§ 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 remaining proceedings on the Bill—
§ 1.—(1) The Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated shall report the Bill to the House on or before 5th December 1991.
§ (2) Proceedings on the Bill at a sitting of the Standing Committee on the said 5th December may continue until Eight o'clock, whether or not the House is adjourned before that time, and if the House is adjourned before those proceedings have been brought to a conclusion the Standing Committee shall report the Bill to the House on 6th December.
§ 2.—(1) The Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated—
- (a) shall meet on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at half-past Ten o'clock and half-past Four o'clock; and
- (b) shall allot 18 sittings to the consideration of the Bill.
§ (2) The proceedings to be taken on each of those sittings shall be as shown in the second column, and shall be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column, of the following Table—
|Sitting||Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|1st||Clauses 1 to 5 and 70 to 74 and Schedule 5||—|
|2nd||Clauses 1 to 5 and 70 to 74 and Schedule 5 so far as not disposed of||—|
|3rd||Clauses 1 to 5 and 70 to 74 and Schedule 5 so far as not disposed of||—|
|4th||Clauses 1 to 5 and 70 to 74 and Schedule 5 so far as not disposed of||10.00 p.m.|
|5th||Clauses 6 to 13 and 75 to 80 and Schedule 1||—|
|6th||Clauses 6 to 13 and 75 to 80 and Schedule 1 so far as not disposed of||—|
|7th||Clauses 6 to 13 and 75 to 80 and Schedule 1 so far as not disposed of||—|
|8th||Clauses 6 to 13 and 75 to 80 and Schedule 1 so far as not disposed of||Midnight|
|9th||Clauses 14 to 19,81 to 83 and 97 and Schedules 2 to 4, 6 and 8||—|
|10th||Clauses 14 to 19,81 to 83 and 97 and Schedules 2 to 4, 6 and 8 so far as not disposed of||10.00 p.m.|
|11th||Clauses 20 to 29 and 84 to 92||—|
|12th||Clauses 20 to 29 and 84 to 92 so far as not disposed of||8.00 p.m.|
|13th||Clauses 30 to 52,65 to 69,93,95,96,98 and 99||—|
|14th||Clauses 30 to 52,65 to 69,93,95,96,98 and 99 so far as not disposed of||Midnight|
|15th||Clauses 53 to 64, 94 and 100 and Schedule 7||—|
|16th||Clauses 53 to 64,94 and 100 and Schedule 7 so far as not disposed of||10.00 p.m.|
|18th||Remaining proceedings so far as not disposed of||8.00 p.m.|
§ Report and Third Reading
§ 3.—(1) The proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in two allotted days.
§ (2) The proceedings to be taken on each of those days shall be as shown in the second column, and shall be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column, of the following Table—
|Allotted day||Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|First day||New Clauses||10.00 p.m.|
|Second day||Remaining proceedings on consideration||8.00 p.m.|
|Third Reading||10.00 p.m.|
§ Procedure in Standing Committee
§ 4.—(1) At a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.
§ (2) No Motion shall be made in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the Committee except by a member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatory statement from the Member who moves, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.
§ 5. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are taken in the Standing Committee.
§ Conclusion of proceedings in Committee
§ 6. On the conclusion of the proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
§ Dilatory Motions
§ 7. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be moved in the Standing Committee or on an allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
§ Extra time on allotted days
§ 8. If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) stands over from an earlier day, paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
§ Private business
§ 9. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bil on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.
§ Conclusion of proceedings
§ 10.—(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)—
- (a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
- (b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill);
- (c) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment is moved or that Motion is made by a member of the Government;
- (d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;
§ (2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
§ (3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock—
- (a) that Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time;
- (b) the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
§ (4) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which under this Order are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
§ Supplemental orders
§ 11.—(1) The proceedings on any Motion made in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
§ (2) If on an allotted day on which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
§ 12. Nothing in this Order shall—
- (a) prevent any proceedings to which this Order applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by this Order; or
- (b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such proceedings on the Bill as arc to be taken on that day.
§ 13.—(1) References in this Order to proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of, recommittal.
§ (2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.
§ Interpretation etc.
14.—(1) In this Order—
allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the day, provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day, or is set down for consideration on that day;
the Bill" means the Local Government Finance Bill.
§ (2) Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) and Standing Order No. 103 (Business sub-committees) shall not apply to this Order.1008
§ The House has already had three days of debate on the Bill, so hon. Members will understand why it is so important. Let me now spell out why the timetable motion is necessary.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my hon. Friend the Minister have made clear, the community charge is to be replaced at the earliest opportunity. The council tax is a fair, balanced and carefully thought-out approach to local government finance which builds constructively on previous attempts at reform and takes full account of the consultations that my right hon. Friend initiated a year ago.
Following a full day of debate on the Loyal Address and two days on the Second Reading of the Bill, the country is none the wiser about what the Labour party proposes on local government finance, save in one crucial respect: we now know that it is committed to ending all control on local authority expenditure. Its one positive policy is to allow high-spending Labour local authorities to impose a crippling burden of local taxation on those areas where they operate, on top of the crippling burden on national taxation which its £35,000 million of extra spending commitments would impose on all taxpayers.
We want to ensure that the Bill is taken through Parliament with appropriate speed, yet allowing full time for debate, for one simple reason: local authorities and local taxpayers need to know where they stand. For local authorities to set their budgets in good time for the start of the financial year, they expect as much advance notice as possible of the level of central Government grant and how the total is divided between the various local government services. They need that information before they finalise their budgets. They also need to know how much they will have to finance from locally raised taxation—from the community charge or its replacement, the council tax. How much more important, therefore, to give them as much time as possible when we are changing the whole basis of the local tax and they will have to collect the council tax for the first time.
It is crucial to understand one issue in order to understand the need for the motion. We all agree on the abolition of the community charge at the earliest possible moment. At least that is what we thought we had agreed, but we now seem to be in some doubt whether that is what the Labour party wants. Before the Opposition changed their mind on the need for speed, or appeared to do so, they sometimes taunted us by saying that we should have already moved ahead with the replacement of the community charge. That shows how little the Opposition understand the practical realities.
First, we had to undertake consultation and then frame the legislation. Now the parliamentary consideration of the legislation will commence. There then follows a crucial practical stage on which I wish to dwell—publishing the regulations following the Royal Assent to the Bill and the preparation by local authorities for the introduction of the council tax.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that one of the most important aspects of parliamentary procedure is to allow proper consultation between the various stages at which a Bill is read. How much time will there be between the end of the 18th sitting of the Committee and the Report and Third Reading? Can my right hon. Friend satisfy the House that there will be a genuine attempt to 1009 allow local authorities to consider what has been done in Committee and to make their proper representations on Report?
§ Mr. MacGregor
That is a fair point. We shall ensure that between the Committee stage and Report the normal time is given—
§ Mr. Budgen
I apologise to my right hon. Friend, but plainly I did not put my point with sufficient clarity. I am talking not about the number of days on which the 18 Committee sittings are held, but the number of days that elapse between the last of the 18 sittings and Report.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I cannot tell my hon. Friend the precise number of days because we never can at this stage. We will observe the normal rules. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that I misunderstood him. [Interruption.] I thought that my hon. Friend was talking about the number of days for Report, which is mentioned in the motion. My hon. Friend sought to correct me from a sedentary position, but I now understand from the intervention made in the normal way that he was talking about the number of days between the end of the Committee stage and Report. I have already said that we will follow the normal rules, but at this stage I cannot say exactly how many days will elapse. [Interruption.] If the Opposition do not want to hear the arguments for the guillotine, it is up to them. I shall not be drawn further because one is never so far ahead when announcing the business of the House. It is also important to remember that there will be a great deal of time for consideration of the Bill in another place.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
My right hon. Friend, I am sure inadvertently, has given the impression of being disingenuous on this matter. I thought that the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) was perfectly clear. My hon. Friend asked how long there would be between the conclusion of the Committee stage and the beginning of the Report and subsequent stages of the Bill. Is it not the normal practice of the House that there should be a week, often two weeks, between the various stages? My right hon. Friend is more expert in such matters than I, given that he is the Leader of the House. Can he therefore tell us what that interval will be, because the Government must have planned for it?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I did not understand and I was not being disingenuous. We will follow the normal rules for the period between—
§ Mr. MacGregor
Just a moment. We will follow the normal rules for the period between the Committee stage 1010 and Report. I cannot say at this stage, given that we are talking about December, exactly what the business will be that week and I shall not be drawn further on that matter.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman knows that one does not announce now the business for December. There is nothing unusual about that and I have been absolutely clear.
§ Mr. Gould
Surely the Leader of the House can at least give his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) a sensible answer. We would understand it if some emergency occurred which made his answer invalid, because of the circumstances that arose. But he must be able to answer in terms of the Government's current intention about the length of time they think would be appropriate between the two stages.
§ Mr. MacGregor
We shall follow the normal rules—[Interruption]—and I cannot be clearer than that. It is perfectly straightforward.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I will not give way again. As for the suggestion that it would be reasonable to announce now the business of the House for December—
§ Mr. Speaker
I will hear the hon. Member, but at present four or five hon. Members are on their feet.
§ Mr. Douglas
Perhaps you can help us and the Leader of the House, Mr. Speaker, as the learned Clerks are present. Can you explain what the normal procedure is? The right hon. Gentleman does not seem capable of telling us.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The House knows what it is. We shall provide the normal period of two weekends for consideration of the Committee stage. That is perfectly obvious.
§ Mr. MacGregor
No, I must get on, having made the position clear.
I had only started to develop the argument on why it was essential to have this motion. We all agree that 1 April 1993 is both the earliest and latest date for the implementation of the council tax—the earliest because we cannot do it earlier and the latest because we want to have the council tax in as quickly as possible. The Opposition have not faced up to the practical implications of that.
There was a delay of one year and eight months between getting Royal Assent for the community charge and its introduction. That shows the formidable task that 1011 will face the Department of the Environment and local authorities in implementing the council tax, when it is in place.
There are at least a dozen major areas for regulations, several of them involving more than one set of regulations. We intend to consult on the most important before Christmas and to have the regulations ready shortly after Royal Assent. We are also trying to speed up the introduction of the regulations by not giving the usual two months after Royal Assent before the Bill starts to come into practical effect. That is designed to assist local authorities. Others of the regulations will be tabled in the summer of 1992. I have a list of all the regulations that will be required, or at least the major areas for them, and they are quite formidable.
If we did not get the Bill until towards the end of May, for example, it would be serious for local authorities. Only when Royal Assent is achieved can both the Department and local authorities have an assurance about the ways in which they can proceed on the implementation of the council tax.
§ Mr. Douglas
What investigations will take place between the Scottish Office and sheriff officers about their role? It is becoming clear that the role of the sheriff officers in Scotland is extremely unsatisfactory. Does the Scottish Office intend to have such consultations and to make a report when, in particular, schedule 8 comes before the Committee?
§ Mr. MacGregor
That is a matter for debate in Committee rather than for this debate on the timetable motion.
Local authorities now say that they need a year after the major regulations have been made available to them, so there is a clear need for speed in this legislation if we are to give local authorities enough time to implement the council tax effectively and meet the 1 April 1993 deadline. Indeed, in the internal discussions now taking place between the Department and the local authorities, the latter are saying that they want the draft regulations and guidance on them as soon as possible and the formal regulations as soon as possible after that—[Interruption.]They need both. We intend to get the draft regulations on the major issues out for consultation before Christmas, but local authorities need the formal regulations as soon as possible so that they know exactly where they stand.
Local authorities need the regulations for a variety of reasons, such as the introduction of the computer system. As anyone with experience of introducing a major computer system will know, it involves a huge number of man hours. Therefore, local authorities need to know many details as soon as possible before they can begin that. They also need them for the administrative systems—working out who is entitled to discounts—to set up the benefits and collection systems and for information gathering. The Department needs to have much of the feedback from local authorities by September so that it can work out grants, central Government expenditure implications of discounts, RSG distribution and so on. That is a clear reason why we need the Bill to move quickly.
For all those reasons, we cannot meet the April 1993 deadline unless we move on the timescale that we have proposed to the House. We want to get on with the Bill quickly, but, at the same time, we want plenty of time to 1012 press the Opposition as hard as we can for an explanation of their policies on local government finance and to carry through the detailed consideration of the Bill.
I suspect that the Labour party will oppose the timetable motion. Is that because, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked, they want to keep the community charge? Labour Members say no. They say that they have promised co-operation in repealing the community charge, but everyone knows that one cannot repeal one form of local government tax without replacing it. Now that we have a replacement in the form of the council tax, where is Labour's promised co-operation in getting rid of the community charge?
