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Column 737Question accordingly negatived.
Lords amendment No. 3 agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 4 to 7 agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 8 and 9 agreed to.--[Special Entry.]
Lords amendment : No. 10, in page 16, line 18, leave out "Subject to subsection (3) below".
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.-- [Mr. David Hunt.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendment No. 11. [Interruption.] Order. There is a great deal of noise in the Chamber and we are considering amendments that are extremely complex and difficult for hon. Members to follow. Would those hon. Members who wish to hold conversations do so elsewhere?
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : The amendments are important because they relate to a significant number of local authority staff and deal with the confidentiality of staff salary records. We are pleased that the amendments that have been pressed in both this House and in another place have been accepted by the Government because they mean a great deal to a lot of people.
I should like to put one point to the Minister arising from the debate in their Lordships' House. It was decided that a working party would be established consisting of civil servants in the Department of the Environment and officers of the local authority associations to try to work out a proper formula about how the confidentiality provisions would apply both in total and in general.
We have been given to understand that the working party has yet to be established. If an amicable arrangement cannot be agreed with officers of the Department of the Environment and local authority associations, before any action is taken on the proposals, can the matter be brought back to the House for a general discussion? There may be contentions or difficulties to resolve.
This involvement is far-reaching. That is borne out by the way in which the Government have accepted the amendments that have been submitted. The Opposition parties deserve congratulations for the way in which they have pressed these amendments. If the working party cannot reach an agreement with the various officers, no action should be taken until we have had an opportunity to discuss it in the House. I ask the Minister to give that request his careful consideration.
Mr. David Hunt : The amendment provides that protection of personal information under clause 11 for employees of local authorities and certain other bodies at the time of audit should be extended to information about gross pay and benefits. As amended, the Bill provides that no information about employees will be available for public inspection at that time.
As my noble Friend Lord Hesketh made clear during consideration of the amendments on Report in another place, we remain of the view that it is important to get the right balance between public accountability and personal privacy.
Column 738No departmental officials are involved here. The issue is being considered by the Audit Commission and by the local authority associations. Together they are examining the system of public inspection at the time of audit.
I understand that the working party has already been established but, in view of the doubt that the hon. Gentleman has expressed, I shall check that information immediately after I leave the Chamber. I understand that the working party will publish its
recommendations, which will then be open to comment. I should like to make it absolutely clear that we will then wish to consider any recommendations that it makes. I cannot go further than that. In the meantime, we recognise that no information about local authorities' employees will be open to abuse and, for that reason, we accept the amendment.
Mr. O'Brien : The Minister says that the working party is in place and I accept that. If its report is published for consultation, I am prepared to accept the assurances given by the Minister. We look forward to obtaining the report.
Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 11 and 514, to 553 agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 554, in page 219, line 18, column 3, at end insert--
"In section 177, subsection (2A) and in subsection (3), the words "(but not for the purposes of subsection (2A) above)". Section 177A.
In section 178, in subsection (1), the words "and 177A"." Read a Second time.
Amendments made to the Lords amendment : (a), in line 5, at end add and subsection (5)'.
(b), in page 223, line 4, at end insert--
1988 c. 4. The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988. In Schedule 6, in paragraph 10, sub-paragraphs (6) and (7).'.-- [Mr. David Hunt.]
Lords amendment No. 554, as amended, agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 555 to 581, 583 to 601 and 603 to 606 agreed to. [Some with Special Entry.]
Lords amendment : No. 256, in page 118, line 29, after "value" insert
"or, where a rateable value has been prescribed or determined in respect of the lands and heritages under section 128 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, according to that rateable value"
Column 739amendments (a) to (f) thereto, 331 to 371, 372 and amendments (a) to (d) thereto, 373 to 399, 400 and Government amendment (a) thereto and 401 to 424.
Mr. Douglas : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is not our responsibility to challenge the grouping of amendments, but some of these relate expressly to Scotland. Am I right in understanding that a Scottish Office Minister may move those amendments separately, if he should manage to catch your eye? Will those amendments that relate to Scotland be moved by a Scottish Office Minister?
