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Mr. Battle : It is not a point of order ; it is an intervention. Is the hon. Member for Taunton telling the House that the time that we spent on debates on rent levels, on the fact that housing benefit will now be paid out of the rents of other council tenants and on homelessness was not usefully spent? Conservative Members would not join in those debates, but the issues are of major concern
Column 1031and not a moment of that time was wasted. We, too, wanted to deal with the amendments to which the hon. Gentleman was referring.
Mr. Nicholson : I do not doubt for a moment that the hon. Member made a sensible speech yesterday, as I know of his interest in these matters. I am complaining in general about the actions of Opposition Members, and about maverick resistence.
I wonder what sort of time a Labour Government would have, if one ever acceded to power, when trying to introduce measures to implement, for example, the economic policies of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and other measures that would be extraordinarily divisive of their ranks. I wonder what sort of resistance they would encounter from those mavericks, who will no doubt have increased in number. I regret that they will probably not have the powerful figure of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to deal with the matter. Fourteen years ago, he turned on the mavericks in his party and described them as
"out of their tiny Chinese minds".
I have never been entirely sure of the etymology of that remark. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity of discussing it with Deng Xiaoping. On another occasion, the right hon. Gentleman described the mavericks in his party in more earthy Anglo-Saxon language. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, would not allow me to repeat what he is supposed to have said. Those mavericks have led us to this timetable motion and restricted debate on the important issues raised by the Bill. I regret the need for the motion, but I shall certainly support it.
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : I shall confine my speech to the Local Government and Housing Bill as it relates to Wales. The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) mentioned the importance of Lords amendment No. 269 on rural housing. I share his concern that that amendment will not now be debated. I was especially anxious that it should be debated because rural housing in Wales has been given a completely different flavour by the issue of Welsh Office circular 30/86, "Housing for Senior Management". There is no English equivalent and I want the House to know that I have raised the matter repeatedly and that I am still disturbed that, in general, people in rural areas in Wales must comply with local and structure plans but senior managers do not have to comply fully. An exception has been made in their case, and I feel that that is gross discrimination.
The Welsh Office issued a further circular, 44/87, which would have modified the original circular, but then claimed that it had not been issued. The original circular still exists. In my constituency of Gower and other Welsh constituencies local people living in rural areas cannot purchase houses because of high prices and cannot build them because of the adherence to local and structure plans while housing for senior management has been made an exception. That is an extremely distasteful and unnecessary intrusion. Young people in rural villages are prevented from building houses in the locality whereas people from outside can come in and do so.
Column 1032Lords amendment No. 291 is also extremely important. I know that the Leader of the House, with his deep Welsh roots-- his roots are perhaps deeper than his accent--will consider carefully the separate provisions for Wales which that amendment would allow. It says : "Where any provision of this Act which extends to England and Wales confers a power on the Secretary of State to make regulations, orders, rules or determinations or to give directions or specify any matter, the power may be exercised differently for England and Wales, whether or not it is exercised separately."
It is a superb amendment because it would allow Wales to be considered completely differently.
The people of Wales would be delighted if the amendment were carried since it would enable two matters to be excluded from the current provisions on home improvements. First, there is the standard of fitness in terms of home improvement grants. The proposed standard of fitness for mandatory grants is wholly inadequate and falls short of present standards of fitness. A standard of fitness should go beyond that aimed at preventing danger to health and safety. It should aim to ensure a minimum level of comfort and amenity, which all householders of all tenures should be entitled to enjoy before the next century. It is important for the Government to understand that in assessing whether a house is fit or unfit, it will always be necessary to consider whether it is reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition. Specific standards should be set for rewiring, lighting, heating and thermal insulation. The target standard should be at least that of the National House Building Council.
In Wales we feel strongly that works to the external curtilage of the property should be eligible for grant aid. The present system applies only to the dwelling. In districts such as the Rhondda repair work or renovation to retaining walls is urgently needed. To neglect the fabric of such structures could detract seriously from works carried out to the main structure of the building.
The second crucial area that we in Wales would like to see changed is the concept of means testing of improvement grants. In 1986 the Welsh Office published its Welsh house condition survey. It showed that in Wales 80 per cent. of grants went to people on low income. Seventy two per cent. of grant recipients had savings of less than £1,000 and 90 per cent. of grants went to dwellings that were unfit, lacked amenities or were in substantial disrepair. Therefore, it is nonsensical to argue that a means test with all the stigma attached to it and the bureaucracy required to implement and check it is needed in Wales. It is a great shame that the amendment cannot be debated.
