HC Deb 26 March 1991 vol 188 cc779-831
Mr. Speaker

We now come to the Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill (Allocation of Time) motion. I call the Leader of the House.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. Could you indicate whether you have selected our amendments?

Mr. Speaker

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I should have announced that I have indeed selected amendment (a) in the name of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and his hon. Friends.

4.20 Pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

I beg to move, That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill

Mr. Beith

Can the Leader of the House say what attempt he made to secure the agreement of all the parties that the Bill should proceed quickly, and whether he was given any indication that no such consent would be given by any party in the House?

Mr. MacGregor

To be fair, I must tell hon. Members that it was our decision because we felt that it was essential to get the Bill through before the start of the new financial year. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he agrees with the Bill and is willing to see it go through quickly, I am delighted. To get it through this week, it is necessary to take the steps that I propose, and I shall shortly say more about that. The proposed legislation is short, specific and confined to the one purpose that I have outlined. It does not need prolonged debate. Clearly, there are good reasons in favour of the procedure that I propose.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Could my right hon. Friend identify any Bill in the history of this Parliament, or any Parliament, that has been guillotined before its Second Reading?

Mr. MacGregor

I am clearly anticipating questions that will be asked, because I shall shortly come to that issue.

The Bill is short and straightforward. It fulfils the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last Tuesday to reduce the burden of paying for local services that currently falls on local taxpayers. Our objective is to change the balance between local and national taxpayers, and this short Bill will enable us to do that by two means. I shall not go into detail because that is clearly for Second Reading.

Firstly, the Bill provides for community charges for 1991–92 to be reduced by £140, or to zero where the charge set is less than that figure, on the day after the Bill is enacted. Secondly, it provides for grant to be repaid to authorities in compensation for charge income forgone and to meet any extra administrative costs. Until charge payers receive a charge bill reflecting the reduced charges, their liability to pay any 1991–92 charges will be suspended.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dumfermline, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thought that the Leader of the House would give reasons for the guillotine motion rather than make a Second Reading speech. If we are on Second Reading, we should be told.

Mr. Speaker

I have heard nothing that is out of order. The hon. Gentleman could put a question to the Leader of the House about what he is saying, but it is not out of order.

Mr. MacGregor

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is not listening, because I have given reasons for the need for speed in getting the legislation through. I am sorry if I put the reasons so succinctly that the hon. Gentleman did not take them on board. There are two straightforward reasons. One is to get the arrangements in place before the start of the financial year, because that is what local authorities want, and the second is to get the community charge reduction through to community charge payers. As I have said, it is a short Bill and we shall go into its detail on Second Reading.

Mr. Douglas

We have all read the Bill and we know that it is the Save our Skins (Tory Government) Bill. If that is all that the right hon. Gentleman can say in favour of a guillotine motion, he should just sit down.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall sit down before long, because it is clear what this is all about. The Bill is simple and that is why I can justify it fairly shortly.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Before the right hon. Gentleman tries to convince the House that there will be a £140 reduction for every poll tax payer, and before we get to Second Reading or the Committee stage, let us get some facts straight. The £140 will go to those who are not getting transitional relief, those who have to pay more than the 20 per cent. minimum and some others in between. The net result is that the poorest among poll tax payers will not get a £140 reduction. The money will go only to those at the top end of the income scale. The Leader of the House should stop saying that everyone will get a £140 reduction, because that is not so.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to explore matters that should be considered on Second Reading. I shall try to avoid the temptation, or at least to deal with it briefly. The whole point of the community charge reduction scheme is clear and simple. It is to deal with the increase in the community charge. However, if that £140 makes the increase disappear, one cannot pay the same amount of money twice.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made clear in his statement last Thursday, the Government are revising the profile of payment from the non-domestic rates pool to ensure that these proposals have no significant effect on authorities' cash flow. That is the purpose of the Bill, which is straightforward and short. The time that we are giving to debate the Bill, in addition to the time made available in the Budget debates, is surely adequate for such a short and straightforward Bill.

I come now to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). The House will be aware that there are several precedents for taking all stages of a Bill in one day.

Mr. Beith

Not with a guillotine.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman is again anticipating what I am about to say. Examples are the Finance (Income Tax Reliefs) Bill, which went through on 17 November 1977, and the Pensioners Payments Bill, which went through on 13 November 1978. I accept that they were not guillotined, partly because there was general agreement about their purposes. Judging by the lack of a vote on the money resolution last night, there may be agreement today. I do not know, but if not, I nevertheless rest my case on the points that I have already made about the urgency of getting the arrangements in place. That urgency, and the desirability of the Bill from the point of view both of community charge payers and of local authorities, justify the procedure.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

It may be that not much in the timetable motion divides the Leader of the House and me. I try to learn while I am here, and precedents can be very useful. If I agree to support the right hon. Gentleman today, will he give me a guarantee that, under a future Labour Government, if I introduce a Bill, to go through in one day, to abolish the House of Lords or to give a Labour Secretary of State for Trade and Industry widespread powers to nationalise any company that he wants to nationalise provided that we have a one-and-a-half-hour debate at 10.30 pm, he will do then what he wants us to do now?

Mr. MacGregor

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman is now learning from this place. The question that he raises is not only hypothetical but unrealistic. It is hard to believe that there will be a future Labour Government, and even harder to believe that the hon. Gentleman will be in a position to introduce such measures. I shall give no such guarantee. Unlike the measures that the hon. Gentleman suggested, the Bill is short and simple. If there turns out to be agreement on the Bill, the procedure will be right for the reason that I keep stressing—the need to get the arrangements in place quickly.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

The Leader of the House referred to the money resolution debate last night, the Official Report of which is not yet available. As there is for every late-night debate, there is in the Library a copy of Hansard's transcript of the unpublished proceedings. Unlike the statement in the Vote Office from the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, Hansard's transcript shows clearly that the Minister repeated, two paragraphs apart and on two different pages, so it could not have been a slip of the tongue, that only 8 million people will benefit from the community charge reduction scheme. Before the debate continues, we should have a full transcript, taken down by the Hansard Reporters, of that 45-minute debate rather than only what the Minister chooses to put in his statement in the Vote Office.

Mr. MacGregor

I understand that, in last night's debate, my hon. Friend said that he thought that that would be the figure and that if he was wrong he would produce the right figure today. That is a Second Reading point, and I am sure that it will be debated then.

The way in which we propose to deal with the Bill is, I believe, for the general convenience of the House, and it is procedurally in order. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be anxious to ensure a properly constructed and constructive debate. I have concluded that, all things considered, taking into account the need to get the Bill through Parliament before the end of this week and the need to have an orderly debate, a timetable motion is the most sensible way forward.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

My right hon. Friend said that he would deal with the precedent point. Is he saying that there is a precedent for guillotining a Bill before it has had its Second Reading, or is he saying that there is no precedent? My right hon. Friend ought to outline more clearly, if he says that there is no precedent, why he thinks it right to mount such a monumental attack on the right of hon. Members to discuss a measure and to hold true to their electorate by properly discussing it.

Mr. MacGregor

Let me make it absolutely clear to my hon. Friend that I thought that I had done so. It is necessary to get the Bill through both Houses of Parliament by the end of this week, for the reasons that I have already given. There is not a great deal of time to complete the process. That is why we are proceeding with a timetable motion. At the end of the debate it will be for the House to judge whether the objectives involved in the procedure, and the procedure itself, are right. My hon. Friend referred to the general public. I believe that they will accept the argument that it is highly desirable that the community charge reduction scheme—and the £140 reduction—should be in place in time for the next financial year. If my hon. Friend agrees with that objective—this, I believe, is the only way we can achieve it—I hope that we shall have his support in the Division Lobby.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Apart from the Second Reading problems, 43 amendments have been selected for discussion. The Bill was published at 8.40 pm on Thursday and we had only half an hour on Friday to table unstarred amendments. In different circumstances, more amendments might have been tabled. There will be a great deal of argument and discussion on Second Reading; the Bill will not be generally accepted. The argument and discussion led to the tabling of the starred amendments. Why have the Government not provided the House with a decent opportunity to debate this measure, including the amendments that are to be debated in Committee?

Mr. MacGregor

I certainly hope that we shall do that. I said on Thursday during business questions that this is a short Bill and that I hoped that those who are interested in doing so would move with speed to table amendments. That they have done. The selected amendments, including starred amendments, are being taken in nine groups.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I explain briefly what the different sections of the timetable motion achieve. There will be three hours allowed for Second Reading, counting from the time at which Second Reading gets under way. The remaining stages of the Bill will then be completed seven hours after the commencement of Second Reading or, if earlier, at 2.30 am. The effect of this will be that, if the Second Reading runs for the full three hours, there will be four hours for the remaining stages. There will be the usual provisions for disposing of outstanding questions when the knife falls at the end of the day.

Paragraph 9 of the motion provides for Commons consideration of Lords amendments to be completed in one hour. Other sections deal with further messages from the Lords. The question that the Lords message is to be considered must be put without debate, and one hour will then be allowed for dealing with the message.

This afternoon, I have to chair a meeting of the Services Committee that is to deal with a number of important issues affecting the House. I hope that the House will forgive me if I and my hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"]—the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). I hope that we shall be forgiven if for a short time we go and deal with one or two matters that are of importance to the House. However, I shall certainly ensure that all the points made during the brief period that I am away are relayed to me, and I hope to be able to respond to those points that need to be dealt with.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Just before the Leader of the House moves on from the timetable motion, can he tell us whether the Government intend to table any manuscript amendments on Report?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand that the answer is no.

I believe that local authorities and charge payers will wish Parliament to pass this legislation quickly so that they know where they stand before the start of the new financial year. That is why it is right that the Bill should be taken through all its stages in both Houses with all speed.

4.34 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

The House faces a familiar scene. Once more, a Tory Government are making a fiasco of local Government finance. Yet again a guillotine motion is enforced as, in a panic, the Government intend to use between £4 billion and £5 billion of taxpayers' money in a doomed attempt to buy off the widespread and implacable people's opposition to the poll tax—a tax which should never have been introduced in the first place. Not only was the poll tax unprecedented: the way it was handled in the House was unprecedented, as is the way in which the Leader of the House is proposing to deal with the business today. It is an unenviable record for any Government.

Three years ago, in the face of all the evidence and in the teeth of virtually universal opposition, the Government guillotined the poll tax in. Now the same discredited bunch who forced that grotesquely unfair, inefficient and capricious tax on Parliament and people want to be rid of it. They guillotined it in and now they want to guillotine it out—no wonder Disraeli described the Tory party as organised hypocrisy.

One thing is clear: the Government do not care about proper scrutiny of public money, if they ever did. They are prepared to enforce unprecedented procedures on the House of Commons. No other Government of any party have treated a Bill of this nature in such peremptory fashion.

Mr. Beith

Or any Bill.

Dr. Cunningham

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is right—no other Government have treated any Bill in this way. It is a disgrace to Parliamentary democracy.

For the Government, this is not the time for care, scrutiny or good administration. As so often, for them it is the time to put the Tory party first. This is a save the Tories' skins Bill, and the 14th fundamental change in local Government finance that they have produced. They have got it wrong time after time, and we have no confidence in their ability to get it right this time.

The Leader of the House asks us to accept a motion to force the Bill through in a single sitting. The sole aim of the Bill is to fix poll tax levels for one year—it is not so much an expedient from the Government as government by expedient.

It is instructive to reflect on just a few of the things that supporters of the poll tax had to say about it in a similar debate three years ago. On Third Reading, the present Secretary of State for Employment, then Minister for Local Government, said: It is reform that will be good for local communities, good for local government and good for the people of this country."—[Official Report, 25 April 1988; Vol. 132, c. 149.] In a Department of the Environment press release on 13 January 1988, he said: The majority of households will in fact gain from these proposals. He said that he was heartened by the support that he was receiving during his nationwide tour promoting the poll tax proposals. Last October, his successor, who was the Chamber until a few moments ago, claimed at the Tory party conference that poll tax would turn out to be a vote winner". But he did not say for whom—so much for the Government's monumental misjudgment.

Last November, the Minister for Local Government said of the poll tax review: That review is now complete."—[Official Report,14 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 568.] Yet here we are again. As the Government stumbled on into a quagmire of their own arrogance and incompetence, the scrappers' hero from Henley, whom I am pleased to see in his place, appeared to challenge the orthodox Tory view. The Government fell apart, and the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) fell into the abyss. On one side was the "scrap the poll tax" gang, led by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). On the other side was the Tory party equivalent of the flat earth society, searching for a champion. They sent for "Gentleman John", in gumboil retreat in Huntingdon at the time.

The exchanges at that time, too, make interesting reading. The Secretary of State for the Environment, now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is reported in The Guardian of 16 November 1990 as having said: A poll tax review does not necessarily solve some rather difficult problems. Perhaps Michael has some way of coping with these problems which he has not yet told us about. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Prime Minister, said: Resources pre-empted by shifting education spending to central government could not be spent on health, pensions, defence or other problem claims on the public purse. He went on: I don't know what we will have to do, and neither does anyone else. Dithering had set in. We saw it again at Question Time today. The Prime Minister has become the political equivalent of Mavis Riley of "Coronation Street" fame who, when faced with a difficult question, unfailingly replies, "Oh, I don't really know."

