§ 7.—(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) No debate shall be. permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and the Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.
§ I see no need to detain the House with a speech of great length. In a sense, I need hardly say that I regret having to introduce the motion, since there is no doubt that had we been met with a sensible approach by the Opposition, the Bill could have been dealt with readily in a day, as we had hoped. Nevertheless, I make no apology for moving the motion, because yesterday's performance and, indeed, the Opposition's current stance on all Government business have made it quite clear that their intention is simply to bring about difficulty and delay.
§ Had we proceeded as we had originally hoped, we should simply have had a long and boring night of tedious and repetitious speeches in Committee to follow a long and boring day of tedious and repetitious speeches on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Cryer
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it true that the judgment on the conduct of the House is in the hands of the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers? On no occasion yesterday was any hon. Member pulled up for tedious repetition. If the right hon. Gentleman is trying to suggest that the guidance in "Erskine May" was breached, he is reflecting on the conduct of the Chair.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
There is a range of tediousness. The Chair only rules on that which is particularly tedious and repetitious.
§ Mr. Newton
I am grateful for that clarification, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Comparisons with the two previous Non-Domestic Rating Bills, which are similar to the Bill before us, are instructive. The one that followed the March 1992 Budget took 98 minutes to complete its Second Reading and a further 98 minutes to complete its remaining stage—a total of just more than three hours. The second Bill, which followed the March 1993 Budget, took two and a half hours to complete its Second Reading and 20 minutes to complete its remaining stages—just under three hours.
So far, we have had five and a half hours' debate on the current Bill, and, given that we started today's debate at just after 5 o'clock, we have another five hours to debate its various stages. That means that the Bill will be subject to more than 10 hours of debate—three and a half times more than was required by either of the previous Bills. I do not believe that the charge of unreasonable behaviour against the Government can stand up.
367 The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is not in his place at the moment, but the comparison that he drew yesterday with the previous Bills does not stand up. He suggested that, because those Bills, which had arisen from March Budgets, were not introduced until after the financial year had started, greater urgency was attached to them. We could have argued it in those terms, but we did not, because exactly the opposite is the case. Once the financial year has started, before it is conceivably possible to implement a proposal, rebilling will take place anyway. As a result of the autumn Budget this year, if we proceed rapidly, local authorities will be in a position to do all the work at once and send out the right bills before the financial year starts. It is entirely sensible, reasonable and desirable that that should be achieved.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) sought at the end of our exchanges last night to make a similar point to that raised by her hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, but she obviously had not taken full account of the consequences of the change in Budget timing.
Against that background, I do not believe that it would have been reasonable to allow the Opposition to inflict unnecessary inconvenience on the House. Equally, I do not believe that it would have been reasonable to allow the consequences of the further delay, so clearly sought by the Opposition, to be inflicted on local authorities and the business community.
The motion provides for the remaining stages of the Bill to be completed by 10 o'clock tonight. The form of it means that the Opposition can readily give themselves more time for what they say they need to discuss. All they need to do is to guillotine their speeches on the motion and they will then have more time for discussion on the Bill.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Does the Leader of the House recognise that he has a responsibility other than that of just being a Cabinet Minister? He is supposed to be the Leader of the House of Commons. Is he not aware of the general feeling that the House is being treated shamefully by the Government not simply on the Bill, but on other matters and that that has led to the present non-co-operation through the official channels?
Does the right hon. Gentleman not believe that he has a responsibility to try to mend fences? Given the shameful and contemptible way in which the Government have treated the House in the past few months, is it any wonder that delays such as that experienced last night take place?
§ Mr. Newton
I may touch on one aspect of the hon. Gentleman's question later. I do not believe, however, almost by definition, that the House is being treated in a shameful fashion. I do not believe that any Conservative Member believes that and, to be absolutely frank, there are an awful lot of Opposition Members who do not believe that either. They want a more sensible approach to be adopted to the management of business than the Opposition are allowing.
Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Planning set out the case for the Bill with admirable clarity on Second Reading. He dealt in detail with the scheme contained in it and described its benefit for many businesses. He also set out clearly the advantages of early enactment.
368 For my part, I emphasised to the House on 16 December, when I announced the business for yesterday, that the early passage of the Bill would be advantageous to local authorities and business rate payers both in giving good notice of the level of business rates for the next financial year and ensuring that authorities do not have to send out two sets of bills for the same year.
It is not a contentious measure, despite yesterday's attempt to pretend otherwise. It is not inherently complex, despite the extensive textual quotations that the hon. Member for Blackburn spun out in his speech yesterday. The House could have dealt with it in a day without difficulty, to the benefit of ratepayers and local authorities alike. It now needs to be carried through in an organised, orderly and sensible way. The motion allows exactly that to happen.
I now come back to the point that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) raised a few moments ago. I think that he used a phrase about mending fences. I acknowledge that it was perhaps significant that, in her remarks last night, the right hon. Lady the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) made no suggestion that there had been no attempt to come to an understanding about the Bill. It cannot be said that we got to this position in some dictatorial way without trying to reach an understanding.
I wrote to the right hon. Lady on 15 December, in a way that I took to be, and certainly intended to be, both reasonable and conciliatory. I set out the case for the Bill. I set out the reasons for wanting to pass it with reasonable speed. I said that it was hard to see why this Bill should require more time than previous similar Bills or why the Opposition should want to cause difficulties for local government and the business community by delayed enactment.
I made it clear that our judgment was that that could best be achieved by carrying through all the Commons proceedings yesterday so that the Lords could consider it and it could receive Royal Assent by February, in good time for the issue of rate bills in early March. I concluded by saying that I should be most grateful to know whether that would be acceptable to the right hon. Lady and, if so, whether we could be assured of her party's co-operation.
I make no complaint about the fact that I have not had a formal reply, because the right hon. Lady conveyed her response in another way. I can say only that that could best be described as a clear indication that there was no scope for any understanding of that—or any other—kind or for discussions on how to handle the Bill. So far as I am concerned, it is up to the Opposition to decide whether they want to deal with business in the House in that way. We, as the Government, have to get on with the business. On that I rest my case and commend the motion to the House.
§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
The overriding purpose of Parliament is to hold the Government to account; to make the Government justify and explain their actions and intentions, not for the convenience or interest of Members of Parliament, but on behalf of the people by whom we are elected and for whom we are sent here to exercise our responsibilities. That is why we are here.
Today, not for the first time in recent weeks, the Lord President referred to debates that have taken place in the House as "yesterday's performance". Let me remind the 369 House what yesterday's performance was. It was Members of Parliament making perfectly reasonable legitimate speeches on an item of Government legislation.
The Government are fast reaching the stage where they do not think that anybody should scrutinise any legislation that they introduce, and that we should all simply touch our forelocks and say, "Yes, guy" and let it go through on the nod. That is not why we are here, and any Member who thinks that is reaching the stage of being unfit to hold office and be a Member of the House.
I sometimes think that it is difficult during these debates, because the superlatives have so often been used before. I shall say to the Lord President in all honesty that, looking at today's proceedings, I believe that it is possibly the most dangerous guillotine that we have had before the House, certainly in years here, for one simple reason: it is the most pointless. There is no need for it. The Lord President knows that. The Government are playing games, and in so doing they are setting a dangerous precedent.
The Opposition may be dissatisfied when a Government, of whatever political shade, introduce a guillotine, but hon. Members can normally see why it has been introduced. Usually—indeed, I cannot recall a previous precedent—that reason has been self-evidently connected in one way or another with the legislation under discussion.
That connection, the purpose of the guillotine, might be thought by the Opposition to be deplorable, but it has always—to my recollection—been serious. I can discern no purpose in this guillotine whatever. I remind the House that the Government chose to curtail the debate at 10 o'clock last night. They did not choose to continue with it, as they easily could have done, just as they chose to rise early for the Christmas recess and come back slightly later than has often been the norm.
The only conceivable, even political, purpose that I can discern is that the Government might have desired to avoid the debate on the NHS, originally scheduled for today, because they have been avoiding any debate on that issue for a year. The only debates that we have had in the past three years, since 1991, have been held—as was the one a year ago—in Opposition time. It is plain that the Government are anxious to avoid scrutiny of their health policy. If that is their purpose, at least it is one which is unusual in having no connection whatever with the Bill that the Government are choosing to guillotine.
