Mr. O'Brien : Does the Minister accept that the Government refused to accept the recommendation of the Employment Select Committee to widen the UDCs' remit or terms of reference? A report in The Economist on 11 February stated that the developers of Canary wharf can claim £1 billion in tax subsidy through enterprise zone concessions. The sum of £1 billion of taxpayers' money is equal to more than one year's expenditure from rates and balances by West Yorkshire authorities to provide services in that county area. What guarantees can the Minister give that UDC objectives will be better targeted towards the real needs of inner cities, and that public money will supplement local authority programmes rather than private developers?
Mr. Trippier : It is untrue to say that the Department of the Environment did not respond to the Select Committee on Employment and failed to recognise that there is a need to develop community activity and training. Our response clearly emphasised that, in the UDC set-up at that time, we were doing precisely that. As to enterprise zones, I did not notice any Labour Member holding back from making an application to the Department of the Environment for an enterprise zone in his or her constituency. As the Opposition did not divide the House at that time, I should have thought that they would recognise the benefits that have accrued.
On the hon. Gentleman's latter question, the main purpose of urban development corporations is to transform the landscape physically and to promote economic regeneration. That they are doing very successfully.
Column 991corporation has announced five major projects, including a major scheme to put a barrage on the River Tees and to bring a Ministry of Defence agency to the area? When does he expect to be in the region to see these successes for himself? Does he agree that the role of urban development corporations is to concentrate on bringing the private sector into inner-city areas and to break the stranglehold that the public sector has had for too long?
Mr. Trippier : I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. It is my intention to visit Teesside development corporation very soon. I hope that I will see my hon. Friend there. In addition to the successes that he has catalogued to the House, there is a joint venture with the Tees and Hartlepool port authority to develop the former Smiths dock in Middlesbrough into a centre of excellence in offshore technology. An estimated 1,000 new jobs will have been created by the end of 1989.
Mr. Fatchett : When the urban development corporation in Leeds is discussing important planning matters, such as a possible development by a Canadian organisation, which would transform a substantial area of south Leeds, why does it hold the planning discussions in private? Why should the press and the public not be invited to those meetings? Is it simply that the urban development corporations have something to hide?
Mr. Trippier : The hon. Gentleman will know that many of the matters that are discussed in planning committees and in local authorities, too, are of a commercial and confidential nature. All development corporations would, in any event, liaise with the local authority and take its views on all planning matters. I must make the point to the House, if hon. Members are unaware of it, that we have appointed a number of Labour councillors to that development corporation, so they will have a say in what is going on.
Mr. Field : As I understand that the Commons Commissioners comprise barristers and solicitors of some seven years' standing, that the body costs £260,000 a year to run, with expenditure per case amounting to £712, and that just over seven cases per week are dealt with, is my hon. Friend satisfied that the organisation is offering value for money?
Mrs. Bottomley : Indeed. Since the Commons Commissioners were set up as a requirement of the Commons Registration Act 1965 they have settled 13,000 cases arising from disputes on the registration of 1.5 million acres of common land. While the cases in the Isle of Wight have all been settled, there are outstanding cases with which the Commons Commissioners are dealing, mostly in south Wales.
Mr. Favell : Is my hon. Friend aware of the plight of home owners whose houses were incorrectly registered as common land 24 years ago and who, since then, have had extraordinary difficulty in selling their houses?
Mrs. Bottomley : The Commons Commissioners are aware of the misregistration of houses to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention. There are proposals to legislate on that when a suitable opportunity arises.
Mr. Skinner : Is there any way in which the commissioners can investigate the case of the cemeteries that Westminster city council sold? Would those cemeteries be regarded as common land? Could they be restored to the council under the general auspices of common land? If so, the Government should be doing something about it. There is a scandal or two at Westminster, not only with selling the cemeteries but involving the £1 million that the council paid to the chief executive. I think that there is --
12. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any proposals to seek to improve standards of litter removal, street cleaning, refuse collection, the control of dog mess and the extermination of rats and other rodents ; and if he will make a statement.
responsibilities. They have the necessary powers, and it is for them to ensure that proper provisions are made to meet local needs.