Mr. Douglas : Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry, but will the Secretary of State make it clear that he is not grouping these amendments to move them collectively and that the amendments relating to Scotland will be moved by a Scottish Office Minister?
Mr. Patten : Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We intend to give my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the opportunity to speak during the debate, if that is agreeable to the House. I think that a Scottish spokesman from the Opposition Front Bench will also intervene--in fact I know now that that will happen. I am sure that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) and other hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies will want to have a say. I hope that is acceptable to the House.
Madam Deputy Speaker : I can clear the air on that I am sure. We are dealing with the group of amendments beginning with No. 256, which is the lead amendment and which the Secretary of State is currently moving.
Mr. Douglas : On a point or order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I correct my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett)? My understanding is that the amendments will not be moved and debated as one, but that the amendments relating to Scotland will be moved separately. Can I be clear about that?
Mr. Patten : I understand that it has been agreed, in the normal fashion, that I should move that this House agrees with Lords amendment No. 256 and that we should then discuss with it a group of amendments including some that affect Scotland. Because some of the amendments affect Scotland, there will be interventions from appropriate spokesmen on both sides of the House. At the end of the debate, with the leave of the House, I shall wind up for the Government and someone--I am not quite sure who--will wind up for the Opposition. I hope that that will take proper account of the legitimate Scottish interest in the business before us.
Mr. Patten : The amendments that we are now considering deal with issues that relate to the introduction of a new system of local government finance for next year. They are grouped together for discussion because I am
Column 740sure that the House will wish to spend substantial time discussing the main issue that arises from them--the introduction of the transitional relief scheme.
There are bound to be areas and individuals who gain or lose from any substantial change to the system of local government finance or a comparable revenue raising system. As I understand it, that is the problem which is causing the Labour party further to sophisticate its two-tax policy for local government finance.
Under the existing system of domestic rates, many people have been unfairly treated. One thinks straightaway of single pensioner households, widows, single-parent families, and all those on the lowest incomes. They will almost all be better off as a result of the new system.
I shall spend a few minutes explaining to the House how we intend to ensure a smooth transition to the new system for those areas and groups of people who will, to some extent, be worse off. We propose two measures to help such areas. The area safety net was specifically introduced for that purpose. It provides that average ratepayers will lose no more than 50p a week on a comparison with their rate bill this year, increased by the GDP deflator of 4 per cent. We have now decided that the safety net will be abolished after the first year, but in the succeeding three years protection for those areas will be paid for by the Exchequer. The cost will amount to more than £600 million during that period. In addition, we are providing nearly £100 million next year to help areas with particularly low rateable values. That relief will be phased out over the same period as the general relief for areas.
It is important to remember that individuals in those areas received subsidy from other areas regardless of their own level of income. That has never been a fair way of distributing grant and it is right to abolish it. The Government have always recognised, however, that it was important to cushion the effects on those areas that would lose out as a result. That is the effect of our proposals.
Protection for those areas will not ensure that all those individuals who need help receive it. That is why we are ensuring that the new system of rebates for the community charge will be more generous than that provided for under the old domestic rating system. The rate at which rebates will be withdrawn will be 15p for every pound of extra income instead of 20p for every pound under the rates. The cost of rebates in Britain next year, including uprating of income support to help pay community charge bills, will be of the order of £2.5 billion and more than one in four adults are expected to benefit as a result. By any standards that represents a generous level of help for those in need.
It would not be right to build permanently into the system yet more protection, but I recognise that many individuals whose earnings are above the rebate level could face substantial increases in bills unless they are given special protection. That is why we are introducing the transitional relief scheme.
The first question to be answered is how one decides who should receive help. I do not believe that it would be right to include all first-time payers. The whole point of the introduction of the new system is that almost everyone should make a contribution towards the cost of local government. Arguably those who have not yet contributed should have been contributing all along.