Before Christmas, the Government guillotined two Bills, each to one day's debate. In each case, the costs involved in that proposed legislation were literally hundreds of millions of pounds. One affected every British employee; the other every British business. It was the Government's action in that respect, as the Lord President and the House well know, which quite rightly led the Opposition to withdraw co-operation from the Government.
But at least we knew why those Bills were guillotined to a day's debate: they were contentious; they were embarrassing; and, however low and unworthy the purpose, there was at least the purpose that it was convenient for the Government to avoid debate on the Bills.
Today's guillotine is on a measure that again affects every British business. It deals with one of the most unpopular measures that the Government have introduced during their lifetime. In most cases, the non-domestic rate is unpopular with business, as was the poll tax with the 370 public as a whole. The financial implications of each year's non-domestic rating settlement are very important for business, especially for small business.
The Lord President sought to play down the significance of the Bill. He sought to imply that it was a simple matter which needed no great time spent on it. The Library has pointed out that, inevitably by its nature, the Bill is technical. In particular, the finance for the transitional arrangements, which is enshrined in the Bill, is of great importance to business, particularly small business.
Already in yesterday's debate, to which the Lord President referred so contemptuously, concern has been highlighted about how a shortfall in the rating pool might in future be dealt with. It is in present-day legislation. The Government are reluctant to write such provisions into the Bill and, instead, are calling on those scrutinising it to place their trust in the Government to act as we would hope and wish. That is not something that many of us are inclined to do these days.
It is exactly the kind of issue that is normally explored in depth in Committee. It is not only explored, but the answers to that exploration are reassessed over a period. If the assurances given by the Minister during yesterday's debate are unsound, the domestic council tax payer could be hit, or council services could be affected. That matter is of considerable importance now and in the future.
The Lord President spoke briefly last night and today about the hours of debate that such measures had previously attracted, as though that was all that mattered. What is almost more important than the specific time spent in debate, whether on Second Reading or in Committee, and what the Government are not just ignoring but sweeping aside in the debate, in a most dangerous way, as they did before Christmas, is the correlation between the period during which legislation is in the public domain and still under scrutiny and the hours of debate required.
Every hon. Member knows what happens in the ordinary process of legislative scrutiny and Committee debate. Ministers are asked questions. They are pressed to give assurances. Sometimes those assurances are thought on the spot to be unsuitable or unsound. But hon. Members take the record of those debates, the meat of those assurances and the answers to those questions back to those outside this place. They have the time to do that and those outside this place have the time and opportunty to give their scrutiny to see whether we are justified in leaving those assurances to stand.
That is perhaps the most vital part of legislative scrutiny in the House and that is precisely what is being lost when the Government try, as they are doing, to confine all the debates on the measure into one parliamentary day.
I would not myself have raised the matter, but the Lord President referred to the letter that he wrote to me before Christmas about this measure. He did not, I think I am right in saying, remind the House that the letter was received in the week after the guillotining of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill and the Social Security (Contribution) Bill, not perhaps the most fruitful time to seek agreement from the Opposition to curtailing yet a further measure to a single day's debate.
I have no quarrel with the Lord President's description of the terminology of the letter. It was in a reasonable and conciliatory tone. He accepted that he called for curtailing of debate into one day, which is not usual, particularly at the start of a Session, with all of that Session before us in which to debate. He did so in a week in which debate had 371 already been curtailed to one day on two previous pieces of legislation and he was asking us to agree to the same procedure in the first week back after the recess.
Nor, I think I am correct in saying, did the Lord President say, when I received his letter saying that this was a non-contentious measure, that we had not seen the Bill. It was only just before the Bill was published, but it had not been published. Therefore, we were being asked to agree to a procedure which depended on our taking the Government's word that the matter was non-contentious without being able to look at any of the print, never mind the small print. But, more important, we were being asked to give such agreement when there had been no opportunity, and there was unlikely to be opportunity, particularly given the impending Christmas recess, to consult outside this place.
Hon. Members, from all parties know that it is not enough for any Member, however expert, to rely on his or her judgment about the technical detail of Bills such as this. It is an essential part of proceedings in this place that we are given time to consult outside and that those outside this place are allowed to exercise their right to make their point of view known on matters of this kind which raise technical details.
I say to the Lord President with some regret that it is strongly my view that he had no right to seek the assurances that he sought from me, any more than he had any need to do so. I should have been failing in my duty to the House if I had given those assurances.
§ Mr. Winnick
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, to some extent at least, the fact that there has not previously been such a breakdown between the official channels is due to the fact that previous Leaders of the House were obviously devoted to the Government, but they played fair with the House? In particular, I have in mind the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) and, long before that, the then right hon. Member for Chelmsford, now Lord St. John of Fawsley.
Everyone knows that the Leader of the House must be a member of the Cabinet, devoted to Government business. But the Leader of the House has some responsibility, which he does not seem to carry out, to ensure that the Oppositon have a feeling, however controversial a measure may be, that enough time is being given in the Chamber and in Committee fully to examine what is being put forward by the Government. That is not being done at the moment.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I accept my hon. Friend's contention —it is what makes the role of the Leader of the House particularly difficult, as many hon. Members recognise—that, historically, the role of Leader of the House has been to exercise his responsibility as a member of the Government but also to exercise his responsibility to the House. It is also the case that those who have built up the greatest respect as Leader of the House on both sides of the House have been those who have visibly demonstrated their concern for the House as well as their understandable responsibilities to their party.
§ Mr. Newton
In view of what has been said in the past few minutes and what was said earlier about mending fences, I should make it clear that I thought and intended that the tone of my letter—it did refer to the breakdown of 372 the usual channels at the beginning and that is why it was written—made it clear that I was seeking to bring about a situation in which we could do reasonable dealing with the Opposition on uncontentious legislation despite the difficulties that had arisen. That is not only consistent with, but properly consistent with, the role of Leader of the House.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I accept the Lord President's word on that matter, but I simply say that, irrespective of the matter of the Bill, if he really thinks that it is not raising difficulties and is likely to ease the return to smoother procedures in the usual channels to ask the Opposition to curtail debate on any measure to a day when there seems to us to be no necessity for that curtailing, the Government are losing touch with what Members expect of reasonable and proper procedures of debate in the House.
The Lord President referred in his speech today, as he has done previously, to the few hours that the measure has taken in the past. That is one of the points that he made in his letter. However, he did not point out that those few hours were, as I have observed, spread over a few weeks.
Last year, the parallel piece of legislation was before the House for six weeks and then before the other place for two weeks, even though it was not published until April. Even in 1992, when the general election obviously disrupted the timetable to some extent, the legislation was before the House for four weeks and did not become law until June.
Yesterday, the Lord President said, and he referred to it in his speech today, that we should have understood that the fact that the Budget was earlier and the legislation was published before the start of the financial year, rather than after, meant that the pressures on its debate were heavier rather than lighter than in previous years. I have seldom heard such a lot of old rubbish.
Local authorities have told us in terms that they do not need to know that the legislation is on the stocks until, at the earliest, the end of February. It is turning logic on its head to say that there is less urgency about a matter that is published after the start of the financial year than about a matter that is published before the start of the financial year.
I remind the Lord President that, as my hon. Friend the deputy Chief Whip observed from a sedentary position, in the past these measures have passed through the House by agreement, but they were in the public domain and open to people to scrutinise and check for four weeks in the election year and for six weeks last year. There is plenty of time for that sort of period to elapse before local authorities or businesses need the legislation. I am sorry to have to say that the Lord President's case simply does not stand up.
We are at the start of a parliamentary Session which started late and we finished early for the Christmas recess. The Government did not even try to go on with the debate yesterday evening when they could have done so after 10 o'clock. They tell us that it was only their consideration for others, for business and local authorities that led them to press this step on us.
Businesses are none too happy with the curtailing of the timetable for this debate, any more than they were with the curtailing of the timetable for the debates before Christmas, which was also said to be in their interests. As for the notion that the Government care tuppence about the concerns and worries of local government, I imagine that they can barely keep their faces straight at the thought.
373 The Lord President will remember that he and I were in opposite positions when the Government introduced massive changes in housing benefit legislation with no concern whatever for the timetable of local government or for its difficulties in implementing enormously complex legislation which deprived many people, including pensioners, cumulatively of hundreds of millions of pounds. The poll tax was introduced practically over the dead body of local government and so was the non-domestic rate to which this legislation refers. We can therefore dismiss with contumely the notion that it was worrying about local government that led Ministers to propose this step.