Mr. Greenway : Does my hon. Friend agree that uncleared dog mess, uncleansed streets and uncollected refuse are bound to lead to a serious deterioration in the environment, and to the breeding of rodents? Will she also bear in mind that rats reproduce from two to 800--sometimes more--in a year? Is she aware that the people of Ealing, including my constituents, suffered the effects of no cleansing of any kind for two weeks, while the Labour-controlled Ealing council has increased the rates by 35 per cent. and intends to reduce street cleansing? Will the Government force Ealing council to act on this matter?
Mrs. Bottomley : The Government are well aware of the predicament faced by the ratepayers of my hon. Friend's constituency where, even when there has been an £8 million increase in Government grant, they have to face enormous rate increases. I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents would be much happier if Ealing council spent more time employing rat-catchers than setting up inquiries into the possible deprivation of Irish women in Ealing.
Mr. Bidwell : Can the Minister envisage a time when the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is likely to praise the Labour administration in Ealing? Is she aware that only recently, the Ealing authority won the London award for the cleanliness of its streets? Is she questioning the method of assessing these matters in the London area?
Mr. Churchill : Will my hon. Friend get together with her hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic to do something about the appalling amount of litter on motorways? Where does responsibility lie for cleaning up motorways? Does it rest entirely with local authorities? If not, will my hon. Friend ensure that more is done on that front?
Mrs. Bottomley : I think that the responsibility rests with my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic. We are committed to improving the cleanliness of our surroundings. We are further increasing the funding of the Tidy Britain Group which is investigating a number of projects and analysing the most effective way of cleaning up various areas--including transport areas--so that we can learn the lessons which I shall then draw forcefully to the attention of my close and hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic.
Mr. Hardy : Will the Minister confirm the suspicion that the question of her hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) raised, which is that there has been an enormous increase in rodent infestation during the past 10 years? Does the hon. Lady consider that the Government-sponsored initiative UK 2000 has had the desired or desirable impact? Does not the experience of that initiative lead her to accept that local authorities should be supported, encouraged and assisted to achieve the cleaner Britain that market forces alone cannot achieve?
Mrs. Bottomley : Local authorities are receiving much more money this year. Their expenditure has risen to more than £28 billion, and they are receiving an extra £1.1 billion from the Government. The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the role of UK 2000, which is involved in various environmental projects. The group entrusted to deal with litter and promote cleanliness is the Tidy Britain Group, which, we hope, will come forward with practical, realistic and effective programmes. As for rodent control, there seems to be evidence that the recent warm winters have resulted in a growth in the number of rats.
Mr. Bowis : Does my hon. Friend agree that, to deal with litter- dropping we need a much greater education programme, many more receptacles of an adequate size to contain it and a greater willingness by authorities to prosecute?
Mrs. Bottomley : Tackling litter requires the active commitment and enthusiasm of many Government Departments and, above all, groups within the community. Education and the provision of litter bins both play a key part. We are investigating whether further steps should be taken on enforcement.
Mr. Roberts rose--
Mr. Rooker : When the right hon. Gentleman met the Nature Conservancy Council, did he ask whether its recent grant of over £70, 000 to the Kent Wildfowling Association was the first ever state handout for the purchase of land for blood sports? The next time that he meets his friends on the NCC, will he take up with them their policy of not giving grants to organisations that genuinely seek to protect and conserve nature by refusing to allow blood sports on those lands? Surely the gunmen of Kent can buy their own land.
Mr. Ridley : I understand that before offering grant the NCC satisfied itself that that grant would promote nature conservation and would give good value for money. I strongly support the general basis on which the NCC operates, which is that it is possible successfully to combine conservation and British field sports. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I bear no grudge against field sports.
Mr. Bellingham : Will my right hon. Friend ignore the rubbish talked by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who does not understand the countryside? Does he agree that the best way in which to protect wildlife is to encourage field sports?
