§ 9. Mr. Terry Fields
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to visit Liverpool for discussions with Liverpool city councillors.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)
As part of my regular series of visits to Liverpool, I have arranged to look at housing conditions there on 7 June.
§ Mr. Parry
Now that the people of Liverpool have given the Labour party a clear mandate through the ballot box, and as the Government firmly believe in secret ballots, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to agree to put more money on the table, as rightly demanded by Liverpool? Will he bring the Prime Minister with him when he pays his visit—the right hon. Lady has been to Liverpool only once since becoming Prime Minister, and that was following the Toxteth riots—so that she may also see at first hand the problems of Liverpool, particularly in relation to unemployment and the environment?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I think that my right hon. Friend is considering whether to pay a visit to Liverpool, which would include the visit to the garden festival. The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that I am sure that he, as a good parliamentarian, recognises that there can be no electoral mandate for an unlawful act and that there is no question but that it remains the duty of Liverpool city council to make a lawful budget and a lawful rate. I hope that it will do that, and as swiftly as possibly.
§ Mr. Fields
Does the right hon. Gentleman welcome the decision of Liverpool city council to defer its budget-making, legal or illegal, until after his visit as a genuine, forward and positive step? Will he assure the people of Liverpool that he will visit the area with no preconceived, rigid position and that he will look at, evaluate and judge the desperate needs of the people of Liverpool? For God's sake, do not go there with any preconceived and rigid ideas.
§ Mr. Jenkin
My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction recently looked at housing problems in 866 the city and I wish to see them for myself as a background to future housing capital allocations. I must make it clear that my visit has no connection with the council's budget-making and rate-fixing process; there must be no misunderstanding about that. As I said, the council is under a clear legal duty to make a rate, and it should do so without delay.
§ Mr. Heddle
Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the militants who now run the city of Liverpool that the city's credibility is at stake and that financial institutions cannot be expected to invest in Liverpool city stock unless the council runs its affairs on prudent and law-abiding lines?
§ Mr. Jenkin
As I said, Liverpool has a clear duty to make an adequate rate, and I hope that the decision overnight not to make an illegal rate next Tuesday is the first step towards an adequate rate. There will, of course, be credit worthiness problems if the city continues without a lawful rate, but there is no reason why Liverpool's behaviour should affect lenders' attitudes towards other authorities which have acted in accordance with the law and good financial practice and have made legal rates.
§ Mr. Wareing
Does the Minister agree that, despite the comments of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle), the people of Liverpool made it clear, by electing only three out of 34 Conservative candidates last Thursday, that they reject the Tory party's philosophy? In view of his more flexible answers to questions, will he agree, to look in a positive way at Liverpool's housing investment programme? May we take it that there is at least some hope that the housing prospects of the people of Liverpool will be bettered as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's new flexibility?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I certainly recognise that the housing problems facing many of the people of Liverpool are extremely difficult. That is why I responded when I was invited by the city council to visit Liverpool to see some of the problem areas. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that any question of future capital allocations for housing, to which I referred in my answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields), can have only the most marginal impact upon rate support grant and the duty to make a legal rate. That is why I want to make it clear that my visit on 7 June, to which I am looking forward, has nothing to do with the duty to make a legal rate, which rests firmly on the city council.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Will the Secretary of State accept, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said, that the Liverpool vote reflected only 19 per cent. support for Government policies and showed clearly that there was no mandate for confrontation and an illegal rate? Given that the Labour vote decreased from that which was obtained last year and that the only party whose vote increased was the Liberal party, which went up to 34 per cent., does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the solution might lie in the direction proposed by the Liberal group in Liverpool, which demands of the Secretary of State a repayment of some of the rate support 867 grant which has been removed and a cancellation of some of the debts that are being paid on housing that no longer exists?
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman will have heard that I have been in touch with the leader of the Liberal party in Liverpool and had useful exchanges with him. I must reaffirm that, whatever the result of the vote, it cannot possibly amount to any form of sanction for an unlawful rate. I hope that all councillors of all parties in Liverpool will bend their attention to getting the council to fix a proper budget and a lawful rate so the city's affairs can remain under control.
§ Mr. Hargreaves
When my right hon. Friend is in Liverpool, will he take the opportunity to travel down the east Lancashire road to Hyndburn, where the results of the local elections last week were far more satisfactory and where even a small percentage—
§ Dr. John Cunningham
Is there not now in Liverpool a clear and broad consensus in favour of a settlement of the city's problems, which goes right across the churches and voluntary bodies, as well as the political parties? I recognise the need for a legal rate to be fixed at some point and as soon as possible, but should not the problems of the city be resolved by negotiation between the Secretary of State and the city council and not by allowing the problems of the city to slide into chaos? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the appalling difficulties that the people of Liverpool now face will become unimaginably worse if the city is allowed to slide into bankruptcy? I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will meet the leaders of the Liverpool city council and if I and my hon. Friends can be of any assistance in those discussions—[Laughter]—we shall be ready to help to find a solution to the problem. What I find saddening about this exchange is the pathetic laughter from the Conservative Benches about Liverpool's problems.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I wish to put on record—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not object to this—that he and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition have throughout been entirely firm in their view that it is the city council's duty to make a lawful rate. I am grateful to him for his offer to use his good offices if that becomes necessary. I said on the day after the election that my door remains open.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I am ready to meet the city councillors again if they wish to meet me. As I have already said, I hope that the decision on Tuesday not to press ahead with an unlawful budget and an inadequate rate is a sign that there may now be a growing wish on the part of the citizens of Liverpool not to go down that road. If that is so, it can only be welcomed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I call the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) to make the comment he wished to make earlier.