I shall draw my remarks to a close because, like the Lord President, I do not want to detain the House. I end by returning to the point that I made at the outset: this is possibly the most dangerous precedent that the Government have yet set in a string of mishandlings of the House. The purpose of this guillotine is entrely frivolous. There is no justification or need for it. No Government have ever shown such disregard for the parliamentary safeguards that have grown up, for good cause, over the years.
I remind the Lord President—I mentioned this in our debate in the last week before the Christmas recess—that it is only three or four weeks since he and I spoke at a meeting jointly organised by "The House Magazine" and the Hansard Society, where representatives of one of the most important and financially crucial British businesses pressed him to give assurances that the House would conduct its business so that legislation could be properly scrutinised in order that we might avoid legislative error and give people time to take full account of the implications of all legislation.
The Lord President gave the assurance—since when three Bills have been taken through all their stages in the House, in effect, in three days. This is a pathetic measure, introduced by a pathetic Government.
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
Like the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), I do not want to detain the House. Although one must be thankful for small mercies, we must also take account of what the Lord President said. He said that if we take up time discussing the timetable motion we will deprive the House of the opportunity to look at the amendments.
I am a bystander in the war of attrition that is going on above my head. I repeat an offer that I have made before: I will happily run between the Front Benches and use my best endeavours to get the usual channels opened up again as soon as possible. It is of course easy for me to sound pious, but I am worried that the House may bring itself into disrepute if the problem goes on too long.
I can perfectly well understand the frustration expressed by the Leader of the Opposition, if press reports are to be believed, when he decided to implement this period of non-co-operation. I must, however, counsel the official Opposition to be cautious. It is easy to start disruption, but not so easy to stop it. It is not clear to me what the Opposition seek to achieve. If they are trying to give the Government a hard time, I will sign up for that—but I am 374 not prepared to sign up if we go so far as to prejudice the sensible scrutiny of legislation. I fear that that may be happening already.
There must be a temptation for the Government to retaliate vindictively. They must resist that temptation. In the short term, they must take this on the chin and try as hard as they can to get on with business without being vindictive. I must add that the action that the Government took overnight comes very close to vindictiveness.
It is not in the long-term interests of the House to suffer indefinite disruption, nor is it in the long-term interests of the legislation that we consider or of the public. I believe I am right in saying that every Bill that this House has sent to the Lords this Session has been guillotined. Is that a record of which the Lord President is proud? He may claim that it is nothing to do with him—that it is all someone else's fault—but the situation is serious.
The House must recognise that if we get into this position early in the new year we will have to think seriously about the new conjunction of the Queen's Speech and the Budget at the back end of the old year. If we do not learn the lessons of this year, there will be more trouble in future years. If the disruption continues, I foresee chaos after Easter, when major Bills come out of Committee and back here for Report and Third Reading. The Government will be forced to impose draconian guillotines on those Bills, and the House will become impossible to manage. Again, I counsel caution.
Regardless of who is to blame, I cannot contemplate with equanimity measures such as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill or the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill—important Bills affecting thousands of people—being the subject of guillotines. Once this is all done and dusted we will have to step back and better consider how we conduct business in this House. I find it sad that the Jopling proposals appear to have been lost—
§ Mr. Kirkwood
People may have differing views about that. I hold no brief for the Jopling proposals as such, but I am willing to talk about any way of improving our procedures. The Jopling opportunity appears to have been lost, however, and that is sad.
If guillotines are to continue to be as customary as they seem to have become, we shall have to consider seriously the possibility of devolving whole areas of legislation—
§ Mrs. Beckett
I do not want to upset my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), but I have noticed this increasingly common suggestion that the Jopling proposals are dead and that there is no point in further discussing them. That is true only if it is what the Government are determined to achieve. I am growing increasingly suspicious that that is the end to which the Government's tactics are directed.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
That is good news. Both sides are now claiming that it is only the other side that is preventing progress. I must confess that I had given up hope, but I am glad to hear that the right hon. Lady has kept the door open. Our party is certainly willing to continue to try to find common ground—
§ Mr. Newton
I ought to make it quite clear that I do not accept the hon. Lady's accusation, and I would be most grateful if the hon. Gentleman found an opportunity to provoke her to make a further intervention in which she 375 confirmed that she is willing to engage in further constructive discussion, with a view to implementation of the Jopling report.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I find myself the only channel left open —people are channelling their remarks through me at this point. I shall continue to provide the service at no cost to Government or Opposition. I hope that after the dust settles we will return to the issue and manage some progress.
I was a little disappointed by the lack of attention that the Leader of the House paid to the guillotine motion itself. I know that it is customary nowadays to use such motions as an excuse for more political debate about the contents of Bills. I for one intend to pay more attention to the terms of the guillotine motions in these debates. I am concerned about some of the new developments incorporated in them. I know that the Lord President spent the hours between midnight and 3 am with his inky pen going through the motion bit by bit, so it was difficult for him to get it right in so short a time. That is precisely why he should not be operating in this way. Nevertheless, paragraph 1(1) takes some justification.
The right hon. Gentleman said in a casual aside—it happens to be true—that we have until 10 o'clock, so if we stop discussing the guillotine now we will have more time to discuss the contents of the Bill. By tradition, however, guillotine motions have not imposed strict timetables on the discussion of Bills such as this one, because that would prevent hon. Members from voting within the allotted period. The time for the votes is taken out of the time allowed for discussion. I consider that tactic an abuse, but the Government have begun to resort to it with increasing regularity.
The House should not allow such behaviour to pass without comment. If we are to have timetable motions, the Government must recognise the need to allow the House to express its opinion within the allotted time in a way that does not prejudice further discussion. I consider paragraph 1(1) of the motion objectionable for that reason.
Paragraph 2(2) is also extremely worrying. The Leader of the House may contradict me if I am wrong, but, as I read it, it means that several clauses can be lumped together for a single vote. The right hon. Gentleman may say that, given that the Bill is relatively small, there is no cause for concern; but the application of paragraph 2(2), willy-nilly, to a 100-clause Bill would mean one vote to dispose of all those clauses at a stroke. I understand the purpose of timetable motions to be to enable the Government to limit the time available for discusion of the various stages of legislation, but paragraph 2(2) prevents clause-by-clause consideration.
As I have said, this is a small Bill, and in this instance paragraph 2(2) may be of no moment. Nevertheless, I consider that it sets an objectionable precedent. It is new to me, but I have been looking after this side of the business for only a short time: the Leader of the House may say that it was introduced recently. I find it worrying, however, and I believe that, if the Procedure Committee considered it objectively, the Chairman would also be extremely concerned. It has been introduced overnight, without discussion, and the procedures of the House have effectively been changed: we can no longer consider clauses seriatim.
376 I have other worries. The Leader of the House should not allow the parliamentary draftsmen to stick in otiose bits of garbage that are of no consequence. When, for example, was the last occasion on which we required the provisions of paragraph 5(1)? When was the last occasion on which a Bill was recommitted? Not within living memory, I bet. It does the House no service to produce such unnecessary and irrelevant verbiage.
I fear that, if the difficulties between the two main parties continue, more and more Bills will be guillotined. I think that the Procedure Committee should consider a Standing Order setting out the parameters within which Governments can introduce timetable motions, and that we should engage in a full and lengthy debate on what Governments can and cannot do. This motion provides evidence that Governments are incrementally removing powers from the House by imposing timetable motions in a draconian, unnecessary and unjustifiable manner. The House should vote the motion down.
§ Mr. Derek Enright (Hernsworth)
I am not one of the hon. Members who bored the Lord President of the Council so much yesterday—not because my speech coruscated and was laced with wit, but because so many hon. Members wanted to speak and there was so much to discuss that I could not get in.
Only Opposition Members were speaking yesterday, but these are very serious issues. What worries me is the arrogance of power, which we saw earlier—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Leader of the House is leaving; he has had enough."] Hang on. What worries me is the arrogance of power that allows Governments—or councils, as in the case of Westminster—to think, regardless of the individuals involved, that they can do anything that they want. The Bill involves a fundamental philosophy which must be discussed: the philosophy of democracy.
