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Lords amendment : No. 129, in page 87, line 14, at end insert "or".
Mr. Chope : These amendments are relatively minor. They are designed to amend definitions or to clarify the position of Crown properties and the powers of the Secretary of State in respect of the provisions in part VII.
Column 942Amendment No. 131 requires a local authority, having declared a renewal area, to ensure the provision of a service of information and advice on repairs or improvements. It has always been our intention that this sort of service should be provided in a renewal area. This amendment puts that intention beyond doubt.
Amendment No. 133 is also straightforward. It requires a local authority to keep the same sort of records as now when they receive a contribution from the Secretary of State towards expenditure incurred under this part of the Bill. This is a safeguard necessary for propriety and auditing purposes.
In 1986 the English house condition survey was carried out, and it was published by the Government last November. It shows beyond any doubt that there has been virtually no improvement to hard core poor housing in the five years since the previous survey.
The survey shows that 543,000 dwellings lack basic amenities, that 1,053,000 are unfit, and that 1,113,000 are in serious disrepair. It is also important to reveal that the report contains a new class of dwellings- -those in poor condition. They are defined as dwellings lacking one or more basic amenities, all unfit dwellings, and those needing urgent repair to the external fabric where the cost is estimated at £1,000 or more. Altogether, 2.8 million dwellings were in poor condition and of those 2.4 million were in poor repair. Those outlines are published in the condition of housing in England section of the report.
The survey shows that 463,000 dwellings, which is 2.5 per cent. of the stock, lack basic amenities. One third of those were vacant at the time of the survey and 42 per cent. were in the private rented sector and in very poor
Column 943condition. That shows what the future holds if the Government persist in passing properties from the public to the private rented sector. It appears that the Government are set on a course of putting more properties from the public sector into the private sector, even though the report shows that the private sector does nothing to enhance the condition of properties.
We have been told about empty properties and fingers were pointed at those owned by councils. The report reveals beyond any doubt that the largest number of unoccupied dwellings at the time of the survey belonged to the private rented sector. The Government should take note of that. It is unfair to criticise local authorities because the report reveals that only 11 per cent. of local authority houses were in poor condition. It is totally unfair to criticise local authorities when the private sector is the culprit responsible for keeping empty and unfit dwellings.
Mr. Allen McKay : Does my hon. Friend agree that because of recent Government actions local authorities are finding it difficult to give grants to people who need them and that slum clearance programmes are being held back? Those two matters are building up problems for the next 20 or 30 years.
Mr. O'Brien : My colleague has touched on a point that I want to make about the resources that are necessary if houses in a poor or sub- standard condition are to be brought back into service. He is right to say that, because of the reduction in HIP allocation, houses are falling into disrepair. Basic amenities cannot be provided by the local authorities or by grants to the private sector and owner-occupiers because of the cuts in grants.
The report says that the proportion of housing in poor condition was higher in the north-west, the west midlands, Yorkshire, Humberside and the south- west than in any of the regions.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is dealing with what the Minister described as only minor amendments, but which my hon. Friend is showing are a factor in the housing crisis. The assembly of all these Cabinet Ministers and more junior Ministers on the Front Bench tells me that, now they have found the Leader of the House and dragged him in here, they are going to stop the business short. I know that my hon. Friend has some valuable points to make, so I give him the nod and the wink that he should make them in the next few minutes, because the debate will be stopped.
No one can deny the urgent need for significant increases in the level of public and private investment in the nation's housing stock. The Government's proposals in the Bill do little to encourage, and more to restrict, investment. The Association of District Councils, which is not a Labour-controlled body, published a report on
Column 94430 October which deals with the properties referred to in this part of the Bill. The title of the report is "A Time to Take Stock." It says that one in seven houses in England and Wales are in need of repair, and the bill for those repairs has rocketed to its current estimate of £36 billion. The ADC urges the Government to help to meet the bill by making more public money available to repair both private and council homes. Tory councillors are urging the Government to make money available so that houses can be repaired to a satisfactory condition, so that they can be occupied, which would help to reduce the waiting lists, and meet the needs of the homeless.
