Designation of Authorities

Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 27th March 1984.

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Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes 7:45 pm, 27th March 1984

I beg to move amendment No. 26, in page 2, line 23, after 'report', insert 'or reports'.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 27, in page 2, line 26, leave out 'or, as the case may be, each of the authorities'.

No. 6, in page 3, line 12, leave out `or authorities'.

No. 7, in page 3, line 12, leave out 'have' and insert `has'.

No. 29, in page 3, line 12, at end insert— `(6A) No report made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) above shall come into effect unless a draft thereof in the form of a Statutory Instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

No. 8, in page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (7).

No. 30, in clause 3, page 3, line 22, at end insert— '(lA) The determination of the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (1) above shall not come into force unless a draft thereof in the form of a Statutory Instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'

No. 12, in clause 4, page 5, line 10, leave out from `unless' to end of line 11 and insert 'it has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament'.

No. 35, in clause 4, page 5, line 12, leave out 'may relate to two or more authorities'

and insert `shall relate only to one authority.'.

No. 14, in clause 4, page 5, line 12, leave out 'relate to two or more authorities'

and insert `only relate to one authority'.

No. 28, in clause 4, page 5, line 12, leave out 'two or more authorities' and insert 'only one authority'.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

As we know, and as indeed the Secretary of State has conceded, the Bill involves a major shift in power from local government to the centre. The aim of this group of amendments—Nos. 26, 27, 6 and 7 are the ones which are in my name and the names of my hon. Friends—is to ensure that, if there is to be such a movement of power to the centre, at least that power will be under the supervision of Parliament rather than within the virtually unfettered control of Whitehall.

I use the word "Whitehall" purposely for, make no mistake about it, what the Bill involves in practice is a movement from democratically elected local representatives to civil servants in the Department of the Environment. The Secretary of State will do little more than rubber-stamp their decisions, and I do not exaggerate. Ministers, after all, are extremely busy people who have a very heavy workload, day in and day out.

Let us say that the Secretary of State initially makes a decision to examine the budgets of a considerable number of local authorities. Let us say that he considers it correct to examine the budgets of 30 to 40 local authorities on the basis that he thinks that that number of authorities may be spending excessively. Let us say that out of those 30 to 40 he might finally designate 16. Does anyone really believe that Ministers in the Department of the Environment will have the time to pore over 30 budgets and consider the arguments for them and for the expenditure that they include? Of course they will not.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

Does it occur to my hon. Friend in these days of the magic of modern science that all that the Secretary of State has to do is press one tiny button and all these things will come up on the computer telling him exactly what is going on?

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

On the logic of my hon. Friend, it surely follows that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could each year press one tiny button and out would jump the whole of his Budget. I do not think that my hon. Friend would assume that that was so, but what is the difference between the Budget of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on the one hand and the budgets of several hundred local authorities on the other? Both, as we know full well, are subjected to the most detailed examination, recommendations by committees, scrutiny by officials, either at local level or in Whitehall, and ultimately decisions by, in the case of the Government, the Chancellor and, in the case of a local authority, perhaps the chairman of the finance committee, who makes recommendations to his committee. Therefore, I cannot see that the situation is quite as simple as my hon. Friend suggests, much as I wish it were, because then huge savings could be made. But I do not think that it is very realistic to assume that they can be.

In my view, given the picture that I have indicated, which might well come about, it will be civil servants rather than Ministers who will undertake the detailed examination of the budgets of those local authorities which are thought to be overspending.

It is therefore very important that Parliament should have the power to consider each local authority proposed for designation. After all, local government is local. That should be stating the obvious, but it seems to me that often it is forgotten. It seems to be only too often forgotten that every local authority area has different problems, and every group of locally elected councillors has different views as to what the priorities for action and expenditure may be. It is no use lumping local authorities together and pretending that one standard can be appied to all for all expenditure. To do so would be unrealistic. Every budget should be considered in detail and the various considerations taken into account by the House.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

I have sympathy with some of my hon. Friend's points, but I find it hard to follow his logic. If local government is local, why should this House consider in detail local authorities' budgets? If we give power to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to have discretion over a broad area, he should be allowed to exercise it.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

The last thing I want is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or the House to have the power to look at local authorities' budgets. However, if power is to be centralised by the Bill, the scrutiny and consideration of each authority's budget should be carried out individually by the House rather than collectively by my right hon. Friend using dictatorial powers.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is well aware of the contents of the Bill. Part I provides that a designation order can cover a number of authorities. That would hinder parliamentary consideration of whether the circumstances of each authority had been considered before the authority was designated for rate capping. Indeed, it would preclude parliamentary control of the whole capping process.

It might be argued that one authority per report, which is the purpose of the amendment, would be a cumbersome process for Parliament. My reply is that, if the Government are putting forward such legislation, they must live with the consequences of parliamentary control. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has constantly reiterated, if selective limitation is to apply to only a few authorities, the process proposed in the amendments would not be too cumbersome for the House.

Parliament should decide how much time it devotes to each report. It need not give detailed or lengthy consideration to every authority. Some authorities obviously spend way in excess of what is reasonable, and the House could deal with them swiftly. The House should have the opportunity to examine each local authority, and it will have that opportunity only if the amendments are accepted, as I hope they will be.

10 pm

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

When I made my maiden speech here, I was followed by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). Little did I think then that a year later we would find ourselves on the same side on a matter as important as—if not more important than—the Budget, which was the matter that we were debating a year ago. I welcome his temporary removal to the side of the more numerous on this issue, and I only wish that the numbers here reflected the numbers outside. Probably never in the history of legislation have so many elected people taken a similar view against that of so few elected people.

We all received a briefing from the Association of County Councils, the Association of District Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, representing many different parts of the country, united in the principle that they want to be allowed to make their own decisions or, at least, to be considered on their own, and not lumped together. The arguments adduced a moment ago by the hon. Member for Devizes struck a chord and are fully supported by those of us on the Liberal and Social Democratic Benches, those on the Labour Benches, many sitting on the Government Back Benches and, until recently—if we read the writings of certain people—even by some on the Government Front Benches.

This group of amendments includes amendments Nos. 12 and 14, standing in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends, which succinctly put our case. They propose that if the Secretary of State is to designate an authority he should do so only when both Houses of Parliament have considered the circumstances of that authority. The hon. Member for Leeds, North West (Dr. Hampson) suggested that his local community, a part of that fine city of Leeds, would be happy for the Secretary of State to take the power, and happier — if we are to believe what he represents—than if we were to look at the Secretary of State's actions and those of his officials. I do not believe that. I do not believe that the citizens of west Leeds are any different from the citizens of north-west Leeds.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

More perceptive they may be, but I am sure that they all believe that Leeds should be looked at separately and considered on its own. If they cannot have the guarantee that any representative of that city in this place can have a say in decisions about the financing of their authority, they would be even more deprived than they already are in other ways as a result of this Government's actions.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

I was making the point that in many areas of legislation, and this is no exception, we in this House grant discretionary powers to Secretaries of State. There is no better example of that than education, because in 1944 the House granted a free and easy set of powers to the Secretary of State, who runs the education system, in a broad manner, through regulations. I do not understand why Labour Members believe that the detailed provisions of a local authority budget should be debated on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

There is a point of principle. If local authorities are losing powers to central Government, it is better for elected people at least to have a say than to leave it to one elected person supported by officials. The number of times when the Secretary of State has used the powers that have been given to him in the context of education are extremely limited, because he is aware of the danger of doing so, but that is not true of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has declared his intention of capping local authority rates. He goes into this area of potential absolute power determined to do something in a totally different context, and one that does not follow the precedent in the Education Act 1944.