In response to the Government's consultation paper on home improvement grants, Swansea city council said :
"The introduction of means testing will create a system which will involve both applicants, council officers and possibly other statutory agencies in considerable work which in many cases will have no beneficial effect in that grant will not be payable. Although this may appear to accord with ensuring that grant aid is properly targeted, it is of little help to the hapless applicant who will be required to get detailed estimates, provide details of his household financial circumstances and be subject to a financial assessment and then be told that grant aid is not available or only available at a very low rate."
The means test will deter applications for assistance to the detriment of the long-term quality of the housing stock. Many people would prefer to let their properties deteriorate rather than submit to the examination that the Government envisage.
Column 1033That problem is likely to be evident particularly among older people who form one of the main groups to which grants should be directed. Old people usually prefer to stay put in their existing environment. That preference tends to be most strongly in favour of staying in their existing homes than objective consideration of the conditions of those homes might suggest. The proportion of old people living in under-occupied or otherwise unsatisfactory accommodation who wish to move is consistently, country by country, far below what expert or objective review of the position might suggest. In a memorandum to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs inquiry and report into the condition and disrepair of privately owned houses in Wales, page 286 of volume 2 of the minutes of evidence, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors states :
"Older generations generally do not regard property as an asset and therefore do not carry out repairs to maintain the value of the asset. Most poorly maintained property is occupied by elderly persons who do not have the will to carry out necessary repairs."
An excellent example of the Welsh house condition survey's usefulness on detail is revealed by the apparent misconception of many householders about the actual state of their properties and especially the data not published in the report. It shows that 70 per cent. of those living in homes that could be classified by the technical appraisal as being in serious disrepair considered their homes to be in good repair or needing only minor repair. In view of such information, it is important that the Secretary of State for the Environment pays heed to the advice of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors when it says that an age limit of 65 should be set, above which people do not have to satisfy a means test. If the Secretary of State does not want to introduce that for England, we should be grateful if he would do it for Wales.
There are also serious objections to the details of the means-testing proposals. It is not acceptable that the calculation of available disposable income that determines the threshold does not deduct mortgage repayments. That would prejudice young
owner-occupiers and first-time buyers.
Another crucial problem under the proposed system for mandatory grants is that two tests need to be satisfied. The first test relates to the condition of the property. The local authority would need to decide whether the property was fit or unfit, having regard to the proposed standard set down in the Housing Act 1988. The standard appears to be far more flexible than that in section 604 of the Housing Act 1985. On the Government's admission, that would make many more properties unfit. Assuming that a property is established as unfit, the second test is then applied--the resource test to the family. Although the family's resources may be by no means great, grant aid may not be available. The local authority's predicament is that as it is aware that the house is unfit, and irrespective of the availability of grant, there is a duty under the Housing Act 1988 to deal with that unfitness.
Therefore, the applicant for grant aid could, following a visit, be refused help but be presented with a Housing Act notice requiring him to carry out costly works at his own expense--the very works on which he had sought help in the first place. It will not take long for such circumstances to become known to grant applicants. That will act as a severe disincentive to people seeking help. I cannot but think that in this means-test procedure the
Column 1034Government's intention may be to reduce the total amount of money spent on grants by making it extremely difficult for people either to understand the system or go through the procedure.
The Institute of Housing summed up the argument in its memorandum to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, stating on page 306 of the minutes of evidence :
"The means test concept envisaged by the Government, whilst clearly attracting resources towards those most in need, will not secure what the institute sees as a main objective of our older housing policy--improving poor housing conditions and arresting disrepair. There will be an acceleration of the rate of deterioration into disrepair for some of our older housing stock."
I think that I have said enough to show the great concern in Wales about the fact that the Bill has not been debated properly. Several important amendments remain to be considered and I wish that amendment No. 291 in particular could have seen the light of day and have been examined closely.
There is alarm in Wales that, while Exchequer contributions to local authorities will remain, the rate for grants is to be reduced to 75 per cent. from the present level of 90 per cent. That change will increase the burden on the community charge payer of this new system which has a powerful potential to do enormous harm to the housing stock in Wales.
