HC Deb 04 August 1975 vol 897 cc158-76

Question again proposed, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Raison

The question is, why should these councillors, who defied the law so deliberately and outrageously, be totally relieved of the stigma of disqualification? I say "stigma", as the penalty is incurred as a result of their actions on other occasions. Why should Parliament be asked utterly unnecessarily to go out of its way to condone these actions which have been condemned so vehemently on all sides?

We have heard the words of Lord Denning on a number of occasions. I shall not repeat them all. However, I remind the House of what he said about the Clay Cross councillors. He said: Each of them deliberately broke the solemn promise which he gave when he accepted office. Each of them has flagrantly defied the law. Each of them is determined to continue to defy it. Later he said: They were not fit to be councillors. The sooner they were disqualified the better. That was a judgment in a court of law, which the Government seek to overturn. That is the force of our case against that attempt.

There is only one reason why we are being asked to restore Clause 4. That reason is as contemptible and evil an example of placing party above principle as anyone could imagine. The truth is that the Secretary of State is bowing feebly to the thugs on his back benches.

All Members of Parliament will recognise that to have submitted this decision to the Parliamentary Labour Party in the way in which the Secretary of State did was a disgraceful piece of weakness. To have argued in the Parliamentary Labour Party in the terms which he used was utterly deplorable.

It is essential for the rule of law that the House should reject the Government's proposal and uphold the amendment proposed in the other place.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I much regret that the Secretary of State should find himself bound to move the rejection of the Lords amendment and to ask that Clause 4, which caused so much controversy, should be replaced.

All who have worked with the Secretary of State know that no Minister stands more strongly and firmly for the rule of law or is more opposed to all breaches of law under any circumstances. Therefore, it is a great pity—about which many of us feel strongly—that it should fall on his shoulders to ask us to reject the Lords amendments and to restore Clause 4 to the Bill.

The meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party to which he referred—only half the Members were present—did not accept his advice or his strongly held views, and insisted that the clause should remain in the Bill,

The matter arose on previous occasions. A number of us felt keenly about it and contemplated voting against the Government and with the Opposition, in spite of the three-line Whip, when we dealt with the matter on Report. There were others who held the same views but did not feel quite so strongly as we did. We were worried as a result of the explanation given by the Secretary of State, who clearly disliked Clause 4 as much as we did. It violated many of the principles we held in common. However, he produced this persuasive argument. He said that it was necessary for Parliament, when considering legislation of this kind, to provide equality for all the people involved. Under the Bill the disqualification of those 400 people was automatically removed. It would, therefore, be grossly unfair if the Clay Cross councillors did not have the same benefit and if some remained disqualified while the disqualification of all the rest was removed. That is the argument he put forward in the House, and it is a strong one. It did not convince us all, but it was a plausible argument.

Since then the situation has changed completely, as my right hon. Friend said. The equality argument is dead.

The only other argument which has been advanced by my right hon. Friend and one or two Opposition Members is that it does not matter now. The Clay Cross councillors will not suffer, their disqualification operates automatically, therefore, it does not matter whether Clause 4 remains in the Bill. They ask: why all the fuss? I cannot accept that point of view. What Parliament does in this matter is of great consequence. Although it does not affect the 11 Clay Cross councillors, it affects public opinion and the reputation of the House.

We are being asked to say that when a group of people—whether they be councillors, business people, individuals or whoever they are—have violated a law of Parliament defiantly and purposely, the House should forget that defiance, take no notice of it and restore to them every right they had before, and that they should be in no way disadvantaged for violating the laws of Parliament.

I have always believed—and I have accepted the view of my hon. Friends here—that these councillors acted with integrity, honesty and a deep feeling that what they were doing was right in the interests of their constituents. But they have said more than once—and this is their faith which they repeated after this Clay Cross trouble was over—that they do not recognise the law of Parliament. The only law they recognise is what they believe to be the interests of the working people they represent. They may be right. Maybe they know better than we do what is in the interests of the people they represent, but that does not make them fit and proper people to sit on local government with our blessing. People who start by saying that they will ignore the laws we have passed and will not put them into operation, by definition should not be allowed to sit on local government, because if they do it makes local government undemocratic and parliamentary responsibility in public affairs comes to an end.

