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Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman will find that provision for additional educational needs in Bradford includes extra expenditure on education. I have great confidence that Bradford council, which is led outstand-ingly well by councillor Pickles and others, will continue to provide the people of Bradford with a better deal than they have enjoyed in the past. One of the consequences of that Conservative council coming to office is a substantial attraction of new private investment to the city.

Mr. John Lee (Pendle) : Despite my right hon. Friend's considerable charm and the transitional relief that has been announced, many people in low-rated areas such as Pendle will suffer substantial increases because of the community charge. May I make it clear to my right hon. Friend in the nicest way that my campaign and those of hon. Members with comparable constituencies will continue?

Mr. Patten : I understand the particular problems faced by my hon. Friend in representing a constituency in which rateable values are low. As my hon. Friend knows, we have tried to give additional assistance to cope with that problem. I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not feel that it is sufficient. I look forward to discussing the matter with him further. I hope that we can come nearer to satisfying him and his constituents.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Will the Secretary of State confirm that, for metropolitan authorities, the figure in the seventh paragraph of the statement includes the extra poll tax for the police and fire authorities which is listed separately? Why are Birmingham citizens expected to pay a poll tax surcharge of £60 a head to pay for high- spending Tory authorities such as Blackpool? That will not wash, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a couple living in an average-rated property in Birmingham will still lose more than £2 a week? Given the added complications of this matter, which is made more complicated as the weeks go by, would it not be a good idea to delay the introduction of the poll tax until 1991 and avoid the problems of the first year of safety nets, or, better still, put back the poll tax until after the general election?

Mr. Patten : The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes. The answer to his second question is that,

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as he will have recognised from the figures, Birmingham is one of the major beneficiaries of the move from grant-related assessments to standard spending assessments. The hon. Gentleman will surely have the honesty to accept that. The largest beneficiaries from the changes, in one year only, are the largest contributors to the safety net. That is the position that existed in July and it still exists. They were talking about a one-year contribution only. Thanks to the move from GREAs to SSAs, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in the long-term his constituents will be better off. Recalling what the hon. Gentleman said in July about the likely level of the community charge for his constituents, I am sure that he will be delighted that the figure now is a good deal less than he feared in July.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is not as bad as we had feared in July? Will he further explain the business grants, which look like a mystery wrapped up in an enigma, and how they will ultimately affect businesses because the business rate is particularly important in Birmingham? According to those figures--which we have had two minutes to look at while the Minister has had three months--it seems as though businesses will be confused about whether we in Birmingham will be reasonably off or two or three times worse off than many other areas.

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend knows a good deal about business problems not only in the west midlands, but well beyond as well. If my hon. Friend consults some of those representing businesses and business organisations, he will find that the 36p poundage figure is a good deal less than many were predicting. It enables us to continue to raise broadly the same amount of money as has been raised this year. I think it is a fair figure. As my hon. Friend knows, one consequence of the move to the uniform business rate is, on balance, a shift of resources to the midlands and the north. I hope that that will help some of the parts of our country that are so important to our manufacturing future.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : Does the Secretary of State realise that, no matter how much he tries to stamp on the fuse, the poll tax time bomb will still explode in the Tories' faces next year? Lambeth has now had varying figures for the poll tax per head of the population, varying from £287 to £547. That is a wide variation. Which figure is likely to be true?

Mr. Patten : The lower figure would be nearer to being true if the Lambeth local authority spent its money and administered its affairs as competently as many other local authorities in London, such as nearby Wandsworth. Given the additional resources that Lambeth is receiving from the ILEA grant and the additional assistance it is receiving from the shift from GREAs to standard spending assessments, I very much hope that Lambeth will find that it has adequate resources to do a good job without penalising its chargepayers. Of course, that hope might represent a triumph over experience.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton) : Is it not clear from table 2 that some of the high exemplifications that we saw a few months ago for some of the inner London boroughs have now been avoided and many chargepayers will be

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grateful for that, but is it not also the case that many will be protected by the transitional household protection? However, what will happen in year two, when the interim household protection begins to unwind and when many authorities lose the benefit of the safety net? Is there not a risk that, having secured low increases this year, there will be some high increases in year two?

Mr. Patten : I believe that I am right in saying that the largest single loss for a London borough from the unwinding of the safety net is just over £1 per week. We are announcing today that the interim relief scheme will be unwinding at a rate of 25p in the first year. I do not think that my hon. Friend will find the situation as difficult as he had feared. In the second year of the interim relief scheme, we shall still be spending about £230 million of the nearly £700 million that we shall be devoting to the scheme in all.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Does the Secretary of State recognise that, because of the changes that he has announced today, the poll tax in Burnley will be £184 per head, which is exactly the same as the average rate per head at present? However, the majority of people in Burnley will pay more than they do now because they live in properties with low rateable values which means that the wealthiest people will be the ones to benefit from the change that he has announced.

