§ Queen's recommendation having been signified—4.12 pm
§ The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)
I beg to move,That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to abolish supplementary rates and supplementary precepts; to require rates and precepts to be made or issued for complete financial years; to provide for the making of substituted rates and the issue of substituted precepts; to regulate proceedings for challenging the validity of rates and precepts; to make further provision with respect to the borrowing powers of local authorities and with respect to relief from rates in enterprise zones; to amend the provision relating to block grant and to make new provisions for auditing the accounts of local authorities and other public bodies, it is expedient to authorise any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament in respect of grants to rating authorities under paragraph 29 of Schedule 32 to the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.
§ Mr. King
The resolution has been tabled to cover one small amendment which was agreed to in another place to meet representations from local authorities and industry. It is a small, technical point on rate relief for enterprise zones. There was no power to give rate relief for properties straddling an enterprise zone boundary. The resolution provides power for relief to be given for part of a property as well as for a whole property. Hon. Members will find that under the rules of the House the whole resolution has to be tabled. The only difference will be that further provision will be made for relief from rates in enterprise zones.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
The Minister has a unique facility for claiming that something of considerable importance on which the Government have made serious mistakes is a minor technical matter. As the Government have had to introduce a second money resolution, we expected the Secretary of State to be present. As we shall be discussing the most contentious of the Lords amendments next Wednesday, we shall expect the presence of the Secretary of State. Apart from moving the Bill's Second Reading, he has not participated in the Bill at any stage. I regard that as a serious discourtesy to the House. The right hon. Gentleman introduced a highly controversial Bill. He read the speech that was provided for him by the Department on Second Reading and then disappeared, as usual, leaving the Minister with the shovel to follow the Lord Mayor's procession.
This is not a correction of a minor technicality because it is yet another example—it may not be the last—of the complete disarray of legislation that has been introduced by the Department of the Environment. There are still anomalies in the Housing Act 1980 which to this day have not been put right by the Government. In many respects the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is not worth the paper on which it is printed. The Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill, with which we shall be proceeding after the money resolution has been passed, has been rewritten so often that its own mother would not recognise it.
908 Next week when we debate the remaining Lords amendments we shall come to the fourth version of clause 4, which has been doubled to be clause 8. It is worse than the version that left this place a few weeks ago. In addition to all the other errors, omissions and inadequacies of this singularly ill-fated proposed legislation, the Government have found that they must make a new long title. The Minister did not say that an amendment to the long title is necessary to accommodate the amendment and the second money resolution.
The amendments to which we shall turn are not really amendments to the Bill. They are amendments to the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, a measure with its own disreputable and scarred history. It was introduced in the House of Lords. It was withdrawn and reintroduced in this place in a different and partly emasculated form. In Committee large parts of it were junked like so much debris. Two years after the enactment of the Bill the Government return with some parts that they omitted by mistake.
In moving the resolution the Minister said, as though it were nothing to do with him or the Government—he seemed to suggest that it was an act of God—that there is no power in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act to give rate relief to concerns that straddle enterprise zones and non-enterprise zones. There is no power because the Government forgot to provide that power when they were drafting the Bill. That shambles of a Bill did not include that power because the Government had not thought of it. The Government made up that Bill, as they did the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill, as they went along. What is more, they discovered their error late in the day.
The House spent six months on the Local Government Finance (No. 1) and (No. 2) Bills. The original measure was introduced in November. It was withdrawn and reintroduced in December. It spent a properly long time in Committee and it was considered on Report. During that period the Government failed to discover that there was no power to give rate relief for concerns straddling enterprise zones and non-enterprise zones. If the Government had taken slightly longer to discover the omission, they would not have been able to amend the Bill.
The Bill left this place without amendments of the sort that the Government now wish to make, and if it had returned from another place unamended it would not have been possible to amend it here. In that event, the Government would have had to introduce separate legislation. The Government would have had to have a Local Government (No. 3), (No. 11) or even (No. 19) Bill. We lose track of the numbers of the Bills. The only reason they have been able to rectify the mistake is that there are no rules of order in the House of Lords and that it is open to the Government to move amendments in the House of Lords outside the scope of the money resolution. But for that they would not have been able to deal with the matter.
When the money resolution is carried, we shall debate the substance of the amendments. Some of my hon. Friends will make necessary points about them. Let us be absolutely clear, so that we can see the mess that the Government have got themselves into and the way in which they have abused the House of Commons, that those amendments would not be debatable without the resolution.
The House will recall what happened when, under the Labour Government, the Shipbuilding (Redundancy 909 Payments) Bill went through Parliament. The House of Lords, against the wishes of that Government, inserted into the Bill certain amendments that were outside the scope of the Commons money resolution. When the Bill was brought back to the Floor of the House Mr. Speaker, before the Commons could discuss the amendments in any way, said that the amendments were an abuse of privilege and directed the House without debate to reject those Lords Amendments.
Without the money resolution, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker would have been obliged to follow that precedent and direct the House of Commons to reject without debate these Government amendments. That is a token of the complete shambles into which the Government have got themselves on those matters. That is the knife edge on which the Government have been working. They deserve the utmost censure for their incompetence. We shall want the Secretary of State to be here next week so that he can face the Opposition instead of always leaving the dirty work to another Minister.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
I support the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman). The Minister did not tell the Committee that it was his intention to remedy the omission that had been made. By using the procedure of laying a money resolution that puts in order amendments coming from another place that would otherwise have been out of order is contempt of the House and should be condemned by right hon. and hon. Members.
In the House we have few enough rights when we try to examine and control the Executive. The Government's move in this tawdry money resolution invites the condemnation of both sides of the House. It shows their contempt for the House when they are trying to sort out the daft concept of enterprise zones.
I hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when we debate amendments Nos. 6 and 31. It is a point of principle that no Government, if they have the interests of the House at heart, should resort to such subterfuge to clear up what was obviously a mistake.
910 Had the Minister made it clear to the Committee that the Government had made yet another mistake in the Bill, which is full of mistakes, I have no doubt that we would have understood their point, but to act in this way is contempt of the House and should be condemned as such.
§ Mr. King
The House has enjoyed the two efforts to try to build a small molehill into a big mountain. There is no mistake in the Bill. If the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) had listened to his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), he would know that there was an omission in the 1980 Act. That point should have been covered at the time, but was not observed. I accept responsibility. I took the Bill through. The right hon. Gentleman need take no responsibility because he was not on the Committee as he was otherwise engaged.
The House scrutinised the Bill. We all failed to spot the mistake. That point could have been picked up in Committee, but it was not. We shall debate the substance of the matter when we come to the amendments. I shall not bore the House with reciting the precedents and the number of times that this action has been taken by Governments. The amendment is sensible and minor. To correct the mistake, a small amendment to the money resolution was needed. I thought that it was the sensible and common sense thing to do. I make no apologies. On balance, I believe that it was the right thing to do.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to abolish supplementary rates and supplementary precepts; to require rates and precepts to be made or issued for complete financial years; to provide for the making of substituted rates and the issue of substituted precepts; to regulate proceedings for challenging the validity of rates and precepts; to make further provision with respect to the borrowing powers of local authorities and with respect to relief from rates in enterprise zones; to amend the provision relating to block grant and to make new provisions for auditing the accounts of local authorities and other public bodies, it is expedient to authorise any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament in respect of grants to rating authorities under paragraph 29 of Schedule 32 to the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.