Last Thursday, we were told that the poll tax was dead. Or was it? The monster had been decapitated, only to reappear, like the Hydra, with three heads—the property poll tax with a VAT surcharge into the bargain. Once more the Government pretended to be united. But soft, the isle is full of noises —and a lot of them are coming from the direction of Blaby. The right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) denounced the new proposals as "son of poll tax", and made it clear, as we do, that those who cannot choose cannot govern. When the right hon. Member for Finchley was forced out, we all knew that there would be a power vacuum. It is now clear that there is a policy vacuum too. The Government have lost their way and, in the words of the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Blaby, they are using consultation as a substitute for government.

The Government are not only dithering about the poll tax. In every policy area, they seem positively transfixed—trapped like startled rabbits in the headlights of an oncoming car—with one hand on the redundant ideology of the past 12 years while the other desperately clutches at any strand of Labour policy it can possibly grab.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

The hon. Gentleman accuses the Government of dithering, but that is precisely the opposite of what the Government are doing. They are seeking to transfer £4.25 billion from the national Exchequer to local government as fast as possible. We shall be here for a long time today. If, by some mischance, the Labour party were to form the next Government, would it claw back that £4.25 billion? We should like to know now.

Dr. Cunningham

We shall inherit the tax base that the Tory Government bequeath to us when they are defeated.

In a passing imitation of Senator Joe Biden, the Prime Minister superficially parrots the language of Labour's programme for the 1990s, but he dare not endorse the reality of our policies, including the complete abolition of poll tax, because to do so would be to tear his Government and his party apart. The simple fact is that the Prime Minister is a man who does not have the faintest idea where he is going—like this proposed legislation. Bounced from pillar to post by a Chancellor who says that poll tax stays and an Environment Secretary who says that it goes, the Prime Minister can almost be forgiven for appearing increasingly indecisive. He does not know what he believes in any more. Like Mr. Micawber, he simply hopes that something will turn up.

The problem for Britain is that weak, indecisive government is no way to solve the damaging consequences of the poll tax, or the recession, or any of the other problems that Britain faces today. In contrast, people want to see a programme for the 1990s which presents opportunity rather than the opportunism that is so clear in every action of the present Government, and no more clear than in the proposals before the House today.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)

The hon. Gentleman should throw his notes away and make a proper speech.

Dr. Cunningham

The people will throw the right hon. Gentleman's Government away at the first opportunity.

The best way to reduce poll tax bills is to get rid of the poll tax. We should be debating this Bill, which has been cobbled together in an attempt to cover the embarrassment of Conservative Members in the Chamber today, who almost without exception voted for every dot and comma of the poll tax—every line, every sentence, every clause. Today, they are gathered to con the taxpayer, to use the taxpayer's money in an attempt to bail themselves out. What has happened to the famous saying that Governments do not have money, that it is the people's money?

Even at this late stage, we are offering to co-operate with the Government in the complete abolition of the poll tax. A Bill to abolish it could be guided through the House even more quickly, I suspect, than this one. There are plenty of Tories who, given the chance, would vote for the end of the poll tax—lock, stock and barrel. The Bill is just a one-year buy-off a kind of "live now, pay later" Bill. It does not guarantee that the poll tax will go—indeed, it guarantees that the poll tax will probably be in place at least until 1993–94. Tonight, Conservative Members will vote to keep the poll tax in place, for their constituents and for the people of Britain, for at least another two years. Let no one be in any doubt about that. Under this Bill, billions of pounds of our money are being used to bail out a discredited Government. So far as we can tell, far from removing many of the anomalies, the Bill will create a whole new class of losers—many of them people on the lowest incomes, and facing the toughest financial circumstances.

If the Bill were the subject of a two-day debate, rather than a debate lasting just a few hours, it would still be a disgraceful attempt to con the people of this country. It demonstrates beyond any doubt that the Government are devoid of principle. It certainly should not have been presented to the House in this manner, and there is no way we can accept the timetable motion.

4.48 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Although I am one of the Members who supported the introduction of the community charge legislation, I want to make it absolutely clear that I believe that both this Bill and the guillotine motion are not only necessary but desirable. The Bill strikes me as necessary because the British people have made it clear that they consider community charges to be too high. The guillotine motion is necessary because the British people have made it clear that they want action now—not next month or next year—to bring those charges down.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

For the guidance of the House and to refresh the memory of some Opposition Members, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he was a member of the Committee which considered the Local Government Finance Bill? Even by the standards of Conservative members of that Committee, he was one of those most active in sneering at and denigrating every attempt by Opposition Members to point out the error of his ways. Perhaps he should start by apologising for that.

Mr. Wilshire

I have already made it clear where I stood. I did serve on that Committee. I did believe in what I was doing. I see nothing to apologise for, because the principles that we were seeking to achieve were right. It is what has happened since that has led me to change my mind. Therefore, I do not apologise for serving on that Committee, and I am happy to make sure that the record is clear.

The Bill is desirable, because it lifts the excessive and unfair burden on local taxpayers, and the guillotine motion is desirable because it is the only way that I and the Government can see to give relief from 1 April 1991. Any other way would result in relief being given from April 1992, and that would be to ignore the message of the British people.

It is important to put the Bill and the guillotine motion in their proper context.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

In the dustbin.

Mr. Wilshire

If the Labour party put the Bill and the guillotine motion in the dustbin, it would deny £140 help per head to people in six days' time. If that is the Labour party's policy, let that be made clear.

Dr. Cunningham

In the interests of greater accuracy, the hon. Gentleman had better accept, because it is true, that the Bill does not guarantee £140 off each person's bill. That is a complete fallacy, and the hon. Gentleman should not repeat it, because it will simply mislead and bitterly disappoint millions of people. As the hon. Gentleman was one of those who railroaded poll tax through the House, voted for the guillotine and said how wonderful the tax would be, does he not think that a little humility would not come amiss?

Mr. Wilshire

If I were to respond to that in the detail that it requires, Mr. Speaker, you would call me to order, because I would be making a Second Reading speech. However, I shall be delighted to respond if I catch your eye later. For the time being, let me concentrate on making sure that we put the Bill and the guillotine motion into their proper context.

What we are discussing now and what we shall be discussing for the rest of the day is not part of the fundamental review of local government. It has nothing to do with boundaries, services or local democracy; nor has it anything to do with the replacement of the community charge. The hon. Gentleman was wrong to suggest that we are now guillotining out the community charge. What we are doing is guillotining in help for people while the Government and the House take their time to work out the best way forward.

We are dealing with an interim measure, and we need to be clear about that. This is an interim measure while the Government and the country rightly take their time to work their way through the fundamental review and find the best possible replacement. But while we are taking time to get it right, the public are demanding action now and the Bill, and the guillotine motion will provide that instant action.

It is also important to understand why an interim approach at this stage is correct. As I have just said, the main review will take time, and it must be comprehensive. Even if Opposition Members, or even my hon. Friends, wanted to rush through a permanent replacement, that could not be done in six days.

The hon. Member for Copeland said that the best way to reduce the bills was to get rid of the community charge now. That just shows how little the Labour party understands about the reality of local government finance. There is no way in which we can come up with an entirely new system, even one such as the Opposition's, which has no details, in six days.

We also need to understand why the timing of the Bill and the guillotine motion could not have been different. They could not have been sooner, and they certainly could not have been later. If we had tried to discuss the matter sooner, we would have been discussing an increase in grant ahead of a Budget, and Opposition Members would correctly have asked us where we would get the money from, which would have been to pre-empt a Budget.

Anyone who knows anything about finance will know that a Budget cannot be brought forward by two or three weeks at the drop of a hat. I can imagine the noises that we would hear from Opposition Members if we brought in two Budgets—one to deal with the community charge and another a few weeks later. The blood pressure of Opposition Members would have been wondrous to behold. There was no way that it could be done sooner and there certainly is no way that it could be done later. There are six days left before the start of the new financial year.

Mr. Wilson

If those Budgets caused as much hilarity and entertainment on the Opposition Benches as the latest Budget, the Government could bring in as many Budgets as they wanted.

Mr. Wilshire

I am trying to work out whether I should laugh at that. I think that it was meant to be funny, but I cannot quite see how.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

My hon. Friend will remember that this Government have brought in one Budget a year. The previous Labour Government brought in Budget after Budget after Budget so that industry and commerce did not know where they were, and nor did the ordinary people, from one week to the next.

Mr. Wilshire

That is correct. The point that my hon. Friend did not make is that that succession of Budgets was no laughing matter.

The other reason why this measure could not have been introduced later is that not only do councils need to understand where they are as quickly as possible, but the community charge payers need to be able to pay their bills as quickly as possible. Unlike some Labour Members, the overwhelming majority of the British people want to pay their bills and do not like to duck out and break the law.

We also need to understand in a little more detail why immediate action and the guillotine motion are necessary.

Mr. Tony Banks

Because the Government are panicking.

Mr. Wilshire

It is not because we are panicking. That just goes to show that Opposition Members simply do not understand. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is not because we are panicking; it is because the community charges are too high. They must come down now, and this is the only way to bring them down. It might help if the hon. Gentleman understood in some detail why those charges are too high. He will expect me to say that it is because of the overspending of quite a few councils, and he knows better than I which councils those are and why. But we must also be clear that community charges are too high because of the switch in funding that has taken place in recent years.

I see great evidence that the capping rules have begun to bring councils to heel. There is growing evidence that capping works and that the overspending of councils is coming under control.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is it not a fact that the Government have taken about £58 billion from local government since 1979? It is right that the hon. Gentleman should observe that fact and see that clearly as the reason why so much pressure has been put on local government services. It has taken him a long time to realise that, but we are grateful that at long last it has dawned on him.

Mr. Wilshire

I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have always been truthful in describing the situation. I hope that, from time to time, the hon. Gentleman will admit the shortcomings of Labour councils. Whenever I hear him talk, he simply apologises for them.

Capping has dealt with the first of those two reasons why the charges are too high. We have begun to rein in the excessive spending of councils, especially Labour councils. The point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is fair. Resources have been switched; I am not denying that. I am saying that we must do something about it, and that is the purpose of the Bill. The guillotine motion means that we can do something about it in the next six days, rather than at some time in the future. The position reinforces the need for the guillotine.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

It would be a little more seemly if the hon. Gentleman showed an iota of humility. The fact is that a Conservative Government have perpetrated a terrible crime against the British people, and have been caught. The people's anger is rising: meanwhile, the Government are acting as though there were a war on and they were about to rush troops to some place where killing was about to start—Northern Ireland, perhaps. A Government must be desperate when they must resort to such unseemly tactics to rush through legislation. Such action is normally taken—if the word "normally" is appropriate—when a war is imminent, or already taking place.

Mr. Wilshire

That is fairly colourful language. I do not want to be drawn into the question of Northern Ireland, and I do not think that Northern Ireland Members are particularly interested in the community charge, as it does not apply to them.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of crimes against the people. I am doing my best to prevent the Labour party from perpetrating crimes against the British public by becoming the Government. That is why I do not apologise for what I have said, and why I am not prepared to accept criticisms from the Opposition.

Why do Opposition Members oppose what we are doing? Some have cited "parliamentary purity", but I do not buy that: it strikes me as a smokescreen. As it happens, I favour guillotine motions for all Bills: discussion would be much more orderly, and we would make some progress. Let me tell hon. Members who speak of parliamentary purity that Standing Orders that made it impossible for the House to take instant action when necessary would be stupid. There is always a time and a place when such action is needed, and even this place must have means of taking it.

Opposition Members have a second reason for opposing the motion. They want to slow the pace: they want to prevent us from giving people extra help in 1991–92. I can only speculate about why. It would not help the Labour party at all if the Government——

Dr. Cunningham

Let me stop the hon. Gentleman before he puts another falsehood on the record. There is not a shred of truth in anything that he has just said. It is perfectly clear that we do not want to prevent people's poll tax bills from being reduced.

Mr. Wilshire

Then what is all the fuss about? I really must read the hon. Gentleman's speech in Hansard. I think that every other phrase suggested that he did not agree with what we are about today.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)


Mr. Rooker


Mr. Wilshire

They are all at it now. Let us start with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker).

Mr. Rooker

We are doing the job that we were elected and are paid to do—scrutinising legislation, not acting as a rubber stamp. Most of us will be satisfied if we are given the answer to one simple question. We are willing to spend the rest of the day on that, which is why we do not accept the guillotine motion. We want to know exactly how many people will not have £140 knocked off their poll tax bills. We want to know their distribution in the population, and in which regions the gainers and the losers live. Such information would be available in the normal course of parliamentary scrutiny. Given adequate time, it would be provided during a Committee stage or in a written answer.

Mr. Wilshire

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to make a Second Reading speech. That is another reason why I should like to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker: I should love to be able to answer his question.

Only one point in the hon. Gentleman's intervention struck me as relevant to a guillotine motion debate: his point about using "the rest of the day". My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already dealt with that. It is a simple matter. The time that is being made available is more than adequate for even the most conscientious parliamentarian to deal with the issues that are at stake. The hon. Gentleman really should sort himself out.

The reason why some hon. Members do not want people to be helped in 1991–92 is that they want to fight the local election by pointing the finger at the Government for not listening. But we are listening, and we are acting. By May this year, people will understand that they are paying lower community charges. Labour Members are trying to change the stakes in their own favour.

