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Local Government Bill

Volume 116: debated on Tuesday 12 May 1987

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As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 2

Power To Provide Financial Assistance Forprivately Let Housing Accommodation

6.17 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 1, line 17, leave out clause 2.

With this we may take Government amendments Nos. 2, 5, 16 and 19.

There was a short delay before I moved the amendment because I was transfixed with new clause 1, which I believe has been withdrawn. That threw me into temporary confusion. I assure the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) that I had no intention of confusing anybody, particularly as I have written a special limerick for the anniversary of Edward Lear's birthday in 1812, which was not a good year for Napoleon. I was ready to read my limerick but, lo and behold, the clause has been withdrawn. If possible I will try to fit in reading it on Third Reading as I would not like to deprive the House of hearing it. It is in good heart and I am sure will be critically enjoyed by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) who has just resumed his seat on the Labour Front Bench. I trust that he is better and that the debate will not worsen his health in any way but will bring about his revival.

In the circumstances, the Government have decided not to proceed with the housing provisions of the Bill in the present Session of Parliament. The first three amendments delete those provisions, and the other two are consequential. However, we intend to reintroduce in the new Parliament the provisions in clause 2 to give local housing authorities an explicit new power to give financial assistance in connection with the provision of privately let housing. We also intend to reintroduce the provisions in clauses 3 and 4 that require the Secretary of State's consent for the exercise of this or any other power by local housing authorities or county councils to provide financial assistance or a gratuitous benefit in this connection, except in the circumstances set out in clause 3. The need for consent will be made retrospective to 6 February this year as it was in the present Bill. The new Bill will, like this Bill, also provide that any transaction entered into after 5 February in contravention of the requirement for the Secretary of State's consent will be void.

Meanwhile, we intend to continue to issue general consents and special consents for individual projects submitted to us where appropriate. These consents will be issued as if the new Bill were in force. We shall ensure that general and special consents already issued continue in force. My Department will be writing to all the authorities affected drawing their attention to this announcement to prevent any further misunderstanding.

I certainly do not wish to deprive the Minister of the opportunity of letting the House and the country hear his doggerel. I have had a preview of it and although it might not make its way into "Palgrave's Golden Treasury", I hope that the good people of Brent and elsewhere are entertained by it in the dog hours of this Parliament.

We do not oppose the amendments that the Minister has moved. Whether the clauses are resurrected depends upon the outcome of a contest on 11 June. It is not our view that in government we would resurrect the clauses. In any event, it would be conducive to poor administration if the clauses were introduced in their present form because we showed in Committee that the scheme of controls is, in principle, so draconian that a whole string of general and specific consents would be required to make it remotely operable. While the officials, who will not have much to do in the next three and half weeks, are preparing the briefs for incoming Ministers, they may wish to consider how, as an exercise in good government, the powers could be improved.

The statement by the Minister that this Administration in its closing weeks will continue to operate as if the Bill had been passed, is touching on the arrogance with which we shall charge the Conservative party during the election and it does not make for good administration. We also pointed out in Committee that, although the Government had said that the powers under clauses 2, 3 and 4 had been introduced ostensibly to provide new powers for local authorities, their effect was actually to secure new controls on local authorities and to undermine the imaginative scheme for new housing that Sheffield and other authorities had pioneered.

I believe that we are dealing with amendments that delete clause 7:
"Land held by public bodies."
That deletion is welcome.

I should like to be part and parcel of the obsequiousness on certain sections of the Bill and to make the point that at least on this occasion I arrived, although a little late, in time to take part. On the previous occasion when the three of us—the Minister, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and myself—were supposed to be performing in another place—not down the corridor, but somewhere else altogether—thanks to British Airways I arrived 20 seconds too late, having been up from 4·45 am. Therefore, I am glad to be here. I am interested in the doggerel that we may hear. I recall a recent cartoon in the New Statesman where a sign on a house door said, "Beware of the Doggerel". I hope that that does not apply to us.

On the matter of the housing provisions, I ask the Minister to address himself to one point. If those sections of the Bill are to disappear, how will he stand up to a legal challenge in the weeks ahead for those local authorities that may wish to drive through those provisions? By the very nature of the powers that the Minister is trying to take under that section, he assumes that there are local authorities whose attitude to those financial measures about housing are not those of the Government and which may wish to take advantage of that gap. If there is to be no statute dealing with that at this time, I fail to see how the Government can maintain the 6 February retrospective date in the face of legal challenges that might come. I hope that the Minister will address himself to that.

