I beg to move, amendment No. 43, in page 22, line 46, at end insert—
'20. In the third Schedule to the General Rate Act 1967 (Classes of Machinery and Plant deemed to be part of hereditament) Class 4 therein shall cease to have effect'.'
This is an important amendment for industry, and I shall have to be brief in explaining why. The amendment seeks to change the rating system to remove the rating of fixed plant and machinery, the point being that, while industrial buildings are rated on the basis of including fixed plant and machinery, those that include mobile plant and machinery are rated in a different manner. The outcome of this is one of major significance for industrialists, for companies and firms throughout the major industrial areas, particularly in the midlands and the north, and for heavy industry on Tyneside, Wearside, Teesside, south Yorkshire and the midlands. These areas would benefit greatly if this amendment were to be accepted and the change were to be made.
I understand that the Sheffield chamber of commerce wrote to the Secretary of State about this matter in October 1983 and it illustrated its case by setting out some of the costs. For example, within an engineering company's department, including high volume, heavy but mobile plant, the rates as a percentage of turnover were 0·7 per cent., but in a different department of the same company, with fixed plant, the rates were 8·2 per cent. of turnover.
That is a brief illustration of the argument and the Government's attitude to this will be of great significance to industrial areas throughout the country. I commend the amendment to the House.
I have listened with attention to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). As he said, the Sheffield chamber of commerce has been in correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on this matter, and anything we hear from such a source we take extremely seriously, not only on this subject but on matters such as—
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have had a Report debate in which we have discussed detailed matters of mechanisms, safeguards and exemptions. It may be appropriate to remind the House that the Bill is about rates, about protecting ratepayers and about curbing high rates. Combined with the similar measures applicable to Scotland, the Bill carries out the pledge that we gave at the last election to the British people that:
We shall legislate to curb excessive and irresponsible rate increases by high-spending councils, and to provide a general scheme for limitation of rate increases for all local authorities to be used if necessary.
In addition, for industry we will require local authorities to consult local representatives of industry and commerce before setting their rates. We shall give more businesses the right to pay by instalments. And we shall stop the rating of empty industrial property.
This Bill fulfils all but the last pledge, and that is the subject of a statutory instrument that is now before the House.
I should like to stress the amount of care and thought that has gone into the debating of this Bill. The Committee stage lasted for 30 sittings —111½ hours of sustained debate. The guillotine was applied. only because, as we said on the guillotine motion, the Opposition were clearly indulging in time-wasting. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans)— whom I am glad to see in his place as he has been throughout most of the debate—in his most engaging manner kept us amused for no fewer than five and a half hours on the trot late one night. His loquacity as always entertained us, but that is not always the best way to debate a Bill.
However, it was remarkable how, once we had the guillotine, the Opposition introduced a dramatic change of tactics and at times seemed to have difficulty in finding enough material to fill the available time.
The Committee covered the Bill, which is a short but important one, in considerable detail and in our two full days of Report we have also been able to discuss at length many of the major issues in the Bill. The guillotine fell only on the final amendment relating to a technical point on plant and machinery.
The Bill is already having its impact on rate levels. The average general increase for rates in 1984–85 could turn out to be the lowest for 10 years—probably less than 6 per cent. That is what happens when minds are concentrated. I shall not weary the House again with the evidence from Newcastle upon Tyne to show how that council's mind was deliberately focused on the Bill in Committee, and on the fact that the council would have failed seven out of the 11 tests for capping that I illustratively put before the Committee.
The figure of 6 per cent., or perhaps less, is an average figure because it combines the authorities that are heeding the Government's expenditure plans with those that are not. Some rate increases are much higher than that. The latest indications from the London borough of Southwark are that its domestic rates will be up 15 per cent., with its local rate up a staggering 28 per cent. In the London borough of Lambeth, which the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) occasionally graces with his presence, as, indeed, I do, the borough rate is up no less than 34 per cent. In the London borough of Greenwich, in which the constituency of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) lies, although it is not quite so swingeing, it is up 20 per cent., but, as we all know, the rates of that borough have gone up more than fourfold in the past four years. The hon. Member for Woolwich — and this is an excerpt from the Committee stage which we shall be taking trouble to circulate in his constituency—said then that, although he did not agree with Greenwich council's priorities—and this is one of the highest spending councils in London—he did not think that it was an overspending council. That says volumes for the attitude of the SDP to these matters.
Since the expenditure of Greenwich, on the right hon. Gentleman's tables, has gone up in comparison to the rate increases by only 113 per cent., compared with a 400 per cent. increase in rates, will the Secretary of State explain why the rates have gone up three times as fast as expenditure over the past four years?
Of course. It is because the Government have operated a system that has sought to apply greater accountability to ratepayers, and so persuade councils to curb their spending. If councils like Greenwich council have simply refused to do so, they have ended up by imposing appalling burdens on their ratepayers. That is what the Bill is about, because the selective powers of part I will enable the Government to identify the most irresponsible local authorities, and we shall start this summer. At present they account for a disproportionate amount of the overspending on plans. Sixteen authorities only account for three quarters of the budgeted overspend in the current year. This will help us to secure our economic strategy, of which the central element is to rein in the public sector, so that individual and business taxpayers are left with more money to spend, or invest, as they wish rather than as the Government or public authorities think fit. The scheme will also have a wider shadow effect on other authorities who are obviously adopting more economical policies to avoid being selected next year.
Finally—and this is a point of great importance, of which I know my hon. Friends Ihave taken note—our ability to restrain the highest spenders effectively in the 1985–86 year will help us to meet what I entirely recognise are the genuine worries of the low spending councils.
Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been concerned that we have had to ask for proportionately greater savings from the lower spending councils to bring the total of spending near to our plans, and they have made it clear that they, as do my friends in the councils for the areas that they represent, regard that as very unfair. What I find so difficult to understand about people who accept that argument, as I think the Association of County Councils recognises, is that they continue to oppose even part I of the Bill. That seems an illogical stance. It is something which a number of its members are increasingly beginning to call into question. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) will have seen the correspondence from the leader of the Norwich council, taking a markedly different view on the Bill from the view that the Association of County Councils as a whole has taken, and I believe that he has been joined by a number of neighbouring council leaders.
Most concern has been focused on the reserve powers of general rate limitation, on which we have had a good debate in Committee, and earlier today. I emphasise that the general scheme is a reserve scheme. We hope never to have to use the powers, but they need to be in place on the statute book in case the circumstances arise in which they have to he used. The purpose is to show that, if any council is tempted to follow the road to extravagance, we intend to see our economic policies through. Once the Bill is on the statute book, responsible councillors in the high spending authorities, those councillors who argue for economy, will be able to point to part II of the Bill to back up their arguments. I think that that will be helpful to them. If, in a year's time, or in two, three or four years' time, we find ourselves with 60, 80 or 100 authorities bent on pursuing wildly extravagant polices, the powers in part I would not be appropriate to deal with that, and in those circumstances we would need to take the steps to put a general ceiling on local authority spending and rates.
I emphasise that the rain will not fall on the just and unjust alike. The Bill already contains the power to exclude by order councils spending below a given level. Earlier today, I went further, and promised to commit myself to more specific exclusions in the Bill. I gave a firm undertaking to table an amendment in another place to meet the principles contained in what was amendment No. 39, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) and a number of my hon. Friends. I was grateful for the general welcome given to that undertaking, and we shall of course fulfil it.
