HC Deb 08 May 1980 vol 984 cc667-83

10.13 pm.

The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)

I beg to move,

That it be an Instruction to Standing Committee D, That they have power to divide the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill into two Bills, the first consisting of clause 106 and a title and a citation and extent clause relating thereto, and the second consisting of the remainder of the Bill; that any proceedings on the second Bill may stand postponed until after the consideration of the first Bill; and that either Bill may be reported to the House as soon as it has been considered.

This is a technical motion. Because it is an unusual motion, I feel that I should explain it to the House. Though I recognise that the terms of order are somewhat narrow on this motion, it is right that I explain the background to the proposal. If I do that briefly, I hope, should right hon. and hon. Members raise points, that with the leave of the House I shall have the opportunity to reply to the debate.

This matter was discussed in Standing Committee D and the members of that Committee are familiar with the background. The proposal concerns the need to ensure that clause 106, which increases the borrowing limits of the new towns, is enacted before the date on which the present borrowing limit is exceeded.

New towns are subject to statutory limits on the amount of borrowing that may be outstanding at any time, though that limit has periodically been increased. It was increased most recently by the New Towns Act 1977 and a subsequent order of 1979. The present limit for all new towns is £3,250 million and I expect that limit to be reached on 14 September, when interest payments of £150 million to the National Loans Fund become due.

Clause 106 of the Bill provides for the limit to be raised to £3,625 million and subsequently to any sum up to £4,000 million that the Secretary of State may by order specify. That is a conventional increase in borrowing limit arrangements with which the House will be familiar. It is not, if I may correct misleading impressions published in the press, something that has taken the Government by surprise.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) was candid enough to say that this matter had been recognised by Ministers in the last Labour Government as long ago as February 1979. It was absolutely predictable that when the interest payments fell due to the National Loans Fund the limit would be exceeded.

The Government included the clause in the original Bill which was introduced into their Lordships' House, but at the request of the Opposition the Government were pleased to agree that the Bill should be introduced into this House first. However, that meant that the Bill was not likely to become an Act before the date on which the borrowing limit would be exceeded.

It was, therefore, necessary to consider what other possibility there might be of ensuring that the new towns borrowing limits and powers were not adversely affected. I am sure that, whatever right hon. and hon. Members may say about the procedure, there is no desire in any part of the House that the new towns should be in default in their payments or be otherwise disadvantaged. Right hon. and hon. Members will recognise that this proposal ensures that the new towns are not disadvantaged and that the borrowing limit is increased within the time necessary to ensure that there is no risk of default.

It might be helpful if I outline the full procedure. I should like to make clear that there are two possibilities under previous precedents of the House. This could either be an instruction that empowers the Committee or it could be an instruction that directs the Committee. The House will note that the motion before it is that this be an instruction to Standing Committee D that it has power. It is now necessary, if the instruction is approved by the House tonight, that it goes to Standing Committeee D, which will decide whether it wishes to exercise that power. It might be helpful to the House and to members of the Standing Committee who are present if I confirm the procedure that it would then be our intention to follow.

It would be necessary to move two textual amendments to the clause to enable it to stand apart from the rest of the Bill. These would merely change the name in the clause from " the 1965 Act " to " the New Towns Act 1965 ", and in line 14 of clause 106, after " Commission ", insert " for the New Towns ". Then it would be necessary for a new clause to be moved setting out the citation and extent of the new Bill and, finally, the long title of the new Bill. All these motions, with the agreement of the House, if this instruction is approved, will be tabled tomorrow.

I also thought that it might be helpful to the Committee in considering this matter to know that if the instruction is approved tonight I propose to make copies of the draft Bill for the new towns—which is what it would then be—available to the Committee at the Committee's resumed consideration on Tuesday, so that hon. Members, if they approve the motion that I would then move in Standing Committee on Tuesday, will see the shape that the Bill would then have.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

If the clause is treated as a separate Bill, it will not have had a Second Reading. Therefore, hon. Members will not have had an opportunity of discussing the new Bill, as the clause will become, in the way that they would normally do. What steps does the Minister propose to take to make available at a later stage the opportunity for hon. Members to give the attention that they would wish to give to all the issues that are raised? This is very important to those of us who have a long-standing interest in the new towns movement.