On the early clauses about creative accounting, the Minister knows that my party has certain difficulties with the text. Nevertheless, it is accepted that something has to be done about those authorities that have gone to extremes. Therefore, it seems a pretty fair bargain that we opt out of the housing clauses but leave the early clauses in. Therefore, we raise no objection to what has been proposed today.

The early clauses—clause 1 and schedule 1—validate a decision made by the Government last July about which we said we would legislate. I believe that midnight on 22 July 1986 was the date. We took action in February for another line of action we wished to take and we said that we would put that into law. We did not state when we would do that; we just said that we would. The date of 22 July is now validated in the Bill and we wish to put it on record that, because of the pressure of time and the constraints of other activities of which we are all aware—the political marathon on which we are now entering—we cannot put the other date into law in this Bill. However, we are putting it on record that we stand by what we said. I am advised by our lawyers that that is perfectly legitimate.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3

Consent Required For Provision Of Financial Assistance Etc

Amendment made: No. 2, in page 3, line 6, leave out clause 3.— [Dr. Boyson.]

Clause 4

Consents Under Section 3

Amendment made: No. 5, in page 4, line 43, leave out clause 4.— [Dr. Boyson.]

Clause 7

Land Held By Public Bodies

With this it will be convenient to consider Government amendments Nos. 17 and 18.

These provisions are also the victims of the circumstancess to which I referred casually earlier. The House has a great deal of business to attend to this week and I shall not delay it with improvements to the land register system, important though such improvements undoubtedly are in the long run. However, I put it on record that we shall reintroduce provisions along these lines in the new Parliament.

I have been waiting for a chance to discuss this for a long time. I am certainly not going to delay the House, but I want to put something on record. This clause raised my hopes that at long last something was going to be done about a problem that my constituents have faced for a long time; the problem of gipsies. The gipsies that concern my constituents in the area south of the river in Leeds—I live there—are not real gipsies. They have a lot of money and one sees the television sets and cars without taxation that they have.

The Government responded quickly about a year ago when down in the south of England the television cameras discovered the problem in a different respect. I remember saying in the House then that we had had that problem for 25 years. However, people are not really concerned about the so-called inner-city areas south of the river in Leeds. People do not write to the papers in the same way. There is a problem as to who owns the land and I receive telephone calls when I am in London asking what is going to be done about it.

The officer at Leeds city council who attends to such matters is an overworked man. He does what he can. However, on the day before polling day last week, 30 caravans came into my area. An argument then raged over who owned the land. When the Government introduced this amendment as a response to the southern problem, at least there would be a speedy way of learning who owned the land. It is now very difficult for my constituents and me to learn to whom the land belongs. It might take us a week and a visit to the High Court to find out.

6.30 pm

I raise this matter for the record and I know that the problem affects Manchester. Some of my hon. Friends have spoken to me today and told me that the problem affects other parts of the country. Down in Hunslet—which has been part of my constituency for 24 years—and in Holbeck which is now in Leeds, Central, but was in my constituency and is where I live, the problem is obvious. We must do something about it. We must do something about the smell and the articles that are left when these people leave. I believe that the Minister is aware of the problem. He will be aware of what happened in Fryent way, which I believe is in his constituency. Indeed, I used to know that area very well. The problem there caused a rumpus. However, if the people in Fryent way could see what we have to put up with, the rumpus would have been 50 times louder.

South Leeds has put up with enough. When the Leeds corporation decided that the camping sites had to be spread around the city, there was a terrible outcry. It is all very well for the south of the river to have the lot. As I have said, the River Aire is about the size of the Rhine and the Vistula put together when it comes to getting something done. Very few middle-class people live south of the river. Therefore, it is all very well for the camps to be on the south of the river, as long as the camps are not on their doorsteps.

I have made this intervention to make a point. We can play games about which party will be in power after the election. However, whatever party is in power, I will chase this matter. We have had this problem to my knowledge for 25 years. We must do something about it. We must assist the real gipsies and the real Romanies. However, south of the river we have endured enough of the others, who frighten old ladies, knock on doors, rob and do not pay taxes. The whole of the city of Leeds must bear the burden. Indeed, the whole of the country must bear this burden.