Column 741It would also be wrong to protect individuals from the consequences of overspending by their local councils. The remedy for that lies in the ballot box. I recognise, however, that a move from a system based on rateable values to one based on adults means that some people living in low rateable value properties may find themselves worse off. It is those people that the new relief scheme is intended to help. We also thought it right to go somewhat further than that. We believe that disabled people and pensioners who are not paying rates deserve special help. We have therefore decided that first-time payers who are pensioners or are disabled will also qualify for the scheme. If they are already ratepayers, of course, they will receive help in the normal way. In total, the transitional relief scheme should help about 6 million adults in England at a cost, next year, of around £300 million. Those adults should be no worse off than £3 a week if their councils spend sensibly.
The second question to answer is how one defines the floor and the ceiling for protection. In one sense it is unfair to use this year's rate bill as the floor. We all know that were the rating system to continue almost everyone's rate bill would have been higher. In that sense they all would have been losers. None the less, we thought it right to be generous in providing help for the new system, so we are defining the floor for protection as this year's rate bill.
Mr. Soley : It is an open secret that the Secretary of State did not like the poll tax and I suspect that that was because he knew that it was unfair in the way in which it hit people. The point about rates is equally unfair because he knows that, over the years, the Government have cut £28 billion from the rate support grant. If the Secretary of State intends to argue that this year's rate bill should be the floor, surely, by his own previous arguments, he should accept that the way in which to give relief should be based on need by assessment rather than through the blanket approach that he has now adopted. That approach will leave many people worse off.
Mr. Patten : There are two important ways in which to deal with need. The first is through the rebate system and that is why I am pleased that the rebate system for the community charge is more generous than that for domestic rating. The second method is to look at the particular problems that arise because of a change from a system based upon rateable values to one based upon adults. That does throw up particular difficulties in low rateable value properties, as I have already explained. The interim relief scheme is designed to assist in solving such problems.
I think it improbable in the new model Labour party, which is substantially committed to the standards of fiscal rectitude trooped by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), that it would decide that the only way in which to be fair to local authorities would be to add £28 billion to what they are spending and consider that that was the right starting point. I have read--I dare say I am one of the few people who have done so
"Meet the Challenge : Make the Change"
and I have seen what it says about the importance of bearing down on overspending. I find it difficult to understand why those views about overspending never seem to apply to local authorities, but to the Ministry of Defence alone. During the time that I hope to spend in my job I look forward to learning more about the Labour party's views on controlling local expenditure.
Mr. Soley : Let me help the Secretary of State get out of his misery. He knows that the Labour party's alternative has not only been warmly welcomed by all-- [Interruption.] Oh yes, that is right. It has been warmly welcomed by specialist local government groups, especially those concerned with finance. Our proposal operates in almost every other advanced democracy and it is recognised that it not only gives more flexibility to local authorities in the way in which they raise their expenditure, but deals with the issue of fairness. The Secretary of State cannot bring himself to face that issue. When he took on the job he knew that the Government's proposals were unfair, but he still took that job on and he is still doing his lady's bidding.
Mr. Patten : I believe that the community charge is incomparably fairer than the domestic rating system. If any Secretary of State stood at this Dispatch Box and tried to argue, with a straight face, that we should base the way in which local revenue is raised on notional rental values 16 years out of date-- [Interruption.] That is what the domestic rating system amounts to. I am describing the present system.
If the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) believes that the policy left behind by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is still the policy of the Labour party he should have a word with the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). I am not absolutely convinced that the hon. Member for Dagenham, who is extremely bright and sensible, has quite the same idea. It was the constituency Labour party from Dagenham that tabled a motion at the Labour party conference to say that the Labour party's proposals were electorally and administratively unacceptable. I predict that the Labour party will be back with a new Mandelson-proof scheme as an alternative to domestic rates in a few months' time. We will then be delighted to provide exemplifications on that alternative as well. I believe that there are some Opposition Members who secretly wish that their party had never abandoned its commitment to the domestic rating system. Mr. Douglas indicated assent.