Two councillors who are members of the ADC, Lady Elizabeth Anson, and the chairman of the housing committee, Graham Facks-Martin, both appealed to the Government to make resources available because of the drastic shortage of money to improve properties. Page 17 of the report refers to a survey that finds that poor housing is occupied overwhelmingly by people on low incomes who are unable to contribute to the improvement of their properties.
Poor stock condition is often regarded as primarily an urban problem, but the report says that, while there is a problem in urban areas, 22 per cent. of housing in rural areas is in poor condition whereas 14 per cent. of urban housing is in poor condition. Conservative Members should consider the report carefully as there is a need for more resources to improve dwellings, more so in rural than in urban areas.
The relationship between poor repair, unfitness and lack of basic amenities in rural and urban housing is only partly explained by a higher proportion of older properties being in rural areas. Almost 40 per cent. of the rural stock was built before 1919, compared with 25 per cent. of urban stock, but some 41 per cent. of pre-1919 dwellings in rural areas are in very poor condition, compared with 33 per cent. in urban areas.
In rural areas, 48 per cent. of dwellings in the private rented sector are in poor condition, compared with 40 per cent. in urban areas. That can be explained by the higher incidence of private renting in rural areas such as East Anglia and the south-west. These statistics speak volumes about the public sector's ability to provide the right facilities in rural and urban areas.
The report says that the worst area is the north-west and that the second worst is Yorkshire and Humberside--the area that I and some of my hon. Friends represent. We have made numerous requests of the Government for additional resources to be made available to local authorities to allow repairs to be made in the private and the public sector. The issues raised by these amendments may be minor to the Minister, but they are major to people in the north-west and Yorkshire and Humberside.
The survey shows that, without additional resources with which to make improvements, the condition of properties, whether owner-occupied or rented in the private sector or the public sector, will deteriorate. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip are here, as it is most important that we have this matter on notice. Their political colleagues in the ADC are saying that, without additional resources, the condition of properties throughout the country will get worse. I hope that they will note this serious issue.
Column 945Motion made, and Question proposed, That the debate be now adjourned.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : This is a debatable motion and we should not let it pass as if it were merely a matter of procedure. I suspect that the Government have in mind a change in the business, and that they intend tomorrow to announce guillotine motions on the Local Government and Housing Bill and the Employment Bill. The Opposition are willing to continue debating the Bill. It is 11.5 pm, but that fact should not curtail the debate. There should be strong opposition to the notion that the Government can trample on the rights of Parliament by introducing a guillotine motion on the Employment Bill when the Lords amendments to it have not yet been discussed in this place. Even if the debate on that Bill went all through tomorrow night, that would not justify a guillotine motion. I suggest that the Government are moving progress on the Local Government and Housing Bill so that they can introduce a guillotine motion on the Employment Bill. It is most unreasonable of them to move progress at this stage and to use their seedy majority to impose two guillotine motions upon the House. That is why the Leader of the House is in his place. Apparently the Government have been scouring the House looking for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. They were intent on getting him into the Chamber with a business statement. Even worse, he might repeat the trick of moving that the House should make progress and linking a business statement with that motion, which would prevent us from questioning the business statement. That manoeuvre broke a convention of the House.
The Government are using their majority to introduce a guillotine motion on the consideration of a Bill when the Lords amendments to it have not yet been debated in this place, and using their power to deny the Opposition the right to question their business statement. I hope that the fact that a junior junior Whip has had the effrontery to move progress is a sign that the Leader of the House intends to make a proper business statement that we can question.
