Limitation of Rating Powers

Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 7th July 1982.

Alert me about debates like this

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 1, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Somerset North

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 4, 7, 26, 28 and 30.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

I realise that Members who have riot closely followed the proceedings on the Bill may have been somewhat surprised to see it on its return from another place with these amendments, which represent a substantial addition to the Bill. Part I is now expanded to include additional clauses. I say those who have not closely followed the proceedings, because no hon. Member who served on the Committee will be surprised. In fact, the amendments are a direct response to the requests that I received in Committee, partly from the Opposition. Therefore, I am pleased to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendments in the knowledge that Opposition Members will welcome them.

Concern was expressed in Committee, by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) among others, about the uncertainty following the decision of their Lordships to disqualify the GLC precept on rates and the powers of authorities in that respect. In Committee, Opposition Members and others said that the matter needed to be cleared up. In Committee, on 25 March, I said: The Government believe that action is necessary to make further statutory provision to clarify the position of rating and precepting authorities, and the ratepayers, especially where a precept or rate is found to be unlawful. The provisions will deal with the powers and duties of ratting authorities to reduce a rate, to make refunds to rate payers, to recover sums paid to precepting authorities, and to deal with the resultant costs to rating authorities.We intend to table amendments to that effect on Report—in the House of Commons if possible, otherwise in another place. Members of the Committee will appreciate that I cannot be more specific about the technical details now as this is a complex area of rating law. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), anxious as always, to be helpful and to give us the benefit of his wide experience and advice said: I give the Minister some advice for nothing. If he has any sense—that is a large assumption—"— that must have been an unfortunate aside— he will not table the amendments on Report but will give his advisers a little more time and will table them in another place."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 25 March 1982; c. 932–34.] We are always anxious to listen to advice, from whatever quarter it comes. We took the right hon. Gentleman's advice. I hope that he feels that we have discharged the undertaking that I gave in Committee. The amendments will help to fill a perhaps unanticipated gap in rating law. In that respect I think that they will prove helpful.

I shall give a brief outline of the new provisions, which I hope are reasonably self-explanatory. Originally they deal with the GLC problem. We have also taken the opportunity to sort out the problems that affect ratepayers in Bedfordshire through the precept that will become unlawful.

The various items dealt with the power of rating and precepting authorities to substitute a new precept or rate whether the previous one was valid or invalid. In other words, it is open to an authority to reduce its rate at a subsequent stage of the year. The Bill makes it clear that any substituted rate or precept must not be higher than the previous one. That must be so, because we already have a ban in the Bill on supplementary precepts and rates. There would be no point in allowing a substituted rate to be higher, because that would be a device to impose a supplementary rate by another route.

On the technical question of the correct forum in which to challenge a precept or rate, the High Court will deal with challenges to precepts or rates with regard to illegality and other matters referred to in the Bill. The High Court will not deal with issues of normal rateable challenge regarding hereditaments and individual circumstances.

I hope that the provisions are as I confirmed in Committee that they would be and that the House will feel that the undertaking that I gave on 25 March has been discharged.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

It is a travesty for the Minister to suggest that the amendments which emanate from another place are in any way in response to the confusion he caused to himself, the Government and the Committee, particularly with regard to Bedfordshire.

What astonishes me is that the amendments are Lords amendments. There is a great deal of controversy about the existence and future of the other place. Two arguments must be answered in any discussion about the future of the other place. First, if the other place did not exist, who would do the clearing up and provide the minor amendments to put right what the House has no time to do? That is a valid reason for its existence. The second valid reason for the existence of the other place is that it is the defender of the constitution. That is the purpose of the House of Lords. Part of the British constitution, unwritten though it may be, is that if something is not illegal, it is legal if at the time it is done it is not illegal. Any authority, any council and any individual has that right. What the amendments do, particularly with regard to one county council, is to render illegal that which a council legally did at the time that it did it, and did so on legal advice of the highest authority. That is a serious matter for the other place to consider. One would have expected that their Lordships of all people would have resisted pressure from any Government—Labour or Conservative—to try to change the constitution by the introduction of unashamedly retrospective legislation. They knew it was retrospective legislation because Lord Hill of Luton, in his opening words in the debate on the Bill, said: If I may help to bring the discussion down to earth, at Second Reading I urged upon the Minister that he should make absolutely clear whether the relevant clauses in this matter were retrospective or not. As your Lordships would expect, he has carried out that undertaking to the full. This is clearly, like it or not, retrospective."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 May 1982; Vol. 430, c.49.] Those were the words of Lord Hill of Luton, who could hardly be accused of ever having been a member of the Opposition. That was his opinion on whether the series of clauses are retrospective. One need not go to the other place for such a quotation because one can quote the Minister himself. In Committee he agreed that this was retrospective legislation. Referring to Bedfordshire, he said: I should like to confirm … the legal advice that I have received. The Bill will invalidate retrospectively supplementary rates or precepts made in respect of 1982–83. That will include those made before 1 April. Therefore, Bedfordshire county council's supplementary precept will fall on Royal Assent."— [Official Report, Standing Committee D, 25 March 1982; c. 932.] I shall have more to say about the Minister's vacillations with regard to whether Bedfordshire's actions were legal or illegal, but there can be no doubt that the clauses are retrospective and therefore in breach of our unwritten constitution.

When I first came to the House—there was a Labour Government at the time—the Lords used their con-stitutional powers against the Bill affecting Burmah Oil. They did so precisely on the grounds that they were defenders of the constitution and that the Government were trying to act retrospectively. What were they doing during the Committee stage of the Bill that they did not likewise reject Government attempts to introduce retrospective legislation? It is retrospective legislation which affects one council—Bedfordshire county council—which offended the Government and, in particular, offended the Minister.

The position in Bedfordshire is somewhat complex. The House should be aware of some of the background. The county council has 83 members of whom 39 are Conservative, two Independent, who normally vote with the Conservatives, 34 Labour and eight Liberal. The chairman of the council is a Conservative. It is obvious that if the Labour and Liberal groups combine they have a majority on the council.

At the council's budget meeting on 25 February, two rate precept options were put before it. One was proposed by the Labour and Liberals groups, the other by the Conservative group. Throughout the debate it appeared that the former would be passed. However, in the final speech the Conservative leader declared that he would encourage legal action should the Labour/Liberal proposals be passed. One Labour member stated that he would not vote under such duress and left the chamber. As a result, the Conservative proposal was passed. Immediately after the meeting, notice was given to the chairman of the requisition of a special meeting by members of the Labour group. The precepts were issued to the four district councils. Two acted on the precept and set their rate; the other two, in the light of the fact that a special meeting of the county council had been requisitioned, deferred their budget meeting.

The special meeting was held on 9 March, which was the last day on which precepts could be issued to the district councils. The advice received from counsel by the authority was that it would not be possible to rescind the rate precept already agreed but that a supplementary precept could be agreed, and that it was unlikely to fall foul of clause 2 of the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill, as drafted. The Bill was then in Committee and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and I were members of the Committee. On 9 March, a supplementary precept was passed restoring, to all intents and purposes, the original intention of the Labour and Liberal groups at the original budget meeting. The supplementary precepts were immediately issued to the district councils.

The matter was then brought to the attention of the Government and, according to a report in The Guardian, the Minister referred to it in a speech at a Conservative Party local government conference the following weekend. He said: I am satisfied that our legislation"— the legislation as then drafted— will meet the situation. One can forgive a Minister who is carried away by euphoria at a gathering of his faithful for making such statements.

However, the right hon. Gentleman later had time to pause and consider what he had said, because two sessions of the Committee were spent discussing the situation in Bedfordshire. There was a long debate on Tuesday 16 March when the right hon. Gentleman emphasised that nothing unlawful had been done by the county council in levying a supplementary rate. He admitted that such a situation had not been envisaged when the Bill was drafted.

4.30 pm

On Thursday 25 March the Minister announced to the Committee that as a result of the GLC-Bromley decision, amendments would be introduced to clarify the positions of rating and precepting authorities and of ratepayers, particularly in cases where a precept or rate was found to be unlawful. I took it to mean that the right hon. Gentleman was referring to precepts and rates that were found by a court to be unlawful and not to those judged by a Minister to be unlawful.

