HC Deb 23 January 1991 vol 184 cc332-61

`( ) (1) The following section shall be inserted after section 35 of the 1988 Act— 35a.—(1) For the purposes of Section 35(5) above, where the Secretary of State determines to make an order in respect of a charging or precepting authority under sections 104(2) or 106(2) below, as a result of which it is required to set a substitute amount under section 35(4) above, he shall, before laying a draft of any such order under sections 104(8) or 106(4), lay before Parliament an estimate of the losses likely to be incurred to the collection fund of any authority referred to in such an order as a result of the setting by it of a substituted amount. (2) Any estimate laid before Parliament under subsection (1) above shall be notified to the authority concerned. (3) Any estimate laid under subsection (1) above shall have regard to any information received from the authority regarding sums likely to be received by it in respect of its community charges by the date on which the order is expected to be laid. (4) In laying any estimate under this section, the Secretary of State shall specify—

  1. (a) an estimate of the additional community charge in the following financial year likely to result from the losses estimated under subsection (1) above; and
  2. (b) a schedule of the reductions in services which the Secretary of State considers the authority would be likely to be required to make equivalent to any such loss".'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.4 pm

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We have tabled the new clause because we cannot separate the Bill from the shambles of the Government's policy on the poll tax and poll tax capping generally. It is designed to deal with the situation arising out of a substitute bill to be set by the Government consequent on a capping order. We now know from the statement of the Secretary of State last Thursday that the bills that will go out next year will be related directly to the rates that were previously set. The formula involves a £104 difference between the old rates and the assumed bill for the current year plus whatever is levied by the local authorities for the coming financial year.

The Secretary of State not only controls the "assumed" bills but, under the capping arrangements, he controls the bills that will go out next April. He controls both future and present arrangements. It should be left to the authority to try to justify the charge that it thinks should be levied in relation to a given level of services, which the Government are to determine for each individual authority.

Matters are made far worse by the fact that the standard spending assessment formulas which the Secretary of State confirmed on Thursday will he unchanged, are universally acknowledged to be flawed. The assessment of need, the distribution of grants, the fixing of bills and the determination of capping are all in the hands of a Government who decline under the present Bill to take into account known information that would allow logical decisions to be made about the level of services and the raising of cash to contribute to the collection fund. That is why I described the Government's policy as a shambles. I would have called it a dog's dinner, but the dog takes offence at such remarks.

Things would not be so bad if the Government were willing to accept the new clause, thus acknowledging that those who are in control of decision-making should recognise the need to obtain the maximum up-to-date information on which to base their decisions. The new clause would require them to do that. The Government want to take responsibility for the benefits, as they see them, of poll tax capping and for the new relief scheme, but they do not want to take responsibility for the circumstances relating to the collection fund and consequently for the cuts involved in capped authorities and their effects on residents and citizens.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

The hon. Gentleman referred to a shambles and to decisions that have to be made by decision-makers. Will he comment on the shambles in many Labour-controlled authorities, one of which is Islington? A QC's report on Islington council said: Having the cash office staffed by the innumerate, the filing done by the dyslexic and disorganised, and reception by the surly or charmless seems to us a recipe for administrative chaos. That is where the chaos surrounding the community charge really lies—with Labour local authorities which could not organise a celebration in a brewery. Will the hon. Gentleman now address the real problem?

Mr. Blunkett

I think that some Conservative Members know more about celebrations in breweries and the consequences for their party funds than they do about decentralised offices in Islington. I might put on record in relation to Islington the fact that the Prime Minister made a remark yesterday, in answer to questions about empty housing in Islington, which was grossly inaccurate. Islington has one of the best records in London on vacancies; they now run at less than 2 per cent., which compares extremely favourably with the operation of Government Departments.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) quoted counsel's opinion on a collection office in Islington which stated that it was manned by people who were innumerate and dyslexic. I believe that he was using the terms in a derogative fashion. Will my hon. Friend confirm that "dyslexic" describes people who have a medical condition and is not a term of insult?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes. I hope that the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) will withdraw that. Although none of us wants circumstances in which those who are operating decentralised offices are alleged to be innumerate, all of us accept that dyslexia is an educational medical condition, but that it can be overcome, as Conservative Members well know. I give credit to those who have overcome the problem, not least on the Government Benches.

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman asked me to withdraw what I said. I do not think that the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) understood my point. I was not making disparaging remarks about dyslexics. I was quoting a report by a Queen's counsel on the way in which Islington council chooses to organise its affairs. Whatever one may say about the handicaps of dyslexics, to put them in charge of operations such as filing seems a curious way to help them. It is the condemnation of the Labour council which matters. That is the point to which the hon. Gentleman should respond, but which he will seek to avoid.

Mr. Blunkett

It is not a point that I seek to avoid. I made it clear that people who are innumerate should not be dealing with the administration of area offices, whether or not QCs have done an investigation. Dyslexia does not come into it, whether it is in the Department of the Environment or a decentralised office in Islington. I take considerable offence at the idea that the two conditions are synonymous.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Prime Minister's remarks yesterday about housing in Islington. In the light of what he said, will he comment on the eight flats rented from private landlords by the council at great expense—using Government money—which were kept empty by the council for between 40 and 83 weeks? Is that how the council uses Government money to help homeless people?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) is being very generous in giving way. I am sure that he will not be deflected from new clause 1.

Mr. Blunkett

I certainly will not.

Lettings, whether on a leasing arrangement that is being set aside or direct from the housing revenue account, are not the responsibility of the House. There is a direct relationship between the electors of the borough and those they elect. The point of the new clause is that those who have responsibility should be accountable for the decisions that they take. Through the clause, we seek to ensure that those who have the temerity to take decisons about poll tax levels, capping provisions and the necessary resources to meet a given level of service should be accountable for their decisions and should seek the maximum information on which to base their decisions.

Otherwise—I come back to where I left off earlier—the Government will be happy to take responsibility for fixing the poll tax and cuts in general, but will not be happy to take responsibility and to be held accountable for the misery caused by the cuts that they inflict on the electorate of for the confusion and administrative difficulty that they cause to authorities.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned manifestos. Which Labour-controlled authority included in its manifesto the figure that it was going to charge in ensuing years, if elected to office, so that community charge payers knew what they were voting for in monetary terms?

Mr. Blunkett

In London and the metropolitan areas, the poll tax is fixed in February or March. The bills are sent out at the beginning of April, and—unlike central Government—the elected representatives have the temerity to stand for election each year at the beginning of May. There can be no more direct relationship between the bills sent and the judgment of local citizens than that. I am amazed that Conservative Members do not know how the system works—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


4.15 pm
Mr. Blunkett

I am delighted to give way to the hon. Lady, who will make an outstanding contribution that will enlighten her fellow Tory Members on how the system works.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Gentleman may be right that there is a relationship under some unitary authorities, but he is wrong about authorities such as mine. The county council spends 9p in every 10p, so there is precious little for local district authorities to do once the money has been blued by the county council.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman does not care about that.

Mr. Blunkett

The hon. Gentleman says that I do not care about that; I care greatly about it. We have proposals to improve the operation of local democracy: annual elections in local authorities, the development of unitary government, giving people clear responsibility by removing capping, sensible standard spending assessments and needs systems, reinstating equalisation between different local authorities. All these would introduce direct accountability and would help the hon. Lady's electors to make a direct judgment on what was happening in their area.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert Key)

I was most interested in the hon. Gentleman's list of proposals for the future of local government. Will he come and discuss them with the Secretary of State and me?

Mr. Blunkett

I repeat what I and my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) have often said: we are happy to hold discussions on this issue if the Secretary of State will accept the simple principle that the poll tax should be abolished. I welcome the interventions this afternoon, not least because they reveal the paucity of knowledge among Conservative Members, who appear extremely concerned by the clause, which merely seeks to ensure that information is available to Ministers when they make their decisions and that they are held accountable by local electorates for what they do.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's courtesy in giving way so often on this point. I am worried by his complete failure to mention any funding commitments by a future Labour Government. Last July the hon. Gentleman condemned the £3 billion increase in external funding as "peanuts". If that was peanuts, by how much would a future Labour Government increase funding? Will he answer that in a straightforward way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will find it somewhat difficult to answer that question within the confines of new clause 1.