We take the view that both Houses of Parliament should be consulted, because we believe that there should be two Houses of Parliament. We should like to reform the other House considerably, but even in an unreformed state, it may not do too bad a job on this legislation. Certainly we should be thankful that it is there. I remind the House that there are some hon. Members who believe that there should be only one Chamber. One Chamber, an authoritarian Secretary of State and rate capping bodies bodes far more ill than two Chambers, and that is why the legislation should go to two Chambers for consideration, if it must exist. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is clear that there are supporters for that proposition on both sides of the House. One is sometimes surprised from where support comes.

I have three questions for the Minister. First, what are the criteria that the Government will use for rate-capping and for designating authorities? During the passage of what is now the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, the criteria which the Secretary of State said would be included among the various criteria to be established under that measure were the speeches made by the leaders of the local councils. I suggest that even the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) would find difficulty in putting in his computer a print-out of the speeches of the leaders of the local authorities, tabulating them in such a way as to establish proper criteria.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

The leader of Harrow council is one of the leading computer experts in the country. Within a moment of any statement being made by the Secretary of State, or anybody else, he is able to feed it into the computer and, within seconds, to receive an answer. I beg the hon. Gentleman to choose someone other than myself or the leader of Harrow council.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am glad to know that there is some remaining expertise, other than in the hon. Member for Harrow, West, in Harrow, although I gather that the opposition on that authority is catching up fast. The criteria for GREAs—the criteria that will determine all of these decisions—should be known to us at this stage and should not be left to decisions about which we shall not even be told as the measure proceeds through Report and Third Reading.

The second complaint is that by lumping together lock, stock and barrel local authorities with 100 council houses, and councils, such as Liverpool and Birmingham, with 60,000 and 70,000 council houses, along with local authorities representing small rural areas or large rural areas containing small populations and local authorities representing inner city areas, it is impossible for those who work in Marsham street, diligent though they may be, properly to understand, reflect and legislate — that is what they will be doing — for the people in those different communities.

How is it possible for the Secretary of State to contemplate—he may say that he would not be willing to do so — with one sweep of his legislative pen in Marsham street, putting Hereford and Hackney, Leeds and Liverpool, Bodmin and Bermondsey in the same order and saying, "They must all receive the same group treatment", herded through with the same deficient and inadequate resources at the end of the day?

They have different problems, they face different issues, they have different concerns and they are of different political complexions. The people who will stand in those places for election—most of them will still have elections after next year; some may not, but most will —will be most in tune with their local electorates and their needs.

Thirdly, is it still the Government's contention that they want by these provisions—by grouping together local authorities and determining the rates in Westminster for the rest of the country—to keep down the high spending councils which they allege have made this legislation necessary? Or is it that they want to do something else? If they are thinking about the control of public expenditure, why is the Treasury not introducing and piloting this legislation through?

The answer may be that the Department of the Environment is doing it because it believes that local government should be run from Whitehall. If the Department believes that it can group together authorities in the north and the south, wherever they may be, it must be clear that those authorities will not receive the same level of consideration. Instead, they will have a sledge hammer attack from the Government and will not have the safeguards which they have enjoyed for decades and, in some cases, for hundreds of years.

The newspapers have been full of complaints— we have heard about the Financial Times and many others — that there is no evidence that the Bill will reduce local government expenditure. If that is true—we are considering the wisdom of experts, not of politicians—this is not a Rates Bill, but a local government removal Bill. It will be improved if this group of amendments is passed. It should be improved, even at this late stage, before the other place tells us how badly we have got it wrong. After all, it is we who are supposed to he the elected representatives.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

This is an ecumenical selection of amendments as it includes Opposition amendments nos. 29, 30 and 35 as well as those tabled by Conservative and alliance Members. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) on a fine Second Reading speech. As the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) said, this group of amendments concerns the crucial issue of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation which has greater constitutional implications than any other wholly domestic legislation that has been passed since the second world war. I naturally exclude the Common Market legislation of 1972. I remind Conservative Members who are tempted to support the Bill, certainly not because they have been convinced by reasoned argument, but perhaps because of the prospect of preferment or loyalty, that it is Conservative Members who have described the Bill as draconian and have said that it will lead to elective dictatorship. They have condemned it in rounder terms than any Opposition Members.

I am not sure of the name of the leader of Harrow borough council who runs a computer, but we should not forget that computers run on the basis of trash in, trash out. However, a Conservative councillor from Harrow called Mr. Ron Grant bitterly criticised this Bill at the recent Conservative local government conference. He said: If cuts are not to bite too deeply, they must be phased in over a few years. We were not elected to make big cuts in service, and we risk being not elected. Mr. Grant was absolutely right.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

He is not from Harrow, West.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

He will be interested to hear that, but I am sure that he is a Conservative councillor from Harrow.

Photo of Mr Michael Meadowcroft Mr Michael Meadowcroft , Leeds West

It was obviously the rate support grant.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is a joke. I thought that I was being slow, but I now realise that that was a Liberal joke.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

One of the issues to which the amendments address themselves is what scrutiny there should be of clause 2 by which the Secretary of State designates authorities by reference to principles that he lays down. Under clause 2(1), the Secretary of State must lay a report itemising the principles and the authorities so designated, but there is no provision for that report to be debated by the House. We believe that that major defect in the Bill will lead to a major loss of parliamentary scrutiny at a critical point in the development of rate-capping policies.

It is from the determination of the principles that the original list of authorities that are likely to be rate-capped is drawn up. Conservative authorities might well be caught, especially if more than 25 authorities are rate-capped. If the principles are wrong, unfair or harsh, Parliament will have no opportunity to debate them or have them changed before they are set in tablets of stone. The whole machine will then roll on, finally to produce authorities that are the subject of designation.

10.15 pm

When this was debated on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said: The Secretary of State will exercise his powers to discipline authorities in accordance with principles that he will determine. Those principles do not appear in the Bill, and no restriction is placed upon the Secretary of State's freedom to use them. The Secretary of State intervened and said: Purely as a matter of accuracy, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the statement of principles has to be laid before the House and that, unless the spending limit is agreed, it is only with the authority of the House that the capping process can take effect. It is not true that it is a matter for the Secretary of State alone. My hon. Friend continued: We shall examine the matter in some detail in Committee. The Secretary of State's interpretation of the Bill is different from my own."—[Official Report, 17 January 1984; Vol 52, c. 180.] We examined the matter in Committee, and after a somewhat esoteric discussion we understood what the Secretary of State was saying. He was not trying to imply, as we had inferred, that there would be full scrutiny of the report laid before the House but that that scrutiny would arise only under clause 4 when the expenditure limits were made.