I have already stated clearly why we need to follow the timetable to get the replacement in place by 1 April 1993. I suspect that Labour's opposition to the timetable motion is mainly to do with the absence of a clear policy on their part. Instead, they complain about the parliamentary proceedings that we are following. The timetable motion breaks new ground and I have explained the fundamental reason for that. It concerns the implementation of the council tax. However, I was also asked about the procedural point. I believe that this way of proceeding ensures a properly structured debate, which is in the best interests of the House and the country.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I have not yet elaborated my argument. Once again, I am not allowed to do so before my hon. Friend asks me to give way, but I always give way to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does my right hon. Friend agree that all that talk about a properly structured debate simply means that the Government are taking away from the Opposition their right to put proper pressure on the Government and to clear the Government's minds about which points are important and which points can be conceded?
§ Mr. MacGregor
No, I do not agree. Since 1979–80, we have had timetable motions on Bills after they have started in Standing Committee on 27 occasions. In so many of those, the guillotine motion was proposed after the Committee stage had started, but often at a point when no reasonable progress has been made.
Our practice in the House as regards timetable motions has been to fall back on them as a response to much time being taken in Committee on the first few clauses of major Government Bills. Inevitably, with the pressure of other legislation on the time of the House, that means that discussion of what is left of timetabled Bills is taken at an accelerated pace. I am not making a party political point, because there are examples from both Labour and Conservative Administrations.
In 1967–68, the Transport Bill, which had 169 clauses, took 91 hours in Committee to reach clause 38 before a guillotine was imposed which allowed a further 100 hours for the remaining 131 clauses and 18 schedules.
In 1974–75, the Petroleum Submarine Pipe-lines Bill, which had 49 clauses, took 60 hours to reach clause 19 before a guillotine was imposed which allowed a further 22 hours for the remaining 30 clauses. A long time was spent on a few clauses and a short time was spent on the remaining large number of clauses. Exactly the same pattern has been followed with some of the most important Bills since 1979. In 1984–85, the Local 1013 Government Bill, with 98 clauses, which was not very different from this year's Bill, took 86 hours to reach clause 16 before a guillotine, which allowed a further 59 hours for the remaining 82 clauses.
§ Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
The Government are being shifty on the poll tax and the council tax. Local councils are facing terrible problems trying to collect money and people are having enormous difficulties paying their poll tax. The Government are now talking about giving a 100 per cent. rebate on the council tax. Why will they not give us time to debate the matter so that if the council tax comes into operation it will at least eliminate the problems of people who genuinely cannot pay and the difficulties faced by local authorities because of the subsequent lack of money? Will we have the chance for such debates, or will we continue to have such shifty debates when we do not discuss the fundamental issues?
§ Mr. MacGregor
We are not having shifty debates. The hon. Gentleman's point can of course be debated in Committee. If he wants the 100 per cent. rebates which he mentioned to be implemented, he must want the Bill to be enacted as quickly as possible, which is another reason for moving on with the Bill.
Many Bills, including the Local Government Finance Bill of 1987–88, spend a long time in Committee where a few clauses are discussed, the guillotine is then used and a much shorter time is spent discussing a much greater number of clauses. This Local Government Finance Bill has 117 clauses and 14 schedules. The timetable motion provides for just as much time to be spent, proportionately, on those clauses as did all the other Bills from the outset.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
I was a member of the Committee that discussed the Local Government Finance Bill in 1987 when 182 clauses were proposed by the Government. More than 200 Lords amendments were proposed, with the result that the final legislation was thoroughly bad—so bad that today each and every Member encounters problems with the poll tax in their surgeries. Will those problems be repeated with this legislation because of the guillotine? That is what Members from all parties are afraid of and that is the nub of the problem which the Leader of the House should resolve.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman should address the point that I made earlier: if he wants the council tax to be in place in April 1993, it is essential to follow the sort of timetable that we are suggesting.
I should like to make a point that I have proposed as a personal point of view to the Select Committee on Sittings of the House chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling). It seems that the best use of precious parliamentary time is to ensure that the whole of a Bill of such importance is subject to adequate discussion and scrutiny and the timetable motion allows for precisely that. It will be for the Standing Committee to determine how long it spends on the various parts of the Bill. The timetable motion establishes a framework designed to guarantee that the 1014 whole Bill is given adequate discussion in Committee, despite any attempts to delay and filibuster on particular clauses.
The times specified in the motion for when the knives fall on various groups of clauses merely determine when the Questions are put in Committee. If the Committee so wishes, there is nothing to stop it carrying on after that point on the next group of clauses, thus increasing the time available overall for discussion.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
The right hon. Gentleman is missing an important point about Committees. It is all very well cramming all the hours in Committee into one week, but Oppositions depend on outside bodies—local authorities, local authority treasurers and local council leaders—to give them information about Bills. There will not be enough time for that with this Bill and that is a denial of democracy.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I understand that, but there has been prolonged consultation on these proposals and the Bill has been available for a considerable number of days.
We have to strike a balance between parliamentary consideration, which will take several months, and the need to get the council tax into operation by April 1993——
§ Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)
Given that the Committee will meet three days a week, starting at 10.30 am and breaking in the afternoon, does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that discussion after midnight is the right way to apply detailed scrutiny to legislation of this sort? We all know about the difficulties of debating at that time of night. Would not a debate held so late at night be more about mice and pumpkins than about the legislative framework for a sensible, democratic Parliament such as ours?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I well recall debating Finance Bills introduced by the last Labour Government well after midnight in Committee. I repeat: we must endeavour to strike the right balance between a reasonable amount of time for parliamentary consideration and getting Royal Assent in time to introduce the council tax——
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
One danger of the timetable motion is that, because the Bill has not been thought through properly by the Government, they will use the Committee stage to table large numbers of their own amendments to try to improve the Bill. The Chair will then give those amendments precedence over Opposition amendments. So the bulk of the time will be taken up with trying to clear up the mess that the Government have created.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I can only repeat that we must strike a balance between parliamentary consideration and putting the council tax in place. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Bill has been thoroughly thought through.
A timetable motion along these lines enhances the consideration of any Bill. That is why in my memorandum to the Select Committee on Sittings of the House I made clear my view that a much greater use of timetabling, as recommended by the Procedure Committee—the Chairman of that Committee is in his place this evening—would be an important improvement in the effectiveness of our procedures.
1015 If the Labour party opposes this motion, it can only be for one of three reasons. Perhaps Opposition Members fear the amount of time that we shall provide to expose the bankruptcy of their policies on local government finance; or perhaps they wish to deny the House enough time to debate the Bill in a structured way; or perhaps they wish to prevent the council tax from being properly prepared and implemented by 1993. That is why it is right to present the motion and to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it.
The details of the motion are self-explanatory, but I should like to repeat one important point. As I have already made clear, nothing in the motion prevents the Committee from sitting after the guillotine falls in order to spend extra time on the clauses in what could be described as the next compartment. Ministers would obviously reflect the views of the Committee as a whole in deciding when to move the adjournment. I assure the House that, if it wishes, the Committee can sit much later into the night. Thus the total number of hours provided by the motion is very much a minimum. The times at which the guillotine falls have been agreed following discussions, but I am sure that none of us would wish to lay down to the Committee exactly how much time it must take.
The proposals in the motion provide adequate time for debate to ensure that the whole of this vital Bill is subjected to proper parliamentary scrutiny. We must ensure the minimum amount of time for the regulations to be promulgated, for guidance to be given to local authorities and for them to make the detailed preparations for the introduction of the council tax. If that is not done, the tax will not be in place by April 1993, which is what most hon. Members want and what we should like. I commend the motion to the House.
§ Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)
The Leader of the House started his speech with an error and made a totally unconvincing case for the motion. He started by saying that the Bill has already had three days of debate. Presumably he was counting a day of the debate on the Gracious Speech which took place before the Bill had been published. He cannot say that the House had a day's debate on a Bill that it had not seen.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am afraid that, uncharacteristically, the hon. Gentleman started with an error himself. I did not make an error. The Bill was published on the Friday before the debate on the Gracious Speech.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he was following normal procedures. The motion owes everything to the Government's failed election strategy and nothing to the proper scrutiny of legislation that will affect every home in the land.
Once again the Government are setting unenviable records with their summary attitude to important legislation. We have seen and heard it all before. For a decade the Government have offered local taxpayers salvation. First, there were the targets and penalties set by the Secretary of State for the Environment when he formerly held that office. Local Government Finance Bills came thick and fast throughout the 1980s and guillotines fell upon them with monotonous regularity. Targets and penalties, rate capping, retrospective legislation and the poll tax were all guillotined and railroaded through the 1016 House in the so-called interests of local taxpayers. They were all said to be the final solution to the problems of more accountability and a fairer deal for ratepayers. Here we are again with the latest Tory tax.
The Conservative justification for those actions makes hilarious reading. Hansard is replete with justifications for the need for haste and change and the reason why the latest piece of Conservative manic legislation would put everything right. It never did. The consequences for local taxpayers, local services, local authority jobs and, of course, for local government in general are not funny. It was all incoherent opportunism then and it is all incoherent opportunism now, but it is again about to be given the force of law.
The Government still lack any coherent philosophy on local government, or any principles on which to base their approach to local government in Britain. The poll tax—their flagship—is now to be ignominiously scrapped, but not for at least one more year.
We have heard the same hollow arguments and transparent claims paraded by the Leader of the House and his right hon. and hon. Friends—a fairer system; it must be guillotined; it must be on the statute book as soon as possible. No one believes any of this any more. We have had too many bitter experiences. This time, the Tory imperative is not to save the taxpayer but—a vain attempt—to save their political skins.
There were three lines about the poll tax in the Tory manifesto at the last general election. They cost the people of Britain £15 billion—£5 billion a line. When the Bill to introduce the poll tax was guillotined into law, the Secretary of State for Energy, who was then Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), praised it. He said:Our proposed community charge will introduce the accountability which is currently lacking … The Bill will achieve those objectives through the replacement of domestic rates by a fairer community charge, the introduction of a simpler and more stable system".Who believes that any more? He continued:Local electors and local businesses are crying out for a change from an unfair system of local revenue raising to a more equitable one that will increase local government accountability and strengthen local democracy."—[Official Report, 22 February 1988; Vol. 128, c. 28–32.]All that is to be thrown out of the window now. The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities actually said at the Tory party conference that the poll tax would be a vote winner. If it is so wonderful, why the headlong rush to get rid of it?
When he was Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon adduced in support of the guillotine the fact that the Conservatives had a mandate for the poll tax. This is the first time that I can recall—it is probably a constitutional and historical first—a Government using a guillotine not to get their manifesto commitments in but to get their manifesto commitments out. That is what the Leader of the House is asking the House to do.
It is instructive to reflect on how the House treated the poll tax Bill or, more fairly, the way that the Government treated it. On Second Reading, it had 131 clauses and 12 schedules. By the time that it came out of Committee, because of huge amendments and additions, it had 164 clauses and 16 schedules. It then went to another place, where it stayed for quite some time, and came back with 1017 417 new amendments on 66 pages. They too were railroaded through the House of Commons in a few short hours.
The Leader of the House and his right hon. and hon. Friends no longer have any credibility on these matters, and they have the brass neck to come to the House and ask us to put up with it all again. Several times the Leader of the House spoke of following normal procedures when he is recommending abnormal procedures.
§ Mr. Budgen
Is it not plain that the Leader of the House was saying that he hoped to have the minimum possible period between the end of the Committee stage and Report? That may be a legitimate way to deal with a non-controversial Bill that does not require a great deal of consultation, but this is a major constitutional Bill on which we want the responses not only of officers in local government but of locally elected people and the population generally. There ought to be not a bare minimum but a proper period of national consultation.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The hon. Gentleman is right, and I know that in truth the Leader of the House shares his view. Recently the right hon. Gentleman attended a sitting of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House, which is chaired by the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling). In evidence, he said:The Opposition must have adequate opportunity to oppose, and its legitimate rights must be sustained.That is what the right hon. Gentleman said only a few days ago. Yet here he is flattening at one fell swoop by means of a guillotine motion the Opposition's right to oppose. The right hon. Gentleman cannot face both ways, one way in the Chamber and in an entirely different way when giving evidence to the right hon. Member for Westmorland Lonsdale and others. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) said, there will not be adequate time and opportunity for Government Back-Bench Members to obtain briefing on amendments, let alone Opposition Members.