I shall move on in this spirit of convivial agreement. At least most of us are agreed--with one exception, and I am prepared to listen to more views-- that none of us believes that we should continue with the domestic rating system. [Interruption.] I am not sure if one or two hon. Members disagree.
Mr. Patten : We do not have unanimity, but we are approaching it. The alternatives on offer will be closely examined by the electorate at the next general election. I am sure that the Labour party will want to bring forward its proposals as soon as possible so that they can be subject to political debate and examination by the constituency Labour party in Dagenham and elsewhere.
We were talking about the definition of the floor for protection and I said that we were taking that as this year's rate bill. However, it would be wrong to provide protection for any level of spending which the local authority cared to incur next year. That would simply give the green light to excessive spending locally. Having
Column 743listened to what has been said, I am sure that the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer would not wish us to do so. Therefore, we are providing help to match the level of local authority spending that we have assumed for next year. That level is 11 per cent. more than the level that we assumed for this year. In no sense can that be regarded as unreasonable or ungenerous.
Obviously, there are problems in devising a scheme to smooth the transition from a system based on households to one based on individuals. In particular, there are difficulties related to houses in multiple occupation. We are talking to the local authority associations about these problems, and we have to draw a line somewhere. Inevitably, there are arguments about who should and who should not be covered by the scheme. I am confident that they can be resolved and I shall do all that I can to ensure that they are. I wish to say immediately that, regardless of the political differences between us, I hope that we can enjoy an effective working relationship with the local authority associations, because that is in the interests of good government in this country.
Mr. Matthew Taylor : The Secretary of State seems to accept that there are serious concerns about the problems of perming any two out of an HMO. I hope that he will accept--I am sure that he will come in for a lot of criticism if he does not--that that proposal cannot be made to work. There is no way that two individuals can be permed out of a house of multiple occupation. The real world does not work like that.
Mr. Patten : I do not accept that principle. The hon. Gentleman and others should not exaggerate the scale of the problem. It stands to reason that most of the houses in which there are likely to be a large number of residents will be high rateable value houses and are unlikely to be those that are covered by the scheme. Nevertheless, there are practical problems which will probably affect 2.5 per cent. of the total expenditure of the scheme. We want to resolve those problems. I hope that we can find some way of agreeing their resolution with the local authority associations ; if not, we shall have to agree to disagree.
I am aware that it is pretty late in the day to be introducing a new system of relief. It will cause difficulties for the local authorities implementing it. However, sensible local authorities welcome this extra protection for their community charge payers. I also understand that computer houses believe that these changes do not present insuperable difficulties. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) giggles. I do not know which computer firms he has consulted. We have discussed this-- Mr. Maxton rose--
We have discussed this matter with a number of computer firms. There are problems with bolting additional requirements on to the existing system, but we understand that computer houses believe that these changes can be made in a way that will enable us to bill at the appropriate time next year.
Column 7447.45 pm
Mr. Maxton : I wonder whether the Secretary of State has spoken to the directors of finance and the directors of computer services, particularly those in large local authorities in Scotland, where an attempt is being made to bolt this system on to an existing scheme which has been up and running for seven months. Those computers, which are already dismally failing to cope with the present position, are being asked to cope with this additional matter. I wish that the Secretary of State would talk to people in Scotland about what is happening instead of relying on software experts in private companies.
Mr. Patten : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would take it amiss if I had had discussions with computer houses in Scotland about the Scottish system. Were that the case, the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) would quite properly take exception. I was talking about discussions that we have had with computer houses in England. I am sure that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland--my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas -Hamilton)--and the hon. Member for Cathcart will be able to describe the discussions which are taking place in Scotland.
Mr. Douglas : Does not the Secretary of State accept that he should not necessarily be discussing the matter with computer houses, but consulting with his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who would tell him of the difficulties of trying to rejig a system and rewrite programs? In Fife people are working night and day, and trying to rejig the system at considerable cost. What additional cost has the Secretary of State for Scotland said will be incurred in trying to rejig the system?