Mr. Skinner : The Government's action is even worse than my hon. Friend suggests because for the past 80-odd hours a group of young men and women organised by Shelter have been taking part in a vigil in Abingdon gardens opposite Downing street, protesting against the housing shortage caused primarily by the Government's policies over the past 10 years and against the cardboard society that the Government have created. The Government will move their guillotine motion tomorrow at about the same time as these young people complete the 100 hours of their vigil. That will be the duration of the vigil, and that will be the Government's response to the young men and women who are trying to draw attention to the plight of the homeless. The Government do not care about the homeless. They now intend to introduce a guillotine motion to stop the debate--
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows well that an intervention is a pertinent comment or a question. If he seeks to catch my eye, I shall be pleased to call him. At the moment, I have called the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer).
Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You have said that if an hon. Member catches your eye, you will call him. I have to tell you that the chance of anyone being called is fairly remote. Not too many minutes ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) was making his speech, but in the middle of it he was stopped by the Government Whip. It is all right for you to say that we will be called, but there is not much chance of that. This is gagging and censorship.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) makes an important point. This is a deliberate attempt at gagging and censorship. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) was making an excellent speech about the standards of housing, but the Minister will not have the opportunity to reply. My hon. Friend made wide-ranging comments about the low quality of housing in many urban areas--cities such as Bradford, where there is need for a great investment in the housing stock.
The Secretary of State visited Bradford and spoke to the Tory group's annual meeting. He tries to put on a cloak of greenery, but I must tell him that the Tory council in Bradford is attempting to push back and destroy the green belt. I hope that he will use his powers to stop the council because already there is not enough green land in Bradford. It will be a test both for the right hon. Gentleman and his pretensions and for the Tory council and its pretensions. I shall now return to the motion. I will not be distracted by the right hon. Gentleman and his pretensions of being concerned about the environment. We know that it is not true. The aim of the motion is to prevent the House debating an important Bill. There are many hours ahead of us, and many of us are well practised and well versed in raising issues throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning. There is no reason why we should not spend another five, six, seven or eight hours debating the Bill, without even intruding on the Government's business for tomorrow.
I could have understood the Government putting forward a motion of this kind at 7 am, when there had been many hours of debate, but that is not what they are doing. This is a deliberate attempt to block debate. Their followers are disgruntled and the Government do not like it when the Opposition have the opportunity to take the initiative. They are using their majority to trample on the Opposition and to take away our right to debate this important and basic piece of legislation. The fact that the majority of Conservative Members have rushed here to vote for the Government shows how little they care about the provision of housing.
Mr. Battle : Perhaps Conservative Members are here under duress. I have sat through the whole of the debate and not one of them has spoken, other than a Minister. They are not interested in the Bill, but they are being forced reluctantly to support it.
Column 947spoken, but that no Conservative Member had done so. The Opposition are concerned about the issues. We have made a number of interventions and comments because we represent the areas of deprivation, not the lush green stockbroker belt and the City spivs so amply represented on the Tory Benches. They do not care about the issues. They do not care about giving the Opposition an opportunity to put forward their points of view. That is why some of us bitterly resent this way of curtailing debate and of preventing the Opposition from properly airing their views.
There has been no attempt to extend the debate. I will not use the word filibuster because filibusters never take place in the House of Commons. There is no question but that every speech made here tonight has been to the point and, in many cases, an expression of heartfelt concern about the deteriorating provision of housing under the Tories. The Government cannot claim that the debate has been extended.
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : I listened to my hon. Friend only a week ago speaking on the same issue of cutting time on major debates on major Bills. The Government cut the time available for debate on the Children Bill and left us with only three hours to debate 441 Government amendments which were crucial to the Bill. On one in particular, concerning the emotive issue of grandparents' rights, it was essential for us to have more time for debate.
Mr. Cryer : You are absolutely right, Madam Deputy Speaker. But the Government's motion has precedents which have resulted in the curtailment of debate on, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the Children Bill and the Companies Bill.
