contrast with the Labour Government's deplorable record.
Mr. David Shaw : Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is not how many public sector houses are being built--there is an overall housing boom at present--but how many public sector houses, whether being built or already in existence, are rented by councils? Do not a large number of Labour councils have many empty houses?
Mr. Trippier : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a considerable number of voids in many authorities controlled by the Labour party. The Audit Commission has said time and again that if empty homes are turned around within three weeks about 20,000 empty properties will be brought back on to the market, which would immediately help the homeless.
Several Hon. Members rose--
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : We received 20 representations by the enof the consultation period, from local authorities and from the waste industry.
Mrs. Clywd : Why have the Government allowed a massive increase in imported hazardous waste, from 5,000 tonnes in 1984 to an estimated 80,000 tonnes in 1987? If the Government are serious about protecting the environment, why do they allow this country to be used by other countries as a massive rubbish dump? Why do they not ban the import of hazardous waste?
Mrs. Bottomley : Why do Labour Members always resort to such hypocrisy? What kind of befriending of the environment is it to ban imported toxic waste when we have facilities and technology to deal with difficult and dangerous waste? Imports have risen, but they represent a modest 5 per cent. of the special wastes that we treat. We must ensure that that treatment is carried out effectively and safely.
Mr. Key : I thank my hon. Friend and the Government for the care that they have taken in waste disposal consultations over the past two years. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is now a growing chorus to the effect that existing penalties are inadequate to cope with infringements, both of planning regulations and of waste disposal regulations? Does she further agree that any proposals for criminalisation ought to include consideration of compensation relating to the value of the projects and developments in question?
Mrs. Bottomley : It is important that waste disposal regulations are properly enforced and regulated. Recently there was a case in my hon. Friend's constituency, which he raised and which caused a great outcry. When we introduce a duty of care on waste producers we shall ensure that it is possible to take action against those who irresponsibly dump their waste in inappropriate places.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Is it not true that the Government have given in to the waste disposal industry, recognising that if they take away business the industry may lose profits? The people who suffer are those living in the areas where waste is dumped. Why do not the Government tell the countries that are exporting their waste here to keep their own filth? We do not want it in Britain.
Mrs. Bottomley : Only a modest amount--5 per cent.--of waste is imported. We have announced plans to ensure that only waste to be specially treated or incinerated will be imported. We are ensuring the highest standards of control over waste disposal. Waste is an inevitable product of modern life. It will not go away, so we must deal with it properly and responsibly.
Mr. Squire : Is my hon. Friend aware that those who have studied the issues will broadly welcome the Government's approach, and in particular the current Green Paper? Provided that legislation is in place to prevent the import of domestic refuse, with all the implications that that would have, the Government's line is broadly correct.
Mr. Allan Roberts : Will the Minister confirm the implication of the statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment yesterday, in which he announced that competitive tendering procedures would be introduced into the waste disposal activities of local authorities and other organisations- -something that the right hon. Gentleman flatly rejected, as being dangerous to the environment, when the Local Government Bill was going through its stages in the last Parliament?
Is not the key to safe and successful disposal of toxins and hazardous waste the adequate funding of waste disposal
authorities--many of which are local authorities whose budgets are being cut by the Government--and a change in policy to end the imports of toxic waste which are encouraged by the Government, at great danger to the environment, to mask our balance of payments deficit in manufactured goods? Once again the Minister is supporting policies for the poisoning of our environment.
Mrs. Bottomley : What matters is that waste disposal is regulated and monitored properly and that the powers are properly enforced. We believe that there are strong arguments in favour of separating regulatory and operational functions. We believe that introducing the possibility of charging for licensing would help those in charge to do their job. We believe in trying to separate the gamekeeper and the poacher. Opposition Members seem to think that we can control only what we own, but that is not the Government's belief.
3. Mr. Carrington : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what a typical ward sister would pay (a) in rates, (b) in community charge and (c) in a system of capital value rates plus local income tax paid in the proportions of 80-20, respectively, if she lived in a typical one-bedroom flat in Fulham.
14. Mr. Fishburn : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what a typical ward sister would pay (a) in rates, (b) in community charge and (c) in a system of capital value rates plus local income tax paid in the proportions of 80-20, respectively, if she lived in a typical one-bedroom flat in Kensington.
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : A ward sister earning £15,000, living in a flat in Fulham worth £70, 000 with a rateable value of £300, would pay a rates bill of £684, a community charge of £473--disregarding the transitional safety net--and £1,470 under a system of capital value rates plus local income tax. A ward sister living in Kensington in similar circumstances would pay a rates bill of £297, a community charge of £340 and £1,060 under a system of capital value rates plus local income tax.