Therefore, it is essential that the House should say that the disqualification of those people should remain, not that it makes any difference to them because they are disqualified anyhow in respect of later offences. But the removal of the disqualification would be a gesture of support and appeasement to their point of view, and we should not do it.

Everyone here who believes in the supremacy of Parliament and carrying out the laws which Parliament passes—and everyone who believes in democracy must say that we cannot accept the Lords amendment. Whether or not it comes from the Lords does not matter. All that matters is whether it is wise, right and in the interests of parliamentary democracy in which we believe.

Mrs. Jeger

My right hon. Friend has not always been a supporter of the establishment. Will he not kindly allow that there might be other Socialist democratic opinion which does not go along with supporting an amendment to the Bill by a non-elected House of Lords?

Mr. Strauss

It is not a question of supporting a non-elected House of Lords. We are concerned with supporting a decision made by one of the Houses of Parliament. Decisions made in the other House are often the result of an initiative from the Labour Party. Labour peers have often proposed amendments which are accepted by this House. What we have to consider is the merits of the case. It does not matter where a proposal comes from. The question is whether it is right or wrong.

I say that it is wholly wrong that a disqualification imposed on these people should be removed as a gesture. This is a significant matter. It may not affect those involved, but millions of people who are not associated closely or even at all with any political party feel deeply that the rule of law is important and must be safeguarded in all circumstances.

Mr. Lee

I am following the way my right hon. Friend's argument is developing. I repeat to him an argument that I put to the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). It is sometimes expedient to disregard breaches of the law. An example is that of Rhodesia, for otherwise my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could not have met Mr. Ian Smith quite frequently.

Mr. Strauss

If we try to argue this matter on the ground of what has happened in Rhodesia, we get nowhere. This is a simple issue of the law affecting the land of our people—a law imposed on members of local authorities who gave their pledge that they would support it. They have not done so.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there are those on this side of the House who do not see as synonymous with upholding the rule of law any question of upholding either the establishment or anyone else, but see it as based on democratic government elected on the basis of adult universal suffrage, as this Government have been.

Mr. Strauss

Hon. Members have said that there have been occasions when it has been desirable for people—trade unionists and others—to disobey against the laws of the country. That is true. But they were occasions before universal suffrage and when Parliament was composed of a small clique of wealthy and prosperous people.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that the application of the law is, to say the least, distinctly patchy? Would he take this attitude towards employers who constantly break safety laws?

Mr. Strauss

I am not sure what the relevance of that intervention is. But I am in favour of the prosecution of anyone who breaks any law.

Millions of people care about this sort of thing. They really believe in Parliament and the rule of law by Parliament. They want that rule of law sustained. They do not want to see anything happen which looks like a breach of the law taking place as a result of political propaganda, the activities of small groups in a particular party, or public clamour. That is what has happened in this case. The House should uphold the rule of law and Parliament. It should accept the Lords' amendment, and I believe, judging by his previous activities and the views he has constantly expressed, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State deep in his heart would like to accept it too.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Swain

I have known my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) since 1945. Sometimes I have respected his views, and on other occasions I have treated his views with less respect. This is one occasion on which I take the latter view.

This matter requires some repetition of history affecting the case. I shall not indulge in tedious repetition because I am not a lawyer—[Interruption.] If you interrupt me, I shall thump you. I do not mean that in a physical sense. Let us get back to the serious point—namely, that when the Conservatives saw fit to put before the House legislation on council house rents, a number of authorities, even before that legislation was enacted, said that they would not implement it.

As a result a meeting was held in Sheffield at which 98 authorities were represented. In the chair was Sir Ronald Ironmonger, the then leader of the Sheffield City Council. A unanimous resolution was passed at that meeting to the effect that all 98 authorities would refuse to implement the Housing Finance Act. The Bill received Royal Assent and one by one the 98 authorities were picked upon. Clay Cross and a few other authorities saw fit to notify the Minister. They were honest authorities and they notified the Minister by letter that in no circumstances would they implement the legislation.

Section 95 of the Housing Finance Act dealt with the appointment of a housing commissioner. We have all no doubt read about, if not read for ourselves, the proceedings in the Standing Committee on the Housing Finance Bill. Although I was not a member of the Committee I spent more time in that Committee room than many Tories, who found themselves in an adjoining Committee room for a good deal of the time enjoying quantities of John Haig and other types of refreshment. Section 95 of the Housing Finance Act gave the Minister power to appoint a commissioner, and at no time was the Minister in any doubt about the intentions of Clay Cross.