In his "Politics", Aristotle said—this is a rough translation—that those parties were best to which everyone brought the booze. Similarly, those Governments are best to which everyone contributes ideas; yet the way in which this tax is organised means the increasing separation of local businesses from their councils. They are no longer a fundamental part of what is happening, and some of us consider that very serious.
Labour Members engaged in an excellent debate at their party conference. It is a shame that the Lord President was not there: he would have been excited by the speeches about regional government. We strongly believe in devolution and regional government, and we think it deplorable that, since 1979, the Conservative Government have taken more and more power to the centre. They have increasingly decided that Whitehall and Westminster should govern the people—in my case, the people of Yorkshire.
That is clearly nonsensical. When the people of Whitehall and Westminster—whose experience relates to London—see problems and what they consider to be solutions in London, they send those solutions flying out to the regions, where they are totally inappropriate. We have seen that happen in education: if the Secretary of State has his way, all schools will be accountable to a central body provided and staffed by Whitehall, and appointed by the Minister. We have seen it happen in hospitals, too: increasingly, the Secretary of State has made appointments 377 for political reasons. I can think of no other reason to justify the creation of trusts such as those in our area, which contain not a single Labour sympathiser, although the vote is 80 per cent. Labour. It is an odd situation; it may have come about by chance, but it may have been created deliberately.
Now there is to be yet another centralisation. The Home Secretary has traditionally governed arguably the worst police force in the country: the Metropolitan police do not compare with the South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire police—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to know how what he is saying relates to the guillotine motion.
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
My hon. Friend has vast experience of local government, having served as chair of the Yorkshire planning committee for four years. Having sat through yesterday's debate, does he agree that it is astonishing that the Minister of State has been unable to explain properly to the House the reason for the fundamental policy shift on the proposed legislation for this year—as opposed to the provisions piloted through the House last year by his predecessor, now Secretary of State for Wales? We are still waiting for an explanation. We oppose the guillotine motion because we need time to listen to the Government's views, so that we can then go out and consult local authorities and local businesses about the proposals.
§ Mr. Enright
I, too, find that astonishing.
Let me explain what I mean about centralisation and devolution. This is yet another example of the way in which taxes have been centralised: centralised business taxation is now taken for granted. That is quite wrong. On the continent, exactly the opposite has been happening. For example, in the mid-1970s, France was more centralised than any other country—schools there all taught geography at the same time and everyone knew exactly what was happening in the schools al any given time. However, with regard to taxes and policies, France has increasingly devolved power whereas here the Government have gathered it all unto themselves.
Our argument is that the nature of the business tax is fatally flawed. The way in which it is collected and imposed has nothing to do with the services that it is supposed to render. It seems that business taxes should once again be devolved to local councils. One can think of many spheres in which local businesses would be delighted to have it so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said that I was chair of planning in West Yorkshire. I recall explaining to representatives of local businesses that we could carry out certain schemes such as pedestrianisation and the building of bypasses on which industry was extremely keen but we made it clear that business would have to pay. It led to constructive dialogue. We did not always agree but at least we kept talking and, by doing so, we knew why the taxes were being raised and what could be done with them. That is no longer the case because now the Government, or nanny in the form of the Minister for Local Government and Planning, knows best.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again but he is discussing the substance of the Bill, for or against. We are considering only the timetable motion.
§ Mr. Enright
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall certainly not intrude on the time allotted to discussing the Bill. I shall deliberately absent myself because I shall have made some of my substantive points.
It was important that we should have discussed such issues in Committee last night because they are crucial. By guillotining the Bill—
§ Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The points that my hon. Friend is making are relevant not only to his but to all our constituents and they are very important and numerous, as he has amply outlined. So many issues are potentially affected by the legislation that a timetable motion that constrains debate carries the risk of our not being able to discuss thoroughly all the issues that could affect the interests of all our constituents.
§ Mr. Enright
As always, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct.
One important aspect which we were not able to discuss and which is a further argument against the guillotining of the Bill is the collection of the business tax. We need time to probe the Government's intentions in that respect. At the moment they have helpful district and county councils to collect it for them or, to put it another way, to do their dirty work for them. They do so at a reasonable cost but we hear a whisper—one that we should have wished to probe if there had been no guillotine—that collection is to be privatised. That is a dangerous and threatening situation—
§ Mr. Enright
Not only Group 4, although we know that it is somewhat spendthrift and difficult to employ. I shall make no more of that because you would quite rightly stop me, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Gladstone set up a magnificent civil service to stop corruption. Since that time, the probity and honesty of our civil service has been the equal of any other. It is perhaps worth going through a list of United Nations Governments and asking which of them are corrupt.
§ Mr. Vaz
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that yesterday not a single Conservative Member found time to come to the Chamber to debate this important subject although it is Conservative Members who claim to speak for British business? Many Labour Members were prepared to speak on behalf of British business. It is extremely important that we have enough time to discuss the Bill.
§ Mr. Enright
I was especially disappointed yesterday that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick)— I mention him precisely because he is not here—was not in his place because he is always talking about his diligence in voting and how awful local government is. He is absent I know not where, but I should be grateful if the Government Whips could get him here so that he could be taught about democracy.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Planning (Mr. David Curry)
Could I appeal to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) not to intervene on his hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) at the very moment he is beginning to be interesting? I thought that the hon. Member for Hemsworth was about to embark on a tour of the world beginning with Guinea-Bissau. I should not wish to deny him the opportunity of giving us a perspective on local government there from his experience. Perhaps the hon. Member for Leicester, East could refrain from intervening when his hon. Friend is halfway there.
§ Mr. Enright
I shall first give the Minister a lesson in pronunciation. Guinea-Bissau is pronounced "Guinea-Biss-ow"—that is how it is pronounced not only by the locals but by good British chaps and chapesses. The Minister is correct—in Guinea-Bissau the people have the advantage that collection is carried out at the base and everyone has a say in what happens at small meetings in the villages. It is against such a system that the Government are fighting. It is an absolute disgrace that in this century a guillotine is proposed by uninterested people, which cuts to the heart of democracy. I hope that the guillotine motion will be defeated as it deserves to be.
§ 6.7 pm
§ Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East)
The Liberal Democrat party spokesman confused me. I do not know where he has been, but I can tell him that the issue began with the Budget and the curtailment of the time allocated to debate it. If he will listen, I shall go further.
There has clearly been concern about the allocation of time for parliamentary business and scrutiny. A story currently doing the rounds is that the controversial Child Support Agency, for example, will be debated for an hour and a half. I do not know whether Government Back Benchers are happy about that, but I hope that the Lord President will accept it when I say that we do not regard it as satisfactory when a controversial issue is to be debated for only one and a half hours. I am sure that many hon. Members will wish to participate. It is merely another subject on which debate is being curtailed. [Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, will you please ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) to speak through you if he wishes to do so, but to stop heckling me?
§ Mr. Kirkwood
If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the statutory instrument that is required to introduce the changes announced on 22 December, he should know that if the statutory instrument is introduced under the affirmative order procedure, the time limit is one and a half hours. That has always been the case. There is no time limit on statutory instruments.
§ Mr. Cunningham
If that is the case, I suggest that the Minister prepares another Bill and that we hold another debate on the Child Support Agency.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I thought that the concern was about the Local Government Finance Bill, not another Bill or an order.
§ Mr. Cunningham
I accept what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I was trying to prove that there is insufficient parliamentary time to debate some important issues.
§ Mr. Vaz
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is one of the most distinguished former council members to serve in the Chamber. He was a Coventry councillor for almost 20 years and was the leader of that council for four years. Does he agree that it would have been sensible for the Government to have arranged a proper and appropriate Committee stage—say, in a fortnight's time—which would have given people such as my hon. Friend the opportunity to go back and discuss with local business people, with the local chamber of commerce and with the local authority the enormous and fundamental changes proposed in the Bill? Would my hon. Friend have liked that opportunity to continue the discussions that he has had over the past 20 years in local government in Coventry?
§ Mr. Curry
I am sure that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham) would wish to inform the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) that he accompanied a delegation from Coventry to talk to me about standard spending assessments earlier this week. The delegation was extremely well informed and we had a constructive meeting. However, the delegation said nothing about the Bill. Its members all knew that if they wished to raise such issues they were free to do so.