One other fear that has been expressed about part II —and this was mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)—is that the procedural safeguards that we have built into the Bill are inadequate. The House will know that, before part II can be implemented, there has to be consultation with local authorities, and an order which has to be passed affirmatively in this House and in the other House.
My right hon. and learned Friend suggested that the orders might be debated late at night, and perhaps with only an hour and a half for discussion. The House knows that, following the consultation with local authorities, there is bound to be considerable debate on the matter. There will no doubt be a good deal of acrimony and discussion, and a lot of correspondence. When the matter comes before Parliament, I would regard it as inconceivable that such an important change could be approved without a major debate in each House. I have made it clear that we would not want it to be otherwise.
The fact is that it could be approved after one and a half hours, and for all the letters that might flow, and for all the representations that might be made, this matter could be decided in one and half hours between 11.30 and 1 am.
My hon. Friend knows that that would apply to a great many orders of importance. I might cite the rate support grant orders, which are hotly debated in the House every year, when precisely the same provisions apply. My hon. Friend will know that the pressure in the House, through the usual channels and through the Whips' Office, would make sure, as it does every year, that those orders are fully debated, as these would be.
In part II, we are debating a matter which, if it had to be implemented, would mean a substantial change in the relationship between central and local government. It is therefore right for it to be debated fully during the passage of the Bill, and I have no doubt that it will be debated fully in another place. Because it is an important matter, it is an unreal fear to imagine that somehow this will be slipped through at two or three o'clock in the morning as, for instance, the question of the House of Commons underground garage was slipped through. I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend will remember that.
From the fuss that was made, some people might have thought that it was.
I have made my position clear. It is not my intention that such an important change should be approved without a major debate in both Houses.
I think that the question of the constitutional nature of the change is important. I appreciate the way in which my right hon. Friend bas emphasised the major constitutional significance—to use his words—of any proposed change under the powers that he now seeks. It would be valuable to have his reassurance that he recognises not merely that the debate on part II has been a debate on a constitutional matter, but that orders made under part II will be orders of constitutional significance.
The orders under part II will implement part II and, therefore, will themselves have constitutional implications. I would not wish to suggest that it is, therefore, inappropriate for the matter to be dealt with by order. It is unusual with legislation affecting local authority rating to involve both Houses of Parliament. For example, the rate support grant orders are not debatable in another place, only in this House. Yet the orders made under the Bill will be debated in, and require the approval of, both Houses. That is an important safeguard. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) wondered why that should be. I must spell it out.
If, after local elections or some other event, we are faced quite suddenly with a substantial number of overspending councils—my hon. Friend shakes his head in disbelief, but it could happen—we would need to act promptly. If that happens during a financial year we would be faced with the prospect of introducing fresh legislation that might not get through the House before the end of ithe Session. We might have to wait two or even three years before the rate capping would affect the councils and protect their ratepayers. Faced with the experience that we have had with the minority, no responsible Government would leave such a gap. That is why we must have these provisions in the Bill.
Opinions are one thing, but constitutional imbalance is something quite different. Would my right hon. Friend be happy if the tables were reversed, the Secretary of State was a Labour Member and the electorate, in revulsion at what was being done, decided to elect a great many Conservative authorities, and their will was immediately negated, expunged and revoked by Government edict?
My hon. Friend has put a wholly unreal proposition. [Laughter.] Oh yes he has. I am grateful to him for having raised the point. What lies at the heart of the Bill is the long-standing constitutional convention that local authorities broadly abide by the spending guidelines laid down by Parliament.
The hon. Member for Blackburn has consistently denied that convention. Governments whom he supported relied on it and Governments who have made appeals for economy from councils throughout the country received a favourable response from a large number of them in areas that are now represented by my hon. Friends. Many Labour-controlled councils have recognised, and still recognise, that the House has an overall right to establish the totality of public spending.
Local authorities are under a constitutional obligation. A minority of councils have chosen to deny that and to make speeches about the local state and so on. In the end, the House has had to step in to say that, although we would rather have left the matter to convention, that convention is not being observed. The electorate cannot vote for a unilateral declaration of independence—it cannot vote to opt out of the constitutional convention.
Time does not allow more than a brief mention of the rate reform measures in part III. The measures to require consultation with business and improvement in rating arrangements for the disabled are not inconsiderable reforms. They will help respectively the accountability of local authorities and the position of a minority of people who deserve and receive our sympathy and support. They are useful measures that will have widespread consent.
I hope that my right hon. Friend can reassure those of us whose main objection to the Bill is that it does not go far enough in dealing with the whole question of rate reform. Is the Bill the totality of the Government's proposals for rate reform during this Parliament?
I am a firm admirer of James Bond, and his latest film is called "Never Say Never Again". I would be the last to say that it would not be possible at some future date to find some effective reform of local government finance. The problems of high-spending, extravagant authorities that are holding their ratepayers to ransom must be dealt with now. I do not preclude the possibility that at some future date the search for a satisfactory alternative to rates, which has so far eluded us, will succeed. I hope that we can resume the search, but in the meantime we must get the Bill through Parliament.
I wish to clarify some of the misunderstandings about the provisions of schedule 2 that relate to moorings. There has been a great deal of disquiet about that provision, and it is right to put the matter on record. Occupiers of moorings have been liable to be assessed for rates since the middle of the 19th century. Many of the letters received by the Department have suggested that the provisions of schedule 2 represent some enormous advance in the rating system and extend rating to a whole class of hereditaments. That is not true. In practice, many owners of moorings have escaped liability because of the practical difficulty of making assessments.
We estimate that 35,000 moorings are currently rated and pay rates, and that 40,000 moorings that should pay rates do not do so. That arbitrary distinction is unsatisfactory and unfair. The schedule simplifies the assessment of moorings by enabling the owners of groups of moorings to be rated.
The schedule also deals with swinging moorings—a single block of concrete or anchor on the bed of a river or the sea to which a buoy is secured. There is a doubt about the rateability of some moorings. If they are not permanently fixed to the sea bed, they may not be rateable. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said in Committee, in response to an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), the Government have concluded that it would be sensible to clarify the law and that it would be desirable to ensure that all swinging moorings are treated in like manner. We are considering what changes are needed to ensure that such moorings are not liable to be assessed for rates.
If the issue were judged by the number of letters that my Department has received, those cheers would be well merited. What has been the law in Scotland will now be the law in England also.
The Rates Bill is designed to curb high spending and high rates and to protect ratepayers. It includes an important element to prevent a new and disastrous surge in spending. It contains strong safeguards to ensure that control of public spending is balanced against the need for healthy local authority decision-making on local issues. It is an important part of the Government's implementation of their pledges at the last election, and as such I commend it to the House.
I regard this as a sad and dangerous occasion for the House of Commons. I say that, not simply as a Socialist, but as a northerner to whom increased London domination of life and activities of the part of the country that I represent is anathema. I believe that that view is shared by millions of people, regardless of political persuasion.
The issues on Third Reading remain the same as they were in our debate on 17 January this year. The Bill is a naked attack on local democracy and local freedom and rights. It embodies a fundamental change in the constitution—a major shift in the balance of power from local level to Whitehall. It is remarkable how sensitive the Secretary of State is to that charge. It is also remarkable that the speech that he has just made will probably be remembered for the fact that he devoted more time in it to the rating of yacht moorings than to the constitutional change that is embodied in the Bill.