There has been talk of normal procedures. As the proposed Committee will sit on three consecutive days each week and sometimes, on the admission of the Leader of the House, late into the night, will he guarantee that Committee Hansards will be available in the normal way for Committee members to scrutinise what Ministers have said in debates that may not have finished, or in debates that may be germane to subsequent debates and amendments? Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the assurance that the reports will be available? Would he like to give us that assurance now? Come on! The answer is no answer at all. That is the response of a Minister who a few moments ago was telling the House that normal procedures would be followed. We know that no precedent for the procedures that we are discussing has ever been proposed before by any Government on any Bill, not even on a tuppenny-ha'penny Bill of no consequence let alone a Bill of the magnitude and significance that we are discussing.
The Government's proposals would be easy to understand if they had a reasonable record on these matters, but I have made clear briefly that their record is abysmal. The hon. Member for Enfield and Southgate (Mr. Portillo) and others have abandoned their commitment—this certainly goes for the Under-Secretary 1018 of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) and most Conservative Members—to the poll tax. All of them—I say that unless a Conservative Member wants to intervene to say that he opposed it—marched through the Government Lobby in support of it, and did so on many occasions. They supported also guillotine motions that related to it. They seem to have changed their tune somewhat tonight.
The poll tax legislation was guillotined in and it will be guillotined out, but it will not entirely disappear until we have a Labour Government after the next general election.
We face a familiar scene but one that has a new twist. There is to be unprecedented forcing of legislation through the House. It is clear that when the political future of Tory Members is at stake they care little about the proper scrutiny of tax proposals and the expenditure of public money.
The poll tax Bill and the new Tory tax Bill bear some comparison. The earlier measure had 131 clauses and 12 schedules when it began its tortuous journey through the House. The Bill that is before us has 117 clauses and 14 schedules. The previous measure was in Committee for 72 hours before it was guillotined. Unlike that which the Leader of the House implied, there was no question of any filibuster. I led the opposition to it on behalf of the Labour party and, far from filibustering, I recall that the Government tabled more amendments in Committee than the Opposition. We were anxious to proceed to the important parts of the Bill. In total, that Bill had 136 hours in Committee. For a Bill of not dissimilar length and importance, the Leader of the House is suggesting 80 to 100 hours for scrutiny, yet he has the nerve to say that he is proposing normal procedures. In fact, he is breaking with all precedent, and he knows it.
This guillotine motion is symptomatic of a Government who have come to treat the House of Commons, and, for that matter, the British people, with total contempt in their approach to local government finance. It is a Government who cannot be trusted with the reform of local government finance, just as they cannot be trusted with the future of the national health service, our children's education or the handling of the economy.
The timetable for the council tax Bill has been determined by one criterion above all others—the panic-stricken attempt by the Prime Minister to hang on to office, with a discredited group of Ministers hanging on to his coat tails. That is the real reason why we are here tonight. The motion makes a mockery of the procedures of the House and its proper role in the scrutiny of Bills. We should not be surprised by the way the Government are acting in forcing through yet another of their ill-conceived pieces of local government legislation, because that has been the hallmark of their time in office.
Why is the House being asked to accept the unprecedented step of having a Standing Committee for a major Bill that sits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and, from what the Leader of the House implied, could be in almost continuous session?
The Prime Minister should seriously consider the proposal of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which is rightly concerned that poll tax collection will become even more difficult in coming months because of the mess and confusion that the Government have created. The AMA has suggested a national advertising campaign drawing the public's attention to their liability to pay the poll tax, which is not yet even abolished. There could even 1019 be a large poster sited across the road from 10 Downing street for the Prime Minister's benefit. After all, the Government have always been more than ready to spend millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on lavish advertising campaigns to promote other aspects of Government policy, so why should not they do so on this occasion?
The unpalatable fact remains for us all that every person who gets a poll tax bill in this financial year will find one dropping on his doormat next financial year as well. No one is in any doubt about where the responsibility lies for that. In spite of the bluster of the Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and others have repeatedly offered to co-operate, as we did in the last Session of Parliament, on Bills to abolish the poll tax immediately. The delay in abolishing that piece of Tory folly is entirely due to the Government's unwillingness to co-operate in getting rid of it as quickly as possible.
Try as the Government might, fiddle with the evidence as they might, the Government will not escape, first, the responsibility for poll tax itself, and, secondly, their unenviable record in railroading rotten legislation through the House. For those reasons, we shall certainly oppose the motion.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) enjoyed making that speech and the House enjoyed some of his remarks. The trouble is that many of them were carbon copies of speeches made from that Bench over the past 20 years.
I and many hon. Members in the House tonight have listened to a vast number of guillotine debates. They are predictable. I have not participated in one before, but I thought that it was perhaps worth making a contribution on this occasion, for a variety of reasons—[Interruption.] If my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) bothered to listen, he would discover why I am making this speech. I shall listen to his speech without the discourtesy of interrupting him.
What clearly emerges is that the Government want the Bill to go through. Every Government wants its legislation to go through. Every Opposition express their anger at the contempt with which the House is being treated and the contempt with which local government is being treated and always accuse the Government of flagrantly abusing the processes of democracy.
It is easy to make the sort of speech that the hon. Member for Copeland made. He merely has to look back at speeches made by hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber during the past 20 years, changing the quotations, the odd word arid the title of the Bill. In that way he can make his speech without any preparation. He adapts the words of his predecessors and the Government spokesman does the same. The tragedy is that none of the speeches will alter a single vote when it comes to the Division.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that in the whole of the period between 1945 and 1951, when the House was considering the most major social changes, there were only three guillotine motions, and that in 1988 there were 13? Does not my hon. Friend think that at the 1020 very least he should address the allegation that the Government have got into the habit of bashing their legislation through under the guillotine?
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
Some of us were elected to carry through legislation detailed in election addresses, and I propose to continue to do that. As for the other point that my hon. Friend made, that is such a hoary chestnut that it has been answered over and over again and I do not propose to waste the time of the House repeating ad nauseam the arguments which, if he had been present, he would have heard on previous occasions.
The purpose of the motion is, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, to give enough time to discuss each clause sensibly. Let me now say why I decided to speak in the debate. My first experience of participating in a guillotined debate was when I was a junior Minister with responsibility for housing in 1979–80 when we put through the right-to-buy legislation. We sat afternoon and night, ploughing on, wasting time on early clauses until the macho characteristics of the Opposition had been sufficiently satisfied and the Government business managers had been sufficiently satisfied to table a guillotine motion. The trouble was that much of the argument was useless because it was addressed to unimportant clauses and many of the important clauses were not properly dealt with. That was not the way to proceed.
Timetable motions always lead the Opposition to claim that not enough time has been given. Let me draw the attention of the House to the report of the Select Committee on Procedure which was published on 23 April 1985. On page 25, it says:Timetables on controversial bills"—no one would argue that this is not a controversial bill—should be introduced much earlier than at present. To this end there should be a Legislative Business Committee … of thirteen Members appointed by the Committee of Selection".It goes on to say that that Committeeshould consider all Government bills committed to a Standing Committee. If it considers that a Bill is likely to require more than twenty-five hours in standing committee"—I guess that everyone thinks that—the LBC should recommend a maximum number of hours for consideration of the Bill by the standing committee.My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has recommended a minimum, not a maximum, number of hours. It goes on to say:Such recommendations … should be implemented without debate.That report was carried by eight votes to one with the support of Labour, Liberal and Conservative Members. That is the point that should be addressed. I am speaking of the considered view of the Procedure Committee, not some decision made by a fly-by-night business managers' Committee. The Procedure Committee is a very distinguished body.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
No one is casting aspersions on the Procedure Committee, or disputing its merits; I am sure that it was both distinguished and wise. None the less, we must conduct our affairs according to the procedures that are currently in place.
Furthermore—if we are to deal with hypothetical examples—it could equally be said that a pre-legislative Select Committee should be established to take evidence from experts. My hon. Friend's remarks derive from a recommendation based on the proposition that a 1021 pre-legislative Committee should decide how much time should be allocated. No such consensus is involved in our procedure, however; we must decide on the merits of the motion that we are debating.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
The Leader of the House has read the Procedure Committee's report, and has decided that this is how we should proceed. I remind the House that among the members of that Committee was the right hon. J. Enoch Powell, who gave his approval—and there was no stauncher defender of the rights of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) is another great expert on these matters. Such people will not be bludgeoned into presenting foolish proposals.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
The hon. Gentleman misses the vital point that the Select Committee is composed of Members of all parties. This pig's ear of a motion has been decided by hon. Members on only one side of the House—perhaps by only one or two people. That is a negation of our responsibility to decide, as a House, what the House should do. It should not be a case of the Secretary of State's deciding what the Opposition should do. It is one thing for a special Committee, perhaps a Select Committee, to make a judgment; it is another for a motion such as this to be rammed down our throats.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman puts his case very reasonably, but I cannot agree. If the Procedure Committee, having received masses of evidence, weighed that evidence and reached a conclusion with the support of all parties in the House, says that a maximum number of hours should be laid down, and my right hon. Friend proposes a minimum number, it is clear that he has gone beyond what the Committee proposed. I think that that is more than reasonable.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The hon. Gentleman has omitted a vital point. He has not told us what happened when the House received the report from that—as he described it—distinguished Committee. What did the House do about it?
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
Alas, like so many Select Committee reports, it was not adopted. Long ago, I served on that Committee. It produces extremely good reports, but, unfortunately, they are not always given debating time, and they are not always accepted. I hope that, when the House accepts the motion later tonight, a precedent will be set.
Let me be frank. I should like all legislation to be timetabled. That was hinted at in a review of legislation presented a long time ago by Sir David Renton, which was warmly supported.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I promise that I shall do so when I finish this passage; I would not dream of not giving way to my hon. Friend.
There is no point in the House deciding that it will examine the hours during which it sits and the conditions in which it works if it does not intend to reform the structure of legislation. That is why I hope that the passing of the motion will create a precedent. It will affect both 1022 sides of the House. Governments become the Opposition and the Opposition become the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] Of course. I am looking ahead to the year 2000. On this occasion, though, I am trying not to be too partisan; it is too important an issue. We must try to ensure that the House is given sufficient time to consider legislation so that all the clauses can be considered properly.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does my hon. Friend agree that respect for the authority of the law arises not because the Government have bashed legislation through but because that legislation has been subjected to the full procedure then in force, so that by the time it has been considered each and every one of us can be said to have given our consent to it? The danger when dealing with legislation of this sort, which has been the subject of contempt and non-collection, is that those who pay reluctantly may feel that the legislation that comes out of this truncated procedure has not been accorded the proper majesty of the procedure and that in some way it can be treated with contempt, as though it were lesser law.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
It is a pity that my hon. Friend prejudices his case by using the words "bashed through." They are not words that his predecessor would have used. Moreover, I do not believe that what he has said is relevant to the debate. The mere fact of having three times the amount of time to consider the legislation would not necessarily make it any better. We might hear more speeches from my hon. Friend, but the legislation would not necessarily be improved in any way. Therefore, the House would be well advised to pass the motion. We know from the start exactly when each clause will be given time and we shall be able to decide how much time we want to spend on individual clauses.
I have tried to get away from the usual quoting of five guillotines in one night and X number of guillotines in 1945. That is not the point. The point is whether this is the way to space out the legislation, giving sufficient time for consideration of each clause. What we do not want to do, as so often happens, is to find that 10, 20 or 30 clauses have to go through on the nod because the knife has come down and that we have to leave it to the other place to do our work for us. By this means we shall do our work in a more efficient way than we have done up to now.
§ Mr. David Bellotti (Eastbourne)
At the beginning of the speech of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), I thought that the Government had written his script, but as he proceeded I realised that even the Government could not have written it for him.
After listening to the debate, it seems to me that the Government are in a very large hole which they continue to dig. There has been no consultation on the timetable with the Opposition parties. They may have wished to suggest how the Government should proceed. No Opposition Member likes the council tax, but we dislike the poll tax, too, and we are only too willing to help the Government get rid of it at the very first opportunity. However, having introduced the poll tax and inflicted such suffering on the people of this country, the Government 1023 are only too pleased to grab at the first thing they see in an effort to get themselves off the poll tax hook as quickly as possible.
The proposed timetable is absolutely crazy for the size of the task. Local government finance is one of the most complex issues that the House will ever have to debate. Although we shall have 75 hours plus—depending on the time that some of the sittings finish—the proceedings will have to be concluded in just two weeks and two days. There will be little time for reflection between one Committee sitting and the next. There will be little time to consider something that is very important, such as whether a particular clause that was considered at the previous sitting will have an effect on following clauses.
