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Child Benefit (Uprating)

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 15 December 1987

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3.38 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the event of an increase in the Retail Price Index in 1988 or any subsequent calendar year, to lay before Parliament the draft of an uprating order to produce an increase in child benefit with effect from the beginning of the following financial year of not less than a corresponding percentage, and to make future increases in child benefit a charge on the National Insurance Fund.
Once again, I am seeking the leave of the House to introduce a Bill in respect of the uprating of child benefit. May I remind hon. Members of the long title of the Bill that I am proposing, which is as follows:
"to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the event of an increase in the Retail Price Index in 1988 or any subsequent calendar year, to lay before Parliament the draft of an uprating order to produce an increase in child benefit with effect from the beginning of the following financial year of not less than a corresponding percentage, and to make future increases in child benefit a charge on the National Insurance Fund."

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that this is an important ten-minute Bill on child benefit, I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, would ask those Members leaving the Chamber to do so quietly so that the rest of us can hear the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams).

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) for his help. Will hon. Members please leave quietly?

I believe that it is worth the time of the House to consider for a few moments the origin of child benefit and the reason why it is somewhat controversial at this time. As hon. Members will remember, the system of family allowances was introduced, with all-party support, in 1945 by the caretaker Government. That system continued until the mid-1970s as a universal benefit targeted to families with children according to the number of children in the family. However, child benefit has a much older origin than that, because it originated with the child tax allowances that featured at the very start of the income tax system when it was introduced by William Pitt at the end of the 18th century. It was decided in the mid-1970s that the two kinds of child allowance should be amalgamated. I calculate that, if child tax allowance had continued and had been uprated in the same way as the other tax allowances since that time in accordance with the Lawson-Rooker-Wise formula, it would now be worth to taxpayers in net terms, about £450 for each child.

Child benefit has not been uprated in the same way as other tax allowances and, therefore, this year it is worth only some £370 per child. Bearing in mind that that sum As paid direct to the mother and is not liable to tax, it is an important benefit for the nearly 7 million families who claim it. It is targeted to all families without test of means.

I should like to raise one or two points about the benefit because the majority of the people who claim it are people who are also liable for income tax. For them, the child benefit has the effect of a remission of their tax burden. The amount of tax and the amount of benefit breaks even for couples with one child only at about £100 per week, and even for couples with four children the break-even point is below the national average of male manual earnings. Between 4 million and 5 million families pay more in income tax than they derive in child benefit. Therefore, for that large number of families, child benefit constitutes a welcome remission of their tax burden. In fact, it constitutes a tax cut targeted towards families according to the number of their children.

Many people favour a reduction in the general rate of income tax, and they believe that, in some ways, that is preferable to an uplift in the rate of child benefit. I do not share that view. In fact, single people stand to do best if there is an across-the-board, untargeted reduction in income tax. However, if we were to relieve the tax burden of families specifically by raising the child benefit, the money would go to the people who obviously have the greatest need at each particular level of income.

It is worth going back to the arguments that many of us remember about the amalgamation of child benefit and family allowances in the mid-1970s. I believe that there were three particular reasons why the House decided that child benefit should be introduced to supersede family allowances and child tax allowances: first, for the ease of administration; secondly, on account of the question of incentives, which was extremely important then and, indeed, is certainly extremely important now, given the growing awareness of the importance of the poverty trap for so many people in this country; thirdly, because of the question of take-up. We had virtually 100 per cent. take-up of the family allowances before the amalgamation, and, since the amalgamation, in the form of the child benefit, once again we have virtually 100 per cent. take-up of this popular benefit, which still goes directly to the mothers.

These are particularly important questions today. Every one of us knows the pressure there is on the supplementary benefit offices to deal with their monumental load of case-work. We must remember that the child benefit not only has the highest take-up of all the family benefits; it involves virtually no case-work and is the cheapest of the family benefits to administer.

Then there is the question of incentives. I must bring to the attention of the House the tragic way in which the numbers are growing, inexorably, of people who are obliged to apply for means-tested benefit of one sort or another. I received a parliamentary answer a few days ago which shocked me and would shock anyone who studied it carefully. It appears that there are now between 15 million and 16 million people in this country who are dependent in one way or another on means-tested benefits. Worse than that, it is officially estimated that there may be about 5 million or 6 million further people who do not claim means-tested benefits, but would be eligible for benefit if they chose to do so. That is a large part of our population for whom, when they have calculated the effect of so doing, there is not a great deal of purpose in working or saving. Conservative Members and, I believe, Opposition Members, too, believe in the importance for self-respect of working and saving.

This country cannot continue to have an inexorably rising number of people who are obliged to apply for means-tested benefits. Although it may be administered in a kind manner—I know that the people in the DHSS and in the local authorities and elsewhere who have to deal with case-work do their utmost to be humane and reasonable—that number of millions of people must class themselves, inevitably, as second-rate citizens. The great advantage of the child benefit is that it is a universal benefit, and people who improve their lot do not lose their eligibility for that important benefit.

This year, by not uprating the child benefit, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State unhappily has tipped about another 40,000 people on to the heap of those who are eligible to apply for means-tested benefit. We have before us now the prospect of the community charge. I believe that that may add as many as a further 2 million to the number of people who are eligible to apply for means-tested benefits.

The time has come for the House to make a clear recommendation to the Departments concerned about the future of child benefit. When I introduced a similar Bill about 18 months ago there was a Division, and the number of Members who voted in favour was 152; only three Members voted against. The Department should have noted the expression of opinion in the House at that time; but it did not. I regret that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chose not to increase child benefit this year, but I should like to make it clear to the House that my Bill as drafted is not a confrontation with my right hon. Friend. I understand his reasons; at the very time when the new family credit is being brought in, which everyone must welcome, he did not feel inclined also to uprate child benefit. I understand his reasons, though I regret his decision. My Bill however, is not a confrontation with that decision. The effect of my Bill, if passed by the House, would be only to put child benefit on the Lawson-RookerWise formula with effect from next year. That truly is something on which the House could unite in all parties.

I realise that there are certain people, inside and outside the House, who feel that they do not need child benefit, so why should it be given to them? To them, we should make the point that they are entitled to a reduction in taxation if tax cuts are in the air, and there is no reason why tax cuts should not be targeted specifically to families—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had 10 minutes. Will he now bring his remarks to a close?

I will indeed do so.

There are some 10,000 claimants in each constituency, which is a point that hon. Members may care to bear in mind.

My last point is to explain why the national insurance fund features in my long title. We should revive the concept of national insurance, so that child benefit, just as much as pensions and unemployment relief, may be seen to emanate from the national insurance fund. I trust that the House will support my Bill.

3.50 pm

I seek to oppose this important proposed Bill. It is important because it affects 7 million mothers and 14 million children and it would be wrong for it to be nodded through. The only way in which we have a chance to express our individual preferences is in the Division Lobby, and when the time comes I shall seek to divide the House. Needless to say, I hope that the Bill is given leave to be brought in by a massive majority.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 234, Noes 20.

Division No. 112]

[3.50 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms DianeEastham, Ken
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Evans, John (St Helens N)
Allen, GrahamEwing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Alton, DavidEwing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Anderson, DonaldFearn, Ronald
Archer, Rt Hon PeterFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryFisher, Mark
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Flannery, Martin
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Flynn, Paul
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Foster, Derek
Barron, KevinFoulkes, George
Battle, JohnFraser, John
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFrench, Douglas
Beckett, MargaretFyfe, Mrs Maria
Beggs, RoyGalbraith, Samuel
Benn, Rt Hon TonyGalloway, George
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Benyon, W.Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Boateng, PaulGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bowis, JohnGlyn, Dr Alan
Boyes, RolandGodman, Dr Norman A.
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesGolding, Mrs Llin
Bradley, KeithGordon, Ms Mildred
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Gould, Bryan
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle B)Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Buchan, NormanGrocott, Bruce
Buckley, GeorgeHardy, Peter
Caborn, RichardHarman, Ms Harriet
Callaghan, JimHaynes, Frank
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Heffer, Eric S.
Carrington, MatthewHenderson, Douglas
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clay, BobHome Robertson, John
Clelland, DavidHood, James
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cohen, HarryHowells, Geraint
Coleman, DonaldHoyle, Doug
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbett, RobinHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Corbyn, JeremyHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cormack, PatrickHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cousins, JimHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cox, TomHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cran, JamesIngram, Adam
Cryer, BobJack, Michael
Cummings, J.John, Brynmor
Cunliffe, LawrenceJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cunningham, Dr JohnJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dalyell, TarnJones, leuan (Ynys M6n)
Darling, AlastairKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Kilfedder, James
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Day, StephenKnapman, Roger
Dewar, DonaldKnox, David
Dixon, DonLambie, David
Dobson, FrankLamond, James
Doran, FrankLeighton, Ron
Dunnachie, JamesLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Eadie, AlexanderLestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)

Lewis, TerryRedmond, Martin
Litherland, RobertRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Livingstone, KenReid, John
Livsey, RichardRichardson, Ms Jo
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Lofthouse, GeoffreyRogers, Allan
Loyden, EddieRooker, Jeff
McAllion, JohnRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McAvoy, TomRost, Peter
Macdonald, CalumRowe, Andrew
McFall, JohnRowlands, Ted
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Ruddock, Ms Joan
McKelvey, WilliamSedgemore, Brian
McLeish, HenrySheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McTaggart, BobSkinner, Dennis
Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Martin, Michael (Springburn)Soley, Clive
Maxton, JohnSpearing, Nigel
Meacher, MichaelSquire, Robin
Meale, AlanSteel, Rt Hon David
Meyer, Sir AnthonySteinberg, Gerald
Michael, AlunStott, Roger
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Strang, Gavin
Millan, Rt Hon BruceStraw, Jack
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Moonie, Dr LewisTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morgan, RhodriThomas, Dafydd Elis
Morley, ElliottThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)Townsend, Cyril D. (B heath)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Vaz, Keith
Mowlam, Mrs MarjorieWall, Pat
Mudd, DavidWallace, James
Mullin, ChrisWalley, Ms Joan
Murphy, PaulWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Nellist, DaveWareing, Robert N.
Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
O'Brien, WilliamWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
O'Neill, MartinWigley, Dafydd
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWilliams, Rt Hon A. J.
Parry, RobertWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Patchett, TerryWilson, Brian
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWinnick, David
Pendry, TomWise, Mrs Audrey
Pike, PeterWorthington, Anthony
Porter, David (Waveney)Wray, James
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Yeo, Tim
Prescott, JohnYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Price, Sir DavidYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Quin, Ms JoyceTellers for the Ayes:
Randall, StuartSir Brandon Rhys-Williams
Rathbone, Timand Mr. Tony Marlow

NOES

Allason, RupertJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Amos, AlanMans, Keith
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Brazier, JulianRedwood, John
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Stanbrook, Ivor
Dover, DenWells, Bowen
Forth, EricWheeler, John
Gow, Ian
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Tellers for the Noes:
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Mr. Frank Field and
Janman, TimothyMr. Archy Kirkwood.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, Mrs. Rosie Barnes, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, M r. Jim Lester, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mr. Tony Marlow, Mr. Tim Rathbone, Mr. Robin Squire, Mr. Dafydd Wigley and Mr. Tim Yeo.

Child Benefit (Uprating)

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams accordingly presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the event of an increase in the Retail Price Index in 1988 or any subsequent calendar year, to lay before Parliament the draft of an uprating order to produce an increase in child benefit with effect from the beginning of the following financial year of not less than a corresponding percentage, and to make future increases in child benefit a charge on the National Insurance Fund: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 12th February and to be printed. [Bill 71].

Orders Of The Day

Local Government Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [14 December], That the clause (Dog Licences), proposed on consideration of the Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), be read a Second time.

"(1) The duty charged under the Dog Licences Act 1959 on Licences for dogs shall from the date set out in subsection (5) and subject to subsection (2), be determined by a London borough, or district council, as appropriate at a level of not less that £10 per annum and not more than £20 per annum in any financial year and shall be allocated by the authority to the funding of a dog warden service in its area.
(2) No duty shall be charged in respect of any dog which is:—
  • (a) a trained guide dog kept for the purpose of assisting a blind or partially-sighted person;
  • (b) a dog kept for the purpose of work in connection with the maintenance of livestock or gamekeeping;
  • (c) a dog whose owner has attained the age of statutory retirement.
  • (3) In Section 1 of the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to dogs) Act 1933 (disqualification for keeping a dog of any person convicted of cruelty to dogs), at the end there shall be inserted the following subsection—
    (5) For the purposes of this section a person shall be presumed, until the contrary is shown, to keep a dog—
  • (a) if it is found or seen in that person's custody, charge or possession, or in his house or premises;
  • (b) in the case of hounds, if he is their owner or master."
  • (4) In section 1 of the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) (Scotland) Act 1934 (disqualification for keeping a dog of any person convicted of cruelty to dogs), at the end there shall be inserted the following subsection—
    "(5) For the purposes of this section a person shall be presumed, until the contrary is shown, to keep a dog—
  • (a) if it is found or seen in that person's custody, charge or possession, or in his house or premises;
  • (b) in the case of hounds, if he is their owner or master."
  • (5) this section shall come into force at the end of the period of 2 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.".—[Mr. Rooker.]

    Question again proposed.

    4.3 pm

    I support my hon. Friends in seeking to maintain the dog licensing system. I shall not dwell on the matter at length because several important points have been made, but it is worth pointing out that, unless we have some system of registration, we shall not be able to detect animal diseases with the accuracy and precision necessary to take remedial action.

    With the development of the Channel tunnel and the completion of the internal market by 1992, there is a grave danger that rabies will be a greater possibility in Britain. In the Common Market, rabies is spreading at the rate of 25 miles each year, and the barrier against rabies that the Common Market has attempted to set up through an inoculation process has not stemmed the spread of the disease. Therefore, it is reasonable that we should have a licensing system, because, although one hopes that that possibility will never come to fruition, we should be forewarned.

    The National Canine Defence League takes the view that we should retain the dog licensing system. The Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society, which is chaired by Lord Houghton of Sowerby and Lord Irving of Dartford and has as its vice-chairman the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), who is taking her usual interest in the subject, points out:
    "However, the decision to abolish rather than to increase the licence to a sensible level of up to £10 goes against the advice of the veterinary bodies, the welfare bodies, the local authorities, the environmental health officers and the farmers. The present income goes to local authorities helping to fund, in a minimal way, present dog warden services."
    If there were an adequate dog licence fee, those dog warden services could be made very much more effective in reducing the nuisance of dogs while helping to maintain standards which the vast majority of dog owners seek to maintain. It would provide for a much more effective service.

    New clause 4 seeks to give powers to local authorities to draw up a register of dangerous dogs. It is a probing clause. If the Minister says that the definition of dangerous dogs should not be left to local authorities—I am happy to leave it to democratically elected local authorities to examine what prevails in their areas— and insists that there should be a central, universal definition, I would be happy for a clause to give the Minister power to define such categories by means of a statutory instrument.

    It is a matter of concern. A newspaper comment on the increase in the category of dangerous dogs states:
    "Strict conditions should be imposed on the sale of giant Rottweiler dogs, says former police dog handler Stephen Allinson.
    Mr. Allinson, who runs a Rottweiler dogs display team —the Black Devils—billed as 'The SAS of the Dog World', spoke out after last week's attack on a Bradford headteacher who as savaged by one of the dogs as he took a pupil home from school.
    'The problem today is that the Rottweiler is a fashionable dog and is getting into the wrong hands' said Mr. Allinson."
    It went on:
    "Mr. Allinson said the dogs are not necessarily dangerous or ferocious, but breeders were selling them to the wrong people.
    'A condition of sale should be that the new owner attends dog training classes until the dog and owner can prove a competent team together.' … Bradford Council's environmental health chiefs have already urged owners of big dogs, especially guard dogs, to make sure that they get their animals properly trained."
    That is the voice of experience. A man who trains that category of dog regularly and who was a former police dog handler says that there are dangers.

    There have been a number of attacks, and I wish to dwell on one which occurred in my constituency and which was mentioned in my previous quotation from the local evening paper. It involved the head teacher of a local school who had a pupil who had suffered an asthma attack, so he kindly and humanely agreed to take the small boy home. When he got the boy home, a Rottweiler dog
    "broke free from its chain when they arrived, hurling itself at … and knocking him to the ground.
    The owner sought to drag the dog off its victim as it sank its teeth into his arm and other parts of his body. Bradford Council's emergency dog warden team was called in to subdue the animal with special restraining equipment. The two wardens then held down the dog with lasso poles while a vet raced to the scene. When vet Neil Adams arrived, he injected the animal with a fatal shot and Mr. Waterhouse was rushed to hospital."
    Mr. Waterhouse has been off work for three months, at considerable cost to the local authority and the education service.

    The new clause would enable the mounting of some sort of scrutiny of dog ownership. It would enable a register of dangerous dogs to be drawn up and conditions of ownership, such as kennel provision, chaining and fencing, to be checked by the local authority, which would help the owner in that respect. Those who argue against it say that the cost would be too high, but the new clause may well save public expenditure if it can prevent accidents such as the dreadful vicious attack that I described.

    We need to consider other consequences, too. There were two Rottweilers at the house where the attack took place. The one that was killed because of the attack was immediately replaced by a bull mastiff, so there are now at least three dangerous dogs at the house. They are not always chained up.

    Another of my constituents has a four-month old baby daughter. Can those who criticise the supervision of dogs through licensing, and the closer supervision of some categories of dog, assure me that that four-month-old baby will be perfectly safe if she is left in the garden next to a house where there are two or three Rottweilers and a bull mastiff? Of course they cannot. The parents cannot leave their four-month-old daughter in their garden and enjoy any peace of mind or security. They have erected a fence at considerable expense, but they cannot be sure that one of the animals will not break away, leap over the fence and savage the baby. Given that an adult who was savagely attacked needed hospital treatment and has been off work for three months, one dreads to think of what the dog could do to a four-month old baby.

    Does my hon. Friend recognise that one merit of the new clause is that it would allow the identification and location of the dangerous American pit bull terriers being imported into this country at great cost to facilitate illegal dog fighting?

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is precisely the sort of dog that would fall into the category required to be registered under my new clause. That would meet the objections to the way in which some dogs are cruelly and viciously set against each other in illegal fights.

    In addition to the four-month-old baby, a number of young children live around the house to which I have referred. When the dogs are loose, the children have to be kept in. They cannot play in the garden as their parents would like them to. This is not an isolated incident. Several of my constituents have written to me saying that they have experienced similar problems.

    The House cannot just shrug off these cases and say, "Well, decent dog owners should and do look after their dogs," and tut-tut a little at those who are not so careful. In the case that I cited, there has been no prosecution. I have raised the matter with the Home Office, which says that the law is adequate and that dog owners vs ho do not control their animals properly can be prosecuted. However, in this case, the police have decided against prosecution, for reasons that are not spelt out in their letter to me.

    The new clause is a very modest measure which seeks to minimise accidents. We all know that they happen from time to time, and when they do hands are raised in horror. We can seek to take remedial action and to provide a legislative framework for local authorities to ensure that the number of accidents and of terrible competitions in which dogs are pitted against each other illegally is reduced.

    The Minister may say that my new clause is too broadly drawn. I should be happy to accept a clause drawn up by his Department if it gave the same degree of security and supervision. Bradford has a very good dog warden service which has improved the process of rounding up stray dogs. However, that dog warden service is not adequate to protect people against some of these ferocious dogs because it does not have the information necessary to pinpoint the dangers. I hope that the House will support my new clause.

    4.15 pm

    I shall keep my remarks brief because I have to chair a Standing Committee at 4.30 pm. I hope that it will be understood that I shall not be in my place for the rest of the debate.

    It will not surprise my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to learn that I deplore the Government's decision to abolish dog licences — a decision that goes against everything that I have worked for for 10 years or more. I want the dog licence fee raised to a realistic sum to support a dog warden scheme and a package of measures for the welfare and control of dogs.

    I shall support the new clause if the Government cannot give me anything better, although it has certain drawbacks. I believe in the general thrust of the argument of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and would not wish to be too critical of his proposal. I query whether it is wise to have variable licence fees as between one local authority and another because difficulties could arise if adjoining local authorities levied different sums. I query, too, whether it is wise to have quite such a blanket exemption for retirement pensioners. However, I fully agree that we should have a dog licence fee to enable us to go ahead with a package of reforms.

    No taxation is popular and new taxes are even less popular, as the Government will shortly discover — if they have not done so already. Therefore, I query their wisdom in doing away with a tax that at least has the benefit of familiarity and which people have accepted because it has been in place far as long as anyone can remember. It is an astonishing act to get rid of a reasonable means of obtaining money to do a specific job, and I query it on that ground alone.

    Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said, the concept of a package of measures to control dogs commands a rare degree of agreement among a whole variety of groups, not least the animal welfare organisations. Those groups also include the National Farmers Union. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Farmers Union do not always see eye to eye, but on this matter they march as one.

    I query the Government's decision to do away with dog licences most of all because of the order that they themselves introduced in Northern Ireland in 1983. I gather that that measure is working well and has done much to reduce the nuisance on which other hon. Members have expatiated. Are the Government so displeased with the scheme that they propose to discontinue it in Northern Ireland? If they do not propose to discontinue it, why is it not good enough for the mainland of Britain? I look forward with interest to the answers to those two questions, even if I am not in my seat to listen to them.

    No one would suggest that it would be possible to achieve 100 per cent. enforcement of the increased dog licence. Frankly, it is worth no one's while to collect the miserable and paltry sum of 37p. I believe that if the dog licence fee was raised to a proper level of £5 or £10 that would be an inducement to enforce collection. I gather that there is a fair degree of enforcement in Northern Ireland and we therefore have a practical precedent to follow.

    Although my next point goes beyond the scope of the new clause—and I will do no more than touch on it briefly — I believe that dog wardens should be given greater powers than they possess under existing legislation. They should be the enforcement agents for the collection of the licence fee and for the laws relating to dog fouling and other matters. That would go far to deal with the problems that many people who do not love dogs as I love them find so objectionable, for example the dog mess which they find in many places and the danger to children to which reference was made earlier.

    The Government have missed a great opportunity. If they do not want to accept the new clause, I hope that they can offer something in its place. A general gesture of good will stating that local authorities will be able to introduce dog warden schemes without giving them the wherewithal to carry those schemes out will not be acceptable. We must remember that the authorities will have less money if the new clause is passed because the money that is collected is used by local authorities.

    Even at this late stage, I hope that the Government will reconsider. If they are not prepared to progress on the present basis, will they consider the ever-present threat of rabies entering this country? I am aware that a set of draconian reserve powers exists, which can be implemented if rabies enters the country. However, I do not believe that the Government will be thanked if those powers have to be invoked when it would have been possible to have a far more humane and attractive approach through a good system of licensing and registration and a dog warden scheme. If rabies should enter the country, I will not hesitate to remind my hon. Friends of what I have just said. We cannot shrug off the threat of rabies as something which is unlikely to happen. It is all too likely to happen. It would be far more prudent to have a proper system of dog control in force than the present system, which will result in utter chaos.

