§ 4.5 pm
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
I beg to move,That this House condemns the incompetence, intimidation, waste and subservience to trade union dictation which have characterised left wing administration in Liverpool, and have caused untold damage to the city and its people; calls for broadly based government in the city to restore basic services and to pursue policies of fiscal rectitude, decentralised administration, partnership with private enterprise and consultation with the people of Liverpool; and believes that such an administration should be given strong backing by Her Majesty's Government.Although the motion describes the consequences of 10 long years of destructive confrontational politics, it is also forward-looking in calling for a new partnership between local politicians in a broadly-based administration, and for partnerships between the private and public sectors and local and central Government.
In the past few weeks the city of Liverpool has once again been the subject of close media attention, some of which has been a distorted media caricature. Although no one will pretend that Liverpool does not have serious problems, many of its own council's making, there are two tales to tell about the one city and I shall first say a word about Liverpool's success stories.
Away from the industrial disputes and the antediluvian attitudes of some of the city's political dinosaurs, Liverpool has plenty of achievements. Last year, 23 million tonnes of cargo moved over the quays of Liverpool—an increase of 14 per cent., despite the fact that 1989–90 was a year of recession. In addition, 3,000 ships per year use our north docks and more than 12 new shipping services, handling containers, timber and other trades, have come to Liverpool since 1989. Last year, the port of Liverpool turned in profits of almost £11 million—its highest ever—and our free port, which handles £500 million worth of goods, is the most successful free port in the United Kingdom.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those very good figures are due to the slackening of the chains that had been imposed by the unions on the ports in Liverpool and to the removal of the dock labour scheme and, as a result, that Liverpool is now going great guns?
§ Mr. Alton
If the hon. Lady follows my speech, she will realise that there are two tales to tell—one is of a city that is prosperous and vibrant with a great, outward-looking and confident face, while the other is of the politics that have dragged the city down. There are two tales to tell.
The reality is a city where enterprise is confident and thriving. Strikes and poor performance at Liverpool's docks are a bitter memory, and the Mersey's strategic importance as a centre of national distribution is once again being recognised. The conventional wisdom is that Liverpool is strikebound, bankrupt, wasted and hopeless. 698 A national newspaper prints a photograph of a bedraggled, half-naked child and says, "This is Liverpool." That is about as fair as printing a photograph of the squalor to be found within a mile of the City of London and saying, "This is London." The truth is that 98 per cent. of all companies on Merseyside have not had strikes of any kind since 1982. Net output is now consistently higher on Merseyside than the national average.
§ Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)
Is the hon. Gentleman surprised that, at the start of the debate on Liverpool, only half Liverpool's Members of Parliament are present and that two Labour Members who represent Liverpool are not even in the Chamber?
§ Mr. Alton
I am not entirely surprised, because none of them was present for last week's Adjournment debate on empty housing, but I am glad that at least some of them are present today.
There is a myth that companies are unhappy to come to Liverpool, but Ford invested £40 million in its Liverpool factory last year alone and British Aerospace has invested £19 million in Liverpool airport and is proposing a £2 billion expansion.
It is true that 13.4 per cent. of our work force are unemployed, but 86 per cent. are in work. In excess of 100,000 of those people are employed in our city centre, with the new office developments at Mercury court, Moorfield, Matthew street, Albert dock and the refurbished Liver and India buildings adding to the total.
I have been particularly involved in the development of Wavertree technology park, a 64 acre parkland development launched in 1989 through a joint private and public initiative to attract major manufacturing and commercial investment. Some 40 companies now operate in the park, employing nearly 1,500 people. That park and Liverpool free port demonstrate the dividends of a united political approach.
A city stuffed with 2,500 listed buildings, boasting a fine orchestra, well-respected educational institutions and a thriving cultural life deserves better than the partial and subjective character assassination to which it has been subjected. The city council may be inefficient, but the city itself is not. The council should make itself worthy of the city that it governs. Anyone who visits the city—6 million people visited the Albert dock alone last year—will testify that the reality of Liverpool life belies the gross distortion.
The Secretary of State for the Environment can take deserved credit from the knowledge that the 2 millionth visitor walked through the doors of the Tate gallery on 14 May. He knows the difference between the myths and the reality of Liverpool life and will agree that the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), in the House last Friday amount to a defamation of a community and do nothing to build confidence in Liverpool. Having spent a decade telling unemployed people to get on their bikes and leave Liverpool, it is grossly irresponsible for a Minister to describe Liverpudlians as living on the "Costa del Dole" and to suggest that they contribute disproportionately to drugs, crime and prostitution. The Minister knows that he would be prosecuted under the race relations legislation if he used such slander against traditional targets. It has 699 become all too easy to scapegoat Liverpool and to blame the victims. I hope that the Secretary of State will dissociate himself from that calumny.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert Key)
I noticed that the hon. Gentleman was absent from our debate on Friday and that the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) made no comment on that subject at the time. I make no apology for drawing attention to the difficulties caused by the abject failure of Liverpool local authority, as Liverpudlians in Bournemouth said over the weekend. Obviously, I do not castigate the entire Liverpudlian community, as the hon. Gentleman will hear if he finds time to stay in the Chamber for the rest of the debate.
§ Mr. Alton
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's clarification. However, as he well knows, only one Liberal Democrat Member is ever called in a debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn), who also represents a Merseyside constituency, contributed to that debate. It is extraordinary that the Minister should have said:I do not know whether that is true, but I have no reason to doubt that allegation."—[Official Report, 21 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 641]Before a Minister makes such a damaging remark in the Chamber, he should take the trouble to find out if it is true. I am glad that the Minister has had the honour to withdraw his remarks today.
Those comments did nothing to help the city's image, but the city council has done a great deal to damage Liverpool in the past decade. Despite the exaggeration, there is no doubt that political excesses have impeded our development. Before anyone says, "Liverpool deserves what it gets—it voted for its council," I shall separate another fact from fiction.
§ Mr. Alton
Despite the inverventions of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), the majority of people in Liverpool have never voted for those confrontational politics. In the local elections this year, 56,000 people voted for the Liberal Democrats, compared with only 52,000 people who voted Labour. Even at the height of its power, Militant-led Labour never won a majority of the city's votes. Yet despite the popular vote, at no time since 1971 have the Liberals had an overall majority on the city council. For 10 of the past 20 years, including the last eight, Labour has had an overall majority on the council. For 16 of the past 20 years, Labour has been the largest party on the council, although between 1979 and 1983 it refused to govern and plunged the city into chaos.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)
Is not the more important and significant point the fact that the vast majority of the citizens of Liverpool voted for no politician at all during that period, because they think so little of us?
§ Mr. Alton
The number of people voting in local elections increased throughout many of the years to which the hon. Gentleman refers, so his point is not entirely accurate. The turnouts in parliamentary elections in Liverpool are identical to those in the Wirral and elsewhere.
700 Labour has belatedly recognised the character of those wasted times by expelling a handful of those who were responsible. Some courage is now being shown by many who were silent during what the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) has called "the Stalinist years". None the less, that courage is to be commended.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
The point that the hon. Gentleman seeks to make is that the entrepreneurial spirit of Liverpool is alive and well but that we are concerned about the problems connected with the council. Will he confirm that the debate is not unassociated with the Liverpool, Walton by-election? If we extrapolate from the results of the 2 May council elections, we find that Labour polled 12,491 votes in the Walton constituency and the hon. Gentleman's party 10,687, giving Labour a narrow lead. Militant stood in only one ward and polled 1,626 votes to take Anfield. A divided party is in control of Liverpool council. That is the major problem that Liverpool faces.
§ Mr. Alton
The hon. Member for Bolsover says that it was a good job that we did not have proportional representation. If we had had PR, Militant would never have been in control in the first place. If there had been a fair result, reflecting the will of the people of Liverpool in May, the city would not be in its present chaos.
§ Mr. Skinner
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's second speech. I guess that there was a different speech before the Church leaders made their pronouncement at the weekend. That is why we hear this Worlock speech. If the hon. Gentleman is in favour of PR, why did he complain five minutes ago that the Liberal Democrats did not get overall control? As they had control along with somebody else several years ago, why did they make such a mess of things, and why did they get kicked out?
§ Mr. Alton
My point is not that we demand overall control on a minority of votes. The point of the motion—the hon. Gentleman should read it—is that it seeks a broadly based partnership. That would probably not be with the hon. Member for Bolsover, I must admit, or with his part of the Labour party. I hope that there are members of the Labour party and members of the Conservative party who put the city's interests first who would be prepared to work with us. It would be fascinating to know which of the two candidates in the Walton by-election the hon. Member for Bolsover will support and campaign for.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman for an answer that his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Sir. C. Smith) promised viewers on "North Westminster" yesterday? He promised an explanation why, on six or seven occasions the Liberal Democrat group on the council has voted against the majority Labour position on the budget, after having entered into an agreement. I hope that, as a Liverpool Member, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)—and not his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale—will tell us why the Liberal Democrats have ducked out of the agreement.
§ Mr. Alton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point as it is a canard that has been thrown around over the past few days. If the hon. Gentleman studies what happened in Liverpool last week, he will see that the points that had been agreed in advance between the Liberal Democrat group and moderate Labour members were held to in the council meeting. The Labour group tried to push through a further 94 redundancies involving housing maintenance workers, which had not been agreed in advance and which were slipped in after a closed meeting which did not involve members of my own party. As a result, the second part of the motion was opposed by my colleagues. It was opposed in a Liberal Democrat amendment, for which four members of the so-called moderate group, members of the far left group and one of the two Conservatives voted. As a result the democratic will of the majority of council members was carried.
§ Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)
The hon. Gentleman says that what he describes as the second budget decision arose directly from a decision that was encouraged by the Liberal group on Liverpool city council on 10 March to embark on a budget with £10 million of unspecified cuts. How does the hon. Gentleman square such cuts with not voting for them when the real position is known and decisions have to be taken?
§ Mr. Alton
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it had never been discussed at any stage. Given that 5,900 council-owned properties are empty in the city, the last group of workers that we thought should be reduced further were repair and maintenance staff. Last year, £4·5 million was lost in uncollected rents on those properties and that money would have come to the city coffers if the decision had not been implemented. Grievous bodily harm has been inflicted upon Liverpool as a direct result of decisions taken and the politics practised in the city over the past 20 years. I shall give some examples.
§ Mr. Alton
I shall give way towards the end of my speech.
Graham Dean, a gardener in one of our excellent city parks, once described to me how he went from looking after one of the world's best orchid collections to picking up, as he put it, "last night's fish and chips", because he refused to join industrial action he was sent to a leper colony, a local form of Siberia. When the law found in his favour, the council sent in the bulldozers to demolish the Harthill greenhouses so that men could not return to work there. The council subsequently told its employees to go home because it could not protect them from the intimidation which followed. [Interruption.] The headline in this morning's Liverpool Daily Post reads:Scab councillor faces death threat ordeal.That is today's headline—not one from 10 years ago.
In addition to intimidation, planning laws have been used in a highly suspect way. An early-day motion which I tabled in 1986 called for a police inquiry into corruption and my colleague, Councillor Rosemary Cooper, called in the police to investigate the Finch lane planning application. In that case the council owned the freehold and the Merseyside passenger transport executive owned the leasehold. The council facilitated a multi-million-pound deal on the basis that planning permission would be 702 forthcoming, either from the council or on appeal. Land worth £7 million commercially would have been sold for about £250,000 if the police had not intervened.
Payola planning still persists, and within the past month I have written to the Department of the Environment asking what it intends to do to separate the functions of property sales and planning. At present the burglar is far too closely identified with the watchdog and an independent mechanism is needed to examine applications where the council is the vendor. Nepotism has been combined with personal gain and bullying. Branch 5 of the GMB has become a byword for all the worst features of trade unionism.
§ Mr. Alton
The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that I raised that case in the first instance and, as a result, attempts were made to expel me—which is becoming quite common. As a result of my actions, that case was investigated and police action was taken.
A national union leader has called this the unacceptable face of British trade unionism. Branch 5 convener Ian Lowes administers a levy which brings in £10,000 per week. It is supposedly voluntary, but anyone who refuses to pay is unlikely to get overtime or perks. Ultimately, those who refuse to pay will find themselves in the leper colony to which Graham Dean was sent. Frances Kidd, a Labour councillor who voted for the redundancies announced last week, also works for the GMB. Since voting for the cuts, she has had to be locked in her office to protect her from union stewards calling her "scab" and she says that she has had death threats at her home. Even schoolchildren have been threatened. Pickets tried to stop children entering the Broadgreen comprehensive school. The headmaster, Ian Andain, said:It was thuggery masquerading as trade unionism.The Labour party criticised the Liberal administrations of the 1970s, but those were golden days compared with what was to follow. The Labour left has presided over all this. I vividly recall the bitter attacks made on me and others for speaking out and challenging abuses of power. This is not the stuff of history. Within the past 12 months, Labour, led by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields), told Liverpool people to break the law and not to pay the poll tax. As a result, every citizen, rich or poor, has received an additional bill for £70.99.