Mr. Carrington : Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures show the unfairness of the capital valuerating system and the hardship that it would cause to people with average or below average earnings in Fulham-- particularly if we take into account that it would apply to those in rented homes as well as to owner-occupiers?
Column 1013Does he agree that the community charge provides by far the best hope for inner-city regenerating and is a much fairer system?
Mr. Ridley : I agree with my hon. Friend. I should be delighted to exemplify for every right hon. and hon. Member the figures under a system of capital value rates plus local income tax that would apply in any local authority in their constituencies. I offer that as a free service for the information of the public at large.
Mr. Fishburn : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures that he has given really show the huge overspending by ILEA, and that once my borough of Kensington has its own educational fate in its hands we shall have not only better education but dramatic savings in that overspend which will quickly show up in a lower community charge?
Mr. Ridley : I agree. The figures for both boroughs about which I was asked show far too high a community charge because of the effects of heavy overspending by ILEA. There is, however, a difference between them. Hammersmith and Fulham is a high-spending, high rate, high community charge borough while Kensington is not. I leave hon. Members to guess why that might be so.
Mr. Harry Barnes : Why has the Secretary of State provided a detailed answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) when other hon. Members who have asked him questions about potential poll tax levels in their areas--I asked him about the charge in Derbyshire, for instance--have received no answer but have been told that the charge will be worked out by councils in due course?
Mr. Ridley : I shall be delighted to give the hon. Gentleman detailed figures for any authorities, including his own district and county councils. I will write to him with the figures for the community charge and for local income tax plus capital value rates payable in his constituency. I shall be happy to send the figures to any other Member who would like them.
Mr. Wilson : Leaving aside the nonsensical statistics that the Minister quoted, will nursing sisters in Kensington and Chelsea be interested in the welfare, under the poll tax, of sick people in those areas? Does he intend to follow the lead of his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland by imposing the poll tax on people suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of degenerative dementia who are cared for in their own homes?
Mr. Ridley : I confirm that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have made careful provision to ensure that generous rebates are available for up to 9 million people who are not in a financial position to pay the community charge.
Mr. McLoughlin : Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), will he point out in his letter that Derbyshire has gone from being the 30th
Column 1014highest rated council to being the highest rated council? Most people in Derbyshire cannot wait for the new system to come in so that there can be local accountability. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the information that he sends to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East is also supplied to all other Derbyshire Members?
Mr. Ridley : With pleasure. I suggest that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) should urge those on the Opposition Front Bench to choose this subject for a Supply day debate. That may be helpful to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Dr. Cunningham rose --
Dr. Cunningham : If the Secretary of State is so confident about public support for the poll tax, why has he postponed his poll tax propaganda campaign until after the county council elections? Is he not aware that his deliberately rigged and exaggerated figures have no basis in fact and no credibility? They are dishonest and a deliberate distortion. How could a typical ward sister in Fulham, who would earn £12,000 on average and not £15,000 as the Secretary of State suggested, afford a £100,000 house, which is nearer the average? How could she afford a mortgage for that amount? Is he aware that the Opposition are not prepared to take any lessons about local government finance from a Secretary of State who appoints as Minister for Local Government the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) whose own local council has the worst record on rates increases of any Tory authority in England? There have been rates increases of 218 per cent. under the Tories.
Mr. Ridley : I must say that that is very unjust. I wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 28 October asking him for details of the scheme for capital value rates and local income tax and the assumptions upon which to base the figures. I have not yet had an answer. If the hon. Gentleman had written to me and I had not replied for such a long time I would be in real trouble. The hon. Gentleman does not even answer his letters because he knows that he does not want these matters exposed. We shall expose his little wheeze on capital value rates and local income tax. I invite my hon. Friends to put down questions on those matters because there is much good material there. The hon. Gentleman made two small mistakes. First, he does not seem to realise that we put up nurses' pay by a large amount. Secondly, I did not say £100,000--I said £70,000.
Column 1015authorities may be removed to take politics out of the NHS, would the Minister ask her right hon. Friend to resist such a suggestion--although I doubt whether he will--if it were made by the Department of Health? This is a vital matter. As local authorities have representatives on district health authorities, there is a real input from ordinary people in--[ Hon. Members :-- "Social services."] Exactly. It is vital that that should continue. Will the Minister give that assurance, or has she in mind the case of Anne Mallison, the new chair of Tower Hamlets health authority, who is also a Conservative city councillor in Westminster? We can give example after example. The Government want politics taken out only when it is Labour politics, not Conservative politics.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Does my hon. Friend agree that the supplementary question that we have just heard shows once again that the Labour party does not understand the difference between being a member of an authority and being an officer of that authority? Does she agree that that is not surprising when so many Labour councillors are also officers of other nearby authorities?