§ Mr. Cunningham
We were perfectly clear at that stage what we wanted to talk to the Minister about and, as I said to him at the time, we were treated most reasonably. However, being a fairly shrewd character, I added that we must wait and see what emerged from our discussions. That is the point and that leads me back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said and to my reasons for opposing the guillotine. I must tell the Minister that before Coventry city council reached that stage the onus was on it to conduct widespread consultation with, for example, business rate payers. The Minister's own rules and regulations require us, as a council, to carry out those consultations. That is why I am so concerned about the guillotine. There are many issues that affect the business community in Coventry and extensive consultation is required. As the House knows, many small business people are struggling to keep their businesses afloat and if some of those people go under jobs will be affected.
It is vital that the Bill be given enough time for adequate debate so that we can scrutinise it properly. Legislation has been rushed through the Chamber in the past and discussion has been curtailed. There has often not been adequate consultation or scrutiny of the effects of Bills on public services and on the public in general. People with small businesses in my constituency often come to me because they have difficulty paying their business rates. Clearly those people would expect me to vote against the guillotine, so that their concerns and the issues important to them can be raised in the House—I hope that the Minister will take note of that.
Another reason for voting against the guillotine is the longer-term effect on local authorities' ability to charge adequate rates and to raise budgets. The Government pass legislation, but they do not give adequate resources to implement it. The Minister says that he may compensate, but he does not say that he will compensate fully. That issue arose last night and it needs further scrutiny. It is 381 important to many people, not only to the small business men who pay the business rates but to many local authorities. I hope that the Minister will take note of that.
§ Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)
The Minister has tried to suggest that because the Coventry delegation managed to arrange a meeting with him on our SSA, yet did not raise the issue of the national non-domestic rate, there is no such issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham) was here last night when we heard the Minister reading out comments about the dissatisfaction of the Wolverhampton chamber of commerce with the level of business rates some years ago, when those rates were set locally. But, when challenged, the Minister did not know whether the Wolverhampton chamber of commerce was dissatisfied with this year's business rate levels. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is proof that adequate consultation has not taken place? It is not surprising that we do not yet know the opinion of Coventry chamber of commerce on the national business rate, because the Minister did not know whether there was any problem with the Wolverhampton chamber of commerce.
§ Mr. Cunningham
My hon. Friend has touched on the nub of the problem. He will know that the Government were trying to curtail the debate last night and that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who wound up the debate, refused to give way to any of the Members who were seriously concerned, except my hon. Friend himself.
While we are on the subject of consultation, I ask the Minister when he last consulted the people in local chambers of commerce who represent the small business community—I am not talking about the CBI—and what their views were. That question was not answered last night. That is probably why the Under-Secretary of State would not give way to Opposition Members who wanted to ask questions.
I am worried about the timetable under which we shall be allowed to debate the Bill. I am concerned for the small business community, because there has been a lack of consultation. We have been given no answers about who was consulted about the business rate and who was not. I am worried, too, about the Bill's other possible effects. The Minister has conceded that he has not yet worked out a formula or procedure for compensating business ratepayers. That was why he rejected an Opposition suggestion about using "may", as opposed to "shall", in the Bill.
There is extreme concern about the Bill and about the effects of the unified Budget. For the reasons that I have already explained, I shall join my hon. Friends in opposing the guillotine.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham) on his speech and my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) on his wide-ranging contribution to the debate. I assure him that the Leader of the House did not leave the Chamber because he found my hon. Friend's speech boring. Indeed, he left at such an early stage of that speech that he could not have had time to find it boring. Only those of us who stayed and listened to the full speech were in a position to make such judgments.
§ Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
One reason why I am here is that I was told 382 that this was a wonderful debate and that Labour Members' contributions were excellent and well worth hearing. I am surprised that the Leader of the House is not here to listen to the Opposition's eloquent arguments. The Prime Minister tells us that we must go "back to basics", and I wonder why we do not do that. Why did the Government increase VAT to 17.5 per cent., with 2.5 per cent. going to local government? That 2.5 per cent. should now be taken off and then we might get more common sense out of the Government.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. "Back to basics" could also be interpreted as meaning, "relevant to the subject under discussion".
§ Mr. Hoon
I am grateful for that remark, Madam Deputy Speaker, because the subject under discussion is the Opposition's efforts to persuade the Government to listen a little more to what we say about necessary changes to their proposals. I am sorry that the Leader of the House has been forced to leave the Chamber, because I want to comment on some of the things that he said when he opened the debate. The Leader of the House has returned —he has clearly anticipated dangers!
Every hon. Member knows that the fundamental constitutional role of the Opposition is to oppose. Constitutional law books suggest not that the Opposition might or should oppose the Government but that they have a duty to do so. If I understood the opening remarks of the Leader of the Opposition correctly, he agreed with that proposition. It is therefore difficult for Labour Members to understand his argument that there is a means by which the Opposition should carry out their constitutional duty.
§ Mr. Vaz
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition have a duty not only to oppose but to do so constructively? Labour wished to propose constructive amendments, such as those that appear on the amendment paper, which would strengthen the Bill and make it more acceptable to the business community. The Government have decided not to allow us to help them with the problems that clearly exist in the Bill, which we would have addressed if our amendments had been properly debated.
§ Mr. Hoon
I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend developed an argument that I hoped to develop. Notwithstanding his intervention, I shall still try to do so.
I am glad that the Leader of the House has returned to his place because I wish to invite him to consider some of the comments that he made in opening the debate. The Opposition must decide how to oppose any measure. It is not for a Minister to say what tactics the Opposition should use.
The Leader of the House laid great store on the fact that previously similar legislation went through in a matter of three hours on one occasion and rather less on another. He should know from his experience that what happened last year or the year before is irrelevant. If a similar measure had been proposed last week, it would not have mattered how long it had taken to dispose of it because Opposition Members are now considering how best to exercise our constructive role in opposing Government measures. That is simply what we are seeking to do.
I invite the Leader of the House, who is a fair-minded man, to read his speech carefully—not necessarily in a darkened room because I should like him to read what he 383 had to say and think about it—away from the excitement of the debate and from the need for the Government to pass the Bill. He said not only that the Government should determine how they manage their business but that Ministers should comment on how the Opposition go about their role of constructively opposing Government measures. If I understood him correctly—I shall give way if he wants to correct me—he was saying that the Leader of the House knows best. I know that he would not advocate a one-party state, but he is suggesting that we might move to that model of so-called democracy whereby the Government can push through measures with a rubber-stamp Opposition whom the Government know will accept what the Government want. We have a vigorous constitution and a vigorous Opposition and it is for the Opposition to decide how much time we allocate to opposing Government measures.
The motion is the Government's frustrated response to the fact that we have a different opinion about how we should oppose measures from the Government. That is how it should be; we should have a different role from the one that the Government allot to us. I hope that the Leader of the House will reconsider his approach to the motion because he does not know what is best for the Opposition. It is a dangerous and slippery slope when a Leader of the House introduces such motions and tells the Opposition that the Government know how we should be opposing Government proposals. It is for the Opposition, and for them alone, to decide that.
§ Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Unfortunately, I did not hear the Leader of the House's opening speech because I was busy in a Committee, but I heard his comments last night. He could not have been here for most of yesterday's debate for him to have made the comments that he did, implying that Members were wasting time and not addressing real issues.
I was concerned about the comments that the Minister made in winding up the debate last night. I read Hansard today to confirm that he said that Opposition Members' concerns were synthetic—or at least that is what his Auntie Flora in Aberdeen would think. I do not have an Auntie Flora to get advice from.
§ Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)
I know that my hon. Friend does not have an Aunt Flora in Aberdeen, but he has an Auntie Aggie in Sheffield, who has asked me to pass him her best wishes for a very happy birthday today. She is delighted that he is making a speech on his birthday, working on behalf of his constituents.
§ Mr. Betts
I thank my hon. Friend and note that he has not led his usual rendering of "Happy Birthday" in the Chamber.
The Minister said yesterday that the debate had been spurious, which was an ill-chosen forms of words to have used and which he might like to reconsider.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) made an interesting point last night when he asked why, if the Government had not been concerned that the issues would not need lengthy debate, they had tabled the 10 o'clock business motion, which they chose not to move.
384 I noted that between 5.30 pm and 9.50 pm yesterday no Member chose to speak from the Government Benches. That is their choice. They did not regard the issues as important, but we did.