In the event Clay Cross did not implement the provisions of the Act, nor did several other authorities, including the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). As a result the Minister concerned did not send in a housing commissioner as he had been begged to do. A letter was sent to the Minister suggesting that if he were to send in a commissioner the Clay Cross councillors would not interfere in the carrying out of his duties. The only fiscal penalty in that legislation involved a sum of £400 in respect of each individual who sought to interfere with the carrying out of the auditor's duties. The Clay Cross councillors pledged themselves not to interfere with the commissioner's duties. The Minister gave the defaulting authorities until 1st January to implement the Act. Three days after the receipt of the letter, even before the Labour group on the council had a chance to consider the letter, the auditor was sent in to audit the books under Section 237 of the Local Government Act 1933.

To put the matter bluntly, the Minister at that time went "round the corner" when it came to the rule of law. The Government had gone to all that trouble to get Section 95 on the statute book, yet they refused to implement it when there was opposition from the Labour Party. There were five and a half months in which the Government imposed a guillotine. Six weeks afterwards they sent Mr. Tracy, the auditor. I had the task of defending the council. After listening carefully and patiently to all the arguments for and against, the auditor decided to surcharge. It says very explicitly in the 1933 Act that a surcharge means automatic disqualification. Those are the historic facts.

The council was then advised by one of the most reputable firms in the country—I shall not name it because that would be commercial—that it had grounds of appeal in the sense that the Minister had acted punitively. That was a technical legal point. It went through the process of law to the Divisional Court and then to Lord Denning in the Appeal Court. Up to that point it had made no mistakes. Lord Denning gave his judgment on 5th October that year, and from that day those lads and lasses were automatically disqualified under the Local Government Act 1933. However, at the same time the Minister could have drawn rents from Clay Cross, had he accepted my advice and that of the Clay Cross councillors and sent in the commissioner the moment the letter of intent was written. The letter was an honest-to-goodness declaration of intent.

I turn to the question of party before anything else. I remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman who was then selected as Prime Minister and who has now gone to the other place—namely Lord Home of the Hirsel—at his first conference after being elected said "Every word we say and every action we take from now on must be in the interests of winning the next General Election". Was that partisan politics? Was that a speech in the interests of politics? Was it a speech in the interests of democracy? If hon. Members want any more history, we can give it to them. [Interruption.] Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have some political hairs on my chest and they are not getting grey.

At no time since 5th October of that year have the Clay Cross councillors made any representation to me, as their Member of Parliament, and I am in Clay Cross every week without a miss. [Interruption.] I take my wife with me, not somebody else's wife. The News of the World is full of Tories. At no time have the Clay Cross councillors made any approaches to me or to my right hon. Friend for help or assistance in this matter. The resolution of the conference was carried by a large majority. That was the will of the Labour Party speaking at its conference. [Interruption.] It was not a block vote or a manoeuvred vote through the Stock Exchange.

It has been said tonight that the Clay Cross councillors have nothing to gain because they are already disqualified for another offence. Anyone who has looked up case law will have discovered that 181 people have been granted full pardon, having completed their full sentence, and 63 of them have subsequently committed another offence and been resentenced. That is exactly what my friends at Clay Cross have done. They are at present surcharged for new offences which have no relation to the Housing Finance Act, as my right hon. Friend categorically stated in his opening remarks.

I therefore suggest that my right hon. Friend was not the captain of the Labour Party last Wednesday night. If the Labour Party spoke more often as it did last Wednesday night, we would have a better Government. He should ask those lads opposite who are captives of the 1922 Committee. He should ask Ted Heath who was captive of the 1922 Committee—I am sorry for that slight error; I meant the right hon. Member for Cowes, of course.

Mr. Stephen Ross

On a point of order. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) happens to be at Cowes at present, but he is not the Member for Cowes. I happen to be the Member for the whole of the Isle of Wight.