    I am connected with two welfare societies, the RSPCA and the National Canine Defence League. The societies bear the brunt of dog owners' irresponsibility and the very inadequate controls on the breeding of dogs. They bear that brunt day after day, and it gives them no pleasure to have to destroy dogs when it is not possible to keep them for a variety of reasons. Money is being spent which would not have to be spent for that purpose if we had a proper set of controls. Unwanted dogs that are turned out by irresponsible owners lead a miserable existence. My hon. Friends should look at some of the homes — and Battersea dogs' home is close to the House—and they would see what welfare societies have to deal with every day. Once Ministers had witnessed that they might give more thought to the problem before deciding to do away with the dog licence.

    In short, I support the new clause, with reservations, for the reasons that I have given. I am anxious to see that the pass is not sold entirely and that we retain the dog licence as a necessary means of funding a scheme of dog wardens and other control measures. I would like to see a new Act which would bring all the dog laws together. However, I am aware that that goes beyond the scope of the new clause and I will say no more.

    I need not detain the House for long, because I share the concerns expressed by many hon. Members so far and not least those expressed by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes).

    I believe that the Government have acted with gross irresponsibility. Since the debate started, much has been said about the nature of the problems that are presented by irresponsible dog owners. I do not dissent from the need for the maintenance of the licence. However, the Government's record must be exposed. They have known since 1979 when they assumed office of the need for an improved, fair and effective system of control. The evidence has been available since the mid-1970s. I recall advancing an argument that certain reforms were required in 1975, when I suggested that the first priority was to remove the six-month exemption for the purchase of a licence whereby people getting a puppy do not need to buy a licence until the puppy is six months old. That exemption must he the single greatest cause of the difficulties from dogs that confront society.

    While I am delighted that the Opposition have tabled amendment No. 29 which, if it was accepted by the House, would force the Government to reconsider the whole position and perhaps come forward with a sensible arrangement such as that advocated by the hon. Member for Drake I would have been delighted if the Opposition's position rested with that amendment. However, I have reservations about new clause 4. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) will consider my points when he advises Opposition Members in another place.

    To many hon. Members and perhaps to the vast majority of dog owners, £10 may not be a large sum of money. Indeed, £20—the maximum set down in the new clause — may not be a large sum. However, to many people who will not enjoy the "most prosperous Christmas" that this country has ever seen, to quote the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) — that means the 8 million on or below the poverty — £10 or £20 is a great deal of money. They would be bitterly resentful if they had to scrimp and save to find the £10 or £20 when they were responsible dog owners.

    I hope that I can be regarded as a responsible dog owner. A number of hon. Members have mentioned their dogs. At home at the moment we have a large Irish wolfhound and a young deerhound. Our licences have always been paid on the dot, not because of my efficiency but because my wife insists on it. I strongly suspect that in my area and in all other areas, only a minority of dog owners obtain licences for their dogs. I suspect that, even if the new clause were passed, many people would not pay the £10 or £20. The responsible dog owners whose dogs do not do the kind of thing that we have heard about would be even more angry and bitter.

    Perhaps the Government have rather more cunning than some of us would give them credit for. They have failed to act for nearly 10 years despite the weight of evidence and the arguments advanced by Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Drake. The reason why they have not acted is that they did not wish to incur unpopularity. However, it is no part of the Opposition's job to incur unpopularity. Had the Government any serious and intelligent intentions in this matter, they would have accepted one of about five or six private Members' Bills presented to the House over the past six or seven years.

    4.30 pm

    As far as I can recall, in every instance the Government used, or wished to use, those private Members' Bills to get out from under and transfer the responsibility entirely to local authorities. I do not think that that is on from a Government who have inflicted rate capping on local authorities. I take the view that, if there is to be a fee, it should be determined centrally, and not left as a means of ensuring that more odium falls on the shoulders of local government. We wish to avoid the ridiculous state of affairs in which people living on one side of the road pay £10, while those on the other side pay £20.

    Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that is dealt with in new clause 15—tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)—which provides for a licence fee of £10 per annum? That is the crucial difference between new clause 4 and new clause 15, although the principle is the same in both.

    The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that I have sat through the whole debate. While that may be the intention of new clause 15, it is not the only intention that the Liberal party has demonstrated. The Liberal party's position seems to be very draconian. I believe that it would discourage not only irresponsible but responsible dog owners.

    That, however, is not my only reservation about new clause 4. I note that, under subsection (2)(b),
    "a dog kept for the purpose of work in connection with the maintenance of livestock or gamekeeping"
    would be exempted from the licence charge. I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr has sought legal advice. I am not a lawyer, but it strikes me that some masters of hounds would be given an opportunity to argue that their packs should be exempt. That is surely not a proposal that the Opposition should contemplate.

    Gamekeeping is a reputable activity. But if the gamekeeper is to enjoy such an exemption, what will be the position of the welfare organisations referred to by the hon. Member for Drake? Many breed clubs within the dog fancy also operate their own rescue societies. Will they have to find £10 or £20 for every dog that they Lake into care, which otherwise would probably be roaming the country or causing a general nuisance?

    The same applies to boarding kennels. It is to be hoped that dog owners who go away on holiday ensure that their dogs are properly cared for while they are away; I do not consider it reasonable to require dog licences costing a maximum of £20 from all boarding kennel owners. That would inevitably put up the cost, and discourage people from ensuring that their pets were properly looked after. If the gamekeeper — who is serving an important, or established, leisure interest—is to receive a concession, why should not such a concession also be offered to responsible people who are engaged in breeding and showing dogs? Thousands of people in Britain shoot, but I suspect that far more show dogs.

    That leads me to a further suggestion. People who show dogs usually value them enormously, and the dogs may indeed be very valuable. Such people will not let their dogs wander about school fields — at least, they certainly should not do so. They recognise that the dogs may be a substantial asset. If those dogs are not likely to cause a nuisance to society, I suggest that their owners should pay no more than one licence fee. Those who own several dogs may be more responsible owners than those who own only one, but do not know how to look after it. I certainly do not wish a system to be introduced that would deter people from enjoying a perfectly sensible pastime in which I occasionally indulge — sometimes with substantial success—with my son's wolfhound.

    We should be encouraging people to enjoy life, and to take part in the various activities that owning a dog can provide. We ought not to insist on a penalty that may make it impossible for poorer people to own dogs. I therefore hope that, by the time that the Bill reaches another place, the Opposition's proposal will be slightly more acceptable to responsible dog owners than it now appears to be.

    Many hon. Members — perhaps the majority — consider that the entire cost of a dog warden scheme should fall on the shoulders of those who pay the proposed licence fee. That is entirely unreasonable. Why should responsible dog owners have to bear the whole cost of the irresponsibility of those who refuse to pay? If the Minister, or any of my hon. Friends, maintains that view, we may eventually reach a time when only smokers will be called upon to bear the cost of the fire brigade.

    I agree with the view, expressed by a number of hon. Members, that the Government have acted irresponsibly, and should reconsider. In doing so, they may wish to consider a version of new clause 4 amended in the way that I have suggested.

    I join my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) in urging my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Local Government to consider the new clause sympathetically. Its wording is by no means perfect, but I believe that its principle is right, and that the Government should take it to themselves and bring forward in another place a form of wording that does not suffer from the same defects.

    I urge the Minister to do that, because the new clause has an honourable history. I had the privilege of proposing a similar new clause to the Control of Pollution Bill 1974 from the Opposition Front Bench. The principle was the same—that we should give local authorities the power to introduce a dog warden scheme, which they could fund by charging a licence fee. They could then carry out the important measures necessary to ensure that dogs are well looked after, and that the physical environment is well looked after at the same time, so that dangers from rabies, and to children in parks and playgrounds, can be properly dealt with and the risks diminished.

    Unfortunately, I was not able to test the then Government's view, because the new clause was outside the long title of the Bill. Nevertheless, it enabled me to have discussions and negotiations which ended in the setting up of a working group which reported in 1976, accepting the principles and urging the Government to introduce legislation of the kind that we are now discussing.

    From 1976 until 1979, the Government of the day found excuse after excuse not to legislate. I rather suspect that similar reasons will be given from the Government Front Bench today for not introducing the legislation that the Opposition are now demanding. It is remarkable how being in government and being in opposition tend to change hon. Members' views on certain matters, and this is certainly an example.

    The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Government at that time had such a tiny majority—if, indeed, they had a majority at all — that they would have been unable to do anything but what they did. The Opposition would certainly have used any Bill so presented for political purposes far beyond the interests of dogs. In any case, the hon. Gentleman is talking about a period of little more than two years. The present Government have been in power for eight years.

    The hon. Gentleman's recollection is at fault. It was then Opposition policy to promote such legislation and, from the Front Bench, I was promoting it on behalf of the Opposition. The Government of the day would have had a good answer, because they could have said, "We now call on the Opposition to support what their Front Bench spokesman has been urging on us."

    After 1979 I had the privilege of serving as a Minister in Northern Ireland, and it was no accident that an experiment was tried there with the introduction of an enlarged fee for a warden-controlled system. The problem was that people tended, as they do on this side of the water, to buy puppies for children at Christmas time, but after the Christmas holidays the puppies became a nuisance and were thrown out. They tended to roam in packs and the problem was that those wild packs savaged sheep throughout the countryside. It was necessary to find ways of controlling them.

    It may be said that the experience of Northern Ireland has not been all that great; collection of the new enhanced fee is difficult and—I am unaware of the figures for today—possibly about 50 per cent. of dog owners do not pay the licence fee. If my hon. and learned Friend intends to argue that, I shall tell him that the collection by authorities of fees, taxes, rates and rents is generally difficult in certain parts of Northern Ireland. He should recognise the circumstances that appertain there for the collection of moneys by the authorities.

    The introduction of the enlarged fee was successful because it gave the means to deal with the problem that I outlined. There has been a substantial reduction in wild dog packs, which were causing much danger to animals and, on occasions, to human beings.

    As I understand the new clause, it is proposed to give local authorities the power to set up dog warden schemes. Local authorities already have that power and can do that without the need for further legislation, but they do not have a particular means of raising money for a new service.

    I disagree with the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who said that people who keep dogs should not make a contribution to the creation of a dog warden scheme. Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Drake said, this is not a matter for a national organisation, national apparatus or national levy.

    The problem varies from area to area. Some local authorities will find it necessary to use the power and to raise money for a dog warden service. Others may not have that problem or may not wish to have a dog warden service. Some may need only a slender service and therefore would not need to raise whatever the House determines as the correct maximum, whether it be £10 or £20. It would be within the discretion of the local authority to decide, within the parameters of its needs arid with regard to the number of dog owners that lived in its locality, the amount that it needed to charge to run this service efficiently and effectively. We should enable local authorities to do that.

    I represent an urban constituency, where dogs can be an enormous problem. There are many guard dogs in my constituency because of the levels of crime in certain areas. Dogs must be walked in the parks and streets, which creates an unseemly and dangerous environment, particularly for children.

    There must be the means to encourage the local authority to set up an organisation that will ensure that that nuisance is kept to a minimum. To enable local authorities to employ people to do that, one should not expect them to pay for it out of the community charge —which they will be enabled under other legislation to levy—because £178 per annum per head of population may not be sufficient if we are to add the provision of a dog warden service to the responsibilities of local authorities.

    4.45 pm

    I ask my hon. and learned Friend to treat this matter with some seriousness. It is a matter which the Environment Select Committee has considered since 1983 —since when I have been privileged to be its chairman. We have looked at the Estimates of the Department of the Environment and, year after year, pointed to the absurdity of the cost of £3 million per year for collection of the national dog licence fee. I can well understand that the persistence of the Select Committee in pinpointing and underlining this absurdity each year, has driven the Government into considering the abolition of the dog licence.

    That is one part only of the equation; the other is how one deals with the other problems that must be tackled, and for which local authorities must be given the wherewithal.

    I am a member of the Environment Select Committee. Would it not be true to say that it deliberately tabled a motion, when the report on the Estimates was last considered, with a blatant view to making the Government think about this problem and come forward with a solution not only to the matter of licensing but the wider implications of the control of dogs?

    Given my involvement with the subject since 1974, that thought was not far from my mind when the Committee agreed to table that motion. It is a matter of disappointment that the Government did not have the courage to deal with those matters.

    The response of the Government will be similar to that which I received from the Government during the 1974–79 Parliament. No doubt they have received advice from the same officials, and the same considerations will apply, but if that is the case I must tell my hon. and learned Friend not to expect me in the same Lobby as him tonight.

    I should like to speak specifically to new clause 15—Dog Licences

  • `(1) Subject to subsection (3) below, the duty charged under the Dog Licences Act 1959 on licences for dogs shall be set at £10 per annum and shall be increased on 1 April of each year in line with the percentage increase in the retail prices index.
  • (2) The duty provided for in subsection (1) above shall be collected by a local authority from owners of dogs living in its area and shall be used by the authority for the funding of a dog warden service and for other dog control purposes in its area.
  • (3) No duty shall be charged under subsection (1) above in respect of:-
  • (a) a dog kept and used wholly or mainly for guidance by a blind or partially-sighted person, if the owner of the dog obtains a certificate of exemption in respect of the dog under this section;
  • (b) a dog whose owner has attained the statutory age of retirement;
  • (c) a dog kept and used solely for the purpose of tending sheep or cattle on a farm;
  • (d) a dog under the age of three months where that dog is kept by the person who at the time of its birth was the owner of the bitch which gave it birth;
  • (e) a dog kept by such other person or for such other purposes as may be specified, in England or Wales by the Secretary of State for the Environment, or, in Scotland by the Secretary of State for Scotland, by a statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
  • (4) Where no duty is charged under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (3) above, the owner of the dog shall obtain from the local authority a certificate of exemption from duty in respect of the dog.
  • (5) In subsection (2) above, "local authority" means a district council, a London borough council, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, or the Common Council of the City of London.
  • (6) This section shall come into force at the end of a period of 2 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.',
  • and in support of the clauses and amendment that are the subject of this debate.

    The debate in Committee confirmed that the Government have but one argument for changing the position that they adopted, on a provisional basis, during the consultations on this matter a couple of years ago. Their Green Paper, which was produced after many years of internal consideration, came to the clear-cut conclusion that the Government would prefer the abolition of the present national licensing arrangements and said that new discretionary powers should be given to districts and London boroughs. Thus, the proposal in new clause 4, proposed by the Opposition Front Bench, is on all fours with the view that the Government took about a year ago.

    The Government have not explained their about-turn in response to the weight of the evidence. They have not said what the weight of the evidence was, but if they were to do so it would confirm that 10 of the reputable organisations that submitted evidence, such as the RSPCA and others, came out clearly in favour of a national dog licence, and only two opposed it.

    A substantial number of individuals have also made views known. They have come to believe that it is necessary to get rid of the dog licence for the twin reasons that the present position is clearly ludicrous—there is no dissent about that—and that it is illogical to make responsible dog owners pay for irresponsible dog owners because there will always be people who do not apply for or pay for licences. Indeed, in Committee one of the Minister's hon. Friends admitted to being an example.

    The fallacy of that argument is that there are many parallels in taxation policy where people are charged for the use or ownership of something, but where not everybody may pay. The example that comes most obviously to mind is that of the motor car. Not everybody who should do so pays the vehicle excise licence, but it is still the rule that the Exchequer benefits by collecting the money that goes into the pool to allow more money to be available for dealing with issues of transport and road policy. There are other examples.

    I put it to the hon. Gentleman that there are even stronger arguments than the one that he is advancing. Most responsible dog owners, indeed all responsible dog owners, are concerned about animal welfare. They love their own dogs deeply and are concerned about those who do not properly cater for or look after their dogs. Most responsible dog owners would be happy to pay a higher licence fee if dogs were generally better catered for and looked after.

    I accept entirely the hon. Gentleman's point. I was here when he spoke yesterday, and I commend him for his speech on the subject and for his views. He has the additional merit of speaking from personal experience, which in this case, as in many others, is persuasive. Responsible dog owners are happy to pay the licence fee. I have not received any letters or representations from dog owners to say that they would not be happy about that, even if the fee were to be higher than the amount suggested —£10 is the most commonly quoted figure.

    Like the Minister's hon. Friends who have spoken against the Government's view, I ask the Government to change their view, because it is illogical to ask responsible dog owners to pay for the irresponsible. The reality is that the community as a whole will have to continue to pay for dog control exercises, the kennelling of stray dogs and animal welfare. That will always be the case because of the minority of people who are not responsible dog owners.

    Therefore, as the Government will argue tomorrow in relation to the poll tax, the fairest way would be a per capita payment. In this case it would be a per dog capita payment for the dogs that are owned, as opposed to a per human capita payment. Each contribution should be spent for the general benefit of the community.

    The difference between new clause 15, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and myself on behalf of the Liberal party, and new clause 4, tabled by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on behalf of the Labour party, is that the latter provides for a national system, but with varying amounts. I agree that there is likely to be some antagonism if, across a border, the amount is different. That will detract from arguments about the principle of the issue. However, new clause 15 argues for a nationally fixed, but locally collected and locally spent, fee. It seems right that local authorities should have the prime responsibility for collecting and spending the money. It is better that they should do so and, indeed, they are willing to do so.

    I believe that the Minister accepts the general presumption that local authorities are in, as it were, the front line of dog control. He suggested in Committee that he supported the view that the responsibility for stray dogs, which is a separate but linked issue, should be taken from the police and handed to local authorities. I hope that he will expand on that and state that that is still the Government's view and that they intend to move in that direction soon.

    The Government's position would be more defensible if they were to say that they would replace the money that would be lost—small though it is, or much larger as it would be if a £10 licence fee were the norm — by additional money for local authorities specifically to enable them to set up dog warden schemes and the like. However, I have never heard that said and, clearly, the Government have not said it. Local authorities have a right to be suspicious that the little that they receive at the moment will be taken away and that their capacity to deal with what is a major problem in rural and urban areas —often a major problem of environmental nuisance—will be severely diminished.

    Ministers may have noticed that even the Kennel Club, an organisation which has, for some time, lobbied for the abolition of the dog licence fee, now says that it favours a tattooing system for the identification of dogs, for which there would need to be a registration system. Once that is in place, an administratively simple and cost-effective way of paying for the registration system would be through a licence fee. The Kennel Club is the only substantial single-interest body that has argued against the view proposed by my hon. Friends, the Opposition and some Conservative Back Benchers. It does not favour a licence, but favours an identification system. Therefore, even that body seems to have a qualified position.

    For reasons that seem illogical, the Government have decided to move away from the proper steps which they implemented, by trial, in Northern Ireland and which have proved adequately successful there, of having a system of collecting revenue that would be spent on dealing with the difficult but important issue of dog control and welfare. The Government are sadly misguided. We hope that an amendment, either in the form of the new clause that has been tabled by my party, or in the form of one of the other Opposition new clauses or amendments, will be accepted before the Bill completes its passage through the House.

    One of the problems with the procedures of this House is that after an arduous period in Committee, when a subject comes back for further debate on Report, some hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) feel that the debate is already over and that there is nothing more to say. It was a good thing that the debate was adjourned, because we have had some good speeches today from Opposition Members, who have promoted the new clause with much greater enthusiasm than did the hon. Member for Perry Barr himself.

    In 1979, when I had the honour to be appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I discovered to my astonishment, and that of my fellow Ministers, that for some reason the fee for the dog licence was fixed by that Department, although the Department of the Environment had the local government responsibilities for dog licences and the Home Office had the overall responsibility for all licensing. Eight years later, I believe that the dilemma of the then Government has been resolved in the wrong way. I am not in any doubt that it is a question of a toss of the coin in such matters because I appreciate that, whichever position the Government adopted, they would have some critics.

    I remained of an open mind until quite recently when I became persuaded by the continual correspondence that I receive on this matter. It was not just one or two letters. Week after week, month after month, and year after year I have received letters from my constituents, especially those in the urban area, protesting about the complete lack of control over dogs in towns, in relation to dog mess, barking, lack of control over fierce dogs and other aspects. There is a substantial feeling that the issue must be resolved in the immediate future. Some of my councillors would agree that no single issue raises greater passion at local government level in Weston-super-Mare than that of dogs. Therefore, for many people, this is a much more serious issue than it may have sounded when we were debating it last night.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) has made most of the important points, so I shall not tire the House by repeating them. The dog licence is an additional form of taxation which, much to our cost, we have failed to increase year by year. The Government took a weak view on this — many years ago, I accept — and it has become increasingly more expensive to collect, and, in parallel, the problem of outof-control dogs has become worse.

    It is rare for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Farmers Union to agree on anything. When, for the first time in my memory, they do agree, backed by the British Veterinary Association and other responsible bodies, it is rather disappointing that the Government should take a contrary view.

    5 pm

    In defence of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Local Government, may I say that the minds of the public have been considerably concentrated by the Government's firm decision. It was the announcement of that decision that led many bodies into an opposition in which they had not engaged before. Having done that, they have gathered a considerable amount of public opinion behind them. I fully accept that a more expensive licence of £5 or £10 would penalise the law-abiding dog owner who pays his licence, but I have not had any letters from dog owners saying that they did not think it desirable.

    I have just returned from Norway, and the Norwegians have a completely different attitude to dogs. They look upon owning a dog as an exceptional privilege. Indeed, as anyone who has bought food in Norway will know, it is also a costly privilege. The Norwegian people require no further incentives for looking after their dogs. If they did, it would become a matter of national behaviour. A case of dog cruelty achieves headline status.

    I shall listen with great interest to the argument about Northern Ireland dogs. My hon. and learned Friend will no doubt adduce some devious argument about why an Ulster dog is different from an English or Welsh dog. I recall clearly that when the decision on that was made there was a sharp intake of breath at such courage from the Government. In fact, the measure went through with no difficulty. Licence fees are paid relatively well and, as has already been said, that is not so usual for Northern Ireland. It has enabled the proper control of dogs and wild packs no longer roam.

    I cannot support the new clause in its entirety for the reasons that I have given, but I shall vote for it because the Government have gone the wrong way. I join my hon. Friends in saying that I hope that in another place they will give further thought to this. I have not yet heard a speech in support of the Government's view.

    I do not want to repeat all the arguments about the desirability of a dog licence because they have been well and truly made. However, I have an interest because Scunthorpe borough council was one of the pioneers of the dog warden service. That service was introduced in response to local demand and the enormous problems caused by dogs.

    All hon. Members who have spoken so far have conceded that dogs can be a considerable nuisance. It is evident from the letters that I receive from my constituents that dog owners favour a licence on the terms set out in the new clause. Just as all smokers are often blamed for the failings of the irresponsible minority of smokers, responsible dog owners are blamed for the failings of an irresponsible minority of dog owners. The dog licence is a measure of control which is much needed, particularly in urban areas. It also gives some protection to the dogs.