The Secretary of State talked about a consensus being broken by local government. If anyone has broken a consensus in the relationship between central and local government it is this Administration, who carried out an increasing assault on local government and local democracy throughout the last Parliament, and that assault has been heightene
It is also strange, and indicative of the present mood and thinking of Ministers, that increasingly they fear to trust electors to make the decisions that have been made in our cities, towns and shires for decades—not only in this case, but apparently also in the case of the future of the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties of England, where we believe that people are to have their right to vote taken away from them in an imminent Bill that the Government intend to introduce.
The Bill embodies a major change in local government finance. It envisages the central use of the theoretical calculation—grant-related expenditure assessments—as a bench mark against which local government's performance will be judged, and against which the needs of many of the most underprivileged and disadvantaged people in our communities will also be judged. The proposal, like the Bill as a whole, not only wrecks but renounces a series of promises made by Conservative Ministers, the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman—the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—who repeatedly promised this House and local government that grant-related expenditure was never intended to be used in that way and would never be used in that way. It is clear, in addition, that even now, in spite of all that the Government have attempted to do with local authority associations, those associations remain implacably opposed to the use of grant-related expenditure as envisaged in the Bill. It is a wholly unsuitable measure or test for use in the way that the Bill envisages.
The Bill as a whole reneges on the promise made by the Prime Minister to abolish domestic rates altogether—a promise that millions of people remember all too well. It was astonishing to hear the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) say that the Bill did not go far enough in reforming the rating system. The Bill makes no attempt to reform the rating system. It is not a rates Bill. It is not about reforming rates. It will do nothing in that direction. It is an expenditure Bill. It is a measure to control expenditure, with massive and far-reaching implications for education, social services, housing and the whole range of services that is historically provided by the community for the community's benefit. That is what the Bill is about. At a time when the overwhelming majority of local education authorities are judged by this Government's inspectors not to be coming up to minimum standards, it is astonishing that this Bill will be used to make a further attack on education provision in our schools.
Our Committee proceedings show quite clearly, and the Secretary of State admitted it during our discussions, that his intention is to control the expenditure and budgets of local authorities. Moreover, the Bill cannot produce fairness between ratepayers. It cannot result in significant reductions in public expenditure, unless part II is widely implemented. The Secretary of State said again this evening that that is not his intention. His predecessors said that it was never their intention that the penalties introduced to attack local government by this Administration would be widely used, but those penalties are now implemented almost across the board, in shires, boroughs and cities.
The Secretary of State was rather foolish to mention election pledges, because the Bill does not carry out an election pledge. It is a smokescreen for the fact that the Government are ratting on a twice-given election pledge to get rid of domestic rates. The Bill's intention is to give Ministers power to dictate to councils what they can spend in tackling the problems that people have elected those councillors to solve in the communities that they represent.
The Government often talk—the Secretary of State did it again this evening—about rates, but the Secretary of State almost never talks about the services on which so many millions of people depend. He never talks about the damage that is being done to those services in our communities. In particular, he never talks about the damage that is being done to the disadvantaged and to those who are at risk—the elderly, the infirm, the sick, young children, the black and ethnic communities. I understand that his Department has confirmed that, in addition to this measure, the future of partnership and programme provision is under review. Again, the Treasury is enforcing its judgment on his Department. It would be a catastrophe if those programmes were wound up. To lose partnership and programme, or support for black and ethnic communities in inner cities, will increase social tension, disadvantage and disillusion. It will also increase bitterness and anger.
The right hon. Gentleman is fond of picking on certain authorities. He mentioned Greenwich again this evening, as he has done many times before. I was in Greenwich this morning, seeing some of the services provided by that borough and some of the problems that the council is trying to deal with. If he believes that Greenwich—which is, I think, the fourth lowest rated inner London Borough—is profligate, he should look at some of the other inner and outer London boroughs. He should look at what the Audit Commission said about Greenwich council. If he thinks that Greenwich is extravagant, he had better look at the cost of administration there compared with that in other London boroughs. If he does all those things and comes back to the House saying that Greenwich is extravagant, he will not only be deluding himself but he will be deceiving the House.
One can say the same about Hackney, Liverpool and south Tyneside. Those are all communities under considerable stress, not as a result of councils wanting to put up rates willy-nilly but because of the persistent reduction of the rate support grant by the right hon. Gentleman and his Government colleagues.
The facts speak for themselves. There has been a consistent and real reduction in the RSG in every year that the Goverment have been in office.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am against the Bill as much as he is, but does he agree that, although Liverpool council house rents may be some of the highest in the country, although its Conservative leader thinks that the budget set for Liverpool is draconian, although it is conceded that Liverpool has problems, if Liverpool goes on a lawless course, all good men who believe in the parliamentary running of Britain should condemn that course?
I shall not be drawn into a debate on what is happening in Liverpool except to say that if the hon. Gentleman is unaware of my views about what is taking place in Liverpool that is his fault and not mine. I have gone out of my way to make it clear to the leaders of Liverpool city council, to the media and to anyone else who has asked me what my views are that Liverpool city council should adopt a legal budget and a legal rate. I have said that many times. In case anyone is in any doubt, I should say that the position which obtains in Liverpool at the moment is not the fault of the Labour group which took office only 10 months ago, but is due to 10 years of Conservative and Liberal control. However, that is a side issue—
Frightened of the hon. Gentleman? He must be joking. The hon. Gentleman deludes himself. He has delusions of grandeur. I shall give way in a moment if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself.
It is a fact that the Labour party came to office in Liverpool city council 10 months ago. Anyone who argues that it is responsible for the situation in Liverpool is guilty of fabrication.
I am concerned not whether the hon. Gentleman is frightened of me but whether he is frightened of the arguments. The fact is that the culprit in the city of Liverpool is not my party, his party or the Conservative party, but the Government, who have taken away money year by year. The Labour party has been the largest in the city of Liverpool for five years but would not accept the reins of office; only the Liberals would do that.
I agree that the Government have been responsible for systematically removing resources not only from Liverpool but from every council in Britain.
I said earlier that local government associations remain implacably opposed to the Bill because they recognise that it is about transferring resources away from those areas which need and deserve them most to either the Exchequer or areas which need them less.
In forcing through the Bill with no amendment of any significance, the Government are only calling the bluff of
many Conservative Members. With some honourable exceptions — some of those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are present in the Chamber and I give them credit for it—there has been no significant revolt on the Tory Benches in answer to this measure. There has been no attempt by Conservative Members, many of whom have local government experience, to do anything to protect the rights of local government. The Bill is a humiliation of the many ho
It is almost as though the Government believe that they are the only ones in step and that everyone else is out of line. The Government are almost friendless in their determination to push the Bill through Parliament. The Secretary of State alluded to amendment No. 39 as though it were some important concession. In reality, it is a mirage. It is not worth the paper that it is written on. It seems to be an attempt to persuade Members of the House of Commons or the other place that some major change is being written into the Bill to remove the uncertainty and doubt about the use of general powers. That is simply not the case. Like many other local government Acts that the Government have introduced, this will not work as claimed and only the Government believe that it will.
I regret that the Bill has to proceed from this Chamber. I truly and deeply wish that the House would reject it, even at this late stage. Labour Members will certainly oppose it. I make it clear once again, without equivocation, that a future Labour Government will abolish the Bill and return to local government the rights which the Bill seeks to remove.
I cannot pretend that it is with relish that I rise to support the Bill, but support it I do, for it has become not only necessary but essential. I am sensitive to the arguments of hon. Members on both sides about its less welcome characteristics, and I hope that the passage of time will render it an anachronism by taking us away from the economic and political circumstances that have made the Bill inevitable and essential.
