HC Deb 19 January 1987 vol 108 cc606-32

Considered in Committee

[MR. HAROLD WALKER in the Chair]

3.50 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

On a point of order, Mr. Walker. I raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker and he suggested that it was more properly a matter for you. I understand that it would be in order for me to seek leave to move that you report progress and ask leave to sit again. I ask you to accept such a motion because the Government have consciously and deliberately breached the normal convention of our procedures by bringing a large number of amendments of a technical nature, some of considerable length—I have mentioned a new schedule of over 2,000 words—before the House at such a time as to make it impossible for hon. Members to seek any legal or financial advice about them. It was impossible because it was done over a weekend.

The nature of the amendments seems to make a significant difference to almost 25 per cent. of the Bill so that we are really being asked to consider a Bill that is different from that which received a Second Reading on Monday 12 January. It is a measure of the incompetence of the Department of the Environment that its view of what is required to clarify the law seems to change from day to day. The Secretary of State tabled the amendments on Thursday, as I emphasised, having given no indication on Second Reading that he had any intention of doing so and having given no such indication in a letter to me dated 14 January 1987 seeking agreement about the handling of the Local Government Finance Bill in Committee.

I put it to you, Mr. Walker, not only that it is unfair, a breach of our conventions and unacceptable procedure, but that it is unacceptable to the Committee that we should discuss today these matters that are so vital not only to Opposition Members but to the whole of local government, which is affected by the Bill. Such is the apparent panic in the Department that the Secretary of State has provided us, apparently generously, with notes on clauses to the Bill. However, the notes refer to the Bill without any of his amendments. Therefore, we do not know whether the notes are of any real value. They may be positively misleading. Further, the amendments that were tabled seek to amend two clauses which are subsequently deleted by further Government amendments. That is another measure of the haste and confusion with which the Government seek to change the law, apparently to clarify it.

Although the new schedule may be debated much later in our proceedings—I accept that—it directly and materially affects clause 1, which is the first clause we are asked to consider. I draw your attention, Mr. Walker, to page 143 of the Amendment Paper.

Therefore, I submit that there is a very strong case why you should accept my motion to terminate our proceedings, to report progress and to leave to sit again at an appropriate time by agreement through the usual channels. That will have given us and the local authorities the opportunity properly to consider the amendments and their implications.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)

The hon. Gentleman has asked that I accept the motion to report progress and ask leave to sit again. I have listened carefully to the exchanges that preceded the House going into Committee. In the light of what was said then and what has just been said, I believe that it would be wise of me to exercise my discretion, and it is my discretion to accept the motion. I assume that the hon. Gentleman's speech has been in support of the motion. Perhaps he might now move it formally.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful for your use of your discretion, Mr. Walker. I beg to move, That the Chairman do report progress and ask leave to sit again.

4 pm

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I am happy to respond to the motion which you have accepted, Mr. Walker. However, I cannot advise the Committee to accept it. Perhaps I can allay some of the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham).

The hon. Gentleman will know that when I discussed the procedure motion with him—which he subsequently said was agreeable to him—I told him that a number of Government amendments would be tabled. Indeed, many of the Opposition amendments were tabled at the same time as the Government amendments. I see no reason why the Committee should not proceed to consider both the Opposition and Government amendments in their turn.

Dr. Cunningham


Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman will be relieved to know that the new schedule—which I agree is long and complex—simply replaces clauses 10 and 11 with some amendment thereto. He will realise that that is the last item to be taken in the manner in which the procedure motion is set out. Therefore, it is unlikely, in view of the number of amendments that must be covered before we reach Clause 9, that that schedule will be reached today. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman considers——

Dr. Cunningham

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Ridley

I want to finish my sentence. If the hon. Gentleman considers the selection list, he will discover that there are only three groups of Government amendments before the Committee today. Indeed, there are only four Government amendments on the first page. When we come to debate these amemdments—and it might help the hon. Gentleman if he considers the arguments—he may discover that they are minor and technical amendments simply intended to clarify and improve the drafting of the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman has complained hitherto that the Government were slow to produce this legislation. I can assure him that the rush to introduce this legislation has meant further revisions suggested by leading and parliamentary counsel to clarify the purpose and meaning of the Bill.

Dr. Cunningham

I want the Secretary of State to consider carefully what he said. Will he confirm that at no time, in writing or in any other form, did he give notice to me or any of my hon. Friends that it was the Government's intention to table so many amendments? Will he also confirm that at no time did he give me any notice—verbally or in any other form—that one of the amendments would cover a full page of the Amendment Paper, as does Government Amendment No. 175 on page 138 or that a second amendment—a new schedule—as I have already emphasised, would run to two and a half pages of the Amendment Paper?

Does the Secretary of State accept that there was no notification of any such amendment? There could have been no agreement—although I accept that I gave my agreement orally in response to the Secretary of State's letter—if we had been told of the Secretary of State's intentions. Will the Secretary of State confirm the accuracy of my remarks? It is very important for future relations that he should do that.

The other general issue on this point is that it is a simple statement of truth that we have had no opportunity to consider the amendments. This is not a fabricated argument. No one in the House could possibly have absorbed the implications of the amendments in the time available to us. Therefore, we should not proceed at this point. I hope that the Secretary of State will at least confirm what I have said about the exchanges.

Mr. Ridley

I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman confirm that I warned him that a number of Government amendments would be tabled.

Dr. Cunningham


Mr. Ridley

I did not go into details about the number of amendments or their length. He has acknowledged my point that the amendments in no way change the substance of the Bill in any major fashion.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

How do we know?

Mr. Ridley

I have been explaining that to the hon. Member for Copeland. That point will be revealed when we debate the amendments. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe me, I hope that he will let the Committee proceed to consider the amendments and in due course what I have just said will be found to be the case.

It is not right that this urgent Bill, which is necessary if rate support grant is to be paid to local authorities, should be delayed. It is perfectly within the rules of Committee procedure, as the amendments were tabled on time, and I must stress that many of the Opposition amendments were tabled at the same time. I have not stinted to do the work necessary to consider the Opposition amendments and so to be able to respond perfectly properly to those amendments.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Ridley

I do not see why what is sauce for the goose should not he sauce for the gander in this case. I invite the Committe to proceed with the Bill.

Mr. Tony Banks

I was hoping to catch the Secretary of State's eye before he finished his remarks, because I wanted to ask him whether his mind was made up in relation to his opposition to the motion. However uncomfortable we may find the fact, the Opposition accept that the Government will get their business through. That is the function of government. Indeed, the Government have the majority to add an eighth day to the week if they see fit to do so. Considering some of the Government's recent policies, I would not be at all surprised if that was a later motion.