The Liverpool Echo, in an editorial last week, warned the leader of the Opposition that there still remain major questions to be confronted. For example, it asked:What about the role of the Broadgreen MP? Whose side is he on after the open split between Labour and the Broad Left? Expelling Militant councillors from the Labour party is one thing, but Mr. Kinnock must realise that the credibility of his party is damaged by some of his MPs.Hon. Members may wonder what is the difference between Field and Fields. On Merseyside we have the answer. One constantly faces battles against deselection because he expounds moderate views and works with others across the political divide; the other sits with impunity within the parliamentary Labour party while espousing every cause of the Labour Militant Tendency.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
I was interested by the hon. Gentleman's mention of the Labour leader calling for non-payment of poll tax. The hon. Gentleman should know that not only did the leader of the 703 Labour party express opposition to breaking the law, but his policy was confirmed by an overwhelming majority at the Labour party conference.
§ Mr. Alton
I am grateful for the explanation from the hon. Member for West Derby. I am sure that the House would like to hear from the hon. Member for Broadgreen or, if they were here, the hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry).
The hon. Member for Broadgreen and his friends told the people of Liverpool that they would give all available resources to build houses. Instead, over that period, not a penny was spent on two thirds of the city's housing stock. As a result, 5,900 council properties are standing vacant and 12,000—on which there remain outstanding debts of £23 million—have been demolished in the past 10 years. Under the "spend now, pay later" policies, the city debt has risen to £800 million, on which the repayment of interest charges costs Liverpool people £10,000 every hour or £240,000 every day, and the Japanese and Swiss money-lenders have been the only beneficiaries.
The electorate were bribed with promises of £2 a week rent decreases that were never forthcoming, although rents were not increased for eight years. As a result, this year they have been increased by as much as £16 or £17 a week in some cases and on average by £8 a week. Meanwhile, rent arrears have reached £24 million.
Liverpool deserves much better. What should be done? Last year, with my colleague the then leader of the Liberal group on the city council, Councillor Paul Clark, I presented a charter for Liverpool which called for political partnership. Although it was then rejected by Councillor Harry Rimmer and the Labour party, it could still provide the basis for a constructive, broadly based administration.
The key points of the charter include recognition of the facts that it is disastrous for Liverpool to have a council in constant financial crisis, that population shift has led to serious under-funding by central Government; that, like Glasgow, we must make serious efforts to turn around our image; that empty properties must be better utilised; and that partnership at every level must be accelerated. The Liberal Democrats are prepared to play their part, on a formalised basis, in taking the difficult decisions and sharing the responsibility for the good government of the city, but not on the ad hoc take-it-or-leave-it basis offered by the city's minority leadership, which has recently led to informal relationships breaking down several times.
We want a formalised power-sharing partnership and a greater role for central Government, which must ensure that never again should local taxation allow a citizen to be charged for someone else's debt. I hope that the Government will be able to offer Liverpool people relief and redress. Bills of £70.99 for other people's debts are intolerable.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)
I am sure that every reasonable Member will be appalled by the story that the hon. Gentleman is telling us. He has made it clear, that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen Mr. Fields) is still a supporter of Militant. No doubt the hon. Member for Broadgreen will be supporting the Militant candidate in the Liverpool, Walton by-election. It will be up to the hon. Gentleman to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to confirm that.
704 Perhaps the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) can tell us which Labour candidate the hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) are supporting. There have been suggestions in national and Liverpool newspapers that they will be supporting the Militant candidate. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that neither of those Members has suggested that he is ill or abroad and thus unable to be present this afternoon? I can assure them that, if there were a debate about the area that I represent in part, or another area which is represented by other hon. Members, we would damned well be in our places to participate in it.
§ Mr. Alton
I find it extraordinary that the hon. Members for Garston and for Riverside are not here to speak in the debate. I have not been told that they are unable to attend, for whatever reason. No doubt other Labour Members will be able to explain who they will be supporting and why their two colleagues are not present.
With regard to the role of central Government, when the new local tax is drawn up by the Secretary of State for the Environment I hope that he will ensure that within the tax is a right of redress and a right of relief for residents of cities such as Liverpool. The people of Liverpool feel extremely aggrieved that an additional burden has been placed upon them this year.
Central Government should accept that under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 there is a need to organise contracts so that the backlog of uncollected refuse in Liverpool is cleared up and removed. Liverpool people are entitled to expect the basic services to be provided that they are called upon to fund. One of their fundamental complaints is that they are not getting value for money. The graphic photographs of Liverpool that have appeared in the press show hon. Members on both sides of the House what the people of Liverpool have to tolerate. I hope that a positive attempt will be made by the Secretary of State to assist the private company which is to be appointed to clear the debris.
In the long term, if Liverpool is to be resurgent we shall need flagship projects such as the proposed Mersey barrage, airport development, Channel 5 and a refurbished St. George's hall. In addition, the Secretary of State could immediately approve the housing corporation's vacant properties initiative and recognise the need to stimulate further housing co-operatives by reviewing housing association funding, which in Liverpool has been static again this year.
The present confrontational tactics—including rotting garbage, threats to close down cemeteries, redundancies which could have been achieved through natural wastage if policies of fiscal rectitude had been pursued, and the politics of Tammany hall—all combine to damage Liverpool. Instead of our city being used as a punchbag, as our bishops complained this weekend, it is entitled to expect from all its politicians a period of stable government and responsible leadership. That will require a formalised partnership based on good will and co-operation. Liverpool deserves fewer obituaries and a little help from its friends.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'reaffirms its belief in Liverpool as one of this country's great cities with a proud history and prospects for a secure future; condemns the incompetence, intimidation, waste and subservience to trade union dictation which have characterised successive administrations in Liverpool over the past decade and have caused untold damage to the City and its people; calls for better Government in the City to restore basic services and to pursue policies of fiscal rectitude, decentralised administration, partnership with central Government and private enterprise and consultation with the people of Liverpool; notes the steps taken by the present administration in response to the Government's compulsory competitive tendering legislation to put the interests of its residents first by contracting with a private sector firm for refuse collection; and commends the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition for supporting the Conservative policy of fair and open competition in Liverpool, in the knowledge that it is right, but observes with dismay the Labour Party's opposition to it elsewhere in the country.'I listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) had to say. I agree that the essence of the future of Liverpool requires an understanding of the significance of such a great provincial city, which is at the centre of a vital conurbation. It is perhaps the inheritor of one of our most dramatic pieces of municipal architecture and it is one of the most important cultural centres outside London. In my personal judgment, the Liverpool people are some of the most warm-hearted people to be found anywhere in the country. I say that after having spent many months—indeed, years—of my life associated with the city. There is a great deal of excellence and all too little of it features in the coverage that the city achieves.
I was interested in the list of attainments that the hon. Member for Mossley Hill provided. They are recent and they are significant, and almost all of them are the result of the inspiration and the leadership of the Conservative Government.
Despite the appalling circumstances that I will describe later, when the history of the 1980s is written, that will be seen as the point at which the revival of Liverpool's fortunes began.
There are some very imaginative large-scale projects now under way which will come to fruition during the remainder of this century. The Mersey basin campaign is the first attempt to clean, from the source to the sea, one of Britain's great rivers. The consequences of that campaign—the benefits to the people who live there and to the industries that will invest there—are incalculable. The scheme was begun 10 years ago under a Conservative adminstration.
The hon. Member for Mossley Hill referred to the 6 million people who visit Albert dock. That is a figure of some significance. When I first visited Liverpool, when the Liberals were in control, the docks were a stretch of mile after mile of rotting toxic waste. The Liberals did not have much of a solution for coping with that. The achievement of restoring the Albert docks and the Mersey banks was the responsibility of this Conservative Administration.
When the urban development corporation took over those vast tracts of the inner city, I do not remember its being welcomed enthusiastically by the local Liberal leaders of the time, and I vividly remember our being 706 opposed hook and line by the Labour party whenever we suggested urban development corporations to clean things up.
The concept of BOOM-business opportunities on Merseyside—is a manifestation of the partnership that the Government sought to achieve within Liverpool and the wider conurbation. Today industrialists, commercial figures, companies, local authorities and the voluntary sector talk together. Why? It is because we refused to continue to distribute urban programme money unless they achieved a more harmonious relationship among themselves?
Painfully slowly, as a result of the reforms of the early 1980s, a new sense of confidence began to emerge. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill said that the Wavertree industrial park was launched in 1989, but he is about eight years behind the times. I launched that project in 1981 and without a shadow of doubt it is one of the most extraordinary—
§ Mr. Heseltine
I am sorry; the hon. Gentleman is right. The concept was born in 1981; the triumphs were of the 1980s. The hon Gentleman may have attended upon the phase 2 extension of what the Government set up, but the idea that he played any part in achieving it is a flight of fancy of the most extreme Liberal sort. When the Liberals ran Liverpool the site consisted of 60 acres of rotting land owned, I believe, by British Rail, on the verge of land owned by a company—Plessey. We bought them together with Government money and created the concept of the Wavertree industrial park. It is one of the finest examples of how our inner cities can be regenerated, and it has nothing to do with the Liberal party.
Of course, we can look further. There are the remarkable co-operative endeavours associated with the Eldonians. I salute the men and women who have made the scheme possible. It was a pioneering example of a new approach to housing, born under a Conservative Administration.
I am the first to say that the opportunities are as yet only half percieved. The city council is today preparing its bids for City Challenge. It is looking for ways to build on the experiences that the Conservatives made possible in the 1980s and to regenerate, as it intends and hopes, substantial parts of the wider, older heritage parts of the city. Such ideas would have been inconceivable 10 years ago under the Liberals or Labour.
In essence, what has happened is that attitudes have changed because the Government were determined that there must be a new approach to urban renewal—a new context within which to manage a more successful capitalist economy.
I was fascinated, as the whole House will have been, to hear the hon. Member for Mossley Hill refer to the docks. Of course they are better. Why are they better? It is because the dock labour scheme has gone, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) pointed out. I do not remember the Liberals of Merseyside arguing that we should get rid of the dock labour scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "We voted for it."] Of course, the Liberal party voted for the Bill in question when we introduced it, but what did the Liberals do when they were in a position to influence such matters?
707 The further one looks, the greater the sense of excitement one discovers. It is true that British Aerospace has taken a £19 million stake in Liverpool airport and has plans for a £2 billion programme of expansion. What was British Aerospace when the Government were elected? It was a Government Department—nationalised and quite incapable of seizing opportunities to take a stake in airports anywhere, let alone on Merseyside. One step after another has led to the revival of an enterprise culture, which Liverpool, with every other great city in the country, is beginning to embrace.
§ Mr. Alton
I am sure that, on grounds of fairness alone, the Secretary of State will concede that projects such as the Eldonians project—and, indeed, the whole concept of housing co-operatives—were conceived when I was chairman of the housing committee in Liverpool. The idea that no part was played by Liberals such as Sir Trevor Jones in many of the projects that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned is preposterous. The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that, as leader of the city council, Sir Trevor co-operated fully with him in trying to make such projects happen. It is precisely because vie want to co-operate with the Government that I spoke in the terms that I did.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Sir Trevor, whom I know well, was known as "Jones the Vote" in the context of his management of Liverpool because he was perceived to be favouring Liberal parts of the city by moving public resources in their direction. Consequently, significant parts of the Labour party became increasingly indignant, reacting to what was regarded as the Liberal manipulation of the city's finances. Moreover, if all these ideas were brought into existence when the hon. Member for Mossley Hill was chairman of the housing committee, it is surprising that it was the middle of the 1980s before I was able to go and see the projects happening. Times had moved on by then. The fact is that, effectively, the ideas came to fruition under a Conservative Administration.
§ Sir Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
I am bound to say to the Secretary of State that his speech does not do him justice. I am sorry to say that, but I had thought that the right hon. Gentleman would make a constructive contribution. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Conservative Government, and only the Conservative Government have done all these marvellous things for Liverpool. Can he tell me why the people of Liverpool do not believe him and why there are only two Conservative councillors in the whole of Liverpool?
§ Mr. Heseltine
The Conservative party holds seats all round the conurbation because people have witnessed the remarkable efforts that we have made for Liverpool. The fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development holds her constituency of Wallasey can by no means be dissociated from the fact that the people there can see just how much we have done to help that area of Liverpool.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Bristol, too, hundreds of acres have lain derelict and semi-derelict for 20-plus years and that, when a development corporation has come in to do something about that, the Labour and Liberal parties have fought the proposals tooth and nail?
§ Mr. Heseltine
My hon. Friend is perfectly right. The characteristic posture of Labour and Liberal authorities has been to resist until they see Conservative schemes work, yet Opposition Members then stand up in the House and try to suggest that they should have come faster. We had a classic example from the hon. Member for Mossley Hill today. There were no signs of significant revival in Liverpool when the Liberals ran the city.
Matters got a lot worse under the Labour party, to which I shall come in a few minutes—I have never suggested that the Liberals were as bad as the Labour party. The Liberals are just halfway down the track, engaging in "me too-ism" and populism carried to extremes. As long as there is trouble to be made, the Liberals will make it, but if they think that there is gain to be had by appearing to support someone, they will do that instead.
§ Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)
My right hon. Friend referred to Trevor Jones. Would he be surprised to know that, just as Sir Trevor Jones was fighting for his very political existence on Liverpool city council against the Militants, the Liberal leader of Medina borough council was actively helping Militant Tendency on the Isle of Wight, whose members picketed my constituency association and my house? Today, that gentleman—who in 1987 helped the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) with his campaign—is the assistant to the chief executive of Liverpool city council.