§ Mr. Betts
I was not aware of that, but I am disappointed that the issue is of so little importance to the Minister that he preferred lamb cutlets to the debate.
The issue could still be resolved if Ministers would address the points that we have raised continually. Yesterday, the Minister gave assurances that appear in Hansard and in winding up he made a clear comment. He said that any shortfall will be made up. If that is Government policy, we merely want that policy put into the Bill. If that were done, there would be no need for additional scrutiny and debate on many aspects of the Bill. While that commitment from the Government is not forthcoming by way of a change to the Bill, we will argue strongly that we cannot be certain that in one, two or three years' time the shortfall will be made up. Of course, we may have a different Government in three or four years. While the Government remain in power, we cannot be certain that, unless that provision is included and the Bill is amended, any shortfall that occurs as a result of the transitional arrangements will be made up by the Government and not by local authorities through increased council tax or by a reduction in local authority services. If we cannot be assured of that, we want additional time for debate and we do not accept the guillotine.
§ Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
For the past two days of parliamentary business—the past three days, if one considers the time devoted to the money resolution on Tuesday—the House has seen the Government show a callous disregard for our democratic procedures and a callous presumption of the intentions of the House by discussing the money resolution on Tuesday before the substance of the Bill was debated.
The way in which the Government have tried to force through the business is a contempt of the House. They have forced the business through without giving organisations around the country an opportunity to comment on the Bill, having heard the arguments on Second Reading, which would have enabled representations to be made to the Government and to the Opposition, and, perhaps, would also have given organisations the opportunity to suggest amendments.
The procedure that we are now discussing is completely unnecessary. We are using time to discuss the guillotine motion that we could have used to discuss aspects of the Bill which are important to hon. Members. We are doing that because the Government cannot even carry the support of their own Back Benchers.
Last night, during five hours of debate, there was only one intervention from one Back-Bench Conservative Member. In past years, all of us have had to listen to Conservative Members endlessly attacking local government and endlessly exaggerating the burdens on rates, yet last night we did not hear a whimper. That indicates either 385 that Conservative Members have recognised the folly of their arguments or that they have so little confidence in those on their Front Bench that they are embarrassed to come along and present those same arguments.
The Government did not have the confidence to continue the debate after 10 o'clock last night, just when I thought that we had reached the point of having disposed of some of the general principles involved in the Bill, and had the opportunity to move on to some of the detail in Committee. I did not like that procedure. The way in which it prevented organisations and Members of the House from making representations during that gap between Second Reading and Committee—either on the Floor of the House or upstairs—was an affront to democracy. Even though it was the Government's procedure, they did not have the confidence to take the argument beyond 10 o'clock.
That is one reason for such an unnecessary motion this evening. The other reason is one that was advanced by the shadow Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). She made it clear that the sinister reason for the guillotine motion is to kill a possible argument on the national health service. The Government are afraid to come to the House and argue about such an important service.
On Second Reading, the Government claimed that it was necessary to have the Second Reading in January to meet local authority Treasury billing needs. I accept that, because of a November Budget, it is more sensible to begin dealing with the business rate in January, because it avoids the situation of the past two years, in which retrospective additional costs have been incurred and businesses have become unstable because they have been unable to predict the level of commitment that they would have to make to business rates.
However, the Opposition's argument is not to do with the calendar timetable. It would have been possible to publish the Bill at the same time and to have the Second Reading yesterday, with a money resolution following it.
The timetable before the House is unacceptable, because it is undemocratic and unnecessary. It is undemocratic because the money resolution was tabled on Tuesday night, before the issues of principle were discussed on Second Reading. It was presumptuous of the Government to adopt that procedure. As was pointed out yesterday, apart from the poll tax debate in 1991, this is the only time that this Government have had the effrontery to table the money resolution before Second Reading.
In administrative terms, the timetable is unnecessary to meet the needs of the local authorities. If one communicates with local authority treasurers, it becomes clear that the bills for business rates are not normally sent out until February. I received a document from Birmingham city council, the largest metropolitan council in the country, which showed that it does not send out the bills for business rates until mid-February. Therefore, a timetable that would have taken business beyond the end of January would have been able to meet the needs of a typical council such as Birmingham.
We do not even need to hear evidence from Birmingham city council, because the document produced by the Department of the Environment and sent to chief executives of local authorities on 30 November, which I cited last night, made it clear that provisional calculations would be made in January. Nevertheless, the Department of the Environment expects authorities to recalculate the amount that they will receive in contributions from the 386 business rate between January and March. Even the Department of the Environment has acknowledged that the Bill could have lasted beyond January and still have met the assumption on which it based its regulations.
We could have adopted a procedure that involved a Second Reading yesterday, a money resolution following it, Committee either on the Floor of the House in 10 days or in two weeks' time, or Committee upstairs. That would have allowed time for Royal Assent to be given—to a Bill which might have been modified in the light of representations and discussion in Committee—in February, and which not only would have met the needs of councils such as Birmingham, but would have met the administrative arrangements that the Department of the Environment anticipated would apply. That would have been a sensible procedure, which would have been acceptable to the Opposition and acceptable to the House.
Of course, the Bill is not as straightforward as it was in the past year. Government Members who argued that it is essentially the same Bill are quite wrong. Although I was sufficiently courteous to allow the Minister to intervene in my speech last night, the Under-Secretary of State, while drawing a comparison between the Bills of the past year and this year, was not sufficiently courteous allow me to intervene in his speech to correct his misapprehension. He will not be surprised that I shall now take the opportunity to correct that misapprehension.
Last year's Bill dealt essentially with one issue, which was that business rates should be frozen at the level of the rate of inflation. The arguments were about whether it was appropriate to limit the increases to the rate of inflation. That was discussed on Second Reading, and during the 10-day period between Second Reading and remaining stages, which were taken on the Floor of the House, several different organisations made representations to me.
This year's Bill is much more complicated. It involves a discussion of the future structure. It raises the question whether there will be further transitional relief in 1995, which is the year after the next revaluation of business rates. It raises the question of what will happen if there is transitional relief. Under the current arrangements, if businesses are given transitional relief, the aggregate sum given in relief is made up by the Government before the rating pool is distributed to local authorities. Therefore, all other things being equal, local authorities themselves neither win nor lose under the current procedure.
Because of some clauses in this Bill, there is no guarantee that that will happen in future. There is no guarantee that transitional relief will be granted in the first place. If it is granted, there is no guarantee that the sums needed to make up the rating pool will be contributed by the Department.
Moreover, there is no guarantee that, even if both happen, the Government will take that into account in calculating the external financing limit for local government, which governs the sum given to local government from outside sources. These are important issues that affect the ability of every council to make decisions on their chosen level of provision and to meet that level of provision.
A further important issue that emerged in representations made to me last year and in preliminary representations by some organisations to me this year is the whole question of who should determine business rates. It seems that, increasingly, organisations over a wide spectrum, from chambers of commerce to the Institute of 387 Directors, to councils throughout the country, to many businesses, believe that it is far better that business rates are determined locally than centrally, for all the reasons discussed in yesterday's Second Reading debate. That issue is central to what happens to business rates and the rating pool. Many organisations would have wanted to make repreentations on that, had that been possible.
I do not want to prolong the debate on this motion for longer than necessary, because we wish to discuss many other important items this evening. The timing of the legislation and the Government's introduction of it without proper consultations through the usual channels are unacceptable to hon. Members, and an abuse of our democracy in this House. They have deviated from previous procedures that hon. Members accepted as reasonably satisfactory.
This establishes a dangerous pattern of contempt for those workable and tried and tested procedures. The rush with which we have had to deal with the legislation is unnecessary. We could have dealt with it in a satisfactory way, which would have allowed proper representation and discussion, as well as the completion of the Bill in sufficient time for local authorities to make the necessary arrangements.
Those are only some of the points that my hon. Friends have raised in their speeches this evening. The Government's conduct has been wholly reprehensible and unacceptable, so we shall oppose the guillotine motion tonight.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Planning (Mr. David Curry)
Today we have had a continuation of the cabaret which marked yesterday's debate. We have had what I can describe only as the performance of the Tea Room trotters. They are the hon. Members who are called out of the Tea Room to keep the debate going and then dispatched back, no doubt like the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), to eat his bacon sandwich.