Why are the Government rushing the Bill through in such a way? If the council tax has merit, surely they will want to persuade hon. Members and the general public that it is worth looking forward to. But no, the reverse is true. This must be a deliberate act by the Government because they do not want people outside to realise what the tax will be like for them.
Conservative Back-Benchers have shown their dislike for the council tax in the debate on Second Reading. If they showed such dislike at that stage, clearly there will be considerable disputes in Committee and even more disagreement when the general public learn about the tax. That is why the Government have to rush the Bill through before too many people realise what the tax will be like.
The rush also displays the Government's attitude towards local government. I was first elected to a district council in 1979—a very significant year. Every year since then the Government have attacked what that local authority, on which I sat for 12 years, has tried to do, whether it be the delivery of services, or raising the resources to pay for them. The Government have centralised control and in some cases they have inflicted a vindictiveness which is not merely unwelcome but which stops the local authorities providing some of those services.
Central Government should be working in partnership with local government. The Bill should be discussed until local government reaches the consensus that it also believes that local taxation is the right method to pay for the services that they and not the House have to deliver.
When one considers the costs that the Government are prepared to allocate to set up the council tax, all is revealed. They will meet only three quarters of the cost, in the same year that local government will continue to lose millions of pounds of poll tax which they cannot collect as a result of action by the same Government. Not only will millions of pounds be lost, but millions of people will lose out under the council tax because the charges will be greater for them than they were under the poll tax.
The Government have already got many of their sums wrong. They have over-estimated the value of properties and, as a result, the tax will go up. The Government still have not answered some questions to the satisfaction of the House—including some Conservative as well as Opposition Members. For example, if they are going to exempt the majority of students and those on income support from 1993, cannot they exempt everyone from the 20 per cent. of the poll tax that they have to pay from 1992? That could be provided for in a clause in the Bill. We could pass it with the timetabled Bill and we could stop some of 1024 the suffering. A number of right hon. and hon. Friends have suggested that during the past two days of debate, but we have heard nothing from the Government about it.
It will be necessary carefully to study some of the clauses in the 163 pages of the Bill. The Government believe that students will be exempt, but there is a grey area. What happens if some students live in a property with some working adults? The Government have not answered that question, so we shall need to debate it and table amendments.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. Michael Portillo)
I provided the answers.
§ Mr. Bellotti
I was here for the winding-up speeches and I am not satisfied with the answers. We shall have to consider the matter carefully in Committee and there may be a case for some amendments.
Another grey area is the right of entry to property. It cannot be right that the House could pass a law that would permit estate agents to enter homes at 24 hours' notice to ascertain what they are like inside. That right is in the Bill. There need to be more safeguards and the 24 hours' notice needs to be extended. Is it right that banks, building societies and other institutions should be required, with 21 days' notice, to give information about valuation of properties? The contract between an individual and a bank or building society will be deviated from because the Government could require that information to be given to a valuation officer. Many aspects of the Bill will require serious consideration in Committee and the timetable motion does not provide the time necessary.
§ Dr. Norman A Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Does not the timetable motion simply make plain the Government's contempt for this place? At a moment when there is growing uncertainty about the power of this place vis-à-vis central institutions of the European Community, the Government make matters worse by treating the House so disgracefully.
§ Mr. Bellotti
The hon. Gentleman makes a telling point. The Government want to centralise decision-making and keep power here at Westminster. They do not want local authorities to have powers to raise funds or to deliver services. That is the crux of the Bill and all the local government legislation that the Government have introduced since 1979.
There is another reason why the motion is so necessary and it becomes clear when one looks at how the council tax will affect individuals. I shall give one example, although there are dozens. Hon. Members will understand why I choose West Oxfordshire. Under the poll tax two people there pay £481, but under the council tax that sum will increase to over £500. In the south-east, in particular in Eastbourne and Sussex, there are dozens of such examples. The majority of people will be worse off under the council tax.
Obviously, the Government are trying to rush the Bill through Parliament as quickly as they can, hoping to attract as little attention as possible, and to get the general election over with in the hope of being returned. They are in for a shock. People are waking up. After the poll tax fiasco, they will look carefully at the council tax. They will not allow it to pass as they did the poll tax.
The Government had other opportunities that they could have taken, but they turned their face against them. 1025 As an hon. Member said earlier, this is another missed opportunity for local government finance. The Government made great play of accountability, but local government can be made accountable in other ways—not to the House, but to the people who elect them to deliver services. There should be and is no need to cap a local authority. One could introduce a fair voting system. Whatever system we have, councillors should be accountable to their local electorate, not to this place.
I am disappointed that the Government have not yet seriously considered the one tax that has been proved to work in other European countries and the north Americas, and that is a local income tax. No one can dispute that it is easy to collect. It is cheap to administer—certainly cheaper than the rates, the poll tax or the council tax. We will not have an opportunity to debate that in Committee, so it is right to draw attention to it now. Above all, to use a phrase which the Government, Opposition and general public have used many times, a local income tax is certainly related to the ability to pay. It, too, could be in place by April 1993—the exact timetable that the Government have for the council tax.
The Leader of the House began by saying that the proposals were carefully thought through. I cannot understand how he can stand at the Dispatch Box and say that when, clearly, they have been rushed. He said that the proposals were balanced, but they are unfair. People will find it an unfair tax. The proposals are certainly not well thought out. The Leader of the House said that they were. Does that mean that there will be no Government amendments in Committee? That would be interesting.
The Bill and the guillotine come from a Government who are on their last legs. With the poll tax the Government shot themselves in the stomach. With the council tax they will shoot themselves in the head.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)
I do not believe that the House, confronted by a Bill of this complexity and contentiousness, can be altogether happy about the arrangements for its consideration in Committee. However, I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is operating under constraints and that he feels that those arrangements represent the best way to proceed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) demonstrated characteristic generosity in trying to elevate the nature of the debate into a consideration of timetabling generally. We know that procedural reform is now in vogue and that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has a strong disposition towards general and automatic timetabling. It is a disposition with which I wholly agree.
On this occasion the House is entitled, given the nature of the automatic timetable, to stop for a moment and to put a question mark against whether the organisation of automatic timetabling should be within the gift of the Whips' Office—the usual channels, that immaculate organisation whose skill and credibility is admired by all—or whether the House, perhaps in a mood of self-survival——
§ Mr. Biffen
It depends on how one judges such things. Would the House seek to be the authority for such automatic timetabling?
This evening the usual channels, through my right hon. Friend, are the authors of the automatic timetable. I accept that, but the House would be well advised to suspend judgment on whether that authority should lie with the usual channels or, more generally, with the House.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) mentioned what was said on this subject in the excellent report produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) and his colleagues. The words of Hansard speak little, but the Division lists say it all: they are padded with payroll. The House may well wonder why. Were all the Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State turned into constitutional enthusiasts? I suggest that the usual channels have a strong interest in seeing that they control this important piece of procedure. That may be what the House will accept, but let the House be fully aware of the nature of the decision.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I am glad to have the chance to follow the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), whom I certainly regard as far and away the most successful Leader of the House in all my time here. It was following the right hon. Gentleman's removal from that high post that the Government fell apart. I accept that it has taken a few years for the process to be completed, but everyone who studies the history books will be able to trace the downfall of the Thatcher Government—as some may still call it—to the time when she was foolish enough to remove the right hon. Gentleman from the duties that he was carrying out so successfully.
Because I have such regard for the right hon. Gentleman, it makes me all the more discontented to disagree with him about the proposition of permanent or automatic timetables. Of course, if such a procedure were adopted by the House it would be better to have it subject to agreement between the usual channels than merely on the diktat of the Government. That would be an improvement. Even so, there is a great deal to be said against timetable motions. I have attended more debates on these matters than any other hon. Member and I vividly recall many of them. But on none of those occasions did I put the case in the way that the Leader of the House put his case tonight, making it all the more necessary for us to oppose him now.
I never put the case for a timetable motion on the ground that we should make it a permanent feature of our parliamentary procedures. I took that view for many good reasons, partly because I always believed that it would play far too much into the hands of the Government. All Governments like to have the opportunity of introducing guillotines at certain times, but that desire should be resisted for the good reasons put forward by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). That is why we should be cautious about proceeding in the way proposed by the Leader of the House.
Although I listened with interest to the case adduced by the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee which has made the recommendations, I still believe that the House would 1027 be making a great mistake to accept the motion, for it would add to the automatic nature, as it were, of debates and would play into the hands of the Government of the day, thereby strengthening their position over that of the House.
Let us not forget the experience of the past 10 years, during which time we have had more experience of guillotine motions than in the whole of the previous history of Parliament. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West contrasted that with what was done by the great reforming Government of 1945, who put through the House a huge weight of measures. That Government were able to carry through virtually all that legislation with hardly any resort to guillotine motions.
It was, of course, more difficult in the 1970s, when Governments did not have majorities of that nature. Such circumstances add to the temptation on Government, and sometimes the temptation must be accepted. But progressively more guillotines have been introduced. They have also been introduced earlier on measures and Ministers have come forward, as though it is a matter of no significance, to recommend new guillotine procedures, some in novel circumstances. That poses a great danger to the House.
The right hon. Gentleman made the weakest speech in favour of a guillotine motion that I have ever heard from a Leader of the House and that is saying something. He really had no case—[Interruption.] I repeat a proposition that I made to a previous Leader of the House. If hon. Members would like to debate the five guillotine motions that I introduced, I should be happy, if the Leader of the House was prepared to give us time, to debate those matters. Hon. Members would then see what good measures I introduced and with what democratic reticence I did it, which is more than the Leader of the House can claim for the way he adduced his case tonight. At the time when those measures were being skilfully and carefully introduced, we were also carrying through a whole range of highly necessary reforming legislation. Had the right hon. Gentleman followed that example, he might have put forward a better case tonight.
§ Mr. Douglas
Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the generosity he bestowed on the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), who moved the guillotine motion on the original poll tax measure applying to Scotland? Some of the strictures of the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North should, perhaps, be considered again.
§ Mr. Foot
I did not know that the right hon. Gentleman had that black mark on his past, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing it out. It shows that none of us is perfect, not even the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that it will be a lesson to him in future. It is a reason not for more guillotines, but for fewer.
The truth of the matter was expressed by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has spoken so well on such questions in recent years arid protested each time the Government resorted to fresh guillotine motions. He said that, together with the Bill, the Government had presentedthe most extraordinary guillotine that has ever been introduced into the House"—[Official Report, 11 November 1991: Vol. 198, c. 858.]1028 That is a perfectly good description, especially as this is not just a procedural matter. How the House conducts its affairs, particularly on questions affecting taxation of our constituents, is of great importance.
The Government have introduced a tax that has not been a triumphant success. I do not wish to embarrass the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), who thought that the poll tax was a winner. He is an extremely agile performer. Indeed, he needs to have that agility to defend such contradictory positions on subsequent occasions and it is noble of him to come along tonight and not insist that his leader, the Secretary of State for the Environment, who called it the "Tory tax'', should be present. It is a disgrace that the Minister responsible for the Bill is not present for such an important guillotine motion. I am sure that, when the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North was Leader of the House and presented a guillotine motion, he always sought to ensure that the Minister responsible was present. I cannot recall an occasion since I have been in Parliament when a Minister sent along an underling, however agile and accomplished he may be. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate is indeed accomplished in defending all those propositions.
It is an additional insult to the House that not only has a motion been introduced in extraordinary circumstances, but it has been brought in to deal with a tax that will affect all our constituents. People throughout the country will ask what hon. Members had to say on each clause. In the poll tax debates we were told, "Of course the country is in favour of it. The arguments are overwhelming. We'll push it through under the guillotine." My hon. Friends and I warned the Government what would happen if they tried to push through legislation in that fashion, but they would not listen. They said that they knew best and had to get their legislation speedily on to the statute book to ensure that local authorities would have the maximum time to deal with it. Now, they have had to eat their words on every aspect of that legislation.
One would think that a Government responsible for one of the worst Acts of Parliament ever introduced in the history of Parliament, and having introduced it so recently, would, in trying to remedy the situation, at least invite both sides of the House to give their views on the subject. Several Conservative Members have shown that they know much more about the Bill than does the Secretary of State, who does not even dare to come to the House and deal with the questions himself.
This is a unique case because the Leader of the House implies that, if he gets away with the motion this time, the Government will introduce more and more such motions. Although there will be few opportunities for the Government to do so, I hope that no future Government will agree to the permanent timetabling of motions.
