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Mr. Hughes : Does the Minister recognise, as many authorities including Tory authorities do, that the massive increases in rent arrears result, substantially, from the Government's £650 million housing benefit cuts last year? Does the Minister accept that, as the Government's policy unfolds next year, with the poll tax and rent increases, the tenants who pay their rents regularly will be picking up the tab for the barrage of Government policies that, increasingly, penalise the poor?
Mr. Gummer : That cannot possibly be true, because if it were, the rent and rate arrears in the Labour-run authorities of Hillingdon, Dagenham and Barking would be similar to those in Labour-run Brent, Lambeth and Southwark, but they are not. Arrears in Brent are bad because, until recently, it did not even have a list of its tenants and the keys to its council houses were being sold in Nigeria. It is not surprising that it cannot collect the rents.
Mr. Bowis : Are not the biggest lists for rent arrears, rate arrears and squatted properties in London in the Labour-run boroughs? Are not such boroughs cheating on the homeless and on those who desperately need repairs to their homes? Is it not high time for those who, loyally and legally, pay their rates and rents to have some recompense from such dissolute councils?
Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend is right. If rents are not collected, other people have to pay for them, whether they are the ratepayers or other tenants. In those authorities that already do not subsidise their rent from ratepayers, the other tenants have already been contributing. Some boroughs do not collect the rents because their system of rent collection is extremely inefficient, and they have no intention of collecting it. When a borough has on its arrears committee a councillor who is herself in considerable arrears, it is not surprising that people do not pay their rents.
Dr. Cunningham : I believe that the Minister is aware that the leaders of Brent borough council in particular recognise the force of what he is saying and have made it clear to him that they are making strenuous new efforts to resolve the problems of rent arrears, as they should be doing. Will the Minister reflect again on the answer that he has just given to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who was asking for protection for tenants who pay their rents? Is the hon. Gentleman aware, as the Minister is because he announced it, that the Government are planning additionally to place burdens on those tenants by making them pay for that shortfall?
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman should look carefully at the programme that was announced by Brent. I have done some work on the more detailed programme produced by the Labour-controlled London borough of Southwark. If it proceeds with its new tougher policy, it should have started before the Spanish Armada had arrived if it wanted to collect its rent arrears by today. The borough will collect only a tiny proportion-- £78,000 a year--of rent arrears of £37 million.
Mr. Gummer : It is all right for the hon. Lady, but the people who pay for those rent arrears are the tenants and the ratepayers who pay their rents and rates. Why should the tenants of Barking and Dagenham pay for the inefficency of the Labour council in Southwark? Why should the tenants of Hillingdon pay for the inefficiency of the Labour party in Brent? We must have an efficient system, and if Brent collected its rents the paying tenants would not have to suffer. Because of the Opposition's rottweiler tendency, they are determined not to listen to the facts-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Gummer : Because the Opposition do not want to hear the facts-- which are that the tenants and the ratepayers who pay their rent and rates have to carry the cost of those who do not--the rottweiler tendency wins again.
Column 968occasions since his appointment on 20 May. My first formal meeting with him will be on 3 July when we will discuss the council's corporate plan.
Mr. Campbell : During the Minister's meetings with the chairman of the Sports Council, did he discuss the potential damage to the Commonwealth games next year if rugby players from the United Kingdom accept invitations to play in centenary matches in South Africa? In particular, did he discuss with Mr. Yarranton the potential conflict between his two positions as chairman of the Sports Council and vice-chairman of the Rugby Football Union?
Is the Minister satisfied that all the members of the Sports Council support the Gleneagles agreement, which is the policy of Her Majesty's Government and which, with a few erratic exceptions, is supported by all proper-minded Members of this House?
Mr. Moynihan : If the hon. and learned Gentleman had listened to my answer, he would have heard me say that I have yet to meet the new chairman of the Sports Council formally. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the chairman's views on apartheid are quite clear. In a press statement on 12 June he said :
"I abhor the apartheid system of South Africa as I do all forms of racialism. As chairman of the Sports Council I shall do my utmost to support the Gleneagles agreement."
Mr. Redwood : Does my hon. Friend agree that many users of watersports facilities on rivers and lakes would not want consent levels for sewage works to be relaxed because that might pollute rivers unnecessarily? Has he received any representations from the Sports Council on that matter?
Mr. Moynihan : I have indeed discussed that subject with the Sports Council, although not yet with the new chairman. One point that he has welcomed in the water privatisation measures is the fact that we are going further than we have ever gone before to protect and enhance the use of our water courses for sport and recreation. I am sure that my hon. Friend will warmly welcome that.
Mr. Denis Howell : Does the Minister appreciate that press statements or letters on the very important subject of apartheid and the involvement of British sportsmen in South African sport are inadequate? Is he aware that the Gleneagles agreement calls upon him and Government Ministers, as a duty, urgently to combat those evils "by taking every practical step to discourage contact or competition"?