Mr. Battle

Conservative Members are trying to perpetuate the illusion that everyone will receive a rebate of £140. The truth is that the Bill will rub out some people's transitional relief altogether, with the result that they will pay more poll tax rather than less. When Conservative Members face up to that, perhaps we shall be able to have a proper debate on the details of the Bill. Without knowing the details, how can we discuss it?

Mr. Wilshire

Let me express for the third time my wish to be called on Second Reading, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is the only way in which I can deal with such an outburst.

The third reason for Opposition Members' objection to the guillotine motion is, I suspect, that some wish to prevent the Bill from reaching the statute book.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)


Mr. Wilshire

I should love to give way again to hear Labour Members say that they do not object to our reducing community charge bills. Obviously they do object, if they are not prepared to confirm that. If the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) meant by his sedentary intervention that he was in favour of a reduction in bills from 1 April, he has no choice but to support the guillotine motion and the Bill. Even his half-baked solution—a return to the old rating system—simply cannot be enacted and put into operation by council treasurers in six days.

Mr. Grocott

The hon. Gentleman must be bitterly regretting his failure to take my advice when I spoke from the Dispatch Box against the guillotine on Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill in 1987. As he, along with most of his hon. Friends, failed to take my advice on that crucial occasion, I despair of his ever listening to it in the future.

Mr. Wilshire

That is fair comment, but it gives me a fourth reason for wanting you to call me again, Mr. Deputy Speaker: it would provide us with more entertainment. All we are doing is stacking up reasons.

Labour Members mistakenly see the guillotine motion as a means of embarrassing the Government. It will not do that; the only people likely to be embarrassed by what Labour Members are saying are Labour Members themselves. All the bluster that they can come up with will not disguise the fact that they have no alternative solution. They do not know what they would do. As I have said, the hon. Member for Copeland could not put the rating system back in place in six days.

If I remember rightly, the hon. Member for Copeland said that a "one-year buy-off" was about to be enacted. Bringing back the rating system would be the one-year buy-off, because the Opposition say that they want to do that for a year. It is they who should be embarrassed. They are the people who are being caught out with no policies, and who are seeking to maximise mayhem among community charge payers and councils by going for a one-year fix before returning to whatever they think they may do in future. There is a great deal more that I and others would like to say, but that will be for Second Reading. If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall make those points then.

I support the Bill, and have no difficulty in supporting the guillotine motion. The public have made it crystal clear that they want action to reduce the community charge now. We have a listening Government, who, having listened, have found a way to solve the problem within six days. Even if we have reservations—as I have made it clear in the past—about the long-term review or about any of the details, that is no reason not to support the Bill and the guillotine motion. They are interim measures, which give us the chance to get the review into better shape before we act on it.

Swift and decisive action is needed, and the Government are being swift and decisive. The message that has emerged from the debate on the guillotine motion is that the Opposition's stupid claims about a dithering Government are untrue. I hope that the Opposition eat their words.

5.10 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

The essential part of the debate happened at the beginning. It was the question put by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) to the Leader of the House about whether there was a precedent for a guillotine motion to be introduced without any effort having been made to see whether there could be consultation with the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman had to answer that there was no precedent at all. I should have thought that, even on that basis, the Government would have had second thoughts—especially when we remember that one of the reasons why the House and the country are in such an appalling mess over the poll tax is that the previous poll tax legislation was also guillotined. Had it not been guillotined, there would have been a much lengthier debate.

I remember the speeches made by my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). If the debates had continued, I do not say that we could have altered the Bill completely, but it might have been a different story. The House would at least have been given a proper chance to debate. It is staggering that a Government who have got into such hopeless confusion by rushing the previous legislation through should insist now on rushing this measure through in an even more headlong and improper fashion.

The Leader of the House had no excuse for proposing to the House what he has proposed today, especially in view of his reply to the spokesman for the Liberal party. When there is agreement between different parties, despite the fury that may accompany the background to a measure, it is a normal process for the Government to say that they want to push legislation through for special reasons—for example, the matter of the timetable, or to help local authorities. It is normal for the Government in those circumstances—when they want to push through legislation quickly—to get the co-operation of the House. They are not entitled to push it through by dictation, especially if it causes so much trouble for themselves and for the country. The Leader of the House made it clear that no effort had been made, so we must assume that the Government preferred to do it that way.

On Budget day there seemed to be some rejoicing about the Government's proposals. Some hon. Members thought that they were a good idea for everyone——

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)


Mr. Foot

I shall just make this point, and then I shall give way.

A report of what was said about the guillotine motion states that most hon. Members condemned it although some liked the proposals. It may have been the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), who has just given us such a high constitutional view of the matter, who prompted The Independent to report: Most Conservatives, however, were delighted at what they hope will prove a short-term solution to the political death trap of the poll tax. A Conservative Member was reported as saying: I don't give a damn about the propriety … All I'm interested in is the money. It seems that Thatcherism is not dead—the whole gospel is there.

Mr. Wilshire

I am not sure whether I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman thought that I could have said that, but I should make it clear that it was not me.

Mr. Foot

Who are the other claimants? I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold).

Mr. Arnold

For the benefit of the House, will the right hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to 20 July 1976? As Leader of the House, he proposed not one, not two, not three, not even four but five guillotine motions. Can he tell us what the atmosphere was like in the House on that occasion?

Mr. Tony Banks

That is Labour productivity for you.

Mr. Foot

I have attended many more debates than most of the youngsters on the Tory Benches put together. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what happened on that occasion. During a debate with the previous Leader of the House about the five guillotine motions that I introduced—I say this to the present Leader of the House—I said that, if the House would like a full debate on the five issues and the problems involved, or what mandate we had from the electorate—[Interruption.] All were in our manifesto—[Interruption.] I am talking to the Leader of the House, not to the hangers-on. I said that, if the Leader of the House would like a debate on the five motions, I should be happy to agree, because it might save time and prevent interruptions by people who had not studied the issues.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

I have listened to the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) on every guillotine motion since I entered the House in 1987. He is being uncharacteristically ungenerous today. On a previous occasion, he said that the reason why he backed the five guillotine motions, although he has spoken against every such motion that the Government have introduced since they have been in power, was that he agreed with the policies. That is what he said before. Instead of torturing himself by speaking on each guillotine motion—I suppose it is out of a sense of frustration and guilt—is it not time that he stopped being guilty and retired?

Mr. Foot

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, but he did not make the best use of his opportunity.

The best way to solve the problem—and I should be happy to fall in with it—is to approach the Leader of the House and ask for a debate on all general questions. I should then do my best to allay the hon. Gentleman's fears.

Mr. Rooker

Surely there is a difference between my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) introducing guillotine motions to push through manifesto commitments and today's motion which reneges on the manifesto on which the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) entered the House in 1987.

Mr. Foot

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) says, there is a slight difference, although I am not sure that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) could see it.

I have always advised people to look at the list of names on the back page of the Bill. The list reads as follows: Presented by Mr. Secretary Heseltine, supported by the Prime Minister Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mr. Secretary Lang, Mr. Michael Portillo and Mr. Robert Key. The list does not include the Leader of the House, or the name of the person in whose interests the Bill has been introduced—the chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), who has not put his name to the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Heseltine—[Laughter.]—well, that is what he is; he sticks to that principle more than he does to Henley, has not turned up today to help with the guillotine on his own Bill. He may have a good excuse, but I remember a previous occasion, when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)—I would rather say this to his face than behind his back, but I cannot say it to his face as he is not here—as Secretary of State for Defence, introduced a Bill to privatise Devonport dockyard. It was a scandalous Bill because Devonport dockyard had been properly nationalised and serving the country since the days of Queen Elizabeth I. The right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill to privatise the dockyard. He was so discourteous to the House—a frequent habit, as we can see today—that he did not come here to introduce the Bill himself but sent along an underling. I do not remember the underling's name—it was Lamont, or something like that—but it was a person who had no distinction in terms of speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Defence except that, like Nelson, he had a black eye. We did not get very far on that occasion.

It would be most improper for us to proceed with the Bill without it having a proper name. We cannot get the figures right because, as the Secretary of State for the Environment has shown, the Government do not have the foggiest idea about the figures. Let us see whether we can get the name right. I have a few suggestions, such as the "Heseltine Horror". What about that? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] No, it is not very good. What about the "Major Mite"? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] No, that is not much better. Let us see whether we can get something better than that. What about the "Lamont Lemon"? I invite hon. Members later in the debate to see what they can do themselves. I am an old-fashioned kind of chap. For the sake of auld lang syne, I still like to use the phrase that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) used. She called the poll tax her "flagship", so the Bill should be called the "Flagship Tax Bill".

If hon. Members wish to complain about that, they should consider the other Members who should be here to defend the Bill. The right hon. Member for Bath, the spokesman for Conservative central office, should be here defending the Bill. Perhaps he has not yet recovered from the saturnalia at Southport. Of all the grim and grisly events of the past 10 or 15 years, the encounter at Southport must have been almost the worse.

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has not come to the House today as he should have done. I am so old that I can hardly tell the difference between the Pattens, the Patties, the Patsies and the others. I cannot imagine how you tell the difference between them, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At least one of them should have had his name on the Bill. Until one of those right hon. Members puts his name to the Bill, and until we have an explanation from them, I shall consider the Bill to be an even bigger fraud than it appears on the face of it.

Yesterday, we had a most interesting contribution to the discussion from the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). I am reminded of one of the most extraordinary aspects of the whole affair—if I malign any hon. Member, I am sure that he will jump to his feet and put me right—when I look at the Government Front Bench and a little further afield and see those who were sacked at various intervals. I challenged the right hon. Member for Blaby on the matter. My comments may be a great deal more popular with the Government today than they were yesterday, as the Government are not entirely pleased with the right hon. Gentleman.

Despite all the commotion about the tax, about its horrors, iniquities and injustices, and about the injury that it will do the Government, not one Conservative Member has plucked up courage to resign over the issue of the poll tax. When I put the argument to him yesterday, the right hon. Member for Blaby said that I could not accuse him of not resigning. However, he did not resign over the poll tax, but over the intrusion of Professor Walters into his own private or public life—whichever it was—which he thought was a more important question than the principle of the poll tax. Not one Conservative Member, on the Front or Back Benches, can say that he put principle before personal interest on the great question of the poll tax. They were all afraid of the previous Prime Minister and bowed to her. It is because of that long, craven performance that the House and the country face this terrible problem.

If the right hon. Member for Blaby bothered to turn up occasionally when he is not making a speech in the House, he might bounce to his feet now and say, "Those of us at the Treasury were working against the tax." I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would try to give some reflected glory to the present Prime Minister on that basis. The Treasury was supposed to be against the tax and was supposed to be working all the time to try to do something about it. As I said previously, some Conservatives claim to have been doing good by stealth. The rest is on record, and that record will destroy the Government.

5.27 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I should think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are probably as puzzled as I am after the previous speech. Who would have thought that the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was the progenitor of the mother of all guillotines? He had support from his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) who, in his usual sotto voce way, said that the great benefit of what the right hon. Gentleman had done all those years ago was productivity, that the Labour party does not believe in one guillotine at a time, but in five or even more at a time. We know where they stand.

I do not like the Opposition. I am sure that that feeling is reciprocated. There is nothing personal about it. They are a splendid group of men and women to a person. I just do not like their political style. Let me explain. I remember recently, after one of those many boring, boorish television occasions, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), in his usual political style of Laurence Olivier playing Richard III, busily manufacturing statistics, mauling facts and finding, as only he can, the worst in everything. One of my constituents said to me, "Don't worry, Mr. M. he is only a cross-eyed moaner." The trouble is that all of them on the Opposition Benches are cross-eyed moaners. They know that the Bill is necessary, but they are moaning about it. Everyone knows that the rates were wrong, that they were grossly unfair and had to go—or should I say, everybody knew?

The Opposition believed that, by waving a wand and stitching in the word "fair" before "rates", they would miraculously become fair. Lewis Carroll would have been proud of them. The Opposition cannot cope with the fact that no Government before this one have had the guts and tenacity to deal with the problems of local government finance. The Bill is part of that vital and important process.

The community charge was, in many respects, a good answer to the problem. Those who voted for extravagance paid extravagantly. Everyone had to pay something. There was a small problem, but with the successful launch of the community charge, that problem would have been overcome easily. We all accept that the community charge is bureaucratic, but with a successful launch, its benefits would have outweighed the disadvantages. The key was a successful launch, but that did not happen, and that is why we are where we are now.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was a remarkable person—[Interruption.]—is a remarkable person. She was the finest peacetime Prime Minister of this century. Without her premiership, this country would have been heading for the political knacker's yard.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Marlow

I shall not give way; I am short of time because others have gone on for a long time. The hon. Gentleman has had his go, but I am sure that he will have plenty of time to have another go later, when I shall not stand in his way. On this occasion, however, if he will forgive me, I shall not give way.

Human nature took its toll, however, as it does so often. Power has its effect, even on the greatest, and the early and necessary success of my right hon. Friend's will power made her too certain and too remote. She began to lack that political beer that refreshes the parts that other beers do not reach. Her political instincts and responsiveness atrophied. It was my right hon. Friend's determination to launch the community charge, warts and all, at a time of economic difficulty that meant that it was floated at too high a level. That launch secured the sinking of the flagship, if not my right hon. Friend's downfall.