Mr. Blunkett

I would find it as difficult to answer that question as hon. Members would have found it difficult eight days ago to guess how much the Secretary of State was going to get from the Treasury or from cuts in public services to make up the extra £1 billion. I am glad that the Conservatives are pouring money into the system to try to hold down the poll tax—not just because it helps people, but because it will make our lives a great deal easier when we transfer to a modern property tax based on ability to pay. It will certainly make much easier my arguments and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham with the new Chancellor when we take office.

I return to the Bill. I was simply saying that cuts in services will be initiated by the Government, not only by capping authorities but by using a formula of A minus B minus C over D instead of using the relevant information that is available at the time and taking into account changes that have occurred between the original decision on capping and the order laid for the individual authority's poll tax. Those things are important because, for every £1 that cannot be raised towards the collection fund, £1 of cuts must be made in local authority services or be carried over into the following financial year. This must be picked up by local taxpayers, sometimes entailing the need to borrow; charges are incurred on the borrowing and this pushes up the actual charge necessary to meet what would have been the previous poll tax or local authority tax. The position is made much worse.

In other words, the Bill is ill-timed, unnecessary and out of date not only because of the Government's change of heart towards the poll tax, but because of last Thursday's statement. Since the conclusion of Standing Committee F, therefore, we have even more reason to reject the Bill and to carry this new clause, which seeks to make some sense of what is before us.

It is clear that we must ask the Government to justify what they are doing. When we did so in Committee we had some interesting replies. The Under-Secretary of State said: All authorities must make their best estimate of income and expenditure at the beginning of a year and live with the consequences".—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 15 January 1990; c. 108.] Who would disagree with that? But, of course, once the authority has been capped, the situation changes. If the authority has taken into account all the circumstances and has made all the necessary adjustments, it will be ruled out of order.

The Bill deals with the sort of position in which Lambeth found itself when it made a calculation based on its circumstances. Lambeth also made a calculation of what would happen if it was tax-capped. When it went to the High Court, it won. We are debating this Bill on Report and Third Reading and moving the new clause precisely because Lambeth won the case. It was adjudged to have taken due care in its decisions and to have properly weighed the information available to it at the stage to which the Under-Secretary of State referred.

That made us wonder whether everyone who supported the Bill really understood what it was about and what it was intended to do.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

The hon. Gentleman makes it sound as though Lambeth council is a well-organised London borough. Will he confirm that Lambeth council could not send poll tax bills to people earlier than the day before the local elections in May? Can he say whether many people in Lambeth have received their bills from the council? It is our understanding that most people in Lambeth are still waiting for their bills. Lambeth council is in chaos.

Mr. Blunkett

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the debate about the effectiveness of services in Lambeth, the council can hardly be blamed for not sending out the bills by 1 April, consequent on the decision of the Government to cap it. If the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) examines the logistics of the position, he will be forced to conclude that the best that Lambeth could do was to announce what figure it intended to levy if it were free to do so. The electors in Lambeth made their decision precisely on those figures, with the debate in the House still to take place and with a court judgment on the validity of the Government's action also pending.

Everybody knew about Lambeth's bill because the Government made their best efforts to publicise what it would be and what their substitute setting would be. Therefore, a clear judgment could be made about whether to accept the Government's bill or that of Lambeth council. People made that judgment and voted Labour, and no one can cast aside the result of a clear democratic election that was held only a few weeks after the decision to set the poll tax had been publicised.

In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State said: All authorities are in the same boat. That is the flagship that is rapidly sinking. He said: Opposition Members are trying to put capped authorities in a boat by themselves". It would have been appropriate for the Minister to say "a lifeboat". He continued: But there is no justification for that. There is no reason why a capped authority should have an opportunity that is not available to other authorities to reconsider matters such as its estimate of non-collection when resetting its charges after capping. As I said, Lambeth council had an opportunity to weigh up the information available to it before capping and at the point at which it set its poll tax. That was upheld by the court and the Bill deals precisely with that situation by disqualifying the council. Far from us trying to get capped authorities into a lifeboat, which in other circumstances and in another connotation we would seek to do, we are trying to ensure that capped authorities are on all fours about being able to use the information that is available to them.

Mr. Key

I do not wish to be the tail that wags the hon. Gentleman's dog. I know that he is scrupulously fair: if he reads on in column 109, he will find that I said: Moreover, it is clear that under the present statute a capped authority cannot change its non-collection estimate to allow for the fact that it has been capped. Haringey tried to do that this year when it reset its charge after capping, but that was subsequently quashed by the divisional court."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 15 January 1991; c. 108–9.] Once again the Opposition are confusing the existing statute with the Bill.

Mr. Blunkett

We are not confused and we have shown that not only by our interventions and contributions but by the words that I read to the House. We understand very well what we are trying to do. In this somewhat limited and irrelevant Bill, we are trying to prevent the Government from having the power to set poll tax levels without using the necessary information and without making sensible judgments about the impact on the collection fund and, consequently, on the following year's poll tax or on the cuts that will have to be made. In Committee, we went into detail on matters that would affect those judgments.

The level of the collection fund will be affected by the precept that is levelled by the precepting authorities and by the national non-domestic rate pool which draws on the collection fund. Of course, it will also be affected by section 95(4) of the 1988 Act, which deals with withdrawal of the local authority's general fund requirements, and by how much is collected. We made a substantial case, and shall make it again, about the importance of bearing in mind when making decisions the consequences of capping itself. Those who cap should be wary of enforcing algebraic formulae on authorities that have to live with the consequences. If collection rates are affected by a delay that inevitably occurs because of capping, it should be taken into account. It is common sense to recognise that collection rates can and will be affected.

The Government do not have to take our word for it, or even the word of local authorities. We know that the Audit Commission is concerned about the difficulty in some areas of collection, such as the 4 million people who are at the bottom income levels and who are charged the minimum poll tax. There is also the question of those who move house and who local authorities, particularly in inner-city areas, are endeavouring to chase for their poll tax payments. In other words, depending on the area of the country, the 10 to 40 per cent. turnover rate in the locality will have a substantial effect. In my authority, between the date at which the relevant population was asssessed and the beginning of the financial year there has been a 6.3 per cent. population change.

4.30 pm

We also pointed out that it was important to understand the difference between the "relevant population" and the "equated population". In a council such as Haringey, it made a difference of £ 1 million in income—a substantial amount for day nurseries, nursery schooling, home helps and meals on wheels. These things matter greatly, especially in an authority which had to make cuts of £28 million to get within the capping criteria in the first place. The amount that would come off poll tax this year in Haringey was affected by about £6; it would have been £70.70 for the relevant population and £64.30 for the equated population, making a difference of £1 million in terms of neglect. The consequences had to be dealt with not by Ministers but by local councillors struggling to make the budget balance.

That is why we tabled the new clause. We want the maximum information about what is happening to the collection fund and its likely outturn, a matter that we would expect any local authority to take into account. This is called fiduciary duty. Under the 1988 Act, local authorities have something called a whistleblower. We would like a whistleblower on Conservative Members. Time is up for the poll tax and the way in which Conservative Members have colluded with a lie. It is a lie that one can enhance democracy by taking it away; that one can increase accountability by removing it from local people and their elected representatives and by taking responsibility but then trying to shift the blame on to the shoulders of local councillors.

The Government want to have the best of both worlds. They want capping, the poll tax and the gerrymandering of bills as a result of last week's announcement, and they want cuts. They want all this without having to deal directly with the consequences and without having to spell out, as we ask in the new clause, the consequences of the expected cuts. They are oblivious of the long-term increase in the poll tax because of the deficiency on the collection fund. For all those reasons, I ask all hon. Members to vote for the new clause.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

I oppose new clause 1, not on any ideological account and not because I do not take seriously the interesting and demanding questions posed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). Indeed, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's great courtesy in giving way so many times. The only reason I did not ask him to give way was that I wanted to make a slightly longer series of points in response to his comments.

The hon. Member for Brightside referred to the fact that this was a fundamental platform. He pointed out that every £1 capped equalled a cut of £1. That presupposes both perfect efficiency in every local authority and a level of service throughout that is constant. That would then achieve the result suggested by the hon. Gentleman—every £1 capped would equal £1 of cuts.

Of course, we know that that is not true. That has not happened. In September last year, the National Association of Local Government Officers conducted a survey of the capped authorities, and the union-owned newspaper Public Service reported that Basildon had said that no redundancies were anticipated; Brent had said that no cuts were required as a result of capping; Bristol had said that there would be no redundancies, no cuts in services and no charge increases; Calderdale had said that it was holding growth, increasing some charges and cutting some non-essential services; and Camden had said that no cuts were necessary. The cap was £4.4 million, but Camden council said: Our income is sufficient for us not to need to make cuts. Greenwich said that some redundancies were expected, but that there would be no large-scale job cuts, and Lambeth said that it had managed to avoid closure of front-line services and that there would be no redundancies.

