HC Deb 21 July 1986 vol 102 cc36-7 4.24 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order, of which I have given you notice, concerns the Rate Support Grants Bill, which is due for its Report stage and Third Reading this evening. There is a distinct possibility that the Bill will be certified as a money Bill under the terms of the Parliament Act 1911, the practical effects of which would be to prevent the other place from detailed consideration of the Bill.

The fact of that possibility has come as a bolt from the blue. It was never anticipated by us. It is especially surprising since the Bill amends two other Acts, the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and the Local Government Finance Act 1982, neither of which was certified.

You well know, Mr. Speaker, that much of the work in Committee and on the Floor of the House on the details of Bills is about pressing Ministers to reconsider parts of measures and often seeking undertakings from Ministers that, if they cannot deal conclusively with a matter in this place, it will be dealt with in the other place when the Bill goes for its Committee stage there. That has been the assumption on which Labour Members have worked in Committee. In fairness, I believe that Ministers have also worked on that assumption and I think this is as much a surprise to them as to us. The Committee worked on the basis that the Bill would be fully debated in the other place. Had we not worked on that assumption, the whole tenor of its Committee stage would have been different.

My first point is that it is usually obvious from the start when a Bill is to be certified as a money Bill or one for aids and supplies. The most obvious example is the Finance Bill, which everyone accepts from the beginning is either a money Bill or one for aids and supplies. Where it is not obvious—it was not obvious either to us or to Ministers —would it not have been reasonable for the House and for members of the Committee to have been forewarned that the Bill was likely to be certified if it left the House of Commons in substantially the same form as it was introduced? A failure to give that information means that the proceedings upstairs and on the Floor of the House are prejudiced.

My second point concerns the merits of certifying the Bill. I realise that you, Mr. Speaker, will not make a decision on this matter until after Report and Third Reading, but I respectfully ask you take into account the following points. First, section 1(2) of the Parliament Act speaks of a Bill being certified when it deals with the imposition of charges out of funds provided by Parliament or their variation. The Bill does not deal with the imposition of charges, no money resolution was attached to it and in no way does it affect the amount paid out of funds levied by Parliament by way of rate support grant. It deal only with its detailed allocation and a narrow aspect of that—multipliers.

Secondly, the Parliament Act makes it clear that a Bill can be certified only if it deals with a matter of the imposition of charges out of funds voted by Parliament or certain other matters not relevant here. Even if you decide that the application of multipliers in the Bill does amount to an imposition of a charge, which seems to construe that provision of the Parliament Act very widely indeed, I submit that other matters are dealt with by the Bill which, on any reading, are nothing whatever to do with the imposition of money provided by Parliament, nor are they subordinate to that.

I refer you particularly, Mr. Speaker, but not exclusively, to paragraphs 8, 9 and 13 of schedule 1. Those paragraphs affect generally the relationship between local government, central Government and Ministers, and the degree to which Ministers have to explain decisions that they have made by paragraphs 8 and 9. A duty on Ministers to provide Parliament and local government with the considerations leading to various determinations is substantially watered down so that the duty in future will be for the Secretary of State to provide information only "as he thinks desirable."

Under paragraph 13 the Secretary of State is given power to make assumptions about local authority budgets when he considers that information has not been provided by those authorities. Local government rates and taxes, and therefore their budgets, are specifically excluded from the operation of the Parliament Act.

The Bill was introduced retrospectively to overturn decisions by the courts and to deal with the possibility of other court actions. It was also introduced to establish certain numerals and multipliers and to change the nature of the information that the Secretary of State must give to the House.

I submit that the Bill cannot be certified as a money Bill. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider my submission that the House, and in particular members of the Committee, are put in a major difficulty because no advance information was given that there was even a remote possibility of the Bill being certifed as a money Bill.

Mr. Speaker

As the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, the practice of my predecessors invariably has been to leave any certification of a money Bill until after the Bill has been given a Third Reading. If the House gives the Bill a Third Reading today, I shall decide the question of certification tomorrow. I shall, of course, carefully take into account the points raised by the hon. Member.