HC Deb 14 May 1975 vol 892 cc555-617
Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I beg to move Amendment No. 20, in page 3, line 32, leave out Clause 4.

Clause 4 raises a separate and, in a way, a more serious matter than the other clauses contained in the Bill. It is confined to the Clay Cross situation. It proposes to remove the disqualification which has been imposed on the Clay Cross councillors. The surcharge is not affected.

The House will remember that an appeal was made by the Clay Cross councillors to the High Court asking for reversal of the judgment made by the district auditor. The High Court found no mitigating circumstances and condemned the Clay Cross councillors in strong terms. Let me say straight away that I very much regret that party colleagues of mine should have been involved in this affair and should have behaved in a way which they no doubt thought was in the interests of their constituents but which in my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, is contrary to the interests of good parliamentary conduct.

Mr. Swain

Is it not contrary to good parliamentary conduct if 65 Members go through the Lobby in favour of the Common Market against a three-line Whip imposed by their own party?

Mr. Strauss

I do not think that it is wrong for Members to vote according to their conscience, whether it is a three-line or six-line Whip. I suggest that my hon. Friend's intervention was not relevant. However, what my hon. Friend and I care very much about is the smooth working of our democratic parliamentary system. Any group of people, councillors or anyone else, which defies the law passed by a democratically elected Parliament is weakening our democratic system. I very much regret that it was party colleagues of mine who were responsible for this at Clay Cross.

In defending Clause 4, which removes the penalty of disqualification, a number of arguments were used by Front Bench collegues including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. It was suggested that several precedents conformed or were relevant to the present case. There has been so much legal argument about the extent to which those precedents are relevant that I do not propose to go into the matter at all.

I accept the fact that similar cases, such as Merthyr Tydfil and Poplar, have some relevance. In the Merthyr Tydfil case, the councillors had their disqualification removed. In the Poplar case, disqualification did not come into the matter as it was concerned with a surcharge. I shall not go into those cases as I am not legally qualified to do so. All I say is that I agree that there are precedents which can be cited, but I do not think that they are relevant in this case.

We have to consider the situation as it is today and, in particular, whether in the 1970s councillors who do not like a recently passed Act of Parliament are entitled to ignore it and to refuse to operate it. We have to consider whether it is desirable that they should thumb their noses at Parliament, ignore its provisions and the laws it passes and get away with it without any penalty.

It has been suggested by some of my hon. Friends that there is here a case for mitigation, that we should regard the action of these councillors with some sympathy and therefore remove the penalties imposed upon them. I repeat that I am not talking about the removal of the surcharge but merely of the disqualificaton of these councillors to sit for the next five years as councillors—or three-and-a-half years, as one-and a-half years has passed since the disqualification occurred.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) made several speeches on this subject in Committee. He argued that the councillors themselves received no financial benefit and therefore should not be blamed too severely. That is true, but if they had received some financial benefit they would of course be in the dock. They received what they no doubt enjoyed at the time, glory and hero worship not only in their constituencies but in many parts of the country. Even at the Labour Party conference they were adulated, and many people spoke of their courageous action in defying the laws of Parliament and refusing to operate them. But true, they did not get any financial benefit.

To appreciate their motive and to take a properly balanced view, it is important to read what was stated in Tribune of 23rd May 1974 by Councillor David Skinner, when he set out the principle on which the councillors operated. He said To those who accuse us of breaking the law we reply we are keeping the only law accepted by this movement, the principles which stand for the interests of the working class". Some people may consider that that is a worthy principle but what he is saying clearly is that the only law which he accepts is that which he considers to be in the interests of the working class, even if Parliament has taken an opposite view and has voted in a different way. That principle, to him, is a complete justification for defying the laws of Parliament on any ocacsion. That is a situation which cannot be tolerated by Parliament.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

My right hon. Friend is using the sort of argument which was used about the trade unions. If the people had obeyed the laws of Parliament which made trade unions illegal, trade unionism would not have been born. The argument about obeying the law, especially in regard to trade unions, was faced by the working class many years ago.

Mr. Strauss

I am well aware of that. My hon. Friend is going back to the early part of the last century, but this situation is not similar. Here an Act of Parliament was passed which laid down certain action to be taken by district councils. The Act laid down that if councils did not take that action certain penalties would flow. In such circumstances, for any councillor to say, "My view is superior to that of Parliament and I will operate what I think is in the interests of the workers and not what Parliament says is in the interests of the workers", means that parliamentary democracy is at an end. If that attitude were adopted on a large scale, we could not pass law—

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

What is my right hon. Friend's view on the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who was Minister at the time? He was given power under the Act to send in a housing commissioner it councillors refused to carry out the terms of the Act, and was so requested. What is my right hon. Friend's attitude towards a Minister who deliberately refused to implement that section of the Act?

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Strauss

That point was raised earlier in the debate. The Minister was not compelled to send in a housing commissioner; he had a choice. Rightly or wrongly, he refused to do so for reasons we know. He was convinced that if a housing commissioner were appointed in this area such was the atmosphere of revolt that it would have been quite impossible for a commissioner to operate. My hon. Friend asked my view on a Minister who did not send in a housing commissioner. My answer is that the Minister was not forced to do so by the law. He acted within his discretion, he said "No", and there is no objection that one can take to that.

The simple case I put is that for any group of people—councillors or anyone else—to consider that they are above Parliament, to take action of which Parliament has disapproved, to say that their understanding of the interests of the workers is higher than that of Parliament and they will do what they think is right, is a bad thing which should be condemned by the House. If that attitude were allowed to continue, our parliamentary democracy would come to an end. I consider that our system of parliamentary democracy is of supreme importance and should be safeguarded at all costs.

It is suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington that a plea of mitigation should be considered in respect of these councillors. He put forward that argument so effectively and movingly in the Second Reading debate that I made up my mind that should I ever be in trouble in the courts and want counsel to plead mitigation on my behalf I would ask him to do so.

Every one of us supports mitigation and compassion in all appropriate cases, but surely my hon. and learned Friend would have great difficulty in making a plea of mitigation in a court on behalf of someone who had admittedly committed an offence unless that person was to some extent repentant of the offence, had some plausible reason for committing it and promised not to do the same thing again. In those circumstances, a plea of mitigation might be effective, but that has not happened here.

Although we cannot go into this in detail, we learn from the report of the district auditor who has looked into the affairs of Clay Cross that there has since been a complete disregard of the standards established for municipal administration, and there has been no promise—

Mr. Skinner

And no breaking of the law.

Mr. Strauss

These people have made no promise not to do the same again. I understand their attitude, although I do not sympathise with it and it is a dangerous one. They think that they are justified in breaking the law whenever it is in the interests of their constituents that they should do so.

Mr. Weitzman

My right hon. Friend must remember that the opinion of the district auditor on further surcharges is under appeal. He is therefore not entitled to say now that these offences have been committed.

Mr. Strauss

I do not intend to pursue that matter, but the district auditor's report is quoted in the newspapers and is not a secret. I admit that it is subject to appeal and that on appeal the charges may be turned down. The attitude of these councillors, both before and after the Housing Finance Act went through Parliament, is one of complete independence from parliamentary action. Therefore, I do not think a plea of mitigation can be accepted since these people did not give any indication—I put it no higher than that—that they would obey the principles of good government or the laws of Parliament after this affair was over.

The penalties which these councillors are suffering and which will be removed under the Bill are not terribly serious for people who have done the various things which it has now been agreed they have done, namely, to defy the laws of Parliament on important matters. There is no question of any financial penalty being imposed on them. There might be a feeling of sympathy if we said, "Look, this penalty will damage them, their families and their children". But that does not arise in the slightest. No feelings of compassion can be aroused on those grounds.

The only penalty we are talking about is that these people should not be allowed to serve as councillors for another five years. Now it is three years, because one-and-a-half years have passed. Is that such a serious penalty? Cannot it be said that, for the protection of the public and ratepayers generally, it is desirable that people who have grossly defied Acts of Parliament in the administration of their council affairs should, when a report such as this one is made by the district auditor and upheld by the High Court, suffer the penalty?

Mr. Skinner

Tell us about Stone-house.

Mr. Strauss

I will always listen to a serious interruption by my hon. Friend, but I really do not know what my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) has got to do with the issue.

Mr. Skinner

Oh no, of course not.

Mr. Strauss

I do not think that my hon. Friend advances his case at all by mentioning the right hon. Member in any way in support of his case or against my argument.

Therefore, the sole burden on the Clay Cross councillors is an inability to stand as councillors or to act as councillors for three-and-a-half years. This clause seeks to remove that burden. In other words, it says to them "Although you have defied Parliament and disobeyed the laws, no penalty shall be imposed upon you at all." Parliament, if it wants to preserve its authority, should not say that, but it is what Clause 4 proposes. It is for that reason that Clause 4 should be omitted.

The case has been repeatedly put by the Attorney-General and by other Ministers that they want to wipe the slate clean. That is an evocative and attractive proposal, but I do not quite know what they mean by it. I should have thought that the best thing to do was to leave matters as they are. Nullifying the decisions of the High Court, if that is what they mean, would not wipe the slate clean at all.

It is a mucky situation. The Government have left the surcharge, and all they are proposing to do is to remit the remaining few years of the disqualification. That is not a clean situation at all. It is not particularly attractive, nor should such a situation appeal to the House. Obviously, it would be much better to leave matters as they are, so that the decision of the High Court is not interfered with by Parliament.

At a time when the democratic basis of our society is under some threat, it is right that we should uphold the authority of Parliament, whenever, wherever and by whomsoever that authority is challenged. In no circumstances should we condone the deliberate defiance of Parliament. Because this clause does so, I move, with the support of some of my hon. Friends, that it be omitted from the Bill.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

Clause 4 is, of course, the most contentious part of the Bill—a ll Clause 4s prove contentious. It has been attacked not only by the Opposition but also by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends for whom I have the greatest respect. The arguments they have put forward are extremely serious.

With a great deal of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said I am in entire agreement. For example, I am in agreement with him, and not with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), about the oft-quoted precedents of trade unions breaking the law in order to establish their simple democratic rights. The basic difference between that situation and the situation we have now is that then there was not adult suffrage and now there is adult suffrage. Therefore, I agree with my right hon. Friend on that matter.

Mr. Prescott

One does not necessarily have to rely on precedents so far back, though the principle remains the same; but I recognise part of the argument being put forward. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could look also to the new trade union legislation that was brought in by the Opposition when they were in power. It was clearly being defied in a number of areas and caused a great deal of consternation. We repealed that because we considered that it failed in its purpose. It failed to solve many of the problems, and we did not condemn any of the actions against that legislation.

Mr. Crosland

I am not aware that any of the actions against that are on all fours or parallel with the kind of situation we are discussing now. I do not believe them to be so. I had better return to the matters we are discussing now, which are controversial in themselves, without going very much wider.

Contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall said, I do not believe that there could be a clean situation here whatever we decided to do. Having thought this matter over most carefully, at the end of the day it remains the view of the Government that the House should reject the amendment before it. I should like to say, briefly, why.

The broad argument in favour of the amendment is that Clause 4 represents a dangerous threat to the rule of law. When the Bill was first introduced the argument was put even more strongly. It was said then that the Bill was not only a breach of the rule of law but was a breach without precedent. We have argued the matter of precedents up hill and down dale in Committee, and in particular we have argued about the Chamberlain precedent of 1927 and the Merthyr school milk precedent. I do not intend to rehearse those arguments once more.