Before we consider the Bill, the Secretary of State must accept that we want to consider the clauses and the amendments to the clauses very carefully. This is not a time wasting effort by the Opposition. The Secretary of State may laugh at that, but I hope that he will accept my word on this occasion if on no other when I say that I want to ask him to give us a genuine opportunity to investigate and consider and consult our constituents, and especially the borough councils affected, about the full implications of the amendments that we have not had the opportunity to consider until now.

When the Secretary of State defended the position—which I agree that he inherited—that the procedures followed by local authorities and by his Department did not conform with the law, he said that it was in part the Opposition's fault for not spotting the deliberate mistake built into the legislation. Obviously we said that that was nonsense. It was not our fault. The Government govern and the Opposition oppose. However, there is something in the Secretary of State's point. If we had had more of an opportunity to consider the full implications of previous legislation, we might not have allowed the Government to make the mistake that they eventually made in the legislation that appeared on the statute book.

I put it to the Secretary of State, using his own argument, that this must be the opportunity for us to consult the borough councils—I am obviously concerned about Newham—to consider in some detail what the Government's amendments mean. We should then have an opportunity to parade our arguments and voice our feelings. I know that, in the end, we shall be voted down by the Government's majority, as they must get their business, but at least we could do justice to the arguments. I do not believe that the Secretary of State is giving us ample opportunity to do that.

Everybody accepts that local government finance is getting into such a morass that not one hon. Member can honestly say that he or she understands the current system, how it operates and how it would truly be changed by the Bill. I have been in local government for 16 years and I have a great deal of feeling for it, but I would not suggest that I understand everything in the Bill. Although we are here to oppose, we are in a way party to legislation which the House passes, and it is up to us to try to spot the defects. I should not like to be party to yet another piece of legislation that makes it that much more difficult to understand how local government finance works.

The Secretary of State should talk to the Leader of the House. That does not require a great deal of physical effort on his part, as his right hon. Friend is sitting right next to him. How can we have any confidence that, when the Bill is enacted, it will not be faulty in some way and therefore lead to even more confusion in local government? I ask the Secretary of State with whatever persuasive powers I have—I know that I have very few with him, and I would not want it to be any different—to think carefully and accept the motion in the interests of good order, the House, local government and good legislation, although we disagree, root and branch, with the Bill.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Exceptionally, you, Mr. Walker, have exercised a discretion that is conferred on you to accept the motion moved by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that you should report progress and ask leave to sit again.

One might think that the progress which the Committee would be able to report would be scant, but the Committee is not more likely to accept the motion as a result of the speech made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who is not a particularly creditable example of the wisdom of those people who have been engaged in local government.

The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who is normally scrupulously fair, has acknowledged that he tabled amendments on the same day as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tabled amendments. The hon. Gentleman is saying that the well-known and respected procedures of the House, which allow amendments to be tabled on a Thursday if they are to be considered by the Committee the following Monday, should be set aside in respect of this Bill and this Committee stage.

One week ago today, the House gave the Bill a Second Reading with a substantial majority. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commended the Bill to the House, he did so on the basis that it would put the law into the condition which everybody, including the hon. Member for Copeland, believe it to be in.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

That is not true.

4.15 pm
Mr. Gow

Oh yes. It was my right hon. Friend and his advisers who discovered that the previous legislation did not have the effect that Parliament intended it to have.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Ms. Clare Short


Mr. Gow

I wish to develop my argument. I shall give way a little later.

The Bill's purpose was fully explained to the House and the House agreed and gave it a Second Reading. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now being criticised because he has tabled amendments which you, Mr. Walker, have studied more closely than any other right hon. or hon. Member—with the sole exception of my right hon. Friend which you decided were in order and which you selected.

Of course it is open to the Opposition to move that you report progress and ask leave to sit again, Mr. Walker, but Conservative Members are entitled to say that everything which my right hon. Friend has done, including the tabling of amendments last Thursday, is wholly in order.

Mr. Tony Banks

We are not saying that it is out of order.

Mr. Gow

As the Opposition claimed on Second Reading that they would subject the whole Bill and, therefore, no doubt, possible amendments to it, to the most rigorous scrutiny one might have expected that the hon. Member for Copeland, who is a doctor, would have examined the amendments even before my right hon. Friend tabled them.

On Second Reading, the Opposition Front Bench said that it would subject the Bill to the utmost scrutiny. That being so, it might have subjected potential amendments to the most rigorous scrutiny. We have a most bizarre spectacle. The Opposition said that they would study the Bill closely, but they are unable to give due consideration to amendments which my right hon. Friend tabled on Thursday—the same day on which the hon. Member for Copeland tabled his amendments. We have not heard my right hon. Friend whinge to the House because he has not had time to study the Opposition's amendments, which also were tabled last Thursday. On the contrary, my right hon. Friend, dragging himself away from the——

Dr. Cunningham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gow

Or course I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, whom I would otherwise call my hon. Friend.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and apologise for having had to leave the Chamber briefly, with the result that I missed his earlier remarks.

Why should it matter when the Opposition tabled their amendments? It is not us who are seeking agreement on a timetable for how we proceed, but the Government. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Secretary of State should have been, dare I say, candid or honest about his intentions when he wrote to me rather than behave as he did?

Mr. Gow

It may just be that I have known my right hon. Friend a little longer even than the hon. Gentleman. Throughout the time that I have known my right hon. Friend, I have found him to be totally candid and honest at all times and in all circumstances. Therefore, I reject——

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

That is not what the courts said.

Mr. Gow

The hon. Gentleman must not rebuke my right hon. Friend because, on occasions, the courts have disagreed with him. That does not reflect upon my right hon. Friend's honesty and candour. If the Labour party seeks to rebuke my right hon. Friend on the grounds that he has been lacking in candour, it should recall that it was my right hon. Friend who came to the House to say that previous legislation did not have the effects hoped for by the whole House, including the Labour party.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). Earlier I attempted to interrupt when the hon. Gentleman said that the Bill would put back the law to what everybody thought it was. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not present a week ago today when my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said that, if that was all that the Bill would do, there would not be any great controversy. We believe—this has been admitted by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—that the Bill does a great deal more that is prejudicial to local government and the effect of any amendment is likely to be deleterious to local government. It requires the degree of scrutiny and consultation for which we are now asking.

Mr. Gow

I readily concede that the hon. Gentleman is right—the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend has a twin purpose. It is, first, to restore the law to that which the House and the other place intended when the legislation was passed in 1980. Its second purpose, which will be immensely welcomed by those, like myself, who live in the Soviet republic of Lambeth, is to give certain further protection to innocent ratepayers—[Interruption.] During the week I happen to live in Lambeth and as a ratepayer I am entitled, along with the great majority of other ratepayers in Lambeth, to say that we welcome the other proposals in my right hon. Friend's Bill that will give further protection to ratepayers. Many ratepayers in Lambeth are absolutely scandalised by some of the expenditure incurred by that council.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

Will the hon. Gentleman specify what excesses he is talking about? Is he aware that last week the boroughs of Lambeth and Camden and other Labour-held boroughs did a great deal to make provision for the elderly and others——

The Chairman

Order. I think it would be unwise for the Committee to start talking about such matters. They are not the subject of the Question before the Committee.

