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Mr. Levitt: I would have been able to speak.

Mr. McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman says that he would have been able to speak, but he would not have been able to vote. Of what were the Government afraid?

Mr. Levitt: The argument was so persuasive.

Mr. McLoughlin: The argument was so persuasive!

Mr. Gummer: I wonder whether my hon. Friend will tell me what the Government would have been afraid of, given that when we heard Derbyshire Labour Members speak they supported the Government. They damned their county and supported the Government. Why did not the Government herd them in?

Mr. McLoughlin: I have to say--[Interruption.] It seems that the Minister is in favour of reforming the House of Commons. The Government are not content with reforming the other place; they want also to reform the House. Will their reform of this place mean depriving constituency Members of their votes? That is exactly what they tried to do last week. Is that what the Minister means by reforming the House of Commons? We shall watch these matters with interest.

The simple fact is that the motion is of the Government's making. There will be huge extra billing and all the Minister can do is laugh. That sums up the Government.

Mr. Levitt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McLoughlin: No. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I shall intervene extremely briefly. I find it extraordinary that a Conservative Member from Derbyshire, rather than a majority of Derbyshire Members on the Labour Benches, should have to speak in support of the council tax payers of Derbyshire. Why does my hon. Friend have to be doing this rather than Labour Members, who should be opposing their Government?

Mr. McLoughlin: Labour Members will have to answer for themselves.

Mr. Levitt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McLoughlin: No. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already. I want to deal with the points that he has made and other points. I know that the Minister wants time to respond to the debate. Therefore, I would like to make some progress.

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It is a simple fact that £320,000 will be incurred in rebilling. That is about 32 per cent. of the sum by which the council is being ordered to reduce its expenditure. That would not have been so bad, but just a few weeks before the local elections we had an announcement from the Secretary of State for Education and Employment giving Derbyshire just over £1 million--the county rather than the city, which received a similar amount--yet we are discussing an order which would require the county council to reduce its expenditure by £1 million. That will cost £320,000 in rebilling. That money could be used--[Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that I have said that five times. I might say it six or seven times, because we regard the £320,000 as a gross waste of public money resulting from a decision made by the Government.

The simple fact is that--[Interruption.] If the Minister for London and Construction wants to speak, I am sure that he will be able to catch your eye in due course, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He should let hon. Members make their speeches, because he gets the chance to make his speeches. I realise that he is part of the bootleg tendency of the Government, unlike the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who reminded me of Boxer in "Animal Farm"--stick with it all the way, it is sure to get better. Even if the tune changes dramatically, he can be relied on to change his tune according to the music that is being played from the Government Front Bench. He was one of the people who refused to support a capping order of £112, but tonight he will support a capping order that will benefit most of his constituents to the tune of £2.87.

Mr. Skinner: The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats on the county council refused to ask for more money from the Labour Government. The Labour people on the county council said, "Dennis, will you try to get more money from the Government?" We put in for £3.9 million and we have got £2.9 million. I said to the county council, "What do you think about that?" The council said, "It's not a bad deal--accept it."

Mr. McLoughlin: Excuses, excuses, excuses--the hon. Gentleman will support a proposal which will give £2.87 to 66 per cent. of households in his constituency. I have respect for the hon. Gentleman, but if he supports the Government he will be agreeing with them that the original budget set by the county council was excessive, because that is where council tax capping comes into being. That is what we are discussing--the Government's decision that the budget is excessive. [Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that I am over my time. I am conscious of the time, but I have been interrupted a number of times and eight of the first 15 minutes of her speech did not relate to Derbyshire. We should have had a statement, rather than some of the--[Interruption.] The Minister should just calm down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Chair will determine the equity of the debate.

Mr. McLoughlin: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but before the Minister was brought to order by the Chair to address the motion, she did not speak about Derbyshire for eight of the first 15 minutes of her speech.

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In 18 years of Conservative government, Derbyshire county council was capped once. It will be capped once in one year of the new Labour Government--they have matched our record. At the general election, Labour Members representing Derbyshire constituencies and Labour candidates were not going around saying, "In one year, we will cap the county council as often as the Tories did in 18 years." That is why I shall not support the motion.

11.48 pm

Ms Armstrong: We have had an interesting debate, but we do not know why the Opposition have taken their position--we still do not know their view on the budget for Derbyshire. The speech of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) was something like a leadership bid--we know that the Tories are in trouble on their leader--and he certainly talked a great deal.

I must say to Conservative Members that we now know why debates after 10 pm frequently do not do the House any good. Debates are often conducted in a rabble-rousing manner. That characterises the Opposition this evening.

I shall answer some of the questions raised in the debate, even though the Opposition refused to answer any of the questions put to them. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) is clearly missing the job. Indeed, he writes so many articles about what I am up to I can hardly keep up with them. He said that Derbyshire's predicament arose from decisions that we had made. That is not so. I made it clear that one of the critical elements was the previous Administration's decision to reduce Derbyshire's increases year after year. That had a cumulative effect and it led to the position that we are in now. That problem was caused by the Conservative Government, not by us.

We are used to hearing the speeches of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), but he has clearly never read any of them. He showed us how he got into such trouble as Secretary of State. I hate to tell him this, but he got his facts wrong. The previous Administration capped eight authorities at less than £1 million--two of them were capped at £0.5 million.

The hon. Member for West Derbyshire exhibited the mentality that we have seen among the pathetic hooligans in France this week. [Interruption.] Being macho is all, and Conservative Members are at it again. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman took four minutes more than the allocated time. He accused me of being frightened of debating with hon. Members. I am not frightened: I want the opportunity to do so. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal and the hon. Member for West Derbyshire exhibited the behaviour and the mentality that bring this country into disrepute. They should grow up and learn how to debate effectively.

Labour Members did not use macho arguments, but dealt with the problems faced by schools, by folk who need community care and by others. They were prepared to discuss those issues, but no Conservative Member said a word about the people of Derbyshire and the problems that they face. We have had no apology from Conservative Members for the way in which they tried to sort out Derbyshire. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire has admitted that the previous Government focused on Derbyshire. We are having to deal with the problems that they created. We cannot resolve all of them in one year.

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Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not realise that a manifesto covers five years, not one year. We shall be held to account at the end of five years.

The Liberal Democrats do not understand the concept of accountability. It means that people in the locality feel that it is worth while getting involved. Current and past local elections have shown that that is not happening, which is why we must change the relationship between central and local government. We must ensure that many more local people feel that the council is accountable to them.

We have had--as they say--an interesting debate. I believe that the Derbyshire Members who are concerned about the future of the county have made the case for it, but recognise the real problems that we face because of the way in which the previous Government dealt with public finances. I therefore do not hesitate to ask hon. Members to behave responsibly and to vote with the Government.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Community Documents)?:--

The House divided: Ayes 214, Noes 152.

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