I do not easily support extra legislation or increased Government intervention—many of my hon. Friends will sympathise with this—at a time when we suffer from over-government, too much legislation and the perennial threat of centralisation. However, over-government need not just be the fault of central Government. Local government can be equally to blame. Indeed, from the individual's point of view, excessive taxation, the unnecessary extension of bureaucratic power and the general growth of state intervention is equally resented, whatever its origins.
It is, therefore, fallacious to argue that local democracy is better because it is local. That nicety will have no appeal to the individual who seeks protection from local abuse. He would rather see a minor extension of central power to curb excessive extensions of local power than tolerate the latter to satisfy the theoretical arguments of so-called constitutional propriety.
Sometimes one cannot believe one's ears. Is my hon. Friend saying that, having sat through the debates on the Bill in Committee for 100 hours or more, he can still call this a minor taking away of liberty? I tremble to think what he would regard as a major one.
Having listened carefully to the debates in Committee, I believe that the number of authorities that will feel any impact from this legislation will be distinctly minimal. Those which do will find any impact only on the upper level of rates, and therefore it will not grossly interfere in the decisions that they make at a local level.
Indeed, I believe that the Bill will reduce state interference and that it is libertarian rather than totalitarian because its effect will be to reduce, rather than extend, state influence as a whole. There is a clear tradition that supports intervention by Parliament to curb excesses by other forms of lesser authority in the nation, and an equally strong duty on Parliament, in such circumstances, to act as the protector of the individual.
The continual abuse of ratepayers has created the necessity for reform, and those who complain about the Bill should have no doubt about where the blame lies. It lies not with the Secretary of State, not with the Department of the Environment and not with Parliament. The blame lies fairly and squarely with those irresponsible and inefficient local authorities who have created the conflict by their intemperate and ungoverned attitudes. They have had every chance to reach a consensus with Government, but have clearly rejected compromise. They have also been deaf to local pleas and have exercised a ruthless tyranny of the majority over the minority, or even, in some cases, of the minority over the majority.
However, I wish to be more specific in my argument and to demonstrate why some local authorities have betrayed the original spirit of their existence and are ripe candidates for reform. I particularly ask for the indulgence of my hon. Friends who are lucky enough to come from areas where there is little evidence of abuse and who, therefore, may lack direct experience of how severe the abuses have become—too severe for local remedy.
In some authorities the abuses are products of a new or enhanced Socialist ideology, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) ably illustrated yesterday. In my authority, Newcastle city council, it is not so much what it has done as what it has failed to do—failed in terms of management and administrative control—so that the indictment is not so much political waywardness as political ineptitude. The bureaucratic monster is out of control. It is feeding on itself, defending its own existence and that of its empire while sucking money from the poor ratepayers.
Over the years, as each department in Newcastle has swelled, so it has spawned new departments with new functions and new bureaucracies, finding new ways of spending money. Even casual scrutiny of the city council's 275-page budget book reveals a story of extravagance, luxury and waste. In a half-hour examination, I found scope to make further cuts of at least £1,750,000 without any effect on essential services. Yet, while the city's Labour leaders fall over themselves to preserve those areas of political vested interest, they impose painful cuts on essential services, which their bloated propaganda machine blames on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I listened to the hon. Gentleman with interest and, I admit, a little amusement. If the hon. Gentleman has a list of suggestions for making savings—not budgetary cuts—in the municipal budget of Newcastle upon Tyne, will he accept the invitation issued by my friend and colleague, councillor Les Russell, the chairman of the city council's efficiency committee? Will he forward his detailed suggestions for efficiency savings to councillor Russell and that bi-party committee so that they can be examined in detail? Levels of expenditure, rather than efficiency, divide the parties in Newcastle.
I should be delighted to accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I shall do as he asks. If he cares to listen for a few moments, I shall cover some of the subjects into which I shall go in greater detail in my letter to councillor Russell.
The city council talks about merging schools, axing the number of teachers and doing away with meals on wheels. However, it sustains a whole department devoted to propaganda, costing up to £200,000 a year; the Walker and West End resource centres, providing subsidised duplicating and printing services to outside organisations and costing the ratepayers about £110,000; a summer exhibition, which, incredibly, the council has managed to run at a loss for years, costing about £50,000 a year; and a host of odd groups thriving on cash handouts.
As I represent Lincolnshire, I am used to local authorites acting with the utmost rectitude. I was surprised, therefore, to read in a national newspaper about the centre to which my hon. Friend referred. Will my hon. Friend confirm that a councillor outside the area is being investigated for using that centre free of charge to print election propaganda?
I understand that that is the case. It illustrates exactly what happens when slack management and misuse of resources offer such temptations. Meanwhile, civic self-aggrandisement—
I shall soon be drawing my remarks to a conclusion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Civic self-aggrandisement in Newcastle defends this year's expenditure of £283,000 on items such as the Lord Mayor, councillors' expenses and refreshments and so-called parliamentary promotions, about which I am sure the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) knows. I cannot believe that it is impossible for the Lord Mayor's office to run effectively on a much lower budget, or that it is unreasonable to have similar cuts in the costs of committees, conferences and promotions. The resource centres are an unnecessary luxury at a time of restraint.
The propaganda department is the worst example of abuse. Recently, that department poured out 200,000 copies of one-sided news sheets, which were nothing less than blatant Labour party propaganda, funded by the ratepayers. The party political campaign on the rates is replete with posters, meetings and leaflets, and has cost thousands of pounds. It has rightly incensed ratepayers, and is a massive indictment of extravagance and a blatant piece of political abuse. I cannot believe that the deprived, about whom the council purports to care so much and to whom the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) referred, would as much as notice if the entire information department were closed tomorrow or if some of the extravagant grants given to fringe art groups, for example, were cut.
I have referred to some examples to illustrate why it is necessary for the Government to intervene with a Bill of this nature. It was recently highlighted that Newcastle's education department employed five childminders at Pendower Hall school to look after children over weekends for two and a half years after children had ceased to be kept at that school over weekends. It was revealed that £720,000 had been paid to teachers for Sunday increments in so-called deprived areas and that the result, according to a former director of education, could not be described as beneficial in any respect. These examples illustrate the point that I am making.
Time does not permit me to refer to the many other examples that I could put before the House. However, I shall be prepared to send the details to Labour Members. They may say, "Yes, we accept that the Newcastle city council and many other councils like it are inefficient, but that is up to them" but, unfortunately, the issue is not as simple as that. In the current year the city's rates levy is 216·3p in the pound, not counting the county precept. Its levy is higher than that of any other authority in England. The rates rise for 1984–85 is double the rate of inflation. Against that background, I hope that the House will appreciate that local action can no longer be relied upon to right the balance.
I can assure the House that in Newcastle, especially among my constituents, there is an overwhelming demand for action to protect the ratepayer. There is a clear and undeniable call for the minimum necessary degree of reform to ensure that some measure of financial responsibility is enforced at local level. At such a time the people look to national government and demand action. That is why I and Conservative councillors in both the local authorities within my constituency support the Bill.
When the Secretary of State moved the Bill's Third Reading, he talked about promises that were made in the Conservative party's election manifesto of 1983. First, he referred to the need to curb irresponsible overspenders. That is nonsensical, because who determines who are irresponsible spenders? It is not for the Government to determine that issue. It is for local electors to determine whether councils are doing their job properly. Account must be taken of the circumstances in local areas. If candidates submit programmes on which they hope to be elected and are successful in obtaining a majority that allows them to put their policies into effect, that is fair and reasonable.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that in some way the United Kingdom is a federal state and not a unitary state? When local councils have wanted to pursue different education policies from those which have been adopted by Labour Governments, Labour Members have argued differently. Local mandates do not supersede the mandate of this place.