What urgent and practical steps has the hon. Gentleman taken and how does he intend to protect not only the Commonwealth games in Auckland but the world student games in Sheffield and the Manchester Olympic bid, all of which are at great risk because of the Government's inactivity on such a desperately important subject?
Mr. Moynihan : I wrote to the president of the Rugby Football Union on 17 May drawing attention to the Government's commitment to the Gleneagles agreement and the implications that such a tour may have for other sports. I strongly discouraged the passing on of invitations to players to compete in South Africa. I have also spoken to the RFU and colleagues in Scotland and Wales have written in similar terms to their respective unions. The
Column 969Government are fully committed to the Gleneagles agreement, but in a free society such as ours their role is limited to giving advice and seeking to persuade.
Mr. Stewart : I thank my hon. Friend for that positive result. Is she aware that the British people are delighted by the Government's strong lead in trying to stamp out that evil trade? One could say that we are in a position to blow our trumpet. What success has my hon. Friend had in persuading other countries to follow our example?
Mrs. Bottomley : I thank my hon. Friend for his tribute. My noble Friend the Minister for Housing, Environment and Countryside visited Kenya and was most successful with the initiative taken at the Environment Council. All members of the Community now ban raw and worked ivory, Hong Kong has taken further steps to ban imports, Japan is strengthening its controls, and the United Arab Emirates have announced their intention to become parties once again to the CITES agreement.
Mr. Hardy : Is the Minister aware that elephant tusks from east Africa tend to be shaped differently from those originating in central and southern Africa, yet photographs of tusks imported into Britain and Europe over the past few months supposedly from central and southern Africa clearly originated from the Kenya national parks and are a result of the serious poaching there? In view of the corrupt, irresponsible and illegal nature of such activities in east Africa, will the Minister ensure not only that a ban is enforced by Britain and Europe but that there is a great deal more international effort to stop that particularly disgraceful trade?
Mrs. Bottomley : Very great care was taken to control such legitimate trade as was allowed through the ivory trade monitoring unit at CITES, which has worked closely with our Customs and with our managing agents in the countries concerned. As a result of concern about the species, we decided that the African elephant should be included in appendix I of CITES, which will outlaw all ivory trade.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton : While warmly welcoming my hon. Friend's reply and the very fine example set by the United Kingdom, is she not afraid that by banning ivory we could drive that evil trade underground? Is she aware that South Africa and Namibia have found ways of cutting out illegal poaching, though both countries are so openly criticised by Opposition Members?
Mrs. Bottomley : I am well aware of the steps taken by the countries that my hon. Friend mentions to control the ivory trade. Our primary concern must be the conservation of the species, and we have decided that the time is right
Column 970for the African elephant to be included in appendix I of CITES together with the Indian elephant, and to outlaw trade in its ivory.
Mr. Moynihan : None. I gave a report on developments on a national membership scheme for England and Wales at the sixth conference of European Ministers with responsibility for sport in Reykjavik from 30 May to 1 June during the discussion on spectator violence. European Governments are kept informed about the scheme through our membership of the Council of Europe standing committee on spectator violence.
Mr. Cunliffe : Is it not a fact that European Ministers laughed out of court the Minister for Sport's proposal for a common European football identity card, which was also condemned by the European Football Association? It is their belief and ours that it would militate against genuine football supporters as against the hooligan element. Can the Minister explain why Britain is once again out of step with Europe?
Mr. Moynihan : The answer to all the hon. Gentleman's questions is no. At Reykjavik European Ministers warmly supported our determination to stamp out football hooliganism and the package of measures, including the Football Spectators Bill, that we are putting in place. That may be the reason why Holland and Spain are considering their own membership schemes-- which will, rightly, be drawn up as appropriate for the problems that those countries face.
Mr Moynihan : As my hon. Friend will know, I am merely answering the question tabled for my response, and that covers Europe. Suffice it to say that I disagree with my hon. Friend about the practicality of the scheme in this country. The strong commitment of the Government and the vote last night has shown not only that we shall see the scheme in place, but that it will prove a very important measure in ending the problems of violence associated with football in this country.
15. Mr. Fatchett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received over the decision by the Leeds development corporation to use its compulsory purchase powers to acquire riverside land in the Calls development area in Leeds ; and if he will make a statement.
Column 971businesses? When will this Government- appointed body--made up entirely of place men responsible to the Secretary of State--take account of the wishes of local business, and when will it recognise that its chairman has now completely lost the confidence of local business and will soon lose that of the local chamber of commerce as well?
Column 972purchase order has been laid for the area that he mentions. The Leeds development corporation will proceed in exactly the same way as local councils which prefer to negotiate without the use of the CPO. I find it amazing that the hon. Gentleman loses no opportunity to attack the Leeds development corporation simply because it was the present Government's idea. The truth is that the corporation is doing a tremendous amount of good for Leeds, and I think that the hon. Gentleman should join with it to try to achieve its objectives.
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