§ Mr. Heseltine
My hon. Friend asked me in the simplest language whether I would be surprised to know. Of course I would not, because that is exactly what one expects to find in the Labour party. If the Militants are an asset and a help—if there is not too much of a spotlight on their activities—there is no attempt to stop them. The only time when Militants are unwelcome in the Labour party is when there is a spotlight on their activities. Otherwise, they are gathered in, encouraged, nominated and pushed up the ladder of preferment and their endeavours are thoroughly welcomed. It is only when the going gets rough and the spotlight of public opinion is focused on them that the Labour party tries to bury them under the carpet or push them on to the sidelines. It will not fool anyone listening to the debate today, any more than it will fool the country at large.
The great argument behind which the hon. Member for Mossley Hill hid—I have not the slightest doubt that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman will also seek to draw it to the attention of the House—is couched in the magic language of cuts. All the way through the 1980s, we heard that language. [HON. MEMBERS: "It has not been mentioned."] Perhaps not in today's debate, but in their general language, the Labour and Liberal parties in the city of Liverpool have implicitly argued for more money and asked, "Why are you cutting our resources?"
It is interesting to examine that assertion. I do not know how anybody can tell me that there have been cuts, given that in 1979, when the Liberals were in charge of Liverpool the transport and construction department employed 2,262 people, whereas today it employs 2,421. That does not sound to me like much of a cut. I do not remember the hon. Member for Mossley Hill mentioning any attempt that the Liberals had made to reduce the number of people directly employed by the council.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Gentleman would need to substantiate his assertion that 5,000 fewer people were employed by the city of Liverpool as a result of decisions taken by the Liberal administration. I have the figures here, and they make interesting reading. For example, 1,401 people employed in recreation in 1979 became 2,044 people under the present administration. The figure for refuse collection was 640 in 1979 but is now up to 747. All the figures relate to a period during which the population of Liverpool fell by 14.6 per cent. The general reduction in overall manpower employed by the authority was only 5.6 per cent. The dramatic reductions and cutting about which we have heard so much have simply not taken place.
The important point that has been revealed by the confrontation taking place in Liverpool is that there is another Conservative lesson to be learned. We said that cuts in service delivery were not necessary and that, by efficiency, it was possible to achieve the standards of service that were appropriate, and at a better price. We have said that year after year. When the contract for refuse collection was put out to tender the other day the outside private sector contract was for £3.9 million. The internal price quoted was £7.9 million. If one extrapolated from those figures across the equivalent departments within the city authority, something of the order of £10 million would be saved by putting the tasks out to the private sector. If the Liberals or Labour had done that in 1979, they would by now have saved the hapless citizens of Liverpool £50 million.
Let me give an example of the approach that is adopted. In 1989, 30 per cent. of the ground maintenance work was put out to tender. A contractor put in a bid for £1.5 million; the in-house bid was £3 million. The city council, this time under Labour, wanted to award the contract to the in-house team. It took a Conservative Government to step in and say, "No; if we are to have value for money, the contract must go to the private sector." The process now involves competition.
And so it goes on. If only Labour and the Liberals used the techniques that they admire occasionally and in retrospect, they would be able to make significant economies. Improvements could be made throughout the country: obvious advantages would be derived if some £2.5 billion-worth of work were put out to compulsory tender, as national economies amounting to perhaps £150 million could be made annually.
§ Mr. Wareing
I have listened with interest to what the right Gentleman has said about past administrations. Is he not aware that for 110 years Liverpool was run by the Conservatives? Why did not the Conservative authority that was in charge between 1967 and 1972 do all those marvellous things?
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Gentleman will be only too well aware that the city council's employment figures were significantly lower in those days than they were later. Remorseless increases after that time led to the scale of overmanning that we are now discussing.
§ Mr. Alton
I do not want the Secretary of State to mislead the House unwittingly. Is he aware that my 710 colleagues in Liverpool have consistently pursued a policy of allowing competitive tendering? A whole 10 years ago they sought to privatise the bin service; however, there was never a political majority. The electoral system that the right hon. Gentleman defends allowed a Militant administration to exercise power for a long time, although it had received a minority of the votes.
§ Mr. Heseltine
It is the old Liberal story: "We always tried, but we always failed"—except in the last few days. At last, the Labour authority has decided to try to achieve the necessary economies. We now see the Liberals and the broad left in the same lobby, voting down the Labour majority. There is a deficit of more than £1 million in the city's account. The Liberal party is facing both ways, always trying to win, regardless of the argument. The attitude taken by Liberal Members today is indefensible.
§ Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)
Does my right hon. Friend recall the occasion when, on 6 July 1987, the Liberals opposed compulsory competitive tendering during our debate on the Local Government Bill? Have they forgotten that?
§ Mr. Heseltine
I must be frank: I had forgotten it myself and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me. I am not at all surprised; that is exactly what I would expect the Liberals to do. We have heard today how they tried to get the bin men to behave differently and to introduce compulsory competitive tendering. They would have loved to have kept the bills down, they say. But, when the Tories introduce legislation, they vote against it. That is the Liberal party for you.
I do not think that we need detain the House much longer by discussing the preposterous hypocrisy of the Liberal motion. Let me now say a word about the Labour party.
There is no doubt that—within the disciplines that we have long urged and the constraints that financial rectitude has forced us to impose—some interesting schemes are emerging in Liverpool city council, based on Tory philosophy and experience. The Government will consider those schemes seriously, because they are a response to our initiatives. They are designed to help the citizens of Liverpool and to restore its morale. We are confident that they are capable of succeeding, because we proved throughout the 1980s—with earlier experiments—that that was possible.
The Labour party's problem is historic: it is actually two separate parties, and always has been. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Margaret and Ted?"] Hon. Gentlemen may be talking about two different views on a specific issue. I am talking about a party that is split from top to bottom. On one side is what, on its better days, is called the moderate wing; on the other is the extremist wing. That problem is illustrated most clearly in Liverpool, where councillors, Members of Parliament and members of the trade union movement—in fact, the whole edifice of the left—are encapsulated in the current divisive, bitter row.
§ Mr. Heseltine
No, I will not give way.
All that was to the immense detriment of the citizens of Liverpool. Those people are not concerned with services, 711 or with the quality of life that Liverpool's citizens are entitled to expect; the row is about the power base of those who have secured within the structure of the Labour party —and no protests were made as they climbed the ladder of opportunity—the ability to hold a society to ransom.
Every time that Labour secures power, that divide forces it to pay a price to its extreme wing. Everyone knows that, if the Labour party ever crossed the Floor of the House to sit on the Government Benches, there would be enough members of that extreme wing to extract the price that is now being extracted from the hapless citizens of Liverpool. It is because Liverpool has demonstrated that Labour is not fit to govern there, any more than it is fit to govern Lambeth or a dozen other authorities, that I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the amendment.
§ Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)
The Secretary of State, who proclaims his care and love for Liverpool, has made an amusing and combative speech, but has offered nothing to help the people of Liverpool in the years ahead. On what amounts to a tragic afternoon for Liverpool, the right hon. Gentleman has joined the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) in a knocking job—not lifting the morale of Liverpool or praising those who are tackling the real issues and problems, but engaging in a sordid and petty debate in which scoring points is much more important than putting the people of Liverpool first. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Sheffield?"] This is an own goal for the Liberals. It is a tragic afternoon for the people of Sheffield—[Laughter.] I mean the people of Liverpool. I was distracted by Conservative Members shouting, "What about Sheffield?".
This is the difference between those baying Conservative Members and me: I have had to run a city and they have not. In Liverpool, we are supporting people who are trying to do their jobs. We are not criticising, carping and sniping from the sidelines; nor have we done what the hon. Member for Mossley Hill did—we have not raised the issue during The Prime Minister's Questions, enabling the Prime Minister to criticise the city and its leadership. We are trying to do something about the problems. The motion calls for the "broadly based government" that the Liberal party believes in. Liverpool had that between 1973 and 1983.
§ Mr. Hayward
The hon. Gentleman has just quoted from the Liberal motion. If he is so certain that Labour has the solution to Liverpool's problems—and, after all, it is in control of the city—why did not the Labour party table a motion or an amendment?
§ Mr. Blunkett
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is traditional for the official Opposition not to table amendments in circumstances of this kind. He will see that if he looks at the record. The motion refers to the restoration of basic services. The only people who tried were members of the official Labour group leadership.
I will enlighten the Secretary of State about the positive contribution made by his colleagues, by recalling the disgraceful statement made yesterday by the Secretary of State for unemployment, who had the gall to call for legal action by Liverpool city council, knowing that the refuse collection workers were to meet this morning to consider 712 returning to work. That act was one of inept irresponsibility, and was typical of the way that the Government have performed in recent weeks. Not a word of support, help or encouragement, or any suggestion of financial aid—only sniping and criticism.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
If the present so-called moderate Labour leadership of Liverpool city council is so responsible, why did it take three weeks to do something about the rubbish? Why did it do nothing about the piles of refuse that piled up in the streets in the first place?
§ Mr. Blunkett
If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about what is happening in Liverpool, he would know that invitations to tender for the refuse collection service went out, and tenders were received, but that last Wednesday was the earliest opportuntiy that the council had to consider them.
§ Mr. Blunkett
It is true. I hope that any right hon. or hon. Member who contributes to the debate, either from a sedentary position or while standing in their place, will address themselves accurately and with some understanding to the issues confronting Liverpool.
The crisis faced by Liverpool is unprecedented in any major British or European urban area. Over the past 50 years, Liverpool has lost over half its population—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It appears that Conservative Members are not concerned about the quality of this debate or about any proper analysis, but only want to make carping, baying criticisms. That is not in the interests of the people of Liverpool, about whom the House should be concerned. Liverpool's population has dropped by over half in the past 50 years, due to a major decline in the commercial heart of the city and its trading position. We all know that.
In view of the silly remarks that have been made, I am minded to comment that the one thing that Liverpool and the Tory party have in common is that they both face away from Europe. That has been Liverpool's problem. In facing away from Europe, Liverpool suffered more substantial damage than any other British city. The decline of the port, the 50,000 jobs lost over the last 10 years, and the fall of 450,000 in Liverpool's population over the past 50 years all contributed significantly to the city council's problems during the last two or three decades.
The city bosses, for whom the Labour party does take responsibility, made their own contribution to that decline, because—as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing)— throughout the 1950s and 1960s, they failed to notice what was happening and to take appropriate action.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is it not interesting that the Secretary of State's empty rhetoric did not address the fact that there is not one Tory Liverpool Member of Parliament, and there has not been for some years? The Secretary of State knows as well as I do that the Tory candidate in the Walton by-election will get only a derisory vote. If the Labour party in Liverpool is so wicked, why do the Tories do so badly there?
§ Mr. Blunkett
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith) chips in to point out that the Tories have only two councillors out of 91 in Liverpool, and my hon. Friend the 713 Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) reminds us that they have no Members of Parliament there. The public vote for those whom they believe can do the job—and the people of Liverpool have certainly reached the conclusion that the Conservative party cannot do the job.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I will in a moment, but I want to make progress. I was about to get round to the Liberal party, and I would hate the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) to intrude.
Until this afternoon, I had judged that the one thing that Militant and the Liberal party did not have in common was their organisation and their behaviour. However, the hon. Member for Mossley Hill told the House this afternoon that he was threatened with expulsion from the Liberal party—and, by implication, that he was intimidated—for taking a particular stand on an issue that he thought was important to the integrity of his area. I commend him for that. However, Militant and the Liberal party have more than that in common.
§ Mr. Blunkett
They did. They both practised populism, without winning, or having access to, the means to deliver the goods. They both failed to tackle the long-term problems of the restructuring of the city council, reorganisation of education, and the often inept management and industrial relations. They even failed to tackle refuse collection.
§ Mr. Alton
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, for the last eight years, Labour has enjoyed a majority on Liverpool city council, and that at no time during the past 20 years have the Liberals enjoyed a majority? At every turn, we have relied on co-operation—and the one thing that has never been on offer from the Labour group, which it rejected as recently as last year, is political partnership in the city. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he now commits the Labour party in Liverpool to working with the Liberal Democrats?
§ Mr. Blunkett
It is very difficult to work with the Liberal Democrats on a positive basis, as we saw last Wednesday. The Secretary of State was right when he said that, on three separate occasions, in respect of major budgetary items, the Liberals decided not to go along with the reality of decisions for which they voted last March. It was not the first time, because, as I shall spell out in a moment, the Liberals' record when they had access to power does not bear close examination.
Someone who has a greater knowledge of Liverpool than I do, Michael Parkinson, director of the centre for urban studies at Liverpool university, contributed substantially—as the Secretary of State knows—to chapter 4 of the Widdicombe report. Anyone interested in the history of Liverpool should read his evidence to the committee, because it is very enlightening. I spent a wonderful weekend re-reading it.
§ Mr. Blunkett
No, not at the moment.