    As has been mentioned, Christmas is traditionally the time when people buy puppies on the spur of the moment without taking into account the commitment that any pet requires. Indeed, some people collect dogs like others collect stamps, until they end up with a house full of them and that causes a nuisance through noise, smell and the problems in the streets. A properly funded dog warden service, with money going to local councils to fund it, is one way of tackling that problem.

    All the responsible organisations are in favour of a dog licence. I have before me a letter from the National Farmers Union, which adds its weight to those organisations. The letter was also sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). The NFU argues strongly for a dog licence and points to the problem of livestock savaged each year by pets that are allowed to roam.

    A dog licence is not the automatic solution to all the problems with stray dogs, but it is a step forward in tackling that problem. It is certainly a better solution than that proposed by the Government, which is no solution at all. The Government are missing an important opportunity to put the matter right and to tackle the problem. If they take that opportunity in the Bill they will have the support of all responsible dog owners and the majority of the British people.

    It is not uncommon for some major issues to pass calmly through the House, if not on the nod, certainly without the heat and light generated by this topic. But mention dogs, and calm goes out of the window and emotions — on both sides of the debate — take over. Last night confirmed that fact, even if the late hour was some excuse.

    One accepts the need to protect livestock in rural areas, but I am not sure whether a licence is the way to achieve that. The problem is largely one for the urban areas. Let us agree on common ground. There is a need for a warden service to deal with strays and the public have a right to clean pavements and parklands free from dog soil. Both those objectives are, rightly, the responsibility of local government which needs the power to enact the necessary byelaws to meet that public demand and to enforce penalties where necessary.

    Why should that general provision, unique among other general needs within local authorities, require a special licence which needs a bureaucracy to police it in order to provide the resources to pay for it? We pay for many general services through our rates which we never use, and, perhaps because of our age, will never use, but we pay none the less. That general rule should apply in this case.

    I am puzzled why the Opposition should have tabled the new clause in this form, for deny it though he may, the heart of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) was not in his speech last night, except for the customary passion for taxing everything that moves. None of the situations that he described would be diminished or solved by the imposition of a dog licence.

    I said that, but the hon. Gentleman was asleep.

    No, that is precisely my point. The hon. Member listed what he objected to and then admitted that the dog licence was no cure. Why on earth, then, put in for a licence?

    The point was that the licence provided the revenue to fund the dog warden scheme which would assist in dealing with those problems.

    I thought that the hon. Gentleman had clearly said that it would not, but perhaps we had better study Hansard again.

    The Opposition have realised that the 7s 6d tax is nonsense and have chosen anything between £10 and £20 to replace it. However, as they are fearful of adverse reaction, they seek to make some exclusions for the elderly, which is fine at first sight, but it means quite a few hon. Members can keep a pet free. Are the disabled, the unemployed, the family on a low income and the single parent any less in need of the comfort and protection that a pet can give? Are they less deserving than those people mentioned in the amendment or than some Members of this House?

    The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) pointed out the inadequacies of the exclusions in the new clause. By the time he had finished speaking, I was convinced that he had convinced himself that the clause would not deliver and that he would probably join the Government in the Lobby tonight. When one goes down the exemption route, there is no end. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said last night, the cost of policing the system will make the policing of the banded community charge or local income tax a piece of cake.

    The abolition of the existing licence brings savings to the public purse. The immediate abolition means that the public service will benefit by about £3 million. If that is so, may I suggest to my hon. and learned Friend that some of that saving could be paid as block grant to the PDSA, the RSPCA and other bodies which do a wonderful job and would not necessarily be helped by the kind of licence fee mentioned in the clause.

    Many daft things are done by local authorities up and down the land, but the provision of wardens, clean pavements and clean park space would have universal support from ratepayers, whatever the ultimate system of local taxation. However, a separate dog licence would not have such support.

    I wish to declare an interest and say that, although I do not have a dog, I have a parrot and two tortoises. As far as I am aware, no proposal has yet been made to license such pets, but if such a proposal were made, I would pay the licence with great pleasure.

    I have received a number of letters about this subject. All have protested about the abolition of dog licences and that is why I want to intervene briefly. I cannot follow the Government's logic in respect of their proposals and that is why I support the new clause. The licence fee is too small and not worth collecting. In addition, too many dog owners fail to pay the licence, so the proposed solution is to scrap the licence.

    If we apply the logic of failure to pay, we can see the ridiculous situation that would develop. We do not know the precise number of people, although it is quite large, who fail to pay their taxes. They fail to pay their television licences. That includes the Prime Minister who has, as I understand it, 13 television sets in No. 10 Downing street, yet she does not have to pay any licence fee. That is not failure to pay, but she has been given a discretion so that she does not have to pay. Many people do not pay the television licence fee or the road fund tax for their cars. I have yet to hear any Conservative Member say that, because of failure to pay, we should scrap those taxes. The Government are in a difficult position when it comes to logic.

    5.15 pm

    I am raising this somewhat sniffy subject because, in the east end of London, many people keep dogs as pets. It is a tradition and, if anyone looks around the parks in the east end at weekends, he will see how many people keep dogs. They do so for a number of reasons, including companionship and protection of their property. The many burglaries, car thefts and street crimes in the east end encourage people to keep dogs not so much as pets but as protectors. That is why we have so many large and somewhat vicious dogs in the east end, but most of them have responsible owners. They are certainly far more responsible than the Earl of Leven.

    I refer hon. Members to early-day motion 432, tabled by several Labour Members, in respect of the conduct of the Earl of Leven and the sentence imposed by Inverness sheriff court, which states
    "That this House condemns the conduct of the Earl of Leven J.P., Lord Lieutenant of Nairnshire and Chairman of the Governors of Gordonstoun College,"—
    I understand that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales went there, so I hope that he did not learn anything from the Earl of Leven—
    "who fractured the skull of a terrier dog which had wandered onto his grouse moor, attacking the animal with such force that the instrument used, a walking-stick, broke; deplores the leniency of sentence imposed by Inverness Sheriff Court; believes that £75 fines are unlikely to deter thugs and hooligans; and calls for the Earl of Leven to be stripped of all public offices."
    I am sure that dog lovers on both sides of the House will warmly endorse the words of early-day motion 432.

    Fortunately, the dog owners and the people of Newham do not follow such vile practices. The dog owners of the east end are responsible, but, unfortunately, problems arise from keeping dogs as pets. The immediate problem in an urban environment is the dog mess produced in car parks, streets, open spaces, parks and many other areas where children play and people go. That is very distressing.

    I find it distressing when I am walking to my newspaper shop in the morning to get my copy of The Daily Telegraph.[Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it is a serious point. I like to know what the Government are saying from morning to morning, so I buy a number of other newspapers. When I walk, to the newspaper shop just around the corner from my home in the London borough of Newham, I spend most of my time with my shoulders stooping and my eyes on the pavement. That is not merely because of the problems that I bear on my shoulders as a representative of an inner-city area. It is also to avoid stepping in all the piles of dog mess on the pavement. It is a serious problem which is accepted by Members on both sides of the House. I shall step lightly, as they say, on this matter, but it is a serious problem which brings many complaints to me, as the local Member of Parliament, and to local councillors.

    There are some advantages in having one's eyes transfixed on the pavement in an attempt to avoid the dog mess. The other day I found 1·20 on the short walk to the newspaper shop. When I reached the newspaper shop, I put that money in the box for cancer research because it is the only way that cancer wards and the Cancer Research Campaign will receive adequate funds. The Government will not provide the funds needed for cancer research. In this country, we rely on charity to deal with the serious aspects of society. When it comes to such matters as defence, there is no such thing as charity appeals or flag days —[interruption] I understand what you are indicating to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    There was an occasion when I walked round the corner and was faced with the terrible dilemma of seeing a £1 coin embedded in a dog turd. I was left with a problem. There was a natural, primitive, capitalist, acquisitive instinct and a need for hygiene. As it happened on that occasion, hygiene won. But I managed to find a small boy who, for a crack of 50p, was prepared to retrieve the coin. He washed his hands in my house, and we put the money in the cancer box.

    We know that 4,000 stray dogs are registered every week. That is appalling. We talk about being a nation of dog lovers. We are actually a nation of dog killers. Hon Members on both sides of the House will find that appalling. At any given moment, there are 500,000 stray dogs on British streets. About 200 stray dogs are destroyed every week. We are coming up to the Christmas period. Parents will be buying presents for their children. Unfortunately, regrettably, lamentably, many parents will buy puppies as pets for their children.

    Hon. Members who represent constituencies outside London, particularly constituencies with motorways going through them, know that I speak the truth when I say that dogs are literally thrown out of cars on motorways. They are abandoned at the side of motorways. That is a tragedy, and it should make us all feel ashamed.

    We cannot just walk away from the problem. We cannot just say that, because people fail to pay the licence fee, we should abandon it. We should establish a properly funded dog warden scheme that is paid for by the licence fees that are paid by responsible dog owners. The new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) would bring in only a fraction of the annual costs of keeping a dog. Therefore, no responsible dog owner would refuse to pay the licence fee. It would enable us to fund a proper dog warden scheme. Therefore, I ask all hon. Members to support the new clause.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) demonstrated the paucity of the anti-licence argument when he described stray dogs as an urban problem. If they are an urban problem, why is the NFU so opposed to abolition? I gently suggest to him that any hon. Member who has had the sad opportunity to see a flock of sheep being savaged by a wild dog knows that strays are not simply an urban problem.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) touched on the possible rabies problem. Hon. Members who were present in the Chamber late last night heard my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) give perhaps one of the most moving pieces of personal testimony that the House has heard for a long time. He described how his own child was affected by a parasite that was picked up from dog mess and, as a result, is now blind in one eye.

    It is a problem of control. The Government appear to recognise that fact. In their Green Paper, they said that they had carefully weighed the arguments, that the principal aim of abolition should be to promote responsible dog ownership, and that abolition would not best serve that purpose. In the words of the National Farmers Union, choosing abolition would be to throw away the means of financing proper dog control, the obvious way of tracing the owner of a stray, the potential deterrent to casual purchases, and, indeed, all hope of improvement in dog control in the future.

    The legislation envisaged by the Government would provide for registration schemes to include mandatory fee exemptions for guide dogs for the blind and working sheep dogs and discretionary exemptions and part-exemptions for other categories such as dogs owned by the elderly. Were that legislation being proposed by the Government, I and, I suspect, most of my colleagues and many Opposition Members would support it.

    The new clause porposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) will have my support. Opposition Members were kind enough in Committee to give me their support when I invited my hon. and learned Friend the Minister to put forward his own proposals. I do not support all aspects of the proposed new clause. The exemptions are too wide and I am not certain that allocating all the revenue solely to a dog warden service is the right priority. I firmly believe that the prerequisite of any dog control system must be an efficient registration scheme. When we raised the matter in Committee, my hon. and learned Friend said:
    "It is already a legal requirement that a dog should wear a collar with a plate or disc showing the owner's name or address while on a highway or in a public place… … There is provision for local authorities to make byelaws relating to the fouling of pavements and grass verges and to ban dogs from certain beaches and parks. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is also prepared to approve byelaws requiring the person in charge of a dog to clear up the mess deposited by the dog in certain places — the so-called poop-scoop byelaw …Roads on which dogs must be kept on leads can be designated. None of those provisions is dependent on licensing.
    Again, there is comprehensive legislation to afford the farmer protection under which he can gain redress from the keeper of the dog and, indeed, if it is the only way to stop an attack, as a defence, he may shoot the dog. Again I stress that that is entirely independent of licensing."
    In Committee, I challenged my hon. and learned Friend. Every one of the regulations that are presently available is dependent upon identification of a dog. Without an efficient registration system, it is not possible to identify an animal, and it is therefore not possible to bring a successful prosecution. I put that point in Committee. My hon. and learned Friend, who has established in this House a reputation for intelligence, courtesy, and, particularly, for precision, said:
    "I do not entirely accept that". [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 December 1987; c. 1196.]
    If my hon. and learned Friend does not entirely accept that, being the precise gentleman that he is, I suggest that, by implication, he must accept part of it. The laws and byelaws upon which the abolitionist case has rested are worthless without a proper means of registration. Many reputable organisations have been named. They are wholly opposed to abolition. Apparently, only one organisation is in favour of abolition, and that is PRO Dogs. Speaking on its behalf last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said that licensing was not necessary and that, to control dogs, we need "identification and fines."

    How does one identify an animal and the owner of an animal without a registration system? The British Veterinary Association, the National Farmers Union, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals favour a licensing scheme. The latter society is particularly relevant. In a letter which I suspect that most hon. Members will have seen, its director stated:
    "so far the new licensing scheme"—
    which this Government introduced in 1983—
    "has been a great success. Not only are dogs being looked after better now, but far fewer are suffering from the actions of irresponsible and uncaring owners. I personally"—
    this is, the director of the Ulster society—
    "feel that the changing attitude towards dogs in this country is very, very encouraging."
    5.30 pm

    In support of that sentiment, the National Farmers' Union says that it would like to see
    "the extension to the rest of the United Kingdom of the véry welcome and successful measures which the Government introduced in 1982–83 to control dogs in Northern Ireland, including a licence fee of £5.… We do earnestly believe that the Government has made the wrong decision on this matter and would urge you to assist in seeking a change of mind."
    That is what the NFU has written to many hon. Members, including members of the Standing Committee.

    It was made plain in Committee that at this stage the Government have no desire to change their mind. There is a growing and very responsible body of opinion that believes that registration is not only necessary but possible. Tattooing has been mentioned. The British Veterinary Association has given a clear undertaking that its members could carry out painlessly the tattoing registration process and supply the necessary documentation to a central register, be it controlled by Government bureacracy or, as I would prefer, by the BVA itself or the Kennel Club.

    The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) thought that the fee proposed in the new clause was too high. In the context of the £200 to £300 that it costs to keep a dog properly fed and in receipt of proper veterinary care an additional £10 licence fee is not a great deal to pay in return for the service that would be provided by registration. Considerable distress is caused to even the most responsible of dog owners whose animals go astray. Dogs go after bitches in heat and the families live in considerable anxiety, often for some time, not knowing where the dog is, although it may be in safe care but unidentified. Registration would be a control factor and would also be of considerable value to dog owners. That is recognised by dog owners, of whom I am one.

    I said in Committee that I would table a new clause. I studied carefully the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Perry Barr. As I have said, I do not believe that it is perfect, but it is worthy of support from both sides of the House. This is not a party political matter. The new clause has sufficient meat in it to enable my hon. and learned Friend to think again and come back with suitable amendments. I hope that in another place the noble Lords will consider what has been said in this debate and in Committee and will introduce the necessary amendments. I look forward to supporting those Lords amendments when they come to this House.

    This has been an extremely interesting debate. The House has benefited particularly from the historical perspectives that were brought to our consideration of the issues by my hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) and for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who gave us the benefit of their experience, drew to the attention of the House the shifting sands of the different policies that Governments and Oppositions of both political parties have adopted on the matter in the past, and spoke of some of the surprises that they encountered when they first took on their responsibilities.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, who has explained why he cannot be with us, was a little unfair when he said that the Government were guilty of the same sin as the Labour Government in their consideration of the matter. He reminded the House that he, from the Opposition Benches, had espoused a policy similar to that espoused by the Opposition during our deliberations yesterday and today, but the Government then had refused to take action. That accusation cannot be levelled against this Government. We have decided to take action. We have decided to do away once and for all with the nonsense of the existing system, which has not found any friend on either side of the House during the debate. It is true, of course, that we have not achieved unanimous support for the action that we propose, but one cannot have everything.

    There is far from being unanimity amongst our critics. In Committee there were at least four different proposals as to what the Government should do. I judge that during the debate almost as many alternatives have been advanced as there have been hon. Members who have spoken. We have heard proposals for a national system, a "Swansea for dogs", as it was aptly described by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden). The Opposition propose a system under which local authorities would be free to determine the licence fee within prescribed limits. We have had the idea of local schemes, with a nationally determined licence fee, index-linked. We have also heard about what was described as a simple system, with licences and tags on sale in corner shops and post offices.

    None of those proposals addresses two fundamental points. The first, which is crucial to consideration of the issue, is that we do not need a licensing system to have an effective body of law covering the control and welfare of dogs. I shall not weary the House by listing again the various elements that exist in the present law. Indeed, a large number of them were put before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), to whose persistence and diligence in the pursuit of his campaign I pay tribute. None of the extensive range of legislation in existence, and none of the need for action to be taken, depends in any way upon licensing.

    Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that if the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) were brought into operation, with the exemptions that it allows, approximately one third of dogs would not need a licence? Therefore, the whole basis of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve would fail. What we need is an effective identification scheme, not a licensing scheme.

    My hon. Friend's estimate sounds reasonable, but I cannot confirm it precisely. His point is accurate. Of course, there is an identification scheme in the law as it stands. Under the Control of Dogs Order 1930 a dog must wear a collar with a plate or disc attached, bearing the owner's name and address, when it is on a highway or in a public place. The penalty for noncompliance is a fine of up to £2,000. So the law is there. What no one has yet been able to establish during the debate is why a different law, designed to achieve the same objective, will be any more effective.

    I do not understand. The Minister has said that if a dog in a public place does not have the necessary identification, a fine of £2,000 is applicable. If the dog does not have any means of identification, how can the law be enforced?

    The hon. Gentleman, with his customary shrewdness, has identified a difficulty in enforcing the present law. It is not a difficulty that is unique to the present law. That difficulty would be unique to any system of registration and licensing. If a dog that was found did not carry any means of identification, the very same difficulty that the hon. Gentleman has so shrewdly identified would arise, regardless of the system in force.

    Does the Minister accept that if resources are available it is likely that fewer dogs will be left unregistered and that the consequential activities could be carried out more effectively? If no money is derived from a licence, no such resources will be available.

    I believe that that is a highly optimistic assessment. It is unrealistic to suppose that the resources that would become available—especially as a result of the new clause tabled by the Opposition, and subject to the limits that were pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown — would he anything like sufficient to provide an effective system along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

    I do not accept that estimate. One must bear in mind the limitations described by my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown.

    I do not believe that the hon. Member for Birmingham Perry Barr, (Mr. Rooker) understood the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown.

    Local authorities are free to appoint dog wardens, and many of them do so. I am happy to confirm the undertaking that I gave in Committee. In fact, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) did not get it right when he reported it to the House this afternoon. I did not undertake to take powers away from the police and give them to local authorities. I gave an undertaking to consider giving local authorities additional powers parallel to those that the police presently hold. We are considering that undertaking, and if we come to the conclusion that that would be a sensible thing to do we shall take the appropriate steps in another place.

    If we consider the examples that were given by the hon. Member for Perry Barr during the debate yesterday evening, we can appreciate that the system that he has advocated would not get to grips with the problem. The House will recall that the hon. Gentleman gave us a vivid example of the postman who, having been bitten, had to return to the house to deliver a letter of complaint to the householder. In those circumstances, there was no difficulty in identifying the owner of the dog. I fail to see how things are improved if, in addition to having to return to the house to deliver a letter of complaint from the head postmaster, the postman has to make another visit, either before or after the incident—indeed, it may provoke a further incident—to deliver the licence.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) described, with an emotion that was more moving for its restraint, the effect on his child of toxicariasis. No one would seek to underestimate the significance of that disease, which causes about. 50 cases of eye damage every year. The risks can be reduced by regular wormings of dogs and the exclusion of clogs from children's play areas. Local authorities have the power to impose such a ban. Here again, the problem is not affected by the existence of a licence.

    The second fundamental point that the alternative proposals fail to address is enforceability and the consequence of a large increase in the licence fee. We can reasonably assume that the responsible and caring owner would buy a licence. However, it is by no means certain, to put it mildly, that there would be a significant effect on the irresponsible and careless owner. Presently, that latter group do not pay a fee of 37p, and it seems rather optimistic to suppose that they would more likely to pay a fee of £10 or £20. That assumption is at the heart of the various new clauses that have been tabled.

    With respect to my hon. and learned Friend, he must decide whether he is the chicken or the egg with regard to this argument. If a scheme is set up on the grounds advocated by the Opposition Front Bench there will be the necessary resources to pay for a system of dog wardens. That system of dog wardens would enforce registration, licensing and the collection of the fees. Therefore, the money would be available to ensure that those who do not pay the licence fee would be required to do so in the future.

    5.45 pm

    I can only return to the answer that I gave earlier. I believe that it is wildly optimistic to suppose that the dog wardens who might be appointed in the circumstances that we are presently discussing would be able to clean up the dog mess, which has proved so tantalising to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), deal with dangerous dogs, which have bitten postmen and others, deal with stray dogs, and deal with those owners who do not license their dogs.

    The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey referred to Northern Ireland, but I believe that experience in the Province has demonstrated that the licensing fee has not had any significant effect on the number of stray dogs that have been found and impounded. The experience in Northern Ireland does not support the argument.

    I know that my hon. and learned Friend is defending a prepared position, but before he reaches any conclusion about what measures to introduce in another place will he consider the scheme that is employed in the Medway towns? My hon. and learned Friend said that the dog wardens would be unable to cure all the ills and problems, but in those towns, which have an effective system of dog wardens, those problems have been resolved. It can be done.

    If such problems can be resolved in the Medway towns without the imposition of a licence, I do not see why they cannot be resolved elsewhere without such a licence.

    The local authorities are perfectly capable of dealing with the matter. If they have the necessary money as a result of economy in other areas—this is the case with councils in the Medway towns and there is no reason why councils elsewhere should not practice similar economies — they can use such available resources as are considered appropriate by their residents and voters to deal with that problem.

    Does the Minister believe that the objectives for which he has expressed support and which are commonly supported by the House—cleaning up dog mess, rescuing strays and the advancement of animal welfare—would be more, or less, likely to be advanced by the collection of £10 per dog? That collected sum could be £40 million. Are the objectives more, or less, likely to be advantaged by that available money?

    That is not by any means the only question, because a question of fairness enters into this matter. The real question is whether the burden of paying for the necessary measures to deal with the problems should rest upon all ratepayers or community charge payers in an area, or simply upon those dog owners who are responsible enough to pay and who therefore shoulder the burden that those dog owners who are sufficiently irresponsible not to pay are not prepared to shoulder.

    I have given way twice to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey and I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North.

    A few moments ago, in response to a sedentary intervention, my hon. and learned Friend referred to the situation in Northern Ireland and suggested that there had been virtually no reduction in the number of strays. I am certain that my hon. and learned Friend would not wish to mislead the House. Therefore, he should consider what the director of the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said:

    "In the years following the new legislation in Northern Ireland, the number of dogs licensed increased by almost 60 per cent. over the years immediately preceding the changeover. Significantly, the number of dogs destroyed has also decreased considerably.
    There are generally far fewer strays roaming the streets". Is my hon. Friend saying that the director of the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is wrong?

