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Volume 116: debated on Tuesday 12 May 1987

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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 Straw) for bringing to the attention of the House the fact that my doggerel was linked with an amendment that was withdrawn.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.