A short time ago, the BBC invited me to take part in the programme "The Week in Westminster". During the interview, which was on the subject of community care and the proposal that local authorities should be given a new responsibility in that area, I was chided by the interviewer, who asked whether I was aware of comments made by the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) who had ridiculed the Government's willingness to give local authorities that new responsibility, bearing in mind the Government's attitude--as perceived by the hon. Gentleman--towards local government. I responded by saying, "No, this Government have worked hard at reforming local government." Indeed, this Bill, which is the 50th measure that the Government have had to bring forward to try to bring to heel those parts of local government which are not performing as efficiently as they could, will successfully overhaul and bring up to date local government procedures. I said that, upon that basis, I felt that I understood why the Government were to entrust community care to local authorities in future.
The motion has led me to reflect on why we have needed to bring forward 50 measures on local government. I am minded to reflect on the fact that many local authorities seem to spend more time trying to circumnavigate the Government's attempts to make them efficient and responsive to their ratepayers--soon to be their community charge payers--than they do on concentrating on the delivery of the many services to which the Bill relates.
The Bill is also a reflection on the conduct of local government. The first part of the Bill deals with the Widdicombe proposals, which were the subject of independent assessments, consultation and vast public debate before coming before the House in the form of a
Column 1035Bill. Sitting through our deliberations on the Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, I have found it interesting to reflect on the amount of time that Opposition Members have spent trying to defend what I would term the indefensible--some of the practices highlighted by Widdicombe.
The root of the problems which have resulted in this motion is the way in which the Opposition conducted their assessment of the Bill in the first place. I could not believe the amount of time that they spent in Committee assessing the Widdicombe proposals. They spent day after day on that element of the Bill. If the Opposition had wanted to spend as much time as they now claim that they want to spend on discussing other aspects of the Bill, such as local government housing, and financial and capital arrangements, I ask whether they did not have the seeds of the solution to their problem in their own hands. They could have spent less time on the Widdicombe proposals in Standing Committee. Indeed, that was the weakest element of their case--and they knew it.
So why did they do it? Simply because they thought that there was mileage in it, because the county council elections were upon us. The Opposition were so deluded by the inadequacy of their own arguments that they found in Committee that they did not have enough time to debate in detail many of the Bill's other aspects.
I am also surprised by the uncharitable way in which the Opposition have treated these deliberations--especially what happened in the House last night--because I can remember the sympathetic way in which the ministerial team helped the Opposition. I can remember the time when, because of transport difficulties, Opposition spokesmen failed to make it to the 10.30 am start--
Mr. Jack : Yes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) so accurately reminds us, we made it. Who helped out the Opposition when they did not have their stream of yellow pieces of paper containing their various amendments from the lobbying bodies? Who came to their aid? The answer is, the Government. If I may say this against my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, there was a mini-filibuster of generosity from the Government, who tried to help the debate forward. The Government fed the Opposition information. I even remember seeing a Minister cross the Floor of the Committee Room to give succour, aid and comfort to the Opposition.
However, that generosity has not been repaid in the House. We saw that last night when we were kept up because of a discussion that showed that the Opposition had failed to weigh the balance of the needs to discuss different points in the Bill. Their concentration on the delights of procedural effects overwhelmed their previous professed wish to discuss certain measures.
Mr. Redmond : Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the old saying, "Beware of the Greek bearing gifts"? One is always a little suspicious when Ministers give information because they obviously have an ulterior motive in seeking to allay the fears of the Opposition. Opposition Members seek information on various valid points and Ministers attend Committee sittings to give the Opposition information and to explain those points. The trouble with
Column 1036this Bill is that the Minister has clearly not been able to explain those points, judging by the number of amendments that have followed.
Mr. Jack : I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman intervened, because he referred to gifts and I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have been over-generous. They listened most carefully to the Committee debates, which is why, in another place, many of the assurances that they had given in this House were then acted upon. Although we had won the argument about Widdicombe hands down on, for example, the question of salary levels for local government officers, in their new guises my hon. Friends listened to those points, and, even when Parliament was not sitting, presented provisions in another place to acknowledge some of the views--they were certainly not arguments--that had been advanced by Opposition Members.