Mr. Gow

I would be very happy, if I catch your eye during the later Committee stages, to give a list of the quite outrageous expenditure incurred by Lambeth borough council——

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Tell us about Eastbourne.

Mr. Gow

We are not talking about Eastbourne——

The Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) will have equal regard to the remark that I addressed to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland). We shall see what is permissible when we come to the later stages of the Bill, but for now I hope that we shall stick to the Question before the Committee.

Mr. Gow

I submit myself entirely to your ruling, Mr. Walker and I shall refer to the expenditure of Lambeth on a later occasion.

It has been agreed, even by the Opposition Front Bench, that it was, in every respect, wholly in order for my right hon. Friend to table the amendments that he did on Thursday. Over the weekend, the Opposition have had time—the time scale has been followed on many occasions—to consider those amendments. On the same day, Thursday, the Opposition tabled a number of amendments to the Bill. It is perfectly proper that the Committee should now embark on a due consideration of those parts of the Bill that are down for discussion today.

I hope that the Committee will reject the motion moved, most unwisely, by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). The Bill ought to be on the statute book at the earliest possible moment. We ought to embark on the Committee stage today as envisaged. I hope that the Committee will reject the advice of the Labour party.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

I support the motion moved by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). The Opposition House consists of a number of Opposition parties. It may be that there are some critics on the Conservative Benches. I hope that there are, because many Conservative local authorities will find themselves in severe difficulties if this legislation goes through.

The exigencies of the electoral system dictate that there should be one spokesman from the alliance in this debate. That does not mean that the matters before us are any the less important. There are a number of Ministers present with their parliamentary private secretaries—the Box can hardly contain all the officials here to support the Ministers. There are also a number of spokesmen present for the official Opposition.

The Government have tabled a whole series of amendments of the utmost complexity and it has been exceptionally difficult to find enough advice in time to debate them effectively today. It is not just a question whether we have been able to consider those amendments over the weekend. In common with other right hon. and hon. Members I received a letter today from the Association of County Councils that stated: The Government has also tabled a large number of amendments. It has been impossible in the short time available to analyse these in detail. Yet here we are this afternoon expected to debate matters before us not because of any culpability on the part of the Opposition parties but because the Government got the legislation wrong. I should have thought that the Government, in the light of their experience, would have been rather more humble in coming before the House with all these complicated amendments. The list of selected amendments is one and a half pages long—and it goes up to only clause 9. There are 34 pages of amendments—some 200 amendments and new clauses. That is hardly conducive to the kind of detailed discussion and debate that Opposition parties and the House have a legitimate right to expect on such matters.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is right in the sense that we are seeking to put back the law to what we thought it was, but that is only part of it. It is generally accepted that if this Bill was limited to that purpose we would have readily accepted it and allowed it to to go through without any difficulty. However, the Secretary of State has once again used the threat that if this legislation does not go through there will be problems for local authorities with regard to the rate support grant.

This Bill contains many provisions that seek to introduce a great deal of uncertainty for local authorities—they will not be able to rely on their budgeting for next year because of what may have happened over the last five years—and it is somewhat rich and ironic for the right hon. Gentleman to say that it is uncertain what will happen to RSG if this Bill is delayed.

If the Secretary of State's sole concern is to find a way of bringing the RSG settlement before this House, he should have discussions with the usual channels. Those channels would be quite happy to have an interim settlement decided upon and that would make the local authorities happier in their belief that something constructive was being done about their problems.

It is not just Opposition Members who have brought these matters forward in previous discussions. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Acton (Sir. G. Young) is not in the Chamber. On Second Reading, as a former Minister in the Department of the Environment, the hon. Gentleman admitted that he did not understand the complexities of the RSG. He said that the more he tried to do so, the less grasp of the subject he retained.

If a Minister can say that, it is certainly not on for the Government to put before the House a whole series of highly complex new amendments, new clauses and schedules to the Bill and to expect us to debate them in a comprehensive and intelligent way.

Therefore, I hope that it will be possible to have the opportunity to consider the amendments in more detail and to secure the professional advice that we admit that we need to debate such matters thoroughly. I wish to consult those local authorities that my party has the honour to control, including the local authority of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I wish to discover their views.

I hope that it will be possible to have such an opportunity. I hope that we shall not have bitterness developing over something which is crucial to many people in this country and which affects the finance and constitutional position of local government. Many of us on the Opposition side had the honour of serving for many years in local government and do not wish to see further legislation which will require more Bills and amendments and raise more legal problems. I beg the Committee to give us more time to consider the matter.

4.30 pm
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

I appeal to the Committee to support the motion because of the serious implications that the amendments will have for local government. We should have an opportunity to consider the amendments and especially the new schedule. I should like to consult the authorities that I represent, Wakefield and Leeds, because both are involved and will be affected by the proposed legislation.

Amendment No. 175 on page 138 of the Amendment Paper mentions information. It changes the old concept of the 1980 Act about information. It is important that we get this matter right in the first instance. If local government is required to supply information to the Secretary of State on the basis of which the Secretary of State would give judgment and perhaps act upon, it is right and fair that the local authorities should have an opportunity to consider the implications of this amendment.

Hon. Members have not had an opportunity to consult the local authorities that we represent and in which we are involved, and the local authority associations have not had an opportunity to give advice or to put their views on these amendments and the new schedule. It is important that, before we introduce any new legislation about information to be provided by local authorities to the Department of the Environment or, in particular, to the Secretary of State, the local authorities and their organisations should have an opportunity to consider in more detail and in depth the amendments and their legal implications.

The new schedule mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland is causing great worry to local authorities. It specifically refers to the rate support grant and its special provisions. It also mentions consultation. If we are to have legislation affecting local authorities and the provision of rate support grant, it is only fair and just that those local authorities should have an opportunity to consult hon. Members about the implications of the new schedule.

Against this backcloth of the history of the Government's attack on local government, the motion is correct and should be supported. I hope that the Secretary of State, Conservative Members and the Government will see the importance of the consultation that should take place about the acquiring of information from local authorities. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Government will accept that there is a need for further examination of the new schedule, because of its implications for local authorities, and especially for the local authorities in west Yorkshire that I mentioned.

I ask the Committee to support the motion. We should allow the business to be so conducted that we can discuss the new schedule in detail and can return after consultations with our local authorities and with the local authority associations. If we had such consultations, we could obtain all the information that we require in order properly to discuss the schedule and the amendments.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I support the motion. It is clear that we have to protect the procedures of the House and the Committee. I fully appreciate that the Secretary of State is keen to turn everything to do with rates into a farce and to try to convince the country that rates are in such a muddle and a mess that it will be possible for the Government to abolish them without much opposition. That is one of his political aims and he has managed to continue to show so many problems about rates that that would go some way towards supporting his argument.