    I am saying that the information available to my hon. Friend is different from that with which I have been supplied, so I cannot take that aspect of the matter further. What happened in Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North will know, is that, when the working party was set up in 1976, it examined various matters and came to the conclusion that there was a particular problem in Northern Ireland which was much more serious than that which existed in the rest of the United Kingdom, so special measures had to be taken there.

    It is easy to identify, to wax eloquent upon and to be extremely witty and amusing about the various aspects of nuisance which have been, and are caused by, dogs in this country. That has played a prominent part in the speech of every hon. Member who has taken part in this debate, but it is not really the issue before the House, which is: given that local authorities have powers to deal with this matter and that we are prepared to consider extending those powers, should the resources that may be necessary to deal with it be provided by all the people of the area concerned, or by responsible dog owners, who are at present a minority of dog owners? There is no great positive basis for supposing that the number of people who would take out a licence if the fee were increased would increase. I invite the House to take the view that this would be an undue burden to place on responsible dog owners, which is why I ask the House to reject the new clause.

    The Minister's response at the end of his speech was interesting. He rehearsed the argument about whether dog owners should fund the dog warden scheme, and contradicted the whole thrust of the Government's view on introducing charges for services — that those who use a service should pay for it. That argument is implicit in the Opposition's new clause, yet on this occasion the Government are rejecting it. So they are contradicting their stance on other matters.

    There is no requirement for the whole dog warden service to be funded by the licence. The new clause states that the money raised
    "shall be allocated by the authority to the funding of a dog warden service".
    The point is that all the money from the licence must be used for funding the dog warden service, which does not stop a local authority adding to that money from its own resources. We would not want money from the dog licence to be used on other local authority services if there was no adequate dog warden scheme. I have made the point, as has every hon. Member on both sides of the House who has supported the new clause, that having a licence will not of itself solve the problem. The discussion has been about how to obtain the resources to assist in solving what is, by common consent, a major problem.

    I accept that—with the exclusions—we would not obtain, say, £10 per dog for the 6 million dogs in this country. We are not looking for £60 million. About 2 million dogs might be excluded, which would yield £40 million. If half the dog owners pay the licence, we will end up with £20 million. That is a lot more than the £900,000 that we get from today's dog licence, which represents a negative cost because one has to pay £3·5 million to collect it.

    The Minister put the curious argument that an increase in the cost of a dog licence would not affect those who evade payment. The Government never use that argument against increasing the television licence fee. I have never heard them argue that the television licence fee cannot be increased because that will not encourage people to pay the licence. It is absurd.

    That is right. This is an area in which the Government have abdicated their responsibilities. The Minister's speech showed that. He admitted that the Government had no answer. He tried to come up with an answer — that dogs will still require collars in public places under the law, and that failure to wear them will attract a fine. So the next time we find dogs in public places, we will tell them that they are not supposed to be there without collars, or they will be subject to fines. It would be better if the dog warden took the dogs in hand, being funded to do so by those who paid the licence.

    The new clause is not a perfect solution. I said in Committee that we should return to the matter on Report so that the House could make the decision. When the Opposition propose what is, by any stretch of the imagination, a substantial increase in taxation, it is an unwise Government who do not accept that gift and realise that they can, perhaps, obtain something from it. However, that is the Government's problem.

    I do not accept the Minister's argument—I have said this before, and I shall keep on saying it—that there is justification in having a dog warden scheme that is wholly funded by the poll tax. That will be the result if the dog licence is abolished. I hope that the other place will examine the matter and give us another opportunity to debate it.

    Having or not having a dog licence, at whatever cost, is not by any means a central plank of Government economic policy. The seriousness of the problem caused by dogs, which was illustrated last night and earlier today, has warranted a few hours' discussion. The House has spent fewer than three hours on the issue, and all that time has been warranted. What is not warranted and will not be understood by the public is the fact that we must have a whipped vote. I sincerely believe that if there were a free vote and the House could decide this matter, we would vote to impose a dog licence of some sort to run a dog warden scheme of some sort, and I should he delighted at that.

    I invite Conservative Members to join us. This is not an issue on which the Government will fall; it is not a matter of confidence. It is not like the poll tax; it is not a massive issue that will cause trouble with the Whips. I ask Conservative Members for once to do something to benefit their constituents. The new clause is not perfect, but it will force the Government to re-examine the issue in another place.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 229, Noes 286.

    Division No. 113]

    [5.55 pm

    AYES

    Abbott, Ms DianeEastham, Ken
    Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Evans, John (St Helens N)
    Allen, GrahamEwing, Harry (Falkirk E)
    Alton, DavidEwing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
    Anderson, DonaldFatchett, Derek
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterFearn, Ronald
    Armstrong, Ms HilaryField, Frank (Birkenhead)
    Ashdown, PaddyFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
    Ashton, JoeFlannery, Martin
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Flynn, Paul
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Fookes, Miss Janet
    Barron, KevinFoot, Rt Hon Michael
    Battle, JohnFoster, Derek
    Beckett, MargaretFraser, John
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyFyfe, Mrs Maria
    Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Galbraith, Samuel
    Bermingham, GeraldGale, Roger
    Blair, TonyGalloway, George
    Boateng, PaulGarrett, John (Norwich South)
    Bowis, JohnGarrett, Ted (Wallsend)
    Boyes, RolandGeorge, Bruce
    Bradley, KeithGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
    Bray, Dr JeremyGodman, Dr Norman A.
    Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Gordon, Ms Mildred
    Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Gould, Bryan
    Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
    Buchan, NormanGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
    Buckley, GeorgeGrocott, Bruce
    Caborn, RichardHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
    Callaghan, JimHarman, Ms Harriet
    Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
    Campbell-Savours, D. N.Haynes, Frank
    Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Healey, Rt Hon Denis
    Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Heffer, Eric S.
    Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Henderson, Douglas
    Clay, BobHinchlifle, David
    Clelland, DavidHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
    Clwyd, Mrs AnnHome Robertson, John
    Cohen, HarryHood, James
    Coleman, DonaldHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
    Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
    Corbett, RobinHowells, Geraint
    Corbyn, JeremyHoyle, Doug
    Cousins, JimHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
    Cox, TomHughes, Roy (Newport E)
    Cryer, BobHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
    Cummings, J.Hughes, Simon (Southward)
    Cunliffe, LawrenceIllsley, Eric
    Cunningham, Dr JohnIngram, Adam
    Dalyell, TarnIrving, Charles
    Darling, AlastairJanner, Greville
    Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)John, Brynmor
    Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
    Dewar, DonaldJones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
    Dixon, DonJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
    Dobson, FrankKennedy, Charles
    Doran, FrankKilfedder, James
    Dover, DenKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
    Dunnachie, JamesKirkwood, Archy
    Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethLambie, David
    Eadie, AlexanderLamond, James

    Leighton, RonRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
    Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)Reid, John
    Lewis, TerryRichardson, Ms Jo
    Litherland, RobertRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
    Livingstone, KenRobinson, Geoffrey
    Livsey, RichardRogers, Allan
    Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Rooker, Jeff
    Lofthouse, GeoffreyRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
    Loyden, EddieRossi, Sir Hugh
    McAllion, JohnRowlands, Ted
    McCartney, IanRuddock, Ms Joan
    Macdonald, CalumSedgemore, Brian
    McFall, JohnSheerman, Barry
    McKay, Allen (Penistone)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
    McKelvey, WilliamShore, Rt Hon Peter
    McLeish, HenryShort, Clare
    McTaggart, BobSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
    Madden, MaxSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
    Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
    Marek, Dr JohnSnape, Peter
    Marlow, TonySoley, Clive
    Marshall, David (Shettleston)Spearing, Nigel
    Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Steel, Rt Hon David
    Martin, Michael (Springburn)Steinberg, Gerald
    Martlew, EricStott, Roger
    Maxton, JohnStrang, Gavin
    Meacher, MichaelStraw, Jack
    Meale, AlanTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
    Michael, AlunTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Thomas, Dafydd Elis
    Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
    Millan, Rt Hon BruceTurner, Dennis
    Moonie, Dr LewisVaz, Keith
    Morgan, RhodriWall, Pat
    Morley, ElliottWallace, James
    Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)Walley, Ms Joan
    Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)Warden, Gareth (Gower)
    Mowlam, Mrs MarjorieWareing, Robert N.
    Mullin, ChrisWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
    Murphy, PaulWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
    Nellist, DaveWiggin, Jerry
    Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWigley, Dafydd
    O'Brien, WilliamWilliams, Rt Hon A. J.
    O'Neill, MartinWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
    Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWilson, Brian
    Parry, RobertWinnick, David
    Patchett, TerryWinterton, Mrs Ann
    Pendry, TomWise, Mrs Audrey
    Pike, PeterWorthington, Anthony
    Prescott, JohnWray, James
    Primarolo, Ms DawnYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    Quin, Ms Joyce
    Radice, GilesTellers for the Ayes:
    Raffan, KeithMr. Ray Powell and
    Randall, StuartMrs. Llin Golding.
    Redmond, Martin

    NOES

    Adley, RobertBevan, David Gilroy
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBiffen, Rt Hon John
    Allason, RupertBlackburn, Dr John G.
    Amess, DavidBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
    Amos, AlanBody, Sir Richard
    Arbuthnot, JamesBonsor, Sir Nicholas
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Boswell, Tim
    Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bottomley, Peter
    Ashby, DavidBottomley, Mrs Virginia
    Aspinwall, JackBowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
    Atkins, RobertBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
    Atkinson, DavidBoyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Brandon-Bravo, Martin
    Baldry, TonyBrazier, Julian
    Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's
    Batiste, SpencerBruce, Ian (Dorset South)
    Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
    Bellingham, HenryBudgen, Nicholas
    Bendall, VivianBurns, Simon
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Burt, Alistair
    Benyon, W.Butler, Chris

    Butterfill, JohnHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
    Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
    Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
    Carrington, MatthewHunt, David (Wirral W)
    Carttiss, MichaelHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
    Cash, WilliamHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulIrvine, Michael
    Chapman, SydneyJack, Michael
    Chope, ChristopherJackson, Robert
    Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Janman, Timothy
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Jessel, Toby
    Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
    Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
    Colvin, MichaelJones, Robert B (Herts W)
    Conway, DerekKey, Robert
    Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
    Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Kirkhope, Timothy
    Cope, JohnKnapman, Roger
    Cormack, PatrickKnight, Greg (Derby North)
    Couchman, JamesKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
    Cran, JamesKnowles, Michael
    Critchley, JulianKnox, David
    Currie, Mrs EdwinaLamont, Rt Hon Norman
    Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Lang, Ian
    Davis, David (Boothferry)Latham, Michael
    Day, StephenLawrence, Ivan
    Dicks, TerryLee, John (Pendle)
    Dorrell, StephenLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
    Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
    Dunn, BobLightbown, David
    Durant, TonyLilley, Peter
    Eggar, TimLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
    Emery, Sir PeterLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
    Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Lord, Michael
    Fallon, MichaelLuce, Rt Hon Richard
    Farr, Sir JohnMacfarlane, Neil
    Fenner, Dame PeggyMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
    Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMaclean, David
    Forman, NigelMcLoughlin, Patrick
    Forth, EricMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
    Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
    Fox, Sir MarcusMajor, Rt Hon John
    Freeman, RogerMalins, Humfrey
    French, DouglasMans, Keith
    Fry, PeterMaples, John
    Gardiner, GeorgeMarland, Paul
    Gill, ChristopherMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
    Glyn, Dr AlanMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
    Goodhart, Sir PhilipMaude, Hon Francis
    Goodlad, AlastairMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
    Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMellor, David
    Gow, IanMiller, Hal
    Gower, Sir RaymondMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
    Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Monro, Sir Hector
    Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Montgomery, Sir Fergus
    Greenway, John (Rydale)Morris, M (N'hampton S)
    Gregory, ConalMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
    Grist, IanMoss, Malcolm
    Ground, PatrickMoynihan, Hon C.
    Grylls, MichaelMudd, David
    Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Neale, Gerrard
    Hampson, Dr KeithNelson, Anthony
    Hanley, JeremyNeubert, Michael
    Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Newton, Tony
    Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Nicholls, Patrick
    Harris, DavidNicholson, David (Taunton)
    Hawkins, ChristopherNicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
    Hayes, JerryOnslow, Cranley
    Hayward, RobertOppenheim, Phillip
    Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPage, Richard
    Heddle, JohnPaice, James
    Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Patnick, Irvine
    Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Patten, Chris (Bath)
    Hill, JamesPawsey, James
    Hind, KennethPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
    Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
    Holt, RichardPorter, David (Waveney)
    Hordern, Sir PeterPortillo, Michael
    Howard, MichaelPowell, William (Corby)
    Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Price, Sir David

    Raison, Rt Hon TimothySumberg, David
    Rathbone, TimSummerson, Hugo
    Redwood, JohnTapsell, Sir Peter
    Renton, TimTaylor, Ian (Esher)
    Rhodes James, RobertTaylor, John M (Solihull)
    Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
    Riddick, GrahamTemple-Morris, Peter
    Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
    Ridsdale, Sir JulianThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmThornton, Malcolm
    Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Thurnham, Peter
    Roe, Mrs MarionTownend, John (Bridlington)
    Rost, PeterTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
    Rowe, AndrewTracey, Richard
    Rumbold, Mrs AngelaTredinnick, David
    Ryder, RichardTrotter, Neville
    Sackville, Hon TomTwinn, Dr Ian
    Sainsbury, Hon TimWaddington, Rt Hon David
    Scott, NicholasWakeham, Rt Hon John
    Shaw, David (Dover)Waldegrave, Hon William
    Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Walden, George
    Shelton, William (Streatham)Walker, Bill (T'side North)
    Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Waller, Gary
    Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Walters, Dennis
    Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Ward, John
    Shersby, MichaelWardle, C. (Bexhill)
    Sims, RogerWarren, Kenneth
    Skeet, Sir TrevorWatts, John
    Skinner, DennisWells, Bowen
    Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Wheeler, John
    Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Whitney, Ray
    Soames, Hon NicholasWiddecombe, Miss Ann
    Speller, TonyWilshire, David
    Spicer, Jim (Dorset VI)Wolfson, Mark
    Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wood, Timothy
    Squire, RobinWoodcock, Mike
    Stanbrook, IvorYeo, Tim
    Steen, AnthonyYoung, Sir George (Acton)
    Stern, MichaelYounger, Rt Hon George
    Stevens, Lewis
    Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Tellers for the Noes:
    Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)Mr. Robert Boscawen and
    Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnMr. Tristan Garel-Jones.

    Question accordingly negatived.

    New Clause 6

    Contracts Compliance In Relation To Public Supply Or Works Contracts (No 2)

  • `(1) It is the duty of every public authority to which this section applies, in exercising in relation to its public supply or works contracts, any proposed or any subsisting such contract, as the case may be, any function regulated by section 17 to exercise that function with reference to the enforcement of the law by any appropriate agency and the promotion of equality of opportunity in employment.
  • (2) The public authorities to which this section applies are those specified in Schedule 2 to this Act.
  • (3) The contracts whic are public supply or work contracts for the purposes of this section are contracts for the supply of goods or materials, for the supply of services or for the execution of works.
  • (4) A local authority may in pursuance of the functions regulated by this section, have regard to any of the following:—
  • (a) the terms and conditions of employment by contractors of their workers, the arrangements for the training of their workforces, or the employment (in the case of an inner city area or region of high unemployment) of a reasonable percentage of their workforce from among the local unemployed which shall be determined by the authority;
  • (b) the actual or potential membership of contractors of industrial, trade or professional associations, technical guarantee schemes or any other associations or schemes pertaining to their competence to perform the contract;
  • (c) in cooperation with the relevant local employment office, the employment by contractors of disabled people in accordance with the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944.
  • (5) In this section, any term defined in section 17 (8) below shall having the meaning thereby ascribed to it.
  • (6) In this section, 'inner city area' and 'region of high unemployment' shall have the meanings set out by the Secretary of State in regulations.
  • (7) The provisions of sections 17 to 21 shall have effect subject to the provisions of this section.
  • (8) This section shall have effect from the date of Royal Assent.'.—[Dr. Cunningham.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 221, Noes 301.

    Division No. 114]

    [6.11 pm

    AYES

    Abbott, Ms DianeEastham, Ken
    Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Evans, John (St Helens N)
    Allen, GrahamEwing, Harry (Falkirk E)
    Alton, DavidEwing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
    Anderson, DonaldFatchett, Derek
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterFearn, Ronald
    Armstrong, Ms HilaryField, Frank (Birkenhead)
    Ashdown, PaddyFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
    Ashton, JoeFlannery, Martin
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Flynn, Paul
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Foot, Rt Hon Michael
    Barron, KevinFoster, Derek
    Battle, JohnFoulkes, George
    Beckett, MargaretFraser, John
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyFyfe, Mrs Maria
    Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & FTdish)Galbraith, Samuel
    Bermingham, GeraldGalloway, George
    Blair, TonyGarrett, John (Norwich South)
    Boateng, PaulGarrett, Ted (Wallsend)
    Boyes, RolandGeorge, Bruce
    Bradley, KeithGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
    Bray, Dr JeremyGodman, Dr Norman A.
    Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Gordon, Ms Mildred
    Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Gould, Bryan
    Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
    Buchan, NormanGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
    Buckley, GeorgeGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
    Caborn, RichardGrocott, Bruce
    Callaghan, JimHardy, Peter
    Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Harman, Ms Harriet
    Campbell-Savours, D. N.Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
    Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Haynes, Frank
    Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Healey, Rt Hon Denis
    Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Heffer, Eric S.
    Clay, BobHenderson, Douglas
    Clelland, DavidHinchliffe, David
    Clwyd, Mrs AnnHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
    Cohen, HarryHome Robertson, John
    Coleman, DonaldHood, James
    Cook, Robin (Livingston)Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
    Corbett, RobinHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
    Corbyn, JeremyHowells, Geraint
    Cousins, JimHoyle, Doug
    Cox, TomHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
    Cryer, BobHughes, Roy (Newport E)
    Cummings, J.Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
    Cunliffe, LawrenceHughes, Simon (Southwark)
    Cunningham, Dr JohnIllsley, Eric
    Dalyell, TarnIngram, Adam
    Darling, AlastairJanner, Greville
    Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)John, Brynmor
    Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
    Dewar, DonaldJones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
    Dixon, DonJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
    Dobson, FrankKennedy, Charles
    Doran, FrankKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
    Dunnachie, JamesKirkwood, Archy
    Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethLambie, David
    Eadie, AlexanderLamond, James

    Leighton, RonRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
    Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)Reid, John
    Lewis, TerryRichardson, Ms Jo
    Litherland, RobertRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
    Livingstone, KenRobinson, Geoffrey
    Livsey, RichardRogers, Allan
    Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Rooker, Jeff
    Lofthouse, GeoffreyRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
    Loyden, EddieRowlands, Ted
    McAllion, JohnRuddock, Ms Joan
    McCartney, IanSedgemore, Brian
    Macdonald, CalumSheerman, Barry
    McFall, JohnSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
    McKay, Allen (Penistone)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
    McKelvey, WilliamShort, Clare
    McLeish, HenrySkinner, Dennis
    McTaggart, BobSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
    Madden, MaxSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
    Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
    Marek, Dr JohnSnape, Peter
    Marshall, David (Shettleston)Soley, Clive
    Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Spearing, Nigel
    Martin, Michael (Springburn)Steel, Rt Hon David
    Martlew, EricSteinberg, Gerald
    Maxton, JohnStott, Roger
    Meacher, MichaelStrang, Gavin
    Meale, AlanStraw, Jack
    Michael, AlunTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
    Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Thomas, Dafydd Elis
    Millan, Rt Hon BruceThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
    Moonie, Dr LewisTurner, Dennis
    Morgan, RhodriVaz, Keith
    Morley, ElliottWall, Pat
    Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)Wallace, James
    Mowlam, Mrs MarjorieWalley, Ms Joan
    Mullin, ChrisWarden, Gareth (Gower)
    Murphy, PaulWareing, Robert N.
    Nellist, DaveWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
    Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
    O'Brien, WilliamWigley, Dafydd
    O'Neill, MartinWilliams, Rt Hon A. J.
    Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
    Parry, RobertWilson, Brian
    Patchett, TerryWinnick, David
    Pendry, TomWise, Mrs Audrey
    Pike, PeterWorthington, Anthony
    Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Wray, James
    Prescott, JohnYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    Primarolo, Ms Dawn
    Quin, Ms JoyceTellers for the Ayes:
    Radice, GilesMrs. Llin Golding and
    Randall, StuartMr. Frank Cook.
    Redmond, Martin

    NOES

    Adley, RobertBody, Sir Richard
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBonsor, Sir Nicholas
    Allason, RupertBoswell, Tim
    Amess, DavidBottomley, Peter
    Amos, AlanBottomley, Mrs Virginia
    Arbuthnot, JamesBowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
    Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bowis, John
    Ashby, DavidBoyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
    Aspinwall, JackBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
    Atkins, RobertBrandon-Bravo, Martin
    Atkinson, DavidBrazier, Julian
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Bright, Graham
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Brooke, Hon Peter
    Baldry, TonyBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
    Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
    Batiste, SpencerBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
    Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBudgen, Nicholas
    Bendall, VivianBurns, Simon
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Burt, Alistair
    Benyon,W.Butler, Chris
    Bevan, David GilroyButterfill, John
    Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCarlisle, John, (Luton N)
    Blackburn, Dr John G.Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