The Secretary of State referred earlier to a recognition of the case for proper scrutiny at this stage of the principles that are laid down, and we look forward to hearing from him again. To save him an argument, I should point out that we recognise that some of the amendments to clause 2 propose a debate on the individual authorities at that stage. As the central part of any debate on the report laid under clause 2 will be the principles rather than the authorities, we appreciate that it may well be appropriate to have one debate on the principles. Therefore, we would not push the argument for separate debates on separate authorities at that stage, although I hope that the Secretary of State will acknowledge that if he or his successor establishes principles or classes of authority which differ to any considerable extent they should be debated separately.

I remind my hon. Friends that clause 2(5) identifies six separate classes and that on top both the ILEA and the GLC are classes by themselves. It would be a matter of regret and, indeed, objectionable if there were separate classes although, as we debated in Committee, the Bill provides for that possibility.

The second issue raised by the amendments is the scrutiny of the reports under clause 4. At present the Secretary of State determines a maximum level of expenditure for each authority to which he has not given a derogation and then includes every authority to be rate capped within a single report. Although we have had undertakings—which I hope Ministers and the Whips will keep to — that there will be a full day's debate rather than one lasting an hour and a half, even a full day's debate would be wholly inadequate to deal with the designation of 20, 25 or even a dozen individual authorities.

Let it be made clear at this stage of the process that the determination of the maximum expenditure levels is tailored to individual authorities and the Secretary of State has taken into account individual authorities' expenditure levels and circumstances in deciding whether or not they will be subjected to derogation, what requirements they will be subjected to if there is a derogation and, if not, whether they should be included in the final list under clause 4.

I ask Conservative Members, and in particular the hon. Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon), what will happen if a local authority——

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I think that I have the constituency correct. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) has a defective memory. He is thinking of the position before the 1983 election.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes asked what any of us would think if our authorities were to be subjected to rate capping. They would be faced with a traumatic future because they would be forced not only against their will but against their better judgment, and by definition against the better judgment of their electors—outside London there are regular elections each year and local authorities have a fresh local mandate — to cut expenditure by 5 or 10 per cent. We have discussed these percentages as if they are relatively small, but a 5 per cent. cut in home help services is a 100 per cent. cut to those who lose those services. This is something that we forget time and again, when arguments about services to individuals are reduced to arithmetic, and particularly the arithmetic of percentages.

For example, if Hertfordshire loses its school meals service, that may be only 3 or 4 per cent. of its total expenditure, but it is a 100 per cent. loss of school meals to children that are vital to their health and welfare. These are crucial issues.

Moreover, in many cases the authority will feel that it has been unfairly treated and the Secretary of State has not taken full account of the arguments that are advanced at the time of the derogation. It will wish to put its views through Members on the Floor of the House. I have no doubt that the Minister will wish to offer an explanation showing why he has come to his view. It is not possible properly to scrutinise the effects of these decisions on each authority within the context of a single day's debate. It makes a mockery of the Secretary of State's undertaking that this would be the subject of proper parliamentary scrutiny to try to deal with it in a single day.

My last point concerns whether a negative or affirmative procedure should be used. We believe that it is a self-evident truth that because of the importance of this Bill and of the procedures in it, wherever parliamentary scrutiny is required by the Bill, that can be effective only if the affirmative resolution procedure is followed.

These amendments improve and increase the chance of Parliament fulfilling a proper role of scrutinising the great power that the Executive will take under the Bill, and I commend them to the House.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

In the Mikado it is a tailor who is the executioner. You, Mr. Speaker, are the tailor, but the executioner is the Secretary of State. I rise to say something about Lambeth council and the ILEA, which are two of my authorities. It is wrong that the Secretary of State should seek to put a council such as Lambeth, or any other council, such as Liverpool, into a group of councils and seek to dictate from Whitehall the level of expenditure.

Three years ago, in Lambeth in 1981, we had extensive riots that set a pattern for riots throughout the country, frightened the Prime Minister and the Government and brought about some changes in policy. They certainly brought about a change in the policy towards the police.

One of the consequences of the riots was that the Government recognised the need to have better relations between the police and the general public. They began employing more policemen. More policemen were put on the beat and police expenditure was increased. A direct consequence of the riots in Brixton and Lambeth was the inquiry which was presided over by Lord Scarman, which made a number of excellent recommendations concerning the police, the general public and policing. The recommendations made the police in practice, if not in law, more accountable to the community in which they served. The Scarman report stated that one of the causes of the riots and social upheaval in Brixton was the general state of unemployment, bad housing and other social conditions with which any local authority is entirely concerned.

Since 1981, when the Scarman inquiry took place into conditions in Lambeth and Brixton, almost everything has become worse. The level of rate support grant has decreased since the Brixton riots from about £52 million in 1981 to £49 million in the forthcoming year. If inflation is taken into account, the reduction in Government support for Lambeth has decreased more markedly since the riots of 1981.

Another social condition which Lord Scarman observed was unemployment. It was about 15,000 in Lambeth in 1981 and it is now 23,000. This means that one man in every four is out of a job in the borough within my constituency. Unemployment has become worse since 1981. Another measure of deprivation is that of homeless families. The quarterly receptions for those who are accepted as homeless has increased since 1981. Almost every measure of poverty and deprivation in Lambeth has become worse since 1981, usually as a direct result of the Government's monetary policies. Unemployment has reached the level when 50 people are chasing every vacancy on the local employment register.

The Minister is suggesting that we override all the recommendations of the Scarman report. He is seeking from Whitehall to direct expenditure levels and the policy decisions of a locally elected council. The Lambeth council is trying to implement many of the recommendations in the Scarman report and to cure many of the social evils that were highlighted in it.

Photo of Mr John Heddle Mr John Heddle , Staffordshire Mid

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is possible that the blind ignorance of the local authority for years and years created the conditions that brought about the conditions that caused the Scarman inquiry to take place after the 1981 riots?

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

One of the main causes of the riots was the blind ignorance for many years of the metropolitan police force, which was unaccountable to the general public and the community. It was that lack of unaccountability which led to rebellion on the streets.

One of the lessons to be learnt is that if we bypass democracy and remove accountability, which is what the Government are doing by attacking local authorities as a class, the people find another means by which to protest. I hope that we shall have no further social unrest, but the chances of increasing social unrest are much greater when the Government can act unaccountably and treat local authorities generically instead of at least examining the conditions which give rise to the Goverimint's judgment of the level of expenditure of a particular authority.

Lambeth has been willing to submit to some form of arbitration between the local authority and central Government. It has suggested to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that there should be a sequel to the Scarman inquiry whereby someone, who can be appointed by the Government, such as Lord Scarman or some other judicial figure of his standing, would examine the current social conditions, which are very much worse than those which prevailed three years ago. He would listen to evidence from the Government, from the local authority and from voluntary and local organisations and then make a judgment on the proper level of expenditure to be undertaken by the borough and the proper level of Government support.

