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Column 830full support of the official Opposition in that. While the interim committee looks to the future and considers whether the Loch Lomond and Trossachs areas should be separate or combined, at least we would be starting presently to consider the issue of a management programme for Loch Lomond.
Either the community and I are hopeless in advocating the case, or the Secretary of State is impervious to logical argument. I believe that the community would resoundingly state that it is the latter. The Secretary of State has ignored the point time and time again. As I have said, this is not a local issue: it is a national issue. I cannot stress too strongly the urgency of the matter. There were a number of distinguished speakers at the meeting I held at Loch Lomond a couple of years ago. One was Mr. John Arnott, who used to be the vice-chairman of the Countryside Commission in Scotland. He advocated the case for national park status for Loch Lomond. About structure, and taking a comprehensive view of all the land and other uses, he said:
"Elsewhere in Britain this was not so in the creation of the national parks . . . which had two purposes: preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the areas, and promoting their enjoyment by the public. It was not so in the creation of the Regional Park . . . in Loch Lomond"--
because the present structure under the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1981 simply stated that the park was being set up as
"An extensive area of land, part of which is devoted to the recreational needs of the public."
If the Secretary of State was serious about taking the Hutchison committee report at face value, he would have dwelt on page 14 of the report, where the management philosophy was elaborated. It stated that of crucial importance is environmental sustainability. It contains sections on
"maintaining ecological health and integrity . . . fostering social and economic wellbeing . . . maintaining fundamentally the rural character",
as that would provide
"environmentally responsible enjoyment of the countryside." The Hutchison report's philosphy was eminently sensible, but there is not one iota of sense in the document published on Monday, to which I am referring. The community will agree with me about that. The Herald , The Scotsman and others have, over the past few years, advocated a campaign to stop Loch Lomond turning into an environmental disaster area. Every day the Secretary of State delays, the more chance there is that it will be turned into an environmental disaster area.
At the moment, Loch Lomond is simply an unregulated pond. Anyone can travel up the M6 with a boat, launch it on the loch at any point, and travel at any speed on the loch. The Secretary of State will be aware of the death on the loch last year of a young girl--Ann McAulay--because no regulations were in force. As we speak today, no regulations have been put in place, simply because of the Government's lack of interest in Loch Lomond.
What sort of interest is shown in Loch Lomond? The Secretary of State has moved in the past few months. He gave planning permission for a development on the shores of Loch Lomond to Dr. Michael Kelly and his friends. They established a plan, which they put to the district
Column 831council several years ago. Notwithstanding the district council's unanimous rejection of the plan, the Secretary of State decided to go ahead, and give Dr. Kelly permission.
Dr. Kelly and his colleagues are the equivalent of the Loch Lomond derivative merchants. In this case, they are not playing around with other people's money. It is much more serious, because they are playing around with the natural landscape, the environment and the conservation jewel of Loch Lomond.
From day one, when they put their proposals to Dumbarton district council, Dr. Kelly and his colleagues did not mention a business plan. Indeed, they refused to put one forward. They still refuse to put one forward to the Secretary of State. However, in the Secretary of State's idleness--that is the only way I can describe it, as he paid no thought to the matter--he gave Dr. Kelly and his colleagues permission to go ahead.
The Secretary of State gave his permission in December. Three weeks later, Dr. Kelly's colleague in the consortium was talking about getting £4 million from Dumbartonshire Enterprise to upgrade the structure of Loch Lomond. Dr. Kelly is on record as saying of Dumbarton district council that there were ideological reasons and "irrational" political reasons. He said of the council:
"They don't like private houses, that's 1950s"
I have some information for the Minister. Dumbarton district council unanimously refused permission, and the Tory group on the council rejected Dr. Kelly's proposal.
Dr. Kelly and his colleagues have now sold out. They went cap in hand to Dumbartonshire Enterprise, and said that they did not have the funds to go ahead with the development, despite boasts about what they would for the area. They asked Dumbartonshire Enterprise, "What will you do?" and Dumbartonshire Enterprise--a public body--is buying the land for £3 million.