I found, as I think my hon. Friends generally did, the case presented by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in our debate on Clause 1 overwhelmingly convincing, and I am sorry that my right hon. Friend dismissed this precedent and, indeed, walked out half way through the Attorney-General's speech. I hoped that he would listen to the end of that speech.

However, precedent or no precedent, the charge that we are endangering the rule of law stands and must be answered. As the point has been raised so often I must clear up this fact, that there has never been any question of our arguing for defiance of the law. Far from it. As I said on Second Reading, and as many of my hon. Friends know, I fought a long and at times unpopular battle within my own party against those who supported a policy of non-implementation.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has been criticised for what he said on this matter when in Opposition. In fact, he made the position of the Labour Party Executive quite clear on this subject. He told the Labour Party Conference in 1973: The NEC cannot possibly advise Labour councillors to act unlawfully. We cannot. So the Labour Front Bench came out against unlawful defiance of the Housing Finance Act. On the whole, we succeeded, but in a few cases we did not.

That leaves us with a mess to sort out. This, as I said on Second Reading, is one of those difficult questions of clemency, of partial amnesty and of indemnity which have troubled many different Governments in many different circumstances.

This Bill, and Clause 4 in particular, cannot be seen as undermining the rule of law. It is recognition of an unfortunate reality. The reality is a situation which has arisen, and the reality is, as the Opposition admit, that we must get out of it. Clause 4 is part of our solution.

Let me remind the House of what Clause 4 does not do. It does not retrospectively annul the £7,000 surcharge levied on the Clay Cross councillors and upheld by the courts. There is to be no indemnification against this surcharge. Nor will this surcharge, or any other surcharge under the Housing Finance Act, be met from public funds. In some quarters—not those quarters which my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall inhabits—this decision has been very sharply criticised. The Labour Party Conference in 1973 demanded that upon the election of a Labour Government all penalties, financial or otherwise, should be removed retrospectively from councillors who have courageously refused to implement the Housing Finance Act 1972. 8.30 p.m.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I have declined to implement that resolution. I have refused to remove the financial penalties imposed on these councillors. I have been very bitterly attacked as a result, by one of them in a letter to Labour Weekly in which he described my action as "a complete and utter sellout" of Labour Party Conference decisions. That may be his view. I remain quite unrepentant about my view.

Nor is our decision to end the disqualification retrospective. By the time the Bill becomes law the councillors will already have been disqualified for a considerable period. I am not trying to lift that disqualification with retrospective effect. It stands and it will stand on the record.

What Clause 4 does is to shorten the period of disqualification by bringing it to an end when the Bill is passed. We have done this because we feel that it helps to make the Bill more consistent and fair.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how the retrospective removal of a disqualification would assist the gentlemen concerned? Does it mean that retrospectively they could have stood for the new successor council?

Mr. Skinner

They are on it.

Mr. Crosland

My argument related to and was in the context of a resolution passed at the Labour Party Conference in 1973 which used the term "retrospective removal of disqualification". I acknowledge that the Clay Cross councillors were not only misguided but persistently misguided. But this is the crux of the argument, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall will listen with care. We considered it wrong for them to stay disqualified for failing to implement the Housing Finance Act when other councillors were to be released under this Bill from the threat of similar disqualifications.

Our views are that, without Clause 4, the Bill would be inconsistent and unfair. That is the crux of the argument for Clause 4. It is not related to the point about the Housing Commissioner to which my right hon. Friend referred, though that is relevant and I shall have a word to say about it later. It is not an act of mitigation of the kind he was discussing. The crux of the matter is that we should have been inconsistent and unfair had we lifted the threat of disqualification from all the other councillors while allowing the Clay Cross councillors to stay disqualified for failing to implement the Act.

Without Clause 4 the Bill would not go the whole way to wipe the slate clean. It was this wish to clean up the whole mess left by the Housing Finance Act which led to the Prime Minister's commitment in a statement to the House on 4th April 1974 to remove the civic disqualification incurred by the former councillors at Clay Cross.

An interesting point to emerge from the Opposition's alternative approach, as embodied in new Clause 1, is that on the principle of shortening the period of disqualification arising from a surcharge there is no difference between the two sides of the House. A disqualification is not for life. It comes to an end, and those involved can then become councillors again. New Clause 1 provided for the courts to impose a shorter period of disqualification. Speaking to a similar amendment moved in Committee, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said that: we want to make it possible for the courts to say that a councillor should be disqualified, but that disqualification need not necessarily go to the full term of five years."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 8th April 1974, c. 20.] The Government are proposing that the decision to shorten the period of disqualification in the case of Clay Cross councillors should be taken here in Parliament and not in the courts. The Opposition will dislike the idea of shortening the period in the case of Clay Cross, but I understand that there is little difference of principle between the Government and Opposition over whether the five-year period should be rigidly adhered to, or whether there should be provision for shortening it in certain cases. It is a matter of judgment—indeed of disagreement—whether it is right to shorten it for the Clay Cross councillors.

We see it not as as act of mitigation, or as a matter of whether the Housing Commissioner should have gone in earlier. We see it in terms of making the Bill consistent and fair, taking the Bill as a whole, as between all councillors—the 400 or so who declined to implement the provisions of the 1972 Act.

I want next to refer to the fresh surcharges, totalling roughly £52,000, on the former councillors of Clay Cross.

Here I must refer to a point which has been made in some recent Press comment. If, as has been reported—and I do not know the truth—the councillors concerned have appealed against these latest surcharges, which have nothing to do with the Housing Finance Act, the matter will be in the hands of the courts. Whatever happens, I have no intention of bringing before this House legislation to relieve them in respect of those surcharges. I hope that that dispels any doubt about the matter that may exist.

I emphasise again, if it needs emphasis, that these surcharges, amounting to £52,000, concern items of expenditure which have nothing whatsoever to do with the Housing Finance Act or with this Bill. I must also make it quite clear that these surcharges are made by the district auditor and that a right of appeal lies not to me but solely to the courts under the Local Government Act 1933. Provision is made in Section 229 of that Act for appeal to the courts, and in section 230 for application to the court for relief. Any such appeals for applications must be made within six weeks of the date of the surcharge.

Mr. Swain

Will my right hon. Friend also quote the section of that Act which says that if the surcharge is less than £500 per person—and it is in respect of 10 of the individuals—there is a right of appeal to the Minister, but that if it is more than £500 they must appeal to the Divisional Court?

Mr. Crosland

I am afraid that I cannot quote the section because I do not have it before me. I believe what my hon. Friend says to be correct, but, to make assurance doubly sure, I will ask whichever of my hon. Friends winds up the debate to quote the provision that my hon. Friend has in mind.

It has been reported that the Clay Cross councillors will appeal. I do not know whether this is so. There have been two contradictory reports in the past two days. Whatever they do, the proper course for Government Ministers is to refrain from any comment which might in any way be held to be prejudicial to anyone's interests or to the fair and impartial consideration of any further proceedings on the surcharges.

We must consider Clause 4 in terms of today's situation and as part of a Bill to deal with matters arising solely from the Housing Finance Act, but, if the situation were reached where Clause 4 would have no practical effect, of course we would consider the matter again.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, if the Clay Cross councillors were to appeal to the High Court only to have their appeals turned down, or if they refrained from appealing, and the surcharges stood, they would be disqualified for a further period of five years?

Mr. Crosland

That follows absolutely and completely. If either event occurred, we would reconsider the whole matter of Clause 4 in what would then be a completely different situation.

Finally, we must keep a sense of proportion about Clause 4. Clay Cross and this clause have become the focus of criticism in this whole matter of default under the Housing Finance Act and have received the lion's share of the publicity. I accept that the ex-councillors of Clay Cross deliberately and wrongly defied the law. There is no argument about that, but there are members of almost 20 other authorities who will probably also be found by the district auditors to have acted in such a way that in the normal course they would be surcharged and, under the Bill, would be subject to rent loss certificates. I must maintain parity of treatment between those many councillors and the Clay Cross councillors who have been surcharged already—

Mr. Skinner

Some of them are pro-Marketeers.

Mr. Crosland

The main difference between Clay Cross and the other councils is that at Clay Cross a surcharge was imposed for part of the loss of rent because the Tory Government chose to impose an extraordinary audit after a short period of time.

Here, I refer to the point about the Housing Commissioner. I remind the House of what I said on Second Reading. When the Housing Commissioner was finally sent into Clay Cross The Times, which has thundered fairly heavily against what we propose in this Bill, said in an editorial: Once the case"— that is Clay Cross— had become an isolated one, it would have been better to stop the arrears mounting up, for they could only add to the drama of the affair. … The surcharge is a necessary weapon of last resort, but it is unwise for a Government unnecessarily to give anyone the opportunity of making a martyr of himself. That passage appeared in The Times. Unfortunately, that is precisely what the Conservative Government did.

I also remind the critics that, if Clay Cross had been in Scotland, these councillors would not have been disqualified, for in Scotland no disqualification attaches to a surcharge, whatever its size.

Clause 4 is needed to maintain consistency of treatment between the 400 or so councillors who declined to implement the 1972 Act. If in the future the situation changes, I shall, as I have said, reconsider the need for it, but for the moment I must ask the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Percival

The opening speech in the debate was one which I am sure all hon. Members will have felt was as courageous as it was convincing. It was very fitting that it should have come from the right hon. Gentleman who is the Father of the House, because it was a speech in defence of the principles for which the House should stand, if it stands for anything, the defence of parliamentary democracy.

It will not go unnoticed that the collection of hon. Gentlemen—and I call them that because it is customary—who occupy the Front Bench below the Gangway seem to have no regard whatsoever for those principles.

Mr. Skinner

Tell Christopher Soames.

Mr. Percival

It is equally regrettable—no, it is not equally regrettable, because nothing could be quite so regrettable as the conduct of the hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench below the Gangway—it is regrettable that the Secretary of State is even now—having heard those views expressed so clearly and so forcibly by the Father of the House—not prepare to accept them.

The debate is not over. Perhaps even yet there will be some shift of opinion on the part of the Government.

I shall make one or two observations which I hope may reinforce the argument presented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). Let me make it clear to the Secretary of State that he is quite right when he says that we persist in the contention that the passage of the Bill would engender—I mean endanger—the rule of law.

Mr. Cryer

I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He is reading his speech in rather a slipshod manner, but I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene. How is it that he and his hon. Friends can talk about parliamentary democracy and its preservation when they are prepared to sell out to the Commissioners in Brussels? Does he not accept that there will be a shift of power away from Parliament to Brussels if we stay in the Common Market? Is not the corollary that we should vote "No" in the referendum in order to preserve the parliamentary democracy he claims he wants to defend?

Mr. Percival

If the hon. Gentleman really believes that I am reading he had better look at my notes. As to the second part of his intervention, in a way I am glad I gave way because, although what he has said is totally irrelevant, it indicates to the House the views of the hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench below the Gangway.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill he was dealing with was one of those difficult questions of clemency that have troubled many Governments. He went on to quote the Audit (Local Authorities) Act 1927. That Act was not an act of clemency. It was described by the Labour Party, which was than in Opposition, as an Act designed to suppress local government. That measure introduced far greater penalties than ever before, and it was described by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the then Opposition spokesman, as an Act designed to suppress local government.

8.45 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that he and his Cabinet colleagues were declining to implement Labour Party conference resolution No. 191. But all financial penalties, as well as disqualification, have been removed from the 400 councillors who, the Government say, are still in danger. That resolution has been fully implemented in regard to them. The effect of Clause 1 is that nobody who has not yet been surcharged, but who would otherwise be surcharged, will be surcharged in respect of any of the losses resulting from failure to implement the Housing Finance Act. The Government say that that clause is necessary because up to 400 councillors stand in danger of having that happen to them, not for anything they might do in the future but for something they have done, the consequences of which they cannot escape except by the passage of the Bill.