Referring to Bedfordshire, the right hon. Gentleman said: I should like to confirm … the legal advice that I have received. The Bill will invalidate retrospectively supplementary rates or precepts made in respect of 1982–83. That will include those made before 1 April. Therefore, Bedfordshire county council's supplementary precept will fall on Royal Assent."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 25 March 1982; c. 932.] Every Opposition Member argued that that was arrant nonsense and that the Bill as drafted would not have that result. The Minister should have said something today to the hon. Members who served on the Committee and he should have admitted that he was wrong and we were right. Another place had to introduce an amendment specific to Bedfordshire. One part of the amendment involves only Bedfordshire, because no other county council has acted in the same way.

I do not wish to raise the spectre of hybridity, but it is dangerous when general legislation has the malicious intent of hitting one county council which has fallen foul of the Minister's views and ideas.

The composition of the county council has changed and, as a result of the furore over its precepts, the council is sitting today to consider a revised budget—basically the Conservative budget. The Government repeated time and again that the Bill as drafted covered the Bedfordshire situation, but it did not. The Government amendments in Committee in another place go far beyond the limited amendments that were promised to us.

We are particularly concerned about new schedule A. I agree that paragraphs 3 and 4 fulfil commitments made by the Minister in the House and in Committee, but paragraph 1 represents a major change in the original Bill and paragraph 1(a)(i) is specifically designed to invalidate the Bedfordshire supplementary precept. That represents a complete admission by the Government that the oft-repeated assertion that the original Bill would make the precept invalid was at least open to serious doubt.

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , Bedfordshire South

The right hon. Gentleman is castigating people for not thinking carefully about what the law was, but does he not agree that between 25 February and 9 March the members of the county council should have thought long and hard about the consequences of a supplementary precept? It was made crystal clear to them that they could not wipe out what they had done on 25 February and could only top up the rate. Should they not have thought carefully about that before colliding with the Bill?

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

The members of the county council thought long and hard and not only discussed the matter with their chief executive and other officers, but sought an opinion from learned counsel on whether the Bill, which even now is not an Act, would render what they were doing unlawful. Their officers and learned counsel told them that the Bill would not have that effect. It is not true to suggest that the county council plunged headlong into attempting to thwart the Government. Councillors were in a desperate situation because of the complexity of the composition of the council and because of the Bill. They wanted to issue a supplementary precept to do what they, as democratically elected councillors, were elected to do. That was their offence.

The new schedule states that if a precepting authority passed a supplementary rate before 1 April 1982 the money so raised shall be repaid to the ratepayers or authorities concerned on demand. Whatever the Minister says, that is a significant change in the Bill. We are not discussing a tidying-up amendment.

No court is involved and we are not dealing with the sort of difficulties that arose in the GLC case. No court has intervened in the Bedfordshire case. The Government alone are changing the law retrospectively to suit their own ends. The schedule makes retrospectively unlawful an act by a single local authority which the Government admit was lawful when it was done and now tacitly admit would not necessarily have been made unlawful under the original draft of the Bill, which was all that was available when the poor council was discussing the matter. The Government also admit that they had never envisaged that such a situation could come about and that the original Bill was not designed to invalidate such action.

The vast series of amendments from another place are designed to get the Minister and the Government out of another hole which they dug for themselves.

It may seem that I have discussed the matter in a dry, constitutional, legalistic way. I want the House to realise the effects of the Government's actions on the people of Bedfordshire. I hope that the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) will put the point of view of Bedfordshire and particularly of the county council.

Cuts in services were proposed at a meeting on 17 June and submitted to the full county council, which is meeting at this moment, to consider how on earth it can fit its budget into the straitjacket that the Government have imposed on the council. It is right that the House should be told some of the results of the Bedforshire cuts, which arise almost directly from the Government's actions.

Staff reductions are proposed in all types of schools, with 240 teaching posts, 35 non-teaching posts and 10 administrative posts to go by not filling vacancies, termination of temporary contracts and voluntary early retirement. The council is trying to save £1,390,000 in that way. The price of school milk will have to rise and the price of standard meals will increase from 65p to 70p.

In higher and further education there will be no new discretionary awards, and about 700 young people in the county will not be able to claim grants. That will save another £350,000. No aid will be given to summer schools and there will be no letting of schools at weekends. There will be extra Christmas holidays for the children—the schools will be shut down completely during Christmas week, with holidays extended by one week, to be made up after Easter—to save fuel. There are also to be reductions in the maintenance of school grounds. I could go on and on about education alone.

Social services suffer even more. Carlton community home is to be closed and no alternative provided. There will be a reduction in the budget for community developments. The cost of meals on wheels is to increase from 45 pence to 55 pence, as are meals at centres and luncheon clubs. Tomlinson House residential nursery in Luton is to be closed to save £38,000.

Those are the effects of the Government's actions. This is not simply a matter of constitutional legalistic argument. The council is unwillingly doing severe damage to the people of Bedfordshire. It well knew at the time that it issued the supplementary rate that that money was needed to keep basic services going. That is the result of the introduction of this retrospective amendment to the law by the other place.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton West

The right hon. Gentleman has not finished his catalogue of the effects on the ratepayers of Bedfordshire. He has omitted to mention—perhaps I am pre-empting him—what would have been the effects on employment in the area if the enormous rate rise proposed by the Labour and Liberal Parties in Bedfordshire had come about. Would he care to give the House the number of people who would become unemployed, for example, in Vauxhall Motors as a result of such a rate rise? As he knows, the company is a major employer in the south of the county. What effect would such a rise have had on Electrolux Ltd. in my constituency? What effects would the rate rise proposed by the Liberal and Labour Parties have had on employment, particularly in the south of the county?

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

I cannot give the House such figures. The hon. Gentleman has quite rightly paraded several companies from his constituency before the House. However, there is always a great deal of exaggeration by the Conservative Party of the effects of rate increases on industry. Few jobs, if any, would be affected by the supplementary rate increase. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about the effects of such increases on industry, let him consider the effect of increased telephone, gas and electricity charges. They have a far more damaging effect upon employment than do rate increases.

I wish now to leave the subject of Bedfordshire, but I hope that the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South will discuss what has happened to Bedfordshire county council.

Lords amendment No. 3 will allow a future incoming council to reduce the rates. It will not allow an incoming council to increase the rates after an election. It is a one-way street. If there is a change of control on the council after the May elections and a Conservative council is elected, that council will have the power to reduce a rate imposed by its Labour or Conservative predecessor, but it cannot increase it. Where the democratic choice has been made by the electorate for an increase in services, and a Labour administration replaces a Conservative administration pledged to carry out those improvements, it is forbidden to do so by the general tenor of the Bill.

The continual ratchet effect is that rates can go down but, no matter what democratic decision is made in the elections, the newly elected council is powerless to carry out those improvements. That is another effect of this amendment. It cannot be said that this is merely a technical tidying up of something that has been done in Committee or in the House. A major change in the law has been effected in the other place.

4.45 pm

Lords amendment No. 4 is very puzzling. It refers continually—perhaps the Minister will explain why later—to "judicial review". I take it that that means the High Court, because that is the obvious court to deal with this matter. If the Government mean the High Court, I suggest that they say that and not "judicial review". Those words are not normally put in a statute. I wonder what the Government have up their sleeve in the use of the words "judicial review" rather than the more traditional words "High Court". However, that is a minor matter with regard to this amendment.

Subsection (2) of new clause B gives the grounds upon which the validity of a rate can be questioned by means of judicial review. They are:

  1. "(a) that any part of it was made for financing expenditure which the rating authority could not lawfully incur;
  2. (b) that it was made by reference to a precept which was wholly or partly invalid; or
  3. (c) any other ground not based on facts relating to a particular hereditament or to the inclusion or exclusion of any particular person in or from the rate."
Those are wide powers indeed.

The effect seems to be that if there is a challenge to the High Court on the illegality of a part of the rate, no matter how minor or technical, if the High Court finds that there is a technical error or illegality, the whole rate has to be called in and quashed and a new precept issued. That would incur, for no reason at all, enormous expense by the authorities concerned. I am not talking about a major decision as to illegality, such as the London Transport issue, when a council was forbidden by the High Court to do what it was elected to do. However, there can often be a technical infringement which the court considered was illegal.