    Carrington, MatthewHoward, Michael
    Carttiss, MichaelHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
    Cash, WilliamHowarth, G (Cannock & B'wd)
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
    Chapman, SydneyHughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
    Chope, ChristopherHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
    Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Irvine, Michael
    Clark, Sir W (Croydon S)Irving, Charles
    Clarke, Rt Hon K (Rushcliffe)Jack, Michael
    Colvin, MichaelJackson, Robert
    Conway, DerekJanman, Timothy
    Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Jessel, Toby
    Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
    Cope, JohnJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
    Cormack, PatrickJones, Robert B (Herts W)
    Couchman, JamesKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
    Cran, JamesKey, Robert
    Critchley, JulianKilfedder, James
    Currie, Mrs EdwinaKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
    Davies, Q (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Kirkhope, Timothy
    Davis, David (Boothferry)Knapman, Roger
    Day, StephenKnight, Greg (Derby North)
    Devlin, TimKnowles, Michael
    Dicks, TerryKnox, David
    Dorrell, StephenLamont, Rt Hon Norman
    Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLang, Ian
    Dover, DenLatham, Michael
    Dunn, BobLawrence, Ivan
    Durant, TonyLee, John (Pendle)
    Eggar, TimLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
    Emery, Sir PeterLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
    Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Lightbown, David
    Fallon, MichaelLilley, Peter
    Farr, Sir JohnLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
    Fenner, Dame PeggyLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
    Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyLord, Michael
    Fookes, Miss JanetLuce, Rt Hon Richard
    Forman, NigelMacfarlane, Neil
    Forth, EricMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
    Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMaclean, David
    Fox, Sir MarcusMcLoughlin, Patrick
    Freeman, RogerMcNair-Wilson, M (Newbury)
    French, DouglasMcNair-Wilson, P (New Forest)
    Fry, PeterMajor, Rt Hon John
    Gale, RogerMalins, Humfrey
    Gardiner, GeorgeMans, Keith
    Gill, ChristopherMaples John
    Glyn, Dr AlanMarlow, Tony
    Goodhart, Sir PhilipMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
    Goodlad, AlastairMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
    Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMaude, Hon Francis
    Gow, IanMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
    Gower, Sir RaymondMellor, David
    Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Meyer, Sir Anthony
    Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Miller, Hal
    Greenway, John (Rydale)Mills, Iain
    Gregory, ConalMitchell, Andrew (Gedhng)
    Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Monro, Sir Hector
    Grist, IanMontgomery, Sir Fergus
    Grylls, MichaelMorris, M (N'hampton S)
    Hamilton, Hon A (Epsom)Morrison, Hon C (Devizes)
    Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Moss, Malcolm
    Hampson, Dr KeithMoynihan, Hon C
    Hannam, JohnMudd, David
    Hargreaves, A (B'ham H'll Gr')Neale, Gerrard
    Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Nelson, Anthony
    Harris, DavidNeubert, Michael
    Hawkins, ChristopherNewton, Tony
    Hayes, JerryNicholls, Patrick
    Hayward, RobertNicholson, David (Taunton)
    Heathcoat-Amory, DavidNicholson, Miss E (Devon W)
    Heddle, JohnOnslow, Cranley
    Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Oppenheim, Phillip
    Higgins, Rt Hon Terence LPage, Richard
    Hill, JamesPaice, James
    Hind, KennethPatnick, Irvine
    Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Patten, Chris (Bath)
    Holt, RichardPawsey, James
    Hordern, Sir PeterPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth

    Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
    Porter, David (Waveney)Sumberg, David
    Portillo, MichaelSummerson, Hugo
    Powell, William (Corby)Tapsell, Sir Peter
    Price, Sir DavidTaylor, Ian (Esher)
    Raffan, KeithTaylor, John M (Solihull)
    Raison, Rt Hon TimothyTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
    Rathbone, TimTemple-Morris, Peter
    Redwood, JohnThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
    Renton, TimThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Rhodes James, RobertThorne, Neil
    Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonThornton, Malcolm
    Riddick, GrahamThurnham, Peter
    Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasTownend, John (Bridlington)
    Ridsdale, Sir JulianTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
    Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmTracey, Richard
    Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Tredinnick, David
    Roe, Mrs MarionTrotter, Neville
    Rossi, Sir HughTwinn, Dr Ian
    Rost, PeterWaddington, Rt Hon David
    Rowe, AndrewWakeham, Rt Hon John
    Rumbold, Mrs AngelaWaldegrave, Hon William
    Ryder, RichardWalden, George
    Sackville, Hon TomWalker, Bill (T'side North)
    Sainsbury, Hon TimWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
    Scott, NicholasWaller, Gary
    Shaw, David (Dover)Walters, Dennis
    Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Ward, John
    Shelton, William (Streatham)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
    Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Warren, Kenneth
    Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Watts, John
    Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Wells, Bowen
    Shersby, MichaelWheeler, John
    Sims, RogerWhitney, Ray
    Skeet, Sir TrevorWiddecombe, Miss Ann
    Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Wiggin, Jerry
    Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Wilshire, David
    Soames, Hon NicholasWinterton, Mrs Ann
    Speed, KeithWolfson, Mark
    Speller, TonyWood, Timothy
    Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)Woodcock, Mike
    Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Yeo, Tim
    Squire. RobinYoung, Sir George (Acton)
    Stanbrook, IvorYounger, Rt Hon George
    Steen, Anthony
    Stern, MichaelTellers for the Noes:
    Stevens, LewisMr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
    Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Mr. Robert Boscawen.
    Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Clause 1

    Defined Authorities

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
    (Mr. Christopher Chope)

    I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 21, at end insert

    `a parish council, a community council'.
    I expect that many Opposition Members will be concerned that the Government are proposing to impose compulsory competition upon the only level of local government not already covered by the Bill. We are proposing the amendment because not all parish or community councils are any longer the very small-scale operations which people commonly believe them to be. Some large parish councils operate certain services on a similar scale to smaller districts, and could benefit from competition in the same way as other local authorities. For example, the extent of some ground maintenance work undertaken by parish councils can be considerable, including parks, picnic areas and open spaces.

    There would be little logic in obliging a small district to go out to competition for such activities, while not applying the duty to a parish or community council which was in fact operating them on a larger scale. Most parish councils will be unaffected by this provision if the £100,000 de minimis threshold which we have proposed is implemented, as I expect it to be. Even if we are talking about no more than a few dozen councils being affected, the amendment will ensure that there is a common approach to all local authorities. I hope that hon. Members will agree that the amendment is fully justified and will support it.

    The Minister is right: Opposition Members are opposed to the inclusion of parish and community councils in the provisions of the Bill. We consider that parish and community councils are unsuitable for inclusion. As we are opposed to all local athorities and all bodies being included, we are opposed to the inclusion of community and parish councils in competitive tendering, but there are special reasons which apply to community and parish councils.

    We thought that the Government were being logical in leaving such councils out of the provisions of the Bill. We thought that the Government had recognised the bureaucracy that would be imposed on small community and parish councils. Whatever the Minister says about their size, parish and community councils are small compared with most local authorities and district councils. The bureaucracy imposed on local government by the procedure of competitive tendering and the need to submit all the necessary forms to the Secretary of State were such that, in view of the size and the budgets of community and parish councils, we thought that the Government had reasonably decided to leave them out of the legislation, but obviously they were left out as an oversight. The Government are so doctrinaire that they want to include everything, even though it will cost ratepayers more money than it will save.

    Most community councils are either in the north of England or in Scotland; there are few elsewhere. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 defines the function of community councils as follows:
    "In addition to any other purpose which a community council may pursue, the general purpose of a community council shall be to ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authorities for its area, and to public authorities, the views of the community which it represents, in relation to matters for which those authorities are responsible, and to take such action in the interests of that community as appears to it to be expedient and practicable."
    Not many of those functions need to go out to competitive tendering. It is nonsense for the Government to put out to competitive tendering consultation and representation to the local authorities in whose areas the community councils operate.

    The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 provides about the financing of community councils:
    "islands and district councils may make such contribution as they think fit towards the expenses of community councils within their areas, may make loans to those councils, and may, at the request of such community councils, provide them with staff, services, accommodation, furniture, vehicles and equipment, on such terms as to payment or otherwise as may be agreed between the councils concerned."
    In other words, many parish and community councils have no major functions, no revenue-raising powers and no money, but they must still go out to competitive tender. That is nonsense. The Minister is right about the de minimis threshold of £100,000. "De minimis" means that any contract below that threshold does not have to go out to competitive tender because the amount of money that the Government suppose might be saved by competitive tendering—and there are many examples of money being lost through competitive tender—would be less than the bureaucracy of going out to competitive tender. We believe that the threshold is too low. However, 90 per cent. of any function that any parish or community council may have to put out to competitive tender would be below that de minimis level. There is no doubt about that.

    The Government's doctrinaire attitude means that they will not let anybody or anything escape; they must impose their free market philosophy on even the smallest community or parish council, even if that is bureaucratic and will cost the ratepayers more money, just for the sake of making sure that the private sector can take any pickings from community and parish councils. Opposition Members oppose the amendment.

    My hon. Friends and I also oppose the amendment strongly — as do the organisations representing the parish and community councils. They feel aggrieved not least because the Government expressly said—this year—that they would not be included.

    Let me deal with the history of the measure. In the original 1985 Green Paper on competition in the provision of public services, the Government said explicitly that parish and community councils would not be included in the legislation to make competitive tendering compulsory. That statement was repeated in a letter, I think, from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—

    6.30 pm

    The hon. Gentleman confirms that.

    The Minister wrote to the chairman of the National Association of Local Councils in March 1987 to confirm that parish and community councils would be left out of the provisions. The proposals went out in November for consultation. The Government left one week for consultation; the parish and community councils, of which there are 8,500, had one week to consider the matter. The consultations resulted in a mass of objections in principle. Subsequently the Government changed their mind.

    Even more surprising and appalling is the fact that the Government's reason, which was given by an official of the Department of the Environment to an official of the National Association of Local Councils on 10 December —I shall quote it almost verbatim—was that they had not been aware of the extent to which individual parish councils spend substantial sums on activities covered by the Bill. The Department of the Environment, which runs local government in England, and to an extent elsewhere, was not aware of what the parish and community councils were doing.

    The regular refrain is heard from the opposition parties that it is not a good thing that the Government have centralised powers and taken them away from local government. We argue regularly, vociferously, forcefully and, I believe, convincingly that it is impossible for a relatively few officials in Marsham street to know what is going on at county, metropolitan district, London borough and district level — let alone at parish, town and community level. That assertion is explicitly confirmed in the Government's response.

    The first and most substantial argument against the amendment is that the Government are being thoroughly dishonest and are indulging in thoroughly bad practice. They are going against everything that democratic government should be about. They are rushing in at the last moment contrary to their express word, and they deserve to have the book thrown at them, and worse.

    We always try to anticipate what Ministers will say. The Minister may say, "If we are to include district, borough and county councils, it is illogical not to include parish and community councils." That is one argument. However, the Government are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I am advised that 70 out of 8,500 parish councils provide services costing more than the 100,000 de minimis sum to which the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) referred. The argument may come back, "If there are only 70 councils in that category, why worry?" There are many reasons for worry and I shall address them now.

    First, the Government's real motivation may not be that it is not logical to exclude parish and community councils. The real motivation may have arisen from the consultations on sports and leisure facilities, which revealed, as they were bound to reveal, that many parish and community councils have parish, village or community halls which could fall within the provisions on competitive tendering.

    My second point is an important one and I should be grateful if the Minister would go further than he did in Committee. We do not yet know the exact nature of the relative cost-benefit advantage that the Government say requires them to legislate.

    The Minister will remember that in Committee Ministers commented a couple of times that if the costs to local authorities of complying with competitive tendering requirements were greater than the benefits that would result, there would be a case for exemptions. Clearly, that was a statement only of outline, because we did not receive any further information on it. Is the Minister yet in a position to say what the exemptions will be? If he is serious in arguing this complete about-turn, I hope that he will say that the Government will grant exemptions in cases in which the cost-benefit is negative or doubtful and that, although in theory and in law parish and community councils are to be brought within the terms of the legislation, the Government propose to exempt them because they can see the strong economic arguments against their inclusion.

    I ask the Minister to repeat the statement that he made in Committee, so that the whole House can hear it, that exemptions will be considered and that the Government support the idea of exemptions if the cost of competitive tendering is less than the benefit. Will he tell us what that will mean in practice? Why have not the Government introduced an amendment to that effect at this stage? Will the Government at least tell us that we shall get such an amendment in the other place and tell us its import?

    The expenditure of parish and community councils on services will very rarely exceed £100,000. In almost every instance it will cost more to put services out to competitive tender—tender specifications will have to be prepared, bids assessed and additional staff employed — than competitive tendering can possibly save. Do the Government accept the assertion that, even when parish and community councils come within the remit because the sums that they spend do not fall below the £100,000 cut-off point, they are ripe for exemption because of that cost-benefit disadvantage?

    There will not be many private companies to do the work of tending open spaces in villages and remote rural communities. The experts will be the employees of the parish and community councils, who know the local area. They will tender for the work and win the contracts. Therefore, the tendering process will be a frightful waste of money. The Government say that they want to reduce the burden of taxation — whether through local government in the form of rates or otherwise, yet they now propose to impose an additional burden on this much-respected, much-loved tier of local government, which for many people is the closest to home.

    The National Association of Local Councils and the Association for Neighbourhood Councils oppose the amendment. I hope that it will be in order, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this debate to continue, if necessary—albeit for a relatively short time—so that we can hear what the Government have to say to justify their complete U-turn on this matter. This is the one provision on which there has been a complete U-turn within a matter of months. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, we can perhaps respond before the end of the debate. Like this lowest and most community-based tier of local government, my hon. Friends and I will strongly oppose the extension of the provision. The Government should be embarrassed to be making this proposal.

    First, let me deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). We are referring to community councils in Wales. If we were not doing so, the hon. Gentleman would have a point because the community councils in England would certainly not come within the scope of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will see that the amendment applies not to Scotland, but only to England and Wales.

    Where does it say that? The amendment states:

    "Page 2, line 21 (Clause 1), at end insert 'a parish council, a community council'."
    It does not say Wales, Scotland or England.

    If the hon. Gentleman looks at clause 1, and particularly at lines 19 and 20 on page 2 of the Bill, he will see that it states:

    "In the application of this Part to England and Wales, `local authority' in subsection (1) above means—".
    The amendment relates to subsection (1) in clause 1. I hope that I have been able to allay the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

    With regard to the points raised by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), it is true that the Government have taken a different opinion following information about the extent to which some parishes are spending on services that are subject to the competitive tendering provisions in the Bill. Many councils have expenditure in excess of £100,000. For example, Swanage had expenditure last year of £657,000. That is a large sum of money. Similarly, Stratford had expenditure in excess of £500,000. Several other authorities have many hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of expenditure. We believe that it is reasonable and logical that the same provisions should apply to those councils as to other district councils.

    Why on earth, then, did the Minister and the Government say explicitly twice this year that they would not apply what they are now going to apply? Did the Government not know what parish and community councils did when they went to consultation and when the Minister wrote to the officer at the National Association of Local Councils? Did the Government have no idea at all about that?

    As the letter of 10 December to which the hon. Gentleman referred makes clear, the Government were not aware of the extent to which individual parish councils are spending quite considerable sums of money on activities covered by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman criticises the Government for not having that information. However, once we received the information, we reached what I hope hon. Members will believe is the logical conclusion—that the provisions of the Bill should be extended to apply to parish councils with larger amounts of expenditure.

    With regard to the hon. Gentleman's point about extending the provisions of the Bill, I must state that village halls, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, do not come within the list of facilities that we have proposed should be covered if we add sport and leisure management to the provisions in the Bill. The proposed exemption of £100,000 has been put forward in a consultation paper on implementation. We did not say that we would amend the Bill generally. However, we said that we would consult about implementation and that is what we are doing now. We are still considering how we should propose implementation for parish councils.

    The Minister neglected to deal with one point. Why was the matter subject to one week's consultation?

    I am not sure of the exact length of time for consultation. My department wrote to the National Association of Local Councils on 6 November and it replied in a letter dated 9 December. The time span is considerably longer than one week. If the National Association of Local Councils had not replied within one week and the Government had said that it was too late and they would not allow any reply to be taken into account, that would have been unreasonable. We waited for more than four weeks for a reply. Having received the letter we considered the arguments in it. Of course, it was not the first time that we had heard those arguments because a number of individual parish councils had responded to our letter of 6 November.

    I am grateful for that reply and at least that is now on the record. The Minister did not say that any council was in favour of the proposal so we are entitled to presume that no local authority responded by saying that it supported the Government's proposal. That would still have been the case had the consultation period been longer or shorter.

    In June this year, when a smaller percentage of the population than ever before voted for the Conservatives, the Government moved rapidly to the Right. They moved rapidly away from supporting local government. They moved to a position where they will be able to interfere more in local government at a lower level. To repeat a metaphor that was used earlier, the Government found themselves "grasping entrails further down". The amendment is evidence of that.

    6.45 pm

    It is a sad day when the Government have to get their maulers on local parish and community government and insist that it must have the morality of Ministers in the Department of the Environment and in 10 Downing street. The local parish and community councils have done a good and well respected job. They resist and oppose the Government's proposal. If the Government insist on arguing for the amendment, I hope that the clause will be rejected in another place.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The House divided: Ayes 276, Noes 200.

    Division No. 115]

    [6.45 pm

    AYES

    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
    Allason, RupertDavis, David (Boothferry)
    Amess, DavidDay, Stephen
    Amos, AlanDevlin, Tim
    Arbuthnot, JamesDicks, Terry
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Dorrell, Stephen
    Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
    Ashby, DavidDover, Den
    Aspinwall, JackDunn, Bob
    Atkins, RobertDurant, Tony
    Atkinson, DavidEmery, Sir Peter
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Fallon, Michael
    Baldry, TonyFarr, Sir John
    Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Fenner, Dame Peggy
    Batiste, SpencerFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
    Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFookes, Miss Janet
    Bendall, VivianForman, Nigel
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Forth, Eric
    Bevan, David GilroyFowler, Rt Hon Norman
    Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFox, Sir Marcus
    Blackburn, Dr John G.Freeman, Roger
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterFrench, Douglas
    Body, Sir RichardFry, Peter
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasGale, Roger
    Boscawen, Hon RobertGardiner, George
    Bos well, TimGill, Christopher
    Bottomley, PeterGlyn, Dr Alan
    Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGoodhart, Sir Philip
    Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
    Bowis, JohnGow, Ian
    Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesGower, Sir Raymond
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinGrant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
    Brazier, JulianGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
    Bright, GrahamGreenway, John (Rydale)
    Brooke, Hon PeterGregory, Conal
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
    Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Grist, Ian
    Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickHamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
    Budgen, NicholasHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
    Burns, SimonHampson, Dr Keith
    Burt, AlistairHanley, Jeremy
    Butler, ChrisHannam, John
    Butterfill, JohnHargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
    Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
    Carrington, MatthewHarris, David
    Carttiss, MichaelHawkins, Christopher
    Cash, WilliamHayes, Jerry
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulHayward, Robert
    Chapman, SydneyHeathcoat-Amory, David
    Chope, ChristopherHeddle, John
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
    Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
    Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hill, James
    Colvin, MichaelHind, Kenneth
    Conway, DerekHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
    Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Holt, Richard
    Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hordern, Sir Peter
    Cormack, PatrickHoward, Michael
    Couchman, JamesHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
    Cran, JamesHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
    Critchley, JulianHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
    Currie, Mrs EdwinaHunt, John (Ravensbourne)

    Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasRenton, Tim
    Irvine, MichaelRhodes James, Robert
    Irving, CharlesRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
    Jack, MichaelRiddick, Graham
    Jackson, RobertRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
    Janman, TimothyRidsdale, Sir Julian
    Jessel, TobyRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
    Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRossi, Sir Hugh
    Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Rost, Peter
    Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Rowe, Andrew
    Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineRumbold, Mrs Angela
    Key, RobertRyder, Richard
    King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Sackville, Hon Tom
    Kirkhope, TimothySainsbury, Hon Tim
    Knapman, RogerScott, Nicholas
    Knight, Greg (Derby North)Shaw, David (Dover)
    Knowles, MichaelShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
    Knox, DavidShelton, William (Streatham)
    Lamont, Rt Hon NormanShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
    Lang, IanShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
    Latham, MichaelShersby, Michael
    Lee, John (Pendle)Sims, Roger
    Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSkeet, Sir Trevor
    Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
    Lightbown, DavidSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
    Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Soames, Hon Nicholas
    Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Speed, Keith
    Luce, Rt Hon RichardSpeller, Tony
    Macfarlane, NeilSpicer, Jim (Dorset W)
    MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
    Maclean, DavidSquire, Robin
    McLoughlin, PatrickStanbrook, Ivor
    McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Steen, Anthony
    McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Stern, Michael
    Malins, HumfreyStevens, Lewis
    Mans, KeithStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
    Maples, JohnStradling Thomas, Sir John
    Marland, PaulSummerson, Hugo
    Marlow, TonyTapsell, Sir Peter
    Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
    Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
    Maude, Hon FrancisTemple-Morris, Peter
    Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Mellor, DavidThornton, Malcolm
    Meyer, Sir AnthonyThurnham, Peter
    Miller, HalTownend, John (Bridlington)
    Mills, IainTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
    Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Tracey, Richard
    Monro, Sir HectorTredinnick, David
    Montgomery, Sir FergusTrotter, Neville
    Morris, M (N'hampton S)Twinn, Dr Ian
    Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Waddington, Rt Hon David
    Moss, MalcolmWakeham, Rt Hon John
    Moynihan, Hon C.Waldegrave, Hon William
    Mudd, DavidWalden, George
    Neale, GerrardWalker, Bill (T'side North)
    Nelson, AnthonyWaller, Gary
    Neubert, MichaelWalters, Dennis
    Nicholson, David (Taunton)Ward, John
    Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
    Onslow, CranleyWarren, Kenneth
    Oppenheim, PhillipWatts, John
    Page, RichardWells, Bowen
    Paice, JamesWheeler, John
    Patnick, IrvineWhitney, Ray
    Patten, Chris (Bath)Widdecombe, Miss Ann
    Pawsey, JamesWiggin, Jerry
    Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWilshire, David
    Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Winterton, Mrs Ann
    Porter, David (Waveney)Wolfson, Mark
    Portillo, MichaelWood, Timothy
    Powell, William (Corby)Woodcock, Mike
    Price, Sir DavidYoung, Sir George (Acton)
    Raffan, Keith
    Raison, Rt Hon TimothyTellers for the Ayes:
    Rathbone, TimMr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
    Redwood, JohnMr. Alan Howarth.