Mr. King

The whole Bill has had a Second Reading, inclusive of clause 106. What this procedure will mean is that clause 106 in its new form will now have a completely separate Report stage. Therefore, there will be an exceptional opportunity—in relation, as it were, to other clauses of the Bill—for this matter to be fully discussed. If the instruction is approved and then if the motion is approved in Committee and we consider the clause separately, at the end of that, instead of the more conventional motion that one would have, " That the clause stand part of the Bill ", the motion will be that the clause be separately reported to the House. That is not the exact wording, but that is the effect of it. There will therefore be a separate Report stage for that one clause. I think that that will more than meet the point that the hon. Gentleman fairly raises and will provide him with an opportunity to debate the matter on the Floor of the House.

I recognise that this is an unusual procedure, but it is a necessary procedure on this occasion if we are to meet the needs of the new towns and ensure that there is no risk of their borrowing powers being exceeded and no risk to their financial situation in that respect.

With that brief introduction explaining the background, I hope that hon. Members will feel able to support the instruction. As I have said, if there are further points that arise during discussion of the instruction, with the leave of the House I shall seek to reply to them.

10.24 pm
Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

The Minister has introduced, if that is the correct word, this instruction in a very reasonable fashion, as is his normal wont, but there is a number of questions which it is not unreasonable to ask in the light of the instruction that the Minister has felt bound to move and one or two comments that ought to be made.

The right hon. Gentleman generously suggested that the Opposition would not wish to divide the House on the instruction as we would not wish to endanger the possibility of the new towns finding themselves without any money. It may be within his recollection that in 1977 the then Labour Government introduced the New Towns Bill and provided the opportunity for debate on Second and Third Readings. The then Conservative Opposition divided the House on both Second and Third Readings. I do not know what my hon. Friends will wish to do. Nevertheless, the debate provides us with some opportunity to discuss the position in which the Government find themselves.

It struck me that my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) made a reasonable point, and it is one to which we shall wish to return. It was my feeling—I expressed it on Second Reading of the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill—that the original Bill should have had more than one day on Second Reading. If one were to cull the pages of Hansard, I doubt whether one mention would be found of clause 106 on Second Reading. There was not time to mention it; there were so many issues to discuss. We now discover that on that occasion we were discussing no fewer than five Bills.

Would it not have been a fairer procedure for the Government to have introduced a new towns money Bill quite separately so as to provide the House with Second and Third Readings, as in 1977? There would have been plenty of time, because we understand from the Minister that the new towns do not need the extra borrowing limit until 14 September.

The Minister has said that when I presented the statutory instrument to raise the borrowing limit in February 1979 I said that it was likely that the new towns would need more money in the late summer of 1980. There was, therefore, likely to be a need for primary legislation to provide the new towns with the money that they needed in September.

I am not sure that I find the Minister's explanation convincing. It seems surprising that the Government thought that they could get away with introducing the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill in another place. I cannot understand how they possibly thought that Parliament would accept the introduction in another place of a Bill containing so many contentious clauses. Surely it was no great surprise to the Government when the measure had to be introduced in this place.

It was not the same Bill that was introduced in this place. The Minister's Department had to go through the Bill carefully. It had to examine each clause to ascertain which clauses could be cut out and what changes needed to be made. I know the efficiency of officials in the Department of the Environment and I cannot believe that they could possibly have made such an oversight.

The Bill did not receive its Second Reading until early this year. That being so, there was not the slightest chance of a Bill of such length passing through both Houses before the spill-over Session. It was before Christmas last year that the Government accepted that for which the Opposition were pressing. There was an awareness of the situation before Christmas on the part of the Department and the Government. Surely it was possible for the Government to introduce a new towns money Bill or to state their intention of doing so.

It is curious, too, that we wait until May before we are told that the instruction has to be given to the Committee shortly before it comes to the consideration of clause 106. It may be that I have a suspicious mind, but I question whether the explanation that the Minister has given contains all the reasons that lie behind this sudden change of plan.

It has been my understanding that the Government were attempting to raise sufficient money for new towns expenditure by the sale of assets. Indeed, for some long period that has been the obsession, if I may put it that way, of the Conservative Party. I have reason to believe that for many months past Conservative Members have been under an illusion that there was a great deal more money to be made by the sale of assets than there is.