Mr. Ridley : If my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) does as the hon. Genttleman claims, he is in very good company. The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) believes that foxhunting should be abolished everywhere, except in his own constituency.
14. Mr. Squire : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the Government's estimate of the number of local government councillors who are currently employed by other local authorities in positions which would be prohibited under proposed legislation.
Mr. Gummer : The number of councillors in any local authority to whom the restrictions will apply will depend on the extent to which they have been disregarding the tradition of the political neutrality of senior local authority staff. This information is not collected by my Department.
Mr. Squire : Does my right hon. Friend agree, none the less, that there is clear evidence of widespread political abuse, particularly where a councillor is subsequently employed as an officer by another authority? Does he further agree that perhaps one of the saddest consequences has been a decline in the quality of chief officers in many authorities, with resulting damage to local government in general?
Mr. Gummer : I am sure that if we want to encourage the best kind of local authority officers they must not feel that there are political reasons for the appointment of senior officers. Nor must they feel that people who are clearly involved in party political activities in one borough pretend to be independent in another. I also believe that it is impossible for ordinary people to feel comfortable if they go to a local authority officer knowing that in another authority that officer takes party political views of a kind of which they do not approve.
Mr. Blunkett : Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that under the legislation being referred to, a psychiatric social worker receiving London weighting would fall into the category of "excluded from political activity" ; would not be able to stand for election to say, the London borough of Richmond or a constituency such as the Isle of Wight ; and would not be elected to Parliament for Surrey, South-West--unlike his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, to whom all those things apply?
Mr. Gummer : I confirm that in the country as a whole, people are quite clear. They do not believe that someone can be an independent officer on one authority, paid by the local ratepayers, and be a party political figure elsewhere. Universally, people condemn the Labour party for backing jobs for the boys and girls.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) could give the Government a great deal of advice about this abuse of local authority power? He could do that because Sheffield became the Socialist Republic of Sheffield and employed vast numbers of people from other local authorities. That practice spread throughout the north of England. That is an abuse and it is high time that it was stopped.
Column 996wholly opposed to the way in which the Labour party is defending what has become corruption in local government.
Mr. Allan Roberts : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept that Back Benchers have rights-- [Interruption.] and my talent is that I have been a Back Bencher longer than I have been a Front Bencher. However, your ruling today implies that Mr. Speaker decides which subjects the official Opposition Front Bench should respond to. Not only that, but Mr. Speaker decides which Front-Bench spokespersons respond to Ministers' replies. I would like some thoughts or responses about this point.
Your ruling also, it seems to me Mr. Speaker, rules out the possibility of the Opposition Front Bench being able to respond to a new factor that emerges during the Ministers' answers and which might have very significant implications, calling for a statement from the Opposition. The Front Bench must have that flexibility.
You were factually inaccurate, Mr. Speaker. There are not eight Opposition Front Benchers, there are only six. There are fewer shadow Ministers than there are Ministers at the Department of the Environment. Having had an indication through the usual channels, or through your assistant, that if I was brief on the first question, I would be called on the second--otherwise I would not have risen on the first question--it seems that you have treated the Opposition Front Bench unfairly. Very serious precedents are being set.
Mr. Speaker : First, let me say that every hon. Member must catch the eye of the Chair. However, I have an indication about the subjects in which the Front Bench would like to participate. As a general rule, it is only fair to Back Benchers that Front-Bench spokesmen should rise only once. I try not to call any hon. Member more than once at Question Time except perhaps the No. 1 spokesman on the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) is not the No. 1 spokesman and every time a Front-Bench spokesman rises, a Back-Bench Member is excluded.
Dr. Cunningham : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We recognise that these are difficult decisions for you to have to take, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) has an important point. It must surely be for Opposition Front Benchers to decide, in the light of answers and circumstances, who may want to seek to catch your eye-- [Interruption.] Shut up, you fool.
Perhaps the best way to resolve these matters would be for us to discuss them with you in private.
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