We would be willing to abide by such arbitration for a local authority in dispute with the Government. However, the Minister is denying any sort of dialogue between the local authority and the Government. There will be no real dialogue if the Secretary of State treats local authorities as a class.

10.30 pm

It is important to have an individual inquiry and debate into the Secretary of State's judgment in relation to the Inner London Education Authority. Of course, the Government say that the ILEA spends a great deal of money. That is not in dispute. The electors of London choose to spend more money on and put a great priority on the education of their children than the Secretary of State for Education and Science or the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Like many London Members, I have been to several meetings at schools during the current campaign. The largest meetings are packed with people in the middle of the political spectrum. I have always said to them that they have a choice of whether they spend some of their money on rates for the education of their children, the provision of nursery education, further education and scholarships, or they can vote out of power a Labour ILEA and choose instead to spend their money on private consumption.

The overwhelming opinion, not from people on the Left, or extremists, but from the central core of parents and ratepayers in my constituency, is that they prefer to spend their money on their children than to spend it on themselves. If that is the judgment that they make at the ballot boxes, which can be exercised by the ILEA without taking a single penny from Government funds, that is their prerogative. There is no case for the Government treating the ILEA in that way and seeking to interfere with its democratic mandate. The least that the Government could do, if they choose to interfere with the democratic process, would be to allow a report and a debate on that gross interference with local authority discretion.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

I am tempted to take up the final point made by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). It had a certain poignancy or irony about it. Suddenly supporters of the Labour party are in favour of parents having the right to spend on the education of their children rather than on themselves. That argument has often come from Conservative Members. Opposition Members constantly oppose the idea that parents should have the right to spend on the education of their children. If the hon. Gentleman is going to use that argument, I hope that he will be consistent. When we talk about the assisted places scheme and the right of parents to obtain private education for their children, I hope that he will use the same argument.

I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument that places such as Lambeth and Liverpool have deep-seated problems. Conservative Members are just as concerned about them as the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. However, that is not the debate in this part of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is arguing that, because Lambeth has particular problems, it should be entitled to a debate on the Floor of the House; it should not be regarded as part of a class of authorities. I shall address myself to that point first. It goes against the entire tradition of what has been done in local government by all parties and all Governments, including the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member. Rightly, it has always been a basic principle in local government finance that no Government single out one authority as against another. How can we legitimise the argument put forward by the hon. Gentleman that the local authorities should be treated specifically on expenditure reductions when we deliberately do not single them out when we pay grants?

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Tyne Bridge

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He said that the Government do not single out local authorities. I agree with him. That is true, up to now. What exactly does the selective scheme do?

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

In the principle about which I am talking, there is no difference between what is happening under the new formula of block grant and what happened before. All Secretaries of State have had certain levers or multipliers — that is the fashionable word — at their disposal. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who is not in the Chamber at present, has constantly made fun of the present scheme. He listed all the multipliers. Multipliers existed under the old scheme, with multiple regression analysis, which, I suggest, was more confusing than the present scheme.

It has never been the case that any Secretary of State could vary the amount of grant to a specific authority. He could vary only the way the grant bore on authorities by class—whether district or county councils. It is perverse to say that, although we say that we stick to that principle —that is right because we do not want the Secretary of State when paying grants to discriminate for personal or political reasons in favour of a particular authority—it flies out of the window when considering the purposes of the Bill.

Authorities should be treated as a class by the Secretary of State for the purpose of levying penalties. It is an important principle that we should not treat this matter on the basis suggested by the Opposition and that the rate support grant formula is applicable by class of authority.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) riposted to me that education was in a different category from the subject we are discussing. My analogy was appropriate. The powers we give to the Secretary of State for Education and Science are broader than those we give to any other Secretary of State. Virtually everything that has happened in British education practice has been done under broad powers and regulations governed by the Secretary of State. Hardly any of the regulations on British education have been debated on the Floor of the House.

We could argue that they should have been so debated, but there is a tradition of giving broad discretion to members of the Executive. The Secretary of State has, for example, launched a series of major initiatives into the curriculum, which develop the work done by his predecessors, including Mrs. Shirley Williams, who is now part of the alliance. She began the great debate with the former Labour Prime Minister on the curriculum. There is no statutory requirement for that to be done. It has not been debated by the House as a change in the law. That action is covered within the broad terms of legislation passed 39 years ago.

It is legitimate that at times we give Secretaries of State broad powers, and they can thereby operate the minutiae of the system.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The difference is, as I recall from reading—not from memory because 1944 was before I was born—that the local authorities were happy that the Secretary of State should have the power to ensure equality between local education authorities. This legislation is totally opposed by the local authorities which envisage the Secretary of State removing rather than giving them certain benefits.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

The hon. Gentleman is not a historian. There were fearsome rows about the proposals in the 1944 Act from all kinds of vested interests. A notable one was the Church interest. It proves that vested interests that have something at stake will always fight tooth and claw to preserve their privileged position. That happened when we debated the 1944 Act, and it happens now, Local authorities have a position to defend and they will use every means at their disposal in defending it. They will oppose what is being proposed by the Government. That does not necessarily prove the argument in terms of constitutional propriety.

It seems odd, given the track record of the House and the principles upon which we have always operated, that on this occasion we are suddenly saying that we, as a legislature, should crawl over the budgets and details of 10, 12, 15 or 50 local authorities. Are we a legislature or an administrative department of state? The job of this House is to pass broad powers, not to scrutinise in detail the budgets or practices of individual local authorities.

To add a further point about the practical operation of the proposal for local authorities, I had the privilege of being tangentially attached to the Department of the Environment, and I do not know of one year during the four years that I was there when local authorities did not plead passionately on their knees for better particulars of what they were obliged to do. "Where do we stand?" is almost the catch phrase of local authorities. They have belaboured the Government and complained that the rules of the game change year by year and that they do not know where they stand. I say to those right hon. and hon. Members putting forward these proposals that, whatever their feelings about the Bill, what they are saying about this clause is nonsense, from the point of view not just of the House but of local authorities.

The idea that the House should debate in detail the affairs of 10, 12, 20 or 50 authorities is nonsense. Where would they stand? Months would go by, not just days. I suggest that in terms of principle and practicality——

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

My hon. Friend should not forget that my right hon. Friend referred to 16 to 20 local authorities and not 50. If my hon. Friend talks in terms of 50, he is confirming our worst fears. Is he saying that he is happy for the Secretary of State to be personally responsible for determining the budgets of 50 or more local authorities?

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

I shall recap what I was saying. I believe that there is an issue of principle as to what this place is about. It is a legislature to give broad powers to Secretaries of State to do various things. I have cited the analogy of education. My hon. Friend is plainly against giving the Secretary of State the powers, and that is a legitimate argument. It is what the House must decide. If the House believes that a Secretary of State should have certain powers, it should leave it to him to operate the minutiae.