Those concessions took up time in the other place and, yes, there was a need to table amendments to seek to enact them, but the charity with which those concessions were made has inevitably put pressure on the time available for our consideration of the amendments. Surely the Opposition could have reflected on that and said, "At least we've won a few points. We'll give ourselves a slight pat on the back" ; but they have not done that. They have taken up the time of the House as they did last night. That has led to this situation and to the fact that we are spending three hours this afternoon debating general views about guillotines, instead of spending three hours considering the detail of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), the Opposition spokesman, was as guilty as anyone. In Committee, his local authority entertained us with some extremely devious financial practices, better known as "loan swapping". Those practices were quite beyond my simple mind. The action of that authority highlighted the reason why we need the Bill to control Labour-controlled local authorities which are trying to find ways around the Government's desire to improve the efficiency and financial accountability of local government. There are many reasons why we need to get the Bill on to the statute book. I particularly welcome the amendments to the transitional arrangements for the community charge. I pay thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities for helping to bring those amendments before the House. It was a humane and compassionate act, and he listened carefully to the representations made. The sooner the Bill gets on to the statute book the better.
Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North) : I shall be brief, as I know that two of my hon. Friends want to participate before the Minister winds up. I shall speak against the guillotine, the timetable--the chopper-- because it is undemocratic. As a Back Bencher, I am entitled to speak against the timetable.
Approximately 600 Government amendments have been tabled to the Local Government and Housing Bill. We have been unable to discuss them in any depth, and that must be a sign of inefficiency. The Government have a majority of more than 150, but they are inefficient. They have told local authorities to be efficient and have passed Bills to achieve that end. They have told industry to become efficient, to get off its backside and to make
Column 1037exports, but the most inefficient undertaking in the country is this House and the Government. The timetable is a sign of that inefficiency and there is no better word to describe it.
There are two sorts of people in here--Front Benchers and Back Benchers. Usually, those sitting on the Front Benches are educated and those on the Back Benches are intelligent. That is the only difference. Sometimes, however, one questions educated people, but one does not usually question intelligence.
We are here to do things for our constituents. We let them know what we are doing by voting. I want the right to vote against any amendment I so desire, so that my constituents can see my vote recorded in Hansard. They are entitled to know what their Member does in the House. The only way in which our constituents know what we are doing is by voting against Government amendments. That shows our people that we are totally against Government policy and that things will be changed after the next election when Labour regains power. In all honesty I will not be stood here ; another good lad from the working class will be standing where I am now.
We see the same inefficiency with the unemployment Bill. I do not claim that I want to stand here and speak about everything ; I am not that sort of chap. There are lots of hon. Members who want to do that and the best of luck to them. To be fair, hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber do a good job of that. If I want the opportunity to speak, however, I should have that right. Because of the inefficiency of Government, I should not be robbed of that right. I do not always have a strong desire to speak, but every Back Bencher should have the right to do so. The timetable prevents individual Back Benchers from representing their people. That is not playing the game. The House was not meant for that purpose.
Labour Front-Bench spokesmen have said that, when we take power after the next election, there may come a time when we table timetable motions. I do not agree with that. If we have a majority of 150 and we revert to using timetable motions, it means that we are still being inefficient. It does not matter which party uses the timetable, it is a sign of inefficiency. If I could not run a Government with a 150 majority and get my Bills through I would stand the drop of York.
Such inefficiency is a disgrace. Fancy the Government having all the civil servants, who feed them all the information, in the palm of their hand. A Bill goes through Committee with that advantage, but 600 amendments are then tabled in the other place. It is impossible to see how that happens ; it can be put down only to inefficiency. I want the right to vote against amendments, and I ask for that on behalf of my constituents. For that reason and because of the Government's inefficiency, all Back Benchers should vote against the Government on this issue.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) concentrated on a specific amendment and that illustrates the argument against the timetable. A number of hon. Members have spoken about specific items which were due to be debated
Column 1038later, but which have been timetabled. The hon. Member for Taunton and others should have the opportunity to make their detailed speeches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) has said, they have the right to have their voices heard and their votes recorded. A section in the timetable appears to timetable not just the debate but the votes as it bundles a number of possible amendments together. That is disgraceful and worrying. It is most dangerous to attempt to stop hon. Members from voting on specific items.