As I read the clause, if that arises the whole rate has to be quashed. Ratepayers cannot be credited in the following year for something taken out of the rate. Nothing like that can be done. The rate that is quashed by the court must be withdrawn and another precept issued to the district council. Who will pay for all that? Who, incidentally, will pay for that in Bedfordshire now? It is the district councils that bear the burden of the collection of the rates, not the county councils. They have not only the burden of dealing with the ratepayer who believes that the money is going to the district not the county council but the physical burden of paying for it all. They are not reimbursed for that now by the county council because of Government policy.

Lords amendment No. 4 is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I hope that the Minister will explain, first, why he uses the words "judicial review" rather than "High Court", and, secondly, why he is taking such wide powers to deal with what is already well dealt with. The current law can deal with an infringement or illegality without the whole of the rate being quashed under this sledgehammer of an amendment. Their Lordships have badly misdirected themselves. They should be the defenders of the constitution in Britain. They should be the authority that says to any Government of any political persuasion that it cannot retrospectively make illegal that which was legal at the time it was done. That is clearly the position with regard to Bedfordshire. By using the other place of all places, the Government have prostituted themselves by conniving at the introduction of retrospective legislation. The one raison d'etre of the other place is to prevent that sort of process.

I am sure that all my hon. Friends and members of the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties will vote against these Lords amendments, which are alien to the Bill that left the House.

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , Bedfordshire South

I welcome the chance to say a few more words about Bedfordshire. The right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) said that a great chunk of the amendment relates to what has happened in Bedfordshire. I was not among those who considered the Bill in Committee, and apart from a short speech on Report this is my only further opportunity to contribute to debates on the Bill.

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, Bedfordshire county council is today considering budget reductions and alterations in spending. It is speculative to talk about what will be decided unless we rig up a hot line from here to the county hall. Various options are before the county council. I gather that some amendments were passed this morning on nursery units and their funding next year. We are in some difficulty because our debates happen to have coincided.

The right hon. Member for Widnes rightly said that there is no overall political control in Bedfordshire. The fate of the Conservative Party and that of the Labour Party on Bedfordshire county council depends on which way the Liberals vote and on whether all the Liberals are present to vote. When an attempt was made in July 1981 to put through a supplementary rate, not all the Liberals were present.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether all the Conservative and Labour members of the county council were present?

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , Bedfordshire South

I know that all the Conservative members were present. I am pretty sure that all the Labour members were present too. I know that a Liberal member was absent. However, the Liberals have always wanted power. They have wanted to march towards the sound of gunfire and they have wanted the red meat of politics. All that is in their hands on Bedfordshire county council. If they decide to vote with the Conservatives or the Labour members, issues will be decided in that way.

Bedfordshire is not a low-rated county. It is not noted for low spending. Indeed, there has been great controversy about rating and spending in the county. The last occasion on which there was a whopping increase in the rates bill was in 1974 at the time of the reorganisation of local government. There was a tremendous campaign against the heavy rates that were then being levied. The Liberal Party, true to form, was up to its neck in the campaign against the high rates that were being imposed on both commercial and domestic ratepayers All the county councillors knew that 25 February was rate-fixing day. We could argue all day and all night about why the parties were not at their full strength when the vote was taken, but I do not think that it would he an advantageous discussion. However, it was clear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had already announced that supplementary rates would be outlawed. Secondly, it was clear that the rate that had been fixed would not be washed out and replaced with another one and that there would have to be a supplementary rate if it were decided to increase expenditure.

County councillors were reminded of those facts between 25 February and 9 March. The county council was levying a supplementary rate not for that year but for 1982–83. Two district authorities instantly levied the precept following the meeting of 25 February. That was their legal duty. They would not have been carrying out their duty if they had delayed or found excuses for not levying it. They were required to levy the rate there and then and that is what they did.

Those who wanted a higher rate could get it only by introducing a supplementary rate precept. I agree that we do not want to spend all day and all night talking Bedfordshire's expenditure, but on education its per capita spending is 16 per cent. above the national average in England and Wales and its spending on social services is 10 per cent. above the average. If the right hon. Member for Widnes were on the Government Bench as a member of a Labour Government, he would not criticise Bedfordshire for low spending. There has been discussion of an education block grant. If we adopted that system, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would not criticise the county council for being a low spender on education. Low spending is not a problem in Bedfordshire. The consequences of high spending that fall on commercial and domestic ratepayers lies at the heart of the matter.

For historical reasons Bedfordshire is a highly rated county. One reason is that over the years it has been required to accept a large inflow of population from London. The county's population has rocketed. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State approved the structure plan for low growth for the next 10 to 15 years.

The rapid growth in the population and statutory requirements in respect of schools and social services has led to the county being highly rated. The electors did not like the supplementary rate demand which they received following the decision of 9 March.

In South Bedfordshire one-third of the district council was standing for election. The Conservatives considered it to be their duty to make the supplementary rate the major issue. It was for the electorate to decide whether they approved or disapproved of it, and they showed massive disapproval. In virtually all seats Conservative candidates received over 50 per cent. of the votes cast. There are those who say that that has changed and that opinion has shifted. However, we have fresh evidence. In a district council by-election last week the Conservatives again gained a seat from the Liberals and again took over 50 per cent. of the vote. The blunt and inescapable truth is that in Bedfordshire high rates deter businesses and commercial institutions from coming into the county. High rates are mightily unpopular with the electorate.

I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) is in his place. He will recall that when he was Minister of State, Department of Industry, in the previous Labour Government, he received me courteously when I asked to speak to him about the crisis facing Chrysler Trucks in Dunstable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) has said, many firms in the area have protested strongly about high rates, and Chrysler Trucks was one of them. Whatever one says about spending and about the system—there is a need to change it—Bedfordshire's spending on education, social services and other items has shot ahead of that of other county councils. That is why it has been penalised under the legislation that my right hon. Friend has introduced.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks Mr Kenneth Marks , Manchester, Gorton

Has the hon. Gentleman made any effort to ascertain from Vauxhall and other industrial ratepayers the proportion of their turnover that is represented by rates? In my area it amounts to less than 1 per cent.

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , Bedfordshire South

Vauxhall and other companies have made it their business to tell Bedfordshire Members and the county council that large rate increases are having a detrimental effect on them. They do not like them and they strongly oppose them. They have every right to do so. It is not true to suggest that for years Bedfordshire had a low level of rating and that it has suddenly shot up. The county has suffered high rates for years. When the supplementary rate was announced it made firms even more anxious about the employment base and their general future.

I welcome what the Government have done in the Bill. We could go on arguing in Bedfordshire ad infinitum about the level of spending and rating. However, the fact cannot be escaped that once the decision was taken on 25 February to levy the general rate county councillors knew that if they wished to top it up they would collide with the Bill and the Government. They knew also that if they proposed the supplementary rate their action would have a deleterious affect on business and ratepayers.

The proof of the pudding lies in what electors in south Bedfordshire have said since 9 March, in their voting in the district council elections. They have given a decisive thumbs down to high rates. Bedfordshire wants a reasonable level of services and I have fought for that. It wants a reasonable level of Government grant to sustain those services and I have fought for that too. It wants a reasonable level of rates to be levied on the domestic and commercial ratepayer. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for protecting us.

5 pm

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

The right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) put up a formidable defence of local government. It was warranted, because of the insidious nature of the Lords amendments. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) told us in Committee that we would hear much more about Bedfordshire, and he was not wrong. We shall continue to hear a great deal more about Bedfordshire, because, as the right hon. Member for Widnes said, the Bill may prove to be hybrid. I hope that Bedfordshire county council will take advice and be prepared to challenge the provisions in the courts if necessary.

I listened to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) with care and I took exception to one or two of his remarks. The amendments have nothing to do with a by-election last week which the Liberals may have lost. They have nothing to do with one Liberal being absent from a meeting of the council when it was deciding its rates precept. The amendments have to do with the way in which we run local government. They go to the heart of local government. In line with much other legislation in the last three years, the Bill represents yet another attempt to take power and control away from the people elected to take decisions locally.

That was the issue which concerned us in Committee and which worries us today. Surely the electors of Bedfordshire, who elected a majority of Liberal and Labour members to the council, had a right to elect on the basis of a mandate. The councillors were elected to do a job and to spend money in certain ways. When a by-election occurs at Hillhead, Coatbridge and Airdrie or Crosby, hon. Members do not say that the result proves that everything that the Government have done is wrong and that it must be undone and made illegal. We are today being asked to agree an incredible principle.