Mr. Parkinson stated:The Liberals were never able to reorganise the inefficiency and poor management of the direct labour organisation … Similarly, the Liberals were unable to reorganise the expensive and inefficient refuse collection service.I admit that the Liberals tried privatisation at one point, but they failed to ensure—as other councils throughout the country, including my own, did ensure—that the quality and delivery of services was at the top of their agenda, and that, instead of a service being exploited by the private sector, it could be exploited for the benefit of the people for whom it was designed. That is the record of Labour in power.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman explained why his party cannot work with the Liberals. Is that why, previously, he has consistently been against expelling Militant members from the Labour party—because he finds them easier and more convenient to work with?
§ Mr. Blunkett
Apart from the fact that the question is irrelevant, the hon. Gentleman is utterly wrong. I cannot be pilloried as the class traitor of the month in Labour Briefing, and then told that I have not expelled any Militants. I made a judgment according to the constitution of the Labour party and the evidence presented. In the case of Derek Hatton and Mr. Lowes, my view—it was not shared by everybody—was that they were members of Militant, so I voted to expel them from my party five and a half years ago. Next time that the hon. Gentleman feels like opening his mouth, I suggest that first he connects it to his brain.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman clearly said that I was making up my remarks about him being—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. That is a point of frustration, not a point of order.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I have been diverted from the central feature of the afternoon, which is the comparison between the Liberal Democrats and Militant. Both engage in deficit budgeting. In 1983, it was the Liberals, in their last effort at budgeting before there was an overall Labour majority in Liverpool, who left a £6 million deficit with unspecified cuts—exactly the position that they refused to face last Wednesday when dealing with this year's budget for Liverpool.
§ Mr. Blunkett
The hon. Lady, like the widow's mite, is so persistent that I think I shall let her have her say.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
Does the hon. Gentleman admit that Liverpool would have far fewer problems if it did not just bother about its rubbish—a bad enough problem—but collected its rent arrears, which amount to 26 per cent.? Is it not obvious to the ordinary unbiased voter that Labour in Liverpool is bribing people to vote for it by putting them in council houses and then saying that it will not collect the rents?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I am endeavouring to deal with the motion before us and the person who moved it—the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, a former chairman of housing in Liverpool. Between 1979 and 1983, the rent for a two-bedroomed high-rise flat rose by 130 per cent.—yet 715 the Liberals' only pledge was to dismantle council homes. They did not want to house people or to repair homes, as the hon. Gentleman earlier tried to pretend. The Liberals cut millions of pounds from the repair budget. They wanted to dismantle municipal housing and redistribute the social structure of Liverpool to gain votes for their party.
§ Mr. Alton
The hon. Gentleman has made an extraordinary comment. Was it not the Labour party in Liverpool which, in 1972, built a council estate called Neverley and which, 12 years later—having created those terrible municipal bantustans, ripped the heart out of the city of Liverpool and shanghaied people to places where they did not want to go—was the party responsible for the demolition of that estate, with 48 years of debt charges still to be paid? Will not the the people of Liverpool be paying those charges almost into perpetuity because of the Labour party's mistake?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I would be a great deal more sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's view if, when he was chairman of housing, he had genuinely tackled the disrepair, the decay and the legacy of earlier years—but he did not.
Both Militant and the Liberal Democrats have one thing in common—their biggest and most important issue is not delivering services, but attacking the Labour party and its stand for honesty, decency, efficiency and quality of service for the people of Liverpool. That is what the Labour party is endeavouring to achieve.
§ Mr. Sayeed
It has clearly been shown that, when direct labour organisations are abolished and private contractors brought in to do house and other repairs, those repairs are done more efficiently and cheaply. Why is the Labour party against compulsory competitive tendering?
§ Mr. Blunkett
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion. Only 5 per cent. of public contracts won under competitive tendering have been challenged or have run into difficulties, whereas one in four private sector contracts have had major difficulties—including those in well-known left-wing boroughs such as Bromley and counties such as Norfolk, which have had to sack the private contractors cleaning schools because of their sheer incompetence.
I want to put on record the fact that Onyx and private sector refuse collection are on trial in Liverpool. Onyx had better deliver the goods for the people of Liverpool, because we shall judge it just as the Secretary of State has tried to judge municipal services—by the incompetence of the organisation undertaking the refuse collection. A comparison can be made, and we will be able to see what the private sector can or cannot achieve. Anybody can provide a cheaper service, but it is a different matter when it comes to delivering quality of service for the money paid. That is why we want not to knock Liverpool today, but to examine why it has found itself in this position.
§ Mr. Hind
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have seen the article in The Independent on 28 July last year, in which Councillor Keva Coombes, then leader of Liverpool council, said:No one has ever been sacked for not doing their job properly, but nor do they get promoted for doing it well. If you come in as an 18-year-old housing clerk in a housing department, you will retire as one.716 That has been the mentality in Liverpool. No one was promoted for doing a good job and, as a consequence, there was no incentive, so the service was rotten. That is what is wrong with Labour in Liverpool.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I regret that Keva Coombes felt unable last Wednesday to support his official Labour colleagues in facing those difficulties. Jobs for life have applied under Conservative, Labour and Liberal authorities, and it is wrong that that was assumed to be right for the local people.
I want to take the House back to the 1970s, and to the last time that the then Labour Government had the opportunity directly to help Liverpool city council. In 1975, Liverpool's rate support grant was increased by a staggering £21 million, the biggest—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members think for a moment about the actual spending power of that money at that time, they will appreciate my argument. It was the largest ever increase —admittedly, consequent to the Houghton commit tee report—and part of a £46 million increase in rate support grant for Liverpool under the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979.
That £21 million was squandered by the Liberal leadership. Instead of investing it in services, improved competence and efficiency, in helping to restructure a city under pressure, and in helping with its economy, education and training, the Liberals that year cut the rate by 1p in the pound. Subsequently, they voted against Labour budgets by cutting the proposed rate increase by a half in 1977–78 and by a third in 1978–79.
Labour made only one budget between 1973 and 1983, and that was in 1980. It was a responsible budget but, ironically, an amendment was tabled to it and it was voted against by a councillor who was later to become infamous —a Mr. Derek Hatton. He and eight of his colleagues tabled an amendment for a deficit budget, a strategy that they pursued right up until 1985, when the Labour party took action against a policy to which it had never adhered. If the Labour party made a mistake, it was not to take action against him and his eight colleagues at the time for breaching Labour party policy.
The significance of the period 1973 to 1979 under the Liberals is that the incoming Conservative Government—the Secretary of State knows all about this—used the 1978–79 budget year as the baseline for both capital and revenue expenditure in terms of how much the city of Liverpool and other councils were to get. The Liberals had reduced expenditure by more than any other authority in Britain. They concentrated on reducing the rates arid pushing up charges, but that was without the increases in efficiency which, we are told, are consequential when such measures are taken.
The Liberals tell us with pride that 5,000 council jobs were cut during the 10 years that they were in power. Apart from the fact that Liverpool city council suffered from the baseline being so low and the enormous rates increase in 1980, that placed Militant Tendency in an ideal position to take advantage of the circumstances—which it duly did.
§ Mr. Alton
The hon. Gentleman is again in danger of misleading the House, unless he admits that Liverpool has been controlled by the Labour party during the last eight years. It has had an absolute majority on the city council. If rents had been increased, instead of being kept down during the whole of that period, with ultimately disastrous 717 consequences, and if natural wastage—the policy that he criticised a few moments ago—had been pursued throughout those years, does he not agree that the council would not have had to make a single person compulsorily redundant?
§ Mr. Blunkett
It is not a question of losing jobs but of using people effectively. To redeploy, retrain and redirect people, using their skills, is something that every hon. Member should be proud to do, instead of taking pride in cutting jobs. When facing necessity, one has no choice. To face reality—to have the courage to do things, if need be, that one does not wish to do—is exactly what the Labour party in Liverpool is doing. The hon. Gentleman attempts to divert my attention from what the Liberals did, and the fact that, in the 1980s, the city council faced that appalling situation.
The Labour party's first budget was in 1984. After years of brinkmanship, when rates had not been set until the very edge of the financial year, the rates were not made in 1984 until well into the new financial year. No agreement on a budget could be reached by 25 April. On 17 May, well into the financial year, the Secretary of State agreed to meet the leaders of Liverpool city council. This is crucial as to who is right and who is wrong about the Liverpool legacy.
Between 1973 and 1984, the Labour party prepared only one budget—in 1980—which was attacked by Militant Tendency. In 1984, the budget was eventually made in June, after agreement had been reached with the then Secretary of State for the Environment, after money had been allocated by the Department of the Environment for the housing and urban programme, after an investigation had taken place by civil servants into the city council's budget, and after the Department of the Environment had suggested a 37 to 71 per cent. rates increase. It was not a Militant budget. It was not even a Labour budget. It was an agreed Department of the Environment budget that saved the city from collapse in 1984.
In 1985, much against its will because it was still adhering to a deficit budget, the city council was involved in that delayed rate-making policy. Not surprisingly, people felt that, as the Government had given way the previous year all the way through till June, there was just a chance that the Secretary of State would give way again, provide resources and back off rate capping in 1985. We were wrong. The Secretary of State did not give way again. The miners' dispute collapsed. Liverpool city council was left under Militant's directon throughout the autumn of 1985. At that point, the Labour party nationally took a hand and intervened.—[Interruption.] A Conservative Member shouts, "Which you opposed." I shall return to that point in a minute. [Interruption.] I shall give way to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
Given that Eric Heffer was, if nothing else, a man of socialist principle, will the hon. Gentleman explain why Eric Heller walked out of the Labour party conference when the leader of the Labour party was speaking? Was it because he believed that the Labour party in Liverpool—not Militant—was being badly treated by the present 718 leadership? Is that why that man of principle walked out when his leader was speaking at the Labour party conference?
§ Mr. Blunkett
To refer to the actions of the former Member of Parliament for Liverpool, Walton is not in good taste; nor does it help this debate. We know why the former Member of Parliament for Walton did what he did —because he felt so upset about what was happening to his city.
I want to end by taking head on the remark of the Conservative Member who said that the Labour party nationally intervened against my will in 1985. As was the case with the Secretary of State, I was a visitor to Liverpool. I knew what the situation was, and I examined its budget. The decision was taken to instruct the Labour party in Liverpool to balance the books. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and the then leader of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, Sir John Layden, wrote to all members and enclosed a report that I had written, extracted from the Stonefrost committee's report.
I looked it up this weekend. That is why I am so interested in the silly and inept intervention by that Conservative Member. I said:A failure now to meet the responsibilities of the council to the people of Liverpool would not only be insane"—I appreciate that these are strong words—but a deliberate sabotage of the whole Labour movement.I do not know where that Conservative Member got the idea that I had not supported that effort, but he may well have to eat his words.
Last Thursday, an appeal was made by the three Church leaders in Liverpool—Archbishop Worlock, Bishop Sheppard and the Free Church Moderator, Dr. John Newton. They asked everyone to refrain from muck raking and pouring scorn on the people of Liverpool. They were asked on the Radio 4 "PM" programme whether they believed that they were saying "Support Labour". Archbishop Worlock said, "In this instance, it is one and the same thing." They were asked whether they were attacking the Prime Minister. Archbishop Worlock said, "Not just John Major, but Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal leader, who has been to Liverpool in the last few days and has done the same thing." They are sick and tired of people attacking their city. They want wholehearted support for those who are trying to sort out the city's problems. They want to promote the best interests of the people whom they serve.
Everyone should want to do that—to achieve a better future for the city, to pull together, to have a quality commission that can work directly with the management and councillors of Liverpool so that everything can be put on an even keel, to see that more resources are placed at the disposal of the city to help with its restructuring and to support it in ensuring that its services are delivered effectively. There is only one party that, during the last few months, has been doing that job—the official Labour party. The victory that we shall achieve on 4 July in Walton will provide an important milestone on the way to Liverpool's recovery.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. Before we make further progress, I must tell the House that there is much interest in the debate and that, unless hon. Members make brief speeches, 95 per cent. of them will be disappointed.
§ Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
We have had a stimulating debate. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in devastating form. It was amusing to see how the Labour Benches rocked with laughter when he turned his fire on the Liberal Democrats, yet when the boot was on the other foot and he was equally devastating about the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats found that funny. His extremely effective speech was a breath of spring, and he scored a bull's eye.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Liverpool was a great city. Like many of our sea ports, it had enormous atmosphere. Its buildings looked marvellous and were well maintained. Sadly, today, that once great city looks sad, dirty and neglected.
Many of Liverpool's problems were caused by the decline in industries such as cotton and in transatlantic shipping traffic. However, other parts of the country suffered from the same problems but managed to attract new industries. For example, Glasgow is a west coast port which faces away from the Common Market, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) so disingenuously said of Liverpool. It has experienced the same problems, but it is now one of the jewels in the United Kingdom, showing what can be done if proper attitudes prevail.
Liverpool's industrial relations record is not good. Many employers must say, "I would like to move to Merseyside or Liverpool, but I will be at the behest of the unions, I will not be able to do the things that I want to do and I will not be able to stimulate new jobs and prosperity."
Contrary to what the hon. Member for Brightside suggested, Liverpool's failure is due entirely to the Labour council —
§ Mr. Montgomery
I cannot give way. The hon. Gentleman was not present at the beginning of the debate.