It is scandalous in the first instance that the Secretary of State gave planning permission, but I applaud Dumbartonshire Enterprise, because this is an opportunity for a public body to intervene in the public interest for the good of the many, not the few. It is a classic example.
The Secretary of State has an awful lot to answer for on the issue. Had he accepted the Hutchison committee's report on any developers having to demonstrate their economic viability, he would not have got himself into this sorry mess. The local community is utterly against him in this matter, and, as I said, that goes across the entire political spectrum.
The Scottish Office released the greatest sleight-of-hand press release on Monday, in which it stated:
"Funding of some £2.85 million over the next three years will be available to support the protection of the beautiful Loch Lomond and Trossachs area of Scotland."
I asked the House of Commons Library to look into the issue of new money, because the Government's response does not refer at all to finance. The Hutchison committee's report recommended more than £1 million in the first instance and 75 per cent. funding from central Government, but there is nothing in the document asbout nthe Hutchison committee's recommendations.
The Library contacted the Scottish Office yesterday about new money, and wrote to me with this reply:
Column 832"Unfortunately, all the Scottish Office officials who deal with this are presently on the train from Edinburgh to London for tomorrow's debate. However, a colleague of theirs in Scotland tried to help and said that . . . although they know there is extra funding they are not sure if it is `new'.
Scottish Natural Heritage's Loch Lomond office say that they are not sure exactly how the money is being made up and only know that the Scottish Office will make £850,000 available through Scottish Natural Heritage next year on top of SNH's support for the Park Authority."
That is a disgraceful situation. I charge the Minister with political sleight of hand in asserting that there is new money. I want chapter and verse about finance and where it is coming from when he comes to the Dispatch Box.
On a charitable basis, if we accept that there is new money, is it project- specific? Who will decide on the money--will it be a local body such as the Loch Lomond park authority, or will the park authority have to go on its knees to SNH to get the money? The track record in that area of SNH and others is not good.
Like the Minister, the chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, Mr. Magnus Magnusson, has never come to one of my Loch Lomond conferences during the past few years. Mr. Magnusson has been a dutiful assistant and steward to the Government, but he is not doing very much on the environment or to assist local communities with their future. Finally, on Loch Lomond, the urgency of the matter and the mechanisms for the new joint committee, I must refer to a speech by John Foster at the last conference that I convened. He was director of the Peak district national park from 1954 to 1968, and a director of the Countryside Commission from 1968 to 1985. The Countryside Commission is the organisation that the Minister set up to look into Loch Lomond in the late 1980s. It recommended national park status--a recommendation that the Secretary of State ignored.
Mr. Foster is also a member of Nature and National Parks for Europe. He said in his speech to my conference:
"Quite simply, I believe that Loch Lomond and the Trossachs are so important that whatever powers are necessary to protect them from further deterioration should be put in place here and now. This really is fundamental to success in securing and implementing the range of planning and management strategies so badly needed for the area. There is not time for experimenting with less positive solutions. That is just fiddling while Loch Lomond burns--or, more accurately, while it deteriorates further . . . I believe it is vital to success to put in place an adequate mechanism for the management of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs now--not in 5 or 10 years time." Sadly, the Secretary of State has moved the responsibility on to local authorities, at a time when they are up to their eyes in devising new structures for all the serious responsibilities they will have in the next year. Loch Lomond will not be their number one priority, because they are dealing with political issues across the whole local government spectrum.
In the interval, I will call another meeting about Loch Lomond, and I guarantee that between 100 and 150 people will attend. I hope that this time, belatedly, the Secretary of State will come along and listen to the local community. If the Government do not do anything, the official Opposition will do something. As soon as we get into government, we will establish a national park for Loch Lomond, so that we become part of the family of national parks in Europe, and at last something positive will be done for the environment and conservation in that most beautiful part of Scotland.