Mr. Illsley

The hon. Lady is reading out an interesting list—

Miss Nicholson

I have a longer one.

Mr. Illsley

In that case, perhaps the hon. Lady will tell us what the list says about my authority, Barnsley, and what cuts it had to make.

Miss Nicholson

I do not intend to list the cuts, results of cuts, or results of capping for every hon. Member's local council. Of course, if I did it would not take too long, as there are so few Opposition Members present for a debate about a matter which they claim causes them great concern.

I was not at all surprised by that survey. The hon. Member for Brightside should not be surprised either, despite his bland statement that every £1 capped should equal £1 of cuts. The reason why I was not surprised is that I have had practical job experience working both inside and alongside local authorities, be they district councils, county councils or that great departed monolith whose death I welcomed and whose funeral pyre I should have liked to light myself, the Greater London council.

My work with local authorities was during my pre-parliamentary years, when I worked in industry, in business and in the voluntary sector. I well recall the appalling shock that I received, as someone who believed in the high level of services that local authorities were supposed to provide—I knew less then and I was more naive about the massive incompetence in some of the geographical areas—when I went to the GLC to do a job for the computer industry. You are highly computer-literate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so you will know that it is crucial that different forms of machinery and different forms of software interlock—[Interruption.] Of course Mr. Deputy Speaker is computer literate; everybody with a farming constituency is computer literate these days.

I was genuinely shocked, in a real professional sense, when I discovered that the GLC had made massive incompetent investment in four different mainframe manufacturers, none of whose equipment or software was compatible at that time. The GLC had four huge teams of staff, each pursuing different sorts of machinery and software and trying to carry out different sorts of task. I found that a professional abomination and I was deeply shocked. It was because of the GLC's incompetence that the company for which I was working as a general consultant was called in to do one of the simplest jobs of all—to create a computerised payroll for part of the GLC organisation. Although it appears funny retrospectively, I did not find it amusing at the time when I asked for some software manuals for a particular part of the job and the staff were absolutely astounded. They opened a cupboard, and out fell a load of empty whisky bottles. Such was the enormous competence of the GLC.

Subsequently, when I was in the voluntary agency field, I worked alongside social services department people and I recognised with great sadness the enormous disparity in the level of services that they were able to supply—not, I hasten to add, because of their desire to provide less than efficient services, but because of their incompetence in some areas and in certain parts of the country. There is great disparity in levels of competence. That is where new clause 1 comes in.

In the course of his speech, the hon. Member for Brightside made the discredited comment that every £1 capped equalled £1 of cuts. This has clearly not happened in the past 12 months and never will, given these disparities of service. It presupposes perfect efficiency in every local authority.

Subsection (4)(a) of the new clause demands that the Secretary of State shall specify an estimate of the additional community charge in the following financial year likely to result from the losses estimated under section (1) above. In the cases of the seven district councils that I have listed which had charge capping last year and where no cuts resulted, I suggest that the Secretary of State would be offering a nil forecast. He would be offering a nil forecast because capping has meant that councils have been forced to look again at their incompetence and inefficiency and have been forced to tighten their belts.

Mr. Holt

Would my hon. Friend like to speculate what the Labour-controlled authorities would be doing with all that money that they would have had without charge capping? They have not had to cut any services, so what would they have done if they had managed to get their grubby hands on all that money?

Miss Nicholson

I am very sorry to say that we would have had even higher staff levels in those local authorities and even slower provision of services to the electorate outside. As we all know, when one builds up a so-called core of administration, even with the best well-meaning people, the line between the centre and the elected gets slower and slower in achievement.

I hope that the Minister will consider this seriously. I believe that we should go further than just putting in agency provisions for the delivery of Government services; we should go out to private companies, put them under stringent rules and allow them to provide the services, which they will do at perhaps half the cost incurred by so many of our local authorities at present.

The hon. Member for Brightside suggested—and I wholly support him—that those who take the decisions should be accountable. Those were his very words, but he related those words to the Government. He suggested that those who take the decision to charge-cap should be accountable to the electorate. I suggest that the Conservative philosophy reflects those words in local authority action. The local authority should be accountable. From the Conservative perspective, these caps are only a method of creating local accountability. Indeed, as we have seen from the figures I have read out, this has in some measure already occurred.

The hon. Member cannot say that we tell a lie—that is a word I would not normally use in this place—about enhancing democracy by taking it away. We have, in fact, enhanced democracy. Yes, we have done so with some difficulty; yes, with some elements that I cannot support; and yes, with some points that I know we are already clearing up and others that need further clearing up. Nevertheless, we have increased democracy and we have brought closer to the people of the United Kingdom the decision making which should be theirs alone—the decision making undertaken on their behalf by local authorities. We have given them the ability to call the tune. There has been no gerrymandering of bills and there may have been a misunderstanding of that word.

Finally, I question the still confused thinking that has been displayed by Opposition Members about the operations of local democracy. I was fascinated to see the utter dichotomy, the contradiction in terms, offered by the hon. Member for Brightside when he called both for the removal of SSAs and for the equalisation of local authorities. He is speaking against himself, because the point of SSAs is to equalise the services offered throughout the United Kingdom. One cannot have equalisation of local authorities without some form of redistribution of income, and SSAs offer a moderately simple way of doing that.

Incidentally, I do not necessarily pay tribute to the eternal values of equalisation of services throughout the United Kingdom. I believe that we may have gone too far on that one. Nevertheless, I call into question the hon. Member's illogicality, which I am sure he does not intend, when he offers two opposing aspects and suggests that they reach one solution.

4.45 pm
Mr. Illsley

The hon. Lady said that charge capping enhanced democracy and increased accountability. Surely charge capping has done just the opposite. If the Conservative Government had wanted to increase accountability, they would have allowed the electorate to decide on the poll tax bills of the charge-capped authorities. That is the idea of accountability; it is not just a matter of the Government imposing on these local authorities a poll tax which they then have to sell. The hon. Lady also said that SSAs equalise resources. If that is so, why does Manchester get more money to pay for its standard level of services than many other metropolitan districts such as Westminster?

Miss Nicholson

I agree that in a perfect world we could give complete freedom to local authorities to set their own bills and allow complete freedom to the electorate to turn out those local authorities which failed to deliver the services at the sorts of costs people require. However, as the Opposition's Front-Bench spokesman himself said recently, if a Labour Government were in power they would consider keeping some sort of power in reserve for something like a charge-capping exercise.

Mr. Blunkett


Miss Nicholson

I will give way to the hon. Member when I have finished making this point. The shadow Environment Secretary who was the predecessor to the hon. Member for Brightside said that, in extremis, there must always be that reserve power. He made that statement on Radio 4 on 27 March 1990. The shadow Environment Secretary before him stated in Hansard: the Labour party's policy makes it clear that what the Government provide to local authorities would, of necessity, be controlled and limited"—[Official Report, 18 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 1218] I agree that in a perfect world there would not need to be these controls and limits. I suggest that it is a mere short-term view, simply because of the profligacy of some of the Labour councils which has been so appalling that one shudders to think what the poorer members of society would suffer if these councils were allowed to go full tilt down the road of massive expenditure.

Mr. Blunkett

I simply want to put the record straight, and there is no point in not doing it now. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) made it clear that his remarks which the hon. Lady has mentioned, on Radio 4's "Today" programme, referred to propriety and financial probity. The Labour party's position is unequivocal. We will not introduce capping for local revenue raised and spent by a local authority, as distinct from Government grant which in all circumstances has, by its very nature, to be determined by the Government.

Miss Nicholson

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to go a little further down the path, although I had in fact finished. The former shadow Environment Secretary went on to say: It is really just a hypothetical question to ask us to define what would be extreme circumstances. What I am saying to you—I am not ducking your question in any sense—I am saying in extremis the reserve power would have to be reserved but that it is impossible to say in advance what those circumstances would be". In other words, the Labour party has no policy. It has failed to recognise honourably and honestly that it is Labour councils which overspend in a way that is unacceptable to the electorate. Labour councils spend on themselves in terms of their central staffing, central comforts and they do not give to the electorate those things that the electorate deserves.

I cannot support new clause 1 or the Labour party's policy on the community charge. I look to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to his most able Ministers to deliver the right and proper answers within the Conservative philosophy.