Any competent Secretary of State could produce a formula for sorting out the rate support grant which would demonstrate that the rating system works. His purpose in trying to discredit the rate system is political. The trouble with his Bill is that not only is it trying to discredit the whole rating process, it is in danger of discrediting the House. At this stage we ought to be very worried about the procedures of the House.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) suggested that we were following precedent. Many of my hon. Friends have a lot of sympathy for the hon. Member. He is one of the few former members of the Government to resign on a matter of principle. I have sympathy for that, but we wonder where his future lies. One or two of us who have listened to his speeches recently think that perhaps he is trying to creep back.

Mr. Dobson

Whether he was going backwards or forwards, he was creeping.

Mr. Bennett

The alternative, of course, is that perhaps the hon. Gentleman sees his way to becoming part of the Chairman's Panel or developing in some way like that. Following his explanation of procedures, we should be wary of seeing him make progress in that direction.

The hon. Gentleman claimed that we were following normal procedure. Let us be clear. It is extremely rare for a rates Bill to be taken in all its stages on the Floor of the House. Almost always, such Bills go into Committee upstairs and there are very good reasons for that. The normal advantage for a Bill going through Committee is that it tends to take rather longer and the opportunities for detailed scrutiny are considerable. In addition, there is a considerable time between each of the stages. Therein lies the problem that has been introduced by this legislation.

Not so long ago the Bill was given a Second Reading. People outside did not have much opportunity to read the original Bill. On Thursday and Friday the amendments started to appear in large numbers on the Order Paper. If this Bill were going to Committee upstairs, the odds are that the first sitting would be tomorrow. Perhaps the Committee would get through the first group of amendments, and, if there was goodwill and a desire to make reasonable progress, it could possibly get through the second group. Therefore, people outside would have until about Thursday to consider most of the Bill.

People could probably expect the Committee to sit for up to four or five weeks if it was relatively non-controversial. At the end of the Committee's proceedings there would be an opportunity to consider how much progress had been made and to prepare amendments for Report stage. That means that people outside would have considerable time in which to analyse the legislation, look carefully at the problems and bring forward their amendments. That is not what the Government intend. They are insisting that we debate the legislation today and that the amendments should be considered now.

Let us suppose that some valid points are raised. When must we table amendments for Report? The Government have not yet made it clear when they intend to take the legislation to Report. The implication is that the Government intend to take Report stage at some time on Wednesday. If the public want to consider the amendments made to the Bill and come forward with suggestions for Report stage they will have to produce them by tomorrow. It is totally out of keeping with the normal procedures of the House, which are to provide a reasonable period for scrutiny so that hon. Members can be well briefed and the public can adequately and accurately discuss the legislation.

The legislation is being rushed through. The House has a bad reputation for rushing through legislation. It is no good for hon. Members to claim that they are giving scrutiny to legislation if it is rushed through in this way. We shall simply run into interpretation problems in the courts or problems with the statutory instruments that arise from legislation. It is our fault if we allow legislation to be rushed through. That is why we should give careful consideration to the motion and consider whether we should say to the Government that we want adequate time in which to scrutinise the legislation, not only for the sake of our constituents and local authorities but for the reputation of the House, which should be concerned to pass good legislation.

I challenge the Secretary of State to tell us how quickly he thinks that Government Departments can get advice on the detailed legal meaning of clauses. Last week, the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments examined the problems that we encountered with the social security legislation. It took nearly nine months for that legislation to go through the House. It had full scrutiny. One group of amendments was accepted at a fairly late stage in the other place, and the Government are in the process of turning it into a statutory instrument. Quite clearly, they have run into difficulties with that statutory instrument. When the Scrutiny Committee asked for a memorandum, the Government asked for a fortnight in which to get legal advice. If the Government need a fortnight in which to get legal advice on a statutory instrument arising out of legislation, surely, with a complicated Bill such as this, Opposition Members should have a reasonable amount of time in which to take advice. Not only Opposition Members but local authority associations and individual local councils need to take advice to determine whether some hidden implications may cause difficulties for them.

4.45 pm

At the moment, all we have is the Secretary of State's statement that there is nothing unacceptable in the amendments. Of course, his record is not good. The courts have ruled against him four times. It appears that, on those occasions, he got the advice wrong. He did not quite understand the legislation. Of course, he knew about the problems with this legislation, so he told us, several months before he confided in the House and told us that we needed legislation. Part of the blame for the rush is his. It is his fault for not bringing forward the legislation and not telling the House about it earlier.

There are unprecedented powers in the legislation. On this occasion, the Secretary of State says that we are legislating not only to allow judges to interpret the legislation but to stop judges interpreting the legislation. The Secretary of State may be able to tell us that there are many precedents for this, but I have been told by one or two of my hon. Friends that we must refer back several centuries to find an occasion on which a Minister introduced legislation to disfranchise judges. A few people would say that we do not want judges interfering in interpreting legislation. I should have thought that the Conservative party could see only too clearly the dangers of legislating judges out of their role in interpreting the law. It seems to be extremely dangerous.

That is a totally new element in the legislation as far as rates are concerned. It is one of the reasons why we should give this legislation much more adequate scrutiny than will be possible if the Government insist on rushing it through, taking only a fortnight from the time of the Second Reading to the point at which the Government hope that it will leave the House and head for the other place.

The Government have a majority and, more or less, can steamroll anything through the House of Commons. I suggest that the Government should think carefully about steamrolling tactics. They have encouraged people in the other place to realise that there are constitutional problems and to spend much more time examining legislation. If the Government do not take notice of the dilatory motion today, Members of the other place will be tempted to take a long time to scrutinise the legislation. They have a duty not only to scrutinise those parts of the Bill that re-establish the status quo—as everyone believed it was—but to look at those parts that introduce new principles such as opting judges out of interpreting legislation.

The other place should seriously consider amending the legislation so that it merely re-establish the status quo, and take out these new powers and insist that they are properly and fully scrutinised within the normal procedures of the House. That involves about eight or nine months, from Second Reading to a proper Committee stage, to a Report stage and to the remaining proceedings.

I strongly urge the Committee to support this procedural motion and to allow the proper consultation necessary to pass good legislation.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

I support this motion for two reasons, but, first, I press the Secretary of State on one specific point. The Secretary of State, during his response to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), told the Committee that on Thursday he informed my hon. Friend that it was the Government's intention to table a number of amendments to the Bill. If the Secretary of State says that he gave that information to my hon. Friend, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will accept his assurance. I suspect that the Secretary of State chooses his words with care. When he told the House that he said to my hon. Friend that it was his intention to table a number of amendments, I asked him to tell us whether those were the words he used to my hon. Friend. Indeed, did the Secretary of State say that he would table a number of amendments or did he give the impression to my hon. Friend that it would be only a few amendments? There is a difference between, on the one hand, tabling three, four or five amendments and, on the other hand, tabling 38 amendments and new clauses last Thursday evening. The Secretary of State owes the Committee a full explanation. He should be more candid with us.