I want an answer on this point. I have spoken to my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. We must do something about this problem. In a way, I am glad that the outcry in Leeds came from up north of the river. A consultation document proposed that new gipsy encampments should be sited in that area. My goodness, that proposal shifted them. If they had had half the trouble up north of the river that we have had south of the river over the years, something would have been done. We cannot take action on a narrow political basis. We must take action in recognition of the real problem.

I know Fryent way and the outcry that was created there. I can offer the Minister a solution to the problem. All the senior officers on local authorities, the permanent under-secretary at the Department of the Environment and the deputy secretaries should be made to live in the areas where these problems occur. At the same time, the architects who built some of the houses should be pulled out of goal—where I would have put them a long time ago—and made to live in those areas. My goodness, if that happened they would shift fast enough.

In my final five or six years-plus in this House of Commons, I will be talking about gipsies every day until something is done about the problem. I hope that the Minister will give me a sweet little response even in advance of the election.

As usual, I tried to discover whether I would be in order. I was given advice from my hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches, from hon. Members on Conservative Benches, from the Chair and from behind the Chair. In my last few days before my retirement from this House, I thought that I would go out with a clean bill of health. I decided to consult all my hon. Friends on how to approach this subject. The advice that I was given was to go for an Adjournment debate on my subject. However, when I went to Mr. Speaker's Office, I discovered that I had to go through a procedure that I had been through before. I was suddenly told that the Minister responsible would not play on the Adjournment. So I thought that the best thing to do was to find another approach. Sure enough, I found a solution. After all the advice, I discovered that I could get in in the debate on Government amendment No. 15, despite the advice of some of my hon. Friends.

The amendment applies to clause 7 entitled:
"Land held by public bodies."
The Local Government Act 1974 created many problems and made many mistakes. It produced local government reorganisation and we have had headaches ever since the 1974 Act was passed. When I had an opportunity to speak about the matter several years later, I stressed that the problem was compounded in 1983. I stressed that the Opposition did not compound the problem. Rather, the Government of the day, who began the mistakes, compounded them. We now end up with the child that the Government conceived, nurtured and developed through local government reorganisation and that child, I believe, is called the metropolitan county council. The Conservative Government conceived those councils, nurtured them and developed them until they were 10 years old and then they strangled them and got rid of them. The Conservatives created the problems in 1974 and 10 years later they strangled the product of those problems.

By strangling the metropolitan county councils, the Government removed a level of representation that the Government had constructed. In doing so, they imposed liabilities on several district councils that those councils had not expected to encounter. What happened? Responsibilities fell on those district councils that those councils had not envisaged when they were set up in 1974. The councils were confronted with those responsibilities. The metropolitan county councils were selected for abolition while other county councils remained. When it suited the Government they did not get rid of the councils, but when things were going against them they abolished them. So, after abolition, the Government decided to carry out a marvellous privatisation job. Everyone will know that I have tabled early-day motions on this point. I have had consultations with Ministers, I have met residuary body chairmen and I have been like a ping-pong ball going from one side to the other. I was told that it was not the responsibility of the residuary body and then that it was not the Minister's responsibility. I have 152 signatures to my motion—and that figure may have increased today—and only one opponent. I have been through that process and only five minutes ago I spoke to the Minister responsible for removing land, accommodation and a beautiful building in Wakefield about which I am very concerned,

I will fight for that site after I leave the House. Like an old Yorkshire terrier, I will not let go. I may not be a Member of Parliament, but I will be there. Even if I cannot send a direct letter in a pre-paid envelope, my message will come via another method. It will work on the triangle. I will not let go until county hall belongs to the people who owned it in 1898.

I believe that there is a ten-minute job on this debate and I have always been peculiar on time. However, I want to refer to comments made about county hall. I have this calendar.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Douglas Hogg)

Can we see the picture?