I am saying that local councils have the right to determine their own responsibility. During the 1979 general election the Tory party declared that it was its intention to give more freedom to local government. We who have served in local government have seen little evidence that more freedom has resulted from the five years of Tory rule at Westminster.
I shall not give way.
There cannot be freedom if the financial resources with which to provide services are tied down. It has been said several times that the Government have seriously handicapped local authorities by the savage cuts made in RSG each year since they took office. At the same time, the Government have added to the cost of local government by throwing at authorities additional items and responsibilities, such as the need to produce annual reports and to undertake more consultation. I am not saying that that is necessarily wrong, but it has resulted in additional local authority expenditure.
It was mentioned on Report that many people in local government of both major parties give many hours of devoted service to their local communities in trying to meet their needs. The ultimate measure of whether a council is doing its job properly must be in terms of the community needs of local electors.
The grant-related expenditure assessment figure for Burnley is £5·6 million, but our cash target is £8·2 million. Burnley is spending slightly more than the cash target. The community's need for housing, clearing industrial dereliction and attracting industry to the town means that the council needs to spend more rather than less money to tackle those problems. It is interesting to note that the Burnley chamber of commerce and industry believes that the council should be left to determine the rating policy: town hall, not Whitehall. The responsibility should be left in the hands of the local authority.
As a Burnley ratepayer, I believe that we need to spend more money to tackle the tremendous amount that needs to be done. I also pay rates to Lancashire county council, which is in the reverse position to Burnley borough council because its cash target is well below its GREA figure. If Lancashire county council spent up to its GREA figure, it would be heavily penalised by the Government. That would he nonsense in a county suffering from industrial dereliction.
The Secretary of State referred to the requirements in part III for consultation with industry. Why should industry be singled out for formal consultation? If the Secretary of State is inferring that councils are so irresponsible, whether Labour, Conservative or Liberal, that they do not take into account the ability of all sectors of the community to meet the rate, that is nonsense. I served on a Conservative-controlled local authority in London some years ago and was leader of the Burnley borough council until May last year.
Most councils spend a considerable time working out not only what the domestic ratepayer can pay but the effects on industry and commerce. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do they?] In Burnley the council visits industry asking what its problems are and what it feels about what local government is doing. Therefore, one must accept that many councils act responsibly.
The Secretary of State also said that one should be able to pay rates by instalments. That can be done now. Burnley gives every ratepayer the right to pay his rates by 10 instalments. We have had that system for many years, and I introduced it while I was leader of the council. If any ratepayer—domestic, commercial or industrial—said that he was in difficulties and wanted to pay by weekly instalments, the borough treasurer and the council would be happy to come to a sensible arrangement to meet his requirements.
Burnley does not rate empty property because it would be irrelevant to do so at a time like this. However, when property is held for speculative purposes, the situation is different. Local councils should have the right to determine policy in accord with the circumstances.
The Secretary of State referred to rate increases in the current year imposed by several councils, one of which was Blackburn. I do not wish to tread on the toes of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I am well aware of the situation in Blackburn, where there has been a large increase in the domestic rate this year. However, that has arisen not from the change of control but from the simple fact that the previous administration used £1 million from balances in the past year and there had to be a large increase to maintain the status quo.
Notwithstanding that increase, Blackburn borough council is still 1 per cent. within the Government's imposed target, and will not suffer a penalty.
I accept that. Even with that increase, Blackburn is not the highest rated authority in Lancashire; Burnley is.
I recognise that there is not much time left, and I want to let other hon. Members speak. However, I must make these points. How does one assess an overspender? Burnley has the highest rate in Lancashire. We do not complain about that. The council has a tremendous job to do. Each year it has to work out what is desirable and necessary. Each year what we are able to do is reduced as we have to cut to the bone.
Burnley is the third highest spender per head of population of the non-metropolitan districts. However, only two district councils in the whole of England have had a lower rate per head of population than Burnley in the current year.
The Bill is bad. It removes powers from local government and will tie its hands behind its back. People will see little point in being elected to local councils if the powers that enable them to deal with local problems are taken away. I think that most local councillors will believe that, whether Labour, Conservative, Liberal or Social Democratic.
I listened carefully to all that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. He spoke yesterday and today with sweet reasonableness, but I do not believe in my heart that he will find it all that easy to distinguish between the just and the unjust.
When the time comes to make the decision, for example that Essex is out and Sussex is in, my right hon. Friend will find that the can of worms is still there. It is arguable that one authority or another, for example Newcastle, might so abuse its powers and be so extravagant that the Government should take action against it. However, on Third Reading of such a major Bill, one cannot deal with the individual authorities and the case for or against them.
This afternoon I quoted Professor Hayek's book "Road to Serfdom", much beloved by Conservatives. He said:
The coercive power of the State should be used only it cases defined in advance by the law and in such a way that it can be foreseen how it will be used.
The Secretary of State said that the justification for part II is that he is legislating for the unforeseen and the unforeseeable. One thing that is unforeseeable is who will be the Secretary of State when the so-called 100 bad boys have to be dealt with. I am not satisfied with the assurance that the present Secretary of State would have every intention of ensuring that there was a major debate. There are no adequate procedural safeguards. Consultation followed by an affirmative order which is not amendable does not, to my mind, constitute an adequate safeguard in the case of the introduction of legislation which, according to the Secretary of State himself, is a major constitutional matter. When I originally proposed that the Committee stage should be taken on the Floor of the House, the Government said that this was not a major constitutional matter, but the truth is that it is, and should be dealt with as such.
Even if the Government can distinguish between the so-called just and the so-called unjust, they will not have met the needs of the situation. The Bill is popular because many people believe that it will reduce their rates. It may reduce rates in the 19 or 20 authorities, but in the rest of the authorities it will probably put them up.
The Bill does not constitute a major reform. I have in my hand a copy of
The Conservative Party's New Policy Proposals On Housing And Rates",
published on 28 August 1974 by the then shadow Secretary of State for the Environment and her policy groups. We know that we cannot abolish domestic rates altogether, but the following suggestion was made at the time:
Further heavy increases in rates are forecast. In these circumstances Conservatives will take the following steps. First, in the medium term, we shall transfer to central government the cost of teachers' salaries up to a specified number of teachers for each local education authority. Expenditure on police and fire services will qualify for increased grants from the Exchequer. We shall see that this saving is passed on to the ratepayer.
The sum involved there would be about £4 billion, and the process which has been the real ground for complaint would have been reversed. The complaint is that we have
continually shifted the burden from taxes to rates—which are the tax least able to bear it—and from voters to non-voters. That is the problem that we have to deal with and we could deal with it if we wanted to.
It is difficult to summarise briefly all the constitutional objections to the Bill, but I recall the horror with which Conservatives greeted the famous or infamous declaration of Professor Harold Laski that the Bills of a Labour Government:
Would take the form of general formular conferring wide powers on the appropriate Government department.
What does this Bill do? It is a pure Socialist measure, and I take a high Right-wing Tory attitude to it.
I commend to my right hon. and hon. Friends Junius's famous declaration to the English nation. He said:
Let me exhort and conjure you never to suffer an invasion of your political constitution, however minute the instance may appear, to pass by without a determined, persevering resistance. One precedent creates another. They soon accumulate and constitute law. What yesterday was fact, to-day is doctrine. Examples are supposed to justify the most dangerous measures"—
I commend that point to my hon. Friend and right hon. Friends—
and where they do not suit exactly, the defect is supplied by analogy.