It is essential that local government tries to ensure value for money, because the more effective a local council is the better value local residents receive for the money that they contribute. Waste and inefficiency, wherever they occur, are the enemies of good housekeeping. The seal of approval for good housekeeping could not be bestowed on Liverpool city council today. Instead, it has had the misfortune of being called the worst city council in British history. What a commendation that is.
For most of the past 20 years, Liverpool has been controlled by the Labour party. The Liberal Democrats have never had overall control and the Labour party has been in control. The period has been highlighted by mismanagement, chaos and, as one commentator said in a newspaper last week, corruption. Keva Coombes was leader of the council before being ousted last year by Harry Rimmer. My wife is active in housing circles in the north-west. She is chairman of a housing association, is on the housing corporation and has done much work and met 720 many people in Liverpool. She has a high regard for Mr. Rimmer. She said, "He is a decent man, one of the old Labour school."
Mr. Rimmer has had a difficult time. I saw him on television recently in tears because he had been harassed and threatened by Militants. I wonder what he was doing while Militant flourished in Liverpool.
§ Mr. Wareing
I can answer the hon. Gentleman's question. Mr. Rimmer was not a Labour councillor until 1987; before then, he was deputy leader of Merseyside county council—and an excellent one, too.
§ Sir Fergus Montgomery
Other people now in the Labour moderate section sat back and allowed the Militants to take over.
Since his departure, Keva Coombes has made a series of devastating attacks on his comrades who now dominate Liverpool city council. In Local Government Chronicle on 27 July 1990, he said:We are the worst landlord in Liverpool, probably in the country. All the new building has taken place and been run by a central unit and all despite the housing department. It takes genius—voids gone up, rent arrears soared, [and] the breaking of the law on racial equality.In The Independent on 20 July—my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) quoted from this article—Mr. Coombes said:The Council's problems are not down to resources. it costs four times more to pick up a piece of litter in Liverpool than it does in other areas. What's more, the people doing these jobs aren't well paid. There's a cycle of low pay, lousy morale and poor productivity.On "Newsnight" on 10 August 1990, he said:Tenants get an appalling service, and they know that. I think probably the fundamental cause is, frankly, we've put the interests of the providers of the service, the workforce, above the interests of the tenants.Mr. Coombes has also admitted that Liverpool has the highest proportion of empty council properties. I have a copy of the audited accounts for 1989–90, which show that there are almost 6,000 vacant council properties—9 per cent. of the total housing stock. What an indictment that is, and what a prospect for the people on the housing waiting list, most of whom are living in appalling conditions and are desperately anxious to get a home. Those 6,000 properties could be used to provide homes for those needy people. The accounts mention three key problems:the repair work needed prior to reletting; Council policies restricting the number of eligible tenants for certain types of propertyand the problems of letting certain "difficult to let" properties.
Revenue is lost by those houses being empty. If tenants were paying rent, that would be extra money into the central fund. I do not suppose that that causes the people who run Liverpool to lose too much sleep, because, as of 9 September 1990, current rent arrears were £16.786 million.
§ Sir Fergus Montgomery
The hard-working, honest-to-God tenant will suffer, because the accounts say:This level of arrears is amongst the worst of all local authorities in England and Wales. What is more any further worsening in the level of rent arrears would lead directly to the need for a further rent increase to balance the Housing Revenue Account. Those tenants who are paying would be made to subsidise those who are not.721 Therefore, the hard-working, honest-to-God Liverpool tenant who is paying his dues and doing what is necessary will be penalised in order to bail out those who refuse to pay. In the spring recess, my wife and I went on a trip to Hong Kong—we paid our own way, through a package deal which appeared in the newspapers—whose Government are the largest landlord in the world. Their rent arrears account for 1 per cent. of the total rent due, which is a tremendous achievement. In Liverpool, the figure is 26 per cent. Perhaps Liverpool council should pay to send somebody to Hong Kong to discover the secret of its successful record. That would be money well spent.
Wherever one looks in Liverpool, the message is the same. Liverpool council has the worst performance of any metropolitan council in collecting the community charge. Although it is in the top 10 for education expenditure per pupil, it is in the bottom 10 for GCSE results. The crunch has come with the dustmen's strike—rubbish has piled up in the streets, reminiscent of Britain in 1979 during the last days of the Labour Government's winter of discontent. It is disgraceful that the system which has operated in Liverpool has meant that job nominations were given to unions completely dominated by Militant. People were allocated jobs by a trade union—what a way to run a city.
For the past four years, the so-called "moderate" Labour party has been running Liverpool. It left that corrupt system in place and did nothing about it. Is it any wonder that for the past 20 years Liverpool has been losing people at the rate of 10,000 per year? The hon. Member for Brightside referred to the drop in population, and I asked why it had occurred. The hon. Gentleman was scornful, but I believe that one reason for the drop is that people could not afford to stay in Liverpool. The cost of socialism was too much for many of them to endure, and the policies operated by the city administration were distasteful to them.
Liverpool is a socialist showpiece—rubbish piled up on the streets and boarded-up windows. The honest, decent Liverpudlian must despair at the thought that a once-proud city has been reduced to this. It is a vivid illustration of socialism in action.
§ Mr. Terry Fields (Liverrpool, Broadgreen)
I sat here throughout the introductory contributions. Despite provocation, I did not seek to intervene with questions to those who are not the protectors, but the assailants of Liverpool—the Captain Mainwarings, the ratbag Dad's Army on the Opposition Benches and the Conservative Members, whom we know and love. [Interruption.] I shall not give way. Others may make their speeches as time goes by.
In the motion and the amendment we are asked to behave with reasonableness and light and to come together, as those who tabled them believe, in the interests of the people of Liverpool. As always, we can expect a sideshow from the Liberals, deflecting attention from the enormous embarrassment of the Government's economic and social policies—all their policies, laid bare before the electorate. Of course, the clowns on the Liberal Benches come along and put up a smokescreen, attacking Liverpool and its city council, which are well used to that.
722 We take on all corners, and I do not say that in a conceited way. Conservative Members say, "I taught in Liverpool," or "I went through Liverpool on a bus," but we have lived there all our lives and have seen the conditions of our constituents. We do not need lessons from Tories representing the ruling class and the pink shadows and the blue shadows on the Liberal Benches—the Benches of a party which is also the party of capital—to tell us what is in our best interests.
Since 1983, in local and general elections, the people of Liverpool have consistently shown that the Tories have no place in Liverpool politics—that they are a back number and a dead letter. The Liberals cry out for proportional representation as a solution to the problems of Liverpool. They have no problems, as we have shown and seen in the past.
We are asked to attack the trade unions in Liverpool. We are being asked on all sides to sack workers in a city which, on everyone's evaluation, has been impoverished over decades. That has not happened since 1983—it is nothing to do with Hatton, Tony Byrne or any of our comrades. The impoverishment goes back decades and is due to neglect and lack of investment by people represented on the Conservative Benches. That is the reality of Liverpool.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. So that we may judge the quality of the debate, should not the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) make it absolutely clear which party he will support in the by-election?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order for the Chair. There has been no breach of Standing Orders.
§ Mr. Fields
The so-called Liberals, so-called Democrats have made much of Labour being in control in Liverpool. Between 1974 and 1983, those people, in tandem with the Tories, were running the city, even though they did not have overall numerical control. There is no mistake about that. Today, the Liberals are crying out about the state of the streets and about the cleansing service. I shall deal in detail later with why the cleansing service is in such a state—[Interruption.]—because of the bizarre policies that they pursue.
§ Mr. Fields
The shuddering protestations of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) about the cleansing service—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The House has heard the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) say that he will not give way. Perhaps we can now proceed with the debate.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Member's point of order is not one of frustration and 723 annoyance. If it is something with which the Chair can deal, I shall listen to it; if not, the hon. Member must keep his seat.
§ Mr. Nicholls
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I cannot hear because of the noise. The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to "they". I need to know whether he is referring to the two Labour parties or to the Liberal party.
§ Mr. Loyden
I realise your difficulties, Madam Deputy Speaker, in dealing with the unruly mob on the Conservative Benches. The debate is supposed to be about the situation in Liverpool. The people of Liverpool are watching what is going on here, and it will confirm our views about Conservative Members. They are treating this debate with discourtesy and a lack of interest. They are making a fun day out of this important issue. I realise your difficulties, Madam Deputy Speaker, but will you please say—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I shall ensure that whatever hon. Member is speaking, from whichever quarter, is heard. Mr. Terry Fields.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. There is less than three quarters of an hour to go before the wind-up speeches. I hope that the hon. Member will not waste the time of the House.
§ Mr. MacKay
Is it not the greatest discourtesy to the House that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) could not be bothered to turn up for the first part of the debate?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that we should cool matters down and get on with the debate. Let us deal with policies rather than personalities.
§ Mr. Loyden
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was delayed in Liverpool because I was attending meetings there, which have proved to me that they are much more important than the debate here today in terms of searching for a solution to Liverpool's problems.
§ Mr. Fields
The collusion about which I spoke is a two-way process—the Tories are deflecting attention from the hon. Member for Mossley Hill. They are screaming and shouting about the rubbish in the streets. Referring to the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, on 28 November 1987
The Observer reported: 724He threw himself into community action. David and his pals had this appalling old mattress which they'd dump in a jigger [a back alley], a fellow student, Mike Storey, recalls.Mike Storey is also a Liberal on Liverpool city council. Quoting him, the article continued:'The residents would complain, and David would say, "We'll get on to the council for you." The council would remove the mattress, and the Liberals would get the credit. Then David would reclaim the mattress and dump it somewhere else.'Those are the people who have the cheek and gall to raise this matter. They are the people who have been spoiling the city of Liverpool.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Member for Broadgreen has made it clear to the Chair that he would not give way.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
All hon. Members understand that, but it is up to the hon. Member who has the Floor to decide whether to give way. I must make it clear that that has nothing to do with the Chair.
§ Mr. Fields
I do not believe in being—[HON. MEMBERS: "Democratic."]—disrespectful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
This is an important debate about conditions in a city about which half the people here know nothing, although they created those conditions and the chaos. People in my city are trying to resolve the problems, but all that we get is a pantomime from Conservative Members who have no cognisance of the conditions of our people.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) spoke about the wonderful docks, but again that probably involved exploiting the working class in cities and the dockers. They do not know what they are talking about. My father was a docker; he lived and died on the docks. He worked like a horse and was treated like an animal in the pens by them and their class, so they should not tell us about the docks. They have starved the city of finance and they have created poverty, bad housing conditions and unemployment. Now, almost like voyeurs, they are coming back to the scene of the crime. At the weekend they castigated innocent Liverpool people who are leaving home to look for work in places such as Bournemouth because there is nothing for them in Liverpool.
The Conservatives boast about investment in Liverpool, but they have crippled the city. That is choice coming from a Government who, only today, are condemned in the financial pages for their running or the economy and the country. The trade gap has widened and two thirds of the Confederation of British Industry is pessimistic about the future because of the Government's economic policies. We can hear them mumbling because it 725 is getting through to them. They understand that I know what they are about and which class interests they represent.
I represent my class proudly, standing up to defend workers and the city of Liverpool. We have defended it against all corners. We fear none of you—you have done all you can—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] They have done all they can. I am sorry about the parliamentary courtesy, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I do not wish to be disrespectful to you, but when I see my class enemy face to face, I sometimes lose my cool. I have no intention of insulting you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Investment is at an all-time low. Conservatives tell us that we should be pricing ourselves into jobs, but the very people who are dictating to us what we should be doing are getting 50 per cent., 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. increases in their wages and yet they tell us that we are pricing ourselves out of jobs. Our Front Bench had better be listening—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—because one of these days I shall perhaps give a key to the solution of the problems of the inflated people who are sponging off and exploiting the working class and creating the conditions experienced by my constituents.
We live in a society in which, even today, 1 per cent. of the population owns 18 per cent. of the wealth, 10 per cent. of the population, represented by those people on the Conservative Benches, own 50 per cent. of the wealth, and 50 per cent. of the population, represented by members of the Opposition, own only 10 per cent. of the wealth. We shall not solve the problems of Liverpool in this bear garden or through the Liberals and Tories, but through a Labour Government implementing socialist policies with the same enthusiasm as the Prime Minister and his predecessor have represented their class, the money fellows in the City, the Saunderses and all those who are screwing my class. We shall never forgive you for it. [Interruption.] Not your class, Madam Deputy Speaker—you are on our side, I believe.
§ Mr. Fields
I do not seek to embarrass you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The decline in the economy has had adverse effects on the city of Liverpool. That has been mentioned time and again. Even my good comrade, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said in Labour Briefing in 1984:The difficulty with the Liverpool situation is that it is unique. Not simply in its financial position, taking over a Liberal budget with a Labour programme, having no reserves or back up funds to survive the coming year, but because Liverpool is a living tribute to private enterprise and Tory policy in the destruction of the economy and industry.He went on to say that we should be looking for ways to support the Liverpool councillors in their struggle against the Government as part of an on-going programme by other Labour-controlled authorities to assist and to stand with Liverpool against the Tories.
I am glad to see that Tory Members are perhaps reading "Liverpool—A City that Dared to Fight", a wonderful example of what a city could do with £20 million from Patrick Jenkin, the then Secretary of State for 726 the Environment, to prolong our house-building programme when the Government were attacking every Labour-controlled authority and stopping house-building programmes, just as the Liberal Democrats did in Liverpool during their reign.