Will the Secretary of State make it clear that when the safety net and the transitional arrangements are ended people will be able to see the full folly of the poll tax and how difficult it is to try to make it fairer when the basis of the system is totally unfair?

Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman should recognise that poorer households will benefit from a more generous rebate system than that which exists for ratepayers. We will spend about £2.5 billion on rebates and increased income support. The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members should not overlook that. Their constituents would suffer far more from the Labour party's policy--although I understand that it may not be the Labour party's policy any more and I look forward to seeing what it will do when it brings its next policy along.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some major cities Labour-controlled local authorities will be determined to overspend regardless of the methods by which they raise revenue? Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that he will not hesitate to use the expenditure-capping mechanisms as they will be the only protection for my constituents and for the poor constituents of Coventry where municipal Socialism is being built on the backs of ratepayers?

Mr. Patten : I recognise the problem that my hon. Friend has identified. I shall once again make it clear, as I tried to do in my response to a similar question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), that if local authorities insist on budgeting excessively, or spending too much money, we will have no hesitation about charge-capping them. I hope that local authorities will behave more sensibly, and I hope that their electors, as chargepayers, will ensure that they behave more sensibly.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West) : Does the Secretary of State recognise that in the standard spending assessment there is no acknowledgement of the

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needs of the under-fives? Given the additional duties that have been laid upon local authorities in the Children Bill by the Government, will he explain the extraordinary removal of the under-fives from the calculations?

Mr. Patten : We have considered general additional education needs. A range of factors have to be taken into account in the next assessment. I think that the hon. Lady will find that all aspects of education provision have been taken into account. I am sure that she will be particularly pleased by the emphasis we have placed on the needs of children in some inner city areas.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont- Dark), before he left the Chamber, initimated that these documents are incomprehensible? He is not alone. I can read the bottom line. For some reason that is unclear to me, the community charge with safety net for Wirral is £371, whereas that for Sefton, which is a not dissimilar area, and is represented by the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn), and that for Liverpool, where the council spends like a drunken sailor, are a good deal less. Will my right hon. Friend let me know, in simple terms, how I may explain that to the people of Wirral? At the moment I cannot.

Mr. Patten : I think that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities is better placed than I am to explain that situation to my hon. Friend. Perhaps the existing council has inherited a good deal of Labour overspending, which it has to deal with. My hon. Friend says that the documents are incomprehensible, but I hope that the consultation period that we have allowed will be helpful to hon. Members and to local authorities. Normally we would not make an oral statement on documents that were to be the subject of consultation at this time of the year. Normally we would make an oral statement when we agreed the distribution report, but, this year, since we were going over to a new system, I thought that it was important to make an oral statement to give hon. Members as much opportunity as possible to see what we were doing.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shewsbury and Atcham) : My right hon. Friend's statement displayed marked clarity. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will recall that under table 2 the average rate bill for my constituency is anticipated at £255 per head whereas the long-run community charge will be £247. Although that is clearly good news for my constituents, can my right hon. Friend tell me what advice I could give them on whether that charge would go up or down if the alternative proposals for a capital value and local income tax system, as advocated by the Opposition, were to be adopted? [Interruption.]

Mr. Patten : I believe that I am right in saying that the figure for the hon. Gentleman's constituents would be more than £600-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman doubts that, he should table a parliamentary question and we shall give the answer. We would be delighted to cost any Labour party policy which it puts on the table. Admittedly that means that we would have to answer for a different policy virtually every month, but we would do that.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : Looking at the figures for Barnsley and Penistone, it

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appears that some of the problems that we discussed with the right hon. Gentleman's colleague have been taken into consideration. After the safety net is removed, it appears that there is a £150 per head difference between the figure suggested by the Secretary of State and that suggested by our local treasurer. It is important to take into account the local problems. If the figures are worked out again, and if the same figures are arrived at, that will mean that my area will have to take £2.5 million out of its education budget, which it cannot afford to do. Is the Secretary of State willing to come to Barnsley to discuss the situation and to see for himself our exisiting problems?

The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about Labour party policy. I was in Canada last week and I had the opportunity to study how that country raises its money. It operates a federal tax, which is similar to our income tax, a sales tax and a tax on the capital value of property. That system has worked for the Canadians.