I refer to the reasons for supporting the motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland. Copies of these amendments and new clauses were not available until Friday afternoon. I agree with the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) that it is in order for amendments to be tabled on a Thursday evening, to appear on the Order Paper on Friday morning and to he debated on Monday. There is no disagreement on that point. The hon. Member for Eastbourne is absolutely correct, hut there was a difference in the procedure last Friday.

For whatever reason, the amendments were not available on Friday morning. On several occasions, I went to the Vote Office for the latest issue of amendments to the Bill. I take a particular interest in the Bill because it affects the city of Birmingham, and I represent part of the city of Birmingham. I took part in the Second Reading debate. I was interested to discover what amendments were to be tabled. Indeed, I tabled an amendment on Thursday evening, and I wanted to check that it was printed accurately. The Notice Paper was not available on Friday morning. I went to the Vote Office several times and asked for it. My hon. Friends told me that the Notice Paper became available about one o'clock or slightly thereafter, approximately the time at which the House was about to divide on the private Member's Bill.

It was not possible for Opposition Members to consult their advisers, particularly the officers employed by the local authorities, in their constituencies on Friday. It was only this morning that we saw the large number of amendments that had been tabled by the Government. It is an argument not about whether it is in order but about whether it is appropriate and right for the Committee to debate amendments of such scale and significance on a Monday when they were not available at a reasonable time on the previous Friday. I ask the hon. Member for Eastbourne, whose approach is usually fair, to reconsider his earlier remarks. He asked whether this was in order. There is no argument about that. Of course it is in order. But is it right to proceed in this way? That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland did not raise it as a point of order. Instead he has moved a procedural motion that we should now report progress so that these amendments can be considered by both sides of the Committee and given the scrutiny that they deserve.

I support my hon. Friend's motion because the scrutiny of this Bill is especially important as it has been brought before the Committee by this Secretary of State. On 16 December 1986 he complained that the Opposition should have picked up the loopholes in legislation. He said that they should have scrutinised the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 more carefully. It does not lie in the mouth of this Secretary of State, therefore, to rush legislation through the House of Commons and subsequently to complain if there are further loopholes. On 16 December 1986 the Secretary of State said: The hon. Gentleman had some fun with his adjectives, but let me ask him what scrutiny he gave to the 1980— and then he was interrupted. He continued: It takes me to do not only my job but the Opposition's job in pointing out what Parliament failed to stop in 1980. Will a future Secretary of State come to the House in six or seven years' time and complain that this Bill was not adequately scrutinised in 1987? Supported as usual in his vocal, articulate and vociferous manner by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, the Secretary of State complained that the Opposition had not picked up the deficiencies in the previous legislation. He said: Every hon. Member is in breach of the law in this regard for not having drawn attention to the deficiencies in the system."—[Official Report, 16 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 1053–1057.] We do not intend to be told in six or seven years' time that we have not drawn attention to the deficiencies in this new system. The amendments and clauses have been tabled by the Government at a very late stage. I ask the hon. Member for Eastbourne to withdraw his remarks. Usually he is very fair. Why is he seeking to obfuscate the issue in this way?

I make no secret of my views about the Bill. It is a shabby Bill, but it is not necessary for the Government to behave in such a shabby way.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

The Secretary of State seeks to oppose the motion. Most hon. Members believe that he must do a great deal more explaining before he is able to convince the Committee of the appropriateness of proceeding with the debate this afternoon. I hope that we shall have a proper reply from him before there is a vote on the motion.

Mr. Ridley

indicated dissent.

Mr. Straw

The Secretary of State has no intention of replying to the debate, Mr. Walker. Are we to anticipate a reply from the Minister of State, or is this another example of the way in which this Government behave—that they never seek to reply to debates? Is there to be a reply by the Leader of the House? It is most unusual for there to be a procedural motion but no ministerial reply. The Secretary of State told us that the amendments that were put down on Friday involve no substantial change to the Bill and that therefore we could debate this matter.

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Walker. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) asked a rhetorical question concerning a ministerial reply to the motion. Can you help me? In Committee it is usual for there to be a reply from a Minister or for there to be a specific intimation by the Minister that he does not intend to reply. Is it possible to discover that now? Unless we do so now, my hon. Friend may be talking to thin air. Are we to have a reply from the Minister?

The Chairman

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, that is not a matter for me. However, my impression is that from a sedentary position the Secretary of State suggested that he had no intention of responding to the debate.

Mr. Straw

The Committee will note—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shameful."] Yes, it is shameful. The Committee will draw the conclusion that the Secretary of State accepts that the case lies with us. Since this is the Committee stage, I know that you will confirm, Mr. Walker, that the Secretary of State does not need the leave of the Committee to speak again. It is a gross abuse of the accepted conventions of the Committee for there to be a debate, albeit one that the Secretary of State did not wish to have, and for him to refuse to reply to it. If the Secretary of State were to turn round and look at the faces of his hon. Friends, he would see that he is picking up no brownie points by treating the Committee in this arrogant way.

In support of the arrogant way in which he has behaved, the Secretary of State said that the amendments involve no substantial change to the Bill. There are four reasons why we should not accept the Secretary of State's word. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) made clear, the Opposition were given no notice of the nature of these amendments. I am glad that the Secretary of State admitted that during the discussions through the usual channels no details of the amendments were given and that the clear impression was given that there would be a few technical amendments of the kind that have always been accepted on any Bill.

The second reason for not accepting the Secretary of State's word that there is nothing in these amendments is that he told us today that long and complex amendments to existing clauses were tabled only last Friday and that two clauses have been replaced. Given the notice that the Opposition have had so far, it is impossible for the Committee properly to decide in what respect those clauses have been amended and to divine their complexity. Even if the Opposition could accept the good faith of Ministers, we know to our cost that undertakings given by Ministers about the nature of legal provisions are of no value after a Bill has become law. Some of us dealt with the Local Government Bill. We should not be in this position if ministerial undertakings as to the meaning of legislation had turned out to be correct. Some of us remember that only 18 months ago Ministers gave undertakings about the way in which the Local Government Bill would impact on the information practices of local authorities, but its impact has been wholly different and restrictive.