The Government have overloaded Parliament with a huge amount of legislation. The Water Bill, which is being advertised in some tasteless, expensive and generally objectionable advertisements, was a huge volume of legislation. The Electricity Bill has landed in a morass because the electricity industry is so difficult to privatise because of its nature and complexity and the way in which the expensive Magnox reactors have had to be excluded. As a result of overloading Parliament and the Standing Committees, the Government are now in deep trouble. The only way in which they can meet their date for the Queen's Speech is by introducing guillotine motions. If the Government behaved sensibly, obeyed democratic principles and gave the Opposition the right to put forward constructive amendments they would have to postpone the Queen's Speech. In some instances the Opposition reject a Bill outright, but we try, in a constructive and positive way, to improve legislation, and that is what we have done with the Local Government and Housing Bill. It is difficult because it is such a nasty piece of legislation in general. We can only put forward amendments which attempt to relieve the oppression inherent in the principles behind the Bill. We have tried to do that, but the Government are sweeping all that to one side on the basis that if the Queen's Speech does not take place on the day that has been announced, they will be
Column 948announcing to the world that they are in a mess. I understand that the Queen has a visit abroad, so any delay would be inconvenient.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a relevant point. An announcement would have to be made to the public at large that the Government were in a mess, and that is the truth of the matter--they are in a mess because they have overloaded the House with business. If questioned, some of the House's administrators will readily admit that the Government are now introducing so many huge chunks of primary legislation, that legislation is so complex and the House is given so little time to shape it adequately that they are depending increasingly on delegated powers. That is a very bad principle.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend talks of the complexity of legislation. He should remind the House that, as a result of the Government's failure to understand the Children Bill, the Companies Bill or this Bill, they have been lumbered with several hundred amendments on each--many more than is normal practice.
My hon. Friend has said that the Government intend to move a timetable motion tomorrow, coupling this Bill with the Employment Bill, which has not been debated since we returned to deal with the overspill of legislation after the summer recess. I wonder whether that breaks with convention, and whether it is a matter for Mr. Speaker to investigate.
Mr. Cryer : I mentioned that at the outset. I consider it a matter of grave concern that the Government intend to link the two Bills. That is why the Leader of the House is present--he will have to make a business statement. This is probably unprecedented, and is linked to the motion, which has been moved to allow such a statement.
Mr. Soley : As I pointed out the other day in a point of order, 606 amendments do not merely constitute a record for the past 50 or 100 years but probably constitute an all-time record in the history of the House. More importantly, as a result, we have been trying to deal with a Committee stage on the Floor of the House without the normal safeguards. As I pointed out yesterday, if it had been taken on the Floor in the normal way there would have been a vote, and a procedure to follow.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There were more than 400 amendments to the Children Bill, which was a consensus measure. It could be argued--and the Government did argue--that that was because of their response to changes made in Committee, but a considerable proportion of the amendments were due to Government decisions to make changes.
More than 1,000 amendments were tabled to the Companies Bill--an extraordinary number. In a point of order yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) pointed out that that made things extremely difficult for the Opposition, who are assisted by a very limited number of people compared with the army of civil servants on whom the Government can call. Not only do the Opposition have to deal with amendments at very short notice--I understand that the amendments were not available until Monday this week
Column 949--but we have to look through all of them and marshal our arguments with very limited assistance. The Opposition had to deal with 2,000 amendments on those three Bills, all of which have been subject to the guillotine. The Government are using the House as a rubber stamp. The guillotine leads to the forcing through of amendments without examination by the House.
By forcing through without examination such a large number of amendments the Government are saying something else--that the definition of legislation is not to be left to the House. There is merit in examining a Bill in detail. There is merit in a Standing Committee examining a Bill clause by clause. Since then, however, the Government have tabled a flood of new amendments--with the result, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith said, that the Committee stage was wasted.
The unfortunate truth is that the Bill will have to be defined when it leaves this place. It is sloppy in a number of areas. Government drafting is frequently sloppy. There will be no scrutiny here because of the guillotine which will result from the business statement. Where will decisions be made? They will be made in the courts. Whenever there is ambiguity, shoddiness or sloppiness in the legislation and a dispute arises, inevitably it will have to be settled in the courts.