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend is quite right. In our forthcoming legislation on housing and local government we hope to clarify some of those matters, which will make life much better and raise standards both among local government officers and among members.
Mr. Blunkett : When the hon. Lady talks to her right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health, perhaps she will draw his attention to the cost benefits of having elected members rather than appointed members running things--for example, in water authorities with chairs--[ Hon. Members :-- "Chairmen".] Yes, they are men, who are paid between £31,000 and £39,000 a year for an average three-day week, or the residuary body chairs whose salaries vary between £17,000 and £50,000 for replacing elected members, or the chairmen of health authorities who are paid £11,709 a year for an average three-day week. On the basis of those statistics, will the Minister recommend to her right hon. and learned Friend that elected members accountable to their public and paid a daily attendance allowance are damned good value for money?
Mrs. Bottomley : When I speak to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health I will tell him that I, like others, appreciate the 39 per cent. increase in health spending during the period of this Government and that we want effective and efficient provision of services at the lowest possible cost to the chargepayer and the taxpayer.
Mr. Grocott : Is the Minister aware that hundreds of Telford development corporation tenants are deeply anxious about the future of their homes because of constant U-turns in Government policy and the Government's constant failure to honour commitments to hold ballots? Will he end the uncertainty by instructing Telford development corporation to hold a ballot of tenants now, or is he afraid that a ballot would result in an overwhelming majority in favour of the transfer of those houses to Wrekin district council?
Mr. Trippier : If anyone has caused anxiety in the minds of tenants in Telford, it has been Wrekin district council and the support that it has been given by the hon. Gentleman, particularly with regard to the court proceedings taken by the council which have sabotaged the likelihood of a housing management agreement with the housing association. The hon. Gentleman has supported Wrekin district council throughout. I strongly suggest that he gets a little more in touch with the tenants--they are, after all, his constituents in a hypermarginal seat--and remember that only 10 per cent. of those tenants opposed the management agreement.
Mr. Conway : When my hon. Friend has the time to do so, will he congratulate the chairman of the Telford development corporation on its success in providing manufacturing and service jobs in Telford new town and on providing the amount of land that is necessary to stimulate the growth of private home ownership, which will probably result in this Parliament being the last one for the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott)?
Mr. Trippier : I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's last comment. I am happy to join him in congratulating the chairman and board of the Telford development corporation. I had an opportunity to see for myself the enormous success that has been achieved and I was fortunate enough to open the new chamber of commerce premises. I also had an opportunity to see the successful development of the local enterprise agency. The area is now strong and vigorous once again as a result of the corporation's activities- -certainly not as a result of the district council's activities.
20. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a further statement on the Government's response to international efforts to ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons in aerosol containers.
Mr. Ridley : As the House is aware, we have called for worldwide emissions of chlorofluorocarbons to be reduced by at least 85 per cent. by the turn of the century, and for the Montreal protocol to be strengthened accordingly. To underline the importance of further worldwide reductions and to show how they can be achieved, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I are calling a major international conference in early March to bring together Governments of all countries as well as world industry. We
Column 1017shall also host the second meeting of the Montreal protocol parties in 1990, at which we hope the reductions for which we are calling will be agreed.
Mr. Yeo : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the United Kingdom aerosol industry intends to ban the non-essential use of CFCs in aerosols before the end of this year? Will he tell the House what impact that will have on demand in this country?
Mr. Ridley : The United Kingdom aerosol industry has agreed to ban or to phase out the use of CFCs in British aerosols by the end of this year. As those aerosols currently constitute 60 per cent. of the CFCs used in the United Kingdom, by that means alone we shall have achieved our Montreal protocol objectives by the end of this year. However, we hope to do very much better than that in the longer term.
Mr. Janner : What do the Government propose to do to dispose of the 10,000 tonnes of CFC-containing refrigerant under their control and at their disposal in places such as hospital blood banks, mortuaries and munition stores? In the meantime, will the Minister at least give an instruction to his own Department that the aerosols used there must be ozone-friendly?
Mr. Ridley : On the first part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, it is absolutely vital that those who have CFCs trapped into materials and machines should release the minimum amount of those materials. One of the biggest problems is CFCs in fire-fighting equipment, which certainly should not be used for practice. However, until a substitute is found it is difficult to deny the use of that equipment in fire fighting. Certain technical problems are involved. As for the Government's consumption of aerosols, we take care over their use, but I think that our use of aerosols is minimal and I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that they will be phased out by the end of this year.