I return to the practice as it affects local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) mentioned 50. If my right hon. Friend and his predecessors are correct, these powers will be like a sword of Damocles over the system. That is the whole point of them. My right hon. Friend has said several times recently, and he is right, that the threat of this legislation has tamed local authority budgeting and rate demands to an extraordinary extent.

It is possible to have some discipline in local authority finance. If the powers in the Bill, direct and implied exercise discipline over local authority finance, it will be a good thing. We are talking of only a handful of local authorities. If we are to have, as Opposition Members hope, a landslide in their favour and Liverpool councils writ large or even small throughout the land, and anything verging on the attitudes we see in Liverpool, many local authorities will deliberately flout the Government, even if it is their own Labour Government. We know what Liverpool has said to the Labour leader. So we could end up with 50 authorities involved.

We are debating the principle and putting into statute something that must apply in any situation. Frankly, to use Haigspeak, it boggles the mind to think of the affairs of a couple of dozen to 50 authorities being debated on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury 10:45 pm, 27th March 1984

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) said that the House should not engage in detailed consideration of local authority budgets. In an ideal world, if there was no suggestion of the Secretary of State taking upon himself the powers enshrined in the Bill, I should entirely agree. However, the Secretary of State is taking power not just to cap the rates of local authorities but, in so doing, to abrogate all the detailed discussions that authorities now undertake regarding the nature of their budgets, their expenditure and the services provided to their local communities. If he does that, he must of necessity undertake close scrutiny of the detailed expenditure of the authorities concerned, and as it is the duty of Parliament to scrutinise the activities of the Executive, the House must give the same detailed consideration to these matters.

We are talking not just about an exercise based on an arbitrary set of figures with percentages whistled up to catch the number of authorities that the Secretary of State wishes, but about the effect on the people in the areas affected in terms of redundancies, lost services and inability to make desperately needed improvements in services. That will be the detailed impact of the legislation. Any Secretary of State seeking to cap the rates of an authority or a series of authorities must undertake the most careful consideration of those factors and the consequences of his proposed action. If he does not do that, he will be abrogating the responsibilities that he seeks to exercise as Secretary of State.

The legislation effectively takes the power of local authority budgeting and consideration of services away from the local authority, so that the Secretary of State will make decisions which should properly be made by the authority. Because the Secretary of State will be making those decisions, this Chamber — the democratic and accountable forum to which he is answerable — must itself undertake the same detailed consideration.

It is not the same as the Secretary of State simply being given a general power and a general responsibility and being told to go away and exercise it, as happens to a certain extent under the present education legislation. The Secretary of State is taking upon himself powers which at the moment belong to democratically elected authorities, and it is because he is seizing these powers under this legislation that the House, which is supposed to be the safeguard of democracy, must itself exercise the most careful scrutiny.

This measure is not the same as the education legislation. It is very different, and I hope that the Secretary of State will not tell the House that he is simply going to parade a list of local authorities, a list of percentage rate increases and a list of percentages above grant-related expenditure, and that will be it.

The impact of the legislation on each of the individual local authorities affected will be different in every case. The right hon. Gentleman must take that into consideration in his scrutiny and in what he is doing, and the House must take it into consideration in its scrutiny of what is being done.

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Tyne Bridge

This debate is the result of what happens when Governments put guillotines on. Here we have 11 amendments together. It is worse than the amendments we are talking about, because we are talking about individual authorities in this democratic place. I quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) on one point. This used to be the place where democracy was and could be debated. After this Bill, that will be a thing of the past.

I have never in all my life heard a more naive speech than that made by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West. It was as if Governments of any colour did not in fact examine local authority budgets now. Has he never heard of targets, clawbacks, holdbacks, permitted expenditure levels? Could I welcome him to the real world, because it is going on now?

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Tyne Bridge

I have not finished with you yet.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mean that he has not finished with me.

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Tyne Bridge

I would never finish with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have not finished yet with the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West. I hope that that clarifies the situation.

The hon. Gentleman spoke as if the two things we are asking for in this amendment did not happen already. He intervened in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Devises (Mr. Morrison) and proved conclusively that he did not know what the hon. Gentleman was talking about and did not even understand what his hon. Friend was trying to move.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

I understand very well that we have holdback, targets and, before that, clawback, of which we still have a variation. Under the old situation before block grant we used to claw back from local authorities mid-year to pay the extra, because it was pro-rata: the more they spent the more that they got. My point was that it was not debated on the Floor of the House. Why should the hon. Gentleman believe that the details should not be debated on the Floor of the House?

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Tyne Bridge

The right hon. Gentleman said that we used to have. I will bring him back into the real world. We still have all these things and they are over and above this. Why did they not get debated on the Floor of the House? Because that was the Government exercising their right over the amount of money they gave to local authorities, and that was quite in order. All Governments did it. The difference now is that local authorities are not going to be allowed to raise the wherewithal from the local community. Why should it not be debated on the Floor of the House? The right hon. Gentleman said it would be too cumbersome, there would be too many authorities, and he put figures on it. But I have sat in the Committee for a long time and the Secretary of State has not addressed me. He has turned to the legions behind him and told them not to worry because he will never have to exercise part 2. He said—and that is on record—that there would be only about 10 authorities. Then halfway through the Committee stage he changed it to 20 and at the end of the Committee we got to 33.

I submit that it is not beyond the powers of the House to debate 33 local authorities. Who places the local authorities in different categories? It is the same man who does everything else under the Bill—The Secretary of State. The fact that Nelson slept in a hammock does not make it right for us to sleep in bunks. We should move forward.

We should deprecate legislation pushed through the House that takes away power from locally-elected representatives. The Secretary of State should not make orders ad nauseam without the principles being debated.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) should communicate with his hon. Friends who served on the Committee. What he advocated in 20 minutes, we advocated for 25 weeks. We tried to persuade the Government to outline the criteria, but they did not do so because they do not know what they are. That is another reason why each authority should be debated by the House.

Hon. Members, including Conservative Members, have been sent here by the people to look after their interests. We should not pass legislation that does not spell out the principles and the criteria. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West is quite happy that those should not appear in the legislation, but be left to the Secretary of State. He may be happy, but I am not and nor are those who sent me here. We want to argue the principles and take decisions in a democracy. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West is advocating the taking away of democracy.

I cannot look in a crystal ball and see what the Secretary of State will decide. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether a local authority that, on the Government's criteria, is part of a partnership because it is a deprived area, will be put in the same category as a local authority that does not qualify for partnerhsip? There are not many special development areas left because of the Government's policies, but will those remaining be put in the same category as a local authority that does not qualify for that status?

The Government are being remarkably foolish. They recognise through partnership and special development status that certain areas are special cases. Yet when such a local authority if fined for overspending its GRE, the Government give it money from another pocket because it holds a special status as a deprived area. Would it not make more sense if the Government recognised that it was a special case and allowed it to spend what the community wanted it to spend? That is the difference between myself and the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West.