Mr. Illsley

I support new clause 1 and, in view of what I said in Committee, I hope to keep my remarks brief.

It is not that some authorities are profligate and overspend; it is simply that the Government have imposed on them standard spending assessments which are deliberately low to force them into a situation where they can easily be charge-capped under the Government's current criteria. In Committee, the Opposition showed clearly that the SSAs bore no relation to the needs of any particular authority.

I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) about a newspaper published by the National and Local Government Officers Association which I think she said was produced last September. Barnsley is still making cuts as a result of last year's charge capping of which the newspaper probably would not be aware.

New clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to estimate losses that are likely to be carried forward for the forthcoming year. The formula as it stands in the Bill simply passes the result of any charge capping on to the poll tax payer in the following financial year, and no account is taken of the shortfall despite the fact that that information is available at the time of the charge capping. It is nonsense that the Government should force authorities to issue bills which the Government and the local authorities know are ridiculous because they do not take account of the information that is available to the authority at the time. The public do not want that shortfall being stored up for the following year.

For example, in 1990–91 Barnsley allocated 6 per cent. of its poll tax bill to cover any shortfall in the collection of the tax, and that was detailed on the bill. There is considerable resentment among charge payers in my authority because they are expected to pay £16.97 to cover what they look upon as defaulters. Complaints to me and in the local press are now building up from people who refuse to pay that sum. They will pay the rest of the poll tax bill, but they are not prepared to pay for someone who defaults. They do not realise that similar problems existed under the rating system. That is causing problems for the local authority.

It is not just ordinary working people who object, but the business community as well—perhaps more so. They tend to look on people who are unable to pay as shirkers, just as Conservative Members do, although that is not necessarily the case. One can imagine the disgust of charge payers in my local authority if they had to make up a shortfall of more than 6 per cent. That is simply increasing the number of refusals to pay the poll tax and placing an extra burden on the local authority. People are deciding to pay simply a proportion of the poll tax and to withhold the £16.97. Therefore, my local authority is having to send out extra bills, obtain court orders and all the rest simply because people are refusing to pay that 6 per cent. It shows that people do not want such sums stored up for the forthcoming year but would far rather have their bills sorted out logically in the current year when the capping is implemented.

If the Secretary of State is required to lay such an estimate of losses, the local authority can identify what it will be required to make up in the following year. It is obviously sensible for a local authority which knows that it will be short on its collection funds to take that into account at the time of capping. It is crazy simply to tell local authorities that, although it is known that they have a 10 per cent. shortfall in their collection funds, nothing can be done about it in June, July, August or September, and it must wait till the following year.

Again, that reflects on the SSAs, which appear not to have been altered to any great extent this year compared with last year. My authority still has the same problems and we shall have similar problems with capping. All we are doing is building up problems for the future. We are simply creating a situation in which authorities that were capped originally will be capped in the future.

New clause I requires the Secretary of State to specify the proposed increase in the charge. I have some sympathy with that because charge payers coming to my surgeries do not want to hear about aggregate external finance or increases in revenue support grant which, incidentally, are about 1.9 per cent. Most of the £3 billion spoken about this year is coming through non-domestic rating, not through increases in Government grant. What they want to know is what the increase will be in pounds, not in percentages here, there and everywhere.

New clause 1 also requires a schedule of reductions in services. Again, I have considerable sympathy with that. I have to laugh when I hear stories about whisky bottles in cupboards and all the rest. It is obvious that some Conservative Members are living in a dream world. My authority comes under the Audit Commission and is regulated by the same legislation as are all other authorities. My authority is a diligent one, which abides by the rules and regulations laid down. Authorities referred to by Conservative Members do not seem to come under the same legislation. Why are not complaints made about those profligate authorities? Some of the stories related by Conservative Members are incredible.

When an authority sets a sensible budget and when treasurers, heads of department and all the rest have spent considerable time determining their budget for the coming year, agonising over it for two or three months, how can they simply cut £10 million off it, as Barnsley was required to do? Which services should be cut? My area was not guilty of high spending and there was no waste, yet cuts had to be made in every department—small cuts here, there and everywhere, except in education, where the cuts were massive. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West, who is no longer in her place, referred to authorities that had not had to make employees redundant as a result of charge capping. I assure her that some education centres in Barnsley were closed as a direct result of charge capping.

It is not good enough for the Government simply to tell a local authority that it is being capped and that, say, £10 million must be taken out of its budget. The Government should be obliged to indicate to the authority how the £10 million might be saved. But they do not do that. They know that some local authorities, such as the one in my area, simply cannot cut spending without reducing services. They know that authorities, in setting their budgets, have acted responsibly.

It should be remembered that the Manchesters, the Bradfords, the Wandsworths and the Westminsters get double the amount of money that Barnsley gets to provide services at the same level. Why does Manchester get twice as much as the local authority in my area to provide the same services? It is absolutely ridiculous.

The Government are abdicating their responsibility. They do not know where the cuts could be made. They themselves could not do the job. The whole idea of charge capping is a sham, because it is based on the sham standard spending assessment.

5 pm

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

I shall try to make my comments brief, as other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. I shall confine myself to the new clause.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) said that those who take decisions should be made accountable. That is exactly what new clause 1 seeks to do. It seeks to make the Government accountable for what they are forcing upon local authorities. If the hon. Lady and her colleagues are so keen on this mechanism, it is odd that they are resisting this new clause, which specifically addresses the fact that the Bill provides the Secretary of State with strengthened powers by giving him the right, in effect, to decide a local authority's poll tax as well as its budget. That is true of all local authorities that the Secretary of State chooses to charge-cap.

This is an ironic twist, bearing in mind what the present Secretary of State for the Environment wrote to The Times in May 1990: Local authorities should be free to set and account for their own budgets. But the Government are seeking to take that right away from the local authorities. They know that the task that has been set is impossible, and they do not wish themselves, as the Government, to be held accountable for extremely difficult decisions.

New clause 1 refers specifically to difficulties in respect of the collection fund. It would oblige the Secretary of State to specify the services that a local authority area was likely to lose. If he was unable or was not prepared to identify the cuts, he would be required to specify the deficit that would have to be carried forward and would result in an increase in poll tax in the following financial year. The Government are not prepared to give an estimate or to take into consideration the difficulties that local authorities have to face.

In Bristol, whose council is one of the authorities that the hon. Lady quoted, the Government are requiring a cut of £21 million in the expenditure for next year. Bearing in mind the fact that the total expenditure figure is £62 million, anybody who believes that a reduction of £21 million will be achieved without loss of services and loss of jobs is clearly living in cloud cuckoo land. Let us look at the experience in Bristol this year. Let us consider the information that we should wish the Secretary of State to take into account when identifying cuts. The poll tax is proving to be almost impossible to collect. The Audit Commission, when studying collection and looking at the collection fund, investigated a number of authorities, of which Bristol city council was one. Thus we have up-to-date information on the problems of that local authority.

In Bristol, administration of the poll tax costs £18.22 per head of the adult population. The Audit Commission estimated that the figure should be £14. The difference is accounted for by the fact that the council had to find new offices for the increased number of staff needed to deal with the poll tax. That has been carried forward. In addition, the authority has to pay the collection charge and giro costs. The administration charge for the rates was £7.35 per head. In addition, as a result of charge capping, court appeals and the endless rebilling that has been necessary—

Mr. Holt

Would the hon. Lady care to say whether she has paid her own charge this year? If not, by how much does she estimate she has burdened other people as a result of failure to conform with the law?

Ms. Primarolo

I intend to apply to myself the discipline of sticking to the new clause, even if other hon. Members cannot do so. I should be happy, at another time and in a relevant debate, to discuss with the hon. Gentleman the invidious effects of the poll tax on my constituents and on many others who are unable to pay. Pensioners, despite an increase in their pensions, are worse off because they have lost even the small amount of relief that was available.

Mr. Holt

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Primarolo

No. It is well known in this House that I am not frightened by the bullying of hon. Members on the Government Benches. I intend to persist with the speech on new clause 1 that I rose to make. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have a discussion outside the Chamber, I shall be delighted.

In Bristol, 100,000 people have not paid their poll tax, and in that figure I include those who are in arrears. The local authority is pursuing them in the magistrates court at the rate of 3,000 summonses twice a week for liability orders. That clearly shows that many people find the tax unpayable and that others refuse to pay it. That makes the poll tax uncollectable. Local authorities cannot provide the Government with the information to show how they can comply with the Government's spending directives to balance their books.