If the principles do not suit the Secretary of State in the future, he may change the principles.
Be assured that the laws, which protect us and all our civil rights, grow out of the constitution, and that they must fall or flourish with it. This is not the cause of faction or of party, or of any individual, but the common interest of every man in Britain.
On that, I rest my case. On that, I say that the Bill should not pass.
The Government have produced a number of arguments in favour of the Bill, and I am sorry that the Secretary of State still relies on the view that his party has a mandate for it. There may well have been reference to such a measure in the manifesto, but the manifesto was not supported by a majority of the electorate, and those who voted against the Tory party oppose the Bill root and branch. We should not forget that.
The Government claim that the Bill was made necessary by the impact of rates on industry. The impact of Government legislation on industry is far greater than that of local government legislation. I do not necessarily oppose what the Government impose on industry but that should be borne in mind. Nor would I necessarily oppose what local government imposes on industry.
The Government has also said that industry or ratepayers do not have a vote and therefore must be protected from the ravages of local government. Every shareholder, customer and employee of an industry has a vote in a local authority area. It is interesting that, in Committee, it was the Confederation of British Industry which put out a press statement saying that it believed it important that industry should tell its employees what the cost of rates was per employee in that industry. If industry had taken that attitude more often to develop the argument about whether rates are an imposition on that industry, I suspect that we might have heard less about industry not having a voice in a local authority area.
The Government also adduced the argument that local government spending is out of control. The facts with which we have been presented often show that the Government's expenditure has risen faster recently than has that of local government on current and capital account. It would be unfair for the Secretary of State to hide behind high rate rises. If he used local government expenditure as the basis of his case, he would have somehow to tell us the mathematics of the reduction in Government grant.
We have also been told that an important point of the Bill is to curb the wild excesses of Labour-controlled councils. Virtually every local authority that has been cited as wild has recently been controlled by the Conservatives. Even Hackney, Islington and Sheffield have been controlled by the Conservatives.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) might want to talk about just one year. It also happens to be the case that the boundaries of Sheffield then were far more difficult for Conservative Members to win because it was the old city council—without the hinterland. Saying that the Bill must be introduced to curb such authorities is a vote of absolutely no confidence in the ability of local Conservative politicians to win elections in their areas. I strongly commend hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) who has had the courage to say that, if he cannot win his case on the strength of his beliefs in Birmingham, he would not wish them to be imposed on the electorate by a Government, even if they were a Conservative Government.
The Bill's constitutionality has been highlighted. This is a unitary state and therefore Parliament is sovereign. Not having a written constitution means that one has to rely on historic precedents for constitutional precedents. There has been a relationship between Government and local government for many centuries on the basis that, as long as local authorities are prepared to stand the consequences of raising their own finance—especially through a system that wins them no friends in the electorate—they are entitled to do so.
On all of the five counts that I have outlined, I believe that the Bill does not command the support of people who believe in the integrity and reliability of local government and therefore it does not deserve a Third Reading.
I speak as one of that strange tribe of former local government Ministers who has wrestled with the rates and deeply regrets that, when in office, he was unable, as was my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), to get them reformed. I approach the Bill disliking it in principle but believing that in practice it is necessary and should be supported. I find it difficult in principle because I am an unrepentant believer in the virtues of English local government. I find it difficult in principle because I believe that Whitehall does not know best and will not act best. I also dislike it because, as a Conservative, I want the maximum dispersal of power in Britain. Local government is one of the bulwarks against Leviathan.
I have looked at the realities and I think that sometimes, in their concern for the constitutionality of this matter, some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have lost sight of the practical problems that the Government have confronted. It is a fact that public expenditure was getting out of control and the £35 billion that local government deals with needed to be handled more effectively. I believe that on that ground alone action by the Government is necessary.
No, I cannot give way.
Secondly, as a matter of practice there was and still is oppression of the ratepayer—oppression of the business ratepayer, which is destroying jobs; oppression of the private ratepayer, which is unjust. And the Government were required to go to the rescue of the oppressed ratepayers.
Thirdly, there has been a breakdown of that contract, that convention, between local government and national Government whereby it was always understood—certainly at the time my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham and I were at the Department of the Environment—that local government would remain within the parameters of expenditure set by central Government. I believe that that convention has been broken down not by the vast majority of authorities but by a few which, by their profligacy, were putting at risk not only their own ratepayers and industries but the central economic strategy of the Government which I support. This cannot be. The Government must take action against local authorities or any other groups in this country, be they trade unions or industries, which compromise the central economic strategy in the countering of inflation and the containment of public expenditure by the Government. Therefore, in practical terms, it was necessary to act.
I therefore have no difficulty with part I. Selective rate capping is obviously necessary and, I think, has general support. The problem has simply been over part II, and I am bound to say that I recognise some of the objections to this. But I will not accept the constitutional humbug that we have had from the Opposition on this matter for, in the 20 years that I have been in the House, again and again it has been the Labour party which has used the oppressive powers of its majorities against local government and against individuals. It is sheer humbug for it to talk about a constitutional approach.
On the other hand, the concern of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham over this matter must give all of us grounds for anxiety. I have listened very carefully to all that he has said—and he knows that I was one of his most loyal right arms at the Department of the Environment—but, with respect, I think that my right hon. and learned Friend has ignored or not given sufficient weight to two factors.
First, for better or for worse, no constitution stands still. The British constitution's unique character is that it evolves. It is still evolving. In a society in which the motorways and communications revolution has changed the relationship between the centre and the parts, it is no use pretending that that balance between local government and national Government that existed in the 19th century, or even in the early 20th century, can continue. It has to alter. It is altering now.
Secondly, my right hon. and learned Friend gave insufficient weight to the emergence of groups of people in a few of our big local authorities who do not give a fig for the constitution—in fact, they declare themselves determined to destroy it. There has emerged as well a minority of people who call themselves militants or extremists and who use the ratepayers' money not to serve the ratepayer but for political purposes, to destroy the central Government elected by the British people. That, too, is a fact of life which has to be recognised in practice in the House.
I have to say frankly that I do not like part II. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in hoping that it will never be necessary to use it. I believe that in practice it will not need to be implemented, because it provides a very stern deterrent. The deterrent effect of part II will do more than anything else to ensure that the containment of local authority expenditure which we all seek is achieved.
I could not have supported the Bill if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had not said earlier that he will bring forward an amendment in another place to ensure that local authorities that had been prudent and stayed within their GREA or their target would not be penalised as a result of an oppressive use of the part II powers. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend was able to offer that assurance to the House.
I am sure that we shall all look carefully at the amendment that is produced in another place. If, as I believe is likely, the Bill has a rough passage there, we shall have to look at it again. It is because my right hon. Friend gave that undertaking that I find it possible to accept a Bill which I dislike in principle, but which I think is necessary in practice.
All that I can say to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is that, if he can be bought off with such conditional trivia as were offered by the Secretary of State, I am not surprised that his reputation lies where it does.
Despite the changes in Government that take place at elections, there have been certain basic liberties that all of us, wherever we stand in the political spectrum, have taken for granted. But over the past six months that confidence in the protection of basic liberties, which is every Government's first duty, has been eroded and destroyed by the Government's actions in taking away trade union rights, taking away such basic human rights that they have been successfully challenged at the European Court, increasing the arbitrary use of police powers, ensuring that those who commit a mere disciplinary offence that is in no sense a challenge to national security may be gaoled for six months, and abolishing elections—a proposition so transparently repugnant to any principle of democracy that we are told that even the Prime Minister had second thoughts before agreeing with the Secretary of State.