I took the liberty of writing to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, who I believe I see in his place, advising him that I proposed to refer to the speech that he made on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill on 15 June 1977, which is my first reason for believing that. After my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Environment introduced the Bill, the hon. Gentleman said: if the Bill were not to be passed—and this is always possible; there could be a General Election or something else which stopped it—the present limit would be reached in two or three months, so what would be the situation then? Presumably, there is some contingency provision. I made it clear to the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition that, as far as I knew, there was no contingency provision and that the consequence of the Bill not being passed was that within a matter of weeks the new towns would find themselves without money for their development programmes. Nevertheless, the Opposition persisted on Second and Third Reading and divided the House. Indeed, later in the same speech the hon. Gentleman said: I believe that the assets now have a very high value, and it would probably have made a great deal of sense if some of them were sold off. That would go a long way towards funding the £1,000 million which we are discussing."—[Official Report, 15 June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 409–10.] I do not know how far " a long way " is—£200 million, £300 million? I do not know what the hon. Gentleman had in mind. He did not make himself precisely clear.

It is, however, clear that the Secretary of State for the Environment has been keen to encourage or impress on new town development corporations, as indeed he has on the Commission for the New Towns, the necessity to sell off assets, although I believe that he has not been quite as successful as he hoped. The right hon. Gentleman and Ministers in his Department have not, so far as I can discover, given a clear account of how the sale of assets has gone. I had to get that information, as did other hon. Members, from the planning correspondent of The Guardian. It may be proved wrong, and I hope that the Minister can perhaps give us more accurate information than that reported by David Hencke on 2 April, when he said: Under half the Government's £120 million property sales target set for new towns has met the April 1 deadline... Government figures show that the end of January only £8 million worth of property—such as shopping centres, offices and factories—had been sold with another £58 million worth of sales at an advanced stage. More up-to-date figures from estate agents now show that only £59 million of property—mainly from Bracknell, Welwyn Garden City, Harlow, Hatfield, Basildon, Hemel Hempstead and Redditch—has been sold or is about to be sold. It appears from that investigation that the sale of assets has fallen far short of the Secretary of State's expectations. Indeed, that was the advice that I gave him in a speech I made on Third Reading of the New Towns Bill in 1977.

Why did that happen? I do not think it would be right to go into detail on the issue, except to suggest that perhaps one of the reasons is that the Secretary of State did not take the legal advice that he might have taken. The corporations of Stevenage and Harlow sensibly took legal advice and discovered that it was not in accordance with the law to sell off assets in order to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement—which, as I understand, was the instruction given to them by the Secretary of State. Therefore, the consequence has been—

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stevenage)

Is it not a fact that in the case of Stevenage the legal advice was taken by the purchasers of property from the development corporation? The development corporation did not take legal advice in order to stop the sales. A purchaser of those assets took the legal advice. But the advice that was tendered was tenuous and conservative.

Mr. Barnett

I do not think that the argument is much altered by the question of who took the legal advice. The legal advice cast a considerable measure of doubt upon the legality of the operation which had been recommended to the corporations by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Newens

Is it not true that in the first instance the local council in Stevenage took legal advice on this matter? It was only as a result of that advice that one of the would-be purchasers also took legal advice. In any event, had it not been for the initiative of members of the local council and the purchasers the illegal state of affairs which had been created would not have been brought to light.

Mr. Barnett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the additional advice he has given, but I do not wish to pursue this matter too far. I simply suggest that it appears likely that the Secretary of State might have misled development corporations to some degree in the policy he suggested to them.

I think it is important to mention a statement which emanated from the Department of the Environment. It was stated that part of the objective—apart from the stated Government objective of reducing the public sector borrowing requirement—was to finance new development of assets and, therefore, to save funds that might have been necessary by raising the borrowing limit.

Angela Singer, of The Guardian, who had made inquiries of the Department of the Environment, wrote in that newspaper on 26 March: An Environment Department spokesman said last night ' The Department had required certain towns to finance their investment expenditure in this financial year by sale of some of their assets This the new towns have all accepted. In addition the Secretary of State asked the new towns to undertake some further sales to reduce public sector borrowing requirement and to reduce the role of the public sector in the new towns. These of course are requests '. There are dual purposes behind the Secretary of State's policy. I suspect—I merely suspect, and I should like, and the House deserves, more information from the Minister—that part of the reason for the mistake was that the Secretary of State and his Ministers expected the sale of new town assets to proceed at a faster rate and, therefore, thought that it was unnecessary for this legislation to be passed by both Houses of Parliament until the spill-over Session.