Column 83311.14 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro): I am pleased to reply to this debate. When an hon. Member tables a subject for a detailed debate, however, it is a pity that so little time is left for the Minister to reply, as it is most important to hear what the Government have to say.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) on obtaining this debate, because he has shown a commendable interest in the natural heritage over the years. For that reason, I am a little disappointed that he spent most of his speech being so highly critical of landlords in Scotland. I listened carefully, and he did not even give credit to some landlords who are exceptionally good. By and large, he seemed to go down the road of compulsory purchase and compulsory ownership of land by the nation, which is certainly not a route down which I would wish to go. We want to be positive. This debate has been incredibly negative--all "No, No, No", and turning down everything that one can think of. Hon. Members asked about "Parks for Life". Of course, we warmly welcomed it, because it runs in line with our plans for the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond. In the short time left, I shall set out the Government's view of the main issues and the actions that we have taken to protect and enhance those large areas of Scotland that many would call wilderness.
The issue is one of management. The hon. Member for Western Isles spent too much time on ownership, but it is not ownership but how the land is managed that matters. That is where we put our emphasis, especially through Scottish Natural Heritage. We want to think about protection and enhancement of the natural heritage, enabling people who live in those areas to continue to derive worthwhile livings from them, the maintenance of the social systems around which such communities are constructed, and providing access for visitors. Increasingly, our tourism is based on high- quality niche markets, such as country sports and those interested in wildlife. For many, the experience of wide open spaces without crowds is enough. Wild land is not a new interest in Scotland. Many agencies have considered what needs to be done to maintain the value of our wild land, but we have to go forward with the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of what has happened in the past.
The mechanisms for achieving appropriate management have been subject to change in the past century. For example, the crofting system, on which the hon. Member for Western Isles is an expert, has provided the custodians of large areas of the north and west. Crofting offers a system of land management and a social structure which has bound nature and crofters together in partnership. I am glad that all the grant and loan schemes have been kept in place and enhanced wherever possible, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Mr. Macdonald: The budget for environmentally sensitive areas was underspent by 8 per cent. in the last financial year and 7 per cent. in the previous financial year, which amounts to £4 million and £3 million respectively. Why cannot that be used to increase grants
Column 834to crofters, and why cannot some of it be used to allow communities to buy Forestry Commission woodland that is up for disposal?
Even the most remote hill grazing was managed by crofting townships. At the heart of the system lies the concept of consent and partnership. Crofting is a good example of a management system in which ownership is secondary to good management. In Scotland, I see little case to be made for the view that good management necessarily requires ownership to be in the hands of the state or some independent structure.
Our landowners, whether of large estates or of smaller parcels in the hands of farmers and crofters, have long shown a deep understanding of the ways of nature, and they are keen to manage the land for the wider good.
We are convinced that the voluntary principle remains the basis for the management of our wild areas. When all concerned enter into arrangements voluntarily and work in a partnership with a common aim, the outcome is likely to be accepted by the community.
The voluntary principle, as well as providing the basis for moving forward with the greatest possible support, also offers flexibility. The basis for the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which I took through the House, is that voluntary principle, with compulsory back-up powers when required. By and large, it has stood the test of time pretty well.
The role of Scottish Natural Heritage--which was criticised by many hon. Members today--is vital. Our perception now is that the natural heritage of Scotland as a whole needs the benefit of an organisation to design and put in place a strategic approach. We have done that by introducing the successor body to the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council.
Those organisations came together to form SNH, which has been a great success, bearing in mind the fact that it has been in place for only three years. I give tremendous credit to the chairman, Magnus Magnusson. We have made significant steps forward under his leadership, particularly on the regionalisation of SNH, so that the organisation is much closer to the man in the countryside and the rural areas of Scotland.
