Previous Section Home Page

Column 244

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman well knows the rules. The Minister said that he would give way later, and no doubt he will. Dr. Cunningham rose --

Mr. Gummer : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, and he knows that--

Dr. Cunningham rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows better than that.

Dr. Cunningham : No, I do not. On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I gave way seven or eight times during my speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) gave way. Why should the Minister get away with these allegations and not give way?

Mr. Speaker : That is not a point of order. It is up to the Minister concerned and up to any other hon. Member whether or not he gives way.

Mr. Gummer : I shall be happy to give way--

Dr. Cunningham rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must not persist. The Minister has said that he will give way, and no doubt he will.

Mr. Cryer : He has no Christian humility.

Dr. Cunningham rose --

Mr. Gummer : I shall give way in my time, and not when the hon. Gentleman seeks it. The reason is that the hon. Gentleman's colleague went over his time and did not give a fair share to this side of the House. That is why I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. Dr. Cunningham rose --

Mr. Gummer : No, I am not giving way.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said in an article in The Sunday Times --

Dr. Cunningham rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am well aware that this is a controversial Bill, but we have proceeded in good order so far. We must continue in that way.

Mr. Winnick : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the time when your deputies were in the Chair, they will know that hon. Members on both sides gave way to interventions. The Secretary of State gave way, as did my hon. Friends. Why is it that only the junior Minister will not give way?

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman knows that I have no authority to cause a Minister to give way. It is up to him.

Dr. Cunningham rose--

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman asked me to wait when I asked him to give way. I am asking the same courtesy of him.

The hon. Member for Brightside said in an article in The Sunday Times that there is a clear distinction between those in a job for many years playing an active part in


Column 245

politics and a situation where a post is clearly created for an individual to help him or her pursue political activity. I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) rose--

Mr. Gummer : I shall give way to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) when I come to him, and then I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Member for Brightside.

I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Brightside. I should like the hon. Gentleman to do me the courtesy of answering the point. There is a clear distinction between these things, but that does not mean that both of them are not wrong. It seems to me that it is wrong to have a job in local government, which is created as a sinecure, in order to do a job as a council leader elsewhere, and that it is also wrong to have party political affiliations of a public kind which make it impossible to carry on one's job as-- Dr. Cunningham rose--

Mr. Gummer : If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish a sentence, I will give way, but when I finish the sentence. Although I said that I was asked by the hon. Gentleman to wait before he gave way to me, he has not given the same courtesy to me. The fact that the hon. Gentleman's speech was such a shambles is obviously the reason why he wishes to intervene.

The fact of the matter is--

Dr. Cunningham rose--

Mr. Gummer : I shall finish my sentence.

The fact of the matter is that it is not acceptable that a Socialist or Liberal ratepayer should have to go to an officer who is a known, public, elected Tory Member of the next-door council. I do not believe that that is acceptable for Tories, and it is similarly unacceptable for Socialists.

Dr. Cunningham : The hypocrisy of the Minister knows no bounds. The hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley)--who is now a Minister in the Department of the Environment--as a Conservative Member of Parliament was appointed a member of the Medical Research Council. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan)--who is now the Minister for Sport --as a Tory Member of Parliament was appointed a member of the Sports Council. What is the Minister really saying? Does he not accept that that is twin tracking in the public sector?

Mr. Gummer : All I am asking the hon. Gentleman to accept is a rather lighter regime on local government officers than there is on civil servants. The fact that he will not accept that lowers him in the House's sight and in the sight of ordinary and decent people. The truth is that we thought that these provisions would be attacked by hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields). We knew that he would attack them, because he is the unacceptable face of the Socialist party. We did not expect hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Copeland to back this sort of job for the boys. We believed that there was still some honour left in the Labour party, but we have seen tonight that there is none. [Interruption.]


Column 246

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Terry Fields : On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. Is it in order for the pipsqueak on the Government Front Bench to impugn my political credentials, which have nothing to do with this debate or this House, except when they concern my commitment to my constituents? The right hon. Gentleman is out of order.

Mr. Speaker : What the Minister said was not out of order. It was perfectly parliamentary.