In the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), the public consequently has not been persuaded that the tax is fair". Had the community charge been launched at a lower level, it would still be firing on all guns, but it was not to be. It had to go, to die, to be replaced. The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) keeps talking about "son of poll tax", but he should realise that his fox has been shot and that the poll tax is going.

That brings me back to the Opposition—where do they stand? Apparently we dither, but we took a massive and courageous decision to reform the finances and structure of local government. We dithered when we took a clear and unambiguous decision to replace a major policy. According to the Opposition, we have dithered because, for a few weeks, we want to consult and to hear the views of others to strengthen the support for, and consequently make successful, a radical and overdue reform of a vital sector of government.

After 11 years in opposition, most parties devise a half-credible, half-worked-out and half-decent plan for local government, but not this Opposition. It is they who are the ditherers.

Where do the Opposition stand today? The Bill seeks to reduce the headline figure for community charge by £140. Are they for or against that? Those who are for it complain that it should have been done in a different way. How? Would they have pre-empted the Budget?

Mr. Battle


Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)


Mr. Marlow

One would, one would not. Between them there is a political line that is either naive or dishonest. Either the Labour party has been so long in opposition that it is unfit to govern or its political line is so deceitful that it should never be allowed to govern.

The Opposition criticise our new proposals, but what are they against?

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marlow

I shall not give way, as I am about to finish.

Are the Opposition against the fact that the change relates to property valuation, or are they against the fact that the change relates to the number of people in each household? In the immortal phrase, "I believe we ought to know." The Labour party is a party of little minds with little policies and negative attitudes, a party the summit of whose ambitions is not to improve, but to delay and frustrate.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Marlow

The hon. Gentleman is signalling that that is precisely what he wants to do. I shall not give way.

I believe that today's schedule of debate provides more than enough time for the teaspoonful of positive thought that the Opposition are likely to bring to the debate—certainly more than they deserve. I therefore support the motion.

5.35 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I beg to move amendment (a) to the motion, in paragraph (8) (2), at end insert— '(e) the Question on any new Causes, new Schedules or amendments which shall have been selected for debate by Mr. Speaker or by the Chairman of the Committee;'. As I listened to the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and those of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) I began to wonder about the criterion for those selected, or nominated, for the job of speaking for the Government in favour of the motion. Clearly, that criterion did not cover those who want to address themselves precisely to the parliamentary consequences of tabling a motion in this form in circumstances such as this.

Those who may have spoken in those terms—for example the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee—made themselves scarce as soon as they saw the direction in which the debate was going. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made a pointed, sensible intervention earlier, and he has stuck the debate out, possibly with some embarrassment. He may yet help to carry the argument further by intervening again, or in some other way, because the motion before us is without precedent.

There is no previous occasion on which any Government of any party have sought to railroad a Bill through all its stages in the House in one day with the aid of a timetable motion. That has simply never been attempted, as nobody has dared to do it or suggest it. The occasions on which Bills have gone through all their stages in the House on one day make an interesting comparison with today's occasion: for example, the abdication crisis, which is a strange parallel to the poll tax reversal of today; the Northern Ireland crisis or an impending general election—the last thing we may contemplate today, given the state of things.

The Government did not need to get into this mess. They are in a hole and they have made a fatal mistake of carrying on digging, which one is always told not to do in such circumstances. The Government have consulted and have taken advice. We gave them some advice, and if they had taken it they would not have to do what they are doing today. The Government could have introduced a local income tax some time ago.

Even if we accept for the purposes of today's debate that the Government had a difficulty and that they wanted to take some action for the coming year to relieve the undoubtedly arduous burdens of the poll tax, it would have been possible to do so without post offices being piled high with bills and sacks of mail. It was not beyond the wisdom of the Government to advise local authorities that, because the review was continuing, it would be prudent not to send out the bills until the Secretary of State had made his announcement on Thursday. That would have covered the unexpected announcement on Tuesday in the Budget—the element of surprise.

Mr. Favell

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of piles of community charge bills, and that obviously worries anyone who is keen to cut out waste. If the hon. Gentleman intends to oppose the motion, however, he will ensure that that uncertainty continues. That will mean that more authorities will have even more mounds of bills and will lead to uncertainty for the community charge payer. Now that we have made the decision on the community charge, surely it is right simply to get on with it.

Mr. Beith

I am in favour of that, but my argument is that the motion is unnecessary and dangerous in its consequences. Conservative Members should consider some of the consequences of passing a motion of this kind, whatever the merits may appear to be at the time. Bad precedents are usually set by people who think that they are doing everyone good. I am sure that that view is held by Ministers and most Conservative Members, leaving aside those who are incapable of distinguishing between the politics of the issue and the substance of parliamentary procedure.

Some Conservative Members might have a thought to the parliamentary procedure, but believe that they are doing so much good that it does not matter what holes they make in the parliamentary system or what coach and horses they drive through parliamentary procedure. I hope to make them think a little before I conclude my remarks.

Having got into this mess, there is no need for the Government to destroy substantial parts of parliamentary democracy as well. Poll tax mistakes have already cost billions of pounds in transfers of money and millions of pounds in totally unnecessary expenditure of the kind that I referred to; why should they cost us significant elements of parliamentary democracy too? We are all paying a high price for other people's mistakes—mistakes for which no heads have yet rolled.

This allocation of time motion is a device to get the Government off the hook, but it is tomorrow's precedent for silencing parliamentary democracy. The Leader of the House has gone to another meeting, which may be important but is not as important as this debate. He presented a pretty weak case when trying to justify this motion. In answer to my question, he conceded that he had not made the slightest attempt to secure agreement from other parties, or even to establish whether there was any basis for such agreement.

I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's evidence for the belief that many hon. Members will vote against the Bill and will seek to prevent it from being enacted. Whatever arguments I might wish to adduce about the greater suitability and wisdom of proceeding by way of a local income tax, I have not yet met many hon. Members who are prepared to vote in the Lobby in such a way as to deny the £140 relief to those of their constituents who will get it, or to deny the lesser relief to constituents who will get that. There seems to be a general disposition to recognise that, although the mess that the Government have made is great, relief is desperately needed.

The Leader of the House has advanced no evidence that he would have difficulty getting the Bill through the Lobbies of the House, and there is not much evidence that he would even have much difficulty getting it through debate in the House. When he talks about the urgency of the matter from the point of view of local government, I must point out that Opposition parties are as fully represented in local government as the Conservative party. We are in constant contact with treasurers, local government officers and councillors in our constituencies. We know about the difficulties that they face—indeed, we have been trying to point them out throughout the period in which the Government have added to them. We are well aware that, if legislation were not enacted this week, it would add to those already serious difficulties. Therefore, there was a clear basis for getting a Bill through this week.

Some hon. Members would advance the argument that timetables from the beginning of a Bill have positive merits and that the procedures of the House would be better if we timetabled everything from the start. That case was advanced by the Select Committee on Procedure when I was a member—the Chairman of that Committee was present during the early part of this debate.

However, that notion was opposed by the Government and also by the Opposition Front Bench because it contained safeguards to ensure that timetabling from the beginning did not deny the right of reasonable debate on issues within a Bill to substantial groups, whether in other parties or Conservative Back-Bench Members. Therefore, it is no use the Government advancing the argument that timetabling could be a better way to do business in the House as they denied a properly safeguarded system of timetabling to the House.

The Government have tabled a motion that does not provide for adequate discussion to develop on specific amendments and for votes on individual amendments. A fair block of time will be available to us, but there is no guarantee that that time will be reasonably allocated between various subjects.

I said that there was a fair block of time, but let me qualify that. There is an amount of time—several hours—in which we can debate the Bill. However, Ministers of all people ought to know that, when one gets down to the details of the Bill, it suddenly becomes apparent that some parts need more attention than others, because mistakes are inherent in the way that it is drafted or problems may arise from it. There is no way that we shall be able to cope with those within the procedure offered to us tonight.

Interest in early amendments may well ensure that many later amendments are never considered and certainly never voted on. That is the reason for my amendment, which seeks to ensure that, in those cases where Mr. Speaker has decided that an amendment ought to be selected for debate, we can at least vote on it. The procedures of this motion ensure that the Government decide the substance of the Bill and what amendments are to be voted on because, when time runs out, the Government will choose which matters will be voted on.

That is also true of Lords amendments. We will have one hour to debate all the amendments that may be sent from another place. In the face of these procedures, their Lordships will be wise to study the Bill very carefully indeed. They may well discover errors and send back amendments. However, the Government are free to decide that an important Lords amendment will only be voted on en bloc with a series of amendments, and thus it could simply be thrown out without debate as part of a group. Frankly, if that happens, their Lordships will be fully justified in insisting on their amendments and keeping that protest going until the House takes part in a proper parliamentary procedure, which this motion precludes in the circumstances that I have described.

The amendments that we will attempt to discuss later may reveal all sorts of errors and problems in the Bill. That is what happened in the case of the poll tax. Hon. Members will remember that Conservative Members focused attention upon some of the serious problems that arose because of the lack of banding or relationship to ability to pay. Those issues were not taken seriously enough, and eventually became the subject of a guillotined debate. Even though this Bill is much shorter, it would be very surprising if some matters did not need to be discussed.

Any discussions on amendments will cover various matters, including controversial issues that hon. Members are fully entitled to mention in the context of the Bill—for example, the 20 per cent. issue. It is the belief of many Opposition Members that it is ludicrous to continue to expect people to pay 20 per cent. of the poll tax when they have no income from which to pay it and would not pay it on grounds of income. The Audit Commission knows that it is ludicrous, because it costs more to collect than one gets back.

That is a reasonable subject to discuss. I do not believe that we would persuade the Government about that matter, so I would not propose that we spent the entire night discussing it but it is not unreasonable that we should deal with that issue to some extent in the context of this Bill.

Another issue is the poll tax in Scotland, where it has been levied for a year longer than in England and Wales. Scotland will not get a rebate backdated to the time when the tax started there. That is another controversial issue, on which, again, I am sure that the Government will give no ground on it, but it is reasonable to mention it in discussions on the Bill.

After we have considered that type of issue, we will come to important technical matters which are less controversial but are nevertheless important—for example, the question of what local authorities will do when it will clearly cost them more to collect the reduced poll tax than they will get from collecting it. That is a reasonable problem which has arisen as a direct consequence of the Bill. Amendments have been tabled to deal with that problem but we may never reach them. Therefore, we shall never be able to sort out the problem that local authority treasurers and councillors will face should they waste charge payers' money by spending more on collecting the charge than they receive by collecting it.

Last night, in the debate on the money resolution, a Minister who once thought that the poll tax was the greatest thing since sliced bread—and has not since resigned—made a few general observations. However, they were not helpful to local authorities, which want the Bill to be properly worded.

Another example of a technical matter of some importance that we need to consider later is the position as regards standard community charges. Are they or are they not reduced by £140? If they are reduced—I see that Ministers are nodding to say so—by £140, will local authorities be reimbursed for the disproportionately greater loss to their budget that some of them will face because of that substantial reduction in standard charges? I have consulted my local authority on that matter. That type of issue has been mentioned to us and should be explored through amendments to the Bill.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because, as I think he knows, two of my constituents happen to have a second home in his constituency. They have written to me, and have told me that they have written to the hon. Gentleman. Will he not concede that the real villain of the piece is his district council, which misused the discretion granted and charged my constituents a double community charge for their second home? That was never intended.

Mr. Beith

Far from being "never intended", that was specifically envisaged by the Government who included provisions that would allow exactly that to happen, and local authorities all over the country did exactly that. Many of those local authorities had a predominance of Conservative members. If the hon. Gentleman or the Minister—or the Bill—is to tell all those local authorities, Conservative and others, that there will be substantially less income from the standard charge, that is obviously a factor that the local authorities will have to consider, but it is too late now for them to readjust their budgets if there are to be substantial changes as a result of the Bill. I simply instance that as an example of the technical problems that local authorities will want to discuss later. Some problems may emerge in the debates in another place and return to us but, again, we shall have inadequate time to debate them.

As well as the major controversial issues, on which we shall not gain any ground from the Government, Ministers must know from their own experience of legislation that some issues may arise on which they will even feel disposed to make changes. They may even feel disposed to admit that the drafting is not satisfactory, but we do not have an adequate way of dealing with those problems.

We know what the answer will be tonight. It will be, "We haven't time to change anything." However, during the next few days, the Government could certainly find the time to get the Bill into some proper order. There is no point in introducing and carrying through bad legislation.

The result of all this is a bad day for Parliament. If this was the new procedure for parliamentary debate in Poland or Czechoslovakia, the Government would be talking about withdrawing aid from those countries because they were not setting out on proper democratic processes. This is a dangerous precedent. If this is okay—if it is all right to rush this Bill through on a timetable motion, denying any opportunity of challenge and debate simply because the Government face a difficulty of their own making—why should not the Government——

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's excellent speech, but some of us can distinctly smell burning. We hope that it is the poll tax going up in flames, but perhaps the matter could be investigated.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I shall have inquiries made.

Mr. Beith

I have always had the ambition metaphorically to set the House on fire.

If it is in order and if it is acceptable for the Government to solve a problem of their own making by this draconian extension of parliamentary practice, why should not the Government privatise British Coal in one day? Why should not a Labour Government renationalise British Telecom in one day? Why should we not set up a Scottish Parliament in one day on a guillotine motion? Why should we not introduce electoral reform in one day on a timetable or guillotine motion?