The business statement will lead to examination of the Bill being curtailed. Individuals will be unable to afford to go to court if there is a dispute. It will be too expensive for them. Only the local authorities will be able to do that. No wonder the Minister for Housing and Planning, the hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), is smiling. He is a lawyer. He is smiling with the sort of contemplative preen that comes to lawyers when they know that legislation is defective and they can see all those refreshers looming up and cash tills registering as a result of the pages of controversial amendments that the Government have tabled. No hon. Member can examine them because they are all subject to the guillotine. There are days and days of sunny pastures ahead in the courts-- and all the other days when the lawyers will be counting up the fees that they will get out of local authorities, which almost certainly will have to go to court to obtain definitions of the guillotined amendments.
The House should try to ensure to the best of its ability that the legislation is well defined. Sometimes we fail, but we are not even being given the opportunity to try. The purpose of the guillotine is deliberately to ensure that the House cannot scrutinise the Bill. The Opposition's political function is to make clear to the public the defective nature of much of the legislation--for example, the water privatisation legislation, which is another huge chunk of legislation that has got the Government into such a mess. The crooked nature of selling off assets which belong to the people is shown by the Government's spurious argument that people will have a choice if they buy shares in the water industry. That is an example of legislation which is causing an enormous mess. We oppose that on political grounds, but because of the
Column 950complexity of the legislation, the Opposition have a duty to make legislation as clear as possible, so that the citizenry are not oppressed by legislation which has to be clarified in the courts, often with Tory judges and Tory lawyers lining their pockets as fast as they can.
Mr. Battle : Perhaps it is a salutary reminder that the last time we considered a housing Bill with a large number of amendments it was guillotined so we were not able to point out the impact of the great heralded proposal for housing action trusts, which were going to be the saviours of areas that needed housing investment, at the expense of local authorities. As a result, local authorities and tenants have been put to a great deal of trouble for nearly two years while they were warmed up to the proposals, which the Government will not carry out because they realised the folly of the proposals in the Bill that was rushed through the House.
Mr. Cryer : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for an excellent and pointed illustration of the difficulties that rushing legislation through causes to ordinary citizens. We legislate not for ourselves but for people at large.
Tonight, my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton raised some useful points about the standard of housing. He pointed out that, among other areas, the lowest standards of housing are in Yorkshire and Humberside, the area that he and I represent. I did not speak in the debate, because I was hoping that the Minister would reply at some length. My attitude was conditioned by the fact that the Minister was very upset when six or seven Labour Members raised points about earlier sections of the Bill. The Minister did not once give way, because he said that he had many points to answer. I thought that I would give the Minister the opportunity of holding forth with only our Front Bench spokesman outlining the position extremely competently and in detail, but as soon as the Minister got up the Government moved progress.
I can understand that, given the Minister's speech. He got himself into a mess. He did not take interventions because clearly he did not know the policy he was pursuing. It may well be that the Leader of the House came in and said, "Christ, it's Chope," or words to that effect, and told the Whip, "Get that motion for progress moved as fast as you can." So he strode towards the Dispatch Box and the Whip leapt in and stopped another calamity. That would explain it. However, we are entitled to make a judgment. If the Under-Secretary of State, or whatever he is now--I am never quite sure about the moves that take place in Tory circles these days --was about to make a speech, we were entitled to make a judgment on it, and the Whips should not interfere. After all, the Minister might have read out the defensive briefing that the civil servants had prepared for him. We should be entitled to hear that. It is quite wrong for the Government Whip to stop the House hearing what the Minister has to say, because it is put on record. We often use the information in Hansard to clarify the position. Yet the House is denied that by the Whips' interference.