Mr. Gummer : We had an interjection from the hon. Member for Broadgreen, when he told the House whatever he was mandated by his local Labour management committee to say. He suggested that it was all right that Mr. Hatton was paid by the neighbouring council of Knowsley. That was the burden of his remark. Evidently, it is all right that the London borough of Hackney-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Fields : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In defence of Back Benchers, you are always fair and just. In this particular instance, I would ask you to look at Hansard tomorrow to see what I actually said. I never mentioned Derek Hatton or Knowsley council. I talked about the Arthur Daleys among Conservative Members.

Mr. Speaker : Provided what is said in this Chamber is in order, I cannot intervene. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance later on to put his point of view.

Mr. Gummer : I would imagine that the hon. Member for Broadgreen would want me to refer to that, because otherwise what he said was partial and one-sided. He referred to one side of the argument without mentioning the fact that what he was proposing was, in fact, the justification of Mr. Hatton, both in his capacity as the leader of the Liverpoool city council and as someone paid by the neighbouring Knowsley council. That is what the hon. Gentleman put forward-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Blunkett : Derek Hatton was never the leader of the Liverpool city council--in my view, thank goodness. As the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, it would be unthinkable for people to go to a Conservative councillor who served as a senior official in a council--like the assistant director of the housing department in Sheffield who serves as a Conservative councillor in north-west Derbyshire. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel, however, that it was inappropriate for people to go to him as a Minister when he served as chairman of the Conservative party?

Mr. Gummer : I do not think that there has ever been any doubt that I am a Conservative, either when I was chairman of the Conservative party or now as a Minister. I believe that it is just as inappropriate for a Conservative councillor to serve as a paid administrator in a neighbouring council as it is for a Socialist. I make no distinction between the two.

Mr. George Howarth rose--

Mr. Gummer : No, I shall not give way.

Dr. Cunningham rose--


Column 247

Mr. Speaker : Order. We cannot have three hon. Members on their feet at the same time.

Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young)--

Mr. George Howarth rose--

Mr. Gummer : No, I shall not give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Acton outlined clearly the problems that arise in a borough when there is a change of party and, as a result, a large number of experienced and good officers feel that they have to leave. This is a serious matter and it is one that those of us who live in the London borough of Ealing take seriously.

Mr. Soley : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Gummer : No, I shall not.

My hon. Friend expressed concern about home improvement grants being paid at a level based on the original estimate, and not on the actual cost of work.

Mr. George Howarth : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to attack my borough council of Knowsley and then not to give way-- [Interruption.] --to the Member representing that council?

Mr. Speaker : It is in order.

Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend the Member for Acton asked a specific question and I shall give a specific answer

Mr. Soley rose--

Mr. Gummer : No, I shall not give way.

Mr. George Howarth rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration, but if the Minister does not give way, he must resume his seat.

Mr. Gummer : An authority will be able to redetermine the amount of grant if the actual cost is lower than the estimated expense. Mr. Soley rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to settle down now. This debate has been conducted in good order and that must continue for the next few minutes.

Mr. Gummer : The grant will be payable only on the furnishing of an acceptable receipt--

Mr. Soley rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. Front Bench spokesmen must give a lead.

Mr. Gummer : Grant will be payable only on the furnishment of an acceptable receipt conditional upon the work being completed to the satisfaction of the authority.

Mr. Soley : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but the House always finds it extremely difficult when a junior Minister refuses to give way having made allegations about other hon. Members of the House. It is one thing for a Back-Bencher to get into difficulties with a Front-Bench spokesman, but another for


Column 248

a Minister to make allegations and then not give way. If he gives way, the House will make progress. Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Gummer : Mr. Speaker-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : The House knows that the Chair has no authority to require a Minister, or a Back-Bencher for that matter, to give way. If the Minister is not prepared--

Mr. Soley rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am on my feet. If the Minister does not give way, there is nothing that the Chair can do about it.

Mr. Soley : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the things that we have noticed in the House, particularly of Ministers from the Department of the Environment, is that it is usually a sign of incompetence when Ministers do not give way.