All of us would think that we would be doing no end of good by such measures—a good that would justify the abrogation of parliamentary procedure that is involved. There do not seem to be many hon. Members left who are prepared to speak up for the procedure itself and for the need for some kind of guarantee against a Government riding roughshod over the rights of hon. Members to represent their constituents.

If parliamentary democracy were not so fragile in this country, if we had a representative electoral system, we would never have had the poll tax in the first place, and none of this would be happening.

5.53 pm
Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has made an unusual speech in this debate, because he actually talked about the guillotine motion. The only other hon. Member to talk seriously—or perhaps I should say at length—about the guillotine motion was the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), to whom the House listened with great respect and enjoyment, first because of the magnificence of his speech—they are always magnificent—and secondly because no hon. Member knows more about guillotine motions than the right hon. Gentleman.

I remember being in opposition and sitting only a few feet from where the right hon. Gentleman is sitting and listening to him move five guillotine motions in one day. That was not the only occasion on which he moved a guillotine motion. At that time, exactly the same thoughts were in the minds of the then Opposition Members—members of the Conservative and Liberal parties—as have been advanced today by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Mr. Foot

indicated dissent.

Mr. Latham

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but we also thought that our procedures were being abused by having five guillotine motions in one day. The argument that he advanced at that time was that the Government had a mandate for it, that they were going to get their will, and that the House of Commons must respond to the procedures adopted by the Government. That argument is frequently used by Leaders of the House, because whenever there is a debate on a guillotine motion, those on the majority side of the House say, "We do not need to debate this at all. We could scrap all the debate and

The interesting thing about the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is that he produced real arguments for debating the guillotine motion. He said that the time allocated was not long enough, that the motion was unreasonable and improper and that the issues could not properly be discussed in the time allocated. He also said that, if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had had proper consultations, there could perhaps have been an agreed measure.

The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian, and I do not think that he can seriously suggest that it would have been possible for this Government to introduce this legislation in this form as an agreed measure, when he knows perfectly well that his party is in favour of a local income tax and that the Labour party is, in effect, in favour of returning to the rating system. Therefore, it would not be possible to have an agreed measure that could command the support also of the majority of my hon. Friends. The Government are clearly, therefore, in a difficult position.

I do not defer to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed in my admiration for the procedures of this House of which, in the past, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent was a great custodian. I remember listening to the right hon. Gentleman day after day when he was Leader of the House, when he behaved very strongly, but nobody could doubt his devotion to the House for a moment. If any of us really thought that the House would be gravely damaged by the procedures that we are debating, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed implied, I do not believe that many of us would be prepared to support the motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is clearly worried about this matter, and his concerns are to be respected because he is independent-minded and clear-thinking; I pay tribute to him for that.

I am prepared to vote for the motion for one reason and one reason only—because circumstances require it. Those circumstances are that my constituents need a reduction in the poll tax, and they need it now. I am absolutely delighted that, following the excellent Budget last Tuesday, my right hon. and hon. Friends have introduced a Bill that will reduce the poll tax for many of my constituents.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman says that his constituents need that reduction now. Do they also "need" the increase of 2.5 per cent. in value added tax?

Mr. Latham

The Government are absolutely right to pay for this concession by increasing other taxes. I have publicly argued for that on many occasions——

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Do they need it equally?

Mr. Latham

Obviously, they are not likely to like it, but they will accept that it is right that public expenditure should be paid for rather than coming from further borrowing.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

My hon. Friend's comment that his constituents want the reduction now goes to the nub of this debate and of the one that we shall be having for the rest of the night. Does he agree that the Labour party has been trying to say that it does not disapprove of the £4 billion shift, but that it would prefer it to have gone, not to his and my constituents., but to the local authorities?

Does my hon. Friend further agree, that if that sum had gone to the local authorities, they would merely have spent it and our constituents would have received exactly the same bills?

Mr. Latham

I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Returning to the guillotine motion, it is significant that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) began by saying, once or twice, that the motion and the debate were a disgrace; he then talked about the Bill; said again that the whole thing was a disgrace, and then sat down. He devoted his whole speech to the Bill. What really worries the Opposition is that the Government are cutting poll tax bills now.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Does not my hon. Friend agree that our hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) has got it in one? Let us take the example of the people in the London borough of Merton. They have a newly elected Labour council which has increased the demand by £136, which means that the council will have spent almost all the £140. That is an example of exactly what Labour councils do with more money.

Mr. Latham

My hon. Friend is right; that is well understood by many people and it is one reason why the Labour party's results in Wandsworth, Westminster and Ealing were so poor in the local government elections. It is also perhaps the reason why the Conservative party won the county council by-election in Leicester city last Thursday. I have no doubt that it will go on to do very well in the local elections in Leicester city on 2 May.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did not put forward the motion in a spirit of enthusiasm. Of course it would have been better if we had had more time to discuss the matter. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is right to say that more time would have been desirable. However, the Government having decided, in my view absolutely rightly, in the Budget to cut the poll tax for our constituents, it is proper for the House to respond and get on with the legislation so that the poll tax can be reduced. That is what we are doing today. I believe that our procedures are here to serve the House and our constituents, not the other way round.

6 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), in a thoughtful speech, referred to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have served in local government. As one such person, I should like to make the point that, if we had seen in local government the brashness, arrogance and disregard for procedure that are represented in the motion, the party responsible—whatever its complexion—would have been rejected by the electorate at the following election. No doubt that will be the case when people get the opportunity to vote nationally.

We are being asked to give the Government time—a precious commodity in the House—to deal with a measure when it is clear that not even the Government are aware what the measure is likely to mean. We are entitled to look at the road map before we decide on the route.

Because the Government believe in government in dribs and drabs, by leak, we are entitled to ask why they have got themselves into difficulties and whether more parliamentary time will decrease the difficulties or add to them. On the Government's record, the evidence is that, if we give them more scope, the difficulties will become even larger.

We heard a major leak yesterday in the shape of the speech from the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). I do not know about his expertise in financial matters, but when he came to local government and steadfastly refused to give way, he exposed an appalling ignorance of the subject. It worried me that he, with other right hon. Members, should have had such influence on local government in the past decade. Because of the thinking of the right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues, we face the current difficulties.

It is not enough for Conservative Members to say that we are just talking about a reduction of £140 for each poll tax payer. It is much more complicated. If we decide to allow the Government to go ahead in the pragmatic way that they are attempting to do, and have done for so long, we will ignore the picture that is staring us in the face and which the former Chancellor did not seem to recognise. He took credit for an increase of £2.6 billion in the funding of local government expenditure in 1990, but he ignored information available in the Library which shows that since 1978–79, at 1990–91 prices, the central Government contribution to local government has decreased by over £57 billion.

No structure can take such abuse and underfunding without there being local difficulties. It is not enough for Conservative Members to blame, as they have done for the last couple of years, Labour councils for increases in expenditure. I have never heard such slagging of councils and councillors as there has been in the last couple of years. Surely Conservative Members should have the modesty to admit that their approach to the matter and the poll tax might have had something to do with it.

Yesterday, the former Chancellor argued for even more centralisation and more reductions in the amount of total funding received by local authorities; he seemed to argue that the Treasury should have a bigger say in local government finance. Many of us are worried about it, and our worries increased today because of the question asked by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell). We concede that his judgment has not been totally awry, but he tried to persuade the Prime Minister that instead of increasing VAT by 2.5 per cent. he should make it 5 per cent. Therein lies the difficulty—do we believe in local government, or do we not?

When we hear the arguments of the former Chancellor and some of his colleagues, are we not entitled to remind them of the Irish experiment? In 1977, Jack Lynch swept to power in the Republic of Ireland when he said he would abolish local rates. He did it, but most people in the Republic would agree that it has not recovered to this day. We remember the huge protests about increases in income tax, the farmers marching along O'Connell street, and local communities pleading with central Government to remember their needs in roads, social services and education.

It seems that some Government advisers here are determined to take education out of the local government structure. If that happens, it will be to our cost and even more to the cost of our children.

We are told that under the new Prime Minister we have a listening Government. I hope that proves to be the case, but they have not made a good start by asking for a guillotine or, despite their pledges about consultation, by telling us firmly that the new proposals will still be based on the principle of the poll tax, with a clumsy property tax. The Minister of State, Scottish Office—the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)—has not graced us with his presence in the debate, nor has the Secretary of State for Scotland. How they can go along with the proposal after the campaign that they conducted I cannot understand.

Instead of being asked to adopt a simple guillotine for a few hours so that the Government can tidy up some unfinished business, we are faced with something much more significant——

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman referred to the absence of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). In fairness, I was watching that hon. Member closely during Prime Minister's questions and I have never seen an hon. Member look more ill than he did in that quarter of an hour.

Mr. Clarke

I am not an expert on medical matters and wish the hon. Member for Stirling no ill—his political deficiencies will be sufficient for us to remove him when the opportunity comes.

What we are debating tonight is much more significant than many Conservative Members have said, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), as one would have expected. We also hear about changes in the structure of local government, including that in Scotland. Surely, if there is to be a change in structure, we in Scotland are entitled—again, it is disgraceful that no Scottish Office Minister is here—to have a commission such as that which has been offered to England and Wales. We hear so much about consultation but such a commission is being denied the people of Scotland because our Secretary of State says that there is a consensus on these matters in Scotland.

The consensus is much wider than the Secretary of State thinks. There is, indeed, a consensus in Scotland that we should get rid of the poll tax, that we should provide reasonable local services and that the community should have a say in its area but there is a consensus about another matter, which the Secretary of State for Scotland has resisted. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) referred to it yesterday. I accept that most people want a new structure of local government in Scotland. There is an overwhelming demand for a Scottish Parliament to draw up the structure within the United Kingdom.

I do not see why the Secretary of State should say that there is a consensus for one tier of local government but ignore the consensus for a Scottish Parliament. He should bear that in mind. The right hon. Member for Blaby said yesterday that when the case for a Scottish Parliament was last debated in Scotland, it fell at the first post because the assembly that was suggested—my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will have fond memories of the debates—did not have tax-raising powers. That was one of the reasons why in the referendum we did not obtain the 40 per cent. vote which the House demanded. Furthermore, the former Prime Minister, Lord Home, intervened during the referendum to say that a Conservative Government would make those tax-raising powers available in any case.

I believe that local government should be seen as local government. It should have the power to raise finance and it should have a reasonable relationship with central Government. Local government has been damaged in recent years. We have not so much drifted as raced towards centralisation under this Government. We have seen the introduction of competitive tendering and the abolition of the Greater London council. The presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) in the House day after day is a reminder that the abolition of the GLC was not welcome to local government or the people of London. Far too often, as part of the aggro against local government, we have seen the intervention of the laws, as though people were not entitled to make their own decisions in a local setting. On the whole, that has not been helpful.

Mr. Favell

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a great dilemma. What proportion of local government expenditure should come from central Government? He mentioned that if the same arrangements applied as in 1979 local government would be £57,000 million better off. What proportion of that would he like to see go to local government? How does he suggest that it should be raised?

Mr. Clarke

I am delighted to be asked that question. There was a time when local and central Government met and agreed on these matters. If that had been the case in recent times, we in Scotland would not have lost 12 per cent. of global rate support grant as we have done over the past 10 years. I suggest that, despite the Tory ideology on these matters, there is a case for returning to a partnership between this House and local government. It is a matter of great regret that the partnership has been lost. Instead, we have seen scepticism and mistrust. That approach is unhelpful. For that reason, I hope that the House will reject the motion before us tonight and move towards strengthening local government. In so doing, we shall also strengthen British democracy.

6.14 pm
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

I return to the point that I was making to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). He said that local government received £57,000 million less than it did in 1979. It is unreasonable of the Opposition not to apply themselves to the problem of where that £57,000 million should come from. I calculate that £57,000 million is roughly equivalent to 35p in the pound in income tax. Do the Opposition suggest that income tax should increase at the rate of 35p?

Mr. Rooker

The figure that my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) gave was cumulative over 12 years, so let us not have that hare running.

Mr. Favell


Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman did not know the facts.

Mr. Favell

I asked a perfectly reasonable question and attempted to deal with the matter. I accept the answer that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) gave. The hon. Member for Monklands, West did not say that the figure was per annum or in total. This is a debate, and it is important that we debate these matters sensibly.

There is a dilemma about what percentage of local government expenditure should come from central Government. It is not unreasonable for me to expect the Opposition to label how much they want. As the hon. member for Monklands, West said, the amount has been reduced. I asked the question—I see the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) nodding in agreement. It was my parliamentary question that identified that the average community charge now would be £152 per annum if the Government could return to the arrangements which applied in 1979. It was my question, and I have done the House a favour by asking it. I have certainly done the community charge payer a favour because the solution that the Government have proposed—a £140 reduction for each charge payer—is sensible. I am sure that in their heart of hearts Opposition Members, regardless of party, agree with just that.

Mr. Maxton

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, if the Government had been prepared to increase central Government grant to Scotland in 1985, when the Government got into the blind panic about revaluation in Scotland which produced the crazy poll tax scheme, we would not be in this position now. We would never have abolished the rates, and the Government would not be in the blind panic crisis that they are in.