The third reason why we cannot accept the Secretary of State's word is that we have been here before and discovered that his word cannot be relied upon. On 16 December the Secretary of State told the House: The Bill is designed to make no changes in policy, but as far as possible to apply existing policy within a tight timetable. In answer to an intervention from the previous Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), he said: We are merely validating the past and putting right for the future the position that the whole House thought obtained."—[Official Report, 16 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 1051–54.] We were told that that was all that the Bill would contain. However, we find that the Bill contains major policy changes. The hon. Member for Eastbourne was at least right about that, but what he said was wholly different from what the Secretary of State told us: that authorities are retrospectively penalised because £38 million is to be taken away from 12 authorities, including Birmingham and Cambridge; that the appeal procedure in the Rates Act 1984, which was laid down in this House by Conservative Members only three years ago, is to be abandoned for this year; and, above all, that by this Bill the Secretary of State seeks to put himself wholly above the law.

I do not know whether Conservative Members have read clause 4(6) or clause 6(4). I ask them to reflect on the words used. The Secretary of State gives himself the power to provide that decisions which he makes under clause 6(4) shall have effect notwithstanding any decision of a court (whether before or after the passing of this Act) purporting to have a contrary effect. Conservative Members are learned in the law. Can they think of any Act in peacetime in which a Secretary of State has sought to give himself immunity from the law in this way?

5 pm

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

The hon. Gentleman poses a question on interpretation of the Act and the validity of particular sections. What Conservative Members feel about the Opposition's tactics in relation to the motion is this. Of the 20 authorities that have been ratecapped or are to be ratecapped, 19 are controlled by the Labour party, and one by the alliance parties, affecting about 5.5 million people. The people who are resident in those local authority areas look to the House and the Bill for protection. The Opposition are endeavouring to divert criticism of those local authorities for the spending, social and housing policies that they have pursued. That is the motive of the debate this afternoon.

Mr. Straw

By his silence on the point the hon. Gentleman has confirmed that there is no precedent in peacetime for a Secretary of State placing himself above the law in this way. If the hon. Gentleman were on the Opposition Benches, he and his hon. Friends would be rightly ferocious in their attack upon any Labour Minister seeking to set himself above the law. If the hon. Gentleman applies himself to the clause, he will see that it is not just a matter of the Secretary of State validating past acts—that is provided for by clause 4(1), and that we accept within the framework of the Bill. Having validated past acts, the Secretary of State then seeks to place himself wholly above the law, immune from any possibility of court action.

In our judgment, there is no precedent in peacetime for such a procedure since the Bill of Rights in 1688. The purpose of that constitutional settlement was to place Ministers under the control and supervision of the High Court of Parliament. This Bill sets an extremely dangerous precedent, involving a fundamental change of policy, which was not hinted at when the Secretary of State came before the House on 16 December.

The fourth reason why we cannot accept the Secretary of State's explanation is that it is patent that he, even if he had good faith, has no grip on or grasp of local government finance or the Bill. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), the Secretary of State said: The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong. I am the only person who is quite certain what the law is."—[Official Report, 16 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 1055.] For the Secretary of State the law is a moving target.

We have been in a situation where the Secretary of State presented a Bill, apparently to clarify and state the law as he says everybody knew that it once was. He then sought to table amendments to clauses 10 and 11. Now he wants to delete them. Today, to assist the House, we have been provided with notes on clauses 10 and 11, which are now to be deleted. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for providing us with notes on clauses that will not exist, but he has failed to provide us with notes on schedules that will replace those clauses that will no longer exist.

The Secretary of State is not directly responsible for the initial chaos into which local government finance has been plunged by successive Conservative Secretaries of State, but he has made the situation worse.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne said that standard procedures had been followed. That is not correct, because this is a technical Bill. Every other technical local government finance Bill, as with the technical parts of every finance Bill, is debated upstairs. It is ludicrous for a Committee of the whole House to debate the minutiae of local government finance. Were the Bill debated upstairs, Ministers would give notice of their intention to amend a Bill in this way, and many more than two days would have been allowed.

The amendments are substantial. The definition of expenditure is changed by amendment No. 6; the way in which principles of accounting are applied to local authorities is changed by amendment No. 153; information requirements for local authorities are changed by one amendment to the schedule. There is a whole new schedule that changes the rate support grant procedures and abrogates the requirements on the Secretary of State to consult local authorities. It disregards other matters. There is a half page on the ways in which the teachers' pay settlement is to be dealt with. The Secretary of State says there is nothing new in this, but there are new matters and we need more than half a working day to take advice upon them.

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, the Secretary of State admitted that he has known about this farrago since last September. He now comes to the House and says that the matter is urgent. If he had had any sensibility to the views of the House, and any wish to have this matter dealt with urgently and expeditiously, he would have come to us when he got the Attorney-General's advice in October and told us that there was a problem, that he wanted to put it right, but did not want to change the law in any substantive way and asked us to agree a procedure for dealing with this. As my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland has made clear, we would have agreed to look at the draft and the Bill could have gone through on the nod without any of this.

Instead, the Secretary of State has sued the excuse of legal defects to ambush the House into accepting new and wholly unacceptable changes to local government finance. At the latest stage he has tried to ambush us again. It is unacceptable; this ambush cannot and must not work. I support the motion.

Several Hon. Members


The Chairman

The Committee has had a fair run at this and the issue is very clear. I should have thought that the Committee was in a position to reach a conclusion. If hon. Members persist, I have no option but to call them, but I hope that they will bear in mind what I have said.

Mr. Spearing

The powerful points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Shaw) have emphasised the behaviour of the Secretary of State, who I hope will not depart because I have personal criticisms to make of him. It is quite clear that in every respect his behaviour over the Bill has shown his contempt of parliamentary procedures.

I thought that all hon. Members believed in parliamentary democracy; that it was almost a sine qua non of becoming a Member of this place. How the right hon. Gentleman can go to the electors of Cirencester and Tewkesbury at the next election and ask to be returned as their Member of Parliament when he has so treated all Members of Parliament—there were criticisms from others on Second Reading—defies all logic.

The reason for the motion, Mr. Walker, which you have allowed to be put, illustrates the abuse of the place by the Secretary of State. A dilatory motion is a safety valve. The Chair will not allow a dilatory motion to be moved unless there has been an irregularity. That is in the Standing Orders—you will correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Walker—but there has been a hiccup. There is an overwhelming case for interrupting the normal business of the House to allow debate on the Adjournment so that dissatisfaction can be aired. The fact that you, Mr. Walker, have permitted the debate is a sign that in your judgment, and indeed on any objective test, there has been a parliamentary irregularity.

Conservative Members have no need to smile. Before the Bill was published, two or three deputations from the London borough of Newham had discussions in good faith with the Secretary of State. The Bill destroys all those discussions and everything that went on in a proper manner. It is because of that sort of distrust that the motion has been moved tonight.

I asked six questions during a speech made almost a week ago to the hour. I asked five factual questions and one of opinion to be answered that night by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and, if he could not do so then, to be answered by the end of last week. No letter was received. This morning, I telephoned the Secretary of State's Private Office and half an hour ago I received a letter from the Minister for Local Government. Does the hon. Gentleman—I ask him because he still may have a chance to sum up—think that that is correct parliamentary procedure since five of my questions related to matters of fact, no opinion? They related to the London borough of Newham, which stands to lose £33 million as a result of the Bill and £6 million, pro rata, from the education budget for next year.