Yes, isn't it beautiful? However, the Under-Secretary of State should see the picture of the entrepreneurs. That is a much better picture. The notes attached to the picture state that the site could he sold as a hotel. That is a beautiful picture. I shall pass it round as the Minister is so interested. On the front page it says:

"The present County Hall was built as headquarters of the former West Riding County Council and was opened in 1898. It was used by that council until local government reorganisation in 1974."
It does not say that that was a mistake. It goes on:
"Since 1974 it has been used as the headquarters of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council. County Hall was built to the winning design of James Gibson and Samuel Russell, architects, of Gray's Inn Square, London. In their own description the architects describe the style as free English style."
What a marvellous description. What is free about the Government selling it to private enterprise? It goes on to say that it has
"distinctly English detail. The interior building was finished to such high standard and some of the internal fittings such as the letters of the committee room doors, the elaborate light fittings and switches and some of the plaster work is in the style of art nouveau fashionable at that time."
That is a good description for someone like me from Yorkshire. It goes on:
"Some of the corridors have dados of green and yellow tiles featuring the West Riding County Council in motion. At the top of the main staircase there are murals in the classic European tradition. There is also much ornamental work symbolising the dates and functions of the former authority, and heraldic work embracing the towns and boroughs of the old West Riding."
The name West Riding has been taken from us and the Government are now taking this West Riding building. That is an imposition on the people of the West Riding.

I decided to look up details of what I could say about Wakefield. The date of this quotation is 1841, before the county hall was built. It says about the area in which county hall is built:
"On an eminence `tis built as each visitor knows, Where the mercantile Calder's expansive stream flows, Its streets are well cornered, lengthy spaces and wide, And its buildings are of true architectural pride."
That was written 60 years before the county hall was built.
"The birds sweetly chant their melodious strain, To traverse the beautiful walks we have found And enjoy the rich prospects that ere may be found."
That was written by a chap called Thomas Brown and I agree with it. The Minister's mate cannot turn up, because he is fighting for his seat. He told me that he could not be here until the Adjournment.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to take part in the debate. I hope that the Government will look again at county hall and at the land there and conduct a proper appraisal for the benefit of the ratepayers in west Yorkshire.

On clause 7 about land held by public bodies, we have heard two speeches about areas in Yorkshire. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) may recall that he was the first Member of Parliament with whom I had active contact when I was a student at Leeds university. I know his great city well and I know how, in a sense, it is socially divided between north and south. I share his great concern about the impact of so-called gipsies upon the communities south of the river. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the points made by my right hon. Friend.

6.45 pm

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) made what I suppose may be his valedictory speech in the House. I share his anger about one of the many consequences of the abolition of the metropolitan councils. That abolition desecrated the temples of democracy, the principal county halls of the great counties, including London and west Yorkshire.

I know the county hall in Wakefield. It was built for the operation of local democracy, not to serve Mammon but to serve a higher idea and ideal.The whole country is offended by the idea that that building, which reflected the self-confidence of the west riding at the time that it was built and demonstrated the area's ability to govern itself without too much reference to Whitehall, should now be sold for a mess of pottage to the highest bidder. If this Government are re-elected the hall will never again be used for its proper purpose.

Not even this Government would seek to sell off our cathedrals or abbeys, although I dare say that they will come close to it if they are re-elected. However, they are only too happy to strip away the powers of local people. There is no better or more tangible example of the way that they are doing that than the forced sales of county halls. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield is correct when he says that he will not let this one go—even if he is not in this House.

As my right hon. Friend has made his valedictory speech in the House, it is appropriate for me to record the debt of gratitude that all my right hon. and hon. Friends owe to our right hon. Friend for his unique contribution in helping to maintain the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979. That Government governed well without, for some time, any visible means of support. They managed to pull off that magical trick not least because of the activities of my right hon. Friend. It is fortunate that there is a 30-year rule, because I have heard about parts of the role played by my right hon. Friend. The stories defy the imagination and perhaps should best be left under wraps. Suffice it to say that he maintained a majority for the Government for over five years. That is to his lasting credit.

I hope that in the spirit of goodwill in which we have approached this Bill the Minister will take the chance now to announce that he will reprieve county hall.

The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) rightly took the opportunity presented by these clauses and amendments to bring to the attention of the House the problems that obviously exist on the south side of Leeds and from which his constituents are suffering. I do not have knowledge of that area, but if the right hon. Gentleman would speak or write to me I shall be delighted to see what can be done to help.

For a while the right hon. Gentleman lived near to me. The Fryent way area is in my constituency. It has suffered terrible destruction and there has been uproar. The problems have occurred south of the river in Leeds and north of the river in Brent. I am aware of the problems that arise, and before or after the general election I should like to write or speak to the right hon. Gentleman to see what can be done.