Mr. Mans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in reducing the use of CFCs that are harmful to the ozone layer it is important to make certain that we have replacements for them, because otherwise all that we shall be doing effectively is transferring the production of those harmful CFCs to other countries that do not impose the same restrictions as we do?
Mr. Ridley : That is absolutely correct. I am satisfied that substitutes are now available or that they will soon be available for the vast majority of the curent usage of CFC 11 and 12. The great need is to persuade the rest of the world that those substitutes can be just as effective and that they can be procured. That is the main purpose of the conference.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Will the Government raise their sights and follow Sweden's example of undertaking to phase out the use of all CFCs by 1994? Does the Secretary of State agree that the priority in this country is to replace CFCs in refrigerators and to find mechanisms for the safe disposal of those CFCs? Do the Government intend to find time to allow the passage of the Bill on the control of CFCs that I am to introduce today?
Column 1018that the right approach is to persuade the major nations with large populations that they should go along at the same pace as us. We are only 1 per cent. of the world's population. It would not help much if we phased CFCs out and nobody else did. This is an international problem.
Mr. Tredinnick : Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that it was British scientists who discovered the gap in the ozone layer? Besides discouraging the use of CFCs in aerosols, what other measures is my right hon. Friend taking to persuade high street stores and supermarkets to stock environmentally safe products?
Mr. Ridley : It is true that, as my hon. Friend said, the British Antarctic scientific expedition was the first to identify the hole in the ozone layer. I have already said that we will see the end of the use of CFCs in aerosols by the end of the year ; that is by far the biggest contribution we could make. Any other action would be insignificant compared to a declaration of that importance.
Ms. Walley : Has not the Secretary of State just shown us in his replies, particularly to the question by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), that, despite what the Prime Minister says, he is completely ignorant of the real issues? Will he take time to read the report prepared by the Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association? Will he not agree with the association that if the Governemnt wish genuinely to encourage effective international action to protect the ozone layer, they must be prepared to match their words with deeds? Will the Minister say why he will not ban the use of CFCs in aerosol sprays as soon as practically possible? Does he agree that the Government should be setting an example by taking responsibility for the safe disposal -- [Interruption] --of CFC refrigerant when the cooling systems in Government establishments are serviced and replaced?
Mr. Ridley : I do not believe that the right way forward is to ban the use of CFCs in one product or another. The right way is to restrict the total production of CFCs by very severe amounts. We have already gone to 85 per cent. We will leave the market to discover how best to deliver that reduction rather than banning the use of CFCs. When the use of CFCs was banned in America, production increased because the CFCs went into other uses. The other point is that many of the CFCs in a refrigerator are not in the motor but in the plastic foam insulation in the case of the refrigerator and it is almost impossible to extract them. I do not believe that banning would be the right policy to pursue.
7. Mr. Leadbitter : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he intends to take to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing for those on low and medium incomes on the sites included in the east Thames-side study.
Mr. Leadbitter : Does the Secretary of State realise the significance of the press release from his Department last Monday, indicating a house build achieving 25 per cent. of houses available for rent and 75 per cent. for sale--a complete reversal of what was planned a few years ago? Does he recognise the need, therefore, for a subsidy on land costs and on housebuilding costs on sites in the east Thames-side study areas so that affordable houses may be made available to meet the housing needs of the people in those areas, particularly as two thirds of those affected cannot even afford fair rents?
Mr. Ridley : I have always said of the London Docklands development corporation and in the case of the five east London sites, which are not part of the LDDC area, that the Government would like to see a fair proportion of low-cost housing. In many cases, that can be provided from the profits than can be made on market-price housing, but it is open to local authorities, of course, to negotiate section 52 agreements, and the Housing Corporation is equipped with resources with which to subsidise housing associations that might be involved in these developments and to provide low-cost housing.
Mr. Adley : As affordable housing will often mean one or two- bedroomed flats and terraced houses, will my right hon. Friend look into the present position, under which planning authorities cannot give enforceable planning permission for a minimum number of houses per acre, which would be one way of tackling the problem? Will my right hon. Friend see whether he can find a way of introducing suitable legislation, which would have a significant effect in dealing with the problem?
Mr. Ridley : Local authorities are entitled to draw up development plan density strategies and, of course, they can decide whether planning permission is given according to the extent to which applications comply with their strategies. I do not accept that they have no power over such matters.