Those actions, together with this Bill, add up to an erosion of basic liberties and of a dangerous drift towards an increasingly centralised and authoritarian state.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said that perhaps we have a new breed of Conservatives today. By God, we have—men like the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant). The truth about the new breed of Conservatives and the Conservative party is that their actions have no parallel in the worthy history of that party. The only parallels of the actions that the Conservatives have been taking over the past six months are to be found in the alien traditions of Right-wing continental parties.
If Conservative Members dislike those parallels, perhaps they will bear in mind that the only example that we can find of any Government in Europe abolishing elections was that of Benito Mussolini. Conservative Members laugh, but they should remember that they have been damned out of the mouths of their own supporters. The Right-wing hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) said in The Observer last month that the GCHQ union ban was
the nasty thin wedge of Fascism.
Conservative Members have said that this Bill leads down the road towards elective dictatorship. A party born to defend individual liberty and to protect individuals from the overweening power of the state is, step by step, destroying basic liberties.
To justify this repugnant and ugly Bill, the Secretary of State has resorted to vulgar and unsubstantiated abuse of individual local authorities, democratically elected by their voters. He has accused them of irresponsibility, and ignored us when we challenged and met each of those arguments and pointed out, for example, that Newcastle's expenditure over the past four years, far from rising irresponsibly, has not only increased far less than Government expenditure but far less than the rate of inflation.
When we have met every argument—for example, the wholly unfounded claim by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) that Lewisham spent £100,000 on a pantomime, a claim without foundation—the Secretary of State displays an appalling contempt for the electorate in what he seeks to do. He displays the staggering arrogance that is the mark of dictators and semi-dictators. Conservative Members who are laughing now have not been in the Chamber to hear their own hon. Friends condemning this Bill in rounder terms than Labour Members have done. The Secretary of State has been seeking to substitute his dictatorial view of what the electorate of individual areas wish and vote through the ballot box for.
The threadbare justification for this measure is confounded by the weight and depth of the attack against the measure from Conservative Members, and not just by the attack from Labour Members. In debate after debate an overwhelming majority of Conservative Members have opposed this measure, first on the grounds of its lack of practicability. It cannot achieve what it sets out to achieve. I point out to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that there is no way in which, even if the Secretary of State emasculates the services of 20 authorities, the Bill can achieve the savings that the Chancellor of the Exchequer claims to be necessary as a justification for the Bill. At the most, he can save £200 million when he has told us that he wants £1,500 million. The only way he can achieve that is by rate capping every local authority by using part II.
Secondly, Conservative right hon. and hon. Members have challenged the Bill because of the offence that it gives to our constitution, and the importance of local government within that constitution, and, above all, because of the offence that the Bill gives to long-held principles of the Conservative party, which claims to defend individual liberties and to hold out against the potential tyranny of the House. The Under-Secretary claimed that his book is full of references to local government, but there is not one in the index.
Yes. If the Under-Secretary would follow what he wrote over five years ago, he would be voting with us against this Bill. He complained then of Ministers
brandishing the theory of the detailed mandate in the face of reasoned argument, the legal power of a British majority in the House of Commons has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.
As the scriptures tell us, those who sow
the wind … shall reap the whirlwind.
The battle to save the local democracy that this Bill seeks to destroy does not end with this Third Reading, if Third Reading there be — it has only just begun. The Government do not know what they are taking on when they seek to destroy basic principles held dear and shared by both sides of the House for 100 years.
For some reason, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) said to me just now, "Can't we find a way of giving the hon. Gentleman another 10 minutes?" I do not know whether my hon. Friend had any reason to be in doubt about the overwhelming majority of the Government at the end of the debate, but I think that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was doing his best. If I had to use a single word about his speech, I would say that it was humbug. I say to my hon. Friends who have been critics in terms of the standard of debate, "Thank goodness for you."
It was necessary for the Opposition to establish various matters, and for the Government to establish various matters in the debate. We have established—and the hon. Member for Blackburn admitted it in Committee—that the Bill derives from, and is necessary to, the Government's central economic strategy. Thoughtful critics like my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) admitted that, and agreed with it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) made that point strongly, and was right to do so. The essential nature of the Bill to the management of the economy has been established as well by our critics as it has been by our supporters.
We have established that part I of the Bill will enable us to make a reality of the pledges that my right hon. Friend and I gave at the Dispatch Box to bring help to the low spenders because, for the first time, we shall have the power to curb the high spenders, and the Bill is essential for that, too.
With the concession that my right hon. Friend has made today of taking some of the assurances which he made to the Committee, and to the House, and putting them into the Bill, he has made clear that the purpose of the Bill, whether part I or part II, is not to cause problems for those authorities which have sought to do their duty by the national interest, to spend less, and to respond to the guidelines laid down by central Government. I think that my right hon. Friend has reassured many hon. Members who may have had doubts on that score.
We have established that the Bill—and this was established clearly in Committee—is already having its effect on the rating decisions and the spending decisions of those who fear its impact. That point was made strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle under Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant), in a telling intervention in Committee. I can reinforce what he said from what I have been told by the councillors in my county of Avon, where the same thing is happening.
We established in the course of the debate why the Bill is necessary—and no Conservative is happy to come to the House and ask for such powers—in terms of the weakening connection between voting and spending that has brought the system into disrepute, and has left the ratepayers in too many areas with systems that do not protect them because the source of the money, in terms of central Government grant, in terms of the commercial ratepayer and in terms of the necessary effect of welfare payments on those who pay rates has been such as to weaken the nexus between spending and taxpayers.
We have won that argument, and there is no question about it. That is why we have had to ask the House to put its power and its authority into the balance to protect ratepayers in those areas. That is a traditional duty of the House in such circumstances, of which the House can be rightly proud. Although we would much prefer it if the self-righting mechanisms of local government were doing their jobs by themselves, since they are not, we need have no doubts that it was right that the power of the House should be put into the balance on the side of the ratepayer.
To show that these great gains, which no hon. Member has been able to challenge seriously, were not enough, opponents of the Bill would have had to show that there was something so fundamentally wrong with it constitutionally that it should not be supported. However, I fear that they have not done that.
We have listened with great respect to hon. Members who have doubts on the issue, but no hon. Member has shown any reason to doubt that the House for years has had the right and the duty to control public spending as a whole, and local authority spending is part of public spending. No hon. Member has said that that is the constitutional right and duty of the House. That principal part of the constitutional argument has gone unchallenged.
Of course as Conservatives we fear over-centralisation, and we are right to do so, but when we find a great section of public expenditure which is effectively not responding to the controls laid down by the House, and voted on by the House, year after year, there are two options only. One would have been to take services away from local authorities, and to bring them under the direct control of the House. That would have been a far more centralising course, which would have weakened local authorities much more fundamentally. Surely, given that choice, it is right to seek to make the control of the House over public expenditure more effective by adjustment to the system.
Despite the best efforts of the hon. Member for Blackburn, it has not been shown that the Bill will not work. Thoughtful critics have conceded that point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford did not deploy the argument that the Bill would not work because it would not have been a true argument.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), one of the most intelligent and assiduous of Committee members—I hope that that remark does not cause him trouble—in an exchange with my right hon. Friend yesterday, made it perfectly clear that he well understood that the Bill would have the effect that we claim on the aggregates of public expenditure. No one has been able to show that the Bill will not work.