The Leader of the House, when arguing for the timetable, said that the advantage to Back Benchers was that we could all go home for a couple more days. He said that that break would be of benefit to us. We have just been awarded a 10.76 per cent. wage increase, which is rather like being paid for overtime without doing it. A few night shifts now and again, when the Government are in difficulty with their Bills and when items ought to be debated, should not be beyond us. There are 650 hon. Members, but one does not expect all of them to be here all the time. A number could be present, however, to continue the debate and to scrutinise the issues before us. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) that timetabling, of itself, is not something to which anyone can be opposed. I accept that timetabling may be acceptable in certain circumstances, but the circumstances attached to this timetable are particularly worrying. A number of timetables have been introduced towards the end of this Session and they have been used excessively. Those timetables have been moved not to assist the procedure of the House so that business is conducted in an orderly manner, but for the Government's convenience. The Government have got themselves into a mess because of the number of Bills that have been presented. Timetable motions should not be used for that purpose. It is disgraceful that we have this timetable and that there are two parts to it. We have had a lot of discussion on the part relating to the Local Government and Housing Bill, but the part relating to the Employment Bill has been stuck into the timetable without any serious reason given for its inclusion. In presenting these measures to us, the Government have not respected their nature. The timetable motion is a symptom of the Government's general undermining of parliamentary democracy.
We have seen a cut in the franchise due to the poll tax legislation. A voluntary franchise system extending the expatriate vote, about which we should think carefully, has enfranchised extra people who are not part of the political nation. Petitions which are signed by people who are opposed to poll tax measures have been threatened. I have introduced a Bill about petitioners' rights in an attempt to overcome that problem. There have been massive attacks on civil liberties, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North has often referred. Consultation with trade unions and others has been turned into a farce by the Government. Now, parliamentary procedures are being dealt with in a high-handed fashion. The Government have forced through measures without thinking about them or allowing them to be discussed. These are all serious attacks on democratic pluralism.
The Government insist that they can go gaily ahead and deal with a great number of issues which have some connection with the programme that they put to the electorate at the last election but which contravene traditional Conservative attitudes about the notion of the
Column 1039mandate. They claim that somehow, because they came to power with 42 per cent. of the vote, they have the right to operate a sort of electoral dictatorship over us.
The Leader of the House did not explain the timetable motion in detail. He did not explain provision 3(b)(iv) about the remaining stages of the Lords amendments being dealt with in a bundle or the problem which arose from the timetabling of the vote as well as the debate. That seems to edge us nearer to fully fledged enabling legislation. All democrats should be worried about the degree to which that legislation may be brought foward, whether it is used by Adolf Hitler or suggested by the Militant Tendency.
A host of measures have been dealt with in this way in the past few days. These include the Football Spectators Bill--which was subject to a guillotine and had the ways and means provisions stuck in front of it to prevent further discussion--the Children Bill, the Companies Bill, the Local Government and Housing Bill and the Employment Bill. There are also massive abuses in the operation of the private Bill procedure which allows Bills to be continued in the next Session. That affects the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. Many of us believe that if the Government cannot get their business through by normal procedural methods in this parliamentary Session, they should drop the measures and bring them back to start again in the next Session.
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : I shall not repeat the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) who opened this debate, although I very much agree with them. I wish to talk about the mess which the Government have got themselves into over this Bill and remind the House why we are debating this guillotine. First, the guillotine is about a Government Bill which has no fewer than 606 amendments, the vast majority of which--all but a handful--came from the Government. Secondly, Ministers have used as a defence the fact that only about 70 are major amendments and the rest are technical ones. If we were to follow that argument through, we need not bother with Committees. All we would need to do would be to pick up as many amendments as we wanted and table them on the Floor of this House or the House of Lords. In that way, we could change Bills as much as we liked.
We have learned, not just during recent years but over the centuries, that a Government who claim that amendments are simply technical must be watched because one person's idea of a technical amendment is another person's idea of a major amendment. The Government also need to be reminded, if only for their own sake, that when they introduce legislation in such a cack-handed way they get themselves into trouble. Some hon. Members have criticised parliamentary draftsmen, but I exclude them from blame. The previous Secretary of State for the Environment proudly boasted that he had drafted the Housing Bill which is now an Act. I have no doubt that he drafted this legislation, because that would explain an awful lot. The Government have drafted this legislation and produced a mess which neither the Committee nor the House of Lords could properly sort out.