Opposition Members, who tend to overlook the Government's commitment to conservation, should remember that, in 1991-92, the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the NCCS received £25 million from the Government. In 1992-1993, the SNH received £34.6 million, and this coming year it will receive £41 million. Those substantial increases show the strong commitment of the Government to nature conservation in Scotland. We are committed over the next three years to fund conservation to the tune of £120 million.
I shall quickly refer to two issues which were raised in relation to the Cairngorms and to Loch Lomond. We set up the Cairngorms inquiry under Magnus Magnusson, which reported back in March 1993. The Government accepted the recommendation to set up a partnership, and that is going extremely well. Sir David Laird, who has taken over the chairmanship, will be able to announce the members of the partnership in a matter of weeks, and there should be an increased local government representation.
Column 835The Cairngorm partnership will be up and working in a relatively short time, and I am confident that it will be a significant factor in developing conservation in that part of Scotland. It will be funded by SNH, and it is expected that an office will be established in Grantown-on-Spey in the next couple of weeks.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) gave some erroneous information about Loch Lomond, and my announcement in Glasgow on Monday was far removed from the impression that he tried to give today. I noticed that The Herald has stated that the hon. Gentleman said that I was kicking Sir Peter Hutchison in the teeth, but the Government have accepted his whole report-- lock, stock and barrel. Every one of a very large number of recommendations in the report have been accepted. I do not see how any Government could do more than accept what they have been offered in a report, and I welcome Sir Peter's report strongly.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton seems to misunderstand the joint board, which can, if agreed, hand over planning powers to the three authorities involved. The hon. Gentleman is very negative in his attitude.
The Government accept that the park authority is made up of two regional councils and two district councils, but the two regional councils will disappear, and their areas will be added to Argyll and Bute council. I see no reason why democratically elected bodies wanting to do their best for their own areas should not come together voluntarily with a positive approach to manage the Trossachs and Loch Lomond to the highest possible standards. It is negative and wrong for the hon. Gentleman to think that it will all be a failure. Opposition Members have been highly critical of things which they allege we have not done. We were asked in the report to do something rapidly about byelaws, and we have done that. The Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill last year contained references to byelaws, and those will hopefully be in place in a matter of weeks.
The byelaws will control maritime operations on the loch, and will assist in setting up a range of services. A boat has been ordered and will be ready soon, and we hope that speeds of boats on the loch will be controlled, and that areas for every sport will be looked after adequately. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to wave pieces of paper and say that we have done nothing.
There are powers in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act to set up joint boards, which could be voluntary or--if we ever wanted to do this in the future--compulsory. I hope that it will never be necessary to do the latter. Much has been done to prepare the paperwork for the three new local authorities which are responsible for Loch Lomond, and it is right that we should wait until April 1996 for the change. It would have been wrong to carry out the change this year, as two of the authorities are going out of existence in a year's time. That does not in any way stop those authorities from supporting the park authority in doing all the work required this year. That is why we have provided
Column 836substantial funding for the next three years of nearly £3 million. That figure includes £340,000 to the ranger and marine service, and £460,000 to be spent in the Trossachs area to deal with the trails, rights of way, tracks and visitor facilities. Much has been going on, and it is quite wrong for the hon. Member for Dumbarton and others to give the impression that there has been an unnecessary delay. Some of the statements in the press have been quite wrong. In The Herald today, Lady Glasgow has called for a joint board with planning powers, but those powers will exist if that is what the three authorities wish. They will have the planning authority, despite what was said so wrongly in The Daily Telegraph yesterday. Other comments--particularly in the Scottish Daily Express --have welcomed the steps which we are taking to develop the park. I would have liked to go into some detail on the important issues of deer and forestry in Scotland, but unfortunately I do not have the time to do so. We should certainly pay tribute to the Red Deer Commission for the way in which it has set up deer management groups. It has substantially improved culls, and is providing an acceptable habitat for deer herds in Scotland.
On forestry, we have made a good start in Glen Affric, and special grants have been made available for Scots pine. We are moving towards fulfilling our European directives on habitats and on birds. I wanted to pay tribute to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Government are providing large sums of money to voluntary organisations which are doing a good job.
