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Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : As a courtesy to the House, Mr. Speaker, may I notify you that the Opposition have decided to make a change in the business for the Opposition day tomorrow. We shall now start with a debate on Government policy on South Africa. That will proceed until 7 pm, and we shall then take the business already announced, which is a debate on rail fares and services. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. We cannot go back to what was said at Question Time. I did not hear what was said ; everyone else may have, but it did not come through my amplifier. Nor did I hear what the Prime Minister is alleged to have said earlier, which caused so much disruption in the Chamber.
I think that we should reflect on the fact that we are now seen on television. Scenes of the kind that we witnessed this afternoon, which will have been seen and heard by television viewers, bring no credit on us.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have received a most courteous letter from the Editor of Hansard pointing out that last night's Hansard reported, in column 117, that Mr. Colin Wallace had been acquitted in 1971. It should have read "convicted in 1981".
Column 154The Minister of State for the Armed Forces has most courteously come to the Chamber to hear me make the correction.
The Ministry of Defence has considerable resources. It employs people to correct Ministers' speeches, unlike Back Benchers on boths sides of the House. Such carelessness is symptomatic of this whole affair, and is entirely unacceptable to the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has raised the matter in the best traditions of the House. I, too, have received a copy of the letter from the Editor of Hansard , in which the Editor--again, in the best traditions- -takes responsibility for the error.
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry that the error was not picked up, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for his remarks. I am also grateful to the Editor of the Official Report . Perhaps I did not speak clearly enough.
Sir William Clark (Croydon, South) : Further to the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), Mr. Speaker. I understand that the remark made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was heard on television ; it was certainly heard on both sides of the House, although I accept that you may not have heard it. The right hon. Gentleman implied that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should have spent 27 years in prison. Although you did not hear the remark, Mr. Speaker, do you not agree that that is unparliamentary language and that the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw it?
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your assistance and advice on a matter of grave importance in my constituency? More than 2,700 drums of contaminated waste have been dumped in my constituency, and a smaller quantity of the same consignment has been dumped in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). A number of my hon. Friends, some of whose constituencies are close to mine an in close proximity to the material-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. This point of order is addressed to me. [Interruption.] This is exactly what I was talking about a few moments ago. If Members continue to barrack--for that is what they are doing--it is impossible to hear the point of order being raised with me. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order?
Column 155Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : It is not a point of order.
A number of my hon. Friends, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, (Mr. Redmond) tabled an early-day motion in the House last week as a means of expressing the anger and frustration that is felt in our constituencies because this waste has been with us far too long. As a symbol of the frustration and anger that we have faced, having had to put up with this waste which should not be in our area--
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend's motion suggests that, as a symbol of our rage and frustration, and as evidence of the inadequacy and poverty of British regulations, one of the drums should be brought to the Palace of Westminster, and I merely wanted to ask you where I should put it, Mr. Speaker.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. I am on my feet, and it has always been the tradition that when the Speaker is on his feet he is heard. We have an important debate today on public expenditure, and a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in it. There is also a ten-minute Bill motion which will take time out of the debate. I cannot have a continuation of Question Time. What was said at Question Time was said. I think that it was the worst Prime Minister's Question Time that it has been my unhappy duty to preside over. I ask the House to reflect and to ensure that we do not have a repetition of it.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you agree that the main problem during Prime Minister's Question Time was that five or six minutes of answers on two separate questions would have
Column 156been better given as a statement in calm so that everyone could have asked questions? Given that I and many of my hon. Friends think that, will you accept a request from me to ask a private notice question demanding a statement from the Prime Minister on the Government's policy on sanctions against South Africa?
Mr. Speaker : Order. The time for private notice questions has passed. We are to have a debate on the subject tomorrow. I shall take one more question from the chairman of the 1922 committee [Interruption.] Order. I decide who is called. [Interruption.] Behaviour of this kind from Front-Bench spokesmen is a terrible disgrace.
Mr. Onslow : Further to my original point of order and your response, Mr. Speaker. There is something very unsatisfactory about the situation in which the House finds itself. It seems that it is possible--I am not sure whether this is the first time that it has happened--for things to be said loudly in the Chamber by certain hon. Members, above and below the Gangway, which are heard clearly by Conservative Members, and can be heard outside the House but cannot be heard by you, Mr. Speaker. If the microphones are at fault, can you please tell the House what action you will be putting in hand to put the matter right? It cannot be satisfactory for order to be maintained on the basis that disorderly things are said and people get away with it.