Ministers would have many sleepless nights if an incoming Government had the right to make illegal everything done by the previous Government. That would be a curious principle and hon. Members from all parts of the House would fight against it. Government Members should not be surprised if councillors take exception when that is done to them. Councils throughout the country are anxious about the impact that the legislation could have on their rights to take decisions.

We have been told about the impact of the legislation on local employment in a highly rated area such as Bedfordshire. I understand hon. Members' anxieties. All hon. Members are interested in obtaining value for money for ratepayers. That was the spirit of the Bill originally. Everybody, regardless of political allegiance, applauded the principle of obtaining value for money for ratepayers.

Councillors in places such as Bedfordshire were elected because they said that they wanted to retain services, not reduce them. They talked about expanding some services. No one should be surprised that when elected they did what they said they would do. People are cynical about politicians because, they say, they rarely keep their promises. Here is an example of councillors keeping their promises, yet they are being told that they acted illegally.

The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South talked about employment. It comes hard to those of us who have had to suffer the consequences of massive unemployment caused by Government policies to listen to Government Members who shed crocodile tears about the impact of increased rates on employment. About 1½ million people are in the dole queue, in addition to those who were already there in 1979. That is mainly a direct result of Government policies.

In Liverpool, 10,000 trees have been planted by the Government in the last year. They have planted 10,000 trees for the 10,000 people who have become unemployed in the last 12 months. That is the type of crude monetarism to which so many Government Members subscribe. It is hard to listen to Tory Members talking about unemployment in a bland and smug way as if they have discovered the philosopher's stone and have a monopoly of concern for the unemployed.

I was amazed at the bland way in which the Minister introduced the debate. I was amazed at the way in which he distorted what took place in Committee. The right hon. Member for Widnes spelt out how, at a meeting with Conservative councillors, the Minister made a mistake and over-committed himself on how he would deal with the nasty Liberals and Socialists in Bedfordshire. He then had to try to undo the damage done in Committee. That is how the confusion arose.

The Minister told the Committee that there would be no difference, that the provision was unambiguous and that everything would be all right. Then he decided that the provision was ambiguous, and he has had to introduce special legislation to cover his tracks. Because of one mistake by one man, we are putting cover-up legislation on the statute book. That is a new principle in Government. It is a farce.

Since the Government were elected, the Secretary of State for the Environment has often talked about giving further and greater powers to local government. He has talked about the power to have greater control over one's destiny. His words have proved to be a masquerade. The urban development corporations take away power from local councils. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act takes powers away from local councils. The Housing Act takes away the basic power to decide how to dispose of local housing stock. This Bill is another example of the Government's taking power away from local authorities.

The Government are rewriting the law, backdating punitive measures and throwing councils into turmoil. Let us consider what will be the impact on the many decent people serving on local councils throughout the country. Will they have to look over their shoulders all the time and wonder whether the Secretary of State will make illegal something that they did four or five years ago? Perhaps they decided to spend more money on social services, housing, education or welfare. Will the Secretary of State make that illegal, prosecute them and perhaps surcharge them? That is the principle enshrined in the Lords amendments. Many local councillors do a great service to the community. It is monstrous that an additional burden and worry should be placed on their shoulders.

I urge hon. Members to do what the right hon. Member for Widnes suggested. Wherever they sit in the House, they should go into the Lobby and vote against the amendments if they are concerned about the rights and freedoms of local authorities. The issue involves not only Bedfordshire county council but every council in the country. If hon. Members are interested in local democracy and want local authorities to have more control, not less, they should vote against the amendments.

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I apologise for not being here to listen to the Minister, but I was engaged outside the House on local government matters. I was amazed to arrive and find my right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) already on his feet. I expected the Minister to take longer to explain the amendment.

I arrived in time to listen to my right hon. Friend. Because I did not hear the Minister's speech, I was somewhat amazed by some of the points that my right hon. Friend made. It then dawned on me that he was doing so because of the brevity of the Minister's speech on amendments which are crucial to local government. I understand that the Minister took only seven minutes to explain devastating amendments that mean everything to local government. I am sad to have missed those seven minutes, but the House is entitled to more than seven minutes.

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Greenwich Woolwich East

Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the fact that the Minister is returning the compliment by missing his speech?

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have missed less than the Minister is about to miss. Had he stayed, he might have learnt a little. We may even have convinced him to move from his political bias and to vote against the amendment.

The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) missed the main point. It matters not whether a Liberal, a Socialist or a Tory missed a meeting. The crucial fact is that the legislation applies equally to either a Labour or a Conservative Secretary of State. The important point is not who missed a meeting, but that people who take a decision that at the time is lawful may suddenly discover that it is unlawful, irrespective of the party to which they belong.

Councillors in South Bedfordshire did what it is normal for councillors to do. Many Labour Members—probably more than Conservative Members—have served on local authorities. The councillors in South Bedfordshire asked their officers for the best legal opinion on what they were doing. The chief executive sent a letter to all Bedfordshire county councillors on 4 March. It contained the following advice: It is doubtful whether the present terms"— that is a classic phrase as conditions have changed even since the letter was written— of clause 2 (which deals with precepts) would, if passed into law, achieve the result intended by the Government. It is considered more likely that a court would hold that it was not retrospective in its effect, so as to overturn things already done which were lawful at the time. That is lawyers' language, but one does not have to be a BSc to work it out. A legally trained man said that, no matter what the Government did, they would not overturn what was being done legally at the time. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South missed that, and it is a crucial omission.

The amendments affect not only Bedfordshire. It would be sad enough if they did. They affect the whole of local government. Like many Opposition Members, I spent much time in Committee. I thought from the outset that the Bill was bad, but even I did not think that it could be made any worse when it went to the other place. Unfortunately, I was wrong. They have climbed Everest. They have made the Bill, which was bad when it started, even worse. I did not believe that they had it in them.

The Government gave several assurances that we accepted in good faith. Since then, lo and behold, and with the best of intentions, the Government, via the Minister and the other place, have dug the pit even deeper. They have successfully made a nonsense of a Bill into an even bigger nonsense.

5.15 pm

As the hon. Member for Liverpool. Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) said, councillors give much time and effort to their duties. They can only play by the rules in effect at the time. Even now, the rules have not changed. There may be many councillors in committees trying to take a decision which is lawful now, but which may suddenly become unlawful if the Bill, as amended, is enacted.

What kind of nonsense is that? It is the nonsense of making legislation retrospective and telling people, who have honestly deliberated and taken a decision, that, although they were acting legally when they took the decision, it is now unlawful. That may be nine months, 18 months or two years later. It is the result of a politically biased Government.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

How far can the retrospection go back?

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Perhaps the Government will tell us. Retrospection may apply as far back as 1066. Nobody knows. The mind boggles. That type of nonsense does not come well from legislators.

It is worth examining what has happened. In Committee we were told that supplementary rates were terrible. That was in spite of the fact that the Government, in support of their contention, could count on one hand with three fingers missing those who applied the supplementary rate. We were told that supplementary rates were expensive, against ratepayers' interests, and terrible in every way, even though they had been used only rarely. To overcome that problem, the Government use a massive sledgehammer to crack a tiny nut.

What do we have in its place? We are told that no matter who are in power—the Conservatives, the Labour Party, the Liberals, the Social Democrats, or the last two together—they can take only one course of action, despite the election promises that they might have made before being democratically elected—to reduce the rate.

I am a super-optimist. A Conservative administration may want to increase the rates, but they will not be allowed to do so. We are embodying in law a provision that will not allow any administration, irrespective of election promises, to increase rates. They will be allowed to substitute a rate, but only if that rate is lower. If that is not political bias, I do not know what it is.

The Government were elected on a manifesto saying that they would return to local government the democracy that a Socialist Government had taken away. That now turns out to be a false premise, because since then they have passed all manner of legislation to make it impossible to fulfil that pledge.

The Committee report is very thick. The Government cannot retract what they have said, because it is in print. They have said that they are concerned about costs in local government. As the hon. Member for Edge Hill and my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) have said, we are all interested in getting value for money, but the amendment will not achieve that. If local authorities have power only to reduce the rates, it follows as night follows day that if they do so the ratepayer is entitled to reimbursement. The amendment covers that, but in an utterly ridiculous way. Unless the Government tell us otherwise, it is clear that the reduction will be passed on to the ratepayers. It is important briefly to examine this aspect.