Mr. Patten : It may well be that the hon. Gentleman's advocacy will encourage his right hon. and hon. Friends to pick up a policy which I thought they had dumped, but shall find out in due couse. The major reason for any substantial difference, such as that referred to by the hon. Gentleman, between the exemplifications in the tables and the sort of figure he mentioned is the decisions taken on spending by his local authority. Decisions on spending must, at the end of the day, be met by chargepayers. That is the point which Opposition Members--

Mr. McKay : The right hon. Gentleman is missing it again.

Mr. Patten : If that is the case I shall look forward to further discussions with the hon. Gentleman. As for discussing such matters with local councillors and local Government officials, I am looking forward to spending a lot of time doing precisely that in the next few months.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : In the past Bassetlaw district council never received any rate support grant from the Government as it had a high concentration of industry which brought in a massive amount of rates. That revenue came from the power stations and two or three pits, which are now closing. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has taken the rateable income away from those massive industrial complexes to put it into a national fund, and that what he has given back to Bassetlaw district council and to the rest of Nottinghamshire in no way compensates for the loss of the rates that they receive from those heavy industries? Is he aware that the safety net contribution he has decided upon is far too low and that the people of Bassetlaw will have to pay a massive increase in their poll tax not because their authority is high spending--it is certainly not a high-spending authority--but simply because an enormous amount of income has been taken away from that authority by the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Patten : I believe that the hon. Gentleman will accept that Bassetlaw is getting a fairly substantial contribution from the business rate pool. Obviously I shall look at the specific figures to which he has referred. In all, however, the contribution from the uniform business rate and from the revenue support grant--the total aggregate external finance-- should ensure that local authorities are able to provide standard services at the price to chargepayers that I mentioned earlier. I very much hope

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that that is possible in Bassetlaw as elsewhere, but I shall certainly look at the specific figures mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I regret that I shall be unable to call all the hon. Members who wish to put a question. I shall call two more from each side. We then have a Standing Order No. 20 application to follow and a long day ahead of us.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the failure of the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) to launch the expected onslaught on the level of RSG for Bradford may be an eloquent tribute to his success in getting a rather better deal than the Jeremiahs on the Opposition Benches were expecting? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the result for the metropolitan districts, such as Leeds, is rather more neutral than option 3 for which they argued? I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that the rate for the unwinding of the safety net would be at a quarter rather than the expected one third. Is that rate for the safety net and the transitional arrangements, as that is critical for industrial areas with older properties?

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is right to point out that Bradford and a number of other local authorities with considerable urban problems have done substantially better than the Opposition prophesied. The safety net will be unwinding at a rate of £25, or 25 per cent., which ever is the higher, and the interim relief scheme will be unwinding in the first year to the tune of 25p.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Is the Secretary of State confident that his standard spending assessments are computed sensibly? One of the indices that the right hon. Gentleman has used relates to the proportion of children or families born outside the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States of America or the old Commonwealth--I presume that in this context that means the white Commonwealth. If that index is meant to refer to the number of black children and black families, the Secretary of State should be aware that that figure will be hopelessly out. In my community, in common with many others, many of the black children and many of the black families are second or third generation British citizens. If the number of black people in the community is an index of need, why does not the right hon. Gentleman use an accurate index?

Mr. Patten : The hon. Lady has raised an extremely important point. When she looks at the way in which that assessment was calculated she will see that, as a proportion of the educational assessments, we have increased that covering additional educational need--that revenue is precisely directed at, among other things, the problem she has identified--from 11 to 24 per cent. of the total amount available. That is one of the main reasons why a number of inner city areas--I mentioned Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester as well as London earlier--have done very well out of the move from GRE assessment to standard

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spending assessments. It is important that the hon. Lady's point is met, and I hope that I have done so reasonably well.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a statement which can only be categorised as magical. Can he reassure me that the bias hitherto in the RSG system against the south-east generally and against East Sussex in particular has now been eliminated and that proper allowance is being given to the vast numbers of elderly people in my constituency and the general area, to the large road building programme that must be constructed to join up with the Channel tunnel, and to meet the worries of the small business men in the south-east?