I also want to say something about mountain safety, and I pay tribute to those involved in mountain rescue services and the police. I must say yet again--I have said it umpteen times this winter and last winter--that we want people to come to the Scottish highlands to enjoy hill walking and mountaineering, but they must listen to warnings about avalanches and bad weather, and they must remember the short period of daylight that is available in midwinter in Scotland.
All in all, we have a great deal to discuss. I wanted to talk positively, not negatively, about those matters, as I believe that we have an immense duty to the highlands and wildernesses of Scotland to provide the best possible service we can and ensure that they are enhanced, and not run down, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton said they were.
The highlands are the most wonderful and precious asset to us in Scotland. In the main, they have been well looked after by many different owners, good and sometimes, sadly, bad. By and large, the farmers, landlords and landowners of Scotland have done an immense amount to enhance Scotland's scenery. I want to ensure that, through SNH, that continues and improves, and the management of Scotland's land is in the best possible hands. We have set up the management and policies to ensure that that is carried out adequately in the future.
Column 837Local Government (Birmingham)
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Before I call the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), may I say that it is obvious from the number of hon. Members in the Chamber that there is a great deal of interest in the debate, so I make a plea for brief contributions by hon. Members both on the Back and on the Front Benches.
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston): For months now, there have been hints, rumours and press reports showing that something fishy is going on in Labour-controlled Birmingham city council; but until I started to bring all the allegations together and listed and tabulated reports and events, I did not know the half of it. It is important to say at the outset that Birmingham city council receives some £1.16 billion per annum from taxpayers and business rate payers. That is a considerable sum in any man's language. There is no doubt that substantial sums have been chiselled from that budget and misused. Other sums have disappeared without trace. Furthermore, it now seems that large sums have been misappropriated to gain political advantage for the Labour party in Birmingham, and some money has been used to help extremists against moderate Labour. I therefore make two separate charges against the Labour controllers of Birmingham city council: first, misuse; and, secondly, misappropriation. I propose to deal with each separately. On the first issue, on 12 January--just over two months ago--I raised at Prime Minister's Question Time the case of Nancy Johnson, who was paid £42, 000 per annum to be head of the women's unit in Birmingham. At that time, an investigation had apparently gone on into Ms Johnson's conduct in that office, and I naturally assumed that she had been suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry. After all, if a doctor, or anyone else in any public office, is accused of misbehaviour, he or she is removed to prevent that person from doing further damage while an inquiry is pending--
Dame Jill Knight: I shall not take ridiculous interventions, especially from a Front-Bench Member. If that is the best that the hon. Gentleman can do, I shall challenge him on that one. Although anyone else would have been suspended because of allegations of continued misconduct, Ms Johnson was allowed to continue in post at £42,000 per annum. However, the investigation into her conduct must have found that something was wrong, for the council paid her £11,000 to shut up and go away. We do not know what the inquiry found, because all its findings were kept totally secret and, although the Conservative leader of the council and the Conservative group on the council asked for details of the investigation, none was given.
What we do know is that that woman was also chairman of the Harambee housing association, which I dare say she looked on as another nice little earner because it lost £250,000 of ratepayers' money-- [Interruption.] It is certainly public money. There is no question about that.
Column 838Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr): Will the hon. Lady give way?
Dame Jill Knight: No, I will not. [Hon. Members:-- "The hon. Lady is wrong."] I am most certainly not wrong to say that the Harambee housing association lost £250,000 of ratepayers' money. [Interruption.] If the Opposition seriously suggest that it does not matter if someone wastes public money but matters only if someone wastes council money, that is an extraordinary allegation to make.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The subject of this debate is clearly listed as "Local government in Birmingham". May I therefore have a ruling from you on whether the hon. Lady or, for that matter, other hon. Members, can raise issues that are in no way related to local government spending, as was the point which she just raised?