Such a system would reduce a power of Back Benchers to oppose the Executive and it would be wrong for us to embark on it. Therefore, I hope that all Members, not just Opposition Members, will throw out this motion. The Leader of the House could make a great contribution if he were to say that, having listened to the debate, he had decided to withdraw the provision on his own authority without giving a fig for what the Cabinet might tell him tomorrow morning.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
It is always great fun to follow the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), particularly when he uses such a charming argument that every guillotine motion moved by the socialist Government is marvellously democratic, and every such motion moved by the Tory Government is to be condemned and thought to be absolutely useless. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that there was no need to have guillotine motions in 1945 when the Labour Government were proposing a massive legislative programme. In those times, the House sat more frequently until 9 am, having sat all night, than at any other time in the history of the House this century. It is an attempt to overcome such problems that Governments of different parties have moved towards using timetable motions in order to enact legislation.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does not my hon. Friend agree that such sittings impose a good discipline on the House, particularly from a Tory viewpoint? We used to believe that it would be good to have less legislation. If legislation is inconvenient for the House of Commons, there may be less of it and it may be better considered.
§ Sir Peter Emery
The interesting fact is that the amount of Government legislation has decreased during the past four parliamentary Sessions—we are working towards exactly what my hon. Friend was urging. That is not a bad proposal for all of us to accept.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government who were elected on the claim of taking legislation from people's backs has produced much more delegated legislation than the previous Labour Government? While the Conservative Government may have taken business off the Floor of the House, they have handed it to Ministers to produce orders and regulations which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, receive very little scrutiny.
§ Sir Peter Emery
The hon. Gentleman knows that he and I would agree absolutely that the amount of delegated legislation from all Governments has greatly increased over the years and, I believe, should be decreased.
It is of interest to consider which issues the House should address when deciding whether to proceed with a timetable motion. Whether or not we like it, there has been a major move among Members towards dealing with legislation in a sensible manner and using timetable motions. Such a movement never existed when I entered the House in the late 1950s. John Silkin, a former Labour party Chief Whip, told the Procedure Committee that he had been massively against any timetable motion when he took the post, but was persuaded absolutely and he gave evidence to the Committee that the best way to deal with legislation was to move more and more towards sensible timetabling.
I take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) about the danger of leaving timetabling only in Government hands. He will know that, after the Government turned out a greater number of Ministers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and Whips to defeat the Procedure Committee's recommendations on a one-line Whip than on any three-line Whip that Session, the Procedure Committee reconsidered how to deal with the matter.
1030 It was then recommended that each Committee should nominate at the time of selection a number of Members who if necessary could act as a sub-Committee and who would decide after 12½ hours whether there was any need to appoint a date when the Bill should be ordered out of that Committee. If they decided that the Bill was proceeding normally, no action was to be taken. If it was thought, however, that there was undue delay, a date was to be stipulated. If after another 12½ it was still seen that the Bill was not proceeding sensibly, the timetable was to be put into operation by the Members considering the Bill, to ensure that every clause of the Bill was considered before it was reported. That would have put the power in the hands of the Committee itself, and it would be very much better than leaving the matter in the hands of Government—but the system does not obtain now, which is why this motion has been tabled.
§ Mr. Maxton
At long last the hon. Gentleman has got to the point. His speech so far would have been fine had we been discussing the procedures of the House and a Select Committee report on them—but tonight we are debating a specific motion on a specific piece of legislation which the Government are railroading through the House.
§ Sir Peter Emery
That is precisely because the Procedure Committee's recommendation was not implemented. Now the Government have to decide when the legislation should be on the statute book to allow local authorities to operate it properly. Having made that decision, it is right that they should try to ensure that every part of the Bill is discussed by the date that they have set.
Do the Opposition really suggest that it makes sense to spend the first 12 or 15 sittings debating clauses 1 to 5, followed by a guillotine and then six or seven sittings on the whole of the rest of the Bill? That is how guillotines have worked in the past. It is bad for legislation, bad for procedure and bad for the House.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
If that happened, it would not necessarily be a bad thing, certainly in the case of this Bill. In most legislation, the early clauses are the most important, and subsequent clauses are virtually consequential. Clause 5, on banding, is crucial to the interests of my constituents, and it merits much more time than is allowed for it in this motion.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I can understand my hon. Friend's point, but four days of debate, three of them to run to any hour, have been allowed for the sort of debate that he wants.
§ Mr. Budgen
Long debates on the earlier stages of legislation are usually held in the knowledge that there will be a guillotine. If there were no anticipation that the Government were going to resort to the guillotine, it would he in the interests of the whole Committee to consider the parts of a Bill that were not contentious quickly and then to concentrate on the politically sensitive issues, on which the Government would have to make concessions from time to time. It is because Governments have so frequently recently resorted to guillotines that they have distorted and corrupted the way in which Committees consider Bills.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I do not accept my hon. Friend's judgment. In a perfect world what he suggests may be the case, but this is not a perfect world. In practice, most of the 1031 time before a guillotine is spent on a few clauses because the Opposition, in trying to prove their virility, stage a long debate at the beginning of the Bill to try to force the Government to impose the guillotine. It was the same when we were in opposition.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I should like to deal with one intervention before I accept another.
After the imposition of the guillotine the rest of the Bill frequently goes to the House of Lords with major parts of it not debated. That cannot be right.
§ Sir Peter Emery
In the year before last.
Having decided when the Bill should be ordered out of Committee, the Government will try to ensure that every part of it can be properly debated. The Opposition might want to spend more time on the Bill, but do they not want every part of the Bill to be debated? If they do, and if the Government want the Bill to leave the Committee by a set date, the guillotine is justified.
It is much better to have the guillotine at the start of the Bill than to introduce it after eight or 10 sittings, causing the remainder of the Bill to be rushed through. Such a rush would be most unsatisfactory for the Opposition and for organisations which wish to have their case presented by the Opposition. I am not necessarily in favour of a guillotine on the Bill, but as there is no better way it is preferable to introduce it now than to leave it until later.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
The Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), was somewhat unconvincing. If he had said that, as a matter of principle and policy, we should make the changes that he advocated rather than saying that we should make them in a pragmatic and opportunistic way on a specific issue, we might have taken a different view.
The House is being treated almost with contempt because of what the Government see as necessary in terms of their election date strategy. The legislation has nothing to do with the role of local government in a democratic society, with the provision of vital local services or with the contribution of local people. It is being hurried through because of the Government's political difficulties. That is not the best way to approach important procedural matters.
Shortly before I came to the House in 1982 I was active in local government. I remember sitting in the Visitors' Box and listening to a debate on the rate support grant settlement for Scotland, and being appalled that an order on something that affected every house, family and ratepayer in the land was rushed through in an hour and a half, and decided on the basis of the payroll vote.
If I was appalled then, I am even more appalled tonight. The Government are attempting to railroad through a measure that does not take on board the spectacular failure of their last attempt to deal with local government finance—the poll tax. They might have had the modesty, before coming to the House with a Bill such as this, to ask whether the system set out in it will work. I humbly suggest that it will not. Rushed through as it was, the poll tax had 1032 immense repercussions that included not just the removal of the Prime Minister but difficulties in one local authority after the other so that dedicated people of all political parties had to spend their time not as they wanted, serving their electorate in committees and departments, but in coping with the agonies of an undemocratic system that could not be administered, does not work and has failed to collect £370 million over the past two years. Now we are asked by the Government who introduced that system to accept a banding arrangement that is based on hostages to fortune and is clearly aimed at helping the better-off. Ability to pay has been forgotten.
When the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) rebuked the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), he said that both stood on the same election manifesto, and implied that that meant that they were both committed to the poll tax. If that is so, and if the Government are changing a major part of their platform at the last general election, the people of Britain should be asked for their opinion.
The Government are trying to push through a major policy change that does not take on board, as every councillor in the land would be entitled to argue, the importance of relating local government finance with local government structure. In Scotland, the Secretary of State refuses to appoint a commission and to involve himself in real consultations, although he is a party to these changes. In the debates on earlier major changes—in England with the benefit of the Maude report, in Scotland with the Wheatley report, and there was also the Layfield committee, to which I gave evidence—there was an attempt to tie together the two issues of finance and structure. However, that is not being done in the proposals in the Bill.
I was glad that the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) spoke in the debate. For all his faults, he attempted to be a genuine leader of all the House. I am sorry that the Leader of the House is temporarily absent and cannot hear me say that he would do well to emulate the pattern set by the right hon. Member for Shropshire. North.
He would have given more thought to these issues. He would have involved himself in more consultation with hon. Members on both sides of the House. Bearing in mind that the Leader of the House should serve right hon. And hon. Members on both sides of the House, I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North would have made the personal attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Dr. Kumar) that was made by the Leader of the House last week. Clearly the right hon. Gentleman felt that it was necessary to do so, but the House is not being well served by him. If it were, the proposals that are before us would not be debated in this way.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have rightly put up a fight for local democracy. They have reminded the House of the importance of the relationship between itself and local government. It is crucial that we retain good local services, but the best people to decide how good or how bad their local services, should be are local electorates. The Government's further attempt at centralising these matters is unacceptable. Local authorities are facing enough problems as it is. There has been the colossal problem of coping with the poll tax, along with the problems of warrant sales, debtors' legislation and all that has arisen from the Government's policies.
1033 Many right hon. and hon. Members will have shared my experiences in their surgeries. I find that one of the main issues is safety on the streets—law and order. Some of my colleagues and I met the new chief constable of Strathclyde, who made it plain that the service is grossly undermanned. How can Coatbridge, a town of 50,000 people in my constituency, be serviced by six policemen for an entire weekend?
§ Mr. Stewart
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why Strathclyde regional council has consistently employed a policy of keeping its police force below the Scottish Office authorised establishment, a policy that is followed by no other regional council in Scotland, including all the other Labour-held regional councils?
§ Mr. Clarke
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would advance that argument and so I was delighted to allow him to intervene to enable him to do so. Strathclyde regional council gave the answer to the chief constable. If the Minister gives a little of his time to talking to the chief constable, as my colleagues and I did——
§ Mr. Clarke
If he does so, first, he will learn that Strathclyde represents half of Scotland, and inevitably has greater difficulties than the smaller regions, and, secondly, he will understand that it has to match the resources that are made available from the Scottish Office. If the Government are hammering Strathclyde day after day on these issues, the problems will not disappear.
If the Minister is lucky enough to be re-elected, he will find himself on the Opposition Benches. He knows, however, as he sits on the Government Front Bench, that the revenue allocation for the policing of the whole of Scotland this year was £9 million, half of which was taken up not by Strathclyde—the largest authority that represents half of Scotland—but by Dumfries and Galloway. That arose because of the revenue consequences of capital expenditure. Let us not pretend that the Minister, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), can blame Strathclyde for its problems and for those of other parts of the country. Is it suggested that the Government can implement their health service policy, including the rundown of the mental health sector in greater Glasgow, without causing problems for the social work department in greater Glasgow and the housing departments in the 19 districts?
In a case in Hamilton today, the sheriff very reluctantly sent a man with mental health problems to prison for two years, and he made it clear that it was because he had nowhere else to send him. That is community care in Strathclyde. The Government time after time make it difficult for local authorities by reducing rate support grant and housing support grant, by introducing legislation with a guillotine, by changing social security arrangements, by being mean-minded over housing benefits and so on, and the consequence is the sort of case that occurred in Hamilton today.
1034 Lord Pym had a point when he said that a landslide victory could be abused. A large number of hon. Members may support the Government tonight, but they will be unhappy. To be fair, some of them have made that clear, including the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). They will be even more unhappy in a few months when the public reach their conclusions. Even more important than that, if we believe in parliamentary democracy, in a positive role for local government and for duly elected local councillors, and if we see a future in Europe—whatever the arguments—it cannot be right that the Government again and again should bully local authorities into taking the sorts of decision that are clearly as unacceptable to them as they are to the most vulnerable of their electorate.
What is happening tonight is another exercise in the arrogance of intellect and the brutality of power. Because that is so unhealthy, the British people will reject it, and they will do so before very long.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I shall not detain the House in arguing about the proposals that were put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure and then rejected by the House. I shall make just one observation about that. If those proposals had been approved by the House, they would have given much greater power to the Government of the day, and there is no doubt that the House would have balanced that granting of greater power in one direction by checks and balances in other directions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) had an idea of how that greater power might be checked.
Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be uncomfortable if they support the guillotine motion tonight. I shall offer a few words on two points, perhaps to increase their discomfort. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends must feel some embarrassment about their personal position on what is now openly described as the poll tax. It is now said by those who give guidance to the press that there was no genuine majority for the poll tax in the Cabinet. It is also said that there would have been no genuine majority if there had been a free vote in the House. I do not know whether that is so. However, while the people who guide the media are offering those words out of the corners of their mouths, they might reflect that it would be good if there were at least open discussion in the House of the substitute for the poll tax.
That is particularly important because of the way in which the public have scandalously disregarded the law on the collection of the poll tax. That is not a small matter. I may speak as a pompous lawyer, but the disregard of the law that has occurred in relation to the poll tax is a serious matter. Surely respect for the law involves the belief in the public as a whole that the procedures of law-making have been meticulously followed. If not, there is a danger that the law will be seen as "Major's" law, "Heseltine's" law or "Thatcher's" law and will not have the authority that it should have as emanating from Parliament, after a period of discussion, consultation, argument and voting upon all the issues. That must be important on this tax.
The more one looks at the way in which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave what was a rather unfortunately vague answer when he was asked about the time lapse between the end of the Committee stage and the 1035 Report stage, the more it becomes obvious, does it not, that those who will have to enforce the tax will not feel that they have been properly involved in the legislative procedure?
Who are the people who will be involved in enforcing the tax? They will be, for instance, police officers. We hear that at present the police are telling the magistrates courts that they are sorry but they do not have time to chase up poll tax defaulters. That is an unfortunate attitude for the police to take.
If there is no proper period of consultation, how, for instance, will the land and house agents feel—those in the private sector who will be involved in the assessment of the bands? How will the councillors feel if they have not been properly consulted? Shall we just have some response from the various associations of metropolitan authorities, the umbrella organisations, without any proper consultation?
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
My hon. Friend has expressed concern that some of his colleagues may feel some discomfort later this evening. We should be concerned if my hon. Friend were to suffer any discomfort later this evening. Therefore, so that we know that he will not be suffering such discomfort, perhaps he would like to take this opportunity to confirm to the House that he only voted for the poll tax reluctantly, with his arm twisted firmly behind his back, and that when the timetable motion for the poll tax was tabled, or any such motions, he voted against those as well.
§ Mr. Budgen
I voted for the timetable motion on the poll tax and, of course, every hon. Member compromises to some extent on those measures which they support and those which they oppose. I am not pretending for a moment that my record of fearlessly and carefully considering every piece of legislation that comes before the House is better than that of anybody else. But my point is that the performance of the Conservative party generally in relation to the poll tax is not one of which most of us are frightfully proud and most of us who feel slightly embarrassed by it all would say that at the very least on this second attempt we might try to consider it rather better.
As most Conservative Members have a certain amount of scepticism of Governments and of the legislative procedure, we take the view that we few prejudiced party politicians do not encompass the wisdom of the nation. It is not a bad plan to have at any rate a few of the views of the ordinary people who will be paying the tax and of the professional people who may be enforcing it, whether they be estate agents, local government officers or councillors. Our embarrassment, surely, should make us slightly more respectful of other, different opinions.
Those of us who are Unionists are particularly anxious for the authority of this Parliament to be recognised in Scotland. We do not concede the argument that the Tories have no mandate to rule there; but the Tories, and the present Government, have a mandate only for such time as they follow the procedures of the House and are genuinely able to tell the people of Scotland, "The procedures of the House—which are rarely truncated—fully take into account your minority views, your support for Labour candidates and the fact that there are so few Conservative Members in Scotland." When we truncate those procedures, as we are doing tonight, we damage the rule of 1036 law and the authority of the present Conservative Government; and, in my view, we misbehave in a very short-sighted way.
Those splendid gentlemen who are saying, out of the corners of their mouths, that there never was much support for the poll tax are also saying that there is now a new spirit within the Government: a spirit of consensus, good manners, listening to others and not shouting them down. In other words, there is a general negation of both passion and rudeness. There is undoubtedly much to be said for consensus and politeness. Although I am not good at either myself, I fully recognise the advantages of that style of political leadership.
Surely, however, the high point of what I suppose even the Tory papers described as Thatcher triumphalism occurred in 1988—and 1988 marked an all-time high in the number of guillotine motions. There were no fewer than 13. As I have said, only three were needed to achieve the great socialist revolution that took place between 1945 and 1951.
If the current Administration wish to demonstrate that they have some concern for views with which they disagree, I suggest to the Prime Minister that that is not best achieved by means of, for instance, a well-publicised meeting with a leader of the homosexual community. It is best achieved through respect for the House of Commons; through tolerance of the boredom and inconvenience of debate; and through not regarding the legislative procedure as though it were a kind of factory.
Above all, we should demonstrate our wish to conciliate—and our understanding of different points of view—through a recognition that the proper following of the procedures of the House, unwillingness to truncate debate and the acceptance of passion and inconvenience can show that we truly accept that ours is a divergent society, in which many views exist and all must be respected.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said that he was not frightfully proud of the Government's record on the poll tax. I think that I have just learned what understatement really means.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Government's mandate in Scotland would be lost when they refused to follow the procedures of the House. He should appreciate that the Government are doing precisely that by not implementing Standing Orders and forming a Scottish Select Committee. In the hon. Gentleman's own language, the pass has already been sold.
This is a major measure that will affect every man, woman and child, because of the nature of local government services, and every local authority throughout the length and breadth of the land. Therefore, it is incredible that the Government advocate the minimum amount of discussion rather than the maximum amount of scrutiny of the measure. The last occasion when similar arguments were put forward about curtailing the debate on local government finance was when the Government introduced the poll tax. They got it wrong then; they have got it wrong now.
The Leader of the House described the Bill as fair, balanced and a carefully thought out approach, based on experience. Actual experience amounted to rushing 1037 through the poll tax legislation, which was an absolute disaster. The Government made a hash of it then by adopting these tactics. They are repeating the same mistakes now. The Leader of the House was clearly flustered and unable to explain the timetable and the Government's real reasons for acting in this fashion. With Christmas approaching, this measure is being rushed through the House as quickly as possible—the very opposite of cool, clear consideration of a fundamental measure that will affect everybody in the land.
§ Mr. Marlow
These are important issues and I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. How does he react to the fact that the legislation on the poll tax and the legislation on this Bill will probably take up about ten times as much parliamentary time as the legislation that comes out of Maastricht, which is probably 10 to a hundred times more important than these very important issues?
§ Mr. Welsh
This is a massively important issue that deserves the closest scrutiny. As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I find it ironic that important Scottish measures are lumped in here, at the back of what is basically an English Bill. It is intolerable and unacceptable that my country should be treated in this way by the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Maxton
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I, too, find intolerable the way that Scotland is being treated, due to the fact that there is no separate Bill for Scotland. However, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends opposed the poll tax on the basis of a non-payment campaign in Scotland. They withdrew from the non-payment campaign on the day that the Government announced that they would introduce the council tax. In other words, they withdrew their opposition to the poll tax on the basis of the council tax. I do not understand, therefore, why they oppose this measure.
§ Mr. Welsh
I can understand the hon. Gentleman's confusion, because his party is thoroughly confused on this issue and has backslided at every opportunity in carrying out the behest of a Tory Government. My party's stand has been absolutely clear. As a result of the campaign that we fought we not only defeated the poll tax but we brought the Government out. If the hon. Gentleman looks at his own party's record, he will find that it is not one of which he can be proud.
By means of the guillotine motion the Government seek to curtail debate and scrutiny as they throw their second attempt at local government finance reform at us. I want the poll tax to be abolished and thrown where it deserves to be—on the scrapheap of history—but its replacement has to be better scrutinised than this. Local government finance is to be fundamentally altered by the ridiculous procedure of a rushed guillotine timetable. The Government got it totally wrong last time. I have absolutely no confidence that they will not get it equally wrong this time.
The Government had no mandate to introduce the poll tax, and they have no mandate for this Bill or for the guillotine. The Scots have rejected the Conservatives in opinion polls and at elections, yet this new tax is to be imposed without proper discussion. This so-called 1038 listening Government seem to be amazingly deaf when it comes to by-elections, but the people of Scotland, and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, are telling the Government exactly how they feel about measures such as this.
I find it even more ludicrous that this situation should arise as the Government's power wanes at the tail end of a Parliament. They are determined to squeeze the last ounce out of their waning power and are frightened to face the people to get a new mandate. When that day arrives I am sure that they will not get a mandate.
If we allow this timetable to happen, it is not democracy in any shape or form; it is simply a large majority being forced through by a whipping system, irrespective of how the people feel.
This legislation is typical of the unrepresentative nature of the House when dealing with Scottish matters. Scottish clauses are being lumped on to legislation that is basically English, with minimal time for scrutiny. It is not good enough and it is certainly no way to run my country.
Past mistakes are being repeated and if the Government had any sense they would realise what they are doing. They are lumbering on without learning from what they have done. In Scotland they tried to change local government structure massively by altering it before they altered national Government. Sensible reconstruction of local authorities in Scotland can take place only once the national parliamentary situation has been sorted out.
Similarly, the Government got local government finance wrong with the poll tax. Now the self-same Tory Gadarene swine are rushing towards an unworkable council tax. The Government should have learnt. The poll tax was thrown through without proper scrutiny or discussion and the council tax is being treated in exactly the same way. In the case of the poll tax the result was that the Government put an immense burden on to local authorities, which could not cope with an unworkable, uncollectable and vastly unfair taxation system. I have no faith that the Government have learnt their lesson and will get it right this time. This is simply a Government panic. Here we go again—half baked, poorly scrutinised, guillotined legislation is being churned out against the wishes of the people.
Local authorities are reeling under the effects of the ghastly poll tax. They are telling the Government that the council tax is unworkable and badly conceived but, once again, they are not being heard. In spite of that, the tax will be speeded through Parliament and through the local authorities in the same pathetic way that gave us the poll tax fiasco.
When Scotland needs to be protected against ill-thought-out and totally inappropriate legislation, tonight's guillotine does entirely the opposite. If anything, it illustrates the need for a Scottish Parliament, where we could consider the real needs of our country in the required detail and produce appropriate and workable legislation. The House cannot do that.
This legislation is being produced by a House of Commons that is prepared to ignore its Standing Orders and will not set up a Select Committee for Scotland. The tax is perfect material for consideration by such a Committee, or surely we could send the Scottish clauses to the Scottish Grand Committee to be debated thoroughly and be given more time, or a Commission could consider 1039 it. However, none of that is happening because of the Government's procedure which is producing minimum scrutiny of this legislation.
The only guillotine that counts is the one that will soon fall on the Government, when they are at last forced to meet the people, and to face up to their responsibilities and past actions at the next general election. Tonight's action—using Whips and their majority and stopping scrutiny—does not stop criticism, nor does it stop the Government from again making fundamental and costly mistakes. If they will not listen to us, perhaps they will listen to some of their Back Benchers, who are telling them where they are going wrong.
The amendment tabled by the Scottish National party was not selected but we are certainly against a council tax Bill which does not base the level of taxation cm the fundamental principle of ability to pay, which perpetuates the bureaucratic expense and the complexities of the poll tax and which does not abolish the basic minimum 20 per cent. charge levied on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. The council tax continues that section of the law on diligence in Scotland that allows the continuance of warrant sales, which are abhorrent to modern democracy.
The Government are again making fundamental and unnecessary mistakes. The guillotine shows that in their dying days they are intent on not listening to the people, but the day of reckoning is fast approaching and I look forward to it.
§ 1 am
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Tonight the Leader of the House, whose arguments are normally replete with Scottish intellectual rigour, was unusually laid back, almost blasé, in his proposal of this guillotine motion. He said that the guillotine was a normal procedure and went on to adduce the argument that it was in line with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure. The Government, by use of the payroll, voted down those recommendations. It would have been more appropriate for him to use that argument had he first tabled a motion and sought consensus across the House and our approval of those recommendations. Indeed, he departed from his usual good-humoured, earnest desire to please and his main intent seemed to be to get this embarrassing, awkward business out of the way as soon as possible.
I did not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. After all, it is, if one dares use the metaphor, the flagship of this parliamentary Session. Moreover, the previous flagship, the poll tax, was launched with its torpedo tubes open. We do not want to repeat that performance. We need to learn from the mistake of the passage of the poll tax into legislation without appropriate consideration.
The Bill has 117 clauses and 14 schedules. I very much doubt whether they can be properly considered within the timetable laid down. The poll tax legislation had 19 days in Standing Committee. This Bill has but nine and it is certainly no less complicated. Indeed, experts on local government on both sides have said that local government finance is perhaps the most complicated subject that we have to address in the House of Commons. If it is so complicated, most of us who are neophytes or certainly relatively inexpert will need proper time to address the matter sensibly.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the poll tax legislation had about twice the length of time in Standing Committee as this Bill will have. Moreover, the Scottish Bill preceded it, so the Government had the opportunity of a learning curve, yet still they managed to make an unholy mess of it.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The hon. Lady makes her arguments in her own way and they are relevant.