There are only five minutes remaining. For once, I shall ask the hon. Gentleman to give me the last word — something which, in Committee, he was never willing to do.
We shall send to another place a Bill that we have brought forward to carry into law essential commitments from a manifesto that is barely a year old. It received a plurality of the votes in the country and a majority in the House—of a size which few Governments in modern times have had. The Bill has passed its principal stages with majorities of 100 or more. It has become increasingly popular among Conservative supporters and others outside the House.
We must listen to another voice, as we have listened with respect to the well organised voice of local authority associations and to the eloquent voices of our critics in the House. That voice is represented in large numbers on the Conservative Benches. It is the voice of those who came to the House rightly believing that the promise of the Bill was one of the things that brought them to the House. We do not intend to renege on the commitment that we all made at the general election. That commitment was not some small print in a document attached to the manifesto; it was a central commitment that we used on the doorstep and found helpful with the voters.
In Committee we faced a most amiable Opposition. Indeed, it was a lackadaisical Opposition who at no point won the serious arguments. They made not even a dent in the intellectual, constitutional or moral case for the Bill. The fact that the Bill will work is admitted as much by its critics as by its friends. The fact that it is central to our economic policy is also admitted by its critics as well as its friends. No one can deny that it was central to our manifesto or that it has passed through the House in the most resounding style. I have absolutely no doubt—
The hon. Gentleman invites me to look behind. I shall do so because I know that the support that my right hon. Friend and the Government will receive for the Bill tonight reflects support in the Conservative party throughout the land.
I respect and have listened to the argument of what, with the utmost respect, I must call the vested interests of the local authority associations. Of course, they must defend their corner. It is right that they should do so. Ultimately, the House must make a judgment about the overall benefits. That judgment has been made clear and, I hope, will remain clear. I have no hesitation in recommending the Bill to my right hon. and hon. Friends.
|Division No. 211]||[9.59 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Baldry, Anthony|
|Alexander, Richard||Banks, Robert (Harrogate)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Batiste, Spencer|
|Ancram, Michael||Bellingham, Henry|
|Arnold, Tom||Bendall, Vivian|
|Ashby, David||Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Berry, Sir Anthony|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Best, Keith|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Body, Richard||Greenway, Harry|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Gregory, Conal|
|Bottomley, Peter||Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Grist, Ian|
|Bright, Graham||Ground, Patrick|
|Brinton, Tim||Grylls, Michael|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Browne, John||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hannam,John|
|Budgen, Nick||Harris, David|
|Burt, Alistair||Harvey, Robert|
|Butcher, John||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hayes, J.|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hayward, Robert|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Chapman, Sydney||Heddle, John|
|Chope, Christopher||Henderson, Barry|
|Churchill, W. S.||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hickmet, Richard|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hill, James|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Clegg, SirWalter||Hirst, Michael|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Colvin, Michael||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Conway, Derek||Holt, Richard|
|Coombs, Simon||Hooson, Tom|
|Cope, John||Hordern, Peter|
|Corrie, John||Howard, Michael|
|Couchman, James||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Crouch, David||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Dicks, Terry||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Hunter, Andrew|
|Dover, Den||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Irving, Charles|
|Dunn, Robert||Jackson, Robert|
|Durant, Tony||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Jessel, Toby|
|Eggar, Tim||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Evennett, David||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Fallon, Michael||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Farr, John||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Favell, Anthony||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Knowles, Michael|
|Forman, Nigel||Lamont, Norman|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Lang, Ian|
|Forth, Eric||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Fox, Marcus||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Franks, Cecil||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Fry, Peter||Lester, Jim|
|Gale, Roger||Lilley, Peter|
|Galley, Roy||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||Lord, Michael|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||McCrindle, Robert|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Gorst, John||MacGregor, John|
|Gow, Ian||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Maclean, David John||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Major, John||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Malone, Gerald||Silvester, Fred|
|Maples, John||Sims, Roger|
|Marland, Paul||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Marlow, Antony||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Spencer, Derek|
|Mellor, David||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Merchant, Piers||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Squire, Robin|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Stanley, John|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Stern, Michael|
|Mitchell, David (NW Hants)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Moate, Roger||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Moore, John||Stokes, John|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Sumberg, David|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Tapsell, Peter|
|Mudd, David||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Neale, Gerrard||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Needham, Richard||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Nelson, Anthony||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Neubert, Michael||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Newton, Tony||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Normanton, Tom||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Oppenheim, Philip||Thurnham, Peter|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Osborn, Sir John||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Ottaway, Richard||Tracey, Richard|
|Page, John (Harrow W)||Trotter, Neville|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Parris, Matthew||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Viggers, Peter|
|Pawsey, James||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Walden, George|
|Pollock, Alexander||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Porter, Barry||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Waller, Gary|
|Powley, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Price, Sir David||Ward, John|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Warren, Kenneth|
|Rathbone, Tim||Watson, John|
|Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)||Watts, John|
|Renton, Tim||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Wheeler, John|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Whitfield, John|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Whitney, Raymond|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Wilkinson, John|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Wolfson, Mark|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Wood, Timothy|
|Rost, Peter||Woodcock, Michael|
|Rowe, Andrew||Yeo, Tim|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Ryder, Richard||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Mr. Carol Mather and Mr. Robert Boscawen.|
|Alton, David||Ashley, Rt Hon Jack|
|Anderson, Donald||Ashton, Joe|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Bagier, Gordon A. T.|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Eastham, Ken|
|Barnett, Guy||Ellis, Raymond|
|Barron, Kevin||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Fatchett, Derek|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Faulds, Andrew|
|Beith, A. J.||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Benn, Tony||Fisher, Mark|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Flannery, Martin|
|Benyon, William||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Forrester, John|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Foster, Derek|
|Blair, Anthony||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Freeman, Roger|
|Boyes, Roland||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Freud, Clement|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Garrett, W. E.|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||George, Bruce|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Gould, Bryan|
|Buchan, Norman||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Hardy, Peter|
|Campbell, Ian||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Cartwright, John||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Clarke, Thomas||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Clay, Robert||Home Robertson, John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Cohen, Harry||Howells, Geraint|
|Coleman, Donald||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)|
|Cowans, Harry||John, Brynmor|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Johnston, Russell|
|Craigen, J. M.||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Crowther, Stan||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Kennedy, Charles|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Kirkwood, Archibald|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Lambie, David|
|Deakins, Eric||Lamond, James|
|Dobson, Frank||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Litherland, Robert|
|Eadie, Alex||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|McCusker, Harold||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Rooker, J. W.|
|McGuire, Michael||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)|
|McKelvey, William||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Sheerman, Barry|
|McNamara, Kevin||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|McTaggart, Robert||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|McWilliam, John||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Madden, Max||Short, Mrs H.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Marek, Dr John||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Martin, Michael||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|Maxton, John||Snape, Peter|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Soley, Clive|
|Meacher, Michael||Spearing, Nigel|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Steen, Anthony|
|Michie, William||Strang, Gavin|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Straw, Jack|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Tinn, James|
|Nellist, David||Torney, Tom|
|Nicholson, J.||Wainwright, R.|
|O'Brien, William||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|O'Neill, Martin||Wallace, James|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Patchett, Terry||Weetch, Ken|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Welsh, Michael|
|Penhaligon, David||White, James|
|Pike, Peter||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Winnick, David|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Prescott, John||Woodall, Alec|
|Radice, Giles||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Mr. Don Dixon and Mr. Frank Haynes.|
|Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|