Mr. Speaker : The right hon. Gentleman has been here a long time and he should know that, when an hon. Member has been called by the Chair to speak or to put a question, remarks from a sedentary position are not a proceeding of Parliament and such remarks are not shown in Hansard . [Interruption.] Order. The right hon. Gentleman had better look up the rules. [Interruption.] I cannot be held responsible for such things. I do not know quite what the right hon. Gentleman is alleging, but I have a microphone in the wings of my chair and can hear very clearly the hon. Member who has been called to speak from his or her microphone. It is impossible under that system to hear what then goes on on the other side of the House. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. John Hughes (Coventry, North-East) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the provision of essential fuel and energy to each home ; to guarantee appliances ; to prevent the entry to premises without prior recorded legally authorised notice ; to prevent the unauthorised removal of a fuel measuring device ; to abolish standing charges ; to establish local authority monitoring committees ; to facilitate the effective insulation of the homes of those on low incomes ; and for connected purposes.
The hardship, the risk to life from hypothermia experienced by the elderly, the sick, single-parent families, the unemployed and the disabled in 6 million homes affected by fuel poverty is exacerbated by the fuel industries' wanton use of the legal system and the courts.
By means of an early-day motion, I have already drawn to the attention of the House an example of this and its effect on my constitutent, Mr. Quigley, of 8 Loach drive, Coventry. Mr. Quigley, an elderly pensioner, was pursued by British Gas with the voracity of Shylock ; British Gas arrayed the full legal system against this elderly pensioner. Solicitors and magistrates took control of Mr. Quigley's meagre pension. He had no say in the matter.
Without considering whether the imposition of the technically correct legal decision would place Mr. Quigley at risk from hypothermia, the magistrate arranged to have £352.66 deducted from Mr. Quigley's pension for the cost of the magistrate's adjudication and the value of the gas used by two other British Gas customers. After the wheels of justice had turned, Mr. Quigley's £141.83 bill became an alarming bill for £499.49.
It is a case which illustrates that magistrates, like justice, are blind : blind to the circumstances that affect the millions of people on whom they pass judgment. It is a blindness which prevails in this House and which many hours of debate have failed to change. The House is affected by what can only be described as a multi-sense impairment which exceeds even that of the brass monkeys. The House refuses to see the problem ; the House refuses to hear about the problem ; The House refuses to discuss the problem. The House refuses to feel the problem by taking up my suggestion and shutting off the heat in the Commons to enable every Member of Parliament to experience the killing cold that affects 6 million households. And the House refuses to use the other sense associated with the heart, the caring sense of compassion.
If we sat in this Chamber without heat for only a few hours we might sense the cold that immobility induces--the cold endured by my disabled constituent, Martin Jenkins, of 134, Longfield house, whose circumstances are the lot of many disabled people. Confined to a tenancy on the 10th floor of a high-rise block, he is no longer receiving any extra heating allowance. In winter he is continually under financial stress and his limited income is dissipated combating bad insulation and major heat loss through plywood walls and the extreme cold at that high level.
Martin's circumstances and those of Mr. Quigley, although painful, are not unique. There are Martins and Mr. Quigleys in every constituency and they are crying out for help. They, I am sure, welcome my suggestion that the heating should be switched off in the House of Commons, just as they would welcome the opportunity of
Column 158experiencing the temperatures that we enjoy. We could do that by giving them more money or by allowing them to use heat without fear of disconnection. In the meantime, until the House adopt that course, we could convey the temperature that we enjoy by showing it on the television screens every time Parliament is televised.
Unfortunately, my representation or the House's consideration of my Fuel and Energy Provision Bill will be of no benefit to Mr. John Bowling, whose death I heard reported on my car radio as I drove to the Commons. As far as I am aware, his death was acknowledged as the first death from hypothermia this winter. On 30 November, council caretakers found Mr. Bowling on the floor dead when they broke into his flat. The inquest reported that he had died of hypothermia--time of death unknown. The report of Mr. Bowling's circumstances and his anonymity should wring even the hardest heart. The comments of Sergeant Canning of Luton police carried a tragic message. None of the residents could say anything about Mr. Bowling. They had not seen him for some time. They could not remember when they last saw him. They could remember him only as the man who lived at No. 131. That is not a fitting epitaph for John Bowling. The House should cry for him and should do its best to ensure that there are no more such deaths. The tragic end of John Bowling should be the beginning of a campaign by the House against hypothermia which puts the lives of our elderly constituents at risk every winter.