    NOES

    Abbott, Ms DianeHarman, Ms Harriet
    Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Haynes, Frank
    Allen, GrahamHeffer, Eric S,
    Alton, DavidHenderson, Douglas
    Armstrong, Ms HilaryHinchliffe, David
    Ashdown, PaddyHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
    Ashley, Rt Hon JackHome Robertson, John
    Ashton, JoeHowarth, George (Knowsley)
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Hoyle, Doug
    Barron, KevinHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
    Battle, JohnHughes, Roy (Newport E)
    Beckett, MargaretHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
    Beggs, RoyHughes, Simon (Southwark)
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyIllsley, Eric
    Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Ingram, Adam
    Bermingham, GeraldJohn, Brynmor
    Blair, TonyJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
    Boateng, PaulJones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
    Bradley, KeithJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
    Bray, Dr JeremyKennedy, Charles
    Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
    Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Kirkwood, Archy
    Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Lambie, David
    Buchan, NormanLamond, James
    Buckley, GeorgeLeighton, Ron
    Caborn, RichardLestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
    Callaghan, JimLewis, Terry
    Campbell-Savours, D. N.Litherland, Robert
    Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Livingstone, Ken
    Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Livsey, Richard
    Clay, BobLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
    Clelland, DavidLofthouse, Geoffrey
    Clwyd, Mrs AnnLoyden, Eddie
    Cohen, HarryMcAllion, John
    Coleman, DonaldMcAvoy, Tom
    Cook, Robin (Livingston)McCartney, Ian
    Corbett, RobinMacdonald, Calum
    Corbyn, JeremyMcFall, John
    Cousins, JimMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
    Cox, TomMcKelvey, William
    Cryer, BobMcLeish, Henry
    Cunliffe, LawrenceMcTaggart, Bob
    Cunningham, Dr JohnMadden, Max
    Dalyell, TarnMahon, Mrs Alice
    Darling, AlastairMarek, Dr John
    Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
    Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
    Dewar, DonaldMartin, Michael (Springburn)
    Dixon, DonMartlew, Eric
    Dobson, FrankMaxton, John
    Doran, FrankMeacher, Michael
    Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMichael, Alun
    Eadie, AlexanderMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
    Eastham, KenMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
    Evans, John (St Helens N)Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
    Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Moonie, Dr Lewis
    Fatchett, DerekMorgan, Rhodri
    Fearn, RonaldMorley, Elliott
    Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)
    Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie
    Flannery, MartinMullin, Chris
    Flynn, PaulMurphy, Paul
    Foster, DerekNellist, Dave
    Foulkes, GeorgeOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
    Fyfe, Mrs MariaO'Brien, William
    Galbraith, SamuelO'Neill, Martin
    Galloway, GeorgeOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Garrett, John (Norwich South)Parry, Robert
    Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Patchett, Terry
    George, BrucePike, Peter
    Godman, Dr Norman A.Primarolo, Ms Dawn
    Gordon, Ms MildredQuin, Ms Joyce
    Gould, BryanRadice, Giles
    Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Randall, Stuart
    Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Redmond, Martin
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
    Grocott, BruceReid, John
    Hardy, PeterRichardson, Ms Jo

    Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
    Robinson, GeoffreyTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Rogers, AllanThomas, Dafydd Elis
    Rooker, JeffThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
    Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Turner, Dennis
    Rowlands, TedVaz, Keith
    Ruddock, Ms JoanWall, Pat
    Sedgemore, BrianWallace, James
    Sheerman, BarryWalley, Ms Joan
    Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWarden, Gareth (Gower)
    Shore, Rt Hon PeterWareing, Robert N.
    Short, ClareWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
    Skinner, DennisWigley, Dafydd
    Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Williams, Rt Hon A. J.
    Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)Williams, Alan W. (Csrm'then)
    Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)Wilson, Brian
    Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)Winnick, David
    Snape, PeterWise, Mrs Audrey
    Soley, CliveYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    Spearing, Nigel
    Steinberg, GeraldTellers for the Noes:
    Strang, GavinMr. Frank Cook and
    Straw, JackMrs. Llin Golding.

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 26, leave out `islands'.

    With this we may take the following amendments: No. 5, in clause 2, page 3, line 26, at end insert—

    '(7A) Work which would (apart from this subsection) fall within a defined activity shall not do so if it is carried out on or in connection with the carrying out of a defined activity on an island in relation to which the number of persons for the time being registered as being entitled to vote at a local government election by virtue of being resident therein shall be less than 1000.'.
    No. 6, in clause 6, page 5, line 30, at end insert—
    '(6) The Secretary of State may by order provide that a local authority may carry out functional work which falls within a defined activity without the conditions mentioned in subsection (1) above having been fulfilled if it appears to him that the functional work will only be carried out on or in connection with the carrying out of a defined activity on an island situated within an islands area in Scotland.'.

    I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) is acutely concerned about the impact that the legislation is likely to have on the services provided by his local authority for his constituents. No doubt he will be seeking to catch your eye presently, Madam Deputy Speaker.

    The Bill will require local authorities to go through an elaborate set of procedures, designed by the Government to enable private contractors to muscle in on local authority services. It will be a wasteful and harmful exercise in many respects, but it will be downright absurd in its application to remote rural areas, particularly Scotland's three island areas. The islands councils will be required to advertise contracts, invite contractors to submit tenders and maintain a whole range of detailed records of those procedures. For a range of services on the islands it would be a waste of time. There is not the remotest likelihood of more than one contractor offering to do the work, and in many cases no contractor will tender, so the islands council will be compelled to go through procedures laid down in the Bill before continuing to provide the services that it has in the past.

    7 pm

    It might be helpful to give the House one or two illustrations of the sheer idiocy of the Government's proposals for these areas. For example, the Scottish Office proposes to require the Shetland islands council to put its school and welfare catering out to competitive tender by October 1989. That will include the provision of 10 meals a day on the island of Fair Isle, nine on Fetlar, seven on Foula and four on the island of Papa Stour. Does anyone seriously think that a catering contractor will parachute four hot dinners a day on to the island of Papa Stour?

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as Papa Stour does not have a proper landing strip, those meals will have to be parachuted in and that in adverse weather conditions that may be impossible?

    I am worried about the hon. Gentleman's constituents on Papa Stour because they could go hungry for days on end as a consequence of this legislation.

    The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) has an interest in refuse collection. Will Pritchards want to take over the islands' five refuse vehicles that operate in the massive area between Sumburgh Head in the south and the north of Unst in the north? I am glad to see the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield in his place. Will he want to take over the tractors and trailers that serve as refuse collection vehicles on the islands of Bressay, Foula, Fair Isle, the Skerries and Papa Stour?

    The Orkney islands council will apparently have to put its refuse collection service out to competitive tender by April 1989. Interestingly, it has developed a refuse disposal service on some of its smaller islands in partnership with private contractors, without being compelled to do so by this silly legislation. That is how the service has been extended to the 74 households on Eday, 28 households on Flotta, 52 on North Ronaldsay and 39 on Papa Westray.

    Does anyone seriously believe that Pritchards or any other contractor will bid to bring their refuse collection vehicles over from the mainland on ferries to those small islands and communities? I rather doubt that it will.

    As I understand it, Orkney council has private refuse collection on the island of Westray while Skye and Lochalsh district council has contracted out its refuse collection on the island of Raasay and street cleaning at Glenelg. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some small places in Scotland are contracting out services?

    Not only am I aware of that—I mentioned it a moment ago. It is absurd that small contractors operating in those areas are to be confronted with competitive tendering. Does the hon. Gentleman seriously believe that anyone on those small islands will tender for those operations? This legislation does not make sense for the areas that we are considering.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that the natives of Glenelg will be fascinated to hear that its street cleaning arrangements have been the subject of earnest debate in the great mother of Parliaments? Does he agree that, since time immemorial, local authorities have made common-sense arrangements, whether with the public or private sector, and operated in a non-doctrinaire way? The idiocy of this legislation is that it will introduce a doctrinaire factor, and non-political councils in places such as Glenelg or Raasay will be forced to make arrangements that are unsuitable for their needs.

    My hon. Friend has considerable experience in communicating with people in those areas. If we are talking about the same Glenelg, I suspect that it may come as a surprise to its residents that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) thinks that Glenelg is an island. —[Interruption.] It is always a pleasure to have the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) present during these debates.

    I move now to the experiences of the Western Isles islands council following the 1982 legislation on competitive tendering for road maintenance and gritting. I understand that on the island of Barra no contractor was willing to undertake this work. However reliable the Caledonian-MacBrayne ferries may be, I suspect that the people of Barra would not have been too happy about having to wait for a road gritter to come from Oban to clear the ice, so the council still provides that service.

    Private contractors, farmers and similar people in places such as Sheffield, which the hon. Gentleman disparaged, contract out to the council for snow clearing and other services. When we discussed this matter in Committee, I gained the impression that Labour Members were saying that no services in Scotland could be privatised and that firms would not compete. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), who joined the Committee and then left it, said that these proposals were rubbish and typical of the Conservative party and that people in Scotland were not interested, yet my research has revealed that some small services in Scotland are contracted out.

    I do not know how many times I must say this to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman. He served on the Committee and listened to these points being made over and over again. It has been traditional in remote rural areas of Scotland to operate services on a pragmatic basis. Where there are private contractors who can do the job well, they are doing so, and where it is necessary for local authorities to do the job they are doing so. It is absurd to require local authorities to go through the rigmarole of contracting out and advertising when it will not add to the sum total of human knowledge or provision of services.

    The Montgomery committee, which the Government appointed to report on the government of the island areas of Scotland, specifically recommended that legislation should be subject to variation to take account of the special circumstances of island areas. This legislation is obviously not appropriate to the island areas, so why have the Government not paid any heed to the committee's recommendations?

    There is an interesting precedent. In 1984 the Western Isles health board was exempted from a requirement to tender for domestic and catering services because it was considered unrealistic to do so.

    The procedures in this part of the Bill represent a pointless and wasteful bureaucratic imposition on remote local authorities areas. Amendment No. 3 would exempt islands councils altogether; amendment No. 5 would exempt services on all islands with a population of less than 1,000 — I understand that that would cover a number of islands in the Strathclyde and Highland region, in addition to the Western Isles, the Orkney islands and the Shetland islands — and amendment No. 6 would allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain services on certain islands in the islands councils areas. I must confess that I do not have confidence in that degree of rationality on the part of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

    The three amendments make broadly the same point to avoid the most absurd implications of this irrelevant legislation in the island areas of Scotland. I hope that the Minister will at least undertake to give this matter further consideration before the Bill is dealt with in the House of Lords. I hope also that we shall have some sensible legislation for our rural and island areas.

    The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) has forcefully illustrated the nonsense that could result if the Bill were enacted in its present form and applied without exemption to the islands areas of Scotland. As he stated, my amendments are somewhat different, but aim to tackle the same situation. Amendment No. 5 tackles the definition of defined activities and would take out of part I activities that are carried out in islands that have fewer than 1,000 local government electors. That is narrower in detail than the hon. Gentleman's amendment, although wider in that it would cover islands in Strathclyde, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and in the Highland region. However, my amendment would not include the mainlands of Orkney and Shetland.

    I have no doubt that when the Minister replies—it is always useful to try to anticipate his reply—he will refer to the de minimis provisions. As I understand it, £100,000 is to be proposed as the gross sum. One assumes that that will be the gross sum for, for example, the provision of school meals throughout particular local authority areas. Therefore, it would not make allowances for the individual islands that must be served. As the hon. Member for East Lothian pointed out, in the case of the Shetland islands council, a small number of school meals have to be provided for each of a large number of islands. Therefore, it does not make sense to have competitive tender provisions as are now envisaged. The hon. Gentleman thought that the provision of four school meals on Papa Stour was perhaps a record. He overlooked the two pupils in the school of Graemsay on Orkney, which would also have to come under the provisions.

    The hon. Gentleman has missed out the island of Papa Stronsay, which, if I remember rightly, has one person. The main vehicle back and forth in my day used to be the Government boat.

    I know of the hon. Gentleman's native knowledge of my constituency. There is not a school on Papa Stronsay, but I confirm that if it has a population of one it will fall within the definition of amendment No. 5.

    Obviously, we are dealing with services that are widely dispersed but delivered in small volume. In Shetland, although the cost of building cleaning for education and social work is not insignificant, being £450,000 and £250,000 respectively, the cost of the remainder, which is spread over 22 locations, amounts to only £89,500. If the Government do not accept any of the amendments that have been tabled, or any that may be put forward in another place, we will be asked to build up an enormous administration, which would place an enormous burden on the local authorities which prepare the detailed specifications. Inevitably, that administration will be more expensive in island and rural areas, as we must also consider the costs of transport and supervision.

    We are being asked to do something which runs counter to what the Government are trying to achieve in the Bill, which is more efficient local administration. If we are to achieve that, some exceptions must be made. Again I am trying to anticipate arguments, but it could be argued that there should be one detailed specification, which could cover all the work in one islands council area. If that were proposed by the islands councils, I imagine that it would not be long before some contractor or potential tenderer suggested that the councils were making it more difficult for a contractor to put in a tender. Clause 7, after all, refers to
    "the effect of restricting, distorting or preventing competition."
    Amendment No. 6, which relates to clause 6, is of fundamental importance. In some respects it could be argued that it duplicates clause 2(8), which gives a general exempting power to the Secretary of State. Together with the islands councils, to which the hon. Member for East Lothian referred, I am anxious that there should be such a clause because of the recommendations of the committee that sat under the chairmanship of Sir David Montgomery. Although I am sure that the Minister will have heard the recommendations before, I repeat that the committee reported:
    "We conclude that there may be circumstances in which Acts of Parliament should include a provision to allow the Secretary of State to vary their application to the island areas, and we recommend that such provisions should in future be considered in relation to all Scottish legislation at an early stage in its preparation."
    7.15 pm

    The Committee reported in April 1984. We waited a long time for the reply of the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), but in response to that recommendation he stated:
    "I accept recommendation 4, and will consider for future legislation whether it would be appropriate to ask Parliament to approve a power to vary the application of particular provisions in specified areas."
    We are asking that the present Secretary of State practise what his predecessor preached.

    There is a case for treating the island areas differently because of the cost and administrative burden and the possible expansion of the labour force. If a council is, within its administration, to encompass the client as well as the provider of services, the islands authorities feel strongly that an unreasonable burden will be placed on them. When the Minister replies, I shall be grateful if he will advise the House on what consideration has been given to the recommendations of the Montgomery report.

    The power would be permissive. Under my amendment, the islands councils would have to justify the case for each island and each activity. As has already been stated, refuse collection on the six Orkney islands of E day, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Stronsay, Westray and Flotta is already performed privately. In those cases, the local authority maintains that it has used good, sound common sense. The authority has considered each island, its circumstances and the activity or function to be performed and has used common sense. Where it has been appropriate and sensible to use a private operator, it has done so. Where it is far more sensible for the local authority to carry out the function, it has done so. There have not been any ideological barriers to introducing private contractors if that has made sense.

    If the Government do not make any concessions, they will be saying that we should create a huge bureaucracy to achieve what common sense could achieve far more practically. I hope that the Minister will make a constructive response and be prepared to move an amendment, possibly in another place, or at least meet representatives of the island authorities to discuss such matters before the Bill goes to another place.

    As the House is to consider many amendments tonight, I shall try to make my remarks as brief as possible. In this amendment opposition Members do not oppose the general principle of the Bill which, as we understand it, aims to force local authorities to put out to tender various defined activities so that the result is a more cost-effective provision of those activities. However, in amendment No. 3 we seek to raise the question whether that principle can sensibly be applied to an area such as that covered by the islands authorities in Scotland.

    I draw the Government's attention to the fact that the Audit Commission's occasional paper No. 3, published in February 1987, and entitled "Competitiveness and the Contracting out of Local Authorities' Services", stated:
    "the assessment of long-run competitiveness will need to be faced on the facts of the local situation rather than on generalized assertions about the relative advantages of the private sector and direct labour".
    In other words, the Audit Commission emphasised the importance of the local situation in assessing the value of the general principle that the Bill seeks to promote. The importance of the local situation is nowhere more apparent than in the case of the islands authorities.

    The Montgomery report, which has already been mentioned, emphasised the need for a special and specific islands council perspective in local authority matters. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said that that point seemed to be implicitly recognised by the Government in 1984 when they specifically excepted the islands authorities from the provisions of the National Health Service circular in 1983 which required domestic and catering services in the NHS to be put out to tender. That seemed to be an implicit recognition of the unique situation of the islands authorities and of the fact that that principle is not applicable to them.

    The islands authorities are unique because they provide a complete range of local government services for a relatively small population over a relatively large geographical area. My constituency corresponds to the boundaries of the islands' authority for the Western Isles. It has a population of over 30,000 and an area of some 300,000 hectares. To provide the complete range of services for a small population over such a large geographical area, local authorities have developed a unique structure which, above all, emphasises the virtues of integration and flexibility.

    Many of the defined activities contained in the Bill are indistinguishable from other local authority activities. For example, the department of environmental health and consumer protection deals with an entire range of cleansing services — not only the defined activities contained in the Bill, but items such as derelict vehicle disposal, waste disposal, looking after the abattoir at Stornoway, public conveniences, and so on. In doing that, it eliminates lines of demarcation within the department, allowing those various activities to share management supervision, personnel, and even, in some cases, plant and office space. By doing that, it achieves efficiency and low costs across the board. Despite the immense geographical difficulties in providing a service such as cleansing in an area such as the Western Isles, the cost of cleansing per head is one of the lowest in the country; that testifies to the success of the local authority's methods in providing those services.

    What will happen if, as a result of the Bill, artificial divisions are introduced between defined and non-defined activities? As has been pointed out, there will be a loss of administrative efficiency and the introduction of artificial lines of demarcation. If the council, as a result of tendering, lost control over some defined activities, the remaining activities would be less cost-effective because of the fixed costs of plant, buildings, manpower and so on. Costs presently shared between all those activities would then be shared between fewer activities, so that costs per unit of work would increase.

    On the other hand, if the council were successful in the tendering process and the defined activities remained in-house, there would be an even more ridiculous situation. Within the present tightly integrated streamlined structure, internal trading organisations would be set up, with vertical splits and demarcations being created, not only between the defined and other activities, but within the defined activities. The staff involved in the preparation, submission and operation of tenders would have to be separated from the staff in charge of the specification and the appraisal and supervision of contracts. That would lead to a grave loss in efficiency.

    A further loss would be the virtue of flexibility, which presently pertains to the way in which the islands council operates in tackling the specific problems of the area. One problem is not moving workers around from job to job, but rather moving them around a large geographical area. That has been tackled by having great flexibility within the work force so that when problems arise workers can be easily shifted around to tackle them. Such flexibility is of the essence in providing good services in a small, multipurpose authority.

    When those services are in-house, such flexibility is easy because staff who are directly under one command can respond immediately to new instructions to meet new problems and can be redirected. That ease of solving problems would fall by the wayside if the defined activities were contracted out and there would be a much less flexible system. Even small unexpected problems would cause communications problems and larger problems might mean that contracts would have to be renegotiated.

    That highly prized virtue of flexibility within the councils will be lost. For example, the Western Isles council prizes the fact that its repair and maintenance section has sufficient flexibility to respond immediately, particularly in emergencies, and need maintain only a minimum physical fleet. The loss of that flexibility will mean the inevitable increase of its fleet, which, in turn, will lead to higher costs for the local authority.

    Further costs will accrue because, given the present streamlined nature of the islands authorities, drawing up detailed specifications for the proposed defined activities which are to be contracted out will involve the employment of new personnel. They will either have to be hired or perhaps even contracted out. They will give rise to the absurd situation whereby the drawing up of contracts will have to be contracted out simply because the authority runs such an efficient and streamlined ship at present. The supervision of contracts will almost inevitably require more personnel, which will also be inefficient.

    Because of the peculiar circumstances of the islands, the council employs some specialised equipment — a point not mentioned so far — which has been obtained at considerable cost and is intended to suit the particular needs of the islands. One humble example is the rubbish bins in the Western Isles. So many of the households are set so far back from the main road that it would be inefficient for the local authority to take its rubbish trucks up every small private road. Special bins are provided at considerable expense to every householder on the island. They are equipped with wheels so that householders can wheel them down to the main road, thus providing a more efficient collection of rubbish. The system has been highly successful. Other examples of such specialised equipment abound.

    What will happen to such specialised equipment as part of the tendering process? If the council has to dispose of such equipment, it will be a grave financial loss to the ratepayers who have sunk capital into the purchase of that equipment. If it is retained, but ends up being under-utilised because of the tendering process, it will again be a grave loss.

    The final absurdity of imposing the provisions of the Bill on the islands authorities is that it is all likely to be for naught. It is likely to be a mere academic exercise because there are grave doubts about whether suppliers exist within such a confined market to provide the kind of services that are provided by the council.

    After all the administrative work that has gone into the contracting-out process and the costs involved, there will be no change in the provision of services. It will end up being a gigantic waste of money. The islands authorities are in many ways model authorities, even according to the Government's own lights. They are non-political authorities. They have followed Government guidelines year after year. They are cost-efficient and have flexible and integrated work practices. The Bill will impose financial and administrative burdens, without any corresponding rewards, upon the authorities. It will increase their overheads and unit costs and will impair the efficient use of their manpower and physical resources. It will destroy the virtues of flexibility and integration that are so crucial in the islands context and will diminish their ability to deliver quality services.

    I beg the Government, therefore, to listen to the arguments made by the Opposition, to change the Bill before it reaches another place, to follow the precedent set by the Scottish Home and Health Department in 1983, to stop the present nonsense and to exempt the islands authorities.

    7.30 pm

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
    (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

    The hon. Members for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) have argued ably on behalf of their constituents. I wish to speak to three of the amendments, which seek varying degrees of exemption from the competitive process in respect of the islands and Scottish island authorities.

    I am convinced of the need to include all local authorities in the scope of the Bill, including the Scottish islands authorities. The only good reason for any exemption is when the cost of compliance with the competition requirements outweighs the possible benefits from the competitive process. That is, however, the purpose of the de minimis level, which the Scottish consultation paper suggested should be set at £100,000 of expenditure a year on any given service. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned one service which, if I heard him correctly, has been worth £89,500. That would be excluded under the terms of the consultation document.

    I think that the Minister misunderstood me. That figure was for building cleaning. If one excludes educational and social services buildings, the rest, which was spread over 22 locations, was worth £89,500. However, the global sum is far in excess of £100,000,

    If the cost of compliance with competition outweighs the benefits of the competitive process, that will be taken into account. The representations made by hon. Members on behalf of their constituents and those sent in by the islands council will be considered carefully with all the other responses, which are due by 31 January. It is reasonable to stipulate that any service involving expenditure above a given exemption level should be exposed to the competitive process, wherever that service is provided.

    Does the Minister have any estimate of the costs or the manpower burdens to be placed on the islands councils as a consequence of the Bill? Does he accept the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) that this would add extra burdens to the islands councils?

    That is why we put out a consultation document, and we shall weigh with the utmost care every representation sent in. They must be in by 31 January, so there is plenty of time. The facts speak for themselves and they will be considered with great care.

    There is no need for competition to be confined to urban areas and examples can be found in remote parts of the country. Orkney islands council, for example, uses private contractors in the provision of a refuse collection service for its distant islands. The Government are fully aware of the special circumstances in which the islands councils operate, but private enterprise in the islands has to operate in the same circumstances and there is really no case for exemption for the islands authorities alone, on the grounds that it is more difficult or expensive to provide services in remote and isolated areas.

    Are the refuse services in Orkney run by private contractors as a result of competitive tendering? The director of administration and legal services said in a recent letter to me:

    "the council considers all the factors relating to each Island before choosing the best solution for each Island so that the most efficient service is provided to the ratepayers at the most economical cost."
    Was there competitive tendering in the cases to which the hon. Gentleman has referred?

    The direct labour organisation was not considered for refuse collection in the Orkneys. In almost all cases, the exception has been those islands with tiny populations; for example, in North Ronaldsay, which has 14 households, where there were more than two tenderers in the private sector. In each case the private contractor was a local licensed haulage contractor.

    The hon. Member for the Western Isles made a point relating to mainland Orkney rather than to the distant islands. After the reorganisation of local government, the new islands council put its refuse collection out to tender. It advertised nationwide, but there were no suitable applicants and the contract was awarded to the DLO. What the hon. Gentleman said about the matter being academic may turn out to be right, but I give him an assurance that the representations sent in by the islands council will be considered with great care.