According to Lords amendment No. 3, if an authority exercises the only right that it has—that of reducing the rates—those who have paid the higher rates are entitled to a rebate on demand. Let us consider that from the point of view not of the Government, who have no experience in these matters, but of those who have served in local government and have more experience. The amendment allows the authority to reduce the rates and to pay a rebate on demand. What does that mean? Does it mean that if I have paid my rates and a Conservative council is then elected and exercises its only right under the Bill and reduced the rates, I am entitled to a rebate on demand? Do I have to apply as soon as the rate is reduced or can I be reimbursed three, six, nine or 18 months later? When does my right to reimbursement run out? The Bill does not make this clear. Perhaps the Minister will tell us.

Let us now consider the categories of people entitled to reimbursement. Here the mind boggles.

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

The Minister has joined us. He is boggled, too, and so he should be. In fact, I think that he has been boggled since the beginning of the Committee stage. Nevertheless, he is now with us and that is something to be proud of.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the ratepayer has six months in which to claim reimbursement. Clearly, there are inherent problems. Due to the Government's policies, many people now pay their rates monthly. They will be entitled to the difference between the amount that they have paid and the reduced rate declared by the incoming authority. Working out the sums involved and repaying them will involve enormous problems. Others who have paid only part of the rate will also be entitled to reimbursement. That, too, will create problems. People who have moved out of the area will be entitled to reimbursement on the rates that they paid when they lived in the area. Here the mind really boggles. They may have moved to Timbuctoo, Western Austrialia, South Africa or anywhere in the United Kingdom, but they will still be entitled to reimbursement.

Many people pay their rates with their weekly rent. They, too, will be entitled to reimbursement. Let us assume that an area containing an estate of 30,000 council tenants passes from Labour to Conservative control six months after the beginning of the financial year. If the incoming council exercises its only option and reduces the rates, all those tenants must be reimbursed. As I understand it, the tenants can demand reimbursement, but, provided that there is no claim, the council may deal with it as a credit. Perhaps the Minister will clear that up. Can the tenants claim that money, or has the authority the right to credit them with it? That is crucial, because the administrative cost of giving rebates to 30,000 tenants will be enormous.

If an authority reduces the rates according to the Government's amendment, will the Government pay the administrative costs of reimbursement? Of course not. They were challenged on this in another place. We have vacant provisions which say nothing about who is to pay for them. Perhaps the Minister will deal with this matter.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Minister of State (Department of Environment) (Local Government)

Clearly it would not be right for the Government to pay for the consequences of a decision taken by a council. If a council decides to substitute a lower rate and to repay rates previously extracted from ratepayers which it regards as unjustified, clearly the council must bear the cost of implementing that decision because the decision will have been taken not by the Government but by the council.

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

It is usual to reply that one is grateful for the Minister's intervention, but I am afraid that I cannot carry on that tradition. That was the most ungrateful intervention that I have ever heard. It did not explain anything. I asked the Minister a precise question. If a local authority's only option is to reduce the rates, will the Minister write it into the Bill that, if it exercises that option, the cost of so doing will be reimbursed by the Government?

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

If the Minister does not agree to do that, he will effectively take away the one option open to local authorities, because, fortunately, people in local government have a great deal more sense than the Minister. No council in its senses will reduce the rates when the administrative cost of doing so is greater than the supplementary rate that the legislation is designed to stop. If there is a bigger nonsense than that, I have yet to hear it. I shall probably hear it in the winding-up speech from the Government, because so far nobody has attempted to answer any of our questions.

It is no wonder that people in local government are worried. They have a great deal to be worried about, because if nonsense legislation of this kind is allowed to pass they will not know from one day to the next where they stand or what to do. The Bill is nonsense and the amendment makes it worse. I hope that all sensible right hon. and hon. Members will do the right thing today and vote against the amendment.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton West 5:30 pm, 7th July 1982

I shall not detain the House for many minutes, but as a Member representing a Bedfordshire constituency I support my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) and the action of my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Government on this issue.

Although some of my hon. Friends may have sympathy for the argument against retrospective legislation and although the circumstances leading to these amendments being introduced in another place may not have been entirely to the liking of all my hon. Friends, the fact remains that between the dates of 25 February and 9 March all councils in Bedfordshire, of whatever political colour but particularly Labour and Liberal councils, were fully aware of the Government's intention to bring forward legislation to make a supplementary rate illegal. Whatever discussions took place or advice was given at that time, there was never any doubt in the minds of those councils, or in mine, that the action and decisions that they took were totally irresponsible and caused immense trouble to Bedfordshire's ratepayers, as well as to ratepayers outside.

Whether this legislation is to everyone's liking, there is absolutely no doubt that those Liberal and Labour councils in Bedfordshire knew exactly what they were doing and that their actions would run foul of the law when it was enacted.

I see nothing wrong, nor do many of my hon. Friends, in trying to establish a once-for-all system when revenue is raised by local government. The Bill may be accused of being a political weapon and I can understand that argument. However, when ratepayers go the polls—they have had ample opportunity recently—they expect the councillors they elect to make decisions on their behalf. They expect a system of raising total finance for the year to be established.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South said, Bedfordshire is a high spending council and the ratepayers should have no complaint about the economies that must now be made. For the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) to draw a picture of the devastation of services, particularly in education, virtually to imply that the social services would deteriorate overnight and that the ratepayers would suffer under the new but necessary economies is—I use the words of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans)—complete nonsense. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the economies are only a tiny proportion of the total budget. The county spends £145 million on education, so the asking figure of £5·2 million is small. It is certainly necessary.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the instances I quoted—there were far more than I gave—are actual examples of what is happening? They are recommendations by the finance committee that are to be approved by the council today. I would still be speaking if I read out the whole list. The hon. Gentleman suggests that I was scaremongering. I was reading out a list of what is actually happening in Bedfordshire and being proposed this afternoon.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton West

I have resided in Bedfordshire all my life. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in Bedfordshire are in a far better position, as are the ratepayers, to reply to the catalogue of disaster read out by the right hon. Gentleman, who I accept did not go right through the list. The right hon. Gentleman represents a constituency many miles from Bedfordshire.

As my hon. Friend said, the ratepayers emphatically gave their own decision in the recent local elections in the south of the county. Liberal control of several councils was removed, with a big swing to the Conservatives. Those elections were unashamedly fought on the basis of the supplementary rate that the Labour and Liberal Parties had sought to implement. It is utter nonsense for a picture to be painted, particularly by the trade unions and some Labour and Liberal councillors, of services in Bedfordshire being devastated by those necessary economies. Redundancies in the teaching staff will not mean that the children of Bedfordshire will receive an inadequate education.

Clearly, painful decisions have had to be made. Those decisions have to he made by hon. Members in their own household budgets. Governments have to make them. If a county is spending too much money, more than the ratepayers would desire, it is right that it should be reigned in.

I return to what I said in an intervention about employment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South said, as soon as the size of the original application by Liberal and Labour councillors for a rate increase of nearly 40 per cent. was announced, we were inundated with protests from local businesses. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) is right: we are as concerned about unemployment as any other hon. Member in the House. Companies the size of Vauxhall Motors have been losing money for many years. Whatever the percentage rate increase, we are placing on them a burden that they cannot bear.

When business in the south of the county is beginning to pick up and when the fortunes of great companies such as Vauxhall Motors, Electrolux, SKF Bearings, Kent and Whitbread are just beginning to move in the right direction, it is unjustified for them to receive the hammer blow of these rate increases. Those business men approached us in a responsible way. We are determined to give the ratepayers of Bedfordshire value for money. Proposals were made by the opposition parties for the creation of wholly unnecessary posts in education. The pupil-teacher ratio in Bedfordshire compares well with that of the rest of the country. As my hon. Friend said, in terms of the national average, we are 10 per cent. better than other counties. It is nonsense for the Opposition to suggest that these necessary cuts will have a devastating effect on our children.

I fully support the Government. It was totally irresponsible of those councillors, having been told in no uncertain terms what was in the Government's mind, to continue as they did. The Government are absolutely correct to introduce this legislation. I know that all Conservative Members will support it.

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Greenwich Woolwich East

I shall not follow right hon. and hon. Members through all the highways and byways of Bedfordshire because I do know all the circumstances. I do not know who was present and who was missing at any specific meeting. I do not know what impact the cuts will have on services.