Mr. Favell

That may be, It may also be that, if we had maintained the level of government grant, we would not be seeking to repeal the community charge. I fear that that is one thing about which the Opposition are worried. Once the community charge has been reduced, the people of Britain may find it is no bad thing. On the doorsteps, people have made it perfectly clear that they are worried about the level of the community charge. They say, "Mr. Favell, we have no objection to everyone contributing to the cost of local government services. We object to the level." I am not surprised. From day one, I have been worried about the level. It has affected certain members of the community badly, especially, pensioners with a small occupational pension from the gas board, British Rail or whatever, of perhaps £30 or £40 a month. I have a great deal of sympathy with such people.

I for one am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer grasped the nettle and proposed the reduction of £140. Clearly, he had the support of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I applaud what has been done. To suggest that there has been dithering over this issue by the Government is a complete travesty of the truth. It is one of the most decisive decisions to be made for a long time.

The Government went to the heart of the problem, and the answer is being implemented rapidly. For that reason, I support the motion. To delay matters now would mean local authorities not knowing the sort of bills to distribute, and that would go on while we argued the toss for weeks and perhaps months. It would be equally unrealistic to expect the community charge payer to wait, because he too must budget, just as town hall staffs do.

The Opposition parties are simply indulging in sound and fury. The fear that the Government have made a decision that should have been made a long time ago and reduce the level of the community charge. I should not be opposed to retaining the present system. There will be time for all concerned to discuss the issues involved, but at the outset we have attended to the root of the problem. That has resulted in our removing the unnecessarily, and I believe unsupportably, high bills that some members of society have received.

6.21 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Credit is due to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for making an excellent speech, although I take issue with him on one point. I do not object too strongly to the parliamentary chaos that accompanies this legislation. I would rather have the chaos confronting the demise of the poll tax than the chaos resulting from its continuation.

Nor do I resent the panic on the Government Benches that was evident earlier during Prime Minister's Question Time. Any group of people who were determined to impose a poll tax on the people deserve any panic that comes their way. I caution the Government, however. Even a group of people in headlong retreat should pause and allow time to consider whether they are running away in the right direction.

It is clear, particularly from last night's money resolution, that the full implications of the £140 reduction have not been thought through by the Government. Indeed, we now know from the Minister's announcement last night that only at a very late stage did the Government suddenly realise that taking £140 off the headline poll tax bill would not help many people already affected by the community charge reduction scheme It was clear from last night's announcement that the developing concern, to put it no more strongly, of people who are already feeling cheated—having been told that they will get £140 the Government were suddenly confronted with the argument that many people would get nothing—has provoked the Government into making more changes in the reduction scheme.

I appeal for more time to consider people in receipt of poll tax rebate who, under the new legislation, will not benefit from anything like the £140. If they are on the full 80 per cent. rebate, the reduction in their final poll tax bills will be very small. Compared with the enormous cost of the Budget measure that we are considering, the cost of exempting those in the 20 per cent. category—people on the lowest incomes, the poor, sick, unemployed and students—from the poll tax would be tiny.

I argue—not just in terms of principle and the general interest, because such an argument would not make much impression on the Tory party, but even on the basis of Tory self—interest that the Government should allow time for us to consider properly the amendments that stand on the Order Paper, especially those that would allow a reduction of £140 in final poll tax bills, as opposed to headline bills, which would properly help not just those in the 20 per cent. category but a good proportion of the

The panic in which the Tories find themselves was confirmed by the Prime Minister a week past Monday when he said with reasonable candour to his Back Benchers that the poll tax had become "uncollectable". Less quoted, and perhaps even more direct, were some remarks made on BBC television about two weeks ago by the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox), the vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee, who presumably has his ear close to the ground and knows what Tory Members are thinking. He said: We have to listen to the people. So many of them are not paying it. That has led to this legislation, to the chaos in parliamentary procedure and to the panic in the Tory ranks. Clearly, the poll tax has been tested to destruction.

6.25 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

At the heart of the whole issue which faces us is a question of timing. We are talking about the largest transfer of taxation—£4.25 billion—for 10 years. The transfer could not have been made earlier. We could not have announced such an increase in spending without announcing how the money would be found. Without doing that, there would have been a run on the pound and the markets would have thought that it was a case of unsound finance by the Government.

National taxation must be announced simultaneously with the Budget, and the Budget must be as close as possible to the start of the financial year to which it refers. So, once the announcement was made in the Budget, speed was of the essence to put the mechanics in place, and that is what the timetable motion is about. It is technically essential to the process with which we are concerned.

Urgency also arises in the need to respond to public opinion, which wants us to take the £140 off quickly, but we must also respond urgently to the requirements of administrators and financial controllers in individual councils, including Labour-controlled authorities.

Public opinion on the community charge is primarily an objection to the weight of the tax. Time and again we hear that all are agreed that every adult in the community should pay a share towards local government, but there is no agreement about the weight of the charge. An analogy would be a bridge with a capacity for four-tonne vehicles. One does not drive a 10-tonner across, because the bridge would break. That has happened to the community charge.

I welcome the increase of £4.25 billion in revenue support grants because they create a reduction of £140 in the bills that people would otherwise have received. The reduction is popular with the public.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman says that the weight of the matter is the size of the bill. What does he consider to be the consideration in the minds of people who live in areas where, last year, the community charge was £240 to £260 or, as in my area, £280? Why, if their figures are not weighted, are they also vigorously opposed to the poll tax?

Mr. Arnold

Because what they were led to expect was much less than the outturn figures. We could all make comparisons, as I could for Gravesham.

Why are Labour Members so opposed to this measure and to the community charge? After all, they have not been well known for opposing taxation. Indeed, the Labour party is known as the party of high taxation, and the new programme that Labour Members have been announcing, along with the promises that go with it, proves that they belong to the party of high spending and, consequently, of high taxing.

Mr. Rooker

I hate to repeat the argument, but the hon. Gentleman has never heard a Labour Member say that the Labour party's central objection to the poll tax is based on anything other than the fact that it was a flat rate tax unrelated to the ability to pay. That was repeated ad nauseam during 1987 and 1988 and was the subject of a special one-day debate in the House on the basis of the so-called Mates amendments. Our central objection to the poll tax was that it was the same rate for everyone in a local authority area. The hon. Gentleman has clearly not taken that point on board.

Mr. Arnold

The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that the community charge is related to inability to pay because it included an enhanced rebate system, which was far more generous than the rate rebate system and coped with problems arising from the inability to pay.

The Labour party is opposed to the community charge because it enables the general public to compare councils' performances. It did away with charging so many pence in the pound on a notional 1972 rental product of a property. People could understand the community charge on the basis of so much a head for one council and so much for another. They began to compare councils and asked why some people paid £250 while those down the road in another borough paid £450. The community charge had become a comparative measure.

Mr. Beith

Should not we debate on such an occasion—it is the reason why I am so critical of the motion—the fact that the poll tax is not clear? Why else do Conservative councils in places such as Warwickshire and, before it changed, Harrogate, claim that high poll tax charges are not their fault?

Mr. Arnold

Because those councils need to discuss the standard spending assessment components. That does not alter the fact that the community charge has provided figures that the ordinary man in the street can understand in comparing one council with another.

The Labour party's hysterical reaction to the community charge is a desperate attempt to create a smokescreen to hide the real figures. Let us consider the charges net of the £140. Our constituents are to receive their bills shortly. In some areas, the local authority is totally under the control of one party. That is the case with districts that have Conservative unitary authorities, such as the metropolitan counties and Greater London. Others have both Conservative shire county councils and Conservative shire district councils. There are 80 such districts, with Conservative councils fully in control, and their community charge next year, net of the£140, will be, on average, £213. Only three districts have Liberal Democrat councils—at a unitary level or on both levels—and their average community charge will be £230. People must pay 8 per cent. more for the privilege of voting Liberal.

Pride of place goes to the 76 districts controlled by Labour councils, where the average charge will be £268—£55 more than the respective Conservative councils. Thus, people must pay 26 per cent. more for the privilege of voting Labour.

Whichever way we cut the mixed two-tier authorities, we find the same phenomenon. For example, the 112 shire districts under Labour county councils will have an average community charge next year of £268, whereas the 152 shire districts under Conservative county councils will charge an average charge of £226—£42 less than the Labour-controlled districts. People must bear a heavy burden if it costs them 19 per cent. more to live under a Labour-controlled county council than a Conservative-controlled one.

If we cut the figures the other way, we see that the 129 Conservative shire districts will charge an average of £227, whereas the 112 Labour-controlled shire districts will charge £274. Therefore, for the privilege of living in a Labour shire district, people will pay £47, or 21 per cent. a head more. However we consider the matter, Labour councils cost more.

The public already know that the people of Wandsworth, thanks to their Conservative council, will pay a nil community charge in the coming year.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Where is the accountability in that?

Mr. Arnold

The accountability comes when, thanks to having voted for a Conservative council and swept away some 30 Labour councillors, Wandsworth residents have a better council that costs them nothing extra this year.

People also know that Conservative-controlled Westminster will charge £36. They may know that Conservative Rochester council will charge £50 and Conservative Wellingborough council will charge £129. The lowest charges in the country will be made by Conservative-controlled councils.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I take the hon. Gentleman back to the figures that he quoted for shire councils? He compared Labour and Conservative-controlled shire councils. Will he confirm that, if we compare those lists with the lists of councils that provide nursery education, we find that Labour-controlled councils make provision for nursery education whereas many Conservative-controlled councils make none. If we compare other lists on the cost of home helps, on the number of places available for elderly persons and on other public service provision, we find better and more services in Labour-controlled authorities than in the ones to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Arnold

Conservative-controlled Wandsworth council provides nursery places for every child. I come from an area controlled by Conservative Kent county council. It has been under Conservative control for 100 years and children in our urban area go to council-provided nurseries. The hon. Gentleman's argument is extremely weak.

The four lowest charges in the country are in Conservative districts. Other districts with low community charges include the borough of Tower Hamlets, which will charge £147.

Mr. Beith

Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Arnold

They may be Liberal Democrats, but they have managed their community charge only after receiving £147 a head in area protection grant and no less than £1,461 per head in revenue support grant. I wonder what kind of record that shows. I am proud to show that the sixth lowest charge is made by the Conservative-controlled borough of Gravesham, where people will pay £153—a reduction of almost a half as a result of the Bill. Those are the six councils with the lowest charges, and it is significant that there is not one Labour council among them.

Let us consider where the six highest community charges will be in the coming year in England. Would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be surprised to find that all six are Labour-controlled? I shall list them. Lambeth will have the highest community charge—it will be £450, even after the £140 has been taken off. Haringey will have a charge of £420, Bristol will have a charge of £384, Islington's charge will be £376, Basildon's charge will be £355 and Oxford's charge will be £344.

One might suggest that the political complexions of the councils with the six top and the six bottom levels were coincidental, but if we look around England, we see that Labour councils stick out from their respective counties like sore thumbs. In Avon, there is only one Labour-controlled district council, Bristol, which is to charge £384. All the other districts in the county of Avon will be put out charges of less than £310—nearly 20 per cent. less than the one Labour district in Avon. In the county of Cambridgeshire, there are only two Labour councils—Peterborough, where the charge is £267 and Cambridge, where it is £329. All the other districts in Cambridgeshire will charge less than £232—nearly 30 per cent. less than Cambridge city, which is Labour controlled.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend's advice about the disposition of the charges, but perhaps he will say why a guillotine is necessary and why he is not anxious about using a guillotine before the Second Reading, which is against the interests of every part of the House. The House should be more mindful than to rule away its rights to debate and discuss issues of importance such as he is trying to address. We should tackle the question why a guillotine is being imposed before Second Reading.

Mr. Arnold

I think that the constituents of every Member of Parliament also have rights. They have a right to have the £140 taken off their bills quickly. Funnily enough, councils, both Conservative and Labour, have rights, and we should get this measure through the House fast, with the help of the guillotine, so that they can make the necessary calculations and complete their administration.

The county of Essex has only three Labour councils—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I cannot ignore the content of the intervention of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), and I think it would be appropriate if the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) were to try to relate his remarks more closely to the motion.

Mr. Arnold

I am relating my remarks to the urgency with which the people of Essex need to know what the community charge will be for next year so that families can budget. The purpose of the guillotine is that it enables us to proceed rapidly with the Bill so that it can be enacted and the necessary regulations may be immediately passed, so that our constituents may know what the figures are.

There are only three Labour councils in Essex—the districts of Thurrock, which will charge £266, Harlow, which will charge £309, and Basildon, which will charge £355. All the remaining Essex districts will charge less than £260—more than one quarter less.

Let us look at the county where both Opposition parties take the booby prize——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that I can allow the hon. Gentleman to do what he appears to be doing—reciting the poll tax levels of every local authority in the country, which is quite inappropriate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will speak to the motion or recognise that other hon. Members are waiting to take part in what is now to be a short debate.

Mr. Arnold

I am addressing myself precisely to the point covered by the guillotine motion. Our constituents throughout the country urgently wish to know where they stand financially. That is why the Bill has to move at such speed. I am trying to relate precisely the reason why our constituents wish to see their bills. The sort of comparison I am giving is highly relevant to why constituents are asking themselves why they end up with such a bill, even net of the £140, which is uniform throughout the country and which results from the Bill. Those are the sort of questions that people are asking.