The motion and the amendment attack the trade unions for holding the city to ransom. We live in a city where the council is the largest employer merely because there is no major industry. The docks may be tarted up, but one will not see many redundant dockers' launches lying there. It is the people who have benefited from the Government's economic policies—
§ Mr. Hayward
Will you confirm, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Labour Whips are so determined to silence the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields)—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. What the Whips do is nothing to do with the Chair. The hon. Gentleman is wasting the House's time.
§ Mr. Fields
We are told that Liverpool is a debt-ridden city because of the policies of Militant and the extremists. That is not true. I take as my source the municipal year book, which compares 1980 and 1990. In fact, Liverpool's debt is less than Manchester's; it is almost equal to that of Leeds and is exceeded by Coventry's. Liverpool's debt is no more or less than that of the majority of local authorities. In an article in the press last week, it was explained clearly that the city treasury is not in hock to the banks—as some people would have us believe—any more than most other local authorities.
If we are looking for criticism, we do not need the Tories to tell us how to run a sound economy in our city because they bankrupted the country and continue to do so with their economic policies. As comrades who have served on Sefton and other local authorities will confirm, debt is part and parcel of local authorities.
Redundancies are a crisis for Liverpool. I do not believe that it is right—I say this publicly, as I have already said in Liverpool—that a Labour authority should make people redundant when there are jobs to be done for the council. The reality is that, in Liverpool, there are unfilled vacancies on the work list. Other vacancies are coming up because of natural wastage, and 500 jobs will be found because Liverpool has a licence for cable television and could employ those workers if it wanted to. Unfortunately, we are not getting those jobs—there is support for a programme of redundancies over and above those caused by privatisation of the cleansing services to which, I believe, the Labour party is wholly opposed.
As I said initially, we are being attacked from all sides, but we shall certainly do our best to defend ourselves. The motion will do nothing to resolve Liverpool's problems. We need a Labour Government elected at the next general election—the sooner the better—as a starting point to regenerate inner-city areas. We must give notice to the incoming Labour Government not to follow the path of the Wilson or Callaghan Administrations, which had to face, on the one hand, the demand of big business and the 727 International Monetary Fund and, on the other, the hopes and aspirations of working people which had built up after 13 nightmarish years of Toryism.
If we are to make any deals, they will not be with those in the City. Let us have our discussions with the working class, the disfranchised, the homeless, the poor, with those who are crippled by the mortgage interest rate and with those small business people who cannot afford to run their factories or to maintain innovative measures. Those people are our wonderful constituency, but we will not control what we do not own. Conservative Members understand that point.
Our programme for the future is the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, with workers controlling the management and planning for need, not greed. That is the only solution to Liverpool's problems. It is the only solution to the problems of the working class. The clowns on the Conservative Benches have nothing to offer us that would help to solve our problems.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
If anybody had been under the misapprehension that the Militant Tendency had been driven out of the Labour party, the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) has nailed that lie once and for all. The first thing that one noticed was that the hon. Gentleman did not bother to tell us which Labour candidate he supports in the Walton by-election. That is not surprising, because a whole chapter of the book, "Liverpool—A City that Dared to Fight", by Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn, is devoted to a tribute to the hon. Gentleman. The book quotes the Liverpool Echo of 10 June 1983, which stated:The election of Terry Fields is an embarrassment to members of Labour's National Executive who have tried for months to throw Militant supporters out of the party.People from outside Liverpool can learn from that book that the platform on which the hon. Gentleman stood in that election and which he has outlined to the House tonight is exactly the same political programme as is being used now by Lesley Mahmood, the Militant candidate in the by-election—so much so that the slogan that was used by the hon. Member for Broadgreen—"A workers' MP on a worker's wage"—is now being used by Lesley Mahmood on every piece of her campaign literature. It is therefore clear where the hon. Gentleman's sympathies lie and why he did not say who he is supporting.
However, what is also clear now is why the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) reacted with such anger when I told him that he had previously been against Militants being thrown out of the Labour party. He may like to play the indiarubber man in this debate but, unfortunately for him, these things are on the public record. The Guardian of 2 January 1986 referred to an article that the hon. Gentleman wrote for Tribune, in which he stated:wholesale purges will either destroy us all or suck a broad swathe of the party into a very authoritarian and rigid mould.The article continued by stating that Labour shouldcease the purge mentality which is currently sweeping through the party.The hon. Member for Brightside may well have changed his mind, but when it counted—when Militant had to be faced up to—he would not do it, and that is why he was so angry—
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall not do what I would normally do, Madam Deputy Speaker, and show the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of giving way to him, because he would not do that to me. [Interruption.] He can call names, but he cannot give way—and neither shall I.
It is four years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] If name calling is not good enough for the hon. Member for Brightside, he should have given way when I asked him to do so.
§ Mr. Hughes
It is now four years since the openly avowed Militant Tendency Labour council in Liverpool was forced out—and what has changed? After 100 days, the Liverpool Echo carried out a survey of what had been achieved, concluding that, although there had been some progress, much work remained to be done. In 1989—in fact, almost exactly two years ago today—a report to the finance and strategy committee of Liverpool city council stated:Every effort must be made to ensure committee budgets are contained within the estimates approved.It listed all the things that needed to be done to keep the budget under control.
Four years later, so little has changed that we are still hearing the same rhetoric from the Labour party—"We will improve if you give us time." But what is the record? One thing about which there has been deep concern in Liverpool is the army of thugs known as "Hatton's private army". We have seen them on "GBH", which is not simply a piece of drama or rhetoric; it shows what actually happened. Has Hatton's private army been abolished? No, it has not. Admittedly, it is on strike, but it still exists in the city. City property is now unprotected, and £5 million-worth of property has either been stolen or destroyed as a consequence.
As we have heard, Liverpool's debt burden has increased. The council has delayed and agonised over every decision facing it. When the gardening and parks contract was fiddled in an attempt to give it to the direct service organisation—although that would have cost £1 million more—what did the Labour party under Harry Rimmer do? Did it apologise and say, "We will not do this again"? No. It took a deputation to the Secretary of State for the Environment saying, "Can we do the same thing again next year? Can we give the contract to the direct service organisation?"
Liverpool city council employs more workers per 1,000 population than the authorities in Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds, and, even under its present plans, it intends to continue that trend. The street cleaning contract is due to be reconsidered next January. A paper from the chief executive relating to the policy and resources meeting of 18 June this year stated:The City Council needs to move away from a culture of short termism, crisis management and ad hocery".However, the street cleaning contract will have to go out to tender. In a report for a meeting this week, the council states:To date, no formal report has been considered by a City Council Committee on the level of efficiency by the street cleansing DSO, and the likelihood of that DSO being able to successfully compete for its work." Considering the difficult ies that the council has encountered when putting the rubbish collecting contract out to tender and the agony and pain for 729 the people of Liverpool, one would have thought that, if the Labour party cared at all about the people of Liverpool, it would have started those discussions already.The city council has failed to claim Government grants. We have heard a lot from the hon. Member for Brightside about money that should have been given to the council, but if the council cared about such matters, why has it been so incompetent that it has failed to claim the grant that was available to the city? That is incompetence on a big scale.
I should like to highlight one thing that I noticed when I visited Liverpool a week ago which shows the attitude of Liverpool's current Labour administration. I refer to the Merseyside trade union, community and unemployed resource centre at 24 Hardman street. It was initially set up by the Trades Union Congress, with TUC funds. However, when the city council—the post-Hatton council that the hon. Member for Brightside tells us is so responsible—had a £51 million deficit in December 1987, it decided to give that centre £0.25 million. The then finance committee chairman, Keith Hackett, an acolyte of Keva Coombes—they both voted last week against contracting out Liverpool's rubbish services—gave assurances that the money would not be used for party or propaganda purposes. The co-ordinator of the centre, Kevin Coyne, who is now a Kinnockite Labour councillor, said:the centre is non party political".I invite the press who are covering the Walton by-election in large numbers to visit that centre. Anyone who does so can see that its main or probably sole purpose is the propagation of Labour party policy. It is a propaganda organ of the Labour party in Liverpool. Any visitor would know that, and I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) has visited the centre.
Its library is almost entirely devoted to Labour politics and includes a press cutting section entitled "Thatcher's demise". The language and content of the centre's newsletter, called "Dole Drums", are anti-Tory and pro-Labour. An article about the centre's resident theatre group, the Network, is headed "The Network acting for Socialism"—the centre is meant to be non-political and non-propaganda—and invites a response frompeople who are talking your sort of politics, or would like to become actively involved in using theatre in the struggle for political change".The representatives of the city council on the management committee who approve of what is going on in the centre are Kinnockite Labour Councillors Concepcion and Edwards. The facilities at the centre, which is a large imposing building, are lavish. It has a conference room for 200, a family lounge, a well-equipped theatre and a bar entitled "The Flying Picket". The walls of the centre are covered in socialist memorabilia, including plaques thanking it for supplying pickets for strikes as far away as Dover, and huge displays of material from the miners' strike. A collection in a glass case, with a photograph of Arthur Scargill being arrested, is set out like a religious shrine. Political banners often hang outside. One said "Repeal the 1986 Social Security Act". However, a Conservative councillor—I accept that he was one of only two—put an enforcement order on it and had it removed.
A job advertisement on one of the notice boards proves that the Labour party in Liverpool still likes to break the 730 law. It is for a part-time vacancy at a left-wing bookshop called "News from Nowhere" and advertises for a black woman. That offends against the Race Relations Act 1976, and the Labour party knows it.
That centre for the unemployed is clearly part of the Labour party's organisation in Liverpool. It is clear throughout Merseyside that such centres are part of that organisation. In Wallasey, the Labour party's campaign at the last election was run from just such a centre.
Not only Liverpool is infected by Militant, which is alive and thriving. Just two years ago, a £10,000 grant was given to the Anti-Poll Tax Union, a Militant front organisation, voted for by the Labour party. As we have already heard in this debate, there are Militant-supporting Labour Members of Parliament. The mayor of the Wirral was hounded out of the Labour group for supporting ordinary Labour party policy against that of Militant and socialist organisers. That is the so-called cleansed Labour party on Merseyside.
LIverpool city council has recently made moves to act sensibly, as in the issuing of a rubbish collection contract last week. It issued that contract not because it believed in it, but because it was forced to do so by the district auditor in his damning letter to the council in January. The council has applied to become a housing action trust, which I welcome as it would bring extra resources to the people of Liverpool.
However, as was confirmed this morning by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) speaking for the Labour candidate in Liverpool, Walton, the Labour party has promised to repeal all those laws. The district auditor's service of the audit commission, competitive tendering laws, housing action trusts—consistently opposed by the Labour party—would all be repealed by a Labour Government. So much for the cleansed Labour party in Liverpool. Labour Members do not mean what they say but simply want the heat to go away, so that Militant can rule again inside the Labour party in Liverpool.
§ Mr. Robert M. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
I am pleased to take part in this debate, because I am proud of the fact that I was born and bred in Liverpool. I am proud because Liverpool has been, is and will be in the future a great city.
However, I am surprised at the temerity of the Liberal Democrats in tabling the motion. It is as though all Liverpool's problems stem from the so-called "Hatton period" of Liverpool city council. Liverpool's problems far predate that period.
I have often referred to the period between 1973 and 1983 as Liverpool city council's sterile years. During those years, the Labour party could not pass a single budget without the support or abstention of one of the opposition parties. Although the Liberals did not have an absolute majority, in 1973, for example, they had 48 of the 99 seats—as near as damn it a majority on the council. The Labour party was in power for most of the time in which the Liberals dominated the city council. Between 1974 and 1979, the Labour Government increased the rate support grant from £63 million to £109 million. One would have expected an improvement and expansion in the services and an improvement in the maintenance of the housing 731 stock. Not a bit of it. The increase in rate support grant was used not to extend or even maintain services, but to keep down the rates.
In 1975–76, when inflation was at 27 per cent., the Liberal party on the city council managed to introduce a 1 per cent. or 1p cut in the rates. What do hon. Members suppose would happen to services if inflation were running at 27 per cent. and revenue were cut by 1 per cent.? The answer is perfectly obvious—the services are held back or cut.
For example, between 1974 and 1978 housing repairs and maintenance in the city of Liverpool were cut by £2.75 million. Grants to voluntary organisations were slashed. They were cut for the Childs Wooton adult education centre, which catered largely for the black population in Toxteth, and for the Vauxhall law centre. Liberals always tell us about community policies, but they cut the grant to the Neighbourhood Projects group in Liverpool. They closed the Croxteth Lodge old people's home, despite the fact that there was a long waiting list for such accommodation.
To find the money, they introduced a £4 charge for pensioners' bus passes. Funnily enough, in their propaganda the Liberals said that they did not do that. The "Focus" pamphlet that was pushed through people's doors in the Tuebrook ward in the late 1970s said:Bus pass disgrace. Liberals were horrified when they heard of the proposal to reduce the Rates Increase by asking our Senior Citizens to pay for their Bus Passes.They introduced the measure but were horrified. Another "Focus" leaflet that was pushed through people's doors stated:David Alton kicks £4 pass into touch. Moves were recently made to charge pensioners for their bus passes. David Alton was against this move and persuaded Councillors to drop the idea.What it did not say was that the idea came from the Liberals on Liverpool city council.