Therefore, what is being done is to implement the substance of the resolution in regard to all those people. The Bill relieves them of the otherwise inevitable consequence of suffering financial penalties and being disqualified, but it does it in advance rather than waiting until it has happened. It is a specious argument in those circumstances to say that the Secretary of State is refusing to implement the resolution. The only way in which he is refusing to implement it is by refusing to relieve the Clay Cross councillors of the present surcharge of £6,900, or thereabouts.

It is said that that surcharge will be paid by means of a levy raised within the party. We are still waiting to hear that it has been raised, that steps are being taken towards raising it, or even that somebody feels so strongly about the plight of those concerned that he is volunteering to raise the money. That is the only penalty of all the penalties which would otherwise be suffered which is not being relieved by the Bill.

It is plain that the effect of Clause 4 is small compared with the effect of Clause 1. The curious thing is that, having first let the impression be spread that Clause 4 was the important one, because that was the one that removed disqualification, the Government having got past Clause 1, which does far more than Clause 4 would do. They now say that because Clause 1 is in the Bill they must have Clause 4, because not to have it would be unfair to those few covered by Clause 4.

There is some argument in that if it would mean that the 11 were the only ones left out. That may support the case of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but it does not support the Government's case. The Government cannot now say that because they have taken so big a step as to relieve of all liability up to 400 councillors, many of whom are far more important to the Labour Party than those of Clay Cross, they must also relieve those affected by Clause 4.

There is a dilemma, a dilemma entirely of the Government's own making. It is not one that the House should allow to lead it into letting the clause remain in the Bill.

The Secretary of State referred to the precedents. I shall resist the temptation to refer to them again. One of the differences between Clause 4 and Clause 1 is that we know what was done by the people to whom Clause 4 relates. We do not even know yet how many people are affected by Clause 1, let alone who they are or precisely what they did. We do know what was done by those affected by Clause 4. Therefore, we can see in relation to them how far the views expressed by the Attorney-General in the opinion he gave in 1972 are applicable to the circumstances as we know them in respect of the Clay Cross councillors.

I have always accepted that the question the right hon. and learned Gentleman was asked which led to his giving that opinion were not precisely the questions which now arise. But I have always said that the answers should be the same because there is no difference in principle, and I should like to demonstrate what I mean. The right hon. Gentleman said: I know of no example of legislation by one Parliament to recompense persons or organisations for financial penalties incurred in consequence of refusing to obey the requirements of legislation passed by a preceding Parliament. Therefore, he contemplated that persons would refuse to obey the requirements of legislation. He was contemplating legislation which said "You must do so and so" and people replying "We know that you say that we must do this, but we shall not do it." Those words are directly applicable to the case of Clay Cross, because in September 1972 the people involved passed a resolution stating that they would not do what the Act required of them.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. and learned Gentleman may be surprised to learn that the Clay Cross councillors passed a resolu- tion early in 1972 indicating to the then Secretary of State for the Environment that they would not implement the Act. They said that they would not collect the extra £1 which was due to be paid under the Bill when it became law. They also declared at their council meeting—this was well publicised—that the Government should send in their housing commissioner to collect the rent. What is more important, they made it abundantly clear that they would not obstruct him. The only reason why the obstruction took place 12 months later was that they were dragged through the courts by the then Tory Government.

Mr. Percival

The hon. Gentleman has put forward these totally spurious arguments so often. They have been dealt with time and time again. There was no obligation on the Minister. The Minister, in these circumstances, had four alternatives. That was decided by the Court of Appeal, which said that the Minister was under no obligation as to which to choose. That is a different matter.

In the first part of his intervention the hon. Gentleman supported what I said—that the Clay Cross councillors refused to obey the requirements of the legislation passed by Parliament. The only difference is that the Attorney-General said that there was no example of a Parliament recompensing persons or organisations for financial penalties incurred through doing that. What is the difference in principle between recompensing people for penalties which they have incurred or relieving them of penalties which they will incur if the existing processes of law are completed? I suggest that there is no difference in principle. What the Attorney-General said was as relevant to Clause 4 as to the question to which he previously addressed his mind. He went on to say: An Act of Indemnity passed for this purpose would, in my opinion, contravene all constitutional practice and would set a dangerous precedent. Every word of that is applicable to Clause 4. He went on to say: Moreover, the expression of an intention by a political party to pass such legislation in the event of such a party being returned to power could only be construed as incitement to those concerned to refuse to obey the law; such an expression of intention would, therefore, also set a dangerous precedent. Every word of that is equally applicable to what was done by the Clay Cross councillors with the encouragement given to them by their seniors in the party who should have known better and are now driven to rescue them from the consequences.

Mr. Skinner

And the others.

Mr. Percival

And the others.

Mr. Skinner

So what is the difference?

Mr. Crosland

This is important. The hon. and learned Gentleman says "And the others".

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Crosland

But the others, even though they are not having so extreme and thorough a solution applied to them as we propose, under new Clause 1 will not have visited upon them the full penalties of the present legislation. The hon. and learned Gentleman must constantly concede that the others are being helped and relieved by new Clause 1 which he proposed.

Mr. Percival

The terminology used by the Secretary of State presupposes that new Clause 1 had been carried. If it had been carried, there would be some force in what he said. But new Clause 1 has been rejected by the Government. The result is that all the other councillors who defied the law—about 400 of them—will be totally relieved under Clause 1. That is why I agreed with the hon. Member for Bolsover when he referred to the others.

The next observation made by the Attorney-General in the opinion which I was quoting before being interrupted continued: It is my opinion that no Law Officer of the Crown, of any political party, would be likely to advise the Government of which he was a member to initiate such legislation. It is because we can see no difference in principle between what is happening now and what the Attorney-General was saying then that we are surprised to find a Law Officer of the Crown supporting such a Bill.

Another point made by the Attorney-General was that if we took steps to relieve the people who had defied the law of the consequences of what they had done, we would create all sorts of anomalies, because other people would have to bear the burden. That is a further consideration that arises here and a further reason given in the opinion for the views he expressed which are equally applicable in present circumstances. I suggest that if any hon. Member doubts the applicability of the views expressed by the Attorney-General in that opinion, he ought to have another look at it.

The Attorney-General was right in what he said in 1972. He has never tried to say that he said anything different in 1972 from what he did say then. His error is in refusing to accept that the principles are equally applicable to the circumstances today as they were to the precise questions put to him then.

Lastly, I want to deal with the remaining point made by the Secretary of State, which was that, in effect, there is a similarity between what we were suggesting in new Clause 1 and what the Government are doing. We were suggesting that the court might have power to reduce the period of disqualification, whereas in the Bill the Government are taking the decision to shorten the period.—What bunkum. There is no comparison between that and the powers and the rights which would have been given under new Clause 1. The question whether the period of disqualification should be shortened should be decided by a wholly independent party with full knowledge of the facts and after hearing representations on behalf of those concerned from all points of view. It is a totally different matter.

The falsity of what the Secretary of State is suggesting may be finally demonstrated in this way. Supposing that there were any sense in our saying that we should consider reducing the period. We should first look at the facts. Under the Labour Government in 1969–70, the councillors affected by this clause were already being warned by a Labour Minister, the hon. Member for Barnet, East (Mr. Freeson) that they had better he careful.

9.0 p.m.

Talking of the councillors' actions which led to the surcharge, Lord Denning said: It lay ill in the mouth of the councillors to say that the minister had acted unlawfully. Each of them"— that is, the councillors— had deliberately broken the solemn promise which he had given when accepting office. Each had flagrantly defied the law. Each was determined still to continue to defy it. … The men were not fit to be councillors. The sooner they were disqualified the better. He also said: The time had come when they must be told quite firmly that the law had to be obeyed. Their disobedience could not be tolerated. They were disqualified. They must stand down. Those are the facts on which the House should be acting.

Mr. Swain

I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman and the House that that was an opinion, not a legal fact, that Lord Denning used in his summing up of that case. May I also remind him that in the subsequent election at Clay Cross the new council was elected by 72 per cent. of the electorate on the same mandate as the previous council? That was the answer to Denning.

Mr. Percival

If hon. Members think that that is the answer to a view expressed by a person of the eminence of the Master of the Rolls in a wholly independent tribunal, they are entitled to their view, but I should not expect it to be one which would enjoy much credence in the House.

That is not all. We now have another report from the auditor, in which we are told that there are further losses of £100,000 which resulted from the refusal of the Clay Cross councillors to implement the Act. This is in addition to all the other sums for which they have now been surcharged, amounting to £52,000, in addition to the £25,000 interest on capital borrowed to finance revenue, and in addition to another sum which escapes me for the moment.

All this led the district auditor to say in the last paragraph of his final report, having given details of losses, unlawful payments and so on totalling £192,813: These figures provide a measure of the extent to which the interests of the ratepayers were disregarded by the members of the UDC in their deliberate defiance of the laws which it was their duty to administer—

Mr. Swain

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some time ago your predecessor in the Chair ruled out of order discussion of the subject which the hon. and learned Member is now discussing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I was not aware that this matter had been raised with my predecessor in the Chair, but so far I do not think there is anything strictly out of order.

Mr. Swain

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is an appeal lodged and the case is sub judice according to the rules. Perhaps you would care to check up.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind the hon. Member that the sub judice rule does not apply when legislation is being discussed.

Mr. Percival

I am obliged for your assistance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall read that passage again since I was stopped in the middle of it. It said: These figures provide a measure of the extent to which the interests of the ratepayers"— and let us never forget that councillors are trustees for all their ratepayers, not just a few of them— were disregarded by the members of the UDC in their deliberate defiance of the laws which it was their duty to administer. Looking at the picture of their activities in 1972–73 and 1973–74 it is evident that their defiance of the Housing Finance Act 1972 was only the first step in the path of lawlessness along which lay their subsequent decisions and action. These are the people whom the Secretary of State believes should have their period of disqualification shortened. The quotations I have read are from the only independent material that is available to the House. No wonder it is said that if we pass the Bill it must inevitably result in monstrous harm by proclaiming that those who spit upon the law may do so with impunity provided they do so in a sectional political interest. That is the sort of thing we are asked to support in Clause 4.

The whole House should be grateful to the Father of the House for so clearly putting the arguments for not having this clause, and should support him in the Lobby in his endeavour to see that the House upholds the principles of which it has been proud for so long. I assure him that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support him to the full and with glad hearts.

Mr. Weitzman

I am sure that the Opposition will support my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). They are only too glad to get hold of any stick with which to beat the Government. I have great regard for my right hon. Friend. He has presented his case, but I do not agree with him. The hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) seems to think—he said it several times—that because this is an opinion of the Father of the House we should pay special regard to it. My right hon. Friend is the Father of the House and I have regard for him, but I am a little older than he is and perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will pay some attention, therefore, to what I am about to say.

I noticed that the hon. and learned Member talked about the opinions of the Government benches below the Gangway. He knows perfectly well what my view is. I do not know whether he puts me with them on this matter. I have, naturally in my profession, a very great regard for the law and I agree that one should not sanction any breach of the law. I deplore any action which is a breach of the law. Parliament is supreme in making the laws, and whether the laws are good or bad they should not be broken. If we want to attack or change them we must do so by constitutional means.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said Let us look at the facts as they are. I invite him to do just that. What happened? An iniquitous Act, which we were all highly indignant about and on which we expressed our indignation at the time—the Housing Finance Act—was passed. It attacked the system by which local councils fixed rents. Local councils were extremely annoyed and indignant about it, just as we were.

