Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) rose--

Mr. Skinner: Sit down.

Mr. Tyler: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Skinner: No, sit down, I have not got time. Other people want to speak.

Mr. Tyler: Does the hon. Gentleman not want to hear the truth?

Mr. Skinner: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in the House when that took place--

Mr. Tyler rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We cannot have two Members on their feet at the same time. Mr. Skinner.

Mr. Skinner: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in the House when that took place. He is one of those little Liberal Democrats; I do not know where he was at the time.

16 Jun 1998 : Column 257

The Tories talk about democracy, but that night they destroyed my opportunity to put the case for Derbyshire. The case has persisted ever since. Then, we get a Labour Government: we demand more money from the settlement, we meet the various Ministers and Derbyshire county council sets a rate £3.9 million above the original settlement. I wanted £3.9 million and I made that clear to all the Ministers I met, but I have to take into account what my constituents are saying, and every single one--teachers and all the rest--has made it clear to me that half a loaf is better than no bread at all.

I have also had assurances from the county council that there will be no compulsory redundancies, which I had feared. I remember last year, when Somerset and Oxford were complaining about rate capping. I know that the reason for their complaints was that they knew that they would have to sack people if the cap went through, but that is not the case with Derbyshire. I have had assurances from the county council leadership and others, who have explained to me precisely how they have managed to find a little extra money here and there--I shall not go into the whys and wherefores--to enable them to manage the budget and to make it up to about £3.9 million.

I have to take into account the fact that, if I am a general complaining about what the Labour Government are doing, I have to have an army behind me in Bolsover, Amber Valley and West Derbyshire in order to be able to demand of the Government, "What are you going to do about it?" However, I have to tell hon. Members that what the people are telling me is that £2.9 million is not as much as they wanted, but it is the first time in the history of Derbyshire county council since 1981 that it has finished up with more money than was promised in the first place. They are telling me that, in 1981 under the Tories, in 1982 and on and on down the years, they failed to get the money, so I have to say that the settlement being debated tonight is not as good as I wanted, but it is better than a poke in the eye with a big stick. With a little shuffling of the pack, we shall be able to manage to run the budget.

To my hon. Friend the Minister I say, this is only part of the settlement--the rest has to come later. We have lost £214 million in the past 12 years under the Tories. We are having a job keeping our heads above water, which is one of the reasons why the council went through the cap. I say to my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench and to the Treasury Ministers who are not here tonight, but who are the most important people in these matters: I know that there is to be a three-year settlement, but the next time there is a settlement I do not want to have to go through the galling experience of having meeting after meeting with Ministers to get the additional money. I do not welcome the fact that we are here tonight. I want a better settlement for Derbyshire next time.

I hope that because, at long last, we are weaning ourselves away from the Tory spending plans and because the next Budget will be the most important in this Parliament, the Derbyshire settlement will take account of the fact that the Tories closed every single pit in the whole county. That has reduced our ability to find work for people and reduced the spending power of people in Derbyshire. The whole area was devastated by those pit closures, and we cannot afford to sustain the results of that for much longer. The social fabric is breaking down

16 Jun 1998 : Column 258

in every town and village in the county, and the only way to put that right is to make sure that, next time, we get sufficient money to repair the social fabric and to start to provide employment again. The county council can play a role in that, which is why the next rate settlement will be important, not only for the other parts of the country that have suffered from this year's settlement, but for Derbyshire.

11.18 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): I wonder whether the House would have imagined the comments by the Minister for Local Government and Housing being made if the previous Government had proposed so narrow a cap in such circumstances. It is wrong in the House to talk about hypocrisy--

Ms Armstrong: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I shall not because I have only a very short time to speak. The hon. Lady did not answer the question that I directly asked her because she was unable to do so. She was not able to come to the real point, which is that this is the narrowest cap that we have had, and it is not a cap that she, in opposition--

Ms Armstrong: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I have only four minutes in which to speak, so that the hon. Lady may have time to sum up the debate.

The Minister did not get on to the Derbyshire settlement until she had told us a great deal about what could happen and should happen, but would not happen now. Are the Government in power or not? They have been in power for over a year. They could perfectly well have changed the system if they did not like it. Not only have they not changed it; they have introduced a cap that would not have been introduced under any previous Government. The Minister therefore wanted to avoid the question of the cap on Derbyshire for as long as she could, which is why we heard a lot of generalities before she got on to the question of Derbyshire. Indeed, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had to intervene to tell her that it was time that she got back to the question of Derbyshire. You were being polite--she had not started to talk about Derbyshire at that point.

I exculpate the Minister for her speech, having heard that of the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber). I hope that every person in Amber Valley reads that speech, because it was an example of what happens when a Government remove all independence from their Back Benchers. I cannot remember a single occasion on which I introduced a capping measure and a Member of Parliament for an area that I was capping made so toadying a speech. I used to get--to use a special word--hell from my colleagues when I introduced such capping measures. The hon. Lady takes the biscuit. I hope that people in every single home in her constituency read her speech--indeed, if I can manage it, I shall arrange that--because she will never win that seat again.

It is remarkable and sad that the hon. Lady did not mention that we are having this debate only because of the Opposition's pressure on the Government.

16 Jun 1998 : Column 259

The Government wanted to have a private word upstairs. The hon. Lady would not then have had a chance to reveal herself to the House and the public as being totally uninterested in what happens in Derbyshire and deeply interested in what might happen to her in the future.

Mr. Tyler: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government wanted not only to take the matter in Committee, but to pack that Committee with hon. Members who have no connection whatever with Derbyshire, and that when it was suggested that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should be added to that Committee, the Government resisted the idea?

Mr. Gummer: I am aware of that, which is why I could not understand the speech by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Can the House imagine the speech that the hon. Gentleman would have made if this had been a Conservative capping proposal? Can one imagine how he would have torn it apart? His rant would hardly have stopped by now. He would have said that to have so small a cap was intolerable; to have insisted that the money be spent not on schoolteachers but on demanding new bills was unacceptable, and that he and his friends in Derbyshire knew that this was a Tory plot. But did we hear a word of that?

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No; I will not.

The Minister would not have allowed me to get away with it, and I will not allow her to get away with it. I asked her a direct question--whether she would have supported my proposal of such a capping measure. She did not answer--because she would have opposed it root and branch. She would have voted against it, and it is a disgrace that she asks the House to vote for it, and an even greater disgrace that she had to be dragged to the House to discuss it at all. She wanted to get away with a little speech in a little Committee, packed with little Back Benchers who would not raise a voice against her. She is frightened of the House, as she has shown once again, because she cannot make her case and has not made her case--she deserves to be voted against.

Next Section

IndexHome Page