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Column 404Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Wheeler, Sir John
Winterton, Mrs Ann
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. John M. Taylor and
Mr. Irvine Patrick.
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Beith, A. J.
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Home Robertson, John
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Pike, Peter L.
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Wareing, Robert N.
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Bob Cryer and
Mr. Dennis Skinner.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Mr. Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House congratulates the Government on creating an environment in which enterprise and small businesses are flourishing, and urges the Government to continue pursuing the policies which have led to a record increase in the numbers of self-employed and new business formations, as confirmed by the increase in registrations for value-added tax.
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar) : I beg leave to present a petition, which I support, signed by 481 of my constituents in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. It is one of three petitions that have been sent to me by people who, having bought or rented television sets and having paid for a television licence, have found that increasing interference with reception has become so bad over the past few months that programmes are now unwatchable.
My petitioners believe that that is due to the massive buildings being erected in Docklands, particularly at Canary Wharf. Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will act to bring a swift remedy to this situation.
To lie upon the Table.
The petition reminds the House of the savage attack that took place last year during which Kellie, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lynch, was killed by two Rottweiler dogs. The petition urges the House to support any amendments to the law which would require all dogs to be muzzled in public places and which would ban the private ownership of particularly powerful breeds of dogs such as Rottweilers.
Column 405Mr. and Mrs. Lynch have succeeded in gathering 15,000 signatures in support of the petition. They have shown tremendous determination, and out of this terrible incident perhaps some good will emerge at the end of the day. I urge the House to support the principles in the petition.
To lie upon the Table.
Points of Order
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) I am an assiduous attender in the Chamber. Today, when the Social and Liberal Democrats had the choice of subject for debate on this Supply day, I happened to be out of the Chamber for a short time while I was engaged in important constituency work. I understand that, without any notification, the Minister made an attack upon me. As you know, Mr. Speaker, when an attack is to be made on another hon. Member, it is usual to notify that hon. Member so that he may respond. The Minister attacked a very good record of work by the Minister with responsibility for small firms in the last Labour Government, who ensured growth and prosperity for small firms. It is deeply regrettable that the Minister should feel so insecure and incompetent that he chose to attack me behind my back. It is very much to be regretted.
Column 406Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said about his being an assiduous attender in the Chamber. He is. The only reason he was missing tonight was that there was no money resolution. If there had been, I think that he would have been on his feet now. The important issue is that he was attacked--
Mr. Speaker : Why did not the hon. Member raise the matter at the time? I was not in the Chair at the time. The hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) are assiduous attenders. It is a convention that, if hon. Members attack each other in the Chamber, they let the relevant hon. Member know. I cannot judge what happened in the debate to which the hon. Members have referred.
Mr. Skinner : It is a bedtime story. When the Minister was attacking my hon. Friend, another Tory Member--I think it was the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)--said, "Hey, just a minute. Never mind about attacking the hon. Member for Bradford, South. You should be getting interest rates down." There is a moral to the story. The Minister should not have attacked my hon. Friend ; he should have been doing his job in respect of interest rates. My hon. Friend came out--
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) : The Government's spending target for Cumbria is ridiculous ; it reflects the classic north-south syndrome and indicates the inability of Whitehall to recognise the needs of Cumbria or of any other area outside the south-east.
Those are not my words, but those of the leader of the Conservatives on Cumbria county council. An article in the Evening News and Star of 16 January states :
"Tories attack Thatcher. County poll axed."
It goes on to state that the group in Cumbria
"would not seek to meet the Government's target which would mean cuts of up to £33 million."
I wonder whether Mr. Gyngell and his colleagues on the county council now regret their enthusiasm for the introduction of the poll tax. They fought the 1989 election campaign on the basis of the poll tax. They said that it was a good thing. I wonder whether they are so sure now, when their electors must pay the price of the Government's policy.
The standard spending assessment for the county fails to respect or reflect the costs of providing services, particularly education and fire services, in a large and sparsely populated county such as Cumbria. It underestimates the significance of the cost of road maintenance and winter maintenance and it inadequately funds what is called "other resources". It grossly overestimates potential interest receipts.
I now refer to winter maintenance, to give hon. Members some idea of how the SSA was put together. Cumbria is the second largest county in England. It has within it the Lake district, with many of the highest passes in the country and very bad roads in winter. It was originally granted £90,000 for snow clearing, which is less than the London borough of Camden was granted. That gives some indication of the thought that went into the SSA. It was only through representations by Members of Parliament and a high-powered delegation from the county council that that figure was changed. It is still inadequate.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : The hon. Gentleman made a good deal of the remarks of Mr. Gyngell at the beginning of his speech. I should think him unfair if he did not add that, besides criticising the standard spending assessment for Cumbria, Mr. Gyngell criticised unnecessary overspending by the county council. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the council is dominated by the Labour party. Many people think that there are considerable opportunities for savings so that ratepayers of Cumbria do not have to pay as much over the SSA as may be the case.