What did the local councillors at Clay Cross do? They expressed their indignation. They said "We will not implement the Act. We will not carry out the provisions of the Act." That was clearly a breach of the law. But they also said, and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) on this much despised front bench below the Gangway got up and told the hon. and learned Gentleman that they made that quite clear to the Minis- ter. They said that they wanted him to send in a housing commissioner to deal with the position.

We know that the Minister had the power to send in a commissioner and we know that he did not need to send one in if he did not wish to. What an action on the part of the Conservative Government! They were told explicitly by the council that it would not implement the Act and that it wanted a housing commissioner sent in. Why did the Tory Govmiment not do that?—instead of leaving the Clay Cross Councillors to break the law. Was that not a disgraceful act on the part of the Tory Government?

I do not think that the councillors at Clay Cross acted within the law. They were clearly in breach of the law. But, to adopt once again the words used by the hon. and learned Gentleman, let us look at the facts. They did not do what they did for their cwn benefit. They were representatives of the citizens. They took the view that they ought to refuse to implement the Act. They were wrong although they genuinely thought that it was in the interests of their constituents. We all agree that they were wrong and that they committed a breach of the law.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall said that when I had previously made a speech on this subject I had given no plausible reason for the mitigation of the penalty. Let us see whether there is not some plausible reason. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend is satisfied that there is such a reason he will support the Government. I have said that the councillors asked the Government to send in a commissioner. They made it clear that they would not obey the law. They acted sincerely, believing that they were acting in the interests of their constituents. They did not act in any way for their own benefit. Is that not a plausible reason to be considered in mitigation?

The hon. and learned Member for Southport is a member of the Bar. He has taken part in criminal cases and has defended someone who has committed a dreadful crime. He has got up and put every point he could in mitigation. The judge has taken these points into account in imposing sentence. What has happened here? The Clay Cross councillors have suffered the penalty of the surcharge. They are not being relieved of that. They suffer the penalty of disqualification until the date when under the Act by reason of Clause 4 they will be relieved of it. They are being punished by surcharge and disqualification. It is only right that we should consider that and their motives in mitigation of their case.

The Opposition are a jolly sight worse—I nearly said "a damned sight worse" but I had better not—than the Tory Government of 1927. In that year, until the end of October 1927 the Poplar Council defied the law. In their mercy the then Tory Government said "We shall relieve you of any surcharge until the end of October 1931". Although the hon. and learned Member for Southport has put forward all sorts of arguments about that, that fact is crystal clear. There one has mercy exercised by a Tory Government. That is a quality which seems to be denied by the Opposition tonight.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Percival

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that from start to finish of the discussions that took place on the 1927 Bill there was, so far as I can see, no suggestion from anyone that it was a merciful Bill. On the contrary, the hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessors in the Labour Party said that it was a monstrous Bill, a Bill to suppress local Government.

Mr. Weitzman

Of course they said it was a monstrous Bill. However, it was a Conservative Government who mitigated to an extent the position of the Poplar councillors. That is crystal clear, and that cannot be denied. I note that the Opposition are not ready to extend any mercy tonight. I say that if it were only for that reason and that reason alone—namely the question of mitigation—the clause would be right.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has tried to attack the other point that was made most strongly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. and learned Gentleman has said that under Clause 1 the 400 other councillors have been relieved. Therefore, he asks "What does Clause 4 do apart from relieve the Clay Cross councillors?" My right hon. Friend has spelt out the position. He has said that we should have consistency, and that as we have relieved the other councillors we should also relieve the Clay Cross councillors.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has also sought to criticise my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. He tried to show that the question which my right hon. and learned Friend answered was equally applicable to the position today. I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of the question. My right hon. and learned Friend said: You asked for my considered opinion on the possibilities and difficulties of a future Labour Government initiating legislation to recompense trade unions, councillors or both who suffer financial loss in consequence of the operation of the Industrial Relations Act or the Housing Finance Act. The vital words were "who suffer financial loss". My right hon. and learned Friend answered quite correctly. It is absurd for the hon. and learned Gentleman to try to compare that with the position of disqualification under Clause 4. His analogy does not stand up if it is considered carefully.

Mr. Percival

The hon. and learned Gentleman has said that I said the question was the same. I did not say that. I said that I recognised that the question was not the same but that the answers should be the same for the same reasons.

Mr. Weitzman

I appreciate that the hon. and learned Gentleman said that, but he is quite wrong. I have said so before and I repeat it now. If he will take the trouble tomorrow, in the calmness of his chambers or in the quiet of the Library, to read through what he said tonight, he will see how utterly wrong he is. This matter was discussed in Committee at great length. I made my views clear in Committee and I have made them clear tonight. I repeat that the Opposition are not only making heavy weather of this but are trying to take every opportunity of attacking the Labour Government. I reject what they have said, and I hope that the clause will remain in the Bill.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I do not intend to keep the House for more than a couple of minutes. I merely wish to add my congratulations, as a very new Member, to the Father of the House for the courage which he has shown. I am sorry that some of the signatories to the amendment were not present when he made his speech.

I am not a man of legal training, but I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) knows very well that this matter concerns not only the Housing Finance Act 1972 but earlier events. It would be an insult to fellow councillors and to the electorate if the clause were allowed to remain. As I said in Committee, a councillor is supposed to be a member of an honourable calling. I think we should uphold that tradition in this Chamber.

Mr. Swain

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Young Liberals made a fairly substantial contribution to the Clay Cross Fighting Fund?

Mr. Ross

In fact, I attacked the Young Liberals only the other day. I do not have to agree with all their actions. If Labour Members read the Press they will know all about that. I have a very good Young Liberal organisation in my constituency which often disagrees entirely with the actions of some of its colleagues.

I ask the House to uphold its principles and to delete the clause.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

I have a few words to say on disqualification. Unfortunately, I was not present to hear the speech of the Father of the House. I apologise to my right hon. Friend for not being present.

It seems that there is the inevitability of logic in the position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If, under Clause 1, we are to remove the other 400 councillors from the risk of disqualification, it seems unfair that the Clay Cross councillors, who have had the disqualification imposed upon them, should continue to bear the brunt of disqualification. It would be unfair when others have had the threat removed from them. There is logic, fairness and justice in this position.

In new clause 1 tabled by the Opposition certain discretionary powers were given to the courts under which they could impose a disqualification accord- ing to the circumstances of the case. Incorporated in the clause was a mitigating factor which could be used by councillors to explain to the court why the full severity of the disqualification should not be imposed upon them.

That touches on the speeches made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) in the Second Reading debate and in Committee, when he stressed the importance of introducing into our discussion an element of mitigation—a factor which is common to the courts of this land—under which those who are brought before the courts are enabled to plead circumstances which would enable the court to reduce the penalty imposed upon them. The Opposition tabled a new clause which included the opportunity for mitigation.

In the Bill my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has employed the technique of mitigation which is open to the courts, but, more importantly, he has followed the logic of his own argument and has viewed the situation with the comparison it deserves, in that he has clearly stated that if the threat of punishment is to be removed from some, it is right and proper that the threat of further disqualification should be removed from others who have already had punishment imposed upon them, albeit that that punishment has not run for its full length.

Mr. Peter Rees

So far we have had three speeches in defence of Clause 4. The hon. Member for Gloucester, West (Mr. Watkinson) appears to suggest that, because some may be at risk, therefore all must go scot free. I would only say to him that those who are prospectively at risk always have open to them the possibility of going to the courts under Section 230 on the basis that they thought they acted reasonably. If they cannot substantiate a defence under that section, to my way of thinking they are as guilty as the Clay Cross councillors.

With reference to the speech by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), there is a maxim that dog does not eat dog. We are both members of the same profession so, perhaps, it would have been charitable in me to have passed over his speech in silence. However, I am provoked by his acting the rôle of Portia in the Merchant of Venice: The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth like the gentle"— dew from Hackney. If those were the forensic talents which he employed on behalf of his clients in the courts, I would suspect—I hope wrongly—that their sentences were doubled rather than halved. I prefer the rather low key forensic performance of the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State approaches this problem as the brisk, practical man of the world; he takes the attitude "it is a messy situation, let's clear it up and wipe the slate clean". He did not go quite as far as to suggest that the capability and the contribution of the Clay Cross councillors were so special and so outstanding that Derbyshire should not be denied their services for another three years, but that was the logic of his argument.

The person whom we miss from our debate is the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. I deplore very much that owing to the fact that he reached the climax of his speech on Second Reading at two minutes to 10 o'clock we were deprived of the enviable opportunity of hearing him draw a fine distinction between surcharge and disqualification, a piece of subtle casuistry which, I am sure, would have regaled the House. Although we may admire the Attorney-General's forensic qualities in this regard it is imperative that he should command our respect and confidence as legal adviser to the House.

Some Conservative Members sympathise with the Attorney-General's predicament. Why should he satisfy with his resignation debts contracted in an unguarded moment by the shopsoiled figure of the Leader of the House? When collective responsibility has been jettisoned by the Government is individual consistency any longer required? Since Ministers are no longer obliged to defend Government decisions are they obliged any longer to defend their own? I would have asked the Attorney-General—it may be that the Minister will answer this when he replies—what of those who have been disqualified in other spheres? What about company directors who have been disqualified under the Companies Act because they have been held to be unfit to manage companies and other people's finances? What about bankrupts? What if the Clay Cross councillors should be bankrupted? Are we to expect another Act of Indemnity to permit them to serve Derbyshire once again in spite of that particular disability?

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Rees

No doubt we shall hear from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who has standards all his own, how he would deal with that particular matter.

I would ask the Secretary of State, what if a person who has been bankrupted traces his downfall to the industrial and fiscal policies of the Secretary of State's right hon. Friends, would he expect a Conservative Government to introduce an Act of Indemnity on their behalf?

Mr. Skinner

They have done.

Mr. Rees

I shall await with interest, when the hon. Member for Bolsover catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to see if he will regale us with examples where that has been done. It is important since the case put by the Government is, in a sense, a plea in mitigation. Perhaps there has been too much legalism. However, since it has been put that way, it is important to ask whether the Clay Cross councillors acted in ignorance and whether they have shown any contrition. I listened with great interest to the speech deployed with such brazen eloquence by the hon. Member for Bolsover on Second Reading. At times he would have had us believe that they were acting in ignorance. If he does not recall it I shall be very happy to refer him to the passage in Hansard. On other occasions he would have had us believe that they were martyrs in a Socialist cause.

Mr. Skinner

No, not again.

Mr. Rees

Let us have it one way or the other. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that it was always open to the Clay Cross councillors in the proceedings of the Divisional Court to plead that they acted in reasonable ignorance of the law and that they had acted reasonably. It is interesting to note—and the House should recall this—that their counsel on that occasion was the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon). No doubt, having carefully considered the facts and the law, he expressly abandoned any defence under Section 230. I hope that if the hon. Member for Boslover catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker and I shall look forward very much indeed to his speech if he does—he will not employ that defence on this occasion, because it was a defence expressly rejected by the counsel of his brother and his friends.

9.30 p.m.

Therefore, one asks whether any contrition has been shown at any point of time by the Clay Cross councilors? What is the evidence? Their conduct has been as consistent as it has been brazen. I suggest to the Secretary of State that if he is really concerned with the standards of local government administration, which are his peculiar responsibility, he might be well advised to job back and look at the history of the Clay Cross Council. If he wants any prima facie evidence he ought to look at a remarkable piece of journalism by Mr. Austin Mitchell in the Political Quarterly, which has never been denied, as far as I know, from either side of the House.