§ Mr. Alton
I hope that we are not about to rerun our debates during the Liverpool, Edge Hill by-election, when the hon. Gentleman was my opponent. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there are times when we disagree with policies within our own party. Surely he should congratulate me on having been successful on that occasion.
§ Mr. Wareing
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was in a minority of one or two in his party. The fact is that his party introduced the idea, and the Labour party and even the Tory party opposed it.
§ Mr. Wareing
No, because I have a lot more to say first.
We have heard about the drop in population in Liverpool and people have made snide comments about people leaving Liverpool because they want to get away from the Labour-run council. Merseyside has a population of 1.25 million people. Many people live outside the boundaries of Liverpool city and are part of the overspill population in places such as Kirkby, Knowsley and Crosby. Some live on the other side of the River Mersey. In almost all the great cities there is a movement away from the centre to the outskirts.
I am sorry that the Liberal Democrat party has sought to be party political about Liverpool. I am sure that if there were not a by-election in Liverpool, Walton, we should not have had this debate now and the Liberal 732 Democrats would not have chosen the same subject. The Archbishop of Liverpool and the Bishop of Liverpool have written toencourage all our fellow-citizens, who have the good of Liverpool and its people at heart … to support the efforts of the City Council to put our house in order.They also say:All political parties over the years have had a share in the long decline of Liverpool's prosperity.I do not disagree with them. We have all had some responsibility. Why do we not have the humility to accept that there is responsibility on all our shoulders? For God's sake, we must get away from the argument that it is one party's fault.
The housing problems in Liverpool did not start in the 1980s. On 10 August 1978, when a Labour Government were in power and a Liberal administration ran the city, an article in the Liverpool Echo said:Liverpool 'like a bomb zone' … An all-party delegation of Glasgow District Councillors is 'shocked and Horrified' at Liverpool's council housing.Who was chairman of Liverpool's housing committee at the time? None other than the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). For goodness' sake, let us get away from the idea that the Liberal Democrats have no responsibility.
The hon. Member for Mossley Hill also talked about dismantling the municipal empire. Some 80,000 council houses were to be sold. That was referred to by Ian Craig in the Liverpool Echo as the "sale of the century". A stop was put to council house building in 1979. That was at a time when 16,000 people were on the housing waiting list and 13,000 other people were in inadquate housing in Liverpool. At that time, the Liberal council stopped building council houses. Most of those people were not rich; they were relatively poor and some were very poor. The Liberals stopped building council houses although they built houses for sale. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) referred to that earlier. The low expenditure levels were used by the Secretary of State for the Environment to hold down the assistance given to Liverpool later.
The Liberal Democrats' hypocrisy continues. Time and again on the city council, they voted with Militant Tendency. Last Wednesday, having voted for Labour's budget, the Liberal Democrats moved a motion negating its proper implementation. They proposed to restore 94 jobs in the housing administration at a cost of £1.25 million, but they did not say how that would be paid for. As a result of Government policies, the housing revenue account is now ring-fenced and cannot be subsidised out of the poll tax. The motion went through on a combined Liberal Democrat and Militant vote. That is the real reason why we had difficulty last week on Liverpool city council.
The Tories must not think that all was marvellous during Conservative periods of office. I refer to the open letter to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who was then Prime Minister, in the Liverpool Daily Post of 11 February 1972. The letter concerned conditions in Liverpool during the last year in which the Tories had control of the city council.
§ Mr. Wareing
Yes, they did. They were in the majority in 1972.
733 Since 1979, £650 million has been cut from the revenue support grant to Liverpool. The housing investment programme is now far lower than the real value of HIP in 1979. The poll tax-capping threat is one of the immediate causes of the present budget crisis.
The Secretary of State for the Environment has held the post before. When he talks about partnership, we must ask how much partnership we have had from the Tory Government. What on earth have we had? In 1981, the present Secretary of State came to Liverpool. Many people in Liverpool regard him rather more highly than they do the average Tory Minister, because he saw the city before and after the Toxteth riots. After the riots, he wrote a report for the Cabinet and because somebody said that it took a riot to get him to Toxteth, he entitled the report "It took a riot".
Before one could say "Jack Robinson", the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), the previous Prime Minister, arranged a meeting at which the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was ordered to stop the report and to stop its implementation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman met the Secretary of State at a restaurant in Marsham street and "It took a riot" never saw the light of day. Instead, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East advised the Prime Minister that they should manage the decline of Liverpool. He called for a "managed decline" of Liverpool.
It is wrong to say that no council in the Liverpool area was willing to do something. Merseyside county council was abolished by the Government because it had a Labour majority. Conservatives, Liberals and Labour members of the council opposed the abolition. The Merseyside chamber of commerce opposed the abolition. The bishop and the archbishop were opposed to the abolition. The Tory Government have been as extreme as the Hattons of this world. In the past 10 years, Liverpool has suffered from extremism. Thatcherite extremism and Hatton extremism are two sides of the same evil coin. Our city wants no more of it, and that will be the message from the people of Walton on 4 July.
I deplore the speeches made in the House last Friday by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. How on earth can a Minister, using such prejudiced ideas and making such irrational statements, hold office? I have today written a letter of complaint to the Prime Minister because everyone in Liverpool—Tories, Socialists and Liberals—deplores what the Minister said. He simply regurgitated gossip. He is not fit to remain a Minister, and I have asked the Prime Minister to do what is right. It is disgraceful that a man who expresses such prejudices should be asked to adjudicate in a few days' time on Liverpool's bid. How can he be capable of reasoned thought about what Liverpool proposes when he holds such prejudices?
Some of us share the responsibility for believing some people on the left wing of the Labour party who said that they were democratic socialists. People in Liverpool have suffered as a result of Militant using Hatton as a recruiting sergeant for its cause. I shed no tears for the beginning of the end of the static security force and the intimidation and problems faced by Liverpool's people.
734 Harry Rimmer was my agent when I was first elected in 1983. He is an honest, decent man, and the people who are trying to solve Liverpool's problems are genuine, good people. Heaven knows, they are courageous. They have more guts in their little fingers than the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and the hon. Member for Stroud have in their entire being. The people of Liverpool are in the front line of the battle against extremism.
Tories tell us that we should get rid of our extremists, but they should take action against the extremists who have determined their policies. The right hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who is now earning her living from making speeches in the United States rather than in the House, are extremists.
Liverpool has had many achievements to its name over the past few years. I agreed with the first part of the speech by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill. However, the improvement at the port predates the abolition of the dock labour scheme. The Mersey barrage started life as an idea when I entered the county council and became chairman of the economic development committee. One of my first actions was to tell my officers that I wanted to see some action on the Dee barrage. They said that that could be difficult because two other county councils were involved. The result was the Mersey barrage.
Liverpool is proud of itself and it disowns both Thatcherite and Hatton extremists. It has certainly got rid of the Thatcherite extremists because not a single Tory Member represents a Liverpool constituency—nor is there likely to be one. The Hatton period has gone for ever, as the people of Walton will demonstrate on 4 July. If the Tory candidate in Walton wants to save his deposit he must dissociate himself from the speech on Friday by the hon. Member for Salisbury.
§ Sir Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
We have had some good speeches in an interesting debate, which was opened superbly by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who for many years has been the only hon. Member in Liverpool fighting against Militant Tendency. I welcome the views of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), but it has taken him 20 years to come to them. He made a constructive speech, about which I shall shortly say more. My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley Hill, who lives in Liverpool, has been tabling motions and has been subjected to phone calls and all sorts of pressure. He has shown great courage in standing up for the people of Liverpool when people in the Labour party were not prepared to do so.
§ Mr. Hind
It is important to remember that Militant came to power in Liverpool council via the Labour party. In the autumn of 1985, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) prepared a report dictating what should be done, but it has taken Labour six years to come to its senses and do anything about that. It is to the credit of other parties rather than Labour itself that Labour Members have been brought to their senses.
§ Sir Cyril Smith
There is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman says.
Many of the quotes used by the hon. Member for West Derby were from the 1970s. When the Government turn 735 on the official Opposition, Labour Members say that they have not been in power since 1979 and cannot be blamed for what is happening. However, in arguing against the Liberal Democrats, Labour Members have quoted what happened 19 or 20 years ago.
I urge the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) to play a full part in the Walton by-election. He will have problems about the part that he should play and deciding which candidate to support. Yesterday, in a television programme in which I took part, an Opposition Member said that any Labour Member who did not support the official Labour candidate would be expelled and dealt with by the national executive. The people of Broadgreen will have to look for another candidate if the hon. Member for Broadgreen does not avoid the cameras that are in place throughout Walton to photograph Labour people who are assisting the wrong candidates so that evidence can be produced at the right time. He will have to shove his leaflets through doors at midnight if he is to survive the pre-selection process.
I shall not say much about the speech by the hon. Member for Brightside, because there is not much to say about it. It was blurred, and was certainly not the best speech that he has made in the House. The same applies to the disappointing speech by the Secretary of State, much of which dealt with the past. He told us that Tories were marvellous, but failed to say that only Governments have the power to initiative legislation. He asked why we did not introduce legislation, but for years we have not been in a position to do that. His speech did not rise to the occasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale delivered a superb, constructive and helpful speech. Undoubtedly, housing, the main point with which my hon. Friend dealt, is a major problem on Merseyside. Perhaps that will allow me to say a word on the vote that took place last Wednesday, about which there has been so much comment.
The first point that I must make clear is that the 94 jobs involved were not included in the budget agreed with the Liberal Democrat councillors on 10 March. The redundancies were added to the programme at a private meeting attended by five Labour Members, and the two Liberal Democrat members objected to them.
Are we seriously to he criticised for objecting to the fact that the 94 jobs that were to go included 15 bricklayers, 10 plasterers, 30 plumbers, 24 electricians and 15 painters, at a time when there are 5,000 empty houses in Liverpool, many of which are waiting for repairs? The solution dreamed up by the Labour party was the sacking of the 94 people employed to repair them, most of whom were skilled craftsmen. What sense is there in that?
It may then be said that that takes £1 million from the budget, but if one quarter of the empty houses in Liverpool were let as a result of the repairs being done, the council would be able to collect in rent the £1 million that would be needed to pay the craftsmen. So I believe that the Liberal Democrat councillors were right on Wednesday. That is why they were supported by the Conservative councillors and by four moderate councillors, as well as by the Militant Tendency.
The debate has shown the rottenness not only of Militant but of the voting system. I shall not make a long speech about proportional representation, but let me repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley Hill said earlier. In 1991, 56,000 people voted for the Liberal 736 Democrats in Liverpool, and 52,000 voted for Labour. As with central Government, the council has been elected on a minority vote, and the consequence is plain for all to see.
What is the consequence? Never mind 1970 or 1980, what about 1991? What about those kids—I gather in he constituency of the hon. Member for West Derby—
§ Sir Cyril Smith
All right, not in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but in Liverpool, these kids were barred from school by glue being put on the gates. Six bully boys were outside trying to stop them going to school. What about the report in this morning's paper about a Labour councillor in Liverpool whose job and person were threatened and who had to lock herself in her office, simply because she voted with the moderate Labour group? All these things happened not in 1973 or 1983 but in 1991.
We want to know what the Labour group in Liverpool and the Labour party nationally are going to do. What will the trade union movement do? What action will trade union national officers take about situations in which people, under the guise of responsible trade unionists, can threaten people's jobs and try to stop children going to school by putting glue on gates?
Let me tell the House something else about 1991. It was not the Liberals who borrowed £800 million and are now paying interest charges to Japan, Switzerland and other countries. That was done by Labour councillors, while the national party sat and never said a flipping word to stop it. That is what is wrong with Liverpool today.
When hon. Members asked my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley Hill about housing, they said nothing, although the Secretary of State did, about the 35,000 houses in Liverpool that were repaired through general improvement grants while the Liberals had some influence in the city. It may be true that we built more houses for sale than for rent but we gave priority to sitting council tenants, and we paid removal expenses and solicitors fees. While it may be true that we did not build as many as we would have liked, it is equally true that, instead of demolishing houses, as your lot were constantly doing, we repaired them—35,000 of them.
§ Mr. Wareing
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you were not responsible for what the hon. Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith) was talking about. I wish that he would refer to real cases.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith) was not referring to me.
§ Sir C. Smith
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should have said "the hon. Member for West Derby". I realise that he is smarting because he never got over my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley Hill licking him in the by-election in Edge Hill.
There is rottenness in the city of Liverpool. The cancer is still eating away at it. We desperately need a new approach. If the Archbishop and the bishops and the people of the country are as concerned about the city as I believe they are, they should know that the average person in Liverpool is a good, decent, honest hard-working person, who is fed up to the back teeth. If parliamentary conventions did not preclude it, Iwould tell the House what was said to me when I knocked on the door of a house in Walton [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I will go this 737 far. The man who answered my knock told me that he had always voted Labour. I asked him. "What do you think about what is happening in Liverpool today?" and he said, "I'm something off." The word began with "P". Actually, it meant that as well. That is indicative of the attitude of the people of Liverpool: they want peace and progress.