There are particular problems in university cities such as Bristol. In such areas problems arise in calculating bills. Even when students pay only 20 per cent. of their bills, the calculation for students in the formula creates problems. Amended bills for students were issued after court action and appeals and they arrived after the academic year had finished. Many people had delayed paying their bills because they were waiting for the outcome of the action and they left the area after the academic year ended. Local authorities cannot trace those people, because that would pose enormous administrative problems and involve great expense.

New clause 1 is straightforward. The Opposition's view of the poll tax is well known. We believe that it is an undemocratic and vile tax and that people's taxes should be based on their ability to pay. The local authority in Bristol will have to take hard decisions to find the £21 million-worth of cuts in services that the Government have directed the authority to make.

If the new clause is accepted, the idea that those who take the decisions should be accountable for them will not be the hollow rhetoric that is normally uttered by the Government. The new clause will make the concept real because the Secretary of State will have to take responsibility for his directives. He will have to specify, when making the orders, how the cuts can be achieved and what services will be lost. Therefore, my constituents will know who is accountable for the cuts in services—the Government.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

My colleagues and I will vote in favour of the new clause if it is forced to a vote. We oppose the Bill because we oppose the poll tax. The poll tax is a predictable nonsense. It fails to do the one thing that the Government most wanted it to do because it has not increased accountability, particularly as capping has been introduced. Accountability and capping are contradictory concepts.

No amendment to the poll tax system will lead to accountability. There will be no accountable system until local government is reformed properly. This is not the right occasion to expand in detail on what would make the system accountable. Suffice it to say that we should have a system under which the people who are elected to local government reflect the views of the electorate. In 1982, Islington borough council had 51 Labour members and one non-Labour member when Labour received only 50 per cent. of the vote. That is the greatest distortion of the local government system that I can recall in recent times.

We should have a system of local government that accurately reflects what people want in respect of the political colour of their local authority, and people should pay a reasonable amount according to their ability to pay. I support that concept, and my colleagues and I have taken up the Secretary of State's invitation and we have argued for and answered questions on the concept of local income tax as an alternative to the poll tax. When the whole saga of the poll tax ends, I believe that we will have a local income tax system. That was the proposal put forward by Layfield many years ago; it is the idea that my colleagues and I have supported for a decade or more and it is the proposal put forward by many people who have no political affiliations.

5.15 pm

The aim of the Bill is to plug the Lambeth loophole. If we are to have this system for another year, it is appropriate that we should know the implications of capping in terms of an authority's loss of finance. The amount that a local authority receives and the amount that it loses as a result of poll tax capping is worse under the present system than it was under the rate capping system. Under rate capping, the cap was imposed before the beginning of the financial year, and at least a local authority began in April knowing what its budget was. The present system is nonsense: a local authority sets its budget, begins the financial year and, sometimes months later, through no fault of its own, it is told what it can spend.

In those circumstances, capped authorites such as Southwark have to examine their budgets and cut services. That is nonsense, and it is unjustifiable if we believe that there should be a logical system of financial planning for local authority members or their officers.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in contrast to what he has just said, the Government have made it clear in advance what local authorities would need to do in the forthcoming year if they were to be capped? To that extent, much of the uncertainty no longer exists.

Mr. Hughes

I accept that the conditions have been improved. However, the law still permits that a charge cap can, and will, be imposed after April and that might not be exactly on all fours with the predictions and assumptions. However, I accept that the Government have tried to mitigate the effect of an authority being in the dark at the end of March and setting a budget with only a vague idea from on high of what might happen. At least that will be better.

The number of people who do not pay the poll tax is relevant. I understand that the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) has not paid her poll tax. No doubt she will correct me if I am wrong. She avoided answering the intervention of the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt). However much we may dislike the poll tax, it is unjustifiable for people on a parliamentary salary not to pay the poll tax. Local authorities will spent a lot of money chasing after the poll tax and public money is thereby wasted. By any definition, hon. Members can afford to pay the poll tax, because we are among the best paid in the land. Although we may not like the system, we have not brought the system down by not paying the poll tax. Not paying has simply added to the reduction in services for people who are considerably worse off than anyone in this House.

The Audit Commission stated that in general there are two classes of local authority. In one class there a re authorities with relatively static populations in which collection rates are high. In the other class of authorities, of which Southwark is one, population turnover is high. In Southwark, the population turnover rate is about 25 per cent. a year. Obviously the whole population does not turn round in four years, but about 25 per cent. of the population enter and leave the area every year. In those circumstances, collection of the poll tax is almost impossible. It is impossible to collect the tax in an urban area where there are students, holidaymakers, temporary workers and people who move into temporary housing having been homeless and then going on to more secure accommodation, or who move into private residential accommodation but cannot pay the tax.

Only a couple of people have written to me saying that, despite trying to do so, they cannot pay their poll tax. However, an enormous number of people consider that the first thing they should do when they move house is to let the local authority know their address so that they can get a bill. That is not something that people are instinctively most happy to do. It is unfair to treat local authorities in the same way, no matter what their circumstances are, and to assume that, whatever the local authority, a collection rate of 90 or 95 per cent. will be achieved. The problem is increased if there are linguistic problems such as those in my area where there are many first languages.

People should be in no doubt that the system, and certainly the charge capping system, is the fault of the Government. However—I say this without reservation—matters are often made worse by incompetence in the budgetary planning of local authorities. I shall do what I might be predicted to do, and that is to point out that, in Southwark, despite my great sympathy for the services that many good officers are trying to deliver, we have had a series of bungles. I shall refer to an example that all hon. Members would be troubled by, and show how money is still appallingly wasted even though we are in incredibly reduced circumstances.

According to Southwark council's finance department, we have an income of about £85 million from rents, and we have rent arrears of about £40 million. Nearly half of this year's rent income is the amount of arrears accumulated from this year and past years. No council can justify a system that does not collect the equivalent of nearly half its annual rent income by way of rents. We have a huge housing stock—the largest in London—but that does not excuse us not getting in the money. There are people in the poverty trap, but quite a lot of that money is either not chased through the housing benefit system or is not chased when people are able to pay.

Half of this week's Southwark Sparrow, a newspaper which is produced every week, contains advertisements for jobs in Southwark council. I make a protest under the local government legislation. The Committee, of which I was a member, suggested that advertisements should be non-political. That suggestion does not appear to be well followed, because I noticed a procession of Labour members—it is a Labour-controlled council—appearing in photographic form. Opposition members appear either not often or not at all.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

They are not as photogenic as Labour Members.

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. Lady thought that photogenic Labour colleagues would be shown, she would be disappointed. It is not just the quality of the subject matter; it has something to do with the editorial balance of the paper.

In the latest edition of Southwark Sparrow we are told by the chairman of Southwark housing that there are likely to be council rent rises of about £4 in the coming year because of "special repairs". Those repairs are meant to be done under the tenancy agreement. In future, if tenancy agreements are changed, such repairs will not be done, even though tenants are entitled to them under the housing law. They will have to pay £4 extra to get into the position that they should have been in had the job been done in the first place.

I am going to a meeting tonight—I guess that hundreds of people will be there—[Interruption.] I shall not be late. It is not until 8 pm. At that meeting I shall explain why the central heating and hot water systems on the Heygate estate are not working. One answer may be that they have never been maintained properly.

I have never agreed with the abolition of ILEA, and I was sympathetic with Southwark when it took over education. Continuing to pay about £100,000 to teachers who did not exist was a bit of an extravagance. With the best will in the world, the payroll department has been failing to pay some teachers, paying some teachers too much, and paying some teachers their salary but without their London weighting. It hardly leads to a contented work force if the function of the department in terms of delivering a service and paying staff is not working properly.

The bad example is in social services. We have a crisis in Southwark. I do not attribute the inherent crisis to the Labour party. Today we have 100 unallocated child risk registered children without social workers. One thousand people had their home helps taken away as a result of cuts imposed by capping only a few weeks ago. Six day centres will close, not to mention others that already have closed. All those matters are the direct result of impositions on this year's budget, caused by the Government capping Southwark, and they are objectionable for that reason.

That does not excuse, for example, deciding that the only way of dealing with the Oakhaven holiday home for the elderly and disabled in Bexhill was to close and sell it rather than using some imaginative partnership scheme with private money to keep it going. That does not excuse closing the sheltered workshop in Tooley street, rather than looking for a way of developing the site to keep it going. The hon. Members for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) joined me in an all-party alliance to make our point to the council only this week.