    It is the Government's firm view that the opening up of services to competition can bring substantial savings and improvements in the standard of service, but the Government's policy is not enforced privatisation. The legislation will impose fair competition between local authorities' own work forces and the private sector. If an authority, including any of the three island authorities, can provide the best and cheapest service, it should continue to do so, but if the private sector can offer a better deal for the ratepayers and the consumers of the service, the local authorities should choose that option. The crux of the matter — whether the private sector can compete—can be established only by testing the market. Without that test, authorities cannot be sure that their present operation is the best available.

    With regard to amendment No. 5, it does not matter how small the population of any one island is. The purpose of the Bill is to subject those local authority activities defined in the Bill to the competitive process. The proposal is, as I have said, that there is only a case for exemption in respect of any de minimis provision applied to the whole of any local authority's activity. There is no case in support of selective exemption within the authority for specific groups or islands.

    With regard to amendment No. 6, nor is there any need for a power which would enable the Secretary of State to choose not to apply the competitive process to any particular island. This is the point about the Montgomery report. The Secretary of State already has the power under clauses 6(3) and 15(6) to make regulations applying competition to such authorities and with such exceptions as he may determine, and that is quite sufficient. The existence of the power does not mean that competition will not extend to the Scottish islands other than any exemption that they may gain by way of a de minimis provision. I assure Opposition Members that the representations from their constituency councils will be carefully considered.

    The Minister has read that brief before. I do not think that he believed it then, and I do not think that he believes it now. Frankly, it is a load of rubbish. It is absurd to suggest that any useful purpose can be served by going through the competitive tendering exercise for running a tractor and trailer on the island of Papa Stour to clear the refuse from households in that area or to provide the four school meals that are provided every day on the island. I do not think that the Minister believes that nonsense. We recognise that he must go through the exercise to remain part of the ludicrous Government. This proposal is one of the sillier manifestations of the Conservative party's policy.

    I shall not give way.

    We are not satisfied with the Minister's explanation. I should like to hope that the Government will heed the representations that have been made to them by the Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles councils. I have no doubt that the islands councils will clearly explain how irrelevant this proposal is. I cannot say that we have much cause for confidence in the minority administration in the Scottish Office.

    Amendment negatived.

    Clause 2

    Defined Activities

    I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 8, at end insert—

    `( ) Before making an order under subsection (3) above, the Secretary of State shall consult such representatives of local government as appear to him to be appropriate.'.
    Hon. Members will recall that in Committee my hon. Friend undertook to consider whether to bring forward an amendment to put it beyond doubt that the exercise of the power contained in clause 2(3) should be subject to consultation. It was said then that this was already the standard practice of the Department on these matters. Indeed, we have just come to the end of the consultation period on the addition of sport and leisure management, and we are in the process of consulting on phasing in and de minimis levels, and there will be other consultation exercises in connection with this Bill alone—all on a voluntary rather than a statutory basis.

    We have no desire to inflict upon local authorities totally unworkable legislation. We depend upon consultation responses to ensure that our competition proposals are viable in practice. That is the only way in which competition will be really effective and its benefits may be reaped by all.

    The amendment will require the Secretary of State to consult such representatives of local government as appear to him to be appropriate before extending competition to other activities in the future. I believe that the amendment should reassure Opposition Members that we shall continue to ask for local government views on the issues that affect them in this part of the Bill, while giving the Secretary of State the flexibility to tailor consultation to the needs of the particular activities under scrutiny at the time.

    I make a brief contribution to state that the concession is indeed welcome. We have talked to closed minds for most of the evening, but, for once, a mind has been open.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 7

    The Conditions

    I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 5, line 39, after 'work', insert 'free of charge'.

    This amendment seeks to ensure that the detailed specifications which councils will need to prepare in order to go out to tender may be inspected free of charge. In Standing Committee, hon. Members agreed that inspection of the annual reports required by this Bill should be free of charge, and this amendment merely ensures consistency of approach to the other inspection right in this part of the Bill.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 8

    The Conditions: Further Provisions

    I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 7, line 37, at end insert

    '(5) If the Secretary of State so provides by regulations, the fifth condition shall not be treated as fulfilled unless—
  • (a) in accordance with prescribed requirements there is prepared and certified a document which appraises and fulfils such other conditions as may be prescribed with respect to responses falling within subsection (2) above and the bid referred to in subsection (3) above; and
  • (b) at such time or times (prior to reaching the decision referred to in section 7(7) above) as may be prescribed, copies of that document are provided or made available in accordance with any prescribed requirements;
  • and "prescribed" here means prescribed by the regulations.
    (6) Where any document is provided or made available in accordance with the requirements of regulations under subsection (5) above, the publication thereby of any defamatory matter in the document shall be privileged unless the publication is proved to be made with malice.'.
    Part I of the Bill is about competition, and, in order for competition to have the desired effect of creating genuine pressure for better value for money, it naturally contains provisions to ensure that competition will be open and fair. Apart from the general duty in clause 7 not to act in an anti-competitive manner, it contains certain specific duties, such as to meet financial objectives and to publish accounts showing whether they have been met, and powers to add further relevant duties, such as those in clause 8 dealing with the handling of tenders.

    This amendment is tabled in response to representations which have been made by various interested parties—and with which I wholeheartedly agree—to the effect that one of the most useful of all possible ways of ensuring fairness of competition is to enable all those concerned to see the tender appraisal on the basis of which councils are likely to take a decision to award work in house. The reference to a certified document reflects our belief that any such appraisal should be certified as fair by an appropriate officer.

    7.45 pm

    We have thought it right to introduce this notion also via an enabling power rather than as a set of duties spelt out on the face of the Bill. Essentially, that is because we realise that imposition of such a duty may be less straightforward than it seems. The last element of the amendment already recognises, and deals with, the possibility of the duty leading to the publication of material which might otherwise be construable as defamatory. Other issues could arise, and we therefore wish to approach the use of this power via consultation on a fully worked-up set of detailed proposals.

    Although I cannot anticipate what they will be, I can point out to the House that at least one authority—the London borough of Wandsworth—already publishes its tender appraisals for service contracts because it sees them as simply one important element of open and accountable government, whether or not there is an in-house tender for the work. I understand that this practice has not given rise to any problems at all—the very opposite, indeed, since people can now read for themselves the basis on which these important decisions are made.

    I hope, therefore, and fully expect, that it will be possible to work up an entirely acceptable scheme on the basis of this power, and commend it to the House accordingly.

    I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he explained the amendment. It stopped my asking him a series of questions. I press him about the content of the proposed subsection (6). If the appraisal document simply tells the truth in respect of what is thought about a company's actions, I presume that it will not be defamatory. It is probably a legalistic point, but will the Minister enlighten us on it? I am not looking for problems. People want to know whether they can put the truth in appraisal documents without being defamatory. Therefore, they would not need the protection of privilege. We are not looking for barriers.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 17

    Local And Other Public Authority Contracts: Exclusion Of Non-Commercial Considerations

    Amendment made: No. 10, in page 16, line 46, leave out `18(10)' and insert `(Race relations matters)'. — [Mr. Howard.]

    Clause 18

    Provisions Supplementary To Or Consequential On Section 17

    I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 17, line 10, at end insert—

    '(2A) An order under subsection (1) above may include such consequential and transitional provisions as appear to the Secretary of State to he necessary or expedient.'.
    The ingenuity of some local authorities in dreaming up ways in which they might circumvent the provisions in part II of the Bill was discussed many times in Committee. As we pointed out, we have tried to cover all the practices that authorities currently adopt to discriminate against certain contractors or to protect their DLOs, but it would be unwise to assume that the provisions cater for all possible abuses of the contractual process which authorities may hit upon in the future.

    Clearly, therefore it must be sensible to avoid the need for further legislation every time an authority comes up with a new way to avoid the provisions, and clause 18(1) allows the Secretary of State, by order subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, to add to the noncommercial matters in clause 17(5). However, as at present drafted, the Bill does not allow the Secretary of State to make consequential or transitional provisions in any order under clause 18(1). For example, there is at present no power to require authorities to redraw select lists that have been drawn up by taking account of a matter which is rendered non-commercial by an order under clause 18(1), and the purpose of the amendment is to correct that omission. I commend it to the House.

    If ever there were a justification for voting against giving the Bill a Third Reading, it is embodied in the amendment. The Minister has told us all. The Government are trying to run every itemised detail of local government. Frankly, it does not matter how clever the whizz kids in Marsham street are, they will not defeat the 400 legitimate local authorities that are trying to serve their residents. The amendment is unnecessary, but, given the need to make progress, we do not intend to oppose it.

    It is not the intention of the Government to defeat any legitimate local authority. Where local authorities are prepared to act in such a way as to circumvent the provisions of the legislation these powers are necessary and will be used.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 14, in page 17, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 7 on page 18.

    No. 20, in page 18, line 12, leave out 'subsection (10)' and insert 'section (Race relations matters)'.

    No. 22, in page 18, line 16, leave out 'subsection (10)' and insert 'section (Race relations matters)'. — [Mr. Howard.]

    Clause 20

    Transitional Duty Of Public Authorities As Regards Existing Lists

    Amendment made: No. 25, in page 19, line 42, leave out from beginning to 'section' and insert

    'authority's action was reasonably necessary to secure compliance with'.—[Mr. Howard.]

    Clause 27

    Prohibition On Promoting Homosexuality By Teaching Or By Publishing Material

    I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 27, line 27, after 'authority', insert

    'may undertake Sex Education in the course of which an awareness of different sexual orientations may be taught but the local authority'.

    With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 33, in page 27, line 30, leave out subsection (b).

    No. 34, in page 27, line 35, leave out 'either of the purposes' and insert 'the purpose'.

    No. 35, in page 27, line 35, leave out 'paragraphs' and insert 'paragraph'.

    No. 36, in page 27, line 36, leave out 'and (b)'.

    No. 47, page 27, line 38, leave out 'treating or preventing the spread of disease' and insert
    'care counselling and health education on AIDS and other diseases'.
    No. 37, in page 27, line 39, at end insert:—
    '(2A) Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of discouraging discrimination against any homosexual person, or designed to protect the civil rights of any such person.'.
    No. 38, in page 27, line 39, at end insert
    `(2A) Nothing in subsection (1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of providing information, counselling or advice to any pupil at a school or other educational establishment maintained by the authority as to his personal or social development or any family relationship which can reasonably be regarded as likely to affect that development.'.
    No. 48, page 28, line 3, at end insert: —
    '(1A) Nothing in this section shall permit or encourage discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation'.

    If I understand correctly, the Government do not intend to agree to amendment No. 32. Therefore, we shall force a Division so that hon. Members may have an opportunity to vote for the inclusion of the words in the amendment.

    At this stage I shall set out our views on the other amendments which are being considered. Amendment No. 33 is substantive and amendments Nos. 34 to 36 are consequential. My hon. Friends and I support amendments Nos. 47 and 48 in the name of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and amendments Nos. 37 and 38 which have been tabled by the official Opposition. If there are Divisions on any of those amendments, we shall support the amendments. So that hon. Members are clear, the amendment that I have moved and those that follow from it are supported by all my colleagues in the parliamentary Liberal party.

    Clause 27 is a late arrival in the Bill. It came by way of a new clause tabled in Committee by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) which was supported by other Conservative Back-Bench Members. It was accepted, with an amendment, by the Minister for Local Government. Therefore, it comes before the House for the first time as part of the Bill.

    The history of the proposal is slightly longer. The derivation of the new clause was the Local Government Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill which was introduced into the other place by the noble Lord the Earl of Halsbury. It also appeared as a private Member's Bill in this House. It is interesting to recollect the view of the Government on the proposal then—which, as I think the Minister for Local Government will concede, is substantively, if not exactly, the same as clause 27.

    Lord Skelmersdale gave the Government's view in response to the Earl of Halsbury's speech on Second Reading. The Bill changed the law on two matters, the second of which was the matter that concerns us now. Lord Skelmersdale said:
    "Turning now to the second part of the prohibition we are all agreed that the most dangerous and pernicious effects of loosening sexual values are on children. Schools must approach the difficult task of teaching their pupils about sexual matters in a responsible and sensitive manner. We must ensure that children are not subject to insidious propaganda for homosexuality. Moreover, the physical and emotional dangers of promiscuity should be spelt out. Regrettably there have been instances—we have heard some referred to in this debate—of the use of unsound teaching methods and materials and the propagation of extreme and unrepresentative views of sexual ethics and mores in the main related to the presentation of homosexuality. The Bill seeks to make this illegal by prohibiting financial or other assistance being made available by local authorities for this purpose. Moreover, it refers to a very subjective word—namely, 'acceptability', a word which could occupy your Lorships, sitting in your judicial capacity, for hour after hour."
    In Committee the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and I raised exactly this point with the Minister. The definition in the second provision of the Bill has no qualification and has in it several words which are not defined in the Bill. It was the view of the Government as recently as less than a year ago, on 18 December last year, in the other place that the word "acceptability", which we debated in Committee only last week, was capable of substantial debate and was very unfair.

    In another place Lord Skelmersdale went on to make two points which we raised in Committee. First, he said that the amendment that the Earl of Halsbury's original Bill would have introduced was better dealt with in the context of education legislation. He made the point that the Government had just legislated in the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 to provide that sex education be taught in schools and that the arrangements for the curriculum should include the views of parents and governors. Again I quote Lord Skelmersdale:
    "Under the new arrangements, all those responsible for the provision of sex education in county, voluntary and maintained schools will be required by law to ensure that any teaching offered is set within a clear moral context and is supportive of family life."
    He said later:
    "What all this means is that the Bill of the noble Earl seeks to prevent local education authorities from encouraging the promotion of homosexuality in schools at the very time that those same authorities are about to cease to have a direct role in determining the kind of sex education to be offered in schools."
    He therefore made the second point which was that not only is the word "acceptability" laden with possible interpretations but that the Bill was seeking unnecessarily to legislate in the education context. I do not quote all the points that the Minister made against the Bill, but he said:
    "Finally, on that aspect of the Bill, I should express reservations about how the wording of the Bill— with its prohibition of the promotion of homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship — might be interpreted in practice. The House will want to investigate, again in Committee, whether the meaning is clear or whether there is a risk that any teaching about homosexuality will effectively be outlawed. The Government's policy is that schools should be prepared to address the issue of homosexuality, provided they approach it in a balanced and factual manner, appropriate to the maturity of the pupils concerned. The issue cannot he ignored by schools when it is widely discussed in society and when pupils may well ask questions about it …
    The Government have made it quite clear that any teaching about homosexuality must never, in any sense, advocate or encourage it as a normal form of relationship. To do so would be educationally and morally indefensible. I appreciate that the noble Earl's Bill seeks to prevent only such abuses. I fear, however, that the distinction between these, and what I have described as proper teaching about homosexuality, cannot be drawn sufficiently clearly in legislation to avoid harmful misinterpretation. That is a risk we cannot take."
    That is what a Minister from the Department of the Environment said on 18 December 1986.

    8 pm

    In a moment.

    "in the Government's view, the Bill is unnecessary".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 December 1986, Vol. 483, c. 334–6.]
    He went on to say that it was not a sensible way to proceed.

    I sought to intervene because I wanted to ensure that the hon. Gentleman quoted the last sentence, and he has just done so.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me earlier that that express statement of view was confirmed by the Government during the early stages of the passage of the Bill in the other place.

    On Third Reading in the other place, Baroness Hooper, speaking on behalf of the Government on 11 February 1987, said:
    "My Lords, this gives me a convenient opportunity to remind the House of the Government's position on the Bill".
    At the end of her speech, she said:
    "We do not therefore believe that the Bill is necessary or an appropriate method of dealing with this one small aspect of the problem". — [Official Report, House of Lords, 11 February 1987; Vol. 484, c. 708–9.]
    That is what two Ministers, from the relevant Department, said less than a year ago. They came out clearly against the Government's present position.

    We are used to Government about-turns. In a short debate that we had barely an hour ago, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment told us that, a few months ago, he had sent out a letter expressly saying that the Government would not legislate to impose competitive tendering on parish and community councils. However, tonight the Government moved an amendment expressly to include parish and community councils. Therefore, we are used to U-turns and misrepresentation from that Department of the Environment.

    I have dealt with the history of this matter and the Government's sordid role, and I shall now consider the issue of substance. In Committee I made it clear that the initial part of the clause that reads:
    "Local authorities shall not—
    (a) promote homosexuality or publish material for the promotion of homosexuality"
    had the support of the Liberal party. We believe that, using the dictionary definition — there is no other definition because the Government have not supplied one—that is a proper statement on what should be the role of local authorities. Members on both sides of the Committee accepted that there is a need to qualify that statement, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and I tabled amendment No. 32.

    That amendment is intended to make it expressly clear that a local authority
    "may undertake Sex Education in the course of which an awareness of different sexual orientations may be taught."
    It seeks not to undermine the initial part of the clause regarding the promotion of homosexuality, but to ensure that it is natural and, indeed, perfectly proper, for education to include education about different sexual orientations that are found in any community. Indeed, it would be irresponsible to do otherwise.

    The unqualified assertions in the three subsections of the clause are extremely dangerous. They represent a possible vehicle for misinterpretation that would be to the grave detriment of a non-discriminatory society or local government. My colleagues and I have two major criticisms. The first is that the original Bill and the clause are almost irrelevant to most of Britain in the sense that they are based on a few localised examples of abuse or possible abuse. The second is that the clause is damaging in its width, and the provisions that the Government intend to introduce to deal with the problem are also damaging. They are damaging to individuals who may well need the benefit of education, counselling, support and the opportunity to meet and discuss with other people their own and others' sexual orientation. They are also damaging to our pluralist society.

    In Committee the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) asked whether there had been any evidence or suggestion of a local authority promoting homosexuality in Wales. The Minister could give no example. To my knowledge, there is no evidence of any example in Scotland. If we are wrong, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to correct us. However, I note that the Minister is no longer present; that shows his interest and the clause's importance to Scotland. Obviously, he does not consider that this is a matter of importance, or he would be on the Front Bench. He sat through the Committee proceedings, so presumably he could have managed to survive the final proceedings in the Chamber.

    The hon. Member for Spelthorne made an appalling speech when he moved the original amendment. He chose to give examples that were not truthful and, until I questioned him in Committee, he chose to imply that a certain publication had emanated from local authorities when, by his own admission, the specific publication of which he had spoken did not. That represents an unacceptable misrepresentation. It epitomises the way in which Conservative Members have sought to raise the spectre of local authorities, especially those supported by other political parties, campaigning for the mass transformation — if that is biologically and genetically possible — of the land into a cast of rampaging homosexuals. That was the implication of the hon. Gentleman's speech.

    I shall give way in a moment.

    The hon. Member for Spelthorne cited a second example—it has been dealt with by the hon. Member for Copeland — concerning the London borough of Ealing and a job advertisement. It concerned a worker for lesbian and gay rights, but the hon. Gentleman did not say that that advertisement had had all-party support within that borough. In the event, the post has not been filled.

    I will give way, but first I will give way to the hon. Member for Spelthorne because I have referred to him.

    The speech made by the hon. Member for Spelthorne represented a grave distortion of the argument, and it is that type of prejudice that we must ensure does not occur. Such a wide, badly drafted and unqualified clause is open to such prejudice. We have seen such prejudice evidenced by Conservative Members and that prejudice is now supported by the Government, despite the fact that a year ago they recognised the folly of such a position.

    The hon. Member has put words into my mouth. He challenged me on a dossier that I presented to the Committee. I was speaking about a book entitled "The playbook for kids about sex". I gave that example to the Committee to make the point that the book had been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1983. I was seeking not to say that it had been used in schools, but that it was available and had been challenged under existing legislation, yet the DPP had said that that legislation was not adequate to deal with the matter. That was all that I was seeking to illustrate, and the record shows that.

    No doubt the hon. Gentleman will make his own speech. However, in Committee he asked us all to consider a bundle of documents that he had produced. The Chairman of the Committee made it clear that the argument was about local government activities and that that was the only matter in order for debate in the Committee. I asked the hon. Gentleman:

    "Is the hon. Gentleman asserting that the 'The playbook for kids about sex' is a local authority publication?" — [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 December 1987; c. 1202.]
    The hon. Gentleman replied "No, I am not." The whole argument was about publications by local authorities. The hon. Member for Spelthorne can explain his position when he comes, as he no doubt will, to his speech.

    I think that it is important that the hon. Gentleman spells out what he has just alleged. He suggested that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) had attacked Ealing for having appointed a lesbian and gay rights worker. I understood the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to say that the appointment was supported by Conservative councillors in Ealing. If so, I should like him to say that clearly and loudly in the House tonight, so that we can deal with some of the nasty games that are being played here.

    The hon. Lady is quite correct. The hon. Member for Copeland, or someone on his behalf, made the inquiries that confirmed that the Conservative party in Ealing supported the proposal.

    I hope that the House does not want the role of local authorities to be to promote sexuality of any kind. Homosexuals do not happen as a result of campaigns for their promotion, just as heterosexuals are not suddenly brought into active heterosexualism by having a campaign on their behalf. I am not a biologist or scientist, but I know that that belief is founded on prejudice. If it is believed that, by allowing people to be informed of different sorts of sexuality, they are suddenly converted to those forms of sexuality—

    I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard the comment made from a sedentary position by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), who said that all the councillors in Ealing were bonkers — that obviously included the Conservative members of the council. It might be worth having that on the record.

    I did not hear that, but I see that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) is nodding his assent to the remark. For a moment, I thought that bonking and bonkers had to do with another activity, which might be appropriate to this debate. I do not know whether that is the first use of the word on the record, but I gather that it is in common parlance, so we should talk about it here, too.

    I do not believe that homosexuals want their sexuality to be promoted any more than anyone else does. They would argue not for discrimination in their favour, but for equal treatment with everyone else. They want their sexuality to be accepted and to have equal access to jobs, housing, social and medical help, advice and particularly the sort of advice and counselling that take place during education and growing up.

    8.15 pm

    If the clause's aim is to protect the young, why are we not doing something about soft porn magazines, which are on sale in newsagents? Why are we not doing something about the matter raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) only last year—page 3 pictures in the popular newspapers? If we are trying not to promote different forms of sexuality, why do we not deal with television advertising, which often tries to sell products merely by appealing to people's sexual nature and motives? Why do the Government suddenly select this target, rather than another?

    Of course, there are always people who will take advantage of positions of responsibility in a sexual context. However, that is true across the whole range of sexual activity. There is no evidence of any greater incidence of crime against young people by homosexuals than by heterosexuals. Sadly, there is always the risk that some adults will abuse their sexual adulthood in relationships with the young. But that is not a result of the promotion or advancement of arguments about homosexuality's existence. Indeed, I would argue strongly that unless awareness of homosexuality and acceptance of homosexuals is taught in school, they will be taught away from the classroon, in private, in a more harmful way.