Mr. Martlew : I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not tell the House which service he would like cut. People in his council--South Lakeland district council--will pay the highest poll tax in the area.
Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness) rose --
It is deeply resented that Cumbria is being penalised to help the south- east. The Government came to the conclusion that they had to pay more to councils in the south-east. That was right and proper, but although it had to be funded the money did not have to come out of the pockets of people in the north of England.
Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington) : My hon. Friend makes an important point about the distribution between the south-east and the north -west. He spoke eloquently about rural areas, but urban areas are equally hit. The city of Manchester--
Mr. Bradley : For a standstill budget, Manchester would require £449.8 million. The SSA for Manchester is £366.5 million, a shortfall of £83.3 million. On top of that, each poll tax payer in Manchester will have to pay £71 to fund the safety net, or, in other words, the Tory marginals in the north-west.
Mr. Martlew : I agree with my hon. Friend. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) tried to make a sedentary intervention. He seems to talk in the House more about what happens in Manchester than about what happens in his own constituency.
Mr. Martlew : I refuse to give way to the hon. Gentleman. Had Cumbria been in Wales our SSA would have been £280 million. We have £244 million because we are not a Welsh county council. Cumbria has many similarities with some of the north Wales councils. We have sparsely populated, large areas. I hope that the Minister will not come to the Dispatch Box and get away with the lame excuse that he has nothing to do with Wales and has no responsibility. My constituents want to know why they must subsidise areas in the south and why they are not supported to the same extent as the Welsh county councils.
To go into the detailed estimates for the county, the Government say that Cumbria overspends on education to the tune of 11 per cent. They want the council to cut education by 11 per cent. That is nonsense. We do not spend enough on education in Cumbria. I plan to visit two schools in my constituency on Friday. No doubt, I shall be told that classes are large, that there are not enough teachers, that the buildings are shabby and that there are not enough books. That is a reflection of the amount of spending that is put into the county. The education system in Britain is a disgrace compared with the rest of western Europe. We should put more money into it, not take it out.
The Government say that we should cut education expenditure by 11 per cent. If that happened, the small schools in the Tory rural areas would feel the effect. They are already feeling it under local management of schools.
Column 409We see pictures of Tory Members in the newspapers presenting petitions and complaining about the threat to rural schools. It is time that they started to do something about that instead of just picking up petitions.
The Government say that we should cut social services spending by 7 per cent. The fact is that this week my county council has already decided to close six old folk's homes--not because they are empty, but because the county cannot afford to bring them up to standard. That is under the present assessment. What will we do if we have to cut the budget by 7 per cent.? Will we say to some old folks, "We have no place for you"? When children in this country are more at risk from sexual abuse than ever before, are we saying that we shall have to cut resources? That is what the Government are saying.
I turn now to the police. Six months ago the Home Office told us that we would get extra police. I was one of those who lobbied for that and I welcomed the announcement. However, the SSA for Cumbria says that we have 4 per cent. too many police. Therefore, on the one hand the Home Office is recognising that we have a problem with crime--indeed, we have near record levels of crime in Cumbria--but, on the other hand, the Department of the Environment is saying that we have to sack the police that we have taken on.
The funding of our fire service is also amazing. We have had a Home Office review and it is right that Cumbria overspends. We spend £500, 000 more than the shire average. However, the Home Office review states that the high costs are not due to inefficiency or ineffectiveness. In fact, the main determination of fire costs is not population, but the nature of the fire risks to be covered. As the House knows, Cumbria has several areas of major fire risk in its boundaries. We have British Nuclear Fuels at Sellafield, the nuclear shipyard and the gas terminal at Barrow and a large ammunition depot near my constituency. They are all fire risks. The Home Office report states that there is a shortage of 16 firemen. Therefore, the force is below standard.
However, the SSA for Cumbria on fire services says that we are overspending by 28 per cent. It implies that we should cut the service by 28 per cent. But if we do, we shall be failing to abide by the law because the Home Office has set down statutory guidelines saying that we should maintain a certain level of fire cover. If we cut the fire service budget by 28 per cent., we would have only two full-time fire stations in the county--one in Barrow and the other in Carlisle. The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), and his hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) would be most concerned about that.
I have mentioned highways and the problem of winter maintenance. I concede that we received more than the £90,000, but only after a struggle with the Minister. While the Department of Transport says that we underspend on our roads by £1.5 million, the Government say that we are overspending and should cut our roads expenditure. If we did that, we would be cutting Cumbria's economic lifeline. It is a remote county and needs good roads. We do not have them now and we certainly will not have them if we make any cuts. When the Government announced that the poll tax for Carlisle would be £239, they were right.