It also does not excuse suddenly, without any consultation with the users or their families let alone with the staff, announcing that all the 27 sheltered housing units will have no resident wardens as from next month. Therefore, vulnerable people will be able only to ring a bell at the weekend or at night. Some of them are in their 80s and 90s, some of them are in wheelchairs, and some of them have walking frames. Some of them are terrified and have written letters threatening suicide.

Such financial management, even under pressure, is inexcusable. I understand, therefore, why a Government should say, "Put your house in order; only then will we help you."

The worst example is that Southwark, a charge-capped Labour borough, which is desperately short of money and which cut 1,000 people's home helps, announced that the deputy chief executive's salary would go up to £70,000, which is more than the Prime Minister's salary. However good the deputy chief executive might be at his job, I do not think that suddenly increasing his salary by between £25,000 and £30,000 is acceptable. I certainly do not think that it is acceptable when it appeared to be the decision of what is called the urgency sub-committee, which is two people meeting in a hole in the corner. To be fair, even the Labour group was somewhat unhappy at being told that the deputy chief executive had had a salary increase that was approved by the leader of the council and one of her colleagues.

If we are serious about pleading for the needs of an inner-city authority, as we should be, we must be serious about making sure that we do not make stupid decisions. Credible local government meeting the desperate needs of inner-city people—we need millions of pounds for housing, social services and all other local government services, and we need all the money that we are meant to have—is not enhanced or helped by the local authority regularly scoring own goals and wasting millions of pounds that are not its to waste.

I shall vote for the new clause. When the Government impose charge caps, we should know what the direct implication is. I sincerely hope that the Government realise that this exercise, which was meant to bring about accountability, has not done so because it was fundamentally never likely to do it. It was meant to bring about efficiency, but it has not done that either. It has brought hardship but not efficiency. Until we have a new system, we will not get either right.

Mr. Holt

Middlesbrough borough council is well known for its Labour bosses, who never have an original idea among them. They look slavishly around to see what is happening elsewhere and try to follow suit whenever possible. They hit on the Lambeth position. When they were examining their budgets, ostensibly to achieve the figures laid down by the Government, they cynically and deliberately failed to balance them so that they could make a special, Lambeth-type plea. The Bill is intended to stop that, and that is why I support it.

We shall tell local authorities such as Middlesbrough not to flout the law of the land but to make the necessary cuts. The cuts can easily be made. If the Labour party finds it difficult, it can hand over control to the Conservatives and we shall show them how to do it without any reduction in services. We shall give the people of Middlesbrough value for money.

As my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware, the inefficiency of Middlesbrough borough council was well highlighted by its failure to apply in time and correctly for concessionary television licences for elderly residents in my constituency. As a consequence, those elderly residents have lost their concessionary television licence for ever because there was a vesting date by which the applications had to he put in correctly. The clerical staff and the managers who were supposed to supervise them simply failed to apply in time.

If my hon. Friend the Minister is approached by Middlesbrough borough council asking him to waive the capping rules he should not do so, because the authority wastes money as if there were no tomorrow.

5.30 pm
Miss Lestor

My constituency of Eccles is in the city of Salford, a predominantly Labour council for many years, operating in an atmosphere of long-term unemployment and a great deal of social deprivation. No Secretary of State has yet called us inefficient or accused us of overspending. Yet in that atmosphere in my local authority, two or three matters must be brought home to the Secretary of State and those who oppose the new clause.

The cost of collecting and administering the poll tax and the non-domestic rate in Salford is £3.5 million, compared with £1.5 million in 1988–89 for the collection of the general rate. That represents £12 on every poll tax bill, assuming that everyone in the area is paying the full poll tax. Although our record of collection is good in Salford, many people are not paying the full poll tax for a variety of reasons.

Of that £3.5 million, £3 million is for collection. The treasury department has taken on an extra 75 people to administer the collection of the poll tax. The number of staff has increased from 52 to 127. The housing benefit department has taken on another 33 people to administer housing benefit properly. Of course, all those people have to be paid. That is all part of the cost of administering the poll tax.

When the Government talk about extending democracy to local government it would make me laugh if it were not so tragic. In Salford, as in many other areas, we must avoid being capped because that would be disastrous. We must increase the poll tax, not to keep or provide extra services but to pay for the administration of the poll tax. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) does not know what she is talking about when she speaks about services. She ran away almost as soon as she had finished speaking. We have had to employ extra people to administer the poll tax and also pay for computers and other equipment that we would not have needed otherwise.

In other words, to avoid being poll tax capped and to pay the extra costs of administration we have to increase the poll tax but cut services. If we increased the poll tax and increased services, we would be in danger of being capped. That is a monstrous position for any local authority, yet that is precisely our position and that of many local authorities throughout Britain.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West asked what local authorities would have done with the extra revenue if they had not been poll tax-capped. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned some omissions in local authority services in his constituency. Councils cannot provide certain services.

The Government entirely ignore the social consequences of the poll tax. Many people in my constituency have to make a choice between buying their children shoes or paying their poll tax. Hundreds of people's poll tax bills are much bigger than their bill for the general rates. No one has ever taken into account how such people are supposed to balance their budgets.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West and others often talk about cuts and wasteful authorities. The House constantly, in many instances rightly, passes legislation that imposes a charge on local authorities. Last year, I sat on the Standing Committee that considered the Children Bill. The Children Act 1990 is going out to local authorities with certain guidelines. It is estimated that administering that Act alone, which is intended to protect our children, will cost local authorities on average about £500,000 a year. How are local authorities to do it? How are they to employ the extra staff needed if they are in danger of being poll tax capped?

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey gave other examples. It is not only in London or Southwark that hundreds of children on the at-risk register have no social worker attached to them. That happens throughout the country. Inner-city social services are bursting at the seams because they have improved their techniques for identifying children at risk and detecting child abuse but cannot allocate people to protect such children.

We pass legislation and say to local authorities, "Here you are. Get on with it." We all support legislation such as the Children Act 1990, but there is no money to implement it.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The hon. Lady and I agree that one thing that we should do is state at the beginning of every Bill that comes to the House the cost and manpower implications not to only the national Treasury but to local authorities to implement what we instruct them to do. If we did that and guaranteed funding for local authorities every time we gave them a new job, we should have a fairer and more just system.

Miss Lestor

The hon. Gentleman makes a point that I intended to make and I shall conclude on that note. Conservative Members do not calculate and take no interest in the cost implications for local authorities of the legislation that they pass. The Children Act 1990 cannot be properly implemented unless capping of local authorities is stopped and more resources are made available.

In my area and throughout the country services will be cut, poll tax bills will increase and there will be no improvement in services to local people who will pay higher bills to meet the administrative costs. That is what is wrong with the poll tax and with the argument that it increases democracy. From the start, poll tax bills and their consequences have been controlled by central Government, who seek to make local authorities pay the price in terms of electoral representation.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

I shall not detain the House too long, but we should put the record straight. The debate has shown that Conservative Members oppose local government, whereas the Opposition have confidence in local government and want to see it provide the services that people demand and expect. New clause 1 asks that the Secretary of State lay before Parliament an estimate of the losses likely to be incurred to the collection fund of any authority referred to in such an order where poll tax capping would take place.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) criticised local government extensively. She was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill in detail, yet she did not speak one word during its proceedings. She had many opportunities to make her comments in Committee because we had a similar debate to this one. It is a pity that she did not, because that would have allowed us to debate the issue. However, she declined to take that opportunity. Even tonight, she left the Chamber to prevent us from putting the matter straight. She did not address some of the problems that face local government.

The hon. Lady did not mention the reductions in the rate support grant that have been imposed in the 11 years of this Government and which have severely restricted the ability of local authorities to provide services. She read from a publication that said that there would be no cuts in services, but she did not address that report to rate-capped authorities. She did not mention that some local authorities are likely to be in deficit at the end of this year because some of the changes that have been made were implemented halfway through the local authority financial year.

The hon. Lady acted unfairly by leaving the Chamber, as that did not allow us to explain some of the problems faced by local authorities. The hon. Lady said that the purpose of the poll tax was to equalise services throughout local authorities. She omitted to say, however, that the formula used by the Government and the Secretary of State to decide that level of services is more than 10 years old. In that time, tremendous changes have affected local government and its services. The present system allows the Secretary of State to attempt to equalise services on the basis of a 10-year-old formula. That is what is wrong with local government. It is being judged on an outdated formula. It is time that the Government updated it to achieve fairness and justice for local government.