I hope that the archbishop, the bishops, the moderate Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the Confederation of British Industry, the trade union leaders and many others in Liverpool can come together around a table to try to get a consensus of opinion on how to make progress. It behoves the Government to encourage that initiative and financially to induce it. That is the only way forward in the long term, as it is the only way that Militant will be defeated, as it deserves to be.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert Key)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith), not least because of his lightness of touch and depth of experience, which have added a dimension that would otherwise have been lacking in the debate. I found this a deeply depressing debate. It is not just that it has been an intrusion on private grief, on the squabble between the Liberal and Labour parties. It is far more important than that. We have seen exhibited tonight a deep malaise in the body politic of Liverpool.
It is my duty and privilege to spend a great deal of time with inner-city communities—communities which represent the rich multiplicity of culture, aspirations and frustrations. I meet many people who have street cred in their communities. They tell me that they know their communities, and they do. They tell me that they represent the views of their communities, and so they do, if sometimes partially. What most of those good people have in common is that they do not belong to political parties and they are not elected councillors. It is the tragedy of many of our inner cities and part of the tragedy of Liverpool.
In the many years during which I have been involved in politics, and long before I became a Member of this place—certainly when I was fighting the constituency of Holborn and St. Pancras, as it is now described, against the hon. Member who now represents that constituency—I have never been accused by anyone, as far as I am aware, of prejudice. I accept that I have been accused of many other things. That being so, I shall respond to some of the comments that were taken up in the debate last Friday. What a pity that it was such a thinly attended debate.
If anyone reads my speech in Hansard rather than relying on other sources, he or she might have taken a different view of my remarks. I have responded already to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), but I remind hon. Members on both sides of the House of the words of a Liverpudlian who is living in Bournemouth, as reported in The Daily Mail. Apparently, he said:A hell of a lot more people would live in Liverpool if it hadn't been for the Militant council.I accept that that is true. Someone else said:Liverpool is the Third World of England. Who wants to live in a place like that?738 I believe that the person who said that is entirely wrong. I believe that Liverpool, like so many other great northern cities, has turned the corner. I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, when the history of the 1980s is written, it will be seen to be the decade of turning for Liverpool.
It is our ambition in government, in partnership with responsible councils, to ensure, through education, training, jobs and quality of life that people do not want to leave our inner cities, and that those who have left them want to return, especially in the north of England. We hope that many others will be attracted to join us and others in building a bright new future for the ancient communities of the inner cities.
§ Mr. Wareing
How can the comments that the Minister made during a long speech last Friday help the aim of attracting more investment to Liverpool and more people to live in an extremely good city?
§ Mr. Key
As the hon. Gentleman says, my comments were made during a long and serious debate. I was drawing attention to the dismal failure of a council in Liverpool—what I am about to say has been borne out by a quote from the Daily Mail—which has led to people feeling that they were driven out of the city.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
I have read my hon. Friend's speech. He said categorically in column 639 that Liverpool is "still a great city". What is wrong with that?
§ Mr. Key
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. She is not such a partial observer as Opposition Members.
I have not enjoyed the nauseous piety of the Liberal Democrats this afternoon and evening. I accept, of course, that the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill reflect long experience of Liverpool, but I believe that the Liberal Democrats are a big part of the problem in the city. It is no good the hon. Member for Mossley Hill blaming everything on the Labour party when we remember the period when the Liberal party, as it then was, was in control of the city, when little happened for so long.
I welcome the words of Archbishop Worlock, Bishop Sheppard and Dr. Newton. I think that they expressed what was genuinely meant, and that the Churches in Liverpool are playing an extremely positive role in seeking to bring communities together. I hope that the people of Liverpool will respond to the words of the Church leaders.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said that Liverpool has been offered no help or hope and has received nothing but carping and baying criticism. He talked of the problem caused by lack of money. I wish to tackle some of the hon. Gentleman's allegations, but first, it must be said that if the Labour party is preparing for government, the hon. Gentleman's defence from the Opposition Front Bench demonstrated what we might expect from a Labour Administration. What a tragedy. It was the worst defence by an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman of the Labour party in opposition that I have witnessed.
The claim that Liverpool has been starved of resources is a bit thin. The city has received almost £2 billion of support in the past 13 years. During the same period Manchester has received £1.5 billion. That is a city with a 739 slightly smaller population. Birmingham, with a population almost twice that of Liverpool's, has received support of about £3 billion over the same period. Proportionately, Liverpool has received a very good deal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) made a remarkable speech, and I am grateful to him. He put into perspective many of Liverpool's problems. He was, however, partial in quoting Liverpool's problems. He failed to mention the arrears of rates, including business rates, which amount to £37 million. If we add community charge arrears, we reach a grand total of £65 million of arrears. That is entirely due to inefficiency. Think what the grand total of arrears could have achieved, if collected, in helping to regenerate Liverpool.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) made a brave speech. It was the sort of speech that I heard when I was a parliamentary candidate and came to the House to listen to debates. I suppose that, 10 years ago, many speeches were made of the sort that the hon. Gentleman delivered today. I only hope that it falls on stony ground in Liverpool in coming years. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's approach is any longer appropriate, if it ever was, to the politics of a free society.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) took us down the harsh road of the reality of politics in Liverpool. I am grateful to him for his robust contribution. Rent arrears, which have been referred to by several hon. Members, increased the community charge by about £30. That is the consequence if rents are not efficiently collected.
Housing has featured prominently in the debate. I was pleased to hear that Liverpool city council's housing committee has agreed to the recommendations that appear in two reports. Its acceptance this morning of those recommendations gives us real hope for the future. First, it has agreed that the council's multi-storey tower blocks are potentially suitable for a housing action trust. Who would have thought two years ago that Liverpool would be talking about an HAT? A more detailed feasibility study that includes tenant consultation should now begin. Secondly, it has been agreed that a joint report on identifying the scope for disposal of empty council stock to housing associations and house builders should go forward to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. I understand that the city council and the chairman of the housing corporation will be processing this development. That is good news on the housing front.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, many of the achievements that we have seen in Liverpool are due almost entirely to the Government's policies. Liverpool is one of 15 authorities that have been invited to bid for City Challenge. It has sketched out its initial proposals to my right hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I will be visiting Liverpool in the coming weeks to take that further.
The government of Liverpool is crucial to the future success of the city. It has been through a long period of decline, but that is coming to an end. The initiatives that were launched at the beginning of the 1980s by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State show how success can come to the city. For example, Albert dock attracts over 6 million visitors a year. There has been the creation of the Wavertree technology park and the developments round the Anglican cathedral, which I have seen for myself.
740 Despite the successes, progress in rebuilding is not recognised by those outside Liverpool. The city has not yet been able to take advantage of the substantial investments that have been made by the Government.
The people of Liverpool should look to their history. I tell them this: "You have a great history but you can also have a great future. Your city voted overwhelmingly Conservative in its heyday. What have you gained from years of socialist rule, whether it has been Liberal, Labour or Militant by name? What have you gained but depression and decline over all those years?" All that has gone wrong must be laid at the doors of successive Labour and Liberal administrations. In sharp contrast, so much of what has gone right has been generated by this Conservative Government. Labour is still in hock to the Militants. It is still the party of protest, not the party of government.
About once a quarter, the Leader of the Opposition stamps his foot. He then tells us that Liverpool is under control. Why should we believe him this time? His party in Liverpool has told us where it stands. The hon. Members for Broadgreen, Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) are too busy to campaign for the official Labour candidate. They are totally united—solid for socialism, mummers for Militant.
The people of Liverpool are doing a good job. The teachers of Liverpool—
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 18, Noes 210.742
|Division No. 185]||[6.59 pm|
|Alton, David||Maclennan, Robert|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Beith, A. J.||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Bellotti, David||Smith, Sir Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Carr, Michael||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Howells, Geraint||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Mr. James Wallace and|
|Kennedy, Charles||Mr. Archy Kirkwood|
|Alexander, Richard||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Boswell, Tim|
|Allason, Rupert||Bottomley, Peter|
|Amess, David||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Amos, Alan||Bowis, John|
|Arbuthnot, James||Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Brazier, Julian|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas||Bright, Graham|
|Ashby, David||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Buck, Sir Antony|
|Atkins, Robert||Budgen, Nicholas|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Burt, Alistair|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Butler, Chris|
|Baldry, Tony||Carlisle, John, (Luton N)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Carrington, Matthew|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Carttiss, Michael|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda|
|Benyon, W.||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Chapman, Sydney|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Clark, Rt Hon Sir William|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Cran, James||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Cryer, Bob||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Curry, David||Mills, Iain|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Day, Stephen||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Devlin, Tim||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Dicks, Terry||Moate, Roger|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Dover, Den||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Dunn, Bob||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Eggar, Tim||Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Moss, Malcolm|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Evennett, David||Mudd, David|
|Fallon, Michael||Neale, Sir Gerrard|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Forman, Nigel||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Forth, Eric||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Norris, Steve|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Freeman, Roger||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|French, Douglas||Page, Richard|
|Fry, Peter||Paice, James|
|Gale, Roger||Patnick, Irvine|
|Gill, Christopher||Pawsey, James|
|Glyn, Dr Sir Alan||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Price, Sir David|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Raffan, Keith|
|Gregory, Conal||Redwood, John|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Rhodes James, Sir Robert|
|Hague, William||Riddick, Graham|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Hannam, John||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Harris, David||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Hayward, Robert||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Shersby, Michael|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hind, Kenneth||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Speller, Tony|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Squire, Robin|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Irvine, Michael||Steen, Anthony|
|Jack, Michael||Stern, Michael|
|Jackson, Robert||Stevens, Lewis|
|Janman, Tim||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Jessel, Toby||Sumberg, David|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Summerson, Hugo|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Key, Robert||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Thorne, Neil|
|Latham, Michael||Thurnham, Peter|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Trotter, Neville|
|Loyden, Eddie||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Waller, Gary|
|Maclean, David||Watts, John|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Wells, Bowen|
|Madden, Max||Whitney, Ray|
|Mans, Keith||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Wiggin, Jerry||Yeo, Tim|
|Wilshire, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Winterton, Mrs Ann||Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and|
|Wood, Timothy||Mr. David Davis.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 186, Noes 23.743
|Division No. 186]||[7.12 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Amess, David||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Amos, Alan||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Gregory, Conal|
|Ashby, David||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Hague, William|
|Atkins, Robert||Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Batiste, Spencer||Hannam, John|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Harris, David|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hayward, Robert|
|Bowis, John||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Brazier, Julian||Hind, Kenneth|
|Bright, Graham||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Irvine, Michael|
|Burt, Alistair||Jack, Michael|
|Butler, Chris||Jackson, Robert|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Janman, Tim|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Jessel, Toby|
|Carrington, Matthew||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Carttiss, Michael||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Key, Robert|
|Chapman, Sydney||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Clark, Rt Hon Sir William||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Latham, Michael|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Cran, James||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Curry, David||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Maclean, David|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Day, Stephen||Mans, Keith|
|Devlin, Tim||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Dicks, Terry||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Dover, Den||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Dykes, Hugh||Mills, Iain|
|Eggar, Tim||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Moate, Roger|
|Evennett, David||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Fallon, Michael||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Forman, Nigel||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Forth, Eric||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Moss, Malcolm|
|Freeman, Roger||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|French, Douglas||Mudd, David|
|Fry, Peter||Neale, Sir Gerrard|
|Gale, Roger||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Gill, Christopher||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Glyn, Dr Sir Alan||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Stern, Michael|
|Norris, Steve||Stevens, Lewis|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Sumberg, David|
|Page, Richard||Summerson, Hugo|
|Paice, James||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Patnick, Irvine||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Pawsey, James||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Thorne, Neil|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Price, Sir David||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Raffan, Keith||Trotter, Neville|
|Redwood, John||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Rhodes James, Sir Robert||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Riddick, Graham||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Waller, Gary|
|Ryder, Rt Hon Richard||Watts, John|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Wells, Bowen|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Whitney, Ray|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wilshire, David|
|Shersby, Michael||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Wood, Timothy|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Speller, Tony||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)||Mr. Tim Boswell and|
|Squire, Robin||Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.|
|Alton, David||Maclennan, Robert|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Madden, Max|
|Beith, A. J.||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Bellotti, David||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Smith, Sir Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Carr, Michael||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Fearn, Ronald||Wallace, James|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Kennedy, Charles||Mr. Dennis Skinner and|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Mr. Bob Cryer.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House reaffirms its belief in Liverpool as one of this country's great cities with a proud history and prospects for a secure future; condemns the incompetence, intimidation, waste and subservience to trade union dictation which have characterised successive administrations in Liverpool over the past decade and have caused untold damage to the City and its people; calls for better Government in the City to restore basic services and to pursue policies of fiscal rectitude, decentralised administration, partnership with central Government and private enterprise and consultation with the people of Liverpool; notes the steps taken by the present administration in response to the Government's compulsory competitive tendering legislation to put the interests of its residents first by contracting with a private sector firm for refuse collection; and commends the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition for supporting the Conservative policy of fair and open competition in Liverpool, in the knowledge that it is right, but observes with dismay the Labour Party's opposition to it elsewhere in the country.