Not only are we to have but nine days in Standing Committee, but we are to have only two for Report and Third Reading. I take it also from the reluctance of the Leader of the House to spell out how much time there will be between Committee and Report that the period will be relatively short.
On Report those of us who were not members of the Standing Committee will have only a short time in which to deal with the serious issues raised in that Committee and, perhaps more significantly, with those that have been brought to our attention in the brief interval between the Committee stage and Report.
We are assured that the council tax will be fairer. I wonder whether people outside will consider it to be fairer if it has not been considered properly. Their experience with the poll tax was a painful one and that tax was not considered properly.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Might the explanation for the Government's haste simply be that they have no confidence that the House could ever improve a piece of legislation that comes from the draftsmen?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I do not believe that to be the case. The real reason is that given by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House. I wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team well with the Bill and the last thing that I want to do is to make their task more difficult. The reason for the haste is that the Government must allow sufficient time for the Bill to he implemented in 1 April 1993. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House says that that date is the first and last day for implementation—the alpha and the omega. I hope that it is not the dies irae for the British people.
I am not sure that the precedents are wholly reassuring. In the previous Session we had a guillotine on the Dangerous Dogs Bill—I acknowledge that it was before the Second Reading—and a guillotine on the Community Charges (General Reduction) Bill. Perhaps of more significance is the guillotine, again after Second Reading, that was placed on the Counter Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill—the incomes policy legislation—in the 1972–73 Session. That Bill proved fatal for the Administration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). In the 1977–78 Session we had a post-Second Reading guillotine on the Wales and Scotland Bills, the devolution measures, which was fatal for the Administration of Lord Callaghan.
I hope that my right hon. Friends will think again. I was not seeking to be reactionary when I said that our old procedures have some merit. I argued in favour of front loading—for more time, which is the normal state of affairs—for the earlier clauses of the Bill even if we have to face a guillotine on the later clauses.
Clause 5, which relates to banding in England and Wales, and clause 74, which relates to banding in Scotland, are to be taken together with other clauses in two days. I 1041 know that the sittings may go late, but that does not necessarily mean that the difficult subject of banding and how to secure equity will be addressed sufficiently in the time available.
I know that my constituents, if they are in band E or above—that is nearly all of them—will pay more under the council tax than they do under the poll tax. It is proposed that clause 11 and the other discount provisions relating to single people living alone—perhaps retired people and single parents—shall be discussed in only two days. I also question whether that will prove sufficient time.
With the best will in the world I wish the measure success and hope that the council tax proves fair. No legislation could be riddled with more inconsistencies than the old poll tax and I appreciate that need for its abolition. But the guillotine which is proposed is a bad precedent for the House and I doubt whether such a tight timetable will give our constituents confidence in the Bill. Although I voted in a positive spirit for the Second Reading, I cannot vote for the timetable motion tonight.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
The poll tax was introduced because at a conference the Prime Minister, shooting from the hip, decided to get rid of the hated rates. When the poll tax measure was in Committee, objections were raised by Opposition and Conservative Members. The Government decided that no Opposition, and few Conservative, amendments would be accepted. The result was the poll tax mess that we predicted would occur.
Almost the same thing is happening with the council tax. The Government promised to get rid of the poll tax in the way that they promised to dispose of the old rating system. The result is this pig's ear of a Bill, which is being rushed through. Normally, a guillotine is introduced after parts of a measure have been debated in Committee, with the understanding of both sides of the House and with both sides agreeing on the clauses that should be debated in the time available.
When any measure is debated in Committee, the Opposition rely on advice from various outside bodies. When we debated the poll tax in Committee, hon. Members on both sides put forward constructive arguments, our constituents having made representations. The timetable motion as proposed will not permit that to happen, even though the Leader of the House said that we could sit through the night, every night.
If we are to debate the council tax on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the night, how shall we be able, with such a continuous performance, to take advice from interested parties and at the same time represent the interests of our constituents? In other words, the Government are not allowing hon. Members to pursue their duties on behalf of their constituents. It is no ordinary Bill. It will affect every citizen. We shall not have time adequately to represent the wishes of our constituents.
In the poll tax debates my hon. Friends and I were accused of wanting to retain the rating system. Time and again the Government quoted stories about little old ladies paying more rates than others. I asked the treasurer of my local authority what would happen under the council tax 1042 system and discovered that everyone, even the little old ladies, would pay twice as much, even four or five times more than, as they are paying in poll tax. Had the rating system been in force, 70 per cent. of my constituents would have paid less.
Some of those aspects should be reflected in the Bill, but we shall not have the time. Because of the interest in the Bill, which affects all hon. Members and their constituents, hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will want to enter the debate. Normally, before a Bill is guillotined the Government ask their side to be quiet so that they can get the Bill through, but once a Committee debate is guillotined, the Bill starts to go through. The normal time element for opposition to a Bill does not exist purely because Conservative Members, quite rightly, want to take their full time, knowing that the guillotine rather than the normal channels will stop the debate.
I am also concerned that a precedent is being created. People will not forget how the House has been treated. I am afraid—I hope that it will not happen—that other Ministers will take a cue from the Secretary of the State for the Environment and guillotine Bills before they reach their Committee stage. I hope that a Labour Government will not use this precedent when introducing their legislation because it is against democracy. People look to this place to be democratic and they will judge how the House has been treated. That, in turn, is how people outside are treated—by not having their views fully explained.
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)
There were few apologists for this measure in the debate—I counted perhaps one and a half. That is hardly surprising, given the draconian nature of the guillotine and the weak and unconvincing case that the Leader of the House made in its support.
The motion leaves the House and the Committee bound and gagged. It denies the Opposition their proper role and prevents proper debate of this important measure. Moreover, it reduces to vanishing point the chance of properly scrutinising the Bill.
The debate has not been about the principle of automatically timetabling legislation, although an interesting debate could be had on that question, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) said. Rather, the debate is about the precise measure, which does not just truncate debate or structure it to suit the Government, but compresses that debate into just nine days, and those nine days into a total period of just 16 days. That compression damages the proper process of the House and makes the Committee's work impossible. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) in an intervention.
People outside the House may not fully understand our objections. They may think that we are objecting to long hours and hard work—far from it. Hon. Members should know that, if a Committee is to do its work properly, its members need time to think, consider and respond to Ministers. We need time to draft amendments and prepare the arguments. Above all, we need time to consult outside interests and organisations that have views to express, as well as time to deliver speeches and conduct the debates. 1043 That is to say nothing of the time that will undoubtedly be taken by Government amendments because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) pointed out, the poll tax Bill was substantially amended by the Government. Indeed, that is one of the bad habits that the Government have got into. Not only have they formed the habit of introducing guillotine motions—26 since they took office in 1979 and 13 in a single Session—but they have also fallen into the bad habit of introducing literally hundreds of amendments to their own badly drafted Bills.
The motion shows a complete misunderstanding of one of Parliament's major roles—a point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). One of the functions of the House is to act as a sounding board, a public forum and a means by which debate can inform the public who can then influence the debate. Unless we have time for that process, the hon. Gentleman is surely right. He described a difficult issue in a delicate and sensitive manner—the baleful way in which the poll tax has reduced respect for the law. That respect can hardly be increased if the successor to the poll tax is yet again rushed through the House without proper debate.
Why is the measure being advanced——
§ Mr. Gould
No, I am sorry, but we are short of time. As many hon. Members have said, a guillotine motion is usually introduced in response to delaying tactics from the Opposition which have resulted in a failure to achieve reasonable progress. However, that is not the case with this measure. There has been no opportunity for delay as today and yesterday are the first two days of proper debate of the issue in this Session of Parliament. There has certainly been no opportunity for the Opposition to delay matters; the guillotine motion was prepared and programmed long before Second Reading.
It cannot be argued that the Government are forestalling what they fear might be delaying tactics. The Opposition have always made it clear—and I say it again directly and with all the sincerity that I can command—that the Opposition have no interest in filibustering. We have always made it clear that we would be prepared to consider and talk to the Government about a reasonable timetable that would not jeopardise the Bill's passage. The Opposition have never been given the chance to discuss those subjects with the Government. We were simply told of the timetable peremptorily and unilaterally, and informed that it would be enforced by guillotine.
As the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for the Environment have to their discredit sometimes tried to pretend, Ministers might wish to make themselves buffoons by suggesting that the Opposition want to keep the poll tax. I do not believe that anybody could seriously believe such a ridiculous assertion, but it does nothing for an already disreputable measure when Ministers take refuge in such patent and ludicrous dishonesty.
The Government's next excuse is that it is necessary to truncate debate to meet the timetable required to get rid of the poll tax. If that were true—I do not believe that it is—it would be nothing more than the Government yet again entering a plea of guilty. Who created the need to act so quickly and in a manner which abuses the House? The Government who created the poll tax are now in a panic to dissociate themselves from the measure. They turned down the most direct and sensible way to get rid of the poll 1044 tax on a reasonable timetable. The Government saddled themselves with the timetable and the need to abuse the procedure of the House as they now propose.
It is not true that there is a need for speed on the Bill if the 1993 timetable is to be adhered to. All the local government experts agree that that goal is virtually unattainable, but the obstacles to it have nothing to do with the legislation; they have to do with the administrative burdens now borne by local government. Those problems include having to deal with the dying days of the poll tax and, as the Prime Minister says, having to collect an uncollectable tax. The difficulties relate to setting budgets and responding to capping levels which have not yet been announced. If the Government are sensitive to the needs of local government, why have they delayed making those announcements and thus increased the problems facing local government treasurers? The delays relate to the difficulties in preparing the necessary software highlighted by the software companies and to the new valuation registers—matters which are certainly not dependent on the Bill. The delays also relate to the preparation of lists, whether or not they are called registers or are required under the Bill.
Given the doubts and the difficulties, it is little wonder that there is a real question whether the 1993 date can be met. But none of that is relevant to the case for forcing through this Bill. The real reason for the unseemly haste, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) pointed out, is the Government's electoral timetable. They dare not face the electorate without this Bill on the statute book. It matters not whether it is implemented, or whether there are lengthy delays. Just in case the Government should, one of these days, summon up the nerve to face the electorate, perhaps in March or April, they have to have the decks cleared and this measure enacted into law. That is why this ridiculous timetable is being forced on us.
Another and even less reputable reason for the haste is that the Government know full well—there has been ample evidence of it already—that if the House is allowed to do its job properly, there will be time for proper debate and time for concern in the country to grow—for knowledge about the Government's proposals to spread, for public fears to find their expression, for hon. Members to understand their constituents' problems, for responses to be made to the excuses and explanations offered by Ministers. The haste is just as much to gag Conservative Members as to gag the Opposition.
This is a breathtaking piece of irresponsibility. What was it that went wrong with the poll tax? Surely no one now defends the poll tax, or pretends that it was anything other than an unmitigated disaster—for local government, for millions of people and families, and for respect for the law. Have Conservative Members forgotten all the confident and optimistic predictions made about the poll tax—those blithe assurances, the refusal to listen, the arrogant sweeping away of objections, the scorning of the doubters, the pressure put on the rebels; and then, as the true scale of the disaster became apparent, the gradual wringing out of concessions, the prices paid to buy off the Opposition, the late changes rushed through, the chaos that ensued, the billions of pounds thrown at the problem, the political upheaval which did for a Prime Minister and brought about a change of leadership in the Conservative party? Have Conservative Members learnt nothing from all that? Are they prepared to go through it all again, 1045 accepting the assurances, blocking their ears, listening to no criticisms? I cannot believe so. Surely they will not accept all those assurances and predictions again.
There can be no excuses this time, no pleas of innocence. Conservative Members will not be forgiven if they allow through yet another hastily prepared, ill-thought-out, disastrously applied piece of legislation. Yet that is the risk that we probably now run. To those with any regard for good government, this measure is a disgrace. It will shame all who vote for it. There is an increasingly notorious offence which I understand is called ram-raiding. This measure is certainly an example of ram-raiding. There is only one defence against this sort of action by a Government. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should do their job and meet their responsibilities. I ask them to do precisely that.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. Michael Portillo)
During the debate, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) referred, not unkindly, to my junior position in the Government. I hope that I approach the debate with due humility, given that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and two former Leaders of the House have contributed to it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) led us into consideration of questions such as whether Bills should be timetabled from the outset; and, if so, whether such decisions should be in the hands of the Government or of a Select Committee. He was right to raise those weighty issues, although they are not issues on which I wish to give an opinion now. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) reminded us more than once that we should speak to the motion.