Mr. Swain

I ask the House to support my right hon. Friend in his appeal to the House to reject the Lords amendment. That would be democratic. The decision to do so was reached democratically at the Parliamentary Labour Party. The decision was reached by an undemocratically appointed body in the House of Lords. The House tonight has carried Government proposals, admittedly not with large majorities. I quote the late Winston Churchill, one of whose most famous sayings was: A majority of one is the best repartee. If we have a majority of one, I personally and the Clay Cross councillors will be highly delighted.

Mr. Lawrence

I am sorry that at this stage we have been treated to a speech of humour, because I find it rather difficult to treat the subject with any sense of fun. I know that those in my constituency and those who support the stand that this side of the House has taken throughout the long period of the passage of the Bill will feel the same way.

I find it difficult to reconcile the fine-sounding words with which the Secretary of State began this series of debates, in a speech saying that he upheld the rule of law, with the words he used when he sat down having just opposed an amendment which would delete Clause 4. The country will find it hard to reconcile the Secretary of State's pretence of high-mindedness and denial by implication of the political pressure to which he is giving way with the reality.

I want to take the opportunity of reminding hon. Members at this late hour of what it is that the Government are kowtowing to. I refer them to the terms of conference resolution No. 191 passed on 3rd October 1973: This Conference deplores the lack of initiative shown by the National Executive Committee in failing to defend the Clay Cross Council in its fight against the Housing Finance Act. Conference urges NEC to take all possible steps to defend the interests of the councillors and to intensify the national struggle against this iniquitous legislation. Conference further agrees that upon the election of a Labour Government all penalties, financial or otherwise, should be removed retrospectively from councillors who have courageously refused to implement the Housing Finance Act. That is what all this is about—not some of the rubbish that we have been treated to tonight and all the way through the Bill.

10.30 p.m.

I find it difficult to understand how the Secretary of State could, even this evening, pretend by implication that there were not political pressures when only four days ago, at a meeting of the Labour Party, in response to the pressures placed upon him, he is reported to have explained why it was necessary to oppose the stand which we on the Conservative side are taking. According to the Daily Telegraph—[HON. MEMBERS: "It must be right."] I cannot help it if the Government make sure that there are informed leaks. The Secretary of State is reported as having said: We should be forced into a series of by-elections on grounds of our opponents' choosing and some of the best Labour-controlled local authorities in the country would be decimated in the process. That is the merest and the purest of party political justifications for the stand that the Government are taking against the interests of the people of this country. If Labour Members do not accept the accuracy of that report, I invite the Secretary of State to repudiate that he said those words at that meeting.

Why do not the Government come clean with the House and admit honestly and frankly that this legislation is being introduced, and held on to through hell and high water, not because it is fair or just or because it is reasonable or even defensible but simply because resolution 191 of the Labour Party Conference in 1973 has ordered them to do it?

Has this once great political party come so low that it has to jump to the demands of a block-vote, extremist-dominated conference, however unjustified those demands may be? Are there not more than a mere handful of Labour Members who will stand up for the rule of law? Are there not some Labour Members who are thoroughly ashamed that representatives of their Government should have encouraged the Clay Cross councillors to defy the law, on a promise of absolution on the return of a Labour Government? Are there only the very few who will feel ashamed and will show that shame by being courageous and coming with us into the Lobby against that which is so plainly wrong?

We have heard little during the course of these debates, both here and in Committee, other than double-think and double-talk. Those who seek to uphold the rule of law on this side of the House and the integrity of local authorities have this evening been accused of being cynical. Those who are defending the law-abiding citizens of this country, and who treat this legislation with seriousness and with disgust, are being accused of arousing bitterness and outrage.

The martyrs for Socialism who stand on the Government side are the first to ensure that it is not they who have to make the sacrifice. We note that there has not yet been a whip-round in the Labour Party. It is the innocent ratepayers from areas outside Clay Cross who will have to pay and who will suffer from the blow struck to the rule of law by this Government's action.

This Bill offends—and seriously offends—not only the law-abiding citizen but the standing of Parliament itself. We on the Conservative side can only hope that, by the Government's continuing attempt to make a virtue of what has been nothing less than political corruption, moderate supporters of the Labour Party will be so offended that when the time comes for Government to face the electorate they will be routed.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I want to congratulate the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), on a brave speech. I enjoyed it very much. It is a matter for reflection, I think, that on the very day that Indira Gandhi introduces retrospective legislation into the Indian Parliament, we are asked to agree to the same here.