The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) criticised Middlesbrough authority. It is fair to point out, however, that it is the electorate of that area who vote for the constitution of that authority. Under our democratic system, such votes demonstrate that the people are satisfied with their representatives and the decisions they have reached. That is the democratic system for which we fight and in which we believe. Therefore, we should take note of the decisions of the local electorate.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman's assertion that the system by which we elect an authority is democratic is not right. There is some dispute about that, and many people—including many in his party—believe that, because of the nature of the electoral system, people end up with an unrepresentative group.

Mr. O'Brien

I shall not go down that avenue, although I could take the hon. Gentleman to task over some of the principles of the voting procedure in which the Liberal Democrats profess to believe.

I want to explain the aims of the new clause. It requires the Secretary of State to inform local authorities about the effects of setting the substitute poll tax using the formula in the Bill. He should explain that that substitute will affect the following year's poll tax. I hope that hon. Members take note of the purpose of the amendment.

Mr. Holt

In the past 10 years, the population of Middlesbrough has fallen dramatically, but the formula has remained unchanged. I believe that that is right, because if the payments were not based on the old formula, Middlesbrough authority would not receive as much money as it does and the need to cap it would be even greater.

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman illustrates the misleading view of the formula held by Conservative Members. Even if there was a reduction in population, highways would need to be maintained and services provided. The equalisation of services should be provided for in the formula. The Tories have got it all wrong regarding the formula needed for local government to work efficiently. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said that the Labour party would not introduce capping, but would have a fairer system of assessing the need for the equalisation of services throughout the country. That is Labour party policy on local government.

If Conservative Members consider the principles behind the new clause and if they have any thought for local government and the services they provide, they must give it their blessing. We shall divide the House on the new clause, and I appeal to Conservative Members in particular to support it.

5.45 pm
Mr. Key

My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities apologises to the House for his absence, but he has been called away to an important meeting. However, he will be back in time for Third Reading.

By tabling the new clause, the Opposition, once again, set out to perpetuate the myth that the Bill will in some way cause authorities to incur a deficit on the collection fund. The Opposition repeat that assertion now, despite our lengthy discussions in Committee about it. They believe that the formula in the Bill radically changes the position of the charging authorities concerned by preventing them from increasing the allowance they made for non-collection when they first set their charges for the year. That is simply not the case. It is also not true that the Bill would require capped authorities to make further budget cuts to allow for non-collection in addition to those required by capping.

As I made clear in Committee, the Opposition's arguments are based on a false premise. There is a statutory requirement for an authority to balance its books when setting the charges at the start of the year. The Bill does not change that. All authorities must make their best estimate of income and expenditure at the beginning of the year and live with the consequences. An authority's actual income and expenditure are bound to differ somewhat from its estimate, so, at the end of the year, its collection fund will be in surplus or deficit. If the actual number of charge payers is lower than the authority estimated when setting its charge, the actual income will be less than estimated and a deficit will ensue.

No authority can increase its charges part way through the year just because it realises that it got its estimates wrong. The statutory arrangements are such that any deficit must be allowed for when setting next year's charges. All authorities are in the same boat. The Bill simply guarantees that capped authorities are firmly kept in that boat.

Mr. Illsley


Mr. Key

I would rather make progress than give way; that will enable me to answer the points made by the hon. Gentleman and others.

The Opposition persist in believing that a capped authority is, in some way, disadvantaged by the fact that the formula deliberately prevents it from changing its non-collection allowance. I firmly reject that. The whole point behind the formula is to ensure that charge payers in such authorities are not disadvantaged by a repetition of the antics in which Lambeth indulged this year.

It is a pleasure to be back with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). He referred to his long-suffering friend, Offa. I, too, have a long-suffering friend called Tigger. I suggest that Offa should come to dinner with Tigger. While they are eating, we could discuss, without any preconditions, the possible reforms that the hon. Gentleman might like to make to the community charge.

The hon. Gentleman said that Lambeth would not send out its bill by 1 April because of the Secretary of State's decision to cap the authority. However, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the capping process. The statutory position is clear—each charging authority must set its charge by 1 April and send out bills as soon as reasonably practicable thereafter. That process should continue irrespective of capping. Charge payers must pay the charge as originally set until, if there is capping, the revised substitute charge has been set.

As I said in Committee, when Lambeth people went to the polls in May, they knew that the council had been designated for capping because, in the Secretary of State's opinion, its budget was excessive. Lambeth knew that the Secretary of State had proposed to cut £8.8 million, or £51 per adult. Those people trooped off and voted because they believed what the Labour party said. They expected their charges to be below £500, but we all know that, in the event, that did not happen. What did it do after cutting its budget? It reduced the charge to £52l.63. The Labour party cheated its electorate. That was the problem with Lambeth.

In March, when Lambeth set its original charge for the year, it used an estimate of non-collection—the number of people liable to pay who do not do so—of 10 per cent. In August, when the council reset its charge following capping, it increased its estimate to 15 per cent. The effect of the change was to deny the Lambeth charge payer about £29 of the reduction implied by the cuts in its budget.

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend probably knows this from his records. I have some Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy figures showing that, in the last recorded year of rate collection, Lambeth council had £33 million of rate arrears. That amounted to almost 20 per cent. That shows how Lambeth has effectively been trying to cook its books in front of its electors.

Mr. Key

My hon. Friend is right. The Audit Commission had a great deal to say about Lambeth and about the fact that the council was sending bills to addresses outside the borough, to people who did not exist and, in some cases, to the same people four times over. I know that Opposition Members find it embarrassing to have to defend Lambeth, so I shall move on to the contributions made by other hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) made a forceful speech, in which she made it clear that capping does not necessarily lead to job cuts. She is absolutely right. She referred in particular to computer software. I can assure the House that we are conscious of the computer implications of our policy decisions. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on 17 January, in the context of the community charge reduction scheme, we have tried to have regard to local government computer software programmes and have confined the changes that we have made to those likely to have the least effect on the costs that will result.

My hon. Friend also referred to gerrymandering. I did not think that I would see the day when poor "Mr. Gerry Mander" was dragged into our debates on this little Bill. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Brightside has been to pay homage, as I have, to the tomb of Mr. Gerry—a delightful tomb in Marblehead in Boston in the United States. It is worth a visit. I do not think that we can blame Mr. Gerry Mander for anything that has happened in the House today.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) made an interesting speech in which he talked about the difficulties surrounding the standard spending assessments. A charge that is often made against us is that it is unfair that one authority should have a different SSA from another. That is particularly so when hon. Members perceive that neighbouring constituencies have more money. The whole point of the SSA system—which is well established—is that the criteria apply equally right across the country.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central mentioned non-payment. A non-collection estimate has to be made when setting a charge for the future year. In the case of Barnsley, it was 6 per cent., representing an extra £16.79 on the charge. I understand why people in Barnsley resent having to pay more merely because some people refuse to pay the charge. Non-payment denies councils funds and shifts the burden onto those who pay. We have given local authorities wide-ranging enforcement powers to help them to keep their charges down.

I should not omit the hon. Member for Bristol, south (Ms. Primarolo). Bristol is a fine city—a proud and ancient city—and I do not think that it will consider itself well served in this place by someone who will not pay the poll tax, who is leading a community protest and who is proud that 100,000 citizens are not paying their taxes. I hope that all the hon. Lady's constituents realise, when their bills drop through the letterbox, that they are paying for her.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made an interesting constituency speech. We welcome the contribution that the Liberal Democrats have made to our discussion of the review of local government finance and structure. We had a most constructive meeting with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and look forward to the next meeting. I only wish that we could have such a constructive dialogue with the official Opposition.

As always, my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) made a spirited speech. He made the important point that value for money also means value for people. I sometimes think that Labour authorities find that hard to understand and to stomach.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) has a fine local authority in the fine city of Salford. Some people say that Salford is overshadowed by Manchester. I think that anyone who knows Salford will be able to differentiate between the two cities and I therefore respect what the hon. Lady said. I shall treat her speech as a submission to our review.

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) talked about local government expenditure. His remarks took my breath away. He spoke as if local authorities were impoverished institutions that were constantly having their budget slashed by a wicked Government unwilling to enable them to carry out their functions. Local authority spending has increased by 25 per cent. in just two years, yet the Opposition would have us believe that it will be necessary to increase local authority spending by 50 per cent. in three years. That is absolute nonsense. This year alone, an extra £3 billion is going into local government. I suspect that if the Opposition had their way, it could be £30 billion, £300 billion or £3,000 billion and it would still not be considered sufficient.