Mr. Patten : When we proposed this scheme, we discussed it with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, with whom we are always happy to have discussions. I repeat that I think that the hon. Member for Cathcart and others would take it amiss were I to try to speak for the Scottish Office or my right hon. and learned Friend, who is well capable of speaking for himself. Therefore, I shall leave discussion of the administrative problems in Scotland to my Scottish colleagues. [Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Cathcart to laugh, but he knows perfectly well that if I were to try to say too much about Scotland, hon. Members would regard it as an appalling piece of le se majeste .
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware, since my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would have advised him, that the Scottish regions do not all operate the same system, equipment, or software. Consequently, the difficulties experienced in whichever region one considers depend on which system it operates and how effective it is.
Mr. Patten : I am sure that my hon. Friend has explained, to the universal satisfaction of the Opposition, the position in Scotland. I wish that I were as well informed about the position in Scotland as is my hon. Friend. Even if I were, I would not have dared to speak for Scotland during this debate.
Column 745As the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West implied, the relief scheme will involve additional costs for local authorities. I assure the House that we shall meet all reasonable costs associated with its introduction. I should make it absolutely clear that I want to ensure that the scheme is a success. I have argued that point strongly in my discussions with local authority associations. We shall do everything we can to ensure that it is a success.
The principle of providing transitional protection is undoubtedly right. When domestic revaluations were carried out in 1963 and 1973, transitional relief was made available. As I have explained, the scheme will not undermine accountability because it will not provide help over and above the level of spending assumed by the Government for next year. In those circumstances, it is reasonable to recognise the need to concentrate on those likely to be most affected, and to do so without building into the system permanent protection that would undermine the accountability that is so central to the community charge.
The other Government amendments relate to technical and other improvements to the legislation setting up the new local government finance system. In particular, they refer to the transition to the business rate--I hope that one or two of my hon. Friends will speak on that matter--to certain new exemptions from the community charge and to alterations to the arrangements for the standard charge. There are also some minor amendments relating to Scotland, but with the agreement of Scottish Members I shall leave them to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who will reply to the debate. I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Cathcart, from, I hope, a vertical rather than a horizontal position. I have made my main points about the transitional relief scheme in my answers to the various interventions. The Government have put forward their alternative to domestic rates and, with some honourable exceptions, almost everyone in the House is in agreement. Our proposals for the community charge are more equitable and more sensible than domestic rating. We look forward
Mr. Tony Banks rose --
Mr. Banks : Before the Secretary of State perorates, which is a painful experience for us all, will he say something about the publicity campaign? There is nothing in the Department of the Environment paper about that, but there has been some speculation in the newspapers. How much is likely to be spent on the publicity campaign for the transitional relief scheme and the poll tax generally? Is he prepared to consult local authority associations to ensure that that publicity will be based on information rather than on Tory propaganda?
Mr. Patten : The information about the publicity campaign was given in a parliamentary answer, not leaked through a newspaper. As the hon. Gentleman knows, if one really wants to keep a secret, one should announce it in the House. However, on this occasion the information was, surprisingly, picked up by the newspapers. I saw some exemplifications--a word that I have learnt in this job--in yesterday's newspapers of what the advertising might look
Column 746like. They were rather interesting commentaries on local government finance and on some of the attitudes of the Labour party. They are not the sort of advertisements that would be likely to pass the scrupulous attention of my hon. Friends and others.
It is possible both in local government and in central Government to have good and effective advertising that does not cross over any of the political parameters. We shall try to ensure that take-up of rebates for community charge payers and the take-up of the interim relief scheme are as substantial as possible. I am well aware of the interest of hon. Members on both sides of the House in the quality of that advertising. I assure them that I am also aware of the political parameters that were discussed during our previous debates.
Mr. McAllion : The Secretary of State said that the Government wanted to ensure the maximum take-up of rebates. In that case, when it became clear in Scotland that by keeping the original date thousands of people would lose out on rebates, why did Scottish Ministers refuse to extend the deadline? As a result, many thousands of pensioners were denied the right to rebates.
