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Local Government Bill

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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4.23 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can give the House some guidance. The Local Government Bill, as amended by Standing Committee A, was printed today. I understand that it is to come before the House on Report on Monday. There are a number of important issues of principle in the Bill. We hear that the Government intend to amend the Bill to give effect to the demands of the Commission for Racial Equality.

The Bill proposes that certain services, at present given exclusively by local government, should be subject to tender. It is proposed that the conditions upon which outside bodies may tender should be governed by the Bill. Clause 18 (10) proposes that a concession should be made in respect of section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976.

Important issues of principle arise, but those of us who wish to table amendments will not have time to do so. I hope that you will think that this is an occasion on which you can state in advance through the usual channels that some delay would be appropriate. A personal matter is involved as well. The Secretary of State may wish to have more time to prepare his speech, because he was one of the six Tories who voted against the Second Reading of the Race Relations Bill on 4 March 1976. He has a proud position of being opposed to all this nonsense. I am sure that he would wish to have more time to reconcile his position on 4 March 1976 with what may be proposed on Monday next week.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Government revealed that they might wish to bring forward amendments on Report in respect of matters— including provisions transferring the control of stray dogs from the police to local authorities—on which they were not then in a position to finalise their view. It would be helpful if Government amendments on these matters and on others with which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) dealt — although I may take a different view—were introduced on Report in this House rather than be seen by this place only after their introduction in the other place. It seems that there is likely to be a substantial amount of local government business in the House next week — by all reports, at least two days on the Local Government Finance Bill. It would be appropriate, therefore, in order to allow hon. Members the opportunity to consider these matters, to postpone the Report and Third Reading of the Local Government Bill at least until the first week after the new year.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that it is usual in a Bill of this significance and magnitude, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said, to have at least a week between the Bill finishing Committee and coming back to the House on Report. This is a significant matter, as my hon. Friend said, especially since some of us believe that it is possible that the Government have been rolled over by the Commission for Racial Equality. The nature of the proposed amendment is, through the tendering process,

"to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups."
If that authority is given to local government, it will negate the vast purpose of the Bill. Many Conservative Members would be most uneasy about that. A period should be allowed to elapse so that not only the usual channels can operate but the Government can obtain feedback from their supporters as to how unsatisfactory such a measure would be.

Order. There is a great deal of business before the House. If the proceedings are delayed, those hon. Members who wish to be called will not be called.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I make a brief plea on behalf of Scottish Members. The Leader of the House will know that the Bill has ramifications for Scottish legislation. Scottish Members were not able to get on the Standing Committee—[Interruption.] We were not able to get as many as we would have liked on the Standing Committee. We should like the opportunity to consider the matter properly on Report and Third Reading.

Order. The timing of business in the House is not a matter for the Chair. The Leader of the House is on the Government Front Bench. There is a business statement tomorrow, and I am sure that he has heard what has been said and will carefully consider it.