However, there are two general points that I wish to make about the Bedfordshire case. The first relates to the retrospective aspect of the legislation. I was taught that restrospective legislation was to be used only in the most exceptional circumstances. However, we now find that restrospection is a dominant feature of the Government's legislation, particularly when it affects local authorities.

For the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) to suggest that Liberal and Labour councillors ought to have been dissuaded from taking perfectly legal action because a Minister had indicated that he was bringing legislation before the House is to regard the House of Commons, and Parliament as a whole, as a mere rubber stamp. It means that we are governed by ministerial edict and not by the consideration that Parliament gives to Bills.

After all, it is within our memory that the Secretary of State proposed to make supplementary rates illegal unless approved by referendum. That legislation was nobbled before it got to the starting gate, and any councillors who regarded that as an edict by which they had to abide would subsequently have found that it did not apply. Ministers do not decide these matters; Parliament does.

The Bedfordshire case shows the difficulty of tailoring legislation to suit an individual local circumstance or event. If the Government seek to do so, they produce bad legislation. That is certainly the case with the amendments now before us, which do not improve the simplicity of the Bill. It was complicated enough when we first saw it. We know that it was produced in a hurry as a result of the strange circumstances affecting its predecessor. We know that the Government amended the Bill in Committee. There is nothing particularly unusual about that, but we also had the extraordinary spectacle of Ministers amending their own amendments. Now we have still more amendments to the most controversial parts of the legislation which have been produced at the last minute in another place.

That gives the general impression of legislation on the hoof. It seems like legislation drafted on the run, with amendments drafted against the pressure of a timetable to get the Bill through. The result is what one would expect—an abortion of a Bill that will add to the complicated mysteries of local government finance and contribute to the grey hairs of municipal treasurers.

Lords amendment No. 3 relates to new clause A which is entitled "Substituted rates" but should be entitled "Reduced rates". As other hon. Members have pointed out, the only substitution that can be made is one lower than the original rate. The only circumstance where that could occur is in respect of a new council that had promised to reduce the rates immediately. It ought to have the freedom to carry out that promise. It is reasonable that a council that has persuaded its electorate to vote for lower levels of spending and standards of service to produce a lower rate should have the ability straight away to carry that promise into effect. It should not have to wait a year.

However, as other hon. Members have pointed out, there is the reverse case of councillors or candidates who have told their electorates, "Our services are not as good as they ought to be. We have a problem in our community that we want to tackle, but we must say honestly and fairly that the only way that can be done is by increasing the rates. If you elect me, one of the first things I shall do is to tackle that problem by increasing the rates."

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Greenwich Woolwich East 5:45 pm, 7th July 1982

The GLC made a promise along those lines, but its arithmetic was slightly faulty because its promises in terms of costs were less than what the ratepayers had to bear.

Clauses 1 and 2 will prevent such councils from levying a supplementary rate to carry out such a promise. They will have to wait a complete year until they can levy the higher rates that are necessary. Those hon. Members who have had experience of local government may have inherited spending commitments for which the resources were not available. The practice of raiding the balances in election year is an honoured tradition in local government, and some of us have suffered from it. Even if one merely wished to run services at their present level, it is galling to find the larder bare and that not enough money is available to do so.

The Government view seems to be: "Hard luck, there is no way in which we will allow you to do anything except reduce rates in your first year of office. If you have to increase them, we shall not allow you to do so." That is an extraordinarily one-sided approach. Although the Government may talk about increased freedom for local authorities, it seems to be a one-sided freedom. It is freedom if one agrees with the Government's polices. One is then free to do anything one likes so long as it helps the Government carry through their policy. But if someone disagrees with the Government, the Government will do everything possible, including the introduction of retrospective legislation, to prevent that person from disagreeing effectively. That seems to be the sort of democracy that the Government are preaching.

Apart from revealing the Government's attitude towards local democracy in particular, this attitude also reveals their attitude towards public spending. They clearly want reductions in public spending and are not prepared to countenance situations in which public spending must be improved to meet particular demands or to improve the level of services. That is a doctrinate approach. I shall therefore advise all my hon. Friends to vote against the amendments.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

As a Labour Member of Parliament representing a Merseyside constituency, I am pleased to have the support of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) for the principle of local authorities having the power to raise supplementary rates. However, although the hon. Gentleman is very much in favour of that in Bedfordshire, he campaigned against the Merseyside county council supplementary rate. He is in favour of the principle of local authorities being able to raise supplementary rates, but he is against them when they affect his electoral prospects.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

That is a total distortion of my view, and the hon. Gentleman should know better. While I am completely in favour of local councils making up their own minds about levying supplementary rates, I also believe that where a local council wastes or squanders ratepayers' money it is open to any politician of any party so to inform the electorate. Let the electors do something about it, not the Government.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

That is exactly the position of the hon. Gentleman that I was explaining. He is in favour of the supplementary rate in Bedfordshire, but against it on Merseyside. I conceded that he was in favour of Merseyside county council being able to take the decision in the light of the electorate's view, without Government interference.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill

I am not actually in favour of the Bedfordshire supplementary rate. I am in favour of that council's right to decide whether it wants a supplementary rate. That is a very different matter.

Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle

That clarifies the matter very well. Exactly the same kind of double view was expressed by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright). He is in favour of the right of councils to levy supplementary rates but is against the GLC's doing so.

The GLC's sums were pretty good. The supplementary rate for my London accommodation was £30 for a financial year. Under the "Fares Fair" scheme, I paid 30p to come by underground from my home to the House of Commons. I now pay 60p. Under "Fares Fair", 100 journeys covered the £30 supplementary rate. I am very much out of pocket, because I must now pay 60p a journey instead of 30p. People who live on the outskirts of London or elsewhere and who wondered why they should contribute now know the answer—because they had to bear the cost of the traffic jams and lost time when the underground closed down.

Not only am I in favour of the principle of supplementary rates; I am also in favour of such rates being levied by Labour authorities that have been elected on a policy to improve and protect services and to stop Government-imposed cuts that necessitate supplementary rates.

The trouble with which the proposed legislation attempts to deal is the direct result of that new phenomenon in local government—supplementary rates. We did not have supplementary rates until the present Government were elected and started to cut rate support grant. The supplementary rate was used sparingly in exceptional circumstances. Suddenly, there is a bout of supplementary rate demands because the Government are cutting rate support grant to local authorities by massive amounts. This debate is really about cutting public expenditure—dramatic cuts that cause not the Labour-controlled authorities but the people whom they serve to suffer. That includes the elderly, the disabled and those who use the social services. By their cuts in public expenditure, the Government are handing the care of the elderly and the disabled to ''Reports Action" and Jimmy Savile and taking it away from local authorities.

Hon. Members have mentioned the principle of local government democracy and democracy itself. That is the right of people to elect local authorities on a policy of having either poor services and low rates or higher rates and better services. Local elections are fought on those issues. People go along on polling day and put a cross on a ballot paper so that they can have some say in how their rates are applied. By the proposed legislation, the Government would take away those rights, not from local authorities but from those who vote in local elections. Those rights are being handed to the Secretary of State, the statute book and the courts. If local authorities—Conservative as well as Labour—protest, defenders of democracy among Conservative Members should also protest The amendment provides flexibility to reduce rates if one is elected on a policy of reducing rates, but it provides no other flexibility. The Government would not listen to what Labour Members said in Committee. We wanted flexibility that would enable local authorities to raise their rates if the Government withdrew grants through clawback or super-holdback. The Government would not grant that flexibility. We wished local authorities to be given the chance to review their position half-yearly but that was also denied them.

Then there is the problem of how local authorities cope with increasing interest rates. Government policies might cause interest rates to rise, which will affect the budgets of local authorities and throw them completely out of balance. The proposals provide no flexibility for local authorities to raise rates slightly to cover increased interest rates or any other unforeseen events that might arise during the year. They provide no flexibility either to allow local authorities to increase rates or to introduce a supplementary rate.

The Government appear to want the best of all worlds. As the hon. Member for Woolwich, East said, the Government wish to have flexibility only if it is in line with their policies that are designed to hamstring and hamper local government. The Government have been floundering in trying to introduce those policies in a series of local government Bills and amendments. British local government was a democratic institution that was the envy of the world. The Government are trying to destroy it.

Photo of Mr Robert Litherland Mr Robert Litherland , Manchester Central

I was not a member of the Committee that discussed this Bill but I was a member of the Committee on the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.