The opposition to the Bill and, therefore, the guillotine motion involve the fact that councils have been unprotected. Last year, we had the safety net; this year it is the area protection grants. It is relevant to say that, of the six major recipients of area projection grants, five are Labour councils and one is a Liberal council. When they receive their bills, net of the £140, they will already have received area protection grants in excess of £100 per head.

Opposition Members also argue that the councils to which I have referred have greater needs, which have long been reflected in the standard spending assessments on which the revenue support grants are calculated.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

Why does my hon. Friend suppose that, if the guillotine motion were lost, the Bill would necessarily be lost? I passionately support our giving the £140 to my constituents. I agree that they desperately need it, but why is it necessary to have a guillotine? That is the question that I ask my hon. Friend. I have asked it of Ministers and have still received no answer. I have not heard anybody oppose the Bill.

Mr. Arnold

My hon. Friend assumes that the Bill would be lost. The Bill would not be lost; it would be delayed. I am making the point that a delay in passing the legislation would mean a delay in passing the grant and passing the figures to the councils, which would delay producing the community charge bills. Worse than that, it would produce uncertainty for our constituents about the community charges that they will incur. Community charge levels are strongly affected by the revenue support grants that are allocated.

Today, we are considering the £140 that is to be taken off, which will feed through to bills. The consolation for all local tax payers is that the Conservative Government, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has recognised the root of the financial problem for local taxpayers—basically the weight upon them. The Bill will decisively shift the balance of taxation. The House should be equally decisive and pass——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is totally disregarding the advice that I offered him earlier. I hope that he will now relate his remarks more closely to the motion and also have regard to the interests and rights of other hon. Members.

Mr. Arnold

In summary, I am saying that, if we pass the allocation of time motion, we can pass the Bill quickly and our constituents will have £140 knocked off their bills.

6.48 pm
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

Through the guillotine motion, Parliament is being subjected to the political tactics of the ramrod to force legislation through without consideration for either local government or national Government. The legislation is being blasted through the House to cover up for the social, economic and political turmoil that the poll tax has caused for the Conservative party.

The Government are seeking to maintain their image of competence. They believe that they may get away with changing the Prime Minister without consulting the people, but they cannot change the whole of local government without consulting the people or the House of Commons. That is what the guillotine motion is about—putting legislation through the House without giving it proper consideration.

Just six weeks ago we debated the Government's £1.7 billion community charge reduction scheme. The revamped scheme was announced by the Secretary of State for the Environment, who claimed in January that it would benefit 18 million charge payers. That estimate was based on what he called assumed community charge figures. They were well below the actual figures and within days it was proved that the Secretary of State's claims were grossly exaggerated and that the Government would make considerable savings to offset the cost of that scheme.

Just weeks later, we face more legislation to unpack and unpick earlier legislation. From the word go, the legislation has been piecemeal and half baked. The Secretary of State's recent statement was delayed because his Department could not fulfil his promise to extend help to residents of sheltered housing for the elderly and the disabled, who would not benefit from any of his existing transitional relief schemes.

In the past 13 years, there have been 125 Acts of Parliament directed at local government finance, and 13 of those Acts have specifically changed that finance. I was in local government for about 10 years and at times we could not fix a budget that would last from the beginning to the end of a financial year because the rules were changed within that year. The practical implications were that, when tenders were put out for repairing roofs, they had to be called in again because the financial arrangements had changed. As a result, local authorities found themselves in the worst of all worlds trying to repair roofs in winter.

Legislation affecting local government was passed with great haste and on guillotine motions without proper consideration for the rights of local government. Since I came to the House it has passed the Rate Support Grants Act 1987, the Local Government Finance Act 1987, the Local Government Act 1987, the Local Government Act 1988, the Local Government Finance Act 1988 and the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. Debate on most of that legislation was guillotined, because most of it was based on the Government's ideological opposition to local government itself.

The Government have adopted the arrogant principle that they know better and do not need to consult before legislation is pushed through. We have seen the fiasco of the community charge. The Bill was introduced in December 1987 and had its Second Reading on 16 and 17 December of that year. There were 35 Committee sittings between 21 January and 24 March 1988 and the Bill was on Report between 18 and 26 April. Debate on Report was guillotined and the amendments could not be properly considered. There are dozens of qualifying statutory instruments which had to be introduced to amend the shoddy legislation of the poll tax.

Mr. Rooker

My hon. Friend forgot to mention another stage of the poll tax Bill. On one day in July 1988, 400 Government amendments from the House of Lords were pushed into the Bill.

Mr. Battle

My hon. Friend has a record second to none in campaigning against the detail of that legislation, but he did not get the opportunity to put detailed arguments. That is why the Government are having to unpick their legislation.

If the guillotine motion is accepted, we can move to the detail of the Bill. However, it is plain that it does not contain the kind of detail that enables Conservative Members to allege that every person in Britain will get a rebate of £140. We shall later spell out the implications of the clauses that relate to special exemptions.

The Government's purpose in pushing the legislation through is to try to reassert two things simultaneously—that everybody must pay a personal head tax and that the poll tax is related to ability to pay. They will not get away with that unless they can show how the poorest, who have to pay the 20 per cent. minimum, will be exempt from that. The 20 per cent. minimum payment should be abolished. Last week the Secretary of State for the Environment told us that people receive a social security rebate on that 20 per cent., but they do not, because everybody has to pay a minimum of 20 per cent.

The prevailing view of Conservative Members is that the poor got a free ride under the rates system and the Government wanted to stop that. People got rebates because their incomes were too low. If low wages and low pensions were tackled, people could pay their way and would not need rebates.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman heard me reproach a Conservative Member for straying from the motion. I hope that he will pay attention to the issue that is being debated.

Mr. Battle

Many Conservative Members are not willing to concede that everybody will not receive £140. That should be spelt out loudly and clearly at every stage of debate on the poll tax fiasco and the Government's attempt to unpick it.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for you to apply the guillotine to those hon. Members who stray from the motion?

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the shoddiest things about the guillotine motion is that the Government seek to apply it to a Bill about which no details are known and none will be forthcoming? How many of our constituents will get a reduction of £140? The Secretary of State has no idea and, anyway, has no wish to tell the House. Many of my constituents will receive nowhere near £140. They will get about £28 to £35.

Mr. Battle

One of the difficulties about our debates is that we do not get time to study the information on which to base the arithmetic. Even transitional relief will be knocked out by the Bill.

The Government are trying to create an image of competence, but such an image cannot be sustained. In tonight's edition of the Evening Standard, Lord Hailsham says: The knee jerk approach has never worked for forming policy. What more knee-jerk approach could there be than this guillotine motion? It is ramrod politics. It is not a case of poll tax mark 2 but of the poll tax not only hitting the people who pay but striking at the heart of parliamentary democracy.

6.57 pm
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

I shall ensure that the Leader of the House has the agreed time to reply to the debate, because I do not want hon. Members to feel that he is being curtailed.

To those of us who are in favour of parliamentary reform and, on a personal note, of timetabling all legislation, this guillotine is a grave setback. Sensible timetabling should be aimed at ensuring proper debate of important issues and not at removing the very basis of such rights. That is what the debate is about: we are considering whether to take away the basic rights of Parliament to debate in detail a substantial measure. It is not a measure that can be nodded through, because it has different implications for millions of people, depending on their circumstances. It is a substantive measure, and it has profound implications for the future.

I say to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) that we are dealing not simply with a litany of poll tax levels throughout the country, but with the circumstances in which people in local government have been struggling to maintain services and to ensure that local democracy prevails. The Bill ensures that the very basis of decision-making in local government is curtailed. Instead of providing for the needs of people, we are providing for political expediency. Today and on previous occasions, Conservative Members have revealed that the proposals in the Bill are aimed at giving the Government a breathing space that will allow them to make changes to legislation that was wrongly introduced in the first place.

Three years ago, the Bill that introduced the arrangements for England and Wales was trawled for three and a half months through its Committee stage. Some of us remember it very well—I ended up in hospital with pneumonia, which was a better experience than debating the wretched measure until 2 o'clock in the morning. Some of my hon. Friends, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) have it engraved on their hearts. They lived and slept it day in and day out.

In less than seven hours, after Second Reading and the Committee stage, we shall be asked to approve the transfer from central to local government of the spending of £5.5 billion, reduced to £4.3 billion because of the community charge reduction scheme, when we have not had time to debate the key issues. Again and again, we have called for changes. We have asked the Government to restore the funds taken from local government. We asked on 17 January, when we debated the revenue support grant statement, on 23 January, on Report and Third Reading of the Community Charges (Substitute Setting) Bill, on 29 January when we debated the revenue support grant orders, on 19 February and again on 13 March when, on Opposition days, we debated the poll tax.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

This point was raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and others. Apart from the arguments about the guillotine, is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would have preferred the £4 billion to be given to local authorities to spend rather than being used to bring about the objective of the Bill—a reduction of community charges by £140?

Mr. Blunkett

If, in the early hours of tomorrow morning, we manage to discuss the final stages of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman will hear constructive suggestions about how the £4.3 billion could have been used to alleviate people's pressing needs, with such help being allocated according to their financial situation rather than their voting power. We would have altered the tax handout and reduced bills according to ability to pay, rather than giving a flat rate rebate—a replica of the flat rate poll tax. We would have ensured that those who most needed relief received it.

The Bill is not about relief or ensuring that those with the biggest problems are given the most cash back. Like the community charge reduction scheme, it is designed to enable the Conservative party to stagger through the local elections and on to the general election. Never have so many provided so much so often for the benefit of so few. VAT is being increased to lower the poll tax, which we all said three years ago would be an electoral disaster. I recall—no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr will recall this too—that, late one night, when we were saying that the poll tax would be an albatross around the neck of the Conservative party, the message came through that the Synod of the Church of England had voted that the poll tax was unacceptable and unfair. The Conservative members of the Committee burst into laughter. It was guffaws and jokes all round, showing how indifferent and uncaring they were.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is correct to ask why the guillotine should be pushed through. The simple answer is that his right hon. and hon. Friends are not prepared to debate how the money should be used or how the poll tax could be altered, or to introduce a Bill that, rather than tinkering with the poll tax, would abolish it. Such a Bill could have sped through the House.

I am one of the lucky few. My poll tax in London will be abolished from 1 April because I live in Wandsworth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members may cheer, but I do not think that there is anything to cheer about when someone who can perfectly well pay his way is to have his dustbins emptied and his streets paved and lighted at the expense of other people elsewhere who will be trying to pay the increase in VAT that the Government are inflicting on them. The burden of providing my services will be transferred from those who can afford to pay to those who cannot. That is nothing to cheer about—it is a disgrace. It shows the way in which the Government treat accountability.

On 24 November, the Prime Minister said: I will tell you about the poll tax. We were bounced into it quickly because there was such a fuss about the rates in Scotland. We were bounced without thinking because of the political fuss that was made. In opposing the guillotine motion, we are saying that the House should not be bounced. Hon. Members should not be expected to take decisions at 2.30 in the morning because the Government want to get the measure through before the Easter recess so that they can reduce bills before the local government elections. Our job is to scrutinise and debate proposed legislation in the interests of those we represent. Parliament is being denied that basic right.

The blame for the poll tax lies entirely with Conservative Members. They invented it and implemented it. The community charge reduction scheme, introduced in January, was supposed to help, with rebates for more than 18 million people. At the Ribble Valley by-election, it was discovered that the people did not think very much of that bribe. It seemed that £1.2 billion would not do, so £4.3 billion was felt to be a better bet. The people of Britain are not so foolish as to fall for that ploy. They will not be fooled into believing that paying with one hand and receiving with the other is anything but a cheap gimmick.

The Prime Minister has the cheek of the devil. Last Saturday, in his speech to the Conservative party central committee, he said: The only thing you can be sure of is that a Labour Chancellor will have his hands in your pocket more often than you will. How could the Prime Minister say that, when he has just increased VAT by 2.5 per cent., and when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he withdrew further resources from local government, thus helping to create the dilemma in which Conservative Members now find themselves, and which has resulted in the Bill?

The Bill is a simple, shoddy measure to save the skin of the Conservative party. Those who were hardest hit by the poll tax will gain the least, and those who have benefited most from the poll tax will gain the most from the Bill.

The Government are offering bribe after bribe. Schools are bribed to opt out, and voters are bribed to fall in, but voters will not fall for this. They may take their money; they will certainly have to pay their money, but the Conservative party will pay the price.

7.9 pm

Mr. MacGregor

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on his good sense in choosing to live in Wandsworth when he is in London, but he drew the wrong message from the point that he made. He suggested that the people of Wandsworth will benefit at the expense of people living in other parts of the country who will have to pay the additional value added tax. However, the people of Wandsworth will also have to pay the extra 2.5 per cent. VAT whenever they buy goods or services. The real message is that we are helping the people of Lambeth and——

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacGregor

No. During my opening speech I gave way to every hon. Member who asked me to do so. I do not have long to reply to the debate.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside ought to be worried about the people who live in Lambeth. They are the ones whom we are trying to help by this measure.

I apologise to the House for the fact that I had to be absent for part of the debate. As Chairman of the Services Committee, I was dealing with a number of major issues of concern to the House, including one of the most controversial relating to dogs other than guide dogs being brought into our premises. I have been given a full report of the debate. In the short time left to me, therefore, I should like to make a few points.