What kind of advice did the Minister, in 1968, tender to Clay Cross Council? How did he react to the councillors' goings on then, years before the introduction of the Housing Finance Act. We cannot blame the Conservative Government for that. The councillors' conduct was plain under the previous Labour Government.

Mr. Skinner

They never broke the law.

Mr. Rees

I wonder. If I am asked to go into the Lobby to support this meretricious little Bill I want to know a great deal more of the conduct of affairs in Clay Cross than I have yet been told by any Minister.

What has happened to the case of Miss Owens and her litigation? What stage has it reached? Who will bear the cost? What about the discharge and re-engagement of the staff of the council in 1973? How has their position been safeguarded, and what is it now. What about the 33 per cent. pay increases to council workmen in 1973—above the norm imposed by the law at that time? I know that the hon. Member for Bol- sover would have no truck with that law either. He is remarkably selective in what he will accept and in what he will not accept. We must obey the law, but he may pick and choose, and so, evidently, may his right hon. and hon. Friends.

What about the deficit in the housing revenue account? Will the Minister tell us who is picking up the cheque there? Will it be the new successor district council that picks up that cheque?

What about the district auditor's report? I know that the Secretary of State, shielding behind the sub judice rule—incorrectly adduced in this case, as I understand it—would say that it would be improper for him or the Minister who is to wind up the debate to comment at all about that matter. But what if the Clay Cross councillors should appeal that surcharge? What if they should be disqualified for a further five years? The Secretary of State would have us believe then that he will reconsider the Bill. However, as I read the clause he has no power to do so. We are being asked, therefore, to lift a disqualification that may be reimposed in a matter of months.

There are, of course, general principles that go far outside the county of Derbyshire. I await with interest any contribution to the debate from a Derbyshire Member on the Government side of the House. If we pass the Bill unamended we shall undermine the position of district auditors and undermine the standards of good administration. What we need is a full public inquiry into what has gone on. I do not believe that we should be asked to pass over in silence a long history of maladministration—I have to pick my words with particular care here—which culminated in this confrontation with the then Conservative Government.

I am prepared in a political context, and, of course, in a religious context, to admire martyrs. I remind the House that Councillor Bunting said I am prepared to serve a prison sentence for my Socialist principles. I remind right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side of the House that that is precisely what Lansbury did. However, I am not prepared to admire martyrs who expect to be snatched from the flames by their friends at the eleventh hour, or to admire small-town bullies and Tammany Hall bosses.

This is a shabby, shoddy little Bill. The Government hope to slip it through, realising that there will be in Derbyshire ripples which they hope will die away. They hope that the slate can be wiped clean. That is the Secretary of State's phrase, not mine. Nothing will be wiped clean by this Bill, and, in particular, the stench of corruption will hang around the Secretary of State for the rest of his career. I am sad to see a person of his standing and his standards in such company, with legislation of this kind. I had always thought that in this House, though we pursue different political objectives, we share the same standards. That, evidently, is no longer true. I challenge hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who are so ready to barrack from a sitting position but have not yet offered a coherent defence of the Clay Cross action to say whether they consider that the late Lord Attlee would have countenanced a Bill like this. The fact is that the rotten and perverted standards of the hon. Member for Bolsover and his confederates have prevailed at Westminster, and long after the details of this squalid little Bill are forgotten that will be remembered by the country.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

I was not intending to speak until I became certain in my own mind that this Bill was being used for the wrong purposes and the wrong objectives by hon. Members opposite. What the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) requires, judging by the kind of language he uses, is to have a torch shone into the recesses of his mind, showing him some kind of enlightenment which might help him to get rid of his prejudices. [Interruption.] The truth is a changing thing.

There were times when councillors, not so many decades ago, were vilified because they sought to oppose the House of Commons in trying to establish, justice, as they saw it, in their communities. Justice, as we feel it in this House at any particular moment, is not the monopoly of truth. It has to be measured against the considerations which motivate those who seek to deal with the legislation passed in this House.

One thing was irrefutably clear when the Housing Finance Act was passed. Not one Labour Member of Parliament agreed with it; therefore, one half of the elected Members of the House were totally opposed to its iniquitous provisions.

If hon. Members opposite want to question that, they will have to answer a simple question. Do they themselves believe ultimately and totally in the processes of democracy which bring us all here? Have we not the inalienable right to exercise our different points of view on issues of importance to the people we represent? That is a major principle. It is not pursued in any constructive measure by the kind of shabby language used by the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal, whose reputation in this House is well known. He has never got beyond the political gutter.

I am not prepared to put the case for my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). There is an hon. Member in the House representing that part of the country who has the capacity to do it. Those who, because they do not agree with my hon. Friend, feel that the alternative is to vilify him only demean the House by doing so.

I come now to Clause 4, which is the clause which divides the House. But, for that reason, it should raise us to a standard of debate which will at least make for a better understanding of the situation.

In my quarter of a century of public life, I have come to learn that any Member of Parliament who holds indefinitely a fixed point of view on any public issue and is not prepared to change his mind with the change of events has not the kind of flexibility for which the democracy he represents calls.

I suggest that sufficient time has passed for lessons to have been learned in our arguments about the Housing Finance Act and for us to be able to say that people made mistakes. However, most of us agree that, once this House passes legislation, the law must be respected. Therefore, there must be the feeling that we should change our attitude towards people who thought that they were justified in attacking it. The process of time justifies that consideration.

In Bolsover and in many other parts of the country there was a genuine belief that there had to be active opposition to what was considered to be an iniquitous piece of legislation. There were others who recognised the iniquity of it but felt that they must comply with it.

I ask right hon. and hon. Members to consider where our great reformers would be if we did not respect those who take a more militant view. It is our job in this House to maintain what might be called a continuous review of a developing situation. Therefore, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that putting Clause 4 into the Bill does not make a cheap and shabby Bill. The inclusion of Clause 4 means that the Bill is saying that the argument has gone on sufficiently long for all reasonable men to decide that it is time to bring the situation to an end and to settle it.

Let the House divide. Let the Opposition divide how they will. But do not let them presume that they are sanctified with all that is right because they wish to exercise their votes in a particular way. Ultimately, the House must accept that there are those among its Members who believe that there is another way to divide. I intend to go into the Lobby and to vote not purely on the basis of the conduct of individuals and not judging them as individuals but because I believe that, for the nation as a whole and for all those involved, the time scale is such that we should bring the matter to a suitable end [Hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is apparent from those cries of "Hear, hear" that I shall be voting in one Lobby and that Opposition Members will be voting in the other. There is no doubt that when the votes are counted some hon. Members will be highly satisfied with their day's work while others will not.

When I came to the House the level of debate was such that the lowest form of language was used for the worst possible motives and that brought no credit to this honourable place.

I am satisfied that there is good reason for the Bill, which has been brought forward in a moderate manner by my right hon. Friend. I support the Bill that he has put before the House.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Raison

The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) said that he was trying to bring this matter to an end. I shall make a short contribution directed to the same objective. It is time that we moved towards a vote.

The essence of the arguments that we heard in our more serious moments in the last debate has been why would the Clay Cross councillors be relieved of disqualification? Ostensibly, at least, it has had nothing to do with the question of financial penalties. The only serious argument put forward for Clause 4 was by the Secretary of State, who said that it would be unfair on the Clay Cross councillors to be disqualified for five years when other councillors in the other parts of the country which defied the Housing Finance Act were to be disqualified for no period at all. As I understood it, that was the whole essence of the Secretary of State's argument.

First, I must reiterate that we reject the view that the other councillors should not be liable to any disqualification or surcharge. It was the essence of our new Clause 1 that they should be so liable. Even if they are relieved as the Bill proposes, we still see no reason why the Clay Cross councillors should be relieved, for, in the now famous, or perhaps notorious, words of the Leader of the House at the Labour Party Conference in 1973, Clay Cross is something rather special. It really is". Our reasons for believing that the special nature of what happened at Clay Cross demands different treatment and that the penalty of disqualification which was imposed should now be upheld are as follows. First, the House is now familiar with the events that happened at Clay Cross before the Housing Finance Act was ever brought forward as a Bill. I am sure that many hon. Members by now have read the article in The Political Quarterly last year by Austin Mitchell, which set out the record of the Clay Cross councillors in that period.

Secondly, events since the Act which have led to this latest surcharge add further justification. The story of the latest surcharge, told in the report of the district auditor, is astonishing. When the Secretary of State referred to the latest surcharge he was tacitly admitting that it is relevant to consider these matters when coming to a conclusion about Clause 4.

The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) complained about our approach, saying that it was irrelevant to talk about these events. More particularly, he said that we were putting forward a scheme which would lead to a possible mitigation of penalties and surcharges. I reply that we were doing so in the context that it was the courts that would decide. Does he seriously believe that the courts, faced with the Clay Cross councillors, would decide to reduce the penalty of disqualification? In my view, it is completely incredible that they would.

Thirdly, there is the verdict of Lord Denning, which in my view is one of the most damning verdicts that it would be possible to imagine. It may well be that the latest surcharge and disqualification will mean that Clause 4 is ultimately redundant.

I must admit that there are moments when it appears that farce is creeping in to the whole of this matter. It is not fundamentally for that reason that we believe that Clause 4 should be deleted. We believe that it should be deleted because it carries mercy to a point where a mockery is made of justice. It condones deliberate law breaking in a way which sets an appalling precedent.

When will the £7,000 fund which the Labour Party was to set up to pay the surcharge on the Clay Cross Councillors be paid off? What is happening about that fund? The Under-Secretary said in Committee, on how that surcharge was being pursued by the district auditor, that He has obtained a judgment on that and a writ was served on 11th June last year. It is for the district auditor to decide how and when to pursue the councillors in relation to that surcharge."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 24th April 1975; c. 279.] No doubt it is. I do not quarrel with that point of view. But it is astonishing that after that period the money has not been paid in. After all, the Prime Minister himself indicated, in his statement on 4th April 1974, that the Labour Party was to consider how to raise the money. Well over a year later, as far as I know it has not been paid. What has happened? Are Labour Members willing to vote for the Bill but not to fork out to meet its implications?

In speaking on the clause, the Secretary of State carried no conviction. Perhaps he was put off his stroke by his hon. Friends below the Gangway. He ignored the major difference between our approach and that of the Government on the possibility of reducing the period of disqualification. Our approach is based on the view that it is far better for the courts to make these decisions. His approach is political. He is relying on the votes of his hon. Friends below the Gangway to get Clause 4 through. He is welcome to them. But I hope that those hon. Members in the Labour Party with a sense of honour who have spoken tonight will stick to their guns and vote to delete this disgraceful clause.

Mr. Crosland

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may make a few remarks in reply to the points raised in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) raised the question of Section 229. His interpretation of the section is correct, but the surcharges are joint and several. Of the last £52,000-odd, there is no item under £500 in Clay Cross. In any case, the amounts surcharged are not divided by the number of persons.

The hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) mentioned the fund. I must make it absolutely clear that raising the money is not a matter for the Government. I understand that steps are being taken to raise it, but that the £7,000 has not yet been paid. How it is raised is not a matter for me or my ministerial colleagues. I understand that it is likely to be available fairly soon, but I am not in a position to give the House precise information, because the fund is entirely a private matter.