I have considerable sympathy with one of his points, that the people who made the decisions should live in those areas. That applies to many of the tower blocks in London, including those in my constituency. One rarely sees the architects who get the prizes for that sort of thing living on the 17th floor and trying to get a lift that works, either to take them down or to enable their aged parents to get up. It would be a good thing if not only the people who built them but the people who gave permission for them to be built and the people in architectural magazines who give them the prizes, knew the old saying about the toad knowing where the harrow cuts. That would give them experience of what the people who live there have to suffer.

I know the strength of feeling of the right hon. Member for Wakefield and his loyalty to his county and to Wakefield, which he has served for so long at borough and county level, and now in Parliament. Indeed, I know the county hall there. In fact, I knew it when Sir Alec Clegg was the chief educational officer in Yorkshire. He will be known to all right hon. and hon. Members. Although he and I were on different wings of the educational spectrum at that time—[Interruption.] I must not divert or be misled by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), otherwise we shall be discussing the future of Blackburn Rovers again. At least Burnley football club has now saved itself, and the prayers of all Lancastrians here were answered by the saving goal in the Birmingham match last Saturday—[Interruption.] Yes, if they had 14,000 every time they would be back in the first division and leading the League.

If the power of the Minister's prayer will save Burnley, will he save Sunderland on Thursday?

It is probably fitting to raise that matter, because I believe that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker are, like myself, a Methodist lay preacher, so this is the right time for the hon. Gentleman to bring this to the attention of the Chair, as well as myself as the Minister at the Dispatch Box.

Returning to Yorkshire, I was paying tribute to the late Sir Alec Clegg. On the educational spectrum, he was a discovery method man, when I wanted traditional education, and at his request I regularly put my case on Saturday mornings to the head teachers of Yorkshire's primary and secondary schools.

I also know Lancashire county hall well. I did years of research there during school holidays, when I was researching Lancashire's economic history.

The right hon. Member for Wakefield has seen myself and my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) and has written to us about the Wakefield county hall in the West Riding. The residuary body has put that splendid building up for sale. Incidentally I especially enjoyed the poem by Thomas Brown which the right hon. Gentleman read to the House.

Wakefield has put in a bid for that building but no decision has yet been made about it. When the right hon. Gentleman saw my hon. Friend and me about this matter he brought to our attention the fact that it is not only the sale that is important; the way in which the building is maintained is important also. We have passed that fact on to the residuary body. Obviously, the matter is not a temporary one because the building is the pride of the area and whoever takes on the building must be able to maintain it. It would be a disaster if such a unique building were destroyed.

I appreciate the strength of feeling shown by the right hon. Member for Wakefield on this matter. He has always been courteous to me, even to a Lancastrian from the other side of the Pennines. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, local government servants have served his father, myself, and indeed the right hon. Gentleman. I can say no more about that now, but I shall pass on everything that he has said this evening.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) is of Wakefield and I am of Leeds and, in a sense, ne'er the twain shall meet, but we are both part of Yorkshire.

I visited police headquarters the other day. I ask the Minister to consider that a great deal of money could be saved for the police department. I believe that this point has been made before. However, as someone with an interest in the police, I know that step would save money. Perhaps that means that the Treasury will consider it with greater interest and sympathy than it would otherwise do.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We are aware of that matter and it has been passed on. There is a police need and one cannot say more than that there will be serious consideration which could be influential on that decision.

I end by saying to the right hon. Member for Wakefield that this is probably the last time that I shall reply to him in this House. I should like to pay tribute to him for his long service, and not necessarily only for keeping the Labour party in government between 1974 and 1979 which, towards the end, was a great achievement. Nobody can say that the right hon. Gentleman is not a character who knows and speaks his own mind. I say "character" in the best sense of that word. If the House became merely a collection of men who—I do not mention Whips here because there can be characters among Whips as well; in fact, at least one of my hon. Friends has been a Whip and is still a character, after leaving the Whips' Office, just as he was before—but if the House became a collection of individuals who simply said yes and no when told to do so, and who did not come here to represent the feelings of the people among whom they have been born, this place would be worse than it is. Therefore, on behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends, I should like to pay a genuine tribute to the right hon. Member for Wakefield, whom we shall miss.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 7

Land Held By Public Bodies

Amendment made: No. 15, in page 7, line 34, leave out Clause 7.— [Dr. Boyson.]