Column 1040The previous Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), has much to answer for. I should warn the Government that he was brought up before the courts four or five times, each time as a result of badly drafted Government legislation. He then returned to the House to change the law retrospectively to put himself in the right. As an ex- probation officer, I take a dim view of such procedure and warn the Government that it will have consequences for them in the future. Such action is unacceptable, but that is what they have done and that is why we are in this mess. The previous Secretary of State's drafting of the Bill was ill thought out. In the past that has led to the Government getting into difficulties with the courts and that will happen again, as some of my hon. Friends have said.
In Committee, I warned the Government that they were in a mess over this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who was acting as a Whip in Committee, and I said that we could manage with two days on the Floor of the House on Report, but only if there were not a significant number of Government amendments. We said that clearly. Following that, I told the Government that two days would not be long enough to deal with the amendments. The Minister will remember that I told him as recently as a week ago that we needed more time. However, that was never conceded.
Let us consider whether a filibuster took place. Without wishing to cast any reflection on the Speaker, let us consider the facts. The Leader of the House opened the debate and made great play of the fact that we finished at 12 o'clock on Monday. We did so because, although the poll tax was a highly contentious issue, we had already devoted a significant amount of time to debating it and the Government had made a move which, although not acceptable to us in full, was certainly helping out financially. The Government had moved dramatically on the subject of political restrictions and had accepted the Labour amendment.
However, it was a different business on Tuesday. I warned the Government that there would be no way of predicting when the vote would take place because the main issues of housing revenue accounts, rents and homelessness deserved and needed more time. Despite that fact, the vote on the main group of amendments was still taken earlier on Tuesday than on Monday. Therefore, we were doing well. If any Conservative Member argues that five hours is enough time to debate issues such as homelessness, he or she should walk down the road to that group of demonstrators--organised by Shelter--who are protesting about homeless people who are sleeping out, and say to them that he or she believes that a five-hour debate on the issue is enough. It is not enough time, and to say so is an insult to those people. We know, and argued yesterday in great detail, that this Bill will increase homelessness. That is why we made so much of the debate yesterday and would have continued to do so.
Other issues which are of great significance to people include the emergency and civil disaster orders. A statement was made to the House yesterday about the rail disaster at Clapham. If we had had the time yesterday or today, what we would have said would have been of major importance. The Government are not moving significantly to allow us to give a proper response to emergencies and civil disasters.
Column 1041The Government have legislated in the Bill for Scotland in a way that has not given Scottish Members an opportunity to speak effectively about it. A Scottish Back Bencher did an excellent job in Committee, but in the House of Lords the Government introduced more amendments which affected Scotland and which will be passed without going through the proper Standing Committee procedure. The Government are treating Scottish Members and the Scottish people with contempt. They are taking the Bill through with a Committee stage on the Floor of the House but with none of the safeguards that we usually have when we vote to use that procedure.
We shall probably not get to the relevant amendment, but the Government are going to wind up local authorities' ability to help people buy houses. The Conservative party is supposed to help home owners ; this amendment will receive scant consideration. Amendments dealing with houses in multiple occupation are also important. I welcome the fact that the Government have moved on that issue, so we could have dealt with it briefly by picking out the areas on which they need to move further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland said that all Governments use guillotines. I accept that, and I know that the arguments can be used from time to time by either party. However, this Bill contains no fewer than 606 amendments ; the Committee stage was held on the Floor of the House of Lords, and to some extent the same applied here ; and parliamentary procedures have been grossly abused in the structure and pursuit of the debate on the Bill.
The last Secretary of State appeared before the courts four or five times because of bad legislation and then had to change the law retrospectively, and the Government will live to regret their actions. They and others outside will have to pick up the pieces, and that is regrettable.
This guillotine was not necessary. It is an abuse of the House, and I hope that the way in which the Government have treated the Bill and the debates on it will never be repeated.
Mr. David Hunt : It is a reflection on the procedures of this House that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and several other Opposition Members spent a great deal of time during the three hours of debate expressing outrage that they did not have more time to consider the Bill, yet I am sure that people outside would recognise that we would have arranged our business much better if the timetable motion had been taken on the nod and we had got down to the business of discussing the Local Government and Housing Bill for five hours--but never mind, let us deal with the debate that we have had. It may be helpful if I remind hon. Members briefly of the purposes of these two Bills and of the urgency of putting both measures on the statute book without further delay. To reasonable people it would be plain common sense that we should proceed in that direction. The Local Government and Housing Bill provides that senior local government officials should be politically restricted in broadly the same way as senior central Government officials have been for years. It provides that ratepayers who face large increases in their local bills next year because of the transfer to community charges should
Column 1042receive the additional transitional protection of £300 million next year on top of the £2.5 billion already provided in rebates and income support.