The House was privileged to hear from the "Big Daddy" of the guillotine motion, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. No debate on such a motion is complete without him. Like the Flying Dutchman, condemned for ever to roam the world's oceans, the right hon. Gentleman is condemned for ever to attend debates on guillotine motions in an attempt to expiate his past sins in that area. I listened with great attention to the right hon. Gentleman and agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) that it was a most disappointing experience. His reasons for using the guillotine in the past, which were appropriate at the time but are inappropriate now, were apparently that Labour legislation was very good and his guillotine motions showed the requisite democratic reticence. The House found that an unconvincing explanation.
We have spent three days debating the council tax. The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) made a shaky start by saying that the first of those days, during the debate on the Gracious Speech, was before the Bill was published. That is wrong because the Bill and the Local Government Bill were published before that. During those three days the Labour party engaged in a great struggle to get people to fill the Opposition Benches and to speak. It has been an exhausting experience for the Opposition, who, although they imposed a three-line Whip, have not been able to keep the House on their side. Many Opposition Members who will obey the three-line Whip 1046 and vote against the motion will do so with a heavy heart. That is because they believe that the correct way for the House to organise its procedures is to have a timetable motion from the beginning.
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman's intervention gives away the identity of at least one hon. Member who agrees with that view.
§ Mr. Budgen
Surely that is a proper attitude for a Labour politician. Labour believes in legislation, in plenty of state intervention in everybody's affairs. Generally speaking, that is not the attitude of Tories.
§ Mr. Portillo
I was asked to concentrate on the motion and the Bill and that is what I intend to do. I want the Bill to be properly debated. It was breathtaking to be told by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) that we should have approached the Opposition to see whether we could negotiate a deal. I did that and was told straight away that no deal was possible. I would not normally reveal such matters, and do so only because the hon. Member for Dagenham, who was not present at the discussions, was nevertheless involved in putting out a press release after the discussions. No deal was available and we are proceeding with the guillotine.
§ Dr Cunningham
I am reluctant to intervene, but I cannot allow the Minister to get away with that. He is misleading the House.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I am sure that even at this late hour the hon. Gentleman will wish to withdraw that.
§ Dr Cunningham
I withdraw my comment about misleading the House. The Minister is not being candid with the House. Neither the Minister nor the Leader of the House made any attempt, nor was an attempt made through the usual channels, to hold any serious discussions about the passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman is not being candid. My version of events is that the Labour party said from the outset that it would be unable to negotiate a deal. The hon. Member for Dagenham was not there, so he cannot comment on it. I do not blame the Labour party for not being able to reach a deal with us on that. However, the hon. Member for Dagenham should not say that there was no effort to do a deal. There was an offer of a deal, but I understand why the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) could not accept it.
§ Mr. Blunkett
It is important that we get the facts on the record. I have a simple question for the Minister: is it true that the Government said that, whatever the deal might be, they intended to get the Bill through the House by Christmas?
§ Mr. Portillo
Yes, and that is our absolute intention.
We have been addressing two audiences throughout the debate—the outside audience, whom the Opposition want to convince that this is a shock horror experience, and the audience in the House. It is known in the House that the reality is a choice between many hours in Committee characterised by filibuster and slow progress, and a number of hours in Committee in which we make reasonable progress.
1047 My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverharnpton, South-West said that there were three guillotines between 1945 and 1951 and 13 in 1988. That tells me much more about the behaviour of Oppositions than about the behaviour of Governments. It would not have been possible for the Government of 1945–51 to get through the legislation if they had faced the delaying tactics that have characterised the progress of Bills in the past 11 to 12 years.
For example, in 1988, the Local Government Finance Bill was going through its stages in the House. After 61 hours in Committee, only 16 clauses had been considered. Consequently, the other 115 clauses had to be handled in 62 hours. After 58 hours in Committee, only nine clauses of the Water Bill had been considered. Consequently, the other 171 clauses had to be considered in 61 hours. Only five clauses of the Football Spectators Bill had been considered before the guillotine was introduced. Although I am sure that he did not intend it, it sounded as though my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was saying, "Never mind the quality, feel the width." What matters is not how long we spend in Committee, so that we can report those hours to people outside, but what we achieve in that time.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I was struck by the Minister's litany of the hours kept by the Committee considering the Local Government Finance Bill because I served on the Committee. Before the guillotine motion, the longest speech in those proceedings was by the then Minister of State.
§ Mr. Portillo
If the Minister spoke for two hours, that means that in the other 59 hours the Committee considered 16 clauses, so the hon. Gentleman's intervention does not alter my point.
The timetable has been organised in such a way that the divisions in the debate—knives as we call them—fall in places that allow the most time in debate to be given to the most contentious issues. Furthermore, the divisions will allow the Scottish points to be taken with their English equivalent so that we can have a single debate on common issues.
§ Mr. Portillo
Let me finish my point. One of the great advantages of this method of proceeding is that we can guarantee a debate about Scottish questions. We do not risk, as we would have done if we had handled the Bill in any other way, leaving those matters which come at the end of the Bill—as the Scottish provisions do—not to be debated fully. As a result of the way in which the knives fall, all the Scottish provisions can be thoroughly debated, although they will not be debated separately.
§ Mr. Portillo
Three weeks is not a long time to debate a Bill, but the number of hours that we can devote to the Bill during that period will be perfectly adequate.
§ Mr. Maxton
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a Minister to lay down to the House how the Chairman of the Committee that has been established will decide how the debates in Committee will take place? That is what the Minister has told us.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Barracking the Minister is not benefiting the debate. The House should listen to what the Minister has to say in the last few minutes of the debate.
§ Mr. Portillo
I am convinced that we shall have adequate time to discuss the Bill and that because we have organised the time and allocated it we shall have a higher quality of debate. More issues will be debated fully and the Bill will be better scrutinised than many of the measures that have been cited as precedents. I believe that the public want us to get on with abolishing the community charge and replacing it with the council tax. We owe them that and I think that the House should approve the guillotine motion.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 293, Noes 233.1051
|Division No. 6]||[1.40 am|
|Adley, Robert||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Cormack, Patrick|
|Alexander, Richard||Couchman, James|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Cran, James|
|Allason, Rupert||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Amess, David||Curry, David|
|Amos, Alan||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas||Day, Stephen|
|Ashby, David||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Dicks, Terry|
|Atkinson, David||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Dover, Den|
|Baldry, Tony||Dunn, Bob|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Batiste, Spencer||Dykes, Hugh|
|Bellingham, Henry||Eggar, Tim|
|Bendall, Vivian||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Benyon, W.||Evennett, David|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Fallon, Michael|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Favell, Tony|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Body, Sir Richard||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Boswell, Tim||Forth, Eric|
|Bottomley, Peter||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Franks, Cecil|
|Bowis, John||Freeman, Roger|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||French, Douglas|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Fry, Peter|
|Brazier, Julian||Gale, Roger|
|Bright, Graham||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Gill, Christopher|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Glyn, Dr Sir Alan|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Burns, Simon||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Burt, Alistair||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Butterfill, John||Gorst, John|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Cash, William||Gregory, Conal|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Grist, Ian|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Grylls, Michael|
|Chapman, Sydney||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Chope, Christopher||Hague, William|
|Churchill, Mr||Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie|
|Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Clark, Rt Hon Sir William||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hannam, John|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Harris, David||Neale, Sir Gerrard|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Hayes, Jerry||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hayward, Robert||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Norris, Steve|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hill, James||Page, Richard|
|Hind, Kenneth||Paice, James|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Patnick, Irvine|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Portillo, Michael|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David||Price, Sir David|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy|
|Irvine, Michael||Redwood, John|
|Jack, Michael||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Jackson, Robert||Rhodes James, Sir Robert|
|Janman, Tim||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Jessel, Toby||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Kilfedder, James||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Rost, Peter|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Knapman, Roger||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Knowles, Michael||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Knox, David||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Latham, Michael||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shelton, Sir William|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Shersby, Michael|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Sims, Roger|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lord, Michael||Speed, Keith|
|Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard||Speller, Tony|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Squire, Robin|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Maclean, David||Steen, Anthony|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stern, Michael|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Stevens, Lewis|
|Madel, David||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Mans, Keith||Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Maples, John||Stokes, Sir John|
|Marland, Paul||Sumberg, David|
|Marlow, Tony||Summerson, Hugo|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Mates, Michael||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thorne, Neil|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Thurnham, Peter|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Miller, Sir Hal||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Mills, Iain||Tracey, Richard|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Tredinnick, David|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Trippier, David|
|Mitchell, Sir David||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Moate, Roger||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Viggers, Peter|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Morris, M (N'hampton S)||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Walden, George|
|Moynihan, Hon Colin||Walker, Bill (T'slde North)|
|Waller, Gary||Wolfson, Mark|
|Walters, Sir Dennis||Wood, Timothy|
|Ward, John||Woodcock, Dr. Mike|
|Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)||Yeo, Tim|
|Warren, Kenneth||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Watts, John||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Widdecombe, Ann||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wiggin, Jerry||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Wilshire, David||Mr. John M. Taylor.|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.)||Eadie, Alexander|
|Allen, Graham||Edwards, Huw|
|Alton, David||Enright, Derek|
|Anderson, Donald||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Fatchett, Derek|
|Ashton, Joe||Faulds, Andrew|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Fearn, Ronald|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)|
|Barron, Kevin||Fisher, Mark|
|Battle, John||Flannery, Martin|
|Beckett, Margaret||Flynn, Paul|
|Beith, A. J.||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bell, Stuart||Foster, Derek|
|Bellotti, David||Foulkes, George|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Fraser, John|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Benton, Joseph||Galbraith, Sam|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Galloway, George|
|Blair, Tony||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Blunkett, David||George, Bruce|
|Boateng, Paul||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Boyes, Roland||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Bradley, Keith||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Gordon, Mildred|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Gould, Bryan|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Graham, Thomas|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Caborn, Richard||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Callaghan, Jim||Grocott, Bruce|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Hain, Peter|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Hardy, Peter|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Haynes, Frank|
|Carr, Michael||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Cartwright, John||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Henderson, Doug|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Hinchliffe, David|
|Clay, Bob||Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)|
|Clelland, David||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Cohen, Harry||Home Robertson, John|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Hood, Jimmy|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Corbett, Robin||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Howells, Geraint|
|Cousins, Jim||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Cox, Tom||Hoyle, Doug|
|Crowther, Stan||Hughes, John (Coventry NE)|
|Cryer, Bob||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Cummings, John||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Illsley, Eric|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Ingram, Adam|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Darling, Alistair||Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Kennedy, Charles|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)||Kumar, Ashok|
|Dewar, Donald||Lambie, David|
|Dixon, Don||Lamond, James|
|Dobson, Frank||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Doran, Frank||Lewis, Terry|
|Douglas, Dick||Litherland, Robert|
|Duffy, Sir A. E. P.||Livingstone, Ken|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Livsey, Richard|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Redmond, Martin|
|Loyden, Eddie||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|McAllion, John||Reid, Dr John|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Richardson, Jo|
|McCartney, Ian||Robertson, George|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|McFall, John||Rogers, Allan|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Rooker, Jeff|
|McKelvey, William||Rooney, Terence|
|McLeish, Henry||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|McMaster, Gordon||Ruddock, Joan|
|McNamara, Kevin||Salmond, Alex|
|McWilliam, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Madden, Max||Sheerman, Barry|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Marek, Dr John||Short, Clare|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Martlew, Eric||Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)|
|Maxton, John||Soley, Clive|
|Meacher, Michael||Spearing, Nigel|
|Meale, Alan||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Michael, Alun||Stephen, Nicol|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Stott, Roger|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'I & Bute)||Strang, Gavin|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Straw, Jack|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Morley, Elliot||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Turner, Dennis|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Vaz, Keith|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Wallace, James|
|Mullin, Chris||Walley, Joan|
|Murphy, Paul||Warden, Gareth (Gower)|
|Nellist, Dave||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)|
|O'Brien, William||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|O'Hara, Edward||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|O'Neill, Martin||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Wilson, Brian|
|Parry, Robert||Winnick, David|
|Patchett, Terry||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Pendry, Tom||Worthington, Tony|
|Pike, Peter L.||Wray, Jimmy|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Mr. Ken Eastham and Mr. Martyn Jones.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.