My Fuel and Energy Provision Bill, which is a small step towards that objective, needs the support of the House and that is why I am writing to every Conservative Member, asking for support. On previous occasions my Bill failed to get a Second Reading because only one Member objected. The reasoning behind that deliberate block is difficult to understand. What can be described only as a national disaster is being ignored by the House. Surely there can be no issue more important than saving the lives of elderly citizens. My letter to each Member and my campaign messages are headed by the budgerigar, a bird particularly sensitive to the cold. That bird played a significant part in saving the life of an elderly lady. I hope that it will move the Government to take measures to save thousands of lives.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Hughes, Mr. Dave Nellist, Mr. Frank Cook, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mrs. Audrey Wise, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Pat Wall, Mr. Terry Fields, Mr. Bob Cryer, Ms. Mildred Gordon, Mr. Harry Barnes and Mr. Tony Banks.
Mr. John Hughes accordingly presented a Bill to require the provision of essential fuel and energy to each home ; to guarantee appliances ; to prevent the entry to premises without prior recorded legally authorised notice ; to prevent the unauthorised removal of a fuel measuring device ; to abolish standing charges ; to establish local authority monitoring committees ; to facilitate the effective insulation of the homes of those on low incomes ; and for
Column 159connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 9 March and to be printed. [Bill 71.]
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Conservative Members were silent when you asked whether any hon. Member opposed the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Hughes). As it is quite clear that they intend to block it to prevent it from being given a Second Reading--
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : When I attempted to raise a point of order after Prime Minister's Question Time, you, Mr. Speaker, said that you would allow points of order to be taken later. My point of order
Neither you, Mr. Speaker, nor I are responsible for what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says--more is the pity, because I should be very honoured if I were. I am concerned about how the Leader of the Opposition receives advice--
Mr. Speaker : Order. That is not a matter for me, nor should it be too much of a concern for the hon. Gentleman. Surely we deal in this place with policies rather than the personalities of hon. Members. What advice is given to the Leader of the Opposition is not a matter for me.
Mr. Hoyle : No. You, Mr. Speaker, should know better than that. I am seeking your guidance. I thought that I distinctly heard you say a little earlier that you were calling a right hon. Member because he was chairman of the 1922 committee. Does that departure mean that in future you will be calling the chair of the parliamentary Labour party, the chair of the Tribune group or the chair of the Campaign committee? Is that a new departure?
Mr. Speaker : At Question Time, he gets some precedence because of the position that he occupies in the parliamentary Labour party. But perhaps even Speakers should not allow things to be said from a sedentary position.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You gave the impression a few minutes ago--certainly to me, and I think to others--that Hansard does not report comments that are made from a sedentary position. I had always understood that, occasionally, Hansard does so. You may care to reflect on what you said, in case there is confusion in the future either in the House or in the mind of the Editor of Hansard .
Mr. Speaker : I am delighted to clear this up. Hansard does not record remarks made from a sedentary position unless they are referred to subsequently in the House. That has been the long-standing tradition. Too many remarks
Column 161are made from a sedentary position. Hansard would not read well if that tradition were not followed. Remarks that are referred to subsequently in a debate are, of course, referred to in Hansard .
This is a desperately serious point of order. What you just said about sedentary comments not being recorded unless they are referred to subsequently in the House puts me in an embarrassing position. I have just received a note from the Official Report, which says : "Supply sedentary intervention to which Mr. Speaker replied." I thought that you were in a sedentary position when you replied, so how can we have two--
Mr. Speaker : Order. If I referred to it, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's remark from a sedentary position will appear in Hansard . I regret that I did that. Let us get on to the public expenditure debate, and I must say to the House--
[Relevant documents : First Report from the Treasury and Civil Service Committee of Session 1989-90 on the 1989 Autumn Statement (House of Commons Paper No. 20) and First Special Report : Government Observations on the First Report (House of Commons Paper No. 209).]