A number of important points have been made tonight, and I know that a number of my hon. Friends are very keen to speak on this matter, because they feel as aggrieved as I do at the piratical nature of the Government. Many of us have criticisms of this place and recognise that there
Column 951could be improvement. None the less, in general elections, about 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. of people on the electoral register turn out and vote because they believe that this place represents some sort of democratic endeavour. The Government Whip moved the motion because the Government are running out of patience with democracy-- not that they had much--and they are prepared to trample on it.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. One of his jobs is to clear up the mess after the Lord Mayor's parade. The result of guillotined legislation is that the orders that come before the House must be dealt with by my hon. Friend later on in Committee. Can he envisage the extent to which the legislation of this week, last week, and probably next week will be guillotined and will cause difficulties for the Joint Statutory Instruments Committee?
Mr. Cryer : I would like to spend a moment or two speculating on that point. Now that my hon. Friend reminds me, I raised this very point when the Government Whip moved the closure during my speech on the Children Bill. I received several understanding and sympathetic comments. Many hon. Members were interested in the points I was about to make. Inevitably, if this motion is passed, and if, as one supposes, the Leader of the House is to move a change of business--that is presumably why he is still hanging round--two Bills will be guillotined. Hon. Members have plenty of time in which to debate this issue. This debate is open-ended, so hon. Members can continue to speak for some time, unless the perfidious Tory Whips move another motion.
The difficulty is that the legislation will not be properly examined, and therefore problems will arise. I mentioned earlier that one of the sad reflections on the Government's legislative programme is that they are handing over too much power to Ministers. They are seeking to fill the gaps by handing delegated powers to Ministers so that they can produce a great number of statutory instruments. Because I was interested in this subject as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, I looked at the figures relating to the production of statutory instruments. After a hesitant start in 1979, the number has increased virtually every year. This Government were to take legislation off the backs of the people, but they are producing more ministerial orders than the 1974-79 Labour Government about whom they bitterly complain. If that is a consequence of the motion, the facilities for dealing with delegated legislation on the scale that has arisen in the Government's legislative programme are totally inadequate.
On one day before the last recess, there were 15 statutory instruments, three of which were reported to the House by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, because they were in varying degrees ultra vires, badly drafted or ambiguous, or because the Minister made an unusual use of power. There was no time for a proper debate, because so many statutory instruments were involved. That is an illustration of the way in which time is soaked up by Ministers using their powers in primary legislation. They do not give the House adequate time in the first instance, so that the House can deal with legislation instead of saying, "Here are some powers. The
Column 952Minister can virtually produce whatever statutory instruments he wants." Before such a principle is adopted on any wider bases, the House must consider the procedure for the scrutiny and examination of statutory instruments. That is not involved in the business motion, and is therefore one reason why I oppose it.
Suppose the Whips had said, "We should finish the debate on the Bill, but we will come back to the House with a whole programme for changing the nature of legislation in this House. We're not going to have detailed debate and discussion ; we're going to have regular guillotines. We're fed up with dealing with amendments and with staying here after tea-time. We want to get home, get to the City or go to see our stockbrokers for advice, because if we don't, we get into difficulties--and at the same time, because we're going to extend delegated powers, we'll have a whole new look at the scrutiny." If they had said that, we could have formed a different judgment ; we would have had to have an entirely different scale of values. But they did not say that, so I feel that I must oppose the motion
Mr. Skinner : The first point that I want to make quickly is that Ministers do not see stockbrokers very often. That is a principle. Stockbrokers can just get rid of about £50,000 and not tell anybody about it until about 12 months later. I know that it sounds strange, but apparently that is the rule.
On the question of changing the system, is my hon. Friend putting forward the view--I should like to hear his views on this because people change their minds about legislation--that it would be better to guillotine Bills before they start on this merry road--or what?