Dame Jill Knight: Ms Johnson appears to be a friendly soul, and she got her friends in on the act, including one who already worked full time as head of a council-run children's home in the city. That woman claimed-- she was paid without a murmur--that she was working 416 hours a month, or 104 hours a week. I presume that that was 52 hours a week for the Harambee housing association and 52 hours a week for the city council-run home. She was paid without a murmur out of the public purse for working 416 hours a month when she could not possibly have been working anything like that.
Another Harambee worker under Ms Johnson's chairmanship asked for and received £500 from the council for "black women's therapy and social action". Normally, when one receives money from the council for such causes, one must fill in a grant application form, which must be sanctioned by responsible persons. No grant application form was ever filled in or sanctioned. The money was apparently paid over with no inquiries. Precisely how it was spent is a mystery. Apart from all that money disappearing without visible trace, I maintain that setting up a women's unit is a misuse of ratepayers' money. After all, why not have a men's unit as well? Otherwise, is that not in contravention of sex discrimination legislation? Birmingham women's unit is currently putting on an international women's festival, and I have the programme before me. Even the Birmingham Evening Mail , which is certainly not anti-Labour-- [Interruption.] It is certainly not-- [Hon. Members:-- "But Fowler is its chairman."] Now who is raising matters outside the subject of the debate? My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)is more than capable of answering for himself, if he is given the opportunity to do so.
Last week, the local paper had a headline saying that it is "hard not to knock" the women's festival. It can say that again. The unit spent some £500,000 per annum of
Column 839Government grant, which should go to the people of Birmingham. Let us look at the festival programme and see what can be done under such a great effort subsidised by ratepayers. People can go to a tea dance--that would be fun. I have nothing against tea dances, except when they are subsidised by the city council. I am sure that, if my hon. Friends attended such an event, they would be happy to pay the full price, and would not ask the ratepayers to foot the bill. Alternatively, senior citizens can attend a nostalgia afternoon at the Grand hotel with tea and cakes. That will cost £2 as part of the subsidised women's festival; otherwise, it will cost double that amount. One can go sequence dancing for £1.50. There are still more goodies to come. People can join a domestic violence residents club. I do not know whether that means that one can go along and learn how to commit domestic violence; the programme does not explain what it is about. [Interruption.] You are scared to death--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not think that the Chair is prepared to hear comments like the one that came from the Opposition Front Bench just then. I would be grateful if Front Benchers would remain quiet, or else ask to intervene in the proper way.
Dame Jill Knight: One can learn Egyptian dancing or--this is a good one--explore escape through the use of soundbeam. Does that not sound intriguing? One can investigate lesbianism, undergo assertiveness training- -I bet Ms Johnson did not need any assertiveness training--or listen to dialogues with seven mad women. All those activities are in the women's festival programme.
The festival does investigate a few--but not many--useful subjects. However, if one wants to learn how to succeed in business or about self- defence or Japanese porcelain, one should not expect to do so using ratepayers' money, thus depriving others of much-needed council services. Many of my constituents live in houses and flats where water runs down the walls, the doors do not fit and the windows let in the rain.
Many of my constituents face difficulties in their council homes. I listen to them talk about their troubles and I contact the council. Sometimes the repairs are done and the officials try to be helpful. They explain about the cuts in council funding. It is no wonder that its funding has been cut when the council funds rubbish like the women's festival.
What am I supposed to say to an 80-year-old woman who cannot get a home help to keep her house clean--"Never mind, dear, why don't you let the house go hang and nip across to the Ladywood arts and leisure centre, to hear a talk about Islam in Africa"? That little gem from the festival programme will not help that lady to get her house clean.
Swimming baths are being closed in Birmingham because it is alleged that not enough Government money is allocated to that city. Those baths are being closed while
Column 840money is being wasted. Library opening hours are being reduced, creating serious problems for many Birmingham people who have always used those library facilities. Worst of all, some homes in Birmingham still do not have indoor lavatories. I think that it is absolutely scandalous that money is being wasted on a women's festival when people still have to go down the garden path to the lavatory at night in the snow and the rain. That is a disgrace.