The right hon. Member for Blanau Gwent (Mr. Foot), the leader of the Labour party, made a great issue of the guillotine procedure. As my hon. Friends pointed out during the debate, he created an enormity of a precedent for guillotines when he introduced guillotines on five Bills in one day in 1976—the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, the Health Services Bill, the Dock Work Regulation Bill, the Rent (Agriculture) Bill and the Education Bill. As a result, he became the arch-guillotiner. That is the answer to his point.

As to the question of a precedent, yes I acknowledge—as I have already fairly done to the House—that there are no precedents for guillotining in the way that we are doing today, but it is important to take into account the fact that in a progressive system one sometimes has to take a new step; otherwise, one never does anything unless it is based upon past precedent.

As I said in my opening speech, there are good reasons for using the guillotine procedure in this way. One of them, as my hon. Friends have made clear—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham)—is that their constituents want the reduction to be included in their bills as quickly as possible. It is a simple and straightforward measure. That is why we believe it is right to get the reduction to them as quickly as possible. Moreover, local authorities need to know where they stand as they approach the new financial year. Those are the two main reasons for wishing to take the Bill through all its stages by means of guillotine.

I notice that the Opposition concentrated on the guillotine motion procedure rather than anything else, but I suspect from the remarks that I have heard during the debate that the point that I intend to make now will be true of the subsequent debates this evening. The Opposition want to concentrate and vote on this motion because they cannot make up their mind about their main policy regarding the Bill. I suspect that they will be afraid to oppose it——

Dr. Cunningham

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way, especially as he does not have much time to reply to the debate. He cannot get away with all this nonsense. He dictated the time that would be allocated for the guillotine motion. He did not discuss it with us. It is no use the Leader of the House blaming us for the three hours. If he had consulted us, things might have been different.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's point later, if I have time, but he misses my point, which is that, since last Tuesday's statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have listened to all the Opposition's points on the Bill and the policy behind it and taken part in a number of television and radio debates. I have also listened to the points made—apparently on the substance of the Bill—during the debate.

What is quite clear is that the Opposition do not know what to do about their policy. They are afraid to oppose the Bill because they do not want to be seen not to be in favour of reducing the community charge. They make various noises suggesting that the way in which it is being financed is wrong, but they have never come forward with an alternative. It is because they do not know what to do that they concentrate on the speed with which we are getting the measure through. As so often happens, they looked for a smokescreen, the timetable motion, in order to hide the nakedness of their policy.

As for the point made by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about consultation, as he recognises, we can attempt to reach agreement through the usual channels, but the timetable is very tight if we are to get the measure through this week. It would have been open to any hon. Member, as we have seen so often in the House, to use the normal procedures to ensure that the Bill did not get through this week. That is why we came to the view that the guillotine procedure, allowing plenty of time for debate, was the right way to proceed. Consequently, I have to tell the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that that, among other reasons, is why we cannot accept his amendment.

I had hoped that I had persuaded my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) of the reasons for the measures that we are taking. Let me try again. He, like me, is keen to see the Bill on the statute book by the end of the week in order—I repeat straightforwardly—to enable all community charge payers to benefit from the proposal and to enable local authorities to get ahead with the arrangements. That makes sense, since their new financial year starts next week. My hon. Friend agrees with that and is keen that it should be achieved.

I put it to him that we could not achieve it without a proper timetable for debate in the House. We need to send the Bill to the other place swiftly enough to enable it to be considered by the other place and, if necessary, to consider Lords amendments here. Bearing in mind that Friday is Good Friday and that we have the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Thursday, my hon. Friend will see that the timetable is extremely tight. Consequently, we have endeavoured to bring forward a procedure that will enable the House to deal with a short and straightforward Bill in a well considered way and constructively to debate it, thus enabling us to achieve the objective of getting it in place by the end of the week. That is the simple and straightforward reason for the procedure that I now propose. That is why I hope that the House will pass the motion, so that it can then move on to the Second Reading and other stages of the Bill.

Amendment negatived.

Main Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 318, Noes 236.

Division No. 104] [7.17 pm
Adley, Robert Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Aitken, Jonathan Bowis, John
Alexander, Richard Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Allason, Rupert Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Brazier, Julian
Amess, David Bright, Graham
Amos, Alan Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Arbuthnot, James Browne, John (Winchester)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Ashby, David Buck, Sir Antony
Aspinwall, Jack Budgen, Nicholas
Atkins, Robert Burns, Simon
Atkinson, David Burt, Alistair
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Butler, Chris
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Butterfill, John
Baldry, Tony Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Batiste, Spencer Carrington, Matthew
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Carttiss, Michael
Bellingham, Henry Cash, William
Bendall, Vivian Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Benyon, W. Chapman, Sydney
Bevan, David Gilroy Chope, Christopher
Biffen, Rt Hon John Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Clark, Rt Hon Sir William
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Colvin, Michael
Boswell, Tim Conway, Derek
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cope, Rt Hon John Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cormack, Patrick Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Couchman, James Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cran, James Hunt, Rt Hon David
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hunter, Andrew
Curry, David Irvine, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Irving, Sir Charles
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jack, Michael
Day, Stephen Jackson, Robert
Devlin, Tim Janman, Tim
Dickens, Geoffrey Jessel, Toby
Dicks, Terry Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dover, Den Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dunn, Bob Key, Robert
Durant, Sir Anthony Kilfedder, James
Dykes, Hugh King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Eggar, Tim King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Kirkhope, Timothy
Evennett, David Knapman, Roger
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Fallon, Michael Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Favell, Tony Knowles, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Knox, David
Fishburn, John Dudley Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fookes, Dame Janet Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Forman, Nigel Latham, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lawrence, Ivan
Forth, Eric Lee, John (Pendle)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fox, Sir Marcus Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Franks, Cecil Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Freeman, Roger Lightbown, David
French, Douglas Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fry, Peter Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Gale, Roger Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Gardiner, Sir George Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Gill, Christopher Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McCrindle, Sir Robert
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Goodhart, Sir Philip MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Goodlad, Alastair MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles McLoughlin, Patrick
Gorman, Mrs Teresa McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Madel, David
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Malins, Humfrey
Gregory, Conal Mans, Keith
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Maples, John
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Marland, Paul
Grist, Ian Marlow, Tony
Ground, Patrick Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Hague, William Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mates, Michael
Hampson, Dr Keith Maude, Hon Francis
Hanley, Jeremy Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hannam, John Mellor, Rt Hon David
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Miller, Sir Hal
Harris, David Mills, lain
Haselhurst, Alan Miscampbell, Norman
Hayes, Jerry Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Mitchell, Sir David
Hayward, Robert Moate, Roger
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Monro, Sir Hector
Heathcoat-Amory, David Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Moore, Rt Hon John
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Morrison, Sir Charles
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Moss, Malcolm
Hill, James Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hind, Kenneth Mudd, David
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Neale, Sir Gerrard
Holt, Richard Needham, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Nelson, Anthony
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Neubert, Sir Michael
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Nicholls, Patrick Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Stokes, Sir John
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Summerson, Hugo
Norris, Steve Tapsell, Sir Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Oppenheim, Phillip Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Page, Richard Temple-Morris, Peter
Paice, James Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Thorne, Neil
Patnick, Irvine Thornton, Malcolm
Patten, Rt Hon John Thurnham, Peter
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Townend, John (Bridlington)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Portillo, Michael Tracey, Richard
Powell, William (Corby) Tredinnick, David
Price, Sir David Trippier, David
Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Trotter, Neville
Redwood, John Twinn, Dr Ian
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Rhodes James, Robert Viggers, Peter
Riddick, Graham Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Walden, George
Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Rost, Peter Waller, Gary
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela Walters, Sir Dennis
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Ward, John
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sayeed, Jonathan Warren, Kenneth
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wells, Bowen
Shaw, David (Dover) Wheeler, Sir John
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Whitney, Ray
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Widdecombe, Ann
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wiggin, Jerry
Shersby, Michael Wilkinson, John
Sims, Roger Wilshire, David
Skeet, Sir Trevor Winterton, Mrs Ann
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Winterton, Nicholas
Speed, Keith Wolfson, Mark
Speller, Tony Wood, Timothy
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Yeo, Tim
Steen, Anthony Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stern, Michael
Stevens, Lewis Tellers for the Ayes:
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Mr. John M. Taylor and Mr. Tom Sackville.
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Abbott, Ms Diane Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Allen, Graham Buckley, George J.
Anderson, Donald Caborn, Richard
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Callaghan, Jim
Armstrong, Hilary Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Ashton, Joe Canavan, Dennis
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Can, Michael
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Cartwright, John
Barron, Kevin Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Battle, John Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Beckett, Margaret Clay, Bob
Beggs, Roy Clelland, David
Beith, A. J. Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bell, Stuart Cohen, Harry
Bellotti, David Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Corbett, Robin
Benton, Joseph Cousins, Jim
Bermingham, Gerald Crowther, Stan
Blair, Tony Cryer, Bob
Blunkett, David Cummings, John
Boateng, Paul Cunliffe, Lawrence
Boyes, Roland Cunningham, Dr John
Bradley, Keith Dalyell, Tam
Bray, Dr Jeremy Darling, Alistair
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dewar, Donald McKelvey, William
Dixon, Don McLeish, Henry
Doran, Frank McMaster, Gordon
Douglas, Dick McNamara, Kevin
Duffy, A. E. P. McWilliam, John
Dunnachie, Jimmy Madden, Max
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Maginnis, Ken
Eadie, Alexander Mahon, Mrs Alice
Eastham, Ken Mallon, Seamus
Evans, John (St Helens N) Marek, Dr John
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Fatchett, Derek Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Faulds, Andrew Martlew, Eric
Fearn, Ronald Maxton, John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Meacher, Michael
Fisher, Mark Meale, Alan
Flannery, Martin Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Flynn, Paul Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Foster, Derek Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foulkes, George Morgan, Rhodri
Fraser, John Morley, Elliot
Fyfe, Maria Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Galbraith, Sam Mullin, Chris
Galloway, George Murphy, Paul
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Nellist, Dave
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
George, Bruce O'Brien, William
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John O'Hara, Edward
Godman, Dr Norman A. O'Neill, Martin
Golding, Mrs Llin Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gould, Bryan Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Graham, Thomas Paisley, Rev Ian
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Patchett, Terry
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Pendry, Tom
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Pike, Peter L.
Grocott, Bruce Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hardy, Peter Prescott, John
Harman, Ms Harriet Primarolo, Dawn
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Quin, Ms Joyce
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Radice, Giles
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Randall, Stuart
Henderson, Doug Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hinchliffe, David Reid, Dr John
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Richardson, Jo
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Robertson, George
Home Robertson, John Robinson, Geoffrey
Hood, Jimmy Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Howells, Geraint Rogers, Allan
Hoyle, Doug Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Rooney, Terence
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rowlands, Ted
Hume, John Ruddock, Joan
Illsley, Eric Salmond, Alex
Ingram, Adam Sedgemore, Brian
Janner, Greville Sheerman, Barry
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Kennedy, Charles Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Short, Clare
Kirkwood, Archy Sillars, Jim
Lambie, David Skinner, Dennis
Lamond, James Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Leadbitter, Ted Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Leighton, Ron Snape, Peter
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Soley, Clive
Lewis, Terry Spearing, Nigel
Livingstone, Ken Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Steinberg, Gerry
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Stott, Roger
Loyden, Eddie Strang, Gavin
McAllion, John Straw, Jack
McAvoy, Thomas Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McCrea, Rev William Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Macdonald, Calum A. Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McFall, John Trimble, David
Turner, Dennis Wilson, Brian
Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N) Winnick, David
Wallace, James Wise, Mrs Audrey
Walley, Joan Worthington, Tony
Wareing, Robert N. Wray, Jimmy
Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N) Tellers for the Noes:
Wigley, Dafydd Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Martyn Jones.
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill

  1. Second Reading 25 words
  2. c779
  3. Committee, Report and Third Reading 42 words
  4. c779
  5. Proceedings on going into Committee 55 words
  6. c779
  7. Conclusion of proceedings in Committee 45 words
  8. c779
  9. Order of Proceedings 20 words
  10. c779
  11. Dilatory Motions 42 words
  12. c779
  13. Extra time 21 words
  14. cc779-80
  15. Conclusion of proceedings 321 words
  16. c780
  17. Lords Amendments 384 words
  18. c781
  19. Stages subsequent to first Consideration of Lords Amendments 237 words
  20. c781
  21. Supplemental 144 words
  22. c781
  23. Supplemental orders 120 words
  24. c781
  25. Saving 48 words
  26. cc781-2
  27. Recommittal 72 words
  28. c782
  29. Business Committee 174 words
  30. c829
  31. Second Reading 25 words
  32. c829
  33. Committee, Report and Third Reading 42 words
  34. c829
  35. Proceedings on going into Committee 55 words
  36. c829
  37. Conclusion of proceedings in Committee 45 words
  38. c829
  39. Order of Proceedings 20 words
  40. c829
  41. Dilatory Motions 42 words
  42. c829
  43. Extra time 21 words
  44. cc829-30
  45. Conclusion of proceedings 321 words
  46. c830
  47. Lords Amendments 385 words
  48. cc830-1
  49. Stages subsequent to first Consideration of Lords Amendments 240 words
  50. c831
  51. Supplemental 144 words
  52. c831
  53. Supplemental orders 120 words
  54. c831
  55. Saving 50 words
  56. c831
  57. Recommittal 72 words
  58. c831
  59. Business Committee 13 words