Mr. Gummer : I would have given way, Mr. Speaker, had the hon. Member for Hammersmith not used up a good deal of my time. Because of that, I have been unable to make my speech. He made a number of serious allegations about my right hon. Friend, and he has not given me a chance to answer those allegations, but I intend to do so. The hon. Gentleman has only himself to blame for having given a shocking speech to the House and for not giving me enough time to reply. Mr. George Howarth rose--

Mr. Gummer : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in one moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Acton asked about section 48 of the Local Government Act 1985 and I shall be meeting members of the London Grants Committee to see whether we can do something about that.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) asked about teachers. There is nothing in the Bill to cover teachers, and the White Paper made it clear that the Government's proposals, as carried in the Bill, do not cover teachers and lecturers. No doubt the Committee will discuss this matter, but--[H on. Members-- : "Ah."] It is no good saying, "Ah." It is impossible to have the Committee without discussing that matter. Therefore, all I am saying is that it is not in the Bill. The Government do not have any intention of putting it into the Bill, but no doubt it will be discussed in Committee.

I want to return to the remarks of the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg). He said the Bill was dangerous and that there was a strong attack on Widdicombe.

Mr. George Howarth rose--

Mr. Gummer : I shall deal later with what the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) said.

The hon. Member for City of Durham denied what the independent Widdicombe committee had suggested--that all local government officers who earned more than £13,500 a year ought to be excluded from political activities. The Government have not gone as far as that, but have said that they could be so excluded but ought to have a right of appeal. That is perfectly reasonable. It would be much happier for the hon. Member for Knowsley, North if on the occasion when the deputy leader of Liverpool city council was employed by


Column 249

Knowsley he felt that he could have gone to an independent body to see whether that was reasonable. I give way to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North, to see whether he agrees with that.

Mr. Howarth : I am grateful to the Minister for eventually giving way. Does he accept that the fact that Mr. Hatton's employment was eventually terminated by the borough of Knowsley rather militates against the provisions of the Bill?

Mr. Gummer : I am sure that it was up to the borough of Knowsley to do so, but I genuinely find it difficult to understand how one can defend the concept of, say, the assistant chief executive of Hackney being the former housing chairman of Lambeth council. How can one defend that, in a situation where somebody who did not happen to agree with the extremist policy that the executive held in Lambeth needs his advice in Hackney, whether or not as an opposition member in Hackney?

Mr. Soley rose--

Mr. Gummer : No. I am not going to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. The hon. Gentleman has helped me so far by giving me as little time to speak as possible.

That means that anybody who lives in Hackney who does not happen to agree with the extremist policy of his assistant chief executive can have little confidence that he will get proper independent advice. Even if he did get that, would he be comfortable in asking for it? That is a serious matter.

Mr. Matthew Taylor rose--

Mr. Gummer : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) for his congratulations and his kindness. When I went to Taunton Deane, even the opposition members of the local council were at least interested enough to listen, to talk and to discuss, which is more than the guilty consciences of the Opposition are willing to do this evening-- [Interruption.] We shall be considering carefully the two points that the hon. Member raised. I hope to give him a better reply in other circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) asked about improvement grants for the disabled. We recently issued a consultation paper on the proposed means test, including its application to the disabled. We believe that, if the occupants have the resources to pay for or contribute to the work, it is right for them to do so, but we shall of course consider carefully the responses that we receive to the consultation paper before these matters are discussed in Committee.

Mr. Battle rose--

Mr. Gummer : I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. The most remarkable part of the debate was the speech by the hon. Member for Copeland, who suggested that the Government have changed their mind and their response to Widdicombe, which was somehow disgraceful. But we went out to consultation, and as a result of that we decided that Widdicombe was right and that the Government and their White Paper were not so right.


Column 250

Dr. Cunningham rose --

Mr. Gummer : No, I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. We discovered--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Gummer : We discovered that the business of twin tracking was very much wider--

Dr. Cunningham rose --

Mr. Gummer : --and on a much greater scale than we had expected. When the hon. Gentleman was bowled-- [Interruption.]


Next Section

  Home Page