I am sorry to say that the hon. and learned Member for Southport returned to the matter of the advice that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is known to have given—indeed, it was public—to the Labour Party at an earlier stage in this discussion. Although he accepted, of course, the difference between the two questions, one relating to disqualification and the other to retrospective removal of financial penalties, he said that if my right hon. and learned Friend had been asked both questions and not just one he would have given the same answer to both.

My right hon. and learned Friend explained with great care and at great length in Committee that that is not the case. When asked about the retrospective removal of financial penalties, he was able to say correctly that as far as he knew there were no precedents for it. He pointed out again and again in Committee that if he had been asked about disqualification he could not possibly have given that answer. We know from the hours of discussion in Committee that there were many precedents. They were argued about, and they were interpreted differently.

I wish to make three crucial points. The first concerns the importance of being consistent and fair as regards the disqualification of councillors who fail to implement the law. This Bill will relieve --and the Opposition proposals would partially relieve—those who defied the law but have not been surcharged. But the Opposition attitude would be not to relieve from disqualification those at Clay Cross who defied the law but who were surcharged.

I feel strongly about that matter. In that regard I found the anecdotes of the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) about Lord Attlee and George Lansbury not instantly appealing. However, I agreed with him on this point. He said that the other 400 councillors who did not implement the Act and who, if they were surcharged, appealed against the surcharge and had the appeal turned down, should be treated in exactly the same way as the Clay Cross councillors. I make precisely that point. I ask for parity and equity of treatment between all those who failed to implement the Act, whether the surcharge had been made—as it was in the case of Clay Cross—or whether it had not been made, as was the case in all the other places.

Secondly, I remind the House, and some of my hon. Friends, why there was a difference between Clay Cross, where a surcharge was imposed, and the other councils, where a surcharge was not imposed. The reason was that in the case of Clay Cross alone the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) decided on an extraordinary audit. He decided that such an audit should take place in Clay Cross but in no other place. That is the only reason why Clay Cross is not on all fours with the 20 or so other councils which failed for some considerable time to implement the Act. It is not that it behaved worse: there are different opinions as to that. What is not a matter of opinion is that it was singled out for an extraordinary audit. That alone explains why a surcharge was made in that one council area, and in no other.

Mr. Skinner

My right hon. Friend correct when he refers to the Secretary of State for the Environment sending in the auditors to make an extraordinary audit. However, is he aware that, while I agree with him on that question, the logic which he pursues is almost bound to lead him to the conclusion which I share—namely, that if the Clay Cross councillors were no different from any of the other 400 councillors, the removal of the surcharge of £7,000 should also take place?

Mr. Crosland

I have come to my conclusion on that matter. I do not propose to alter it.

I now address my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). He said that we were not talking about a major penalty and that we were talking about the difference between two years and five years. I go along with him on that point, although I draw a different conclusion. All that Lord Denning, who made those rough remarks about the Clay Cross councillors, could do was to endorse a five-year disqualification. That was the limit of Lord Denning's powers. He could not disqualify them for life. He disqualified them for five years, which was the maximum possible period. I agree that the difference between two years and five years is not crucial. In my opinion, it is not crucial enough to permit us to draw this fundamental and basic distinction between the Clay Cross non-implementers and other non-implementers.

On Second Reading the Attorney-General was subjected to personal attacks which came close to character assassination. The hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), who I regret to see, is not here, used his authority as a former Law Officer in a way which was calculated to undermine the relationship between my right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues in the legal profession.

In Committee my right hon. and learned Friend had the opportunity, which was denied to him on Second Reading, to make his case and answer the charges made against him in an atmosphere of comparative calm. He made his case moderately and persuasively and, to their credit—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. John Ellis.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made

Mr. Crosland

My right hon. and learned Friend made his case moderately and persuasively and, to their credit, hon.

and learned Gentlemen opposite dissociated themselves from the attack on his character, whilst maintaining their criticism of his judgment.

Today, in my view, my right hon. and learned Friend has made an unanswerable case. The time has now come for the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon to follow his hon. and learned Friends and to have the courage and decency to be expected of a former Law Officer to withdraw the wounding and unjustified personal attack which he saw fit to launch against my right hon. and learned Friend. I hope that before the debate concludes he will find time to do so.

We have argued the matter at length. I will not argue it any more. I ask the House to reject the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 242, Noes 250.

Division No. 206.] AYES [10.1 p.m.
Adley, Robert Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Havers, Sir Michael
Aitken, Jonathan Drayson, Burnaby Hayhoe, Barney
Alison, Michael du Cann, Rt. Hon. Edward Heseltine, Michael
Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian Durant, Tony Hicks, Robert
Arnold, Tom Eden, Rt. Hon. Sir John Higgins, Terence L.
Atkins, Rt. Hon. H. (Spelthorne) Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Holland, Philip
Awdry, Daniel Elliott, Sir William Howe, Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey
Banks, Robert Emery, Peter Howell, David (Guildford)
Beith, A. J. Eyre, Reginald Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)
Bell, Ronald Fairbairn, Nicholas Hunt, John
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Fairgrieve, Russell Hurd, Douglas
Berry, Hon. Anthony Fell, Anthony Hutchison, Michael Clark
Biffen, John Finsberg, Geoffrey Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Biggs-Davison, John Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N.) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Body, Richard Fookes, Miss Janet James, David
Boscawen, Hon. Robert Fox, Marcus Jenkin, Rt. Hon. P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Fraser, Rt. Hon. H. (Stafford & St) Jessel, Toby
Boyson, Dr. Rhodes (Brent) Freud, Clement Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Braine, Sir Bernard Fry, Peter Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Brittan, Leon Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Jones, Arthur (Daventry)
Brotherton, Michael Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Jopling, Michael
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Gilmour, Rt. Hon. Ian (Chesham) Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith
Bryan, Sir Paul Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Kaberry, Sir Donald
Buck, Antony Glyn, Dr. Alan Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine
Budgen, Nick Godber, Rt. Hon. Joseph Kershaw, Anthony
Bulmer, Esmond Goodhart, Philip Kilfedder, James
Burden, F. A. Goodhew, Victor King, Evelyn (South Dorset)
Carlisle, Mark Goodlad, Alastair King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert Gorst, John Kitson, Sir Timothy
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Knight, Mrs. Jill
Channon, Paul Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Knox, David
Churchill, W. S. Grant, Anthony (Harrow C.) Lane, David
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Gray, Hamish Langford-Holt, Sir John
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Griffiths, Eldon Latham, Michael (Melton)
Clegg, Walter Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. Lawrence, Ivan
Cockcroft, John Grist, Ian Lawson, Nigel
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W.) Grylls, Michael Le Merchant, Spencer
Cope, John Hall, Sir John Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Cordle, John H. Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Cormack, Patrick Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Lloyd, Ian
Costain, A. P. Hampson, Dr. Keith Loveridge, John
Critchley, Julian Hannam, John Luce, Richard
Crouch, David Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Crowder, F. P. Harvie Anderson, Rt. Hon. Miss McCrindle, Robert
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Hastings, Stephen Macfarlane, Neil
MacGregor, John Penhaligon, David Stainton, Keith
Macmillan, Rt. Hon. M. (Farnham) Percival, Ian Stanbrook, Ivor
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Peyton, Rt. Hon. John Stanley, John
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Pink, R. Bonner Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Madel, David Prior, Rt. Hon. James Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Raison, Timothy Stokes, John
Mates, Michael Rathbone, Tim Stradling Thomas J.
Mather, Carol Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Tapsell, Peter
Maude, Angus Rees-Davies, W. R. Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald Renton, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Hunts) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Tebbit, Norman
Mayhew, Patrick Ridley, Hon. Nicholas Temple-Morris, Peter
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Ridsdale, Julian Thatcher, Rt. Hon. Margaret
Miscampbell, Norman Rifkind, Malcolm Thomas, Rt. Hon. P. (Hendon S.)
Moate, Roger Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Thorpe, Rt. Hon. Jeremy (N Devon)
Monro, Hector Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Townsend, Cyril D.
Montgomery, Fergus Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Trotter, Neville
Moore, John (Croydon C.) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Tugendhat, Christopher
More, Jasper (Ludlow) Royle, Sir Anthony van Straubenzee, W. R.
Morgan, Geraint Sainsbury, Tim Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral St. John-Stevas, Norman Viggers, Peter
Morris, Michael (Northampton S.) Scott, Nicholas Wainwright, Richard (Colne V.)
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Wakeham, John
Morrison, Hon. Peter (Chester) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Walker, Rt. Hon. P. (Worcester)
Mudd, David Shelton, William (Streatham) Wall, Patrick
Neave, Airey Shepherd, Colin Walters, Dennis
Nelson, Anthony Shersby, Michael Warren, Kenneth
Neubert, Michael Silvester, Fred Weatherill, Bernard
Newton, Tony Sims, Roger Wells, John
Nott, John Sinclair, Sir George Whitelaw, Rt. Hon. Willian
Onslow, Cranley Skeet, T. H. H. Wiggin, Jerry
Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Winterton, Nicholas
Osborn, John Smith, Dudley (Warwick) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Page, John (Harrow West) Speed, Keith
Page, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby) Spence, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Pardoe, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcester) Mr. W. Benyon and
Parkinson, Cecil Sproat, Iain Mr. Adam Butler.
Pattie, Geoffrey
Armstrong, Ernest Davies, Bryan (Enfield N.) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Ashley, Jack Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Hardy, Peter
Ashton, Joe Davies, Ifor (Gower) Harper, Joseph
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N.) Davis, Clinton (Hackney C.) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Deakins, Eric Hart, Rt. Hon. Judith
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Hattersley, Rt. Hon. Roy
Barnett, Rt. Hon. Joel (Heywood) de Freitas, Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey Hatton, Frank
Bates, Alf Delargy, Hugh Hayman, Mrs. Helene
Bean, R. E. Dell, Rt. Hon. Edmund Healey, Rt. Hon. Denis
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N.) Doig, Peter Heffer, Eric S.
Bidwell, Sydney Dormand, J. D. Hooley, Frank
Bishop, E. S. Douglas-Mann, Bruce Horam, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Duffy, A. E. P. Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H.)
Booth, Albert Dunnett, Jack Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. Arthur Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth Hughes, Rt. Hon. C. (Anglesey)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Eadie, Alex Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Edelman, Maurice Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N.)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W.) Edge, Geoff Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Buchanan, Richard Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Hunter, Adam
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) English, Michael Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)
Callaghan, Rt. Hon. J. (Cardiff SE) Ennals, David Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P.) Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Janner, Greville
Campbell, Ian Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas
Canavan, Dennis Evans, John (Newton) Jeger, Mrs. Lena
Cant, R. B. Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Carter, Ray Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W.) John, Brynmor
Carter-Jones, Lewis Flannery, Martin Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Cartwright, John Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Castle, Rt. Hon. Barbara Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Ciemitson, Ivor Foot, Rt. Hon. Michael Kaufman, Gerald
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S.) Forrester, John Kerr, Russell
Coleman, Donald Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Concannon, J. D. Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Lambie, David
Conlan, Bernard Freeson, Reginald Lamborn, Harry
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C.) Garrett, John (Norwich S.) Lamond, James
Corbett, Robin Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Loadbitter, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) George, Bruce Lee, John
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Ginsburg, David Lever, Rt. Hon. Harold
Crosland, Rt. Hon. Anthony Golding, John Litterick, Tom
Cryer, Bob Gould, Bryan Lomas, Kenneth
Cunningham, G. (Islington S.) Gourlay, Harry Lyon, Alexander (York)
Cunningham, Dr. J. (Whiteh) Graham, Ted McElhone, Frank
Dalyell, Tam Grant, John (Islington C.) MacFarquhar, Roderick
Davidson, Arthur Grocott, Bruce Mackenzie, Gregor
Maclennan, Robert Prescott, John Taylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton W.)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C.) Price, C. (Lewisham W.) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertiltery)
McNamara, Kevin Price, William (Rugby) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E.)
Madden, Max Radice, Giles Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Mahon, Simon Rees, Rt. Hon. Merlyn (Leeds S.) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Richardson, Miss Jo Tierney, Sydney
Marks, Kenneth Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Tinn, James
Marquand, David Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Tomlinson, John
Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Robertson, John (Paisley) Tomney, Frank
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S.) Roderick, Caerwyn Urwin, T. W.
Mason, Rt. Hon. Roy Rodgers, George (Chorley) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V.)
Maynard, Miss Joan Rodgers, William (Stockton) Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Moocher, Michael Rooker, J. W. Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Mellish, Rt. Hon. Robert Roper, John Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Mendelson, John Rose, Paul B. Ward, Michael
Millan, Bruce Ross, Rt. Hon. W. (Kilmarnock) Watkins, David
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Rowlands, Ted Watkinson, John
Molloy, William Ryman, John Weetch, Ken
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Sandelson, Neville Weitzman, David
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Sedgemore, Brian Wellbeloved, James
Morris, Rt. Hon. J. (Aberavon) Selby, Harry White, Frank R. (Bury)
Moyle, Roland Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) White, James (Pollok)
Mulley, Rt. Hon. Frederick Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyrae) Whitehead, Phillip
Murray, Rt. Hon. Ronald King Short, Rt. Hon. E. (Newcastle C.) Whitlock, William
Newens, Stanley Short, Mrs. Renée (Wolv NE) Willey, Rt. Hon. Frederick
Noble, Mike Silkin, Rt. Hon. John (Deptford) Williams, Alan (Swansea W.)
Oakes, Gordon Silkin, Rt. Hon. S. C. (Dulwich) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
O'Halloran, Michael Sillars, James Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
O'Malley, Rt. Hon. Brian Silverman, Julius Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Orbach, Maurice Skinner, Dennis Wilson, Rt. Hon. H. (Huyton)
Ovenden, John Small, William Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Owen, Dr. David Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Wise, Mrs. Audrey
Palmer, Arthur Snape, Peter Woodall, Alec
Park, George Spearing, Nigel Woof, Robert
Parker, John Stallard, A. W. Wrigglesworth, Ian
Parry, Robert Stewart, Rt. Hon. M. (Fulham) Young, David (Bolton E.)
Pearl, Rt. Hon. Fred Stoddart, David
Pendry, Tom Stott, Roger TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Perry, Ernest Strang, Gavin Mr. James A. Dunn and
Phipps, Dr. Colin Summerskill, Hon. Dr. Shirley Mr. John Ellis.
Prentice, Rt. Hon. Reg Swain, Thomas