I warn every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber — and those who are not — that the trend throughout this Parliament is to give to the Executive more and more power that we should be exercising. that is what the amendment is about. Wherever we read that the Secretary of State will make an order, we should rephrase it to read, "Whitehall civil servants will make the order". No Secretary of State worth his salt, with all his onerous duties, can do all that himself. The Secretary of State is shaking his head. Of course, I accept that he will oversee the process and be responsible for it. Right hon. and hon. Members are giving away their right to challenge the Executive at the point of first contact.

If the amendment is not carried, the House will be faced —if it is lucky—with a one and a half hour debate that might encompass 33 diverse local authorities. One does not have to be a Bachelor of Science to work out that if there are 33 local authorities and at least 33 Members of Parliament who want to debate that issue, 33 into one and a half hours does not go. Again, we are passing to the Executive the rights that people put us here to use.

Even if right hon. and hon. Members do not totally agree with this amendment, they should remember that they are giving their rights away. If we now have a good Secretary of State—and I am sure that we have; I said that without being solicited to do so—what about the next one, or the one after that, or the one in 100 years' time. Right hon. and hon. Members should not give this power away, and they should agree to this amendment.

11 pm

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

I must take up a point that was made by the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) and a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), saying that the decisions taken under the Bill would be taken by civil servants, and that Ministers would only be rubberstammps. I refute that strongly. In the Department of the Environment we have to deal with many local authorities. In the course of a year, I and my hon. Friends probably receive hundreds of delegations from local authorities all over the country. We concern ourselves in considerable detail with the cases put by local authorities about why they consider that the targets are unfair, or that the rate support grant distribution has not worked, or that the housing investment programme has not been appropriate. These matters are considered in great detail by Ministers. I want to pay tribute to the junior Ministers in my Department, who carry so much of the burden of that work.

It is not fair to civil servants to say that they carry the responsibility. Of course, their advice and the detailed work that they do is invaluable to Ministers. We could not carry out our functions without them. However, I want to put it firmly on the record that the major decisions—and, undoubtedly, major decisions will be taken under this part of the Bill—will be taken by Ministers, with as full an appreciation of the facts and the arguments as we can make. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will accept that.

A number of hon. Members have made Second Reading speeches. I do not say that in an unkind sense. Sometimes a Report debate is none the worse for that. I shall resist the temptation to read out to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) the list of absurd excesses in the expenditure of the Lambeth borough council, to which I pay my rates. We all understand that an area such as Lambeth has social problems. We are well aware of that, and that is why Lambeth is one of only two partnership authorities in London. However, one would go into that partnership with considerably more enthusiasm if one did not see the local authority squandering money as if it were water on any manner of nonsense—peace officers, creches, and so on. It has established two separate crèches—one for the children of Labour councillors, and the other for the one Tory child. It is quite absurd.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

No, I shall not give way. I want to come to the amendments.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

Some Conservative Members think that a creche is an accident in Knightsbridge. Why will not the right hon. Gentleman defer to the judgment of the voters of Lambeth, who last week put the Tory party very much at the bottom of the poll in the council by-election?

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

I had not heard the one about the accident in Knightsbridge. However, I was brought up to believe, like the people of Morningside, that sex was what one carried coal in.

We have been debating an important group of amendments which provide for the Secretary of State's decisions at each stage of the rate limitation process to be set out separately for each authority and for each decision to be subject to more rigorous parliamentary procedures. I understand the motivation that prompts these amendments and, as there are four groups of amendments, I will deal with each in turn.

The first four amendments seek to provide for separate reports to the House on the principles used in designating each authority selected for rate limitation. As clause 2 is drafted, it requires the reports laid before the House to set out the authorities designated in the report and a statement of the principles in accordance with which the designations have been made.

Here I take up a point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Incidentally, I was not aware that Bermondsey was a local authority —I may be a little out of date; perhaps UDI has been declared—because I thought that it was Southwark. He said that we would lump together all the local authorities, and he mentioned Bodmin and Bermondsey.

If he studies the Bill he will recognise that the principles used must be common to all authorities of the same class, and by "class" — I might tell my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls)— I mean the classes set out in clause 2(5), metropolitan counties, non-metropolitan counties and so on. There would not, of course, be a separate class of partnership or programme authorities; that would not be appropriate. We would expect the principles usually to be the same for all authorities, or at least the same for the same class. It is difficult to see what could be put into separate reports that could not as easily be put into one report. This group of amendments is over-egging the pudding considerably.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

I will not give way because I want to develop the argument.

It is clear that the purpose of the clause as drafted is to require the Secretary of State to set out formally the principles that he has used in exercising his statutory discretion. He is, of course, accountable for the decisions that he takes. The information given in the report will provide the basis on which, even though the report is not subject to a formal procedure, it can be questioned. That can be done by way of parliamentary question, by an investigation of the relevant Select Committee or by the other procedures that are open to Members of the House.

In exercising his discretion, the Secretary of State is required to act "reasonably" in the legal sense, and he could be taken to court if he failed to do so. I was recently taken to court by the London borough of Hackney, and the court decided in my favour. [Interruption.] The GLC has lost a case against the London borough of Bromley. I cannot see how separate reports would in any way facilitate matters.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

I get the impression that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is conceding that point from a sedentary position.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening to my earlier speech he would have heard me concede it from the Dispatch Box. We shall be voting on amendment 6 only because, for procedural reasons connected with the guillotine, we cannot vote on the amendment on which we wanted to vote.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

I understand that. I do not believe that separate reports based on the designation report would be right.

Amendment 8 stands on its own. By deleting subsection (7), it would make it impossible to have separate reports for authorities in England and Wales, and I do not believe that hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies would welcome that; if the Opposition vote on that, I trust that those hon. Members will be with us in the Lobby.

The next sub-group seeks to require that at each stage —designation, and the setting of expenditure levels and rate limits — the Secretary of State's decisions are subject to approval by an affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament. We have never doubted the importance of involving Parliament appropriately in the procedures under the Bill, but we are talking about a matter of taxation, and in the past it has not been considered appropriate for details of local rating to be brought before the other place. Confirmation of that view may be found in the fact that the rate support grant reports, which dispose of very large Exchequer sums to local authorities, do not go to the other place, and are subject only to approval by this House. It would seem very inappropriate to require the specific matters in clause 2 to go to the other place.

Amendment No. 30 seeks to have the expenditure levels set under clause 3 subject to this detailed approval. It does not seem to us appropriate to seek the approval of the House at that stage for those numbers. It is open to the authorities to come back to seek redeterminations of expenditure levels in the light of their particular circumstances. In a sense the first setting of an expenditure level might be seen as an opening bid. It may be perfectly acceptable to the authority, which might rest there. On the other hand, it is more likely to want to come back and seek a derogation. It would be otiose to involve Parliament in a discussion at that stage when the details may all be changed during the course of negotiation. Of course, the final order setting the rate limit must come before the House of Commons, and that is already in the Bill.