Mr. Cryer : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. What he said about stockbrokers worries me a little, because it suggests that the lack of communication between Ministers and stockbrokers is spreading to Parliament. What they want to do is to--
Mr. Cryer : I am certainly not going down that road, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was simply saying that cutting the debate and moving this business motion prevents a proper exchange of views--and that seems to be present elsewhere--between Ministers and stockbrokers. But I will not repeat that view any more, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I can see that it would not be a fruitful course of action.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover asked about delegated legislation and about whether a Bill should be guillotined from the beginning. He suggested that the business motion might be linked to that sort of idea. We cannot change the rules in mid-stream. It would be exceedingly wrong, and a major and radical change for Parliament to undertake. We cannot do that at this stage, which is why, since we have an existing system of dealing with Bills--on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report, on Third Reading, in the Lords and during our consideration of Lords amendments--we must maintain that system, but for it to work we must give legislation
Column 953adequate time on the Floor of the House. That is why it is an outrage for the Government to try to curtail matters in this way.
Mr. Tony Banks : My hon. Friend and I have complained in the House about the manner in which the Bill is moving towards the statute book. Is my hon. Friend aware that we have had a Committee stage on Report, with large numbers of Government amendments, and then a further Committee stage during our consideration of Lords amendments? It is a crazy way to put legislation together. It is clear that Ministers do not know what they wanted to try to achieve, the Bill was so badly drafted.
As a consequence of this inefficient manner of dealing with legislation, there will be all sorts of problems in the future for local government. Therefore, we must insist that the Government carry on debating the Bill tonight, because we need to ensure as best we possibly can that what goes on to the statute book is at least explicable to those who will have to try to implement it in local government.
Mr. Cryer : I spoke earlier about the effect of shoddy legislation and measures passed in haste. Although we have spent many hours debating the Bill, it is now largely a different measure from that which we originally discussed. After all, 600 amendments tabled at this stage must result in ambiguities and difficulties.
Mr. Cryer : The number is increasing all the time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith said at the outset this afternoon, the complexities of the Bill are such that we need more, not less, time to debate it. I fear that, because the Government are not making concessions and because the debate is being restricted, certain provisions in the measure will end up being tested in the courts. Consider the Private Eye libel case, in which the costs have been over £300,000--
Mr. Winnick : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend is making important points and we are listening to him with interest. Shall we be able to continue the debate once he resumes his seat? I fear that at that stage the Leader of the House will move the closure. Are we to be restricted even from debating the motion?
Mr. Cryer : Curtailing the debate will lead to confused legislation, and that will be bad legislation. I was giving an idea of the scale of costs that might be incurred in clarifying the Bill in court, and I mentioned by way of example the fact that in the Private Eye case the costs had amounted to nearly £350,000. Imagine how many houses a local authority could build for that money, or perhaps
Column 954£500,000 if the issue were taken to the House of Lords on appeal. On the other hand, one wonders how the lawyers have the nerve to ask for such huge sums.
When one hears some of the lawyers in this place, one wonders who on earth would pay them, at any price, for some of the comments that they make.
Mr. Skinner : A theory advanced by a few people is that, rather than have legislation go through in its normal slap-happy way and rather than finish up with lawyers making vast sums in court, there should be in an ideal situation a revising committee in the House. That committee would be made up of lawyers, and they would tidy up the legislation while working as Members of Parliament. They would be unable to work in the courts or make any money from the Yorkshire Ripper case or the Private Eye case. They would be slogging away in the House. They could start at 10 am, although if the House started earlier we could get them started at 8 am. That committee could deal with all the complicated legislation and possible Government amendments while we dealt with Question Time in front of the cameras.
Mr. Cryer : I must warn my hon. Friend that when he murmured about the abolition of fees and lawyers doing work without any remuneration, the Leader of the House woke up. Obviously that suggestion came as a great shock to him. We should proceed carefully on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was right to mention the courts, as the cost of going to court is not inconsiderable. As the Bill concerns local government and housing, it is clear that such costs will fall largely on local authorities. Those authorities are already badly strapped for cash. It is unfair that, as a result of the business motion, the potential implication is that local authorities will be forced to find large sums of money to finance actions to gain clarity on the Bill.
There is a great deal of argument over the proposed salary increase for hon. Members to be effective from January.