Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:22 pm on 2nd April 1980.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:22 pm, 2nd April 1980

It is entirely within the Government's power to give more time to the debates on the amendments. They could put down a motion to give us as much time as we need. I do not know why they want a timetable on the discussion of the Lords amendments. Why are they worried? The Lords amendments are not so numerous that we could not discuss them in a reasonable time. Many of them are Government amendments. The truth is that the Government want to curtail the discussion on those amendments. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West was right to seize upon this point at an early stage.

The Government have got themselves into difficulties and have had to resort to a timetable motion, but their action is unnecessary. This is another illustration of their contemptuous attitude towards Parliament. Originally, they told the local authorities not to worry and that they would be able to charge for school transport for any number of children and at any level of charge, but in the course of the past few months they have run into difficulties and they have had to make concessions one by one.

First, there was the concession of a fixed rate of charge. Then there was the concession over the number of children —the charge could be made only for a limited number. Then the Government lost the clause altogether in another place, thus putting the few local authorities that were rash enough to go ahead into a position whereby the provisions that they had put in their budgets were no longer legally possible. The Government are still worried that they will leave the local authorities in the lurch in relation to some other aspect of the Bill. Therefore, they have had to compress the proceedings and rush through the Royal Assent tomorrow. They have even put a motion on the Order Paper to make sure that we sit around tomorrow waiting for Royal Assent. If there is any delay, we shall still be here at 7 pm tomorrow debating second, third and fourth Adjournments while the Lords discuss any amendments that we may make to their amendments. The Government are in a panic.

The Government have told local authorities "Do not worry, we can fix Parliament." The Secretary of State has told them that they need not wait to see whether the House of Commons or the House of Lords approves. They have told them that they have those bodies in the palms of their hands. The Government have said that they need only put the Bill before hon. Members for it to be carried. They have told local authorities to include those provisions in their budgets and that that will be all right. What has happened? They have lost. They have had to make concessions. Hon. Members from all parties object to the provisions. The Government have been defeated in another place on a massive scale.

Have the Government learnt the lesson that decisions are supposed to be made in Parliament? They have no right to tell local authorities not to worry about Parliament because they, the Government, are running the show. They have no right to tell them what to put in their budgets or to assure them that they will sort out any consequent problems. Both Houses of Parliament have effectively rejected that approach. Any local authority that has been taken in by the Government has had its fingers badly burnt.

The timetable motion is another illustration of the Government's desire to push Parliament aside and to run government by ministerial dictation from Whitehall. That is not the way that we are supposed to run the country. That is not the way to invite local authorities to play a part in the government of Britain. I ask hon. Members to stand up for the principles of parliamentary democracy.