I want to talk to my town hall officials about the new amendments. I want to ask them about the estimates in the Minister's letter. Because of the timing and the way in which the Government have behaved, I have not had the opportunity to do so. That is why you, Mr. Walker, are justified in letting us debate the matter.

The Government's behaviour in respect of local government is a matter for debate on the Floor of the House. We think that it is pretty bad. But the Government's provable behaviour in respect of this legislation is completely unparliamentary and smacks of totalitarian attitudes. It is unworthy of any person who calls himself a democrat.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

I, too, shall be brief as I agree with all the points made by my hon. Friends in support of the motion. The reasons have been put fairly clearly.

I want to talk about consultation. Some of my hon. Friends have said that the Secretary of State has treated hon. Members and parliamentary procedure with contempt. I am worried about that, but I am even more worried by the cynical disregard for the democratic process and for local authority officers and councilors who have come to see the Secretary of State or his Ministers in the past few months. Some delegations have been completely ignored. No difference seems to have been made by all the facts that have been laid before the Secretary of State and his Ministers. The Minister listened keenly to the delegation from Sheffield while the Bill was being printed across the road. So much for the democratic process, which is being exploited with cynical disregard.

5.15 pm

I do not believe that the Secretary of State understands the Bill's implications. If he does understand them, he obviously dislikes local government so much that he is prepared to push it through despite the damage that it is likely to do. The Government should respect the crucial work of local government. I still maintain that local government is the bedrock of democracy in Britain. I still maintain that it actively expresses, yearly, the views of Britain's electorate. I still maintain that it protects local people, and, in particular, poor people, from the abuses of Government, even though the Government seem to accuse local government of abuses. I still maintain that without the safety valve of local government there would be even more disillusionment about parliamentary democracy.

Therefore, more time is needed for consultation, not just so that we can learn, but so that the Secretary of State can learn the damage that is likely to be done to local government if the Bill goes through unscathed. We need that extra time and I hope that we shall win the vote tonight in order to obtain that extra time for the sake of democracy and local government generally.

Mr. Dobson

Whatever functions I or any other hon. Member may attempt to carry out in the House, our primary function is to attempt to represent and protect the interests of the people who elected us. This debate is not some shallow procedural wrangle. It is about the capacity of hon. Members, at least on the Labour Benches, to go about their proper business of trying to discover what impact the Bill's proposals and its amendments are likely to have on the lives of the people whom we were elected to represent. In the short time that has been available to us it has been impossible for any of us to find out what the Bill's impact is likely to be.

If I think of my constituency, with the shivering streets in which the people whom I represent are living, I do not know what the impact of these measures will be. I suspect that they will mean reductions in meals on wheels for old and handicapped people. I suspect that there will be less money for luncheon clubs for old and handicapped people. I suspect that less money will be available for trying to cope with the thousands of homeless people in my constituency. But I do not know, because I have not had time to look at the proposals in detail and to consult the people who can advise me. As an inner London Member, I to some extent have to represent, or try to represent, in the House, the interest of the children, young people and adults who depend on the Inner London education authority for their education. That authority worked hard and quickly to brief me on what the Bill's proposals may do to its ability to provide an education for my children, my neighbours' children and my constituents' children, but it has not yet been able to provide a briefing on the impact of the Government's amendments and new schedule.

It is impossible for me properly to discharge my primary duty as a Member of Parliament to scrutinise the legislation and to try to measure its impact on the people whom I try, inadequately, to represent. There are people who say that the shouting at Prime Minister's Question Time, or various yah-booing activities in this place, bring the House into disrepute. That is trivial in comparison with the way that this sort of cavalier treatment of the House brings it into disrepute. We were sent here to represent our constituents. One of our duties is to scrutinise legislation and the Government's proposition today, and their opposition to the motion, is guaranteed to bring the House into disrepute. We shall be a disreputable body if we let this go through.

I say to the few Conservative Members who have bothered to listen to any of the debate that when, after the next general election, it is their turn to sit on the Opposition Benches, they should not moan to us if they think that we are pushing things through too quickly. If Conservative Members vote today to treat us in this way—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) says that this has been done before. Although he is a lawyer, he apparently does not realise that there has never been an occasion when the House has been asked to pass a Bill which, in advance, exempted a Secretary of State from scrutiny in the High Court. That has not been done before and we do not want it done now. Conservative Members should remember that they may live and learn.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

The two main thrusts of the argument have been adequately and eloquently covered by my hon. Friends. As we all know, scrutiny for us means consultation with people more expert than we on legal matters. That has been impossible on these amendments. The Committee will know that for the past 12 months I have sought, to the best of my ability, to do my duty by the London borough of Brent, part of which I have the honour to represent. That borough is profoundly affected, not only by the Bill, but by the latest lot of amendments. For the first time in 28 years, I am unable to have the expert advice that I need on amendments.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis), I tried to get copies of the amendments on Friday, but could not get them until this morning. As always, I have been in close contact with the London borough of Brent and in particular on this matter with the director of finance. I sent him a copy of Hansard containing the debate on the Second Reading and a copy of the Bill and received in reply a three-page letter, which I studied on Friday. However, the amendments have made half of his points out of date. I cannot adequately do the job I was sent to do because I cannot have the information that I need. We have talked about a north-south divide, but the divide is between the different parts of government—between the Government on one side and local government on the other. This debate represents that division at its most acute.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) was sacked from the Government for making a true and parliamentary statement—that a large Government majority is unhealthy for parliamentary democracy. We know that we cannot halt these proceedings because the Government will whip the vote. As a result, we shall not have adequate time to take advice on the amendments. The Government should realise that, urgent and important though this matter may be, the delay would be for 48 hours only. The motion would give us sufficient time to consult our local authorities and return to the debate on Wednesday.

The Government's programme is a travesty of parliamentary procedure. This is a new low in the way in which an arrogant Government are seeking to bulldoze their measures through Parliament, irrespective of the rights of constituents and affected bodies. We should be able to debate these matters in the time-honoured way, with time for full consultation. If we followed that way, we would have a much better Bill.

Mr. Michael Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I apologise to the Secretary of State for missing his speech, but I was talking to the treasurer of Hampshire county council, of which I am a member, to get some points from him. He was explaining that, as a result of the short time scale, he is finding it difficult to make comments to all hon. Members representing Hampshire, as is the normal procedure.

There is an irony in the debate. On page 2 are some important words about which the Minister must have thought carefully when he formulated the Bill. They are "proper practices be observed". Hon. Members have eloquently explained what they consider to be the proper practices when it comes to giving us the opportunity to discuss properly and fully the implications of the legislation before us. The Government's amendments were tabled just before the weekend, giving little time for them to be examined in depth and for the associations and local authorities that will be affected to make a proper response. There is little time for hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to be properly briefed on the implications not only of the Bill but of the amendments which, as has been said, will have a fundamental effect on what will happen. That is a dereliction of responsibility by the Secretary of State.