Question accordingly negatived.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Crosland

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

The House has given this comparatively short Bill full consideration both in Committee and again today. The Opposition, and certain of my hon. Friends on some aspects, have expressed themselves most forcibly in their dislike of the Bill and have been critical of the Government. [Interruption.] We cannot complain about that. It is right that these matters should be fully debated. In view of the Bill's origins—[Interruption]—it is hardly a matter for surprise that the Opposition should take a different view from the Government on the way in which this whole matter should be cleared up. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. These conversations must take place outside the Chamber.

Mr. Crosland

The differences between the two sides of the House are not as great as might be suggested by some of the robust language that has been used, especially on Second Reading. There is, in particular, agreement on the following points. First, whatever Government were in power they would have had to legislate. Conservative Members do not wish to apply the full rigour of the existing law, and their amendments and the new clauses outlined the legislation which they would have introduced. There is agreement on the fact that something had to be done and that we had to find a commonsense answer to an exceptional situation.

Second, there is also agreement that whatever was to be done should temper justice with mercy, a phrase used by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) earlier today. Tory Members have reiterated that they have no desire to be vindictive. Third, it follows that there is also agreement in saying that we should not exact the full surcharge and disqualification penalties set out in the existing law. In new Clause 1 the Opposition were proposing a limit, at the discretion of the courts, to the amount of the surcharge and to the period of disqualification.

There is agreement that in certain cases—we disagree about who should have the discretion—the penalties should be less than those under existing law. There would have to be legislation to that effect. The agreement goes even further than that, because there is some agreement with part of our method of dealing with the problem. The hon. Member for Aylesbury and his colleagues have accepted the rent loss certificate and have accepted that the rent loss should fall on the local community.

Despite that, there have been major disagreements. These have come out today, notably in the discussion on Amendment No. 5 and Clause 4. These are extremely serious matters, particularly that dealing with Clause 4.

Let me say a word about the precedents as this subject occupied a high proportion of the discussion in Committee. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury who said earlier today that the existence of precedents cannot possibly be the whole or sole justification for such a Bill. Nevertheless, I, and, I imagine, my colleagues, would be extremely disturbed if we were unable to find any precedents at all. I agree, although many Members of the Opposition do not, with the Attorney-General that Mr. Neville Chamberlain's actions in 1927 were strikingly close precedents. I still continue to believe that the action of the then Conservative Secretary of State with regard to school milk at Merthyr Tydfil is certainly not without relevance to our discussion.

I repeat the more general point I made on Second Reading, which is that throughout history Governments have faced situations in which they have had to balance one social value—namely, clemency and a willingness to forgive—against another social value, the rule of law. I have an extremely long article from the American Law Journal setting out hundreds of such cases of amnesty, partial amnesty and indemnity. A high proportion came after the end of a war and are akin to the kind of problems President Ford is facing with the draft evaders and the Vietnam deserters.

Nevertheless a considerable number of these cases also occurred in peace time. I was reminded only yesterday of a famous American case, the American Whiskey Rebellion. I am sure that hon. Members will recall that Alexander Hamilton imposed an excise duty on whisky for the first time. This was not merely opposed but totally defied by practically every farmer in Pennsylvania. That culminated in the so-called Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. In 1795, in the famous speech which set up the classic case for an amnesty. Congress was persuaded to grant a pardon in certain circumstances.

The only alternative to the Bill, which is the Conservative proposal, is summarised in the new clause that we considered today. That alternative would itself be an act of clemency. New Clause 1 amounts to a partial amnesty as it alters the law to prevent the full rigour of the existing law being visited on a large number of councillors who defied the law. The Conservative alternative would be in the same danger of being quoted in future cases as our Bill will be according to the hon. Member for Aylesbury.

I still believe that the Bill is the only effective way in which, to quote the now continuously quoted words of Mr. Neville Chamberlain. "we can wipe the slate clean". I think we should do so now.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Raison

The Bill came to the House as a disgrace, and if it receives a Third Reading it will leave the House as a disgrace. I must say straight away to the Secretary of State that the gap between us is far wider than he set out to suggest. There is a deep gap in terms of principle. The emollient words that we have heard from time to time from the Secretary of State and from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department about recognising that the Bill is not perfect have turned out to mean virtually nothing. As it stands, the Bill can give succour only to those who think that the rule of law does not matter.

During the course of the proceedings we have offered a series of constructive amendments which could have had the effect only of making the Bill far more acceptable to the people's sense of justice. All our amendments that were of any significance have been spurned, and I believe wrongly spurned. We set out a scheme by which the decision as to each case could have been examined by the courts and the appropriate financial penalties and disqualifications decided. In our view, that approach had great advantages in terms of justice and common sense.

It seems that the Government's approach throughout this business has been bedevilled by the fact that they are acting in advance of knowledge of the facts. I put to the Government the point that we have repeatedly made which they have never sought to answer throughout our debates—namely, that the Prime Minister said in April last year: Only when we see the full extent and magnitude of the problem will it be possible for us"— that is the Government— to make our recommendations to the House …".—[Official Report, 4th April, 1975, Vol. 871, c. 1445.] They have never answered that point. The truth is that in this legislation Parliament does not know what it is doing. We do not know the full extent of the problem. On one of the few occasions when we acquired facts—namely, the cost of repayments—it was shown quite clearly that the provisions in the Bill for the five-year period of repayment were frankly absurd. The Government must know perfectly well that those provisions are absurd, yet they persisted in leaving them in the Bill. There is no case for the Bill in its present form.

I wish to take up the point made by the Secretary of State. The fact that the Government have rested their arguments almost entirely on the precedents unquestionably weakens the ability of future Governments to resist any future lawbreaking by councillors, and it inevitably weakens the ability of Ministers to perform their functions. What can the Attorney-General say to councillors who in future refuse to implement one of his Government's measures? They would quote to him the precedents which he has quoted to us again and again. He would have no answer. If the councillors said "Will you kindly wipe the slate clean?" what could he say? They would be entitled to point out that this continuous emphasis on precedents means that the Government are in no position to resist any councillors who from now on decide to take the course followed by the councillors of Clay Cross and elsewhere.

The Bill is a deep affront to the sense of justice of all sorts of people in all sorts of parties throughout the land. There is a deep affront to the sense of justice of council tenants in areas which in no sense belonged to the community which benefited. These people are being put in the position of being liable to pay for the failure of councillors—who were not elected by them—to collect rents in an area in which they have no part. The arguments we heard from the Government Front Bench on the amendment were the feeblest I have ever heard.

The same applies to ratepayers outside the relevant areas. Why should they be forced to pay for the delinquency of these councillors? There is also deep affront to our sense of the notion of law in the way in which the relief of disqualification put forward by the Government flies in fiat contradiction to the whole tenor of Lord Denning's solemn judgment.

The Bill lets off completely those who defied the law and places a heavy burden on those who did not. It stains irreparably the reputation of those who bring it forward and, worst of all, it leaves another tremor in the hearts of those who care for the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law. I urge the House to reject the Bill.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Lawrence

I have been struck by the shabbiness of the arguments which have been advanced by otherwise intelligent men in support of this despicable measure.

Few things more shabby have occurred during the passage of the Bill than the nasty little attack which the Secretary of State has just perpetrated upon my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) behind his back and without giving him the courtesy of notice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?".] I remind the House of what my hon. and learned Friend said in the Second Reading debate: My duty to criticise the Attorney-General tonight gives me no pleasure, but my duty is clear both as an ex-Law Officer and as a lawyer dedicated to the maintenance of the rule of law and of Parliament. I must ask the Attorney-General how he can justify this not only to the House but to his colleagues in the Temple where he is the Leader of the Bar. How can he justify it to the Director of Public Prosecutions and his staff for whom he has ministerial responsibility? How can he justify it to the police who so frequently seek his advice? How can he justify it to the country which is entitled to believe that Law Officers of the Crown are fair and impartial and fiercely proud of their independence? … This is the most serious threat to our constitution. Those charged with enforcing the law, not only the police but those in local government and those charged by Parliament to administer laws which are unpopular to some sections of the community, will wait with the deepest anxiety on what we do tonight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not recapitulate at great length what has already appeared in the Official Report.

Mr. Lawrence

I am concluding, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In your absence a great deal of leeway was given to Government supporters who talked of all sorts of irrelevant matters.

My hon. and learned Friend concluded by saying: If the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, today will be a watershed in our history, a day which future historians will mark, a day which Law Officers of the Crown will remember with cringing shame."—[Official Report, 24th March 1975; Vol. 889, c. 153.] The Opposition stand by everything that my hon. and learned Friend said.

The House will know the old adage that if one has a bad case one attacks the other side's attorney. The action of the Secretary of State is a condemnation of the pitiful Bill which he has brought before the House.

