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Mr. Woolas: Let the hon. Gentleman come with me to the Local Government Association—and in particular to the district councils that have kept their council taxes down and restricted their budget expenditure as a result of the policy promoted by the Government—and let him justify his argument there to the other councils that have not put up their council taxes excessively. The hon. Gentleman is trying to have his cake and eat it. He cannot criticise the Government consistently for council tax increases above inflation, and then shy away from the very regime that has helped to prevent that. I believe that that answers his point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) has the virtue of consistency and has opposed capping in any form. I respect him for that and also suggest that he is being consistent by not attacking the Government for above-inflation council tax increases. Indeed, as I recall, he was consistent in attacking the Liberal Democrat-run Sheffield council, as it was then.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks and the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) have been assiduous in putting forward their council's point of view, so I shall try to answer several of the questions that they asked. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether a council tax increase from £10 to £11 would be excessive. I reply to that by pointing out the second criterion that was used in our policy: the establishment of the budget, as well as the council tax. He is looking at only one side of the coin. Even if an increase is excessive, we will consider individual circumstances if councils challenge the cap. However, he will know, as will the hon. Member for Vale of York—I shall try to respond to the point made about the Bellwin scheme as well—that Hambleton council has taken the decision to use its reserves in a way that other councils have chosen not to, or have been unable to. When trying to apply a policy that is fair to that council and other councils, as the Secretary of State is obliged to do, we must consider the pattern of the use of reserves and increases to budgets, as well as increases to council tax.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley)—

Miss McIntosh: Will the Minister respond to my point?

Mr. Woolas: Oh, I am sorry. The hon. Lady rightly reminds me that she made a point about the flooding that her area has suffered, about which she has also written to me. Emergency financial assistance is available under the Bellwin scheme and Hambleton district council has applied for it. An authority can receive assistance with non-insurable clear-up costs incurred by taking immediate action to safeguard life and property following a disaster or emergency in its area. If an application is approved, we usually reimburse the authority with 85 per cent. of eligible costs above a threshold relating to its annual budget. I hope that she
20 Jul 2005 : Column 1320
accepts that the assistance and the capping are separate issues, although I undertake to write to her comprehensively about the matter.

Miss McIntosh rose—

Mr. Woolas: I acknowledge the hon. Lady's point, but may I move on?

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire made several points and asked several questions about his council. He said that the council tax had increased from £70 to £140, but seemed to dismiss that as a trivial point. He then made what seemed to be a valid point, on the face of it, by saying that the consequence of the cap would be to reduce the council's expenditure from £13.7 million to £12 million. Although he would not expect me to dictate how that problem should be addressed, the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), who led the neighbouring council, criticised South Cambridgeshire for the way in which it used its reserves. I understand that South Cambridgeshire has more than £6 million of reserves. I ask him to consider the fact that I must be able to treat his authority, and other authorities that are not in such a situation, consistently.

I hope that I can reassure the House that we are listening carefully and taking representations seriously by saying that South Cambridgeshire council applied for judicial review this week to challenge the decision. The judge had some empathy with the council. I cannot quote Mr. Justice Stanley Burnton directly, but the essence of what he said was that although he had the utmost sympathy with the authority because it did not propose to increase its expenditure excessively, the capping was predictable because it had levied an artificially low council tax in the past and reduced its reserves.

Mr. Philip Hammond: What is wrong with that?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman asks what is wrong with that, but we are trying to ensure that council tax payers are protected from excessive increases. That policy is working.

The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) said that he was not listened to when he met the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick). I am sorry that that was his impression, but the idea was to allow local authorities and, where appropriate, hon. Members to make representations. I was not obliged to receive such representations, but I was obliged to ensure that all local authorities, whether they are capped or not, are treated consistently, which is what I have set out to achieve.

Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Woolas: I must make some progress. We have had a full debate in which the hon. Gentleman's points have been heard.

The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) had some fun at my expense in saying that Mid Bedfordshire district council is not a titan and that I should not be afraid of it—I am not afraid of it, but I am afraid of excessive council tax increases.
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Conservative Members have derided the cap because of the relatively small amounts of money involved, but the very fact that we are discussing such small amounts means either that the problems are not as great as has been made out or that the Government's council-capping policy has been successful. Furthermore, capping is a last resort that affects only a small number of councils.

Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Woolas: No; I must make my points.

The leader of the independent group on Mid Bedfordshire district council, John Gurney, has written to me, as have constituents of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire. John Gurney stated:

The 13.3 per cent. increase is nowhere near the amount indicated either specifically or generally by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford). Although it is not for me to dictate how the cap should be met, the reserves available to Mid Bedfordshire district council are not available to other councils.

The legislation states that the cost of billing must be met from this year's budget. The capping regime must have teeth in order to fulfil its purpose, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich made it clear that the billing costs would have to be met in the current financial year if excessive budgets and excessive council taxes were set.

I have not had an opportunity to address all the points raised by hon. Members. I am not, as some Opposition Members have suggested, embarrassed by the Government's policy, which is to keep council tax down. Opposition Members must respond to this final point—if they oppose all capping regimes and want me to guarantee that such regimes will not be used in future, they must guarantee that they will not blame central Government for above-inflation council tax increases.

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Order [14 July].

The House divided: Ayes 297, Noes 226.

Division No. 47
[4.44 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Berry, Roger
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, rh Mr. Robin
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth
Durkan, Mark
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Mrs. Natascha
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hanson, Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Mr. Jimmy
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Mr. George
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
MacDougall, Mr. John
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall, Mr. David
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonnell, John
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, James
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, Mr. Don
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, Mr. Michael
Winnick, Mr. David
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Ian Cawsey and
Mr. Tom Watson


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Bruce, Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clegg, Mr. Nick
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M.
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Mr. Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Forth, rh Mr. Eric
Foster, Mr. Don
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Herbert, Mr. Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Mr. Martin
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, Mrs. Iris
Robinson, Mr. Peter
Rogerson, Mr. Dan
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Simpson, David
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Mark Prisk and
Mr. Peter Atkinson

Question accordingly agreed to.

20 Jul 2005 : Column 1325


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