There must be some semblance of fair play in this place. If it cannot be seen to operate fairly, giving all hon. Members equal opportunity to have full and detailed knowledge of what the amendments mean and what their implications will be, that is a sad reflection on the state of democracy in our country. All hon. Members who have spoken from the Opposition Benches have put across that message loud and clear. I hope that, even now, the Secretary of State will tell us what he feels on this important point.

Question put:

Division No. 56] [5.25 pm
Abse, Leo Buchan, Norman
Alton, David Caborn, Richard
Anderson, Donald Callaghan, Rt Hon J.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Ashton, Joe Campbell, Ian
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Canavan, Dennis
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Carter-Jones, Lewis
Barron, Kevin Cartwright, John
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bell, Stuart Clarke, Thomas
Bann, Rt Hon Tony Clelland, David Gordon
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bermingham, Gerald Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)
Bidwell, Sydney Coleman, Donald
Blair, Anthony Conlan, Bernard
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Corbett, Robin
Bruce, Malcolm Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Crowther, Stan Madden, Max
Cunliffe, Lawrence Marek, Dr John
Cunningham, Dr John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dalyell, Tam Martin, Michael
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Maxton, John
Deakins, Eric Meacher, Michael
Dobson, Frank Meadowcroft, Michael
Dormand, Jack Michie, William
Douglas, Dick Mikardo, Ian
Dubs, Alfred Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Eadie, Alex O'Brien, William
Eastham, Ken O'Neill, Martin
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fatchett, Derek Park, George
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Patchett, Terry
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Pavitt, Laurie
Fisher, Mark Pendry, Tom
Flannery, Martin Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Prescott, John
Foster, Derek Radice, Giles
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Randall, Stuart
Freud, Clement Raynsford, Nick
George, Bruce Redmond, Martin
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Godman, Dr Norman Richardson, Ms Jo
Golding, Mrs Llin Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Gould, Bryan Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hancock, Michael Rogers, Allan
Hardy, Peter Rooker, J. W.
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Rowlands, Ted
Haynes, Frank Sedgemore, Brian
Heffer, Eric S. Sheerman, Barry
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Home Robertson, John Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Howells, Geraint Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Hoyle, Douglas Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Snape, Peter
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Soley, Clive
Janner, Hon Greville Spearing, Nigel
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd) Steel, Rt Hon David
John, Brynmor Straw, Jack
Johnston, Sir Russell Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Kennedy, Charles Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Lambie, David Wainwright, R.
Lamond, James Wallace, James
Leadbitter, Ted Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Leighton, Ronald Welsh, Michael
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) White, James
Litherland, Robert Wigley, Dafydd
Livsey, Richard Williams, Rt Hon A.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Wilson, Gordon
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Winnick, David
Loyden, Edward Woodall, Alec
McCartney, Hugh Wrigglesworth, Ian
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Young, David (Bolton SE)
McKay, Allen (Penistone)
McNamara, Kevin Tellers for the Ayes:
McTaggart, Robert Mr. James Hamilton and
McWilliam, John Mr. Don Dixon.
Aitken, Jonathan Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Alexander, Richard Boyson, Dr Rhodes
Ancram, Michael Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Best, Keith Browne, John
Biffen, Rt Hon John Bruinvels, Peter
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Body, Sir Richard Chope, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Cope, John Knowles, Michael
Corrie, John Knox, David
Dickens, Geoffrey Latham, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Lawler, Geoffrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Lawrence, Ivan
Dykes, Hugh Lee, John (Pendle)
Eyre, Sir Reginald Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fallon, Michael Lester, Jim
Farr, Sir John Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Favell, Anthony Lightbown, David
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lilley, Peter
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Fletcher, Sir Alexander Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fookes, Miss Janet Lord, Michael
Forth, Eric Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Fox, Sir Marcus McCrindle, Robert
Franks, Cecil Macfarlane, Neil
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Maclean, David John
Freeman, Roger McLoughlin, Patrick
Fry, Peter McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Gale, Roger McQuarrie, Albert
Galley, Roy Madel, David
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Malins, Humfrey
Garel-Jones, Tristan Malone, Gerald
Glyn, Dr Alan Maples, John
Goodhart, Sir Philip Marlow, Antony
Goodlad, Alastair Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gow, Ian Mather, Sir Carol
Gower, Sir Raymond Maude, Hon Francis
Grant, Sir Anthony Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Greenway, Harry Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Mellor, David
Grist, Ian Merchant, Piers
Ground, Patrick Meyer, Sir Anthony
Grylls, Michael Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Moate, Roger
Hampson, Dr Keith Monro, Sir Hector
Hanley, Jeremy Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hannam, John Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hargreaves, Kenneth Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Harris, David Moynihan, Hon C.
Haselhurst, Alan Mudd, David
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Nelson, Anthony
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Neubert, Michael
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Nicholls, Patrick
Hawksley, Warren Norris, Steven
Hayes, J. Onslow, Cranley
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Oppenheim, Phillip
Hayward, Robert Ottaway, Richard
Heathcoat-Amory, David Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Henderson, Barry Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Hickmet, Richard Pattie, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hicks, Robert Porter, Barry
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Powell, William (Corby)
Hind, Kenneth Price, Sir David
Hirst, Michael Proctor, K. Harvey
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Raffan, Keith
Holt, Richard Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hordern, Sir Peter Rathbone, Tim
Howard, Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hunter, Andrew Roe, Mrs Marion
Irving, Charles Rossi, Sir Hugh
Jackson, Robert Rost, Peter
Jessel, Toby Rowe, Andrew
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Ryder, Richard
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Sayeed, Jonathan
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Key, Robert Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Shersby, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Silvester, Fred Townend, John (Bridlington)
Skeet, Sir Trevor Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Tracey, Richard
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Twinn, Dr Ian
Soames, Hon Nicholas van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Speed, Keith Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Spencer, Derek Waddington, Rt Hon David
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Waldegrave, Hon William
Squire, Robin Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Stanley, Rt Hon John Waller, Gary
Steen, Anthony Ward, John
Stern, Michael Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Watts, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Stokes, John Wheeler, John
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Whitney, Raymond
Sumberg, David Wilkinson, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wolfson, Mark
Taylor, John (Solihull) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Temple-Morris, Peter Younger, Rt Hon George
Terlezki, Stefan
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Mr. Tony Durant and
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Mr. Michael Portillo.

Question accordingly negatived.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be considered in the following order: Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 7, Schedule 2, Clauses 8 to 12, Schedules 3 and 4, Clauses 13 to 17, new Clauses, and new Schedules—[Mr. Ridley.]

The Committee divided: Ayes 233, Noes 175.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Forward to