The Bill provides that capital allocation should be concentrated in the areas of greatest need, not in the areas in which council house sales happen to have raised the greatest amount in capital receipts. It provides that regeneration grants should be concentrated on those in greatest need of help with repairing their homes.
The Employment Bill also embraces a package of sensible and vitally needed reforms. It removes absurd, outdated and unjustifiable restrictions on the right of women and young people to work where and for how long they want. It exempts turban-wearing Sikhs on religious grounds from new regulations on the wearing of safety helmets, and reduces the administrative burden on small businesses. The Bill provides technical changes to the law which are necessary to clear the ground for the proper training of the British work force of the 1990s.
Both Bills have received detailed consideration here and in another place. The other place spent 25 hours on the Employment Bill and no fewer than 85 hours on the Local Government and Housing Bill. I should like to pay tribute to the proper revising role played by the other place in the consideration of both Bills.
The hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) was wrong to criticise the number of amendments if he wants to encourage Government continually to listen to arguments adduced on both sides of the House--some of the amendments were tabled by the Opposition and many of them resulted from concessions to them. I agree that the Local Government and Housing Bill was the subject of more than 600 amendments but 90 per cent. of them, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith acknowledged that I had said before, are of a technical and drafting nature.
We made good progress on Monday--more than half the Lords amendments were approved--but progress yesterday was very slow and there was considerable evidence of Opposition Members being unhelpful. For instance, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) had to be warned four times by the Chair to address himself to the terms of the Bill and we were given to understand that the Opposition intended to be equally obstructive during consideration of the Employment Bill. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North -East (Mr. Barnes) may be forgiven for having mentioned the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill in the context of this debate. When he did, there was a roaring crescendo from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond).
Mr. Harry Barnes : The final clauses of the Employment Bill and the amendments to them deal with Northern Ireland. There was never any discussion in Committee or on the Floor of the House of those clauses and it now looks as though only the House of Lords will have debated them.
Mr. Redmond : Is the Minister telling the House that he has guillotined the Employment Bill because he assumed that someone might want to talk about it? As far as I am aware, until the debate takes place and progress is made one cannot make such assumptions.
Mr. Hunt : I have always had tremendous respect for the hon. Gentleman but he must give me credit for not having made false assumptions. On reflection, hon. Members should recognise that we heard a good speech from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), who was anxious that we should debate staircasing. I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to set out the full details of that.
We have had a good debate, but let us acknowledge how right my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) were to say that there must be a better way of dealing with our business than that on which we embarked yesterday. The hon. Member for Copeland said that it was barmy to sit up day and night, but sadly only nine Opposition Members were here to hear him say it. I should like him to write a letter to reach out to all Opposition Back Benchers expressing his point of view. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is right that there must be a better way. We all want to say good riddance to synthetic indignation, the like of which we have heard in this debate.
We must acknowledge that
"The idea that Opposition Members can press their cause or win advantage or concession by elongating remarks, harrying Ministers and boring the pants off everybody, including themselves, thereby fulfilling the duty of a responsible, thoroughgoing and perceptive Opposition, is absolute nonsense."--[ Official Report, 20 July 1976 ; Vol. 915, c. 1640.]
Mr. Robert Adley (Chistchurch) : My hon. Friend is an eloquent and inventive man and I have been listening carefully to him. I had the vague feeling that the words he used had been heard before in the House. Am I wrong?
Mr. Hunt : The words to which Opposition Members took such exception were used by the present Leader of the Opposition in the debate on 20 July 1976 when five timetable motions were moved in one day. What a load of hypocrisy we have heard from the Labour party. The Bills will remove unnecessary burdens on employers and employees alike, safeguard local democracy against political abuse, and encourage councils to improve the level of service that they provide to their tenants. The country needs the Bills enacted as swiftly as possible and I urge the House to pass the timetable motion so that they can be put on the statute book immediately.
Question put :--
The House divided : Ayes 272, Noes 201.
Division No. 375] [6.52 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browne, John (Winchester)