I ask Government supporters who are thinking of supporting their right hon. and hon. Friends to remember the position into which these councillors—not just the Clay Cross councillors; there are 400 of them—put their chief officers. They put their officers in an impossible position, and they should not be reinstated. That is a view which I have held consistently, and I shall support the Lords amendment.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I make no apology for taking up a little more time, because there are one or two things which have still not been said.

I am one of the back-bench thugs who pressurised the Secretary of State into taking the line that he did tonight. Certainly I shall support the Government tonight, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip may be surprised to hear, despite the fact that I am not always in that position. I do so not because I am instructed by my party conference or by the parliamentary party. I do so because I think that this is right in the circumstances.

Listening to this debate, one would think that there was political consideration in this matter only on the Government benches and that the Opposition were not taking politics into account. We have our political considerations. The Opposition have purer political considerations. It infuriates me that Opposition Members, who raised no objection when illegal actions were committed and when the Minister, now the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lord Carrington—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Very well, the former Chairman of the Conservative Party. But he was not passed on for this reason. He was the responsible Minister when illegal actions were committed under the former Conservative Government. They were actions so clearly illegal which had such financial consequences that in the Estimates passing through Parliament this year an amount totalling £100,000 is paid in compensation for the illegal torture conducted in Northern Ireland when Lord Carrington was the responsible Minister constitutionally in charge. However, I should be out of order if I went on about that.

There is a great difference, apparently, between when a Minister is responsible for illegal actions and when a councillor is responsible for illegal actions. But if we have the same rules, there is no doubt that the Minister would be surchargeable for the illegal actions done under his control.

Mr. Lee

It goes even further than that. The Minister responsible for the Hola camp when these matters were being considered—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Hola camp is a long way from our argument.

Mr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend is determined to get us into Africa tonight one way or the other. But I shall not take up his point.

I am glad that the responsibility in this matter of the former Minister of Housing, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), has been mentioned. It is that aspect of the affair which convinces me that the Government should be supported in what they propose. This was a matter of shared responsibility. The legal responsibility for breaking the law belonged to the councillors. But the extent of the surcharge was attributable entirely to the former Minister of Housing. He could have stopped it. He was given powers by the House for the sole reason of stopping it, in order to ensure that a cost which could not possibly be shifted on to the councillors did not fall upon public funds. That is why Parliament gave him those powers. He refused to exercise them.

In another case recently Lord Denning has established a new doctrine in the matter of shared responsibility and contributory negligence. It is conceivable that if the question of the then Minister's responsibility in the matter had reached Lord Denning, he would have held that there was contributory negligence by the right hon. Gentleman. It is because there was contributory negligence on the part of the right hon. Gentleman that I am prepared to vote for the compromise that we are putting through the House.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

We went to great lengths to make it clear not only to the Clay Cross council but to all councils—the 98 to which one hon. Member referred—that there was no way in which, under our existing constitution and under the law, they could free themselves of the responsibility to carry out the orders of Parliament. That being the case, there was no way in which they could default without incurring the penalties that went with the default. They were not acting in the dark. The situation was made perfectly clear to them several weeks in advance of the final decision.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said that the 98 councils, or however many there were, had had it made abundantly clear to them at the time of their action that there was no other way than to observe the law as laid down in the Housing Finance Act. What he did not tell the House, but what most hon. Members know already, is that in that Act he laid down two or three different ways in which it could be implemented.

The former Secretary of State for Wales decided that perhaps there was a better, less primitive way of obtaining the required rents from certain councils in Wales. It came as no surprise to me that in Merthyr Tydfil, after a relatively short rebellion, and in Bedwas and Machen, after a similar rebellion by a small council not dissimilar to Clay Cross, a housing commissioner was sent in under Section 95 to ensure that the Government's law was carried out to the extent of collecting the necessary £1 a week. There were those who rebelled in Scotland, under a slightly different Act but a similar principle.

The surprising feature was that the right hon. Gentleman and those superior to him decided on a punitive course against the Clay Cross councillors. He used a different method, that of sending in an auditor, as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), who represents that area. An auditor was sent in to take punitive action.