Dame Jill Knight: No, I will not give way to any hon. Members. I have too many questions and answers myself, and I hope that there will be plenty of time for other hon. Members to put their oar in. There cannot be any excuse for spending money on activities like the women's festival while people still do not have indoor lavatories. I am astonished that any hon. Member would defend that position.
So scandalous is Labour's misuse of grant money that the national papers are now sitting up and taking notice. One reported that a so-called Muslim unemployment project has pocketed £41,000 of ratepayers' money. That project did not provide any jobs, although it has been suggested that it certainly secured Labour votes. No accounts from the project were ever published, despite the fact that a large amount of money was spent. The House should not be surprised about that, because the project treasurer cannot read or write. He is totally illiterate in his own language, which is not English. I think that it is surprising to expect someone who cannot read or write to produce proper treasurer's reports.
One cannot help suspecting that he was put into that position as a patsy. Two Labour councillors, Mohammed Azam and Haider Zaman, seem to have masterminded the project, although they did not issue any treasurer's reports. A third Labour councillor, Ghazanfar Khan, was originally involved. He was forced to resign in a hurry after his planning application for a curry house in a residential area passed through the council on a whipped Labour vote.
The minority resource centre lost £13,000 per annum. Its secretary was Councillor Abdul Malik and the main worker at the centre was the councillor's nephew. I am not sure what that organisation does, but it is linked with the Bangladeshi Workers Association--which receives £24,000 per annum--through Councillor Malik. Neither organisation has any idea where that money has gone. A press report dealing with the matter said that an "unquantifiable amount of money has disappeared". Some of the vanishing thousands may have been spent within the letter of the law, but I would be very surprised if they were spent within the spirit of the law.
How can it be ethical for another Labour councillor, Councillor Rabani, to receive a grant of £52,000 to repair his house? It would cost a lot less than that to deal with damp in the homes of my constituents. Councillor Chauhan has received £11,000 to repair his house. There is nothing like ensuring undying allegiance to the Labour party with a good hefty cheque. It must be wrong to buy votes using taxpayers' money. It is pretty sleazy to buy votes with one's own money; it is very sleazy to buy them with public money. There have been a number of press reports about the allegations, the latest of which involved a trade union centre in Birmingham which has received £1 million in
Column 841ratepayers' money since 1986. Chunks of that money were apparently diverted to a hard left campaigning organisation through Councillor Mick Rice, who was able to channel cash from the former organisation to the latter because he was a member of both organisations. All that now remains of that £1 million expenditure is a few worn desks, chairs and filing cabinets--and a few secured Labour votes. Councillor Mick Rice also seems to be extremely influential. A document which came into my hands only this morning gives chapter and verse of how moderate trade union activity has been sabotaged by a hard left group. According to the document, there has been serious misappropriation of local authority funds in order to aid that effort. It says that work has been commissioned fraudulently. In fact, the entire document is an appalling catalogue of deceit. I am advised that Councillor Rice strongly opposed calls for any investigation of what had gone on, and claimed that he could ensure that Councillor Theresa Stewart, who is the head of the Labour group on the Birmingham city council, would be amenable to blocking any such inquiry. No such inquiry has taken place. I believe that my charge of misappropriation stands.
Finally, also under that head, I want to touch on the extremely unequal way in which money allocated by the Government to Birmingham is distributed in what certainly appears to be a blatant attempt to buy votes. Out of 841 grants to voluntary bodies, the lion's share goes to those parts of Birmingham that elect Labour councillors and Members of Parliament: Aston, Handsworth, Nechells, Small Heath, Soho, Sparkbrook and Sparkhill with Ladywood at the top of the list, receiving more than 100 grants totalling some £7 million. My constituency is only just across the road from Ladywood.
Mr. Burden rose --