Mr. Patten : Almost two months were given-- [Interruption.] It was 56 days, which by my reckoning is virtually two months. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will deal more substantially with that point in his reply. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. Sometimes we are criticised for not encouraging take-up of rebates, and at other times we are criticised for suggesting advertising and are accused of doing something politically mischievous. I hope that all those eligible for rebates will take up those rebates. That is not a desperately partisan observation. I hope that all those who are entitled to benefit from the interim relief scheme will take up that benefit. That will involve public advertising, but I am sure that we can produce advertising that will satisfy hon. Members on both sides of the House who legitimately want to help those in need.
Mr. Matthew Taylor : I support the Secretary of State's suggestion that people need all the help that they can get to pay the poll tax. If anything can be done to achieve that, so much the better. Previously I have been involved with a number of organisations trying to increase take-up of benefits in other areas. People are often unaware that they can claim benefits. I hope that, while promoting his campaign, the right hon. Gentleman will try to get his colleagues in other Departments to run similar benefit take-up campaigns.
Mr. Patten : I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security would take exactly the same view as I do on the take-up of benefits. At least the House appears to be moving towards agreement that, without overstepping the proper political parameters, we should advertise the rebates and the transitional interim relief so that people can get the assistance that Parliament has voted for them. We want to introduce the community charge as smoothly and as successfully as possible, and the interim relief scheme is an important element in that process. When we first announced it, the Opposition denounced it as an electoral bribe. Judging by the amendments that they have now tabled, it appears that either they do not think that it is large enough or they think that we should be spending the money in other ways.
Column 747It is a sensible and effective way of targeting help on those who need it while the community charge is being introduced, and I unreservedly commend it to the House.
Mr. Blunkett : I was remiss earlier in not welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his new position. I hope that he has greater fortune than his predecessors--although, perhaps, promotion out of chaos might be catching. Other than the previous Secretary of State who has gone to Rip Van Winkle land in the Department of Trade and Industry, every other change in the Department of the Environment team has meant promotion.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said earlier, by anybody's description the Bill is in chaos with more than 600 amendments having been tabled. One of the Department's former team has moved to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food while another has moved to pastures new in the Department of Health. Those who have been promoted have left behind them--if my canine friend will forgive me for saying so--an absolute dog's dinner. It must be a message for the hon. Gentleman--if he makes a big mess, he could end up a contender for the premiership. I advise him to think on rapidly. Any pretence that the poll tax is acceptable or workable has disappeared. The proposals announced on 11 October and put before the House tonight reflect an admission of defeat, in respect not only of the safety net but of the poll tax. It is not the device to soften the tax but the tax itself that lies at the heart of the Government's problems.
The Secretary of State's words tonight cannot hide what is clearly a shabby bribe--an attempt to hold on to marginal Conservative seats by using public money to cushion the impact on the electorate of a tax that it does not want. There can be no other explanation. Again and again, we have appealed to the Government to alter the implementation of the tax. Even Conservative Back Benchers pleaded for banding of the tax to help those who are worst off, but that plea too was rejected. It was only in the wake of the Labour party campaign explaining to the public what the poll tax will really mean that Government Back Benchers began worrying about its repercussions on their seats.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) remarked earlier, the Government are so worried about the effect of the poll tax in the run up to the 1990 local elections and to the next general election that they propose spending £1 million of public money in an attempt to convince everyone how good their proposals really are. I wonder whether the publicity campaign in Wales will be slightly different from that used for England. The campaign used in Scotland will certainly need to be different, because what was unacceptable to the Scots and lost the Conservatives seats there will have to be made acceptable to the English. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Wales will present his proposals more clearly. Since the leaflet drop earlier this year, the hon. Gentleman has gained a reputation for demonstrating the unanimity of the Cabinet, by devising his own means of avoiding the pitfalls of the Department of the Environment. He is probably known in the Cabinet as "Do-it-yourself Peter", because he has his own ways of ensuring that the administrative chaos facing England is modified for Wales.