    That is why our amendments, and those tabled elsewhere, are important. I have heard informally that the Government plan to resist the amendments; but this prejudiced and bigoted late change of mind, which is presumably an effort to capitalise on a populist view and to gain the maximum political advantage from the scares and fears about AIDS and so on is something from which I hope they will resile. It is about time we had some principle on the issue, and not a sudden U-turn in the space of 12 months.

    The debate about the new section, as set out in clause 27, raises many questions of definition. The Minister conceded in Committee that there was no definition in the Bill of the words "promotion", "acceptability", "pretended" or "family". Subsection (1)(b), if unamended, would read as follows:
    "A local authority shall not — … (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship by the publication of such material or otherwise".

    The hon. Member says, "Hear, hear." It is unacceptable to prevent the teaching that maintains that other people's relationships should be accepted by all civilised adults, whatever their personal views of the rightness or wrongness of those relationships.

    It depends on what one means by "civilised". I do not regard the practice of sodomy or buggery as being civilised.

    I am not asking the hon. Lady to regard those practices, or any others, as civilised. I am merely asking her to live in England in 1987 where, just as in 1887, or 1787, those practices go on. From the beginning of time there have been, are, and will be people who are homosexual, living in such relationships, sometimes with children.

    I defend the hon. Lady's right to think that it is disgusting, but I do not defend her right, on behalf of a minority Government, to legislate to pretend that it does not exist. If the hon. Lady made an effort to inform herself, she would realise that these things are not encouraged or discouraged by teaching that they should be accepted—just as other things that she might not like are accepted. There is theft in society: she might not like it, and it might be uncivilised. Burglary, robbery and even murder exist in society. They are uncivilised, but we must teach people that those sorts of things happen and, more importantly, that all our fellow adults should be entitled to make their own choices, provided that they do not try to intrude on the lives and lifestyles of others. That is why the definitions in the clause are extremely dangerous.

    Whatever our view about the morality of different sorts of sexual behaviour, and although there might be agreement in parts of the House about the immorality of certain sexual behaviour, we should allow local authorities as the agents of Government throughout Britain to teach that homosexuality is to be accepted. That is what this clause is about. Children, as they approach school-leaving age as young adults, should be taught about the risks in sexual relations and about the medical and other dangers. Those things should be taught as a regular and normal part of their curriculum. I shall give two examples, and I invite the Minister to say on what side of the line he comes down.

    The Government use the words "safe sex" in their advertising campaigns. Does a leaflet promoting safe sex for homosexuals, perhaps from the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is funded by the Government, count as promoting homosexuality? If not, where is the dividing line? What about the funding of help lines, counselling lines or centres promoted by local authorities for lesbian women or gay men? Given that local authorities have a duty to all their electors, they must have a duty to gay men and lesbian women.

    It is sad that we have to have this debate. If the Government had held to their principled position of less than a year ago, we would not need to have a debate such as this because the reactionary view propounded by some Conservative Back Benchers would be resisted just as it was resisted a year ago.

    However, things have changed. The tragedy is that at the last minute in Committee the Government took a new position and are now advancing a piece of legislation that they admitted was defective and that is generally regarded as dangerous. That was why in Committee I expressly said on behalf of my party that we would not support the proposition. That is why I now confirm that the amendments that I and my hon. Friends have tabled are the minimum necessary to make this legislation acceptable. It is quite wrong for local authorities to promote homosexuality, but the clause goes miles too far and should be amended to make it in any way acceptable to the House and to the country.

    In Committee last week, I said that it was with great reluctance that I was prepared to go along with the new clause. I endorse a great deal of what has been said by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). The Standing Committee was bounced into accepting the new clause. The hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention to the debate that took place almost a year ago this week when the noble Lord Skelmersdale who held office in the Department of the Environment made a speech.

    The point that the Minister must address is a simple one. I have a copy of the Bill that was introduced in the House of Lords and it is almost exactly identical to the Bill that is before the House. Even the wording is almost the same. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) who put her name to the new clause, is nodding assent. Therefore, we have it from my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston that the new clause which the Government accepted last Tuesday is exactly the same as the one in the Bill about which the noble Lord Skelmersdale spoke in another place. He said:
    "I fear, however, that the distinction between these, and what I have described as proper teaching about homosexuality, cannot be drawn sufficiently clearly in legislation to avoid harmful misinterpretation. That is a risk we cannot take.
    In these circumstances, in the Government's view the Bill is unnecessary." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 December 1986; Vol. 483, c. 336.]
    By accepting the new clause, the Minister is saying that he is now prepared to allow an insufficient and incorrect line to be drawn in legislation. He is prepared to risk "harmful misinterpretation" whereas his predecessor said that it was a risk that the Government were not prepared to take. The Minister's predecessor said that the Bill was unnecessary, but the Minister says that it is now necessary. What has changed in the last year? Unfortunately, what has changed is a degree of populism that is becoming a symptom of a less tolerant society.

    What has changed, surely, is that the Bill as it was passed through all its stages in the other place without question. It came to the House of Commons and the Minister who was responsible for it at the time strongly supported the whole thinking behind the Bill of the need to protect children. However much my hon. Friend may think that that is not necessary, I am afraid that it is true.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston has very sincere reasons for wanting to see this legislation go through. I am merely drawing to the attention of the House the view of the Government that was reported in the House of Lords' Hansard. Again I pose the question, "What has changed?" Of course I accept that it is necessary to protect children and to ensure that irresponsible local authorities do not promote homosexuality. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey says, the clause has gone much further than that.

    While I go along with the objections of my hon. Friend the Member for Edgnbaston, I do not accept that only those objectives will be served by the enactment of the new clause. Therefore, I shall not vote with my hon. Friends against the amendments.—[Interruption.]

    The new clause inserted in the Bill in Committee and the amendments tabled by the official Opposition—I specifically refer to amendments Nos. 37 and 38—raise fundamental issues of personal liberty and civil rights.

    On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. If people in the Strangers' Gallery continue to try to inhibit debate, I shall spy strangers.

    Order. No one interrupts debates in this Chamber, and I hope that there will be no reference to any interruptions from elsewhere.

    I hope that that rule applies tomorrow in the poll tax debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    As I say, the amendments raise fundamental issues of personal liberty and civil rights. The Opposition believe in equal rights and equal treatment for all people, including homosexuals. We are not asking for—nor do gay people demand—positive rights or preferential treatment. Equal treatment, however, is central to the civil liberties of all people as citizens. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) was right when he said that the House is really debating standards of tolerance in a civilised society. It is obvious that if Conservative Members had their way, those standards of tolerance and dignity would be eroded and downgraded. The Minister should state at the outset of his response whether the Government intend to allow on the statute book a clause which may well infringe the civil liberties of many homosexual people.

    8.30 pm

    The amendments seek to set out clearly the priorities of the Opposition Front Bench in relation to the new clause tabled in Committee. The amendments make it clear, first, that we do not believe that any local authority has or should have a duty to promote homosexuality, but that this restriction relates solely to the promotion of homosexuality, and not to services or information to homosexual people or those personally close to them, such as their family or friends. "Promote" should not be taken to mean only "actively encourage, help and advise people to understand the circumstances they are in". Nothing in the new clause should be allowed to prevent or hinder the discouragement of discrimination against homosexual people, or to impinge on their civil rights.

    That position underlay the decision of myself and my hon. Friends on the Standing Committee not to oppose the clause, to the extent that it covered the promotion of an act, but to make it clear that we intended to seek amendments on Report, as we are now doing.

    In the light of the debate that took place in Committee, the amendments are all the more important. Without them the drafting of the clause could lead to widespread misunderstanding, indeed, fear, and could cause serious damage to the rights of homosexual people. In moving the new clause, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said:
    "Nothing that I seek to change by the new clause has anything to do with homosexuals: it is about the act of promoting homosexuality; nothing that I want to say seeks to speak against the freedom of adults to follow their own beliefs and morals in private; and nothing that I intend to say seeks to encourage any person or body to discriminate against homosexuals."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 December 1987; c. 1201.]
    If the hon. Gentleman believes that — I hope that he does—and if the Government believe that, they should accept amendments Nos. 37 and 38 and the hon. Member for Spelthorne should vote for them — even if the Government oppose them — if he is to stand by the intention of his words in Committee.

    Amendment No. 37 would exempt from the ambit of the legislation any activity of a local authority, or funded by an authority, which is undertaken for the purpose of discouraging discrimination or desiring to protect the civil liberties of homosexual people. The problem concerns the meaning of "promotion" where a section of the population is disadvantaged in some way. The provision of information or services which contribute to the well-being of members of that section of the population are not intended to promote homosexuality, yet some could argue that they contribute indirectly to promotion in a wider sense, merely by improving the lot of the everyday lives of such people.

    The hon. Member for Spelthorne denied that his clause had anything to do with homosexual people, yet implicitly he argued the contrary when, as reported in col. 1204 of the Official Report, he stated that the production of positive images of homosexuals amounted to promotion. It is generally accepted in every other civilised society that an important aspect of discouraging any form of discrimination against any individual or group is the discouragement of negative images of the people concerned.

    Can the hon. Gentleman distinguish between negative images, positive images and neutral images? I ask him to consider that point.

    We all know what negative images are; we have seen them thoughout history. There were negative images of Jews and immigrants. Now we have negative portrayal of homosexuality. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, he is really not fit to be a Member of the House.

    It is generally accepted that the important aspect of discouraging any form of discrimination is the discouragement of abuse of people, denial of equality of opportunity and denial of their civil rights. The clause would appear to include the prevention of such activity. Therein lies the nub of the difficulty with the term "promotion" and the wide terms which it appears to be intended to have. It need hardly he said that the risk that such an interpretation might be adopted by the courts should give rise to serious concern, and that is the main reason for amendment No. 37. If banning promotion means or carries the risk of meaning the banning of anti-discrimination activity, it would be a serious and retrograde step against civil rights in our society, which our amendment seeks to prevent.

    We can all agree with the words of Lord Skelmersdale who said last year:
    "we are all agreed that the most dangerous and pernicious effects of loosening sexual values are on children. Schools must approach the difficult task of teaching their children about sexual matters in a responsible and sensitive manner. We must ensure that children are not subject to insidious propaganda". —[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 December 1986; Vol. 483, c. 334.]
    Amendment No. 38 deals with information, advice and counselling to pupils at schools and colleges. The hon. Member for Spelthorne said that the new clause
    "seeks to prevent local authorities promoting homosexuality, from teaching children about homosexual relationships as acceptable family relationships and from helping others to do so."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A,. 8 December 1987; c. 1206.]
    If that is really the meaning of the new clause, it would require a local authority to advise its teachers that children seeking information, advice or counselling about their family circumstances, perhaps because a parent was homosexual, would have to be told that the life of their family was not acceptable under the law. The psychological effect of any such response on a child is difficult to imagine, but one can only think that it would be appalling.

    I turn to the Government's contradictory position. The hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes and for Southwark and Bermondsey have raised the point, almost in identical words to those I had written in my notes. On 18 December 1986, almost exactly one year ago, the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Lord Skelmersdale, speaking for the Government in the House of Lords, said that the very use of the word "acceptability" in the Bill being debated meant that the Government could not recommend acceptance of the Bill. That is the very issue we raised in the Committee, for the obvious reasons that I have just outlined.

    We must know what has made the Government change their mind. What events, influences and legal advice have brought the Government to find not only acceptable, but necessary, something that was totally unacceptable only 12 months ago? We do not have a shred of evidence from anyone to substantiate the argument for the use of the word "acceptability" in the clause, let alone any vestige of a case on which the Government could base such a volte face. We are led to the conclusion — perhaps the Minister of State can persuade us otherwise — in the absence of any evidence, that this U-turn is for the most base and contemptible politically opportunist reasons.

    I do not intend to requote every word of the noble Lord Skelmersdale's speech as it has already been put on record by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, but he said:
    "Moreover, it refers to a very subjective word—namely, `acceptability', a word which could occupy your Lordships, sitting in your judicial capacity, for hour after hour." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 18 December 1986; Vol. 483, c. 334.]

    The hon. Gentleman will know that that comment was made a year ago. When hon. Gentlemen pressed the Minister for Local Government in Committee, he appeared to be content with a one-sentence, off-the-cuff answer about such a definition. He said:

    "I have said that I do not believe that it is part of a local authority's duty to glorify homosexuality or to encourage youngsters to believe that it is on an equal footing with a heterosexual way of life." —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 December 1987; c. 1228.]
    The Minister is not willing to introduce an amendment or put any definition in the Bill.

    The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I fear the worst of the Government's intentions. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendments. If he does not, he will have a difficult job to explain to the House why he will not do so.

    When the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) spoke in the debate mentioned by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) he said that the recent provisions on sex education and a moral framework in the Education Act 1986 should be given time to work in practice, and that the code of practice under the Local Government Act 1986 should be issued first and be given time to take effect. The latter reason is almost laughable, except that these issues are not funny. Even now, seven months later, the Government have not finalised that code of practice, of which there is now a fifth draft.

    Ministers should answer two questions to explain the Government's situation. What evidence do they have—which they did not have in May—that section 46 of the Education Act 1986 is not working in practice and is deficient, and what is that evidence, if there is any? Secondly, they should explain what has changed to make the code to which I have referred irrelevant to that process, and why is no time being allowed for it to operate in practice before yet more legislation is introduced? That code was introduced in previous legislation. It has never been published and given a chance to operate.

    Finally, some concern has been expressed by AIDS workers that the Government's amendment on AIDS—now subsection (2)—will not be sufficiently comprehensive. It would be useful, and indeed important, for Ministers to clarify whether care and counselling services would be affected by the operation of the clause.

    The exemption covers treating and preventing disease, but it is not clear whether that extends to wider care and counselling services. It must be clear that, without sympathetic advice and assistance and proper facilities for the care of infected people, efforts to arrest the spread of AIDS and improve awareness of it could be severely hampered, and that those with possible infection will be more reluctant than ever to come forward for advice and treatment. The Government would not wish—at least, I hope that they would not — to impede any assistance which local authorities or other agencies can give.

    I hope that my hon. Friends will give the Minister time to respond to those points and perhaps they will question him on his answers because we are entitled to know now why the Government have accepted those proposals, and why they have put the House into this position and what they intend to do about it.

    8.45 pm

    I do not doubt the sincerity of the hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) or that of other Opposition Members. I question what they said on the basis of constituency experience and personal conviction.

    When Ealing council changed from Conservative to Labour in May 1986, there was a long and sustained campaign by the new council to have homosexual and lesbian relationships taught in schools as being as valid as heterosexual relationships.

    The evidence is in the rubric and the documents that were openly circulated by the council to parents and governing bodies. The council made no attempt not to be completely open in that discussion, and that was absolutely right. The evidence is there for all to see.

    The parents and grandparents of children in Ealing and other people came to see me in their hundreds and thousands to express their great concern about that policy and to express their opposition to it. I decided to promote a full discussion on it, and in February of this year I arranged a conference on the family, which was addressed by Cardinal Home, Bishop Maurice Wood, an Anglican bishop, representatives from the free Churches and leaders of the Sikh, Moslem and Hindu communities. There was a section on AIDS, addressed by Dr. Pinching, to try to give the conference the fullest possible profile, and that was right. The conference became a way in which parents, responsibly and without a lot of shouting, expressed their opposition to the policy of Ealing council, and that opposition was virtually unanimous.

    Children are vulnerable. I taught in schools for 23 years and saw that children are vulnerable at various ages. They are totally and continuously vulnerable between the ages of 5 and 12, and they continue to be vulnerable, sometimes to adulthood from the age of 13 years, as we know. It is essential that children are protected. I do not believe that the House would ever say that children should not be protected, and I know that Opposition Members will agree with that.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; it is very unusual. I would certainly want to be protected from him. Did he think of inviting any gay groups from Ealing to the conference, which he carefully loaded to get the version of events that he wanted, to achieve the open debate that he said he was trying to encourage?

    I did not invite gay groups, but it was open for them to attend. Indeed, I believe that some did attend, because they spoke and put their point of view. I do not object to hearing their point of view. However, the conference was essentially for parents and for the groups of people to whom I referred earlier. I am certain that all hon. Members would agree that children should be protected.

    I wonder whether during my hon. Friend's conference he heard from parents such as those who contacted me when they wished to complain about the way in which their children were being dealt with in schools promoting homosexuality. Those parents were hit, spat upon, urinated on and one, who was pregnant, was punched very hard in the stomach. I wonder whether my hon. Friend has heard similar complaints from those poor parents, whose only wish was to protect their children and complain about what was happening to them.

    My hon. Friend makes her own point. I well remember my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) making a vivid speech about that very subject a few months ago.

    The hon. Lady will have her opportunity.

    For the past 18 months all advertisements of teaching posts in Ealing have contained invitations to men and women of any sexual orientation — to gay men and lesbian women and the rest of it—to apply for posts. My constituents find that excessive and distasteful and think that it is a misuse of public money. I share their view. Only last week I received complaints in my surgery from parents who said that a homosexual recently appointed to a school makes up his face in school in front of the children, and they object to that. One has to support them. That is wrong. I do not believe that Opposition Members would say otherwise. If they do not support it, they should stand up and say that it is wrong.

    It was incorrect of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey to say that the Ealing Conservatives supported the appointment of a lesbian and gay officer. The Ealing Conservatives believe that the gay and lesbian rights committee of Ealing council should never have existed and that it should be dissolved immediately. That committee spends money on promoting activities for homosexuals, and that must be wrong.

    I shall give an example. In September that committee promoted two meetings for homosexuals.

    No, I have already given way, and I want to be brief. That committee promoted two meetings for homosexuals and lesbians at a cost of £2,000. Only 12 people attended one of those meetings. Is that a correct use of ratepayer' money? The House should remember that Ealing ratepayers have had to pay an extra 65 per cent. to Ealing council this year and that many elderly and poor people are having to go without food to pay their rates. Their objections are massive. It is my duty to represent in the House those who object—

    I am not sure that I completely believe the stories that the hon. Gentleman has told us. Earlier he told us that lie had been a teacher for 22 years. I ask him sincerely and honestly whether during his 22 years of teaching he was ever approached by a child who thought that he or she was a homosexual or lesbian who was disturbed and troubled by it and needed his advice and guidance. Did he ever give such guidance, and does he think that the sensible guidance that should be given in these circumstances should be made illegal by the proposals that he is supporting tonight?

    In answering the hon. Lady, I may perhaps deal with the question of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who is always courteous in the House.

    I was approached by children with all kinds of problems and I always found people to give them the counselling that they needed or coped myself, whatever it was. The hon. Lady says that I am telling stories. I am not; I am stating the facts. I have no interest in telling stories, nor do the people of Ealing. They have to deal with a fact that has hit every parent and grandparent—and many others—hard in the teeth. That has now been going on for nearly two years, and they have a strong point of view. They want the Government to do what the Bill does, which is to prohibit the teaching and promotion of homosexuality.

    I am listening attentively to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He often refers to the interests of grandparents. As the father of four children and the grandparent of two, I am interested in children's safety and the pressures that they are under at school. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me precisely what he means when he says that people are teaching homosexual relationships in schools and that children need to be protected? Can he give me any instance of a child being in danger and needing protection? I seek this advice genuinely because the problem needs to be addressed seriously, but so far I have heard nothing except vague supposition.

    In Ealing the schools have been invited to put on their notice boards invitations to children to ring gay and lesbian lines. That is wrong, because it is an incitement to children.

    I wish to bring my brief remarks to a close. Not many months ago Ealing council's education committee sent a letter home with children as young as five — some as young as four—in which was discussed the teaching that homosexual relationships were as valid as heterosexual relationships. Children of five, six and seven—or of any age — who carry about such material are carrying material which most of them would find offensive if they read it and which their parents certainly find infuriating. Some parents made bonfires of those letters. That is what they thought of them.

    I have mentioned the churches. The Roman Catholic, Jewish, Sikh, Moslem and Hindu religions are absolutely clear in their teaching on this matter. They teach that homosexuality is wrong and it is wrong to promote homosexuality among children. Children must be protected. The Church of England—

    That is a sad comment and regrettably there is a lot in it.

    The Church of England has said that homosexual relationships fall short of the ideal. It must be the business of Parliament to protect our children and I will always stand by any measure that protects children. I support the Government strongly in this matter.

    9 pm

    I believe that local government has no part to play in promoting any particular form of sexuality. I think that that is readily understood by councillors, local government officers and teachers. Therefore, clause 27 is unnecessary and should never have been tabled. If the word "promotion" has been or could be strictly defined, subsection (1) might have been innocuous and a mere reflection of the status quo, but it is clear from the proceedings in Committee that the Government are seeking to provide a catch-all prohibition that amounts to the denial of the reality of people's differing sexual orientation and differing social organisation.

    We should not be dealing with people's personal objections to other people's lifestyles or with any distaste, however acutely that may afflict hon. Members. We are part of a legislature which is supposed—I suggest—to uphold the freedom and dignity of the individual. That is a matter of the most fundamental human rights—the rights of the individual to express within the laws of the land his or her individual sexuality and still be recognised as an equal citizen. The charge levelled against local authorities is that they have recognised the existence of a minority and have devoted a tiny part of their resources to meeting the needs of that minority.

    Among those needs is the right of homosexual young people and adults to be recognised by society as they are — as human beings, with feelings, relationships and families. Recognition of lesbians and gay men is not a threat to those of us in the heterosexual majority. On the contrary, such is the all-persuasive and all-pervasive culture of heterosexuality in advertising and the media that it is homosexuals who have struggled habitually to become heterosexuals. They do not succeed, of course, but their attempt to meet society's expectations leads many, particularly the young, to despair and even to suicide attempts.

    Are we now to legislate to deny young people any explanation of the existence of homosexuality among perhaps 10 per cent. of the population? Are we to deny that the child born to a homosexual mother or father—and there are many of the latter—has family relationships? That is the road to bigotry and oppression.

    I want to refer briefly to the reason why I tabled amendment No. 47 which has not been selected. It refers specifically to care counselling and health education on AIDS and other diseases. As hon. Members are aware, there is no treatment for AIDS, but there is a highly respected and growing practice of care counselling which is of enormous value to those infected with the AIDS virus. Furthermore, health education and the prevention of AIDS depends on co-operation with gay and lesbian groups which, in turn, can function effectively only if funding is continued. It also depends on the distribution of explicit information which undoubtedly offends some Conservative Members.

    I should have preferred the wording in amendment No. 47 to be accepted. As it has not been, I specifically ask the Minister to tell us whether he believes that the points that I have made and the provisions to which I have referred and which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) are covered by the Government amendments.

    I will deal with the hon. Lady's point fully in my reply. However, the answer to the specific point that she has raised is yes. We take the view that the form of the amendment that she proposed would actually be more limited in the extent to which it would enable local authorities to provide assistance in relation to such diseases than the amendment that I moved in Committee.

    Ms. Ruddock