The thread of discontent evident in today's speeches was obvious in that Committee. That discontent is voiced on both sides of the House. Conservative Members, especially those who have served on local authorities and who cherish the democratic traditions that prevailed when they were elected, say that those democratic traditions are now being violated by the Secretary of State, with the support of the House of Lords in the amendments. The Secretary of State is shifting power from locally elected representatives to central Government and to the dictates of Whitehall. The weapon that he intends to use is finance. The advice and the protests from local authorities, organisations such as the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils and from Conservative Back-Bench Members go unheeded by the Secretary of State in his determination to control local government.

The proposal that the Government should give local authorities more autonomy is nonsense; it is a sham and smacks of double standards. It is all very well to claim that expenditure decisions are for the local councillors, but the Secretary of State has the power to refuse grants where he believes that expenditure is excessive. Who knows what is best for the citizens of an authority—the local councillors, the Secretary of State or others? If the local electors believe that the rates are too high they can remove the controlling party from office. That is their democratic right. It is preferable to a remote authority in Westminster or Whitehall dictating what is best for them. The autonomy offered to local authorities must work within the restrictions imposed from above. So much for freedom and democracy.

In the Bill the Secretary of State is saying that locally elected representatives are not competent to make decisions that affect their authority. They must be accountable to him and not to those who voted them into office to make decisions on their behalf. The Bill changes the role of local councillors from decision-makers to administrators and puppets of the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Since taking office in 1979, the Government's policy has been to impose massive cuts on public spending and to penalise any local authority that refuses to be dictated to by central Government. Since 1979, the Government have reduced rate support grant, leaving councillors with the unenviable task of cutting services or increasing rates. Now the Secretary of State is introducing a Bill, supported by the House of Lords, that will make it impossible for local authorities to do other than make major cuts in vital services. If they do not, they will be singled out as overspenders and the Secretary of State will have the power to remove grants. The authority cannot levy a supplementary rate or borrow to make up a deficiency in its budget. Civil servants, who work out every penny, will assess what they believe are the needs of the local authority. The local councillors cannot decide what should be spent. That is an extremely complicated exercise because each local authority has differing needs.

The local people know what is best for them. To break that tradition takes us down a dangerous and unhealthy path. Because of the Government's financial ceilings and powers of clawback, my local authority in Manchester must make drastic cuts that will affect those who rely most on its services. The effect is increased because of our present economic state. My constituency is an inner city area. It cannot be denied that we have above-average unemployment, single-parent families, elderly and disabled people, youth unemployment and low-paid workers. Those services are essential to the well-being of those citizens and the people that I represent. They are part of their social wage. To deny that is to place the whole burden on the backs of people who can ill afford to pay.

6 pm

Education, house building, social services and environment—every service—will be hit by a Tory Government hell-bent on tearing the heart out of local democracy. The people that I represent will suffer most. As if the demoralisation of the past has not been enough, this legislation will limit the amount that councils can spend and will ensure that greater hardship is placed on inner city areas that are now struggling for survival. Inner city areas are now experiencing social and economic deprivation. Councils are finding it increasingly difficult to meet new demands upon their services.

The Secretary of State suddenly realised that Merseyside existed, not because he was a caring person, but because rioting had broken out on the streets. Rioting has broken out also on the streets of Manchester. It is the manifestation of the social deprivation that is experienced by young unemployed people. Those riots were a retaliation against appalling living conditions. Those conditions are being made worse by the limited power of local authorities to meet their everyday needs.

The Tories have a class mentality that makes them believe that they have the divine right to tell other people what they need without experiencing need themselves. Many Tories have never had experience in local government. How many of their children have relied on free school meals? How many of them have waited on a council house list or required any welfare services? The Secretary of State for the Environment, by the power vested in him, automatically knows what people in various constituencies need; therefore he makes the decision.

The people in most need will be the ones to make the most sacrifices. Every local authority must oppose the Bill because it removes their democratic rights. The Bill breaks the constitutional partnership between central and local government. Any Conservative Member who has served as a local councillor is aware of the consequences of the Secretary of State's policies. Many Conservative Members must flinch at the severity of the policies. They may even join us in the Lobby for the sake of their consciences and of local government.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

We on the Government Benches take a different view of the amendments. They are part of an enactment that we bring before the House to ensure that ratepayers will suffer less in future than they have in the past. That is the meaning behind the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill, and in essence the meaning behind some of the amendments.

The right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) made it clear that he was not interested in the amendments which related to the GLC-Bromley case, but they are important to many of us on this side. Nor was the right hon. Member interested in the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) introduced in Committee to allow local authorities to reduce the rates. That can be important. The right hon. Member for Widnes was naturally concentrating his attention on what one might call the Bedfordshire amendments. He raised two matters to which I wish to respond.

The first is the use of judicial review under clause 14. I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that judicial review is a special procedure for challenging decisions in the High Court on any of the grounds provided by administrative law. It is not some new and peculiar procedure introduced by that clause. He also raised the question of a minor part of the rate being declared invalid by such a procedure. I assure him that if there is a minor element of illegality the court would not necessarily quash the whole rate. The remedies by way of judicial review are discretionary. The clause does not affect the court's discretion. Clause 14(3) provides that if the court decides to grant relief it shall quash the rate. There is a significant element of discretion quite apart from the administrative mechanics of the law itself.

The main worry shown by the Opposition has been about local democracy, and the extent to which the proposals will be seen as a major threat to it. As it was put in Committee and in another place, bearing in mind what occurred in Committee, action was promised on 25 March by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services to make it clear that what was happening in Bedfordshire would ultimately be declared invalid when the Bill was enacted. That action was necessary and Labour Members said in Committee that it should be taken by the Government. That action has now been put into the Bill by the amendment made in another place.

It is essential to produce that clarification, and it is essential to clarify those points of rating law that apply to the GLC-Bromley case. The House could not proceed with a measure that did not contain such sorely needed clarification.

I regret the fact that the Opposition seek to ignore the importance of clarifying law. The process in Committee is to bring about a better version of this measure. The Government sought to meet genuine circumstances that had arisen.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) and for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) who unreservedly supported the way in which the Bill is drafted. I sincerely hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree with the Lords in the said amendments.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Widnes

I am grateful for the clarification of the term "judicial review" in Lords amendment No. 4 and the information that the court would not necessarily have to quash the whole rate if only a technical matter was involved.

The Minister has omitted to discuss what has been the keynote of r early every Opposition speech—retrospection. We do not like retrospective legislation. I was astonished at the arrogance of the hon. Members for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) and Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle). They were saying that one should not do what the Government do not like. There is no need for a law to be passed: if one knows that the Government do not like something, one should not do it in the first place.

A great deal has been said about the state of mind of Bedfordshire county councillors between February and March, and how they arrived at their decision. I regret that I do not have the actual letter that the chief executive sent, but I can quote from Hansard. The letter was read in Committee and I hope that it will be acceptable to the House if I quote from the record. Paragraph 4 of the letter states: It is doubtful whether the present terms of clause 2 (which deals with precepts) would, if passed into law, achieve the result intended by the Government. It is considered more likely that a court would hold that it was not retrospective in its effect, so as to overturn things already done which were lawful at the time. This view cannot be put forward with certainty but it is based on the legal principles which require strict interpretation of any statute which is claimed to operate retrospectively. The doubt about it must mean that there is some chance of a supplementary precept being challenged at law, after the proposed act has received the Royal Assent. This may not be until June or later."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 16 March 1982; c. 766.] How perspicacious that chief executive was. It was not in the original Bill because an amendment had to be tabled in the other place to put the matter right. He was even right as to the date of the Bill. It is now 7 July, and the Bill is still not law. It is not the law of the land that Bedfordshire was wrong at the time. All that Bedfordshire did wrong was to fly in the face of the diktats of the Secretary of State for the Environment and his Minister.

I ask hon. Members from all parts of the House to vote against this retrospective legislation.

Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 277, Noes 225.