Furthermore, a requirement for parliamentary debate raises substantial practical problems of timetabling. That point applies equally to amendment No. 29 and the designation of authorities for selective rate limitation. The hon. Member for Blackburn acknowledged that in the last debate I said that I saw some advantage in making provision for some form of involvement of the House as regards the selection principles. I had to be cautious, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises, because I was concerned about the practical implications of any such procedure. In a normal year there will be a very tight timetable between May and July in setting and publishing the selections. The budgets for the year in which selection takes place and expenditure levels are set are not usually available to the Department of the Environment in their final form until May. The designation and expenditure level decisions will need careful consideration. Yet everyone — and this point has been made frequently today—has stressed the need for giving authorities early warning of what is required of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) made that point very strongly from his experience with the Department.

That is certainly the Government's view. We would want to make our views and decisions known well before the summer holidays, if that is at all practicable. If we are to achieve that, the addition of a statutory parliamentary debate could make the programme very difficult. I really wonder whether that would be a feasible procedure. It certainly would not work this year, when the whole process will have to start later, as the Bill will not reach the statute book until well into the summer.

Amendment No. 29, as it stands, is not technically adequate. It would also include the other place in the procedure and that, I think, would be wrong. I have already said that it would not be appropriate for the other place to discuss rating matters, as the RSG is not discussed there. I am also doubtful as to whether the affirmative resolution procedure would be right, as that too would add to the difficulties of the timetable. However, I hope that my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Blackburn will accept that I should like to look further at the possibilities, without commitment, to see whether some solution that would involve the House with the designation of the principles, can be found. I say that in good faith.

Amendments Nos. 14, 28 and 35 would restrict the rate limit setting orders under clause 4 to only one authority. I am well aware of the interest in the coverage of reports and orders under the Bill and the fears that there might be inadequate discussion if the composite reports and orders were taken as we envisaged. We had much discussion of this matter in Committee. We took the view that the Opposition have never been averse to the use of such composite powers in legislation for which they were responsible. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State mentioned the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975 and the Community Land Act 1975. Some of us remember the remarkable proposal made by Lord Glenamara, who suggested that all of our legislation should be done under general enabling Acts. The fact that that proposal was made by a former Labour Leader of the House casts some doubt on Labour's commitment to the concept of parliamentary debate.

The rate support grant orders and the various supplementary reports which cover the full range of local authorities have traditionally been debated together in one order in a debate that lasts the whole day. I repeat the assurance that there will be adequate time for debate. I find it difficult to envisage circumstances in which it would not be appropriate for an order that covers designation and rate limiting to have a full day, but that must be a matter for discussion through the usual channels. There is no question of the Government trying to rush such a debate in one and a half hours up to 11.30 pm. Of course we shall examine authorities' individual circumstances when considering applications for redetermination, but we must take those decisions on a basis that is consistent for all authorities.

It is important that the House ensures that there is consistency between local authorities and the levels that take account of their circumstances. It would be perfectly proper for the House to exercise its supervisory role over Ministers rather than try to substitute judgments for those of Ministers and those who advise us. I do not believe that a composite order would prevent proper discussion. That has not been my limited experience of rate support grant orders. My recollection is that we had an effective debate last January. The same would be the case for a rate setting order under the Bill.

The fears that my hon. Friends and other have expressed are misplaced. The procedures, with the undertaking that I have given to look, without commitment, at the possibility of some form of procedure involving the House in the designation of principles will, I hope, enable the House to feel able to reject the amendment.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, No. 6, in page 2, line 23, after `report', insert 'or reports'.—[Mr. Straw.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 193, Noes 300.