Mr. O'Brien

I referred to the Government's cuts in rate support grant. What is the Minister attitude to that question?

Mr. Key

I shall be delighted to answer that and so illustrate the fact that the hon. Gentleman does not understand local government finance. As he well knows, one has to consider aggregate external finance, which includes rate support grant, non-domestic rates and what the charge payer contributes. Aggregate external financing has increased year after year, with the injection of an extra £3 billion this year alone. The plain fact is that there is no reason why capped authorities should have the opportunity, not available to other authorities to look again at their non-collection estimates.

The new clause is misconceived in principle. It has no bearing on the purpose of the Bill, which is to protect charge payers by guaranteeing that the budget reductions achieved by capping feed through in full to lower charges. I call on the House to reject it.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 231, Noes 341.

Division No. 44] [5.57 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Fisher, Mark
Adams, Mrs. Irene (Paisley, N.) Flynn, Paul
Allen, Graham Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Alton, David Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Anderson, Donald Foster, Derek
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Foulkes, George
Armstrong, Hilary Fraser, John
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Fyfe, Maria
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) George, Bruce
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Barron, Kevin Godman, Dr Norman A.
Battle, John Golding, Mrs Llin
Beckett, Margaret Gordon, Mildred
Beggs, Roy Gould, Bryan
Beith, A. J. Graham, Thomas
Bell, Stuart Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Grocott, Bruce
Benton, Joseph Hardy, Peter
Blair, Tony Harman, Ms Harriet
Blunkett, David Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Boateng, Paul Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Boyes, Roland Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Bradley, Keith Henderson, Doug
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Home Robertson, John
Buckley, George J. Hood, Jimmy
Caborn, Richard Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Howells, Geraint
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Canavan, Dennis Hoyle, Doug
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cartwright, John Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clay, Bob Illsley, Eric
Clelland, David Ingram, Adam
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Janner, Greville
Cohen, Harry Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Corbett, Robin Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Corbyn, Jeremy Kennedy, Charles
Cousins, Jim Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Crowther, Stan Kirkwood, Archy
Cryer, Bob Lambie, David
Cummings, John Lamond, James
Cunliffe, Lawrence Leadbitter, Ted
Cunningham, Dr John Leighton, Ron
Dalyell, Tam Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Darling, Alistair Lewis, Terry
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Litherland, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dewar, Donald Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dixon, Don Loyden, Eddie
Dobson, Frank McAllion, John
Doran, Frank McAvoy, Thomas
Douglas, Dick McCartney, Ian
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Macdonald, Calum A.
Eadie, Alexander McFall, John
Evans, John (St Helens N) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) McKelvey, William
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) McLeish, Henry
Fatchett, Derek Maclennan, Robert
Faulds, Andrew McMaster, Gordon
Fearn, Ronald McWilliam, John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Madden, Max
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Maginnis, Ken
Mahon, Mrs Alice Rowlands, Ted
Marek, Dr John Ruddock, Joan
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sheerman, Barry
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Martlew, Eric Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Maxton, John Sillars, Jim
Meacher, Michael Skinner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Michael, Alun Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Soley, Clive
Morgan, Rhodri Spearing, Nigel
Morley, Elliot Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Steinberg, Gerry
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Stott, Roger
Mowlam, Marjorie Strang, Gavin
Mullin, Chris Straw, Jack
Murphy, Paul Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Nellist, Dave Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
O'Brien, William Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
O'Hara, Edward Turner, Dennis
O'Neill, Martin Vaz, Keith
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wallace, James
Parry, Robert Walley, Joan
Patchett, Terry Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Pendry, Tom Wareing, Robert N.
Pike, Peter L. Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Prescott, John Wigley, Dafydd
Primarolo, Dawn Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Quin, Ms Joyce Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Radice, Giles Wilson, Brian
Randall, Stuart Winnick, David
Redmond, Martin Wise, Mrs Audrey
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Worthington, Tony
Reid, Dr John Wray, Jimmy
Richardson, Jo Young, David (Bolton SE)
Robertson, George
Rogers, Allan Tellers for the Ayes:
Rooker, Jeff Mr. Frank Haynes and
Rooney, Terence Mr. Ken Eastham.
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Aitken, Jonathan Brazier, Julian
Alexander, Richard Bright, Graham
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Allason, Rupert Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Amess, David Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Amos, Alan Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Arbuthnot, James Budgen, Nicholas
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Burns, Simon
Aspinwall, Jack Burt, Alistair
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Butler, Chris
Baldry, Tony Butterfill, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Batiste, Spencer Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bellingham, Henry Carrington, Matthew
Bendall, Vivian Carttiss, Michael
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Cash, William
Bevan, David Gilroy Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John Chapman, Sydney
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Chope, Christopher
Body, Sir Richard Churchill, Mr
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Boswell, Tim Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bottomley, Peter Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Colvin, Michael
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Conway, Derek
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bowis, John Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Cope, Rt Hon John
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Couchman, James
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Cran, James
Critchley, Julian Irvine, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Irving, Sir Charles
Curry, David Jack, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jackson, Robert
Davis, David (Boothferry) Janman, Tim
Day, Stephen Jessel, Toby
Devlin, Tim Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dickens, Geoffrey Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Dicks, Terry Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dorrell, Stephen Key, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dover, Den King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Dunn, Bob Kirkhope, Timothy
Dykes, Hugh Knapman, Roger
Eggar, Tim Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Emery, Sir Peter Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Knowles, Michael
Evennett, David Lang, Ian
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Latham, Michael
Fallon, Michael Lawrence, Ivan
Favell, Tony Lee, John (Pendle)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fishburn, John Dudley Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fookes, Dame Janet Lilley, Peter
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forth, Eric Lord, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Fox, Sir Marcus McCrindle, Sir Robert
Franks, Cecil Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Freeman, Roger MacGregor, Rt Hon John
French, Douglas MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Fry, Peter Maclean, David
Gale, Roger McLoughlin, Patrick
Gardiner, Sir George McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Garel-Jones, Tristan Madel, David
Gill, Christopher Malins, Humfrey
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mans, Keith
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Marland, Paul
Goodhart, Sir Philip Marlow, Tony
Goodlad, Alastair Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorst, John Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Mates, Michael
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Maude, Hon Francis
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gregory, Conal Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Grist, Ian Mellor, Rt Hon David
Ground, Patrick Miller, Sir Hal
Grylls, Michael Mills, Iain
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hague, William Mitchell, Sir David
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Moate, Roger
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Monro, Sir Hector
Hampson, Dr Keith Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hannam, John Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Morrison, Sir Charles
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Harris, David Moss, Malcolm
Haselhurst, Alan Mudd, David
Hayes, Jerry Needham, Richard
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Neubert, Sir Michael
Hayward, Robert Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Norris, Steve
Hill, James Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hind, Kenneth Oppenheim, Phillip
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Page, Richard
Holt, Richard Paice, James
Hordern, Sir Peter Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Patten, Rt Hon John
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Pawsey, James
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hunter, Andrew Portillo, Michael
Powell, William (Corby) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Price, Sir David Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Raffan, Keith Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Rathbone, Tim Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Redwood, John Temple-Morris, Peter
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Rhodes James, Robert Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Riddick, Graham Thorne, Neil
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Thornton, Malcolm
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Thurnham, Peter
Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Roe, Mrs Marion Tracey, Richard
Rossi, Sir Hugh Tredinnick, David
Rost, Peter Trippier, David
Rowe, Andrew Trotter, Neville
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela Twinn, Dr Ian
Ryder, Richard Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Viggers, Peter
Sayeed, Jonathan Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shaw, David (Dover) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Walden, George
Shelton, Sir William Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waller, Gary
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walters, Sir Dennis
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Ward, John
Shersby, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sims, Roger Warren, Kenneth
Skeet, Sir Trevor Watts, John
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wells, Bowen
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wheeler, Sir John
Soames, Hon Nicholas Whitney, Ray
Speed, Keith Widdecombe, Ann
Speller, Tony Wiggin, Jerry
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wilshire, David
Squire, Robin Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stanbrook, Ivor Winterton, Nicholas
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wolfson, Mark
Steen, Anthony Wood, Timothy
Stern, Michael Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Stevens, Lewis Yeo, Tim
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Younger, Rt Hon George
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Stokes, Sir John Tellers for the Noes:
Sumberg, David Mr. Irvine Patnick and
Summerson, Hugo Mr. Tom Sackville.

Question accordingly negatived.

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