Clause 8


Amendment made: No. 16, in page 7, line 43, leave out Clause 8.— [Dr. Boyson.]

Schedule 1

Amendments Of Part Viii Of The Local Government, Planning And Land Act 1980

I beg to move Government amendment No. 7, in page 9, leave out lines 21 to 26.

It gives me considerable pleasure to move this amendment because when the Bill was in Committee, there was good feeling, as there was on Second Reading. I said then that we would look most carefully at the two amendments that had been tabled by the Opposition to see whether we could absorb the intention behind them so that they could become part of the Bill and, indeed, strengthen it.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) proposed an amendment to section 80A(1), which was offered as a direct and honest attempt to improve the drafting of the Bill. I appreciated the fact that those amendments were either probing or improving amendments throughout. I have examined their proposals carefully—and they were genuine proposals in which there was no Trojan horse. They were simply attempts to improve the Bill. Therefore, I am happy to bring that amendment forward myself and to commend it to the House. Indeed, so good is the amendment that I should like the House to accept a similar change in the wording of section 80(1) to ensure that the two provisions remain on all fours with one another.

Indeed, there is no Trojan horse in this amendment, which started life as amendment No. 3 in Committee on 12 March. This part of the Bill is so technical and obtuse that if there had been a Trojan horse, none of us would have spotted it.

We are grateful to the Minister for taking account of the points that we made and are glad that he has brought forward the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Government amendment No. 8, in page 12, line 15, leave out 'In section 78(1)(a)' and insert

'(1) In subsection (1)(a) of section 78'.

If one can go forward in the same spirit of co-operation, I should like to move this amendment. In Committee, the Opposition put forward a two-part amendment and I should like to commend both elements of it to the House, although I promised previously to consider only one. Therefore, I am happy to spell out that directions may be amended or revoked, and that a direction-making power carries with it a power to amend or revoke. It will do no harm to spell that out as was requested by the Opposition.

On reflection, I have concluded that Opposition Members were right to suggest also that in an area as technical as valuation, prior consultation would be desirable. Therefore, I invite the House to accept an amendment to that effect.

7 pm

As the Minister has made clear, this matter was raised in Committee on what was amendment No. 34, and debated on 17 March. Again, we are grateful to the Minister for looking carefully at what we sought to say and for introducing the amendments in this way.

Obviously, consultation is of great importance to local authorities and their representative associations. The powers contained in clause I are potentially wide-ranging in effect. They deal with deferred and advance purchase schemes, of which much has been written in the press. We acknowledge that within the scheme in the Bill the regulation is bound to be technical and complex, but precisely because of that it is important that, wherever possible, local authorities should have the opportunity to he consulted about regulations before they are introduced.

Last July the Secretary of State announced his intention to take powers to regulate advance and deferred purchase schemes by legislation on or after midnight, 22 July 1986. Local authorities have been acting as if that was law, prudently taking account of the prospect of legislation. Although we had serious reservations about the operation of clause 1, given that authorities have already acted as if it were law, we believe it would add to uncertainty if we sought at this stage to block clause 1 and its attendant effects.

We are glad that, as a consequence of discussions yesterday, we have been able to improve the way in which the Bill will operate for local authorities.

With the leave of the House I shall reply. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred to clause 1, which is linked with schedule 1 on which we had conversation yesterday. As this afternoon we have had poetry by Thomas Brown from the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison), in reply I must quote my doggerel, particularly as today is Edward Lear's birthday and I have the "Oxford Book of Light Verse" with me:

There once was a doctor of Brent,
Who said: "Some Councils have spent
Far too much. If alas
This amendment should pass,
We should all have great cause to lament."
I offer that to the House in the spirit in which we conducted our proceedings in Committee.

With the leave of the House I shall reply. I should make it clear that that piece of doggerel was prepared for an amendment which, in the event, we did not move. I think that the Minister would be upset if the House took its advice on the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 9, in page 12, line 20, at end insert—

'(2) Subsection (2) of that section (power to vary or revoke directions) shall be omitted.'.

No. 10, in page 12, leave out lines 39 to 43.