Divlsion No. 208][11.20 pm
AYES
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Anderson, Donald
Alton, DavidArcher, Rt Hon Peter
Ashdown, PaddyHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Ashley, Rt Hon JackHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Heffer, Eric S.
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Hogg, N. (Cnauld & Kilsyth)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Barnett, GuyHome Robertson, John
Barron, KevinHowells, Geraint
Beckett, Mrs MargaretHoyle, Douglas
Beggs, RoyHughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Beith, A. J.Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Bell, StuartHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Benn, TonyHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Bermingham, GeraldJanner, Hon Greville
Blair, AnthonyJenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyJohn, Brynmor
Boyes, RolandJohnston, Russell
Bray, Dr JeremyJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Kennedy, Charles
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Kirkwood, Archibald
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Lambie, David
Bruce, MalcolmLamond, James
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Campbell-Savours, DaleLewis, Terence (Worsley)
Canavan, DennisLitherland, Robert
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Carter-Jones, LewisMcCartney, Hugh
Cartwright, JohnMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)McGuire, Michael
Clarke, ThomasMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Clay, RobertMcKelvey, William
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Cohen, HarryMcNamara, Kevin
Coleman, DonaldMcTaggart, Robert
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.McWilliam, John
Conlan, BernardMadden, Max
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Marek, Dr John
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Corbett, RobinMartin, Michael
Corbyn, JeremyMason, Rt Hon Roy
Cowans, HarryMaxton, John
Craigen, J. M.Maynard, Miss Joan
Crowther, StanMeadowcroft, Michael
Cunliffe, LawrenceMichie, William
Cunningham, Dr JohnMikardo, Ian
Dalyell, TamMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphiliy)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Deakins, EricNellist, David
Dobson, FrankO'Neill, Martin
Dubs, AlfredOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Park, George
Eadie, AlexParry, Robert
Eastham, KenPatchett, Terry
Ellis, RaymondPavitt, Laurie
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Pendry, Tom
Ewing, HarryPenhaligon, David
Fatchett, DerekPike, Peter
Faulds, AndrewPowell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Prescott, John
Fisher, MarkRadice, Giles
Flannery, MartinRandall, Stuart
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRedmond, M.
Forrester, JohnRichardson, Ms Jo
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Foster, DerekRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Foulkes, GeorgeRobertson, George
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldRogers, Allan
Freud, ClementRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Garrett, W. E.Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
George, BruceRowlands, Ted
Godman, Dr NormanRyman, John
Gould, BryanSedgemore, Brian
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Sheerman, Barry
Hardy, PeterShore, Rt Hon Peter
Harman, Ms HarrietShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Short, Mrs R.(W'hampfn NE)Tinn, James
Silkin, Rt Hon J.Torney, Tom
Skinner, DennisWallace, James
Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)Wareing, Robert
Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)Weetch, Ken
Snape, PeterWelsh, Michael
Soley, CliveWhite, James
Spearing, NigelWilliams, Rt Hon A.
Steel, Rt Hon DavidWinnick, David
Stott, RogerWoodall, Alec
Strang, GavinYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Straw, Jack
Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)Tellers for the Ayes:
Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Don Dixon.
Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Division No. 207][9.36 pm
AYES
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Corbett, Robin
Alton, DavidCorbyn, Jeremy
Anderson, DonaldCowans, Harry
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCraigen, J. M.
Ashdown, PaddyCrowther, Stan
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCunliffe, Lawrence
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Dalyell, Tam
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Barnett, GuyDavis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Barron, KevinDeakins, Eric
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyDixon, Donald
Beckett, Mrs MargaretDobson, Frank
Beggs, RoyDubs, Alfred
Beith, A. J.Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Eadie, Alex
Benyon, WilliamEastham, Ken
Bermingham, GeraldEdwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)
Bidwell, SydneyEllis, Raymond
Blair, AnthonyEvans, John (St. Helens N)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyEwing, Harry
Boyes, RolandFatchett, Derek
Bray, Dr JeremyFaulds, Andrew
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Fisher, Mark
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Flannery, Martin
Bruce, MalcolmForrester, John
Buchan, NormanForsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Foster, Derek
Campbell-Savours, DaleFoulkes, George
Canavan, DennisFraser, J. (Norwood)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Freud, Clement
Carter-Jones, LewisGarrett, W. E.
Cartwright, JohnGeorge, Bruce
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Clarke, ThomasGodman, Dr Norman
Clay, RobertGould, Bryan
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Cohen, HarryHardy, Peter
Coleman, DonaldHarman, Ms Harriet
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Conlan, BernardHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Haynes, Frank
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Heffer, Eric S.
NOES
Adley, RobertBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Aitken, JonathanBright, Graham
Alexander, RichardBrinton, Tim
Ancram, MichaelBrittan, Rt Hon Leon
Arnold, TomBrown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Ashby, DavidBruinvels, Peter
Aspinwall, JackBryan, Sir Paul
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Buck, Sir Antony
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Budgen, Nick
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Butcher, John
Baldry, AnthonyButterfill, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Carlisle, John (N Luton)
Bellingham, HenryCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bendall, VivianCarttiss, Michael
Best, KeithChalker, Mrs Lynda
Bevan, David GilroyChapman, Sydney
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnChope, Christopher
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnChurchill, W. S.
Bonsor, Sir NicholasClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Bottomley, PeterClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Boyson, Dr RhodesClegg, SirWalter
Braine, Sir BernardCockeram, Eric
NOES
Adley, RobertDunn, Robert
Aitken, JonathanDurant, Tony
Alexander, RichardEggar, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelEmery, Sir Peter
Amery, Rt Hon JulianEvennett, David
Ancram, MichaelEyre, Sir Reginald
Arnold, TomFallon, Michael
Ashby, DavidFarr, John
Aspinwall, JackFavell, Anthony
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Fletcher, Alexander
Baldry, AnthonyFookes, Miss Janet
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Forman, Nigel
Bellingham, HenryForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bendall, VivianFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)Fox, Marcus
Best, KeithFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bevan, David GilroyFreeman, Roger
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFry, Peter
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnGale, Roger
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGalley, Roy
Bottomley, PeterGardiner, George (Reigate)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Boyson, Dr RhodesGarel-Jones, Tristan
Braine, Sir BernardGlyn, Dr Alan
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGoodhart, Sir Philip
Bright, GrahamGoodlad, Alastair
Brinton, TimGorst, John
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonGow, Ian
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Gower, Sir Raymond
Browne, JohnGrant, Sir Anthony
Bruinvels, PeterGreenway, Harry
Bryan, Sir PaulGregory, Conal
Buck, Sir AntonyGriffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Budgen, NickGriffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Burt, AlistairGrist, Ian
Butcher, JohnGround, Patrick
Butterfill, JohnGrylls, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Gummer, John Selwyn
Carttiss, MichaelHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHampson, Dr Keith
Chapman, SydneyHanley, Jeremy
Chope, ChristopherHannam, John
Churchill, W. S.Harvey, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Haselhurst, Alan
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Clegg, Sir WalterHawksley, Warren
Cockeram, EricHayes, J.
Colvin, MichaelHayhoe, Barney
Cope, JohnHayward, Robert
Corrie, JohnHeathcoat-Amory, David
Couchman, JamesHeddle, John
Cranborne, ViscountHenderson, Barry
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHickmet, Richard
Dicks, TerryHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Dorrell, StephenHill, James
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Hind, Kenneth
Dover, DenHirst, Michael
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Holt, RichardOsborn, Sir John
Hooson, TomOttaway, Richard
Hordern, PeterPage, John (Harrow W)
Howard, MichaelPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Parris, Matthew
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Patten, John (Oxford)
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Pattie, Geoffrey
Hubbard-Miles, PeterPawsey, James
Hunt, David (Wirral)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Pink, R. Bonner
Hunter, AndrewPollock, Alexander
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasPorter, Barry
Irving, CharlesPowell, William (Corby)
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPowley, John
Jessel, TobyProctor, K. Harvey
Johnson-Smith, Sir GeoffreyRathbone, Tim
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Renton, Tim
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRhodes James, Robert
Kershaw, Sir AnthonyRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
King, Rt Hon TomRifkind, Malcolm
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Knowles, MichaelRoe, Mrs Marion
Lamont, NormanRossi, Sir Hugh
Lang, IanRost, Peter
Latham, MichaelRowe, Andrew
Lawler, GeoffreyRumbold, Mrs Angela
Lawrence, IvanRyder, Richard
Lawson, Rt Hon NigelSackville, Hon Thomas
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lester, JimSayeed, Jonathan
Lilley, PeterShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lloyd, Ian (Havant)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lord, MichaelShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lyell, NicholasSilvester, Fred
McCrindle, RobertSims, Roger
McCurley, Mrs AnnaSkeet, T. H. H.
Macfarlane, NeilSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maclean, David JohnSpencer, Derek
McQuarrie, AlbertSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Major, JohnStanbrook, Ivor
Malins, HumfreyStanley, John
Malone, GeraldSteen, Anthony
Maples, JohnStern, Michael
Marland, PaulStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Marlow, AntonyStevens, Martin (Fulham)
Maude, Hon FrancisStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mawhinney, Dr BrianStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinStewart, lan (N Hertf'dshire)
Mayhew, Sir PatrickStokes, John
Mellor, DavidStradling Thomas, J.
Merchant, PiersSumberg, David
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Tapsell, Peter
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Miscampbell, NormanTemple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, David (NW Hants)Terlezki, Stefan
Moate, RogerThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Monro, Sir HectorThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Montgomery, FergusThornton, Malcolm
Moore, JohnThurnham, Peter
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moynihan, Hon C.Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Mudd, DavidTracey, Richard
Murphy, ChristopherTrotter, Neville
Neale, GerrardTwinn, Dr Ian
Nelson, Anthonyvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Neubert, MichaelVaughan, Sir Gerard
Newton, TonyWaddington, David
Nicholls, PatrickWakeham, Rt Hon John
Norris, StevenWaldegrave, Hon William
Onslow, CranleyWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Oppenheim, PhilipWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.Waller, Gary
Walters, DennisWilkinson, John
Ward, JohnWolfson, Mark
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)Wood, Timothy
Warren, KennethWoodcock, Michael
Watson, JohnYeo, Tim
Watts, JohnYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Wells, Bowen (Hertford)Younger, Rt Hon George
Wells, John (Maidstone)
Wheeler, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Whitfield, JohnMr. Carol Mather and Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Whitney, Raymond

Question accordingly negatived.