Division No. 260][6.10 pm
Adley, RobertBraine, Sir Bernard
Aitken, JonathanBright, Graham
Alexander, RichardBrinton, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBrittan, Rt. Hon. Leon
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBrooke, Hon Peter
Ancram, MichaelBrotherton, Michael
Arnold, TomBrown, Michael (Brigg & S Sc'n)
Aspinwall, JackBrowne, John (Winchester)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)Bruce-Gardyne, John
Atkins, Robert (Preston N)Bryan, Sir Paul
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone)Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A.
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Buck, Antony
Banks, RobertBudgen, Nick
Bendall, VivianBulmer, Esmond
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Burden, Sir Frederick
Berry, Hon AnthonyButcher, John
Best, KeithCadbury, Jocelyn
Bevan, David GilroyCarlisle, John (Luton West)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnCarlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)
Blackburn, JohnChalker, Mrs. Lynda
Blaker, PeterChannon, Rt. Hon. Paul
Body, RichardChapman, Sydney
Bonsor, Sir NicholasChurchill, W. S.
Boscawen, Hon RobertClark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bowden, AndrewClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Boyson, Dr RhodesCockeram, Eric
Colvin, MichaelKimball, Sir Marcus
Cope, JohnKing, Rt Hon Tom
Cormack, PatrickKnight, Mrs Jill
Corrie, JohnKnox, David
Costain, Sir AlbertLamont, Norman
Cranborne, ViscountLatham, Michael
Critchley, JulianLawrence, Ivan
Crouch, DavidLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Dickens, GeoffreyLee, John
Dorrell, StephenLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Dover, DenshoreLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardLloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Dykes, HughLoveridge, John
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLuce, Richard
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Lyell, Nicholas
Eggar, TimMacfarlane, Neil
Elliott, Sir WilliamMacGregor, John
Emery, Sir PeterMacKay, John (Argyll)
Eyre, ReginaldMacmillan, Rt Hon M.
Faith, Mrs SheilaMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Farr, JohnMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Fell, Sir AnthonyMadel, David
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMajor, John
Finsberg, GeoffreyMarlow, Antony
Fisher, Sir NigelMarten, Rt Hon Neil
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir CharlesMawby, Ray
Fookes, Miss JanetMawhinney, Dr Brian
Forman, NigelMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMayhew, Patrick
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Fry, PeterMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Garel-Jones, TristanMiscampbell, Norman
Glyn, Dr AlanMitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMoate, Roger
Goodhew, Sir VictorMonro, Sir Hector
Goodlad, AlastairMontgomery, Fergus
Gorst, JohnMoore, John
Gow, IanMorgan, Geraint
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Gray, HamishMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)Mudd, David
Grist, IanMurphy, Christopher
Gummer, John SelwynMyles, David
Hamilton, Hon A.Neale, Gerrard
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Needham, Richard
Hampson, Dr KeithNelson, Anthony
Hannam, JohnNeubert, Michael
Haselhurst, AlanNewton, Tony
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelNott, Rt Hon John
Hawkins, Sir PaulOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hawksley, WarrenOsborn, John
Hayhoe, BarneyPage, John (Harrow, West)
Heath, Rt Hon EdwardPage, Richard (SW Herts)
Heddle, JohnParris, Matthew
Henderson, BarryPatten, John (Oxford)
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPawsey, James
Hicks, RobertPercival, Sir Ian
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Peyton, Rt Hon John
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Pink, R. Bonner
Holland, Philip (Carlton)Pollock, Alexander
Hooson, TomPorter, Barry
Hordern, PeterPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Proctor, K. Harvey
Hunt, David (Wirral)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Rathbone, Tim
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Irvine, Bryant GodmanRees-Davies, W. R.
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Renton, Tim
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickRhodes James, Robert
Jessel, TobyRidley, Hon Nicholas
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRidsdale, Sir Julian
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRifkind, Malcolm
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Kershaw, Sir AnthonyRossi, Hugh
Kilfedder, James A.Rost, Peter
Royle, Sir AnthonyThornton, Malcolm
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyTownend, John (Bridlington)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.Trippier, David
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Trotter, Neville
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Shepherd, RichardViggers, Peter
Shersby, MichaelWaddington, David
Silvester, FredWakeham, John
Sims, RogerWaldegrave, Hon William
Smith, DudleyWalker, Rt Hon P.(W'cester)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Waller, Gary
Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)Walters, Dennis
Speed, KeithWard, John
Spence, JohnWatson, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wells, Bowen
Squire, RobinWells, John (Maidstone)
Stainton, KeithWheeler, John
Stanbrook, IvorWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Stanley, JohnWhitney, Raymond
Steen, AnthonyWickenden, Keith
Stevens, MartinWiggin, Jerry
Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)Wilkinson, John
Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Stokes, JohnWinterton, Nicholas
Stradling Thomas, J.Wolfson, Mark
Tapsell, PeterYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Younger, Rt Hon George
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Temple-Morris, PeterTellers for the Ayes:
Thomas, Rt Hon PeterMr. Carol Mather and Mr. Ian Lang.
Thompson, Donald
Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Abse, LeoDavidson, Arthur
Adams, AllenDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Alton, DavidDavis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Anderson, DonaldDeakins, Eric
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Ashley, Rt Hon JackDewar, Donald
Ashton, JoeDixon, Donald
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,)Dobson, Frank
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Dormand, Jack
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Douglas, Dick
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)Dubs, Alfred
Beith, A. J.Duffy, A. E. P.
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N)Eastham, Ken
Bidwell, SydneyEdwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertEllis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Bottomley, Rt Hon A. (M'b'ro)Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Bradley, TomEnglish, Michael
Bray, Dr JeremyEnnals, Rt Hon David
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)Evans, John (Newton)
Buchan, NormanEwing, Harry
Callaghan, Rt Hon J.Faulds, Andrew
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)Flannery, Martin
Campbell, IanFletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Campbell-Savours, DaleFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Canavan, DennisForrester, John
Cant, R. B.Foster, Derek
Carmichael, NeilFoulkes, George
Cartwright, JohnFraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Clarke, Thomas C'b'dge,Freud, Clement
A'drieGarrett, John (Norwich S)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Coleman, DonaldGinsburg, David
Cook, Robin F.Graham, Ted
Cowans, HarryGrant, John (Islington C)
Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Crowther, StanHamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Cryer, BobHardy, Peter
Cunliffe, LawrenceHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)Haynes, Frank
Dalyell, TamHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Heffer, Eric S.Pendry, Tom
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)Penhaligon, David
Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Homewood, WilliamPrescott, John
Hooley, FrankPrice, C. (Lewisham W)
Howell, Rt Hon D.Race, Reg
Howells, GeraintRadice, Giles
Hoyle, DouglasRees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Huckfield, LesRichardson, Jo
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasRobertson, George
John, BrynmorRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Johnson, James (Hull West)Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Rooker, J. W.
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)Roper, John
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Kerr, RussellRowlands, Ted
Kinnock, NeilRyman, John
Lambie, DavidSandelson, Neville
Lamborn, HarrySever, John
Leadbitter, TedSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Lestor, Miss JoanShore, Rt Hon Peter
Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)Short, Mrs Renée
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Litherland, RobertSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Lofthouse, GeoffreySilverman, Julius
Lyon, Alexander (York)Skinner, Dennis
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonSpearing, Nigel
McCartney, HughStallard, A. W.
McDonald, Dr OonaghSteel, Rt Hon David
McElhone, FrankStoddart, David
McGuire, Michael (Ince)Stott, Roger
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Strang, Gavin
McKelvey, WilliamStraw, Jack
MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
McNally, ThomasTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
McNamara, KevinThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
McTaggart, RobertThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
McWilliam, JohnThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Marks, KennethTilley, John
Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)Tinn, James
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Torney, Tom
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)
Maxton, JohnWainwright, R. (Colne V)
Maynard, Miss JoanWalker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)
Meacher, MichaelWatkins, David
Mellish, Rt Hon RobertWeetch, Ken
Millan, Rt Hon BruceWellbeloved, James
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Welsh, Michael
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)White, Frank R.
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Whitehead, Phillip
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)Whitlock, William
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Wigley, Dafydd
Moyle, Rt Hon RolandWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Mulley, Rt Hon FrederickWilliams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)
Newens, StanleyWilson, Rt Hon Sir H. (H'ton)
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWilson, William (C'try SE)
Ogden, EricWinnick, David
O'Neill, MartinWoodall, Alec
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWoolmer, Kenneth
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWright, Sheila
Palmer, ArthurYoung, David (Bolton E)
Park, George
Parker, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Parry, RobertMr. George Morton and
Pavitt, LaurieMr. Ron Leighton.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 4, 7, 26, 28 and 30 agreed to.