Mr. Patten : My right hon. Friend is right in implying that we have moved to a fairer system for his constituents and those of many other hon. Members. We have ended the hidden subsidy which, for 30 years, transferred resources from high rateable value areas to low rateable value areas. In the standard spending assessments, which we have set out, we have made particular allowance for labour costs in London and the south-east which should also be of some assistance to local authorities in the area. On both those counts, as well as the greater generosity of rebates and the interim relief scheme, his constituents and those of other hon. Members have reason to believe that we have treated then extremely fairly.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) : Does the Minister accept that it is staggering that, even according to the unrealistic figures that he has offered this afternoon, the average rate bill in my constituency is predicted to go up by 8 per cent. and that people in low rateable value properties, such as Tyneside flats, face an increase--even those affected by the relief scheme--of about £4.50 a week rather than £3? Will he have the courage to ask for more money for a better interim relief scheme and for that scheme to be permanant so that people who live in low rateable properties can look forward to a life of sense rather than the indecency which he offers?

Mr. Patten : I would not get very far by arguing that an interim relief scheme should be made permanent. The point about the scheme is that it should help us to smooth the introduction of the changes in the way in which we raise funds for local authorities. The main reason for some of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred is overspending by local authorities. That will be the main reason why, if it turns out to be the case, some people will face larger charges than they would like.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am sorry that I have not been able to call all the hon. Members who wished to participate. It may be possible with ingenuity, for them to raise some of their points during the debate on the Local Government and Housing Bill.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. No, not yet.

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Teacher Shortages

4.53 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the escalating crisis in filling teaching posts in our schools." The House is well aware that we have recently had a debate on teacher shortages. The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, of which I am a member, is currently in the last stages of preparing a report on the matter. It is an important matter, requiring urgent consideration, because on this very day the six major teaching unions in this country have, for the first time, joined forces to produce a survey on teacher vacancies which shows that the number of vacancies is double that which those at the Department of Education and Science think it is on the basis of the evidence that they produced for the interim advisory committee on teachers' pay.

It could be argued that this matter could be left for the interim committee to discuss at its leisure in time for the pay award next April. However, instead of there being about 4,000 vacancies, the figure is closer to 8,000 and that affects between 200,000 and 300, 000 pupils attending schools today. The Government should say that they are willing to accept this new survey, which is far bigger than previous ones, and, as a result, remove the restrictions limiting the interim advisory committee on the pay award, which is about £650 million. Therefore, instead of taking action next April, when another full academic year will have passed, the Government can consider this new evidence and announce an interim award this month, thereby enabling schools to attract teachers. There are 400,000 qualified teachers who are not teaching at the moment. An immediate impact could be made on the huge number of vacancies in our schools if the Department of Education and Science were to act immediately to deal with this problem.

Therefore, I sincerely hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will allow the Adjournment of the House so that this urgent matter, which is of importance to all schoolchildren, can be discussed this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the issue of teacher shortages."

As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 20 I have to announce my decision without giving reasons to the House. I have listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman has said. I have to decide whether his application comes within this Standing Order and, if so, whether the debate should be given priority over the business already set down for today or tomorrow. The matter he has raised does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

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Points of Order

4.56 pm

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you will be aware, the shire counties, with the exception of the Isle of Wight, are represented in this House by between five and 15 Members of Parliament. It has always been my experience that you, Mr. Speaker, have always been most generous in allowing me to put my point of view on behalf of my county. I hope that you will appreciate that when announcements such as we have had this afternoon are made there are at least five chances for the views of the constituents of every other county represented in the House to be made.

Mr. Speaker : I am sorry for the hon. Gentleman. I have listened to what he has said but he will perhaps have other opportunities to raise this matter later today.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. On previous occasions, particularly on Scottish questions, you have allowed English Members to intervene in the contributions of the Secretary of State for Scotland on the basis that this is a United Kingdom Parliament. In the Secretary of State for the Environment's statement he alluded to Scotland, but you, Mr. Speaker, did not call any hon. Member from anywhere outside England during a statement which affected Scotland. Therefore, would you reconsider your views on Scottish Question Time?

Mr. Speaker : No. The hon. Gentleman knows that today's statement did not apply directly to Scotland. There were a large number of hon. Members with English interests to whom it did apply and who, sad to say, were not called.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter which is of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. You may remember that last week there was a dispute over whether United Kingdom military aid was being given to Cambodian guerrillas fighting side by side with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), the Minister said that he had no further comment to make on the question. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Leader of the House effectively blocked that question. The answer is important because I am told that, at this moment, according to the Chinese

Mr. Speaker : Order. Is this a matter of order in the House? What has it to do with me?

Mrs. Clwyd : It is a matter of the question being blocked. It is important because a Chinese report states that 17,000 people have already been killed in Cambodia. The military aid which it is alleged we give is not the sort of aid which we want to give. I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will assist us to raise the matter of the blocking of this question because lives are at stake.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Lady has had her say, but this is not a matter for me. There will be other opportunities for raising this important issue.