I want to deal with one utterance that was made earlier this evening when most of the Labour supporters who are now here were not present. The Secretary of State said that there was no clean solution to this problem. He was apologising for the Bill. But he was wrong. There is a clean solution. What is more, there is a clean and just solution.

The Labour Party's representatives in Clay Cross deliberately, wilfully and with knowledge of the consequences broke the law. The Labour Party, represented in the National Executive Council, commended those representatives for the stand which they took and voted to let them off the consequences of their action.

Very well—the Labour Party should pay the consequences of breaking the law. The amount would come to £1½ million. If the Labour Party cannot raise £1½ million to pay off the money which Clay Cross councillors and other councillors ought justly to pay to ratepayers in their particular boroughs. I can only say how sorry I am that this great Labour Party is unable to face up to its responsibilities. After all, the Labour Party received £10 million back under another piece of legislation—[Interruption.]—and that was £10 million to which it was not lawfully entitled. It went back to the unions. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to what is in the Bill. He is going very wide of the mark.

Mr. Lawrence

I am relating my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I say this with great respect—in the same way as the Secretary of State related his remarks when he said that there was no clean solution. I am suggesting the clean and just solution, which is that the Labour Party should pay back the losses occasioned by the breach of the law.

I ask Labour Members, to whom justice is so important: where is the justice in making a sacrifice for one's principles and expecting others to pay for them? If one is a person who wants to become a martyr to one's principles, one should face up to one's responsibilities and pay for them. Where is the honour of the great British Labour Party when it refuses to face up to its responsibilities in this matter? If Labour Members have any honour they should show it by voting against the Third Reading of the Bill.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham

Just in case my point has been missed, in the light of the speech that we have just heard it is worth reiterating that at present British central Government public funds are carrying a burden of approximately £100,000 sustained in the form of compensation payments made to certain individuals in Northern Ireland as a result of the wrongful and illegal actions of the former Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Carrington. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is also straying from what is in the Bill. We must stick to what is in the Bill.

Mr. Cunningham

I am suggesting, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when we are proposing to exonerate certain people from the financial consequences of their actions, it is relevant to recall that, without any opposition then from hon. Members who are now on the Opposition side of the House, one former Minister, Lord Carrington, was responsible for imposing upon public funds a burden of £100,000, which is now having to be—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is improper to refer to a member of another place in such terms unless on a substantive motion. The hon. Gentleman is straying very wide of what is in the Bill. Will he confine his remarks to the content of the Bill.

Mr. Cunningham

It is a very wide discussion, but it is very relevant, and I have done, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In view of the expression of opinion about the need for rectitude in this matter, about which we have heard so much during these debates, I hope that the Opposition will now invite Lord Carrington to make some provision towards the £100,000, which otherwise falls on the taxpayer.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I am one of the few Members who were members of a local authority which, if the district auditor does his job quickly, will be surcharged in excess of a quarter of a million pounds. This is the London borough of Camden. At the relevant date there were two Members of this House who were members of that authority. I was one and the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) was the other. Both of us voted on the same side, in favour of obeying the law.

It is important that something should be said, because the speech of the Secretary of State seemed to indicate that he was scrabbling around to try to find the tiniest possible precedent which could salve his conscience, and I do not believe that the precedents he quoted have anything to do with the particular cases.

The borough of Camden had a very clear warning in writing on two occasions from its chief officer of the consequences if it failed to comply with the law. Despite this. 11 or 12 members decided to flout the law. One of them is now an hon. Member of this House.

I hope very much that the citizens of Camden will realise what is being done to them by this Government. There is nothing in detail in the Labour Party election manifesto that I can find saying that it was going to introduce legislation of this type in such detail. I hope, therefore, that we have not heard the last of this. There are other bastions of democracy in this country.

The present leader of the Labour Party on the Camden Borough Council—due to be surcharged, as the hon. Member said, to the extent of £250,000-plus; we do not know the full amount—less than a month ago said this: We knew perfectly well what we were doing at the time and we have not asked for any special treatment". It is because I believe that those are words which should be listened to that I hope the House will refuse to give a Third Reading to this Bill, and that those hon. and right hon. Members who tabled certain amendments will this time be prepared to back their names on the Order Paper with their votes.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Percival

Right to the very last the Secretary of State has persisted in this fatuous argument that Neville Chamberlain said that his object was to "wipe the slate clean" and that that is what the Government are doing.

I remind the House, as the Committee were reminded several times, that what Neville Chamberlain said was this: … when anyone is introducing a gradual change in procedure which brings into operation a completely new method of dealing with these troubles in the future, one might fairly take the opportunity of wiping the slate clean as far as the past is concerned …"—[Official Report, 15th June 1927; Vol. 207, c. 1033.] This Bill introduces nothing so far as the future is concerned. It is merely letting off the very people whom the Act of 1927 was designed to take out of public life.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) has just said that the Secretary of State, right to the last, has been scrabbling around for precedents. Worst than that, he has been scrabbling around for every nasty thing he could say. At the end of his speech he made a scurrilous attack on my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) [Interruption.] I do not expect Government supporters to like this.

I was not aware that the Attorney-General had made any such complaint, though he spoke immediately after the speech to which the Secretary of State referred. Further, I understand that, contrary to all conventions of this House, that speech was made without any notice to my hon. and learned Friend. Perhaps the Minister would like to listen. The attack was as discreditable to the Secretary of State as the Bill which he now commends to this House. It is an evil Bill. It disgraces all who support it for the very reasons given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon in his Second Reading speech, of which the Secretary of State complains.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

A shoddy speech.

Mr. Percival

There was never a time when it was more important for this House to give a lead to the country. [Interruption.] I am afraid that the Minister for Housing and Construction is giving a very poor lead to it in the way that he is behaving now.

There was never a time when it was more important for us to make it clear that we expect all persons in authority, from ourselves downwards, to observe the law, and I need not spell out the reasons for that because they were spelt out clearly and cogently by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon in the speech which the Secretary of State criticised.

If we pass this Bill, it will be, to borrow the words of Mr. Levin—[Interruption.] I did not think that Government supporters would like that, either. It will be … to proclaim that those who spit upon the law may do so with impunity provided that they do so in a sectional political interest. Are there not sufficient Members in this House who put principle above politics to defeat the Third Reading of the Bill? Now is the time for all to stand up and be counted. I hope that we can now vote upon the Third Reading motion and defeat the Bill.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Kaufman

If the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) wishes to cite as one of his co-belligerents a champion of ex-President Nixon and ex-Vice-President Agnew, he is welcome to him. He referred to what he called "the scurrilous little attack" allegedly made by the Secretary of State, and the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said that my right hon. Friend had made "a nasty little attack". Those who are supported by such speeches as that made earlier by the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) are experts in scurrilous little attacks.

The Secretary of State intended no discourtesy to the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) in referring to him and in asking him to withdraw an attack which he had made on my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. He did not do so wilfully in the hon. and learned Gentleman's absence. He had quite naturally assumed that the hon. and learned Gentleman, having wound up the Second Reading debate, would be present for the debate on a most crucial amendment on Report. It was for that reason alone that my right hon. Friend did not feel it necessary to send a note to the hon. and learned Gentleman. But that was simply an oversight, and there was no discourtesy intended.

Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)

I cannot believe that it was not known who was to wind up the Third Reading debate on behalf of the Opposition. I took great care to inform the Attorney-General a week before I wound up the Second Reading debate that I should have to make the attack that I did. I also went so far as to say to him that if the day of that debate was not changed, as it was eventually, I would explain to the House that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's absence was totally justified because he was carrying out a task in the European Court which had to be done.

I have been in this House all day. It has never been suspected that I should make any speech on Report or in this Third Reading debate. It would have been very simple for the Secretary of State or anyone else to give me warning before making the attack. I regret very much that that was not done.

Mr. Kaufman

I have already explained that my right hon. Friend omitted to inform the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon by an oversight which is to be regretted. At the same time, it was to be expected that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who wound up the Second Reading debate and was in the purlieus of this House, would be present in the Chamber while the Bill was being debated. [Interruption.] If it justified the kind of intemperate remarks—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think it would be for the good of the House as a whole if we returned to the subject matter of the Bill.

Mr. Kaufman

Willingiy, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is the Opposition who, throughout the passage of the Bill, have dealt in personalities and not in issues.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), in his Third Reading speech, denied the contention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the gap between us was not wide but was a gap of method and timing, not of principle. Since he continues to deny that, I suggest that he reads in the Official Report tomorrow a speech made earlier today by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport, who said that in the particular circumstances there might be a case to deal with the particular situation in a particular way. The hon. and learned Gentleman was saying that the situation required special action.

We have introduced special action through the Bill. The Opposition amendments have been designed to alter the method and timing, and have not affected the principle of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman can read his own words on the matter.

Mr. Percival

Has the hon. Gentleman already forgotten that this afternoon I again pointed out, as I have done so many times before, that there is a fundamental difference of approach between us and the Government? If any evidence were needed, one has only to see the difference between the Bill with our proposed new Clause 1 and without it. The hon. Gentleman's argument is fatuous.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must remind the House that we must stick to the content of the Bill as it now is.

Mr. Kaufman

I leave the House to judge when hon. Members have read the hon. and learned Gentleman's words.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury implied in his final speech that in introducing the Bill we were in some way attempting to subvert the sovereignty of

Parliament. We are asking Parliament to exercise its sovereignty to wipe the slate clean and put this episode behind us. I call upon the House to give the Bill its Third Reading and uphold the sovereignty of Parliament.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 251, Noes 235.

Division No. 207.] AYES [10.48 p.m.
Archer, Peter Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McElhone, Frank
Armstrong, Ernest Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) MacFarquhar, Roderick
Ashley, Jack English, Michael Mackenzie, Gregor
Ashton, Joe Ennals, David Maclennan, Robert
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N.) Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C.)
Atkinson, Norman Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McNamara, Kevin
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Evans, John (Newton) Madden, Max
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mahon, Simon
Barnett, Rt. Hon. Joel (Heywood) Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W.) Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Bates, Alf Flannery, Martin Marks, Kenneth
Bean, R. E. Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Marquand, David
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N.) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)
Bidwell, Sydney Foot, Rt. Hon. Michael Marshall, Jim (Leicester S.)
Bishop, E. S. Ford, Ben Mason, Rt. Hon. Roy
Blenkinsop, Arthur Forrester, John Maynard, Miss Joan
Boardman, H. Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Meacher, Michael
Booth, Albert Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Mellish, Rt. Hon. Robert
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. Arthur Freeson, Reginald Millan, Bruce
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Garrett, John (Norwich S.) Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Molloy, William
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W.) George, Bruce Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Buchanan, Richard Ginsburg, David Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Golding, John Morris, Rt. Hon. J. (Aberavon)
Callaghan, Rt. Hon. J. (Cardiff SE) Gould, Bryan Moyle, Roland
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P.) Gourlay, Harry Mulley, Rt. Hon. Frederick
Campbell, Ian Graham, Ted Murray, Rt. Hon. Ronald King
Canavan, Dennis Grant, John (Islington C.) Newens, Stanley
Cant, R. B. Grocott, Bruce Noble, Mike
Carter, Ray Hardy, Peter Oakes, Gordon
Carter-Jones, Lewis Harper, Joseph O'Halloran, Michael
Cartwright, John Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) O'Malley, Rt. Hon. Brian
Castle, Rt. Hon. Barbara Hattersley, Rt. Hon. Roy Ovenden, John
Clemitson, Ivor Hatton, Frank Owen, Dr. David
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S.) Hayman, Mrs. Helene Palmer, Arthur
Coleman, Donald Healey, Rt. Hon. Denis Park, George
