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Mr. Clifton-Brown: To try to bring the hon. Gentleman back to the Queen's Speech, he has been articulating precisely what is Conservative party policyto bring power down to the lowest possible level. Is he not therefore dissatisfied with his
Mr. McWalter: While I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, I certainly cannot agree with him. One of the things that has characterised this Government is that whatever else has happened, the quantum of resource that has been made available to local authorities has risen by 29 per cent. in the past six years, while it went down by 7 per cent. in the five years preceding 1997. People are now beginning to ask why they cannot do things, whereas under the Conservative Governments they were told that it was impossible, because the constant theme was cuts and bearing down on the unit of resource. People therefore never even had the ambition to try to change their circumstances. Because the Government have improved the resources, they have begun to give people the ambition to change their circumstances, to deal with derelict cars, filth and squalor and to do something about sub-standard housing. We have a Government who have begun to generate some resources to do that job. Having given people the vision that they might be free to transform their environment in such a way, however, there is a deficiency of will, commitment and resources to follow the job through adequately.
Mr. Challen: Clearly, resources are very important. In relation to some of my hon. Friend's comments, Chinese walls exist between local government, national Government, parish councils and even the European Union, and perhaps we should find ways of knocking down those walls. Perhaps some consideration should be given to setting up some joint committee structures in some cases, and perhaps we should look at other ways of filling the other place. In Germany, the Lander provide half
Mr. McWalter: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I intend to bring my remarks ultimately to what things should be put in the Queen's Speech that were not there, while commending some things in the Queen's Speech because they have some echo of or affiliation with the kind of themes that I have been developing.
If we had a view that we were about personal and community empowerment, there are some things that should be in the Queen's Speech that are not in it, and the one on which I am focusing at the moment is how we are governed. My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) is right that we have tiers of government into which local government fits and has a place, but because we are uncertain and unsteady about how we deal with the fact that, for instance, many local authorities are not of the same political persuasion as
I have a particular complaint in my constituency, because one of the current features of local government that would need changing is a system of grant that relies on floors and ceilings. My complaint is that in my local authority the ceiling has a trapdoor, and unfortunately, a floor that is deeply permeable. That is because my local authority is in an area in which there is a new town. New towns have nothing like the level of resources that people had in the past, as local authorities have inherited over time large landholdings and significant resources. In a new townall my colleagues who represent new towns feel strongly about thisbecause of the lack of resources and because some of the housing stock was made over to the new town, the appearance of being asset-rich and out of debt was given, when in fact there was little in terms of resources to address the needs of the new town.
The way in which resources are allocated to new towns, especially those that are debt-free, involves a bizarre mechanism called negative subsidy. That means that additional resources are heaved out of the local authorities through the floor, which is not built to sustain such resource drain.
I would have liked the Queen's Speech to contain a proper treatment of negative subsidy. That is especially significant in my area, because it is four times the level of that of the next most afflicted local authority, which is Harlow council in Essex. The situation is one example of the way in which the Government begin to get a sense of what they should be doing for areas yet fail to deliver in the end.
The process of government still reflects the idea that the main job of Members of Parliament is not to represent 100,000 people or work with their local community to ensure that it is represented as effectively as possible. There is still a view that if Members of Parliament feel like it, they may come to the House and have hardly any contact with their constituencies, just like the historical Members for Bath or Hemel Hempstead who were elected by a handful of people and owed no commitment to them. If we are to have a system in which we are in touch with our local communities, we must do more than say that the most useful thing that Back Benchers can do when serving on a Committee to consider a Bill to is to sit in silence.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I must bring the hon. Gentleman to order. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the present system for Members of Parliament, will he address his remarks to the content of the Queen's Speech?
Mr. McWalter: It might well be that I shall shortly conclude my speech, because it seems to me that the role of local government is related to the way in which we organise things in the House. I shall be guided by you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I was about to consider the consequences of that on reform of the House of Lords, which should have been addressed in
Mr. McWalter: In that case, Madam Deputy Speaker, you have saved the next bit of my speechalbeit an unwritten one. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality disapproves of what I am saying. If he does, perhaps it illustrates my point that not all things said from the Labour Back Benches are necessarily welcomed on the Treasury Bench. We sometimes seem to have a system in Parliament that tries to ensure that as little noise as possible comes from the Back Benches, to such an extent that when people change policies, they take insufficient notice of what has been said from there.
Let us consider reform of the House of Lords. One reason why we need a second Chamber is that our current structures mean that we cannot do our job properly. It is extremely difficult to get on a Committee to consider a Bill, and the debate in such Committees is often hideously truncated, which means that legislation is insufficiently scrutinised. There is then a question whether it should continue to be insufficiently scrutinised, which will happen if this House is not properly reformed, or whether somebody else should do more detailed scrutiny on our behalf, which happens currently.
I have no truck with, or time for, the hereditary principle. However, the fact remains that as long as the systems in this House mean that our communities are inadequately represented, we need a second Chamber to examine the logic of Bills at greater length and in greater depth than we currently do. That is why we need to think about who we put in the second Chamber and why this Chamber needs somebody else to address our deficiencies. If we were to have a proper and honest debate about the inadequate way in which this House performs, we might have a clearer sense of the functions that it would be vital for a second Chamber to carry out and hence the membership that it should have.
I commend the idea of a second Chamber with a powerful role representing local government to the House. I say that because irrespective of the other commitments of hon. Members, it is difficult for us to pay proper attention to the many matters that affect local communities. If there were proper regional representation in the upper Chamber, it could be given a clear role and mandate so that it could take an overview of the interdependency of communities and the ways in which they interact. It would be difficult for us to do that in such a manner at present. I echo the suggestion that the upper Chamber should have a clear role on European scrutiny. This House currently puts responsibility for such matters on people who are extremely pressurised by a host of other responsibilities.
I want careful thought to be given to what we are about as a Government and the vision of the society that we want to see. We need to consider the historical incubi that we must discard and determine the ways of governing ourselves that would most commend themselves to those whom we represent. We could do