It seemed clear to most of us that the auditor would easily find, as he did, the amount of rent that was owing. I have no doubt that if the same action had been taken in Wales and in many authorities elsewhere, some of which are included in tonight's measures, any auditor doing a similar task would have found £X missing as a result of the non-collection of rent.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) should not get on his high horse about chief officers being put in an invidious position. The chief officer in Clay Cross was one of the rebels. He did not pay his rent for 80 weeks. Quite apart from being under duress, I am quite certain that that chief officer could have found ways and means of transmitting that £1 a week to the Treasury or to the Department of the Environment in order to make plain that he was not part of this protest.

10.45 p.m.

Let us not get the impression that as a result of the punitive action the Clay Cross people needed to be egged and urged on by anyone. The fact that they had been picked out for this extra-special treatment meant that the population of Clay Cross had delivered successive mandates of quite major kinds—72 per cent. turned out at the polls on one occasion—telling the 11 councillors and their successors "Carry on, we are behind you". When it becomes a question of the rule of law, we have to consider seriously whether the local population are right in the demands they are making upon their elected representatives.

I understand that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will abstain or, perhaps, vote in the Opposition Lobby tonight against the party decision of a few days ago. It is for them to make their choice [Interruption.] Yes, I have done it, but not in this precise fashion. This is the first time we have had a Parliamentary Labour Party vote while we have been in Government. I do not invite my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) to defy that democratic decision taken last Wednesday night. I suggest that he should, perhaps, consider the consistency of what he is doing.

One of my hon. Friends who intends to rebel said earlier that he wants consistency and, above all else, for the Clay Cross councillors to be treated exactly the same as the rest. That was his plea when he spoke to the first amendment we discussed tonight. We have now reached the last amendment and my hon. Friend is suggesting that the threat of disqualification should be removed from those 400 councillors who went quite a long distance towards rebellion, some doing so unwittingly but others doing so in the same manner as those at Clay Cross but not going quite so far.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider the matter of consistency. If it is right for those 400 councillors—we have already passed the appropriate amendment—to be deprived of any disqualification, why not those 11 who were urged by successive Labour Party conferences and decisions to carry on their fight? I cannot remember, when the Housing Finance Bill was completing its passage through the House, anyone of any distinction saying especially to the Clay Cross councillors but also to the Camden councillors or any other councillors, "Do not do this. Do not do that. What are the consequences?" because at the 1973 Labour Party conference the motion was carried unanimously. I am quite certain that some small voice could have spoken at the rostrum on that occasion and made it clear that it was not a unanimous decision.

Another problem that the House has to consider tonight is the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the fact that there is now a subsequent surcharge is somewhat academic and it does not matter about Clause 4. That is not the case. Of course my right hon. Friend has a legal interpretation of that decision, but we all have legal interpretations. The fact that the second 10 have already appealed against that subsequent surcharge means that there is a possibility—in fact a probability—that the case can be opened for the first 11 in order to follow up with an appeal. Let no one imagine that it is purely academic.

We have constantly been told during this debate that the Government intend to rescue their friends. I remind the House that on a previous occasion when we were dealing with the parallel Bill relating to Scotland, we made clear not only by our actions—[Interruption]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is fully entitled to address the House. We shall get along much more quickly if he is allowed to do so.

Mr. Skinner

We made clear in that measure, which had been decimated by Lords amendments just as this one has been, not only that we would absolve all the Labour councillors in Scotland from whatever penalties were incurred as a result of their rebellion but that we would remove the penalties applicable to the Scottish National Party, Jimmy Reid and all the other councillors who did not belong to the Labour Party.

We on this side of the House have a duty not merely to consider the amendments but also to take into account precisely the process through which the amendments have passed. We are debating in the main Lords amendments arising out of our decision on Report. On Report we came to a certain decision by 250 to 242, and it would be wrong of anybody to assume that since then we have adopted another position. When the Bill reaches the House of Lords the six-weeks' so-called appeal time arising out of the surcharge had been passed. So the position is exactly the same as it was when these Lords amendments were first contemplated.

I am on the side of the National Executive Committee. I am on the side—this time at any rate—of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and I am against the un-elected House of Lords in its attempt to thwart the decision of the House of Commons. I invite my hon. Friends to be consistent and to vote as they did on the previous occasion and give us a majority to wipe the slate clean.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 261, Noes 268.

[For Division List 332 see col. 199.]

Question accordingly negatived.

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