In they come, back they go. They try to make their speeches, and whenever they look as though they are faltering, which is fairly frequently, up pops the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) to prompt them and bring them back on track. Indeed, I am surprised that he did not have some visual aids with him to help them. Perhaps he might have had a score card for technical expertise, which I fear would have been fairly low in most cases. Certainly they would have scored higher on artistic impression.
§ Mr. Curry
That is typical of the hon. Gentleman. He has spent a day and a half not getting on with it, yet he sits there and urges us to get on with it. The Opposition have waffled, wasted time, digressed and completed a little global tour, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who is not even concerned about the Bill. That indicates his dedication to duty.
Then we had the sentimental interlude when it was discovered that it was the birthday of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts). We are all glad, and wish him a happy birthday, but if this measure were so 388 important, so crucial and so absolutely essential to business, it is a little curious to intervene in the middle of the debate to wish him a happy birthday. But if that is how the Opposition wish to use their time, I am delighted.
The digression continued when the hon. Member for Leicester, East wished to inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had been observed eating lamb cutlets.
§ Mr. Curry
I will give way in a little while.
I was not clear whether the sin was to be eating, whether it was to be eating lamb cutlets or whether there was some implication about the origin of the lamb cutlets. Knowing my right hon. Friend's past, I would be deeply surprised if the cutlets were not English. They may even have been Suffolk lamb cutlets, and no doubt I could have provided him with Yorkshire lamb cutlets. The fact that he was eating lamb cutlets was apparently a material reason for intervening in the debate. I fail to understand quite why.
§ Mr. Vaz
I do not understand why the Minister has decided to trivialise this important matter. The point that was being made was that no Conservative Member could be found yesterday to partake in this debate and speak on behalf of British business. Yet the Secretary of State for the Environment, unlike the shadow Secretary of State who opened the debate for the Opposition, instead of coming to the House to listen, spent his time eating downstairs in the Churchill Room. Is that acceptable behaviour when such an important measure as this is being debated?
§ Mr. Curry
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend takes such a sensible precaution to ensure that he can effectively discharge his responsibilities in this House, as he has done so admirably this afternoon. Whether or not he has mint on his lamb cutlets seems marginal as far as the debate is concerned.
Yesterday, too, we had a cabaret. We heard the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stephenson) talking about his chip shops. I shall be delighted to accept his invitation to visit one if he can stick to his guarantee. At one moment, the debate was so gripping that the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) felt the need to resort to his worry beads or prayer beads, no doubt praying that Opposition speeches would come rapidly to an end.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Why did the Government feel the need to include paragraph 2(2) in the guillotine motion?
§ Mr. Curry
I will ensure that my good colleague has an extremely sound answer to that question.
There was a sense of deep outrage in the House. The Opposition said that this was an abuse, and that the Government were arrogant. The Opposition were so indignant that, on a measure which was announced before the Christmas recess, they imposed a one-line Whip. That was on the money resolution. The outrage was enough to impose a one-line Whip.
That one-line Whip also covered the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, to which you will not wish me to refer, Madam Deputy Speaker. That Bill, too, was sufficiently important to merit a one-line Whip. At the end of the day, 59 Members summoned up the outrage to vote against the money resolution.
Then the Opposition banged on about consultation. Where are these frustrated petitioners? Where is the 389 Institute of Directors, which appears to loom so large and so suddenly in the perspective of the Opposition parties? The Confederation of British Industry and the Association of Chambers of Commerce demanded access. Undoubtedly, even the Archbishop of Canterbury, with his rather agreeable mixed hereditament across the river, was pressing to make representations.
There was not a squeak, not a whimper, not a hint or a sound in terms of representations. [Interruption.] I have checked with my Department. How many representations did we get? We got no representations from local authority associations, the Associations of Chambers of Commerce or the CBI during the consultation period, because they were content with the measure.
Over the past few weeks, my hon. Friend and I consulted 62 councils on the rate support settlement. All those councils know that we had a wide-ranging discussion. Indeed, some have raised matters that go beyond the SSAs. Not one council wished to raise the subject of the business rate. That is the great crisis of confidence, and it is the great problem which all councils face. It is all fiction from start to finish.
§ Mr. Vaz
The Minister misses the point completely. The reason why he has not heard a squeak, as he puts it, from the Institute of Directors, the CBI, the Association of Chambers of Commerce and local authorities is that he has not given the House sufficient time to scrutinise the legislation. He knows that there is a fundamental change in this year's proposals. They are quite different from what was foreshadowed last year. He admitted that when he said that there was a change. The House should have the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation, and local authorities, the chambers of commerce, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury, should have the opportunity to comment on it.
§ Mr. Curry
The hon. Gentleman will not accept that the essentials of the proposals were published in the Budget on 30 November, the Bill was published on 16 December and the business of the House was announced before the Christmas recess. Labour Members may not have wished to work or do their homework over Christmas. However, others were able to do so, and were satisfied with the proposals.
§ Mr. Robert Ainsworth
The Minister is making great play of the fact that he has received representations from local authorities and not one of them said anything about the proposals. The proposals relate to the national non-domestic rate. All that local authorities do is collect that rate on behalf of the Government. Why on earth would the Minister expect local authorities to make representations?
§ Mr. Curry
I would expect local authorities to make representations, because Labour Members told me that they were burning to make representations. Who is right? The hon. Gentleman says that they do not want to make representations; the hon. Member for Leicester, East says that they want to make representations. The hon. Member should co-ordinate his time with his colleagues. He should not accuse me of wasting time. Labour Members wasted a day and a half, and they do not appear to like it. [Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not think that seated interventions from the Labour Front Bench are helpful to the debate.
§ Mr. Curry
Let us look at the needs of local authorities and billing. There are three essential points that I wish to cover: first, the needs of local authorities in terms of the timetable; secondly, the unpredictability of the old business rating system and the arguments for moving to the new system; thirdly, the nature of the Bill and the understandings which I have given the House about what we will do post-1995. I have said it once, and I will say it again shortly.
A sensible local authority will want to get its first instalments payable at the beginning of April. It must leave its bills to lie for 14 days once it has served them on the businesses which must pay them. The bills, therefore, should go out certainly no later than 10 March. There is printing to be done. Of course, some of that is highly automated. Printing will have to start on 6 or 7 March.
Local authorities must be sure that they know the scheme which will operate. That means that they need certainty by the third week in February. We have already received telephone calls from councils asking whether they have that certainty: "Because of the actions of Labour Members, can we count on this measure coming through in time for us to prepare our bills?"
This year, we have the opportunity to get the bills out not merely in proper time but a little early. That is of great help to local authorities and businesses. Let us be clear on this: if we fail to do that, one of two things will happen. First, the bills will go out unamended. That will mean that they have to be rebilled. If the bills go out and have to be changed, there is a complete rebilling run. That means that businesses will be struck with uncertainty again. Secondly, local authorities will decide that they will not send out the bills and will simply wait. That means that there will be an enormous cash flow problem for local authorities. Business rates bring in £1 billion a month.
The whole history of tax changes in business is local authorities banging on our door complaining about our being late. We now have the opportunity to be early, and Labour Members wish to deny us—
§ Mr. Curry
No. I have given way a great many times already.
Labour Members wish to deny local authorities the certainty of having the system well in advance and saving money, and they wish to deny business the time to pay.
The old system was wildly unpredictable, and there were enormous variations. I have some of the figures for the variations in poundage for 1989–90. The lowest poundage was in Chelsea and Kensington, with 122.2p. The average in England was 258.3p. The highest was in Sheffield, which went over 400p in the pound at the time that the hon. Member for Attercliffe was associated with that council.
§ Mr. Curry
I shall give way at the end of this section. Undoubtedly, the hon. Gentleman will elaborate on his methods of creative accountancy and off-budget financing which were practised at the time.
We saw the following variations and year-on-year increases. In Ealing, the rate for businesses was 57 per 391 cent. That went down by 21 per cent. after capping, and it then went up by 28 per cent. in the following year. In Calderdale, the figures were 37 per cent., 2.8 per cent. and 13.9 per cent.; Haringey, 56 per cent. in a year; Hammersmith and Fulham, 44 per cent. in a year; Birmingham, 32 per cent. in a year; and Brent, 30 per cent. in a year. I could continue with the list.