No. 11, in page 13, line 50, at end insert—

'6. In section 85 of that Act (supplementary provisions for Part VIII), after subsection (1) there shall be inserted the following subsections—
"(1A) Before giving any direction under section 80(6A) or 80A(5) above the Secretary of State shall consult such associations of authorities as appear to him to be concerned and any authority with whom consultation appears to him to be desirable.
(1B) Any power of the Secretary of State to give directions under this Part of this Act shall include power to vary or revoke a direction given in exercise of that power.".'.—[Dr. Boyson.]

Schedule 2

Land Held By Public Bodies

Amendment made: No. 17, in page 14, line 1, leave out schedule 2.— [Dr. Boyson.]


Amendments made: No. 18, in title, line 1, leave out 'Parts VIII and X' and insert 'Part VIII'.

No. 19, in line 2, leave out

'to authorize and regulate the provision of financial assistance by local authorities for certain housing purposes'.—[Dr. Boyson.]

Order for Third Reading read.

7.3 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for bringing to the attention of the House the fact that my doggerel was linked with an amendment that was withdrawn. I would hate to have torpedoed the Bill at the last moment. Gratuitous humour is always somewhat dangerous and I am grateful for his help.

Clause 1 and schedule 1 of the Bill, as amended, contain provisions to prevent authorities using advance and deferred purchase schemes to avoid the Government's capital expenditure controls and store up major financial liabilities for the future.

I announced in Committee details of the exemptions from the provisions in the Bill. All authorities in England and Wales will be able to use deferred purchase schemes to finance one project each, up to £3 million in cost, beginning in any one period of five consecutive years. We shall make the necessary regulations as soon as possible after Parliament reassembles.

In addition, all authorities will be able to continue to carry out their "building under licence" and "improvement under licence" housing schemes. Without this exemption, a number of housing projects were likely to be prevented or at least delayed in the period before Royal Assent. For this reason, we decided that the exemption should be backdated to 23 July 1986, the date on which these provisions of the Bill come into effect.

The remainder of the Bill deals with education pooling. First, there is a technical amendment to the provision which allows for an adjustment between England and Wales. Then we have a provision to allow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to recalculate allocations from the advanced further education pool for 1981–82 in the manner originally intended. These provisions are uncontroversial and have the agreement of the local authority associations and of all parties in the House.

This is a short Bill, and it gives me pleasure to commend it to the House.

7.5 pm

In early October last year, the Secretary of State for the Environment made a speech at the Conservative party conference which was the only one that failed to achieve a standing ovation.

The hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) also made a speech which failed to achieve a standing ovation. I did not know that he had much in common with the Secretary of State, but I am glad that he at least has that in common. [Interruption.] Perhaps he is talking about the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Bristol, West."]—and, indeed, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave). Those two certainly received standing ovations, but I was talking about their boss, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who failed to receive a standing ovation. I remember because I had the painful pleasure of listening to his every word on television—something that I shall not repeat next year.

In that speech the Secretary of State promised to introduce a mountainous local government Bill which would privatise almost every local authority service; introduce major provisions to outlaw contract compliance even in respect of ensuring fair wages and equal opportunities for women and ethnic minorities; strengthen the powers of the local government ombudsman; and do everything mentioned in this Bill.

Nine months later the mountainous Bill has turned out to be a little pimple. Even the heart of the Bill has now been removed, apart from clause 1. The Bill left Committee on 2 April. If the Government had had any confidence or faith in it, it could have passed through this House before Easter and through the other place in the condition in which it left Committee. It is now a truncated measure.

The Minister was right to say that we supported clauses 5 and 6 which dealt with the arcane aspect of the operation of the further education pool. All of us have at least discovered that there is a rolling process to cap the pool—a further sign of the way in which the Department of Education and Science murders the English language in its regulation of the education system.

I have already put on record our attitude to clause 1. The Secretary of State referred to his hope that Harrogate would not go the same way as Haringey on deferred purchase schemes. Our research shows that the reverse is true; that Haringey has a long way to go before it reaches the indebtedness that Harrogate has achieved in building various conference centres. Its assets to debt ratio, which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, with his banking background, tells me is a good indicator, is far more unsatisfactorily geared than Haringey's.

We acknowledge that, for the reasons I have spelt out, not the least of which is to remove uncertainty, it is better that clause 1 should be on the statute book than not.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.