Several Hon. Members rose--

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Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that hon. Members whom I have unfortunately been unable to call will not persist in rising.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week I tabled a question to the Ministry of Defence to ask how many members of the British armed forces were engaged in training Cambodian guerrillas, where they were based, what their rank was, when the programme commenced and what the cost was to public funds. On 30 October I received an answer stating that it was not the practice to provide information of this nature.

Mr. Speaker : Order. As the House knows, I am not responsible for answers to questions. That is not a matter for me at all.

Mr. Mullin rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is not a matter for me. I repeat that I am not responsible for the answers that are given to questions.

Mr. Mullin : It is.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman referred to an answer that he had received--

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : It was a blocking motion.

Mr. Speaker : Order. If the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) wishes to have the rules changed, he must approach the Procedure Committee. I am bound by the rules.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I realise that you have a difficult job. In common with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), I wish to point out that I have spent the past two hours jumping up and down like a demented jack-in- the-box. Do you honestly think that that time was usefully spent?

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman must make that decision for himself. I called other London Members.

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Mr. Mullin rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am not taking the hon. Gentleman's point of order because it is not a matter for me.

Mr. Mullin rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am on my feet.

Mr. Mullin rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I will hear the hon. Gentleman, but it must be a matter on which I can adjudicate.

Mr. Mullin : I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. My point of order is that British taxpayers' money is being spent on military aid in Cambodia. My understanding is that the Government are accountable to Parliament for the expenditure of taxpayers' money. It is not good enough for the Government blandly to decline to account to Parliament for that expenditure. Will you, Mr. Speaker, use your influence to ensure that a Government Minister comes to the House and explains what is happening?

Mr. Speaker : I have no authority to bring Ministers to the House. The hon. Gentleman had his say, so perhaps he has done the job for himself.


Security Industry

Mr. John Wheeler, supported by Sir Marcus Fox, Sir Geoffrey Finsberg and Mr. Ivan Lawrence, presented a Bill to require the creation of an inspectorate to regulate the employment of uniformed guards and personnel in the security industries ; and for purposes connected therewith : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday next and to be printed. [Bill 214.]


Local Government and Housing Bill


That any Act resulting from the Local Government and Housing Bill may provide for sums to be paid to the Secretary of State in respect of non- domestic rating-- [Mr. Dorrell.]

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Orders of the Day

Local Government and Housing Bill

[First Day]

Lords amendments considered--[Prince of Wales's consent signfied.]

5.6 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that during the passage of the Housing Act 1988 I raised the concern of the House about the number of amendments that had been tabled by the Government--more than 400. I did not think that that would happen again because there was considerable agreement that there had been an abuse of the procedures of the House. I am now asking for your assistance in what we consider to be a continuing abuse.

You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that no fewer than 606 amendments have been tabled, many of them only last Wednesday. No Back Bencher, on either side of the House, has had the opportunity to consider those amendments or to prepare any points that he might wish to make. I checked with Officers of the House and with hon. Members, and no one can remember so many amendments being tabled to a Bill. No one can recall such an abuse of the procedures of this House. If I wanted to have a Bill of this nature taken on the Floor of the House, there would have to be a vote to that effect. Yet what is happening with this Bill is, in effect, a Committee stage being taken on the Floor of the House without any adequate safeguards. I ask you to draw to the attention of the House, through whatever measure is available, the fact that that is utterly unacceptable--not only because the procedures are being abused, but because Back Benchers on both sides cannot properly contribute to the debate because there has been so little notice of the amendments. I object strongly to the Government saying that only 70 of the 606 amendments are major. Seventy is bad enough in itself, but the suggestion that the other 536 are not important is based on their judgment, not the judgment of the House.

Not only have both Front Benchers and Back Benchers had difficulty sorting out their briefings, but in all fairness to the House and to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) I must point out that, for my hon. Friend, those amendments must be translated into braille. I have asked my hon. Friend to deal with these amendments today, yet he received them only towards the end of last week. All of them have had to be translated into braille, yet he is expected to deal in depth with them today.

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That is an appalling abuse of the procedures of the House, which I thought had been satisfactorily dealt with after the passage of the 1988 Act.

I strongly urge you, Mr. Speaker, to exert whatever pressure you can on the Government to ensure that they never again bring a Bill to the House that is so ill-prepared that we end up having a Committee stage on the Floor of the House without any of the usual safeguards being imposed.

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