If the old system was so remarkable—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I understand that the Minister wants to refer to those matters, but I need to be persuaded that they are directly relevant to the motion before the House at present.
§ Mr. Betts
Does the Minister accept that the league table to which he referred was one of rate poundage, not a rate product collected per hereditament? Although Sheffield was high on the rate poundage league table, it had very low rateable values. It is the two figures combined which had an impact on business. The Minister did not draw a fair comparison.
§ Mr. Curry
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am disappointed but I bow to your preference.
The Bill does two things. It is not fundamentally different from the one introduced last year. It is a different Bill, but the idea that it is some radically different Bill is simply not true.
First, the Bill continues for the financial year which is almost on us the mechanism for compensation which we had in the past. The figures are different, but the mechanism is the same. For future years, if we decide that there must be a means of mitigating increases following the 1995 revaluation, it gives us the means to invite the House to approve such a means of mitigation without primary legislation every year but with an affirmative resolution in both Houses, with adequate time for debate.
I have been asked constantly about compensation. I have said it before, and I will say it again: I have given a clear commitment that any shortfall which results from new concessions will be made up by the Exchequer in full from national resources.
The Opposition have made a charade of the Bill and a cabaret of the debate, and it is about time that we got on to the substance. The Opposition do not want to do that, because they know full well that this is a popular Bill which will help business. It is a Bill which local authorities welcome and which is in time, efficient and effective, and I commend it to the House. It is about time that the 392 Opposition got on with the real business, and I would ask the House to accept the guillotine motion which is before it tonight.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 302, Noes 231.395
|Division No. 65]||[7 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Day, Stephen|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Alexander, Richard||Devlin, Tim|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Amess, David||Dicks, Terry|
|Ancram, Michael||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Arbuthnot, James||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Dover, Den|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Duncan, Alan|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Atkins, Robert||Dunn, Bob|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Dykes, Hugh|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Eggar, Tim|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Elletson, Harold|
|Baldry, Tony||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Bates, Michael||Evennett, David|
|Batiste, Spencer||Faber, David|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fabricant, Michael|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fishburn, Dudley|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Forman, Nigel|
|Body, Sir Richard||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Forth, Eric|
|Booth, Hartley||Fowler, Rf Hon Sir Norman|
|Boswell, Tim||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Freeman, Rt Hon Roger|
|Bowden, Andrew||French, Douglas|
|Bowis, John||Fry, Sir Peter|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Gale, Roger|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Brazier, Julian||Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan|
|Bright, Graham||Garnier, Edward|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Gill, Christopher|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Gorst, John|
|Burns, Simon||Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)|
|Burt, Alistair||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Butcher, John||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Butler, Peter||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Butterfill, John||Grylls, Sir Michael|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Hague, William|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Cash, William||Hannam, Sir John|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Churchill, Mr||Harris, David|
|Clappison, James||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hawkins, Nick|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Hayes, Jerry|
|Colvin, Michael||Heald, Oliver|
|Congdon, David||Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Conway, Derek||Hendry, Charles|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Hill, James (Southampton Test)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)|
|Couchman, James||Horam, John|
|Cran, James||Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)|
|Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Davies, Quentin (Stamford)||Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Jack, Michael||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Richards, Rod|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Riddick, Graham|
|Jessel, Toby||Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Robathan, Andrew|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Key, Robert||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Knapman, Roger||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Sackville, Tom|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Knox, Sir David||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Shersby, Michael|
|Legg, Barry||Sims, Roger|
|Leigh, Edward||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lennox-Boyd, Mark||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lidington, David||Soames, Nicholas|
|Lightbown, David||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Lord, Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Luff, Peter||Spink, Dr Robert|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Spring, Richard|
|MacKay, Andrew||Sproat, Iain|
|Maclean, David||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Steen, Anthony|
|Madel, Sir David||Stephen, Michael|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Stern, Michael|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Stewart, Allan|
|Malone, Gerald||Streeter, Gary|
|Mans, Keith||Sumberg, David|
|Marland, Paul||Sweeney, Walter|
|Marlow, Tony||Sykes, John|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Merchant, Piers||Thomason, Roy|
|Milligan, Stephen||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Mills, Iain||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)||Thurnharn, Peter|
|Moate, Sir Roger||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Tracey, Richard|
|Moss, Malcolm||Tredinnick, David|
|Needham, Richard||Trend, Michael|
|Nelson, Anthony||Trotter, Neville|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Viggers, Peter|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Waller, Gary|
|Norris, Steve||Ward, John|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Waterson, Nigel|
|Ottaway, Richard||Watts, John|
|Page, Richard||Wells, Bowen|
|Paice, James||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Patnick, Irvine||Whitney, Ray|
|Patten, Rt Hon John||Whittingdale, John|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Pawsey, James||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Willetts, David|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Wilshire, David|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Portillo, Rt Hon Michael||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)|
|Wolfson, Mark||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wood, Timothy||Mr. Sydney Chapman and|
|Young, Rt Hon Sir George||Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Fatchett, Derek|
|Ainger, Nick||Faulds, Andrew|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'tryNE)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Allen, Graham||Fisher, Mark|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Flynn, Paul|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Ashton, Joe||Fraser, John|
|Austin-Walker, John||Fyfe, Maria|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Galloway, George|
|Barnes, Harry||George, Bruce|
|Barron, Kevin||Gerrard, Neil|
|Battle, John||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Bayley, Hugh||Graham, Thomas|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Bell, Stuart||Grocott, Bruce|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Gunnell, John|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Hain, Peter|
|Benton, Joe||Hall, Mike|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hanson, David|
|Berry, Dr. Roger||Hardy, Peter|
|Betts, Clive||Henderson, Doug|
|Blair, Tony||Hendron, Dr Joe|
|Blunkett, David||Heppell, John|
|Boyes, Roland||Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Bradley, Keith||Hinchliffe, David|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hoey, Kate|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Home Robertson, John|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Hood, Jimmy|
|Burden, Richard||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Byers, Stephen||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Caborn, Richard||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Hoyle, Doug|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Cann, Jamie||Hutton, John|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Illsley, Eric|
|Clapham, Michael||Ingram, Adam|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)|
|Clelland, David||Jamieson, David|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Janner, Greville|
|Coffey, Ann||Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)|
|Cohen, Harry||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Connarty, Michael||Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Jowell, Tessa|
|Corbett, Robin||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Kennedy, Charles (Ross.C&S)|
|Corston, Ms Jean||Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)|
|Cryer, Bob||Khabra, Piara S.|
|Cummings, John||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||Leighton, Ron|
|Darling, Alistair||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Davidson, Ian||Lewis, Terry|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)||Litherland, Robert|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)||McAllion, John|
|Denham, John||McFall, John|
|Dewar, Donald||McKelvey, William|
|Dixon, Don||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Dobson, Frank||McLeish, Henry|
|Donohoe, Brian H.||McMaster, Gordon|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||McNamara, Kevin|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Madden, Max|
|Eastham, Ken||Maddock, Mrs Diana|
|Enright, Derek||Mahon, Alice|
|Etherington, Bill||Mandelson, Peter|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Marek, Dr John|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Martlew, Eric||Roche, Mrs. Barbara|
|Maxton, John||Rooker, Jeff|
|Meacher, Michael||Rooney, Terry|
|Michael, Alun||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Milburn, Alan||Sheerman, Barry|
|Miller, Andrew||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Short, Clare|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Simpson, Alan|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Skinner, Dennis|
|Morley, Elliot||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Spellar, John|
|Mudie, George||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Mullin, Chris||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Murphy, Paul||Stott, Roger|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Straw, Jack|
|O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|O'Brien, William (Normanton)||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|O'Hara, Edward||Tipping, Paddy|
|Olner, William||Vaz, Keith|
|O'Neill, Martin||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Wallace, James|
|Parry, Robert||Walley, Joan|
|Patchett, Terry||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Pendry, Tom||Wareing, Robert N|
|Pickthall, Colin||Watson, Mike|
|Pike, Peter L||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Pope, Greg||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Wilson, Brian|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)||Winnick, David|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Wise, Audrey|
|Prescott, John||Wortnington, Tony|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Wray, Jimmy|
|Purchase, Ken||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Raynsford, Nick||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Redmond, Martin||Mr. Alan Meale and|
|Reid, Dr John||Mr. Dennis Turner.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.