That this House takes note of the White Paper on the Government's Expenditure Plans for 1990-91 to 1992-93 (Cm. 1001-1009, 1011-1018, and 1021).
Three weeks ago, we debated the Autumn Statement and focused on overall economic prospects and policy. Since then, the public expenditure White Paper has been published. In a formal sense, it will be the last to be published, because 18 months ago the Government announced that they would replace the White Paper with individual departmental reports. That follows the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee and of the Select Committee on Treasury and Civil Service, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). I should like once again to pay tribute to his skill in chairing the Committee and to the contribution that it made to the development of the format of the White Paper. The Committee included in its report on the Autumn Statement a number of useful recommendations on public expenditure. The Government responded yesterday, and the Committee made that response available to the House. Some of the Committee's suggestions are reflected in the White Paper, and we have undertaken to consider others further.
Tight control of public expenditure is, and always has been, a central element of the Government's economic strategy. Getting inflation down is an important priority, and a tight fiscal policy plays a crucial role in that. If spending is not firmly controlled, the burden of financing it will cripple and hold back an economy. Only when the burden of tax is set at moderate and reasonable levels will enterprise and growth flourish.
That has always been our approach. Twelve years ago, we said in the document, "The Right Approach" :
"Our intention is to allow state spending and revenue a significantly smaller percentage slice of the nation's annual output and income each year. This is not a prescription for poorer social provision In the longer term it is only by building a healthier, more productive economy that we shall afford the improvements in services that we need."
Those words have been well justified. In line with the objective that we set ourselves 12 years ago, we have reduced public spending as a percentage of gross domestic product. Public spending means total spending--central and local government spending, and that includes finance for nationalised industries and debt interest. Debt interest is, of course, expenditure which must be paid for like any other item. The Labour party tends to forget that.
The ratio of public spending to GDP reached nearly 50 per cent. in 1975-76, but is now below 40 per cent. Over the past seven years, it has fallen by a remarkable eight percentage points--a fall that is unparalleled since the war time economy was unwound.
Column 163In real terms, total public spending, including debt interest, is now broadly at the same level as five years ago, while the economy has grown by an average of 3 per cent. a year. One would have to look hard to find another five-year period in any country where public spending has been so successfully controlled and economic growth has been so high.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : There is a down side to that-- that there has been insufficient investment in the social and economic infrastructure that the nation requires. That is evident from the collapse of transport and roads in London. How do the figures that the Minister has just given compare with the expenditure patterns of other European Community countries?
Mr. Lamont : I shall deal with those points. The subject about which the hon. Gentleman asked is precisely the theme of my speech, and I shall comment specifically on infrastructure, investment and comparisons with other countries.
I emphasise, in reply to the hon. Gentleman, that we have in the past five years succeeded in meeting two objectives simultaneously. There has been restraint in overall total public spending but there has also been higher spending in key areas where that has been necessary and justified.
How has that been achieved? The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who is not here, often in these debates contrasts the position of Treasury Ministers boasting about overall control and the position of individual departmental Ministers boasting about spending increases within their individual Departments. The answer to how that has been achieved is that it has been done not by chicanery or magic, or by mirrors. It has been done by three methods. First, we have reduced borrowing. The public sector borrowing requirement averaged nearly 7 per cent. of GDP between 1973-74 and 1978-79. Five years later it was at half that level and five years after that we were in the new and unprecedented situation of repaying debt.
That reduction in debt has brought with it lower debt interest payments. The cost of servicing debt is now 15 per cent. lower in real terms than it was five years ago. That yields savings of about £3 billion a year, to spend on priority areas. A virtuous circle is now at work and that is indeed in contrast to some other European countries, which are facing severe handicaps from uncontrolled and threatening deficits.
Compared with the rest of Europe, Britain has become a country of low taxation, low national debt and lighter regulation. That is a happy combination and it is no accident that, at the same time, we have moved from the bottom to the top of the growth league of major European countries.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I was interested in the Minister's remarks about other Government Departments. Looking at table 3.1 on page 1 of chapter 3, which applies to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, under the heading "Support for the fishing industry," the figures for 1990-91 and 1991-92 will enable the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland to introduce a decommissioning scheme so as to reduce the size of the United Kingdom registered fishing fleet?