For this reason, it seems to me, we are now debating the instruction. The proper course that the Government ought to have taken was to have removed clause 106 from the Bill and to have introduced a separate new towns money Bill to en-able a proper debate to take place as occurred in 1977.

10.40 pm
Mr.Stanley Newens (Harlow)

I have no wish to oppose the provision to ensure that new towns are provided with the funds necessary for their development. The fact that it is necessary to resort to this most unusual procedure demonstrates the confusion that arises from the manner in which new towns are administered by the Government at national level. The fact that the clause has to be hived off from the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill and given the status of a new Bill at least shows that the Government have miscalculated.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) has pointed out, this is not the first occasion when miscalculation has taken place. The Secretary of State miscalculated when he gave instructions, as they were then understood to be, to chairmen of new towns development corporations to sell off assets to the tune of £120 million. The discovery of that miscalculation at a later stage was a result of action taken in the first place by the council in Stevenage and by would-be purchasers of some of the assets to be sold off.

I would argue that the present Government have made a number of other miscalculations. They hoped that it would be possible to sell off a considerable number of assets rapidly. They made considerable play of the fact that they hoped that the sale would enable small business men to gain ownership of their own properties. Many small business men have found, however, that the properties they rent are being sold off in blocks that they have no possibility of buying.

In raising this matter on the Floor of the House with the Secretary of State and through letters to his hon. Friends. I have been told that small business men should form themselves into consortia for the purpose of purchasing the blocks of properties in which they hold individual tenancies. The fact that small business men should be thought able to do this seems to be a total miscalculation and misunderstanding of the sort of problems faced by them. I have no reservation in saying that I believe that the Government are denying opportunities to small business men in new towns. Many small business men are concerned that at a later stage they may find that they have a landlord who is much less concerned about their interests than is their present landlord.

If there are to be a series of miscalculations by the Government, as demonstrated by the existing Bill, considerable confusion and dismay will be sown in the new towns and among those concerned about the new towns movement. I should like to have had a chance to discuss some of these issues in the House. It seems, however, that hon Members will not be able to give the attention to many of these issues that would have been possible had a separate Bill been given its own Second Reading.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich has pointed out that the existing Bill comprises enough material for five Bills. Those of us who are concerned with the problems of new towns had little opportunity of being called on Second Reading to raise many of these important issues. The Minister said that it would be impossible to discuss those issues on Report. If amendments are permitted, it may be possible to raise specific matters, but a general debate will not be possible until we reach Third Reading. That is not satisfactory.

Having made a miscalculation, the Government should have introduced a new Bill. We are in considerable danger of creating a situation in the new towns in which people will not know what is happening. The opportunities that have been made available to hon. Members to raise such matters in the past are not being provided now, and, although I do not intend to oppose the motion, it is right that I should express my considerable dissatisfaction with the procedure that we are asked to adopt.

10.47 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I shall not divide the House on the motion. As I said in Committee, denying funds to new towns is the Government's policy and not the Opposition's policy. We do not wish to pursue that line.

However, the causes of this remarkable debate should be probed a little deeper, and I look forward to the Minister fulfilling his offer to speak again if the House gives him permission to do so. The right hon. Gentleman addressed the House, as he addresses the Standing Committee, politely but disingenuously. It would stretch our credulity to accept his explanation of how the motion has come about.

The main reason adduced for this peculiar procedure is that the Opposition proposed that the local government Bill should be introduced in this House rather than in another place. But in the weeks following the abortive attempt to introduce the Bill in that inappropriate place 37 clauses were dropped. The Minister has not yet explained why clause 106 was not also dropped at that time. It is not as if the same Bill was introduced the next day without any rethinking. Weeks were taken in improving the Bill and producing it in a suitable form for the House. The Minister has not explained why this sudden emergency was not detected then and rectified in the obvious way. Nor has the right hon. Gentleman met the point, which he treated with scorn when it was put to him on Second Reading, that the local government Bill is not one Bill but a number of Bills. It is a matter of dispute between me and my hon. Friend whether it is five, six, eight or ten Bills.

The position gets more bizarre as the weeks go by. This week we have dropped one of the Bills encompassed within the local government Bill. Next week we shall add the enterprise zones, which on any normal consideration should comprise a Bill on their own. The idea that we have this extraordinary instrument with areas being removed one week and completed and added to the next is an indication of the extreme incompetence with which the Bill has been prepared and managed. This is the only Bill in my experience that should have been introduced with errors and omissions excepted. I refer to the manner in which the passage of the Bill has been chronicled in the newspapers—not only The Guardian, for which I know that the Minister has an obsession, but the Financial Times and even The Daily Telegraph. They have referred week after week to the extra-mistakes made in preparation and pursuit of the Bill. We are seeing another example of that this evening.

I want to make two points about the substance of the new towns argument. My hon. Friends are quite right to say that one of the suspicions aroused this evening is that the Government's intentions to sell off the assets in the quantity and with the speed that they originally intended have been frustrated. That ha3 happened because the unintentional error by the Secretary of State—the suggestion that he could enforce sales—has been corrected. The new towns have exercised their proper rights to protect their interests within the terms of the present legislation.

If the Secretary of State has read, as I am sure he has, the proceedings in Standing Committee D, he will know that we debated for three sittings the legal obligations on the new towns. I mean obligations, because their rights to sell are limited. Their rights to sell—as the Under-Secretary pointed out, correcting me categorically and rightly—are limited. The legal obligations on the new towns are still not altogether clear from the Committee proceedings. Indeed, the debate that we had on the subject of whether the right to sell was determined by a new town corporation's own judgment ended with my asking, admittedly, a most detailed syntactical or contextual question of the Minister of State, which he declined to answer absolutely. He said that it was not for him on that occasion but was for lawyers on another occasion. I do not blame the Minister of State for making that point. It was properly prudent.

However, when we next debate the new towns in this House, whether it is on the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill on Report or the special Report stage that the Minister promised us on the new Bill, which was clause 106, the Government owe it to the House to have a Law Officer of the Crown describing exactly what is the legal position—who can require or enforce sales and what the new town corporations' rights are in terms of selling or retaining their assets. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that we may have a categorical statement on that point.

As to the details about which I asked the Minister and to which I received no answers, the Opposition are taking legal advice. However, on these matters the authority of the Law Officers is what the country needs and deserves. I hope we may be told that all the unanswered questions about new town sales can be answered by a Law Officer before the points are debated on the Floor of the House.

I turn to my interpretation of why the Government have got themselves into this mess. I do not refer to any of the other problems they may have caused themselves over the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, although this particular difficulty is related to them. One reason is the failure of the Government's sales policy. However, at one of the local authority associations this morning I was offered another reason why the Government are in this predicament, which also runs true. I hope that the Government will deny this categorically if it is untrue. That association believes that the Government are in no undue haste to get the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill on the statute book because they have not the slightest idea of how they will implement their block grant proposals and are still touting them around the country. [HON. MEMBERS: " Rubbish."]

I hope that the Minister of State will tell me whether the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has been asked again for more advice about how the block grant proposals can be implemented. My information, which can be denied or confirmed according to the Minister's whim, is that the Government are still asking for advice on how the block grant proposals can be implemented. Some of the details have yet to be worked out.

If the Association of Metropolitan Authorities is completely wrong, the Minister of State had better fulfil his promise and produce the formula about how the block grant will work, which he assured the Committee would be published the moment he had worked it out. I am afraid he cannot have it both ways. If he can work it out, he owes it to the Committee to fulfil his promise and publish. If he does not, we must assume, as he is a man of honour, that he cannot work it out. [Interruption.] If the Minister of State can think of a third possibility, he will be doing much better in the House than he has been doing in the Committee.

My own judgment is the ALA's judgment—that there is a desire to prolong the Bill until these details are completed, to prevent the Government facing the embarrassment of having to say that they have a principle of distributing the rate support grant but not a practice, because the situation is very clear to those of us who do business in the Committee. About a fortnight ago the Government decided that they were not going to have the Bill by mid-September. The progress that we are making in the Committee, which is the product of the reasonableness of my right hon and hon. Friends, makes it very clear that if the Government wanted the Bill in its entirety, clause 106 and all, they could have it by 14 September.

My suspicion is that we shall be out of Committee at or shortly after the spring bank holiday. I do not know how long their Lordships are likely to take on the Bill. I do not know for certain how much time the Report stage is likely to be allocated. By any reasonable calculation, however, this Bill should be on the statute book by the summer. Yet here we are making provision for something that will happen in the middle of September.

I end as I began by saying that to justify the position and to convince the House the Minister of State had better start again and tell us exactly why he is doing what he is doing tonight.

10.57 pm
Mr. King

With the leave of the House, I will reply to the points raised.

May I say, to clear up any misunderstanding, that I understand the points which the hon. Members for Greenwich (Mr Barnett) and Harlow (Mr. Newens) raised about the possibility of having a Bill now, with a Second Reading, and a completely separate procedure. It is, unfortunately, not possible to introduce a separate new towns money Bill and that is why we are following this procedure, because the rule is that provisions substantially the same as one which has had a Second Reading may not be proceeded with during the same Session. It is therefore necessary to follow this procedure.

I understand the point that the hon. Member for Harlow made about the perhaps somewhat narrower confines of the Report stage and Third Reading, but I have far too much respect for his parliamentary experience to believe that he will not find perfectly adequate opportunities to deploy any of the points he wishes to make, as he and his right hon. and hon. Friends did tonight. In what is a very narrow procedural debate, we have been into all the questions about block grant, we have been exploring some of the intricacies of the legal niceties of the requirements on certain development corporations, which I suppose in the narrowest interpretation might have been thought to be just possibly close to the bounds of order. But the ingenuity of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen triumphed over all that perfectly, within the bounds of order. I am sure that, when we come to Report, the hon. Gentleman will demonstrate his skills if he wishes to do so yet again in that respect.

There is not a tremendously sinister further implication in this. I anticipated, because I am getting to know the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley) and certain hon. Gentlemen here, that we would be accused yet again of—that favourite word—sinister motives in this respect. There are no sinister motives and it is nothing to do with the question whether there has been any difference in the views about the recycling or sale of assets. The hon. Member for Harlow has told the House and the Committee the truth. The sum of £150 million will have to be paid whatever happens as interest on the loan, and when that falls due the borrowing limit will be exceeded. That is the situation that we face.

May I say to the hon. Gentleman without trespassing over the bounds of order that the issue of small businesses men was discussed in Committee. It is encouraging to see the way in which consortiums of small business men are coming in and have actually purchased properties in this respect and in Stevenage.

I listened carefully to what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said about the legal aspects. I answered those questions extremely fully in Committee, to my total satisfaction, but I will write to the right hon. Gentleman before Report, as he requested, to ensure that he has a full explanation of our views.

There is no question of the Government's seeking to delay the Bill. It is an excellent Bill which we wish to see carried on to the statute book at the earliest opportunity. We are anxious that there should be full and proper debate, as the Opposition know full well, and we have co-operated in every way.

Their Lordships also have a full programme of work and, in case there was a risk, we thought it prudent to ensure that the new towns were protected from the danger of lapsing accidentally into the spill-over Session for the main Bill. That is why we have brought this instruction before the House.

In the discussions yesterday with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities we reiterated our previous suggestions about our interest in any safeguarding amendments the association might wish to put forward. We believe in consultation. We have made clear to the associations that we wish to develop the new formula and the new system of block grant, in consultation. The suggestion that we are looking around for ideas on how it can possibly work is a gross distortion. While I am used to such suggestions being made in Committee, I did not imagine that the right hon. Gentleman would make them on the Floor of the House. It must be the lateness of the hour that caused him to indulge himself in that way.

I am grateful to the House for the understanding it has shown and for its general agreement on the importance of ensuring that the position of new towns is in no way damaged.

I hope that the House will approve the instruction.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to Standing Committee D, That they have power to divide the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill into two Bills, the first consisting of clause 106 and a title and a citation and extent clause relating thereto, and the second consisting of the remainder of the Bill; that any proceedings on the second Bill may stand postponed until after the consideration of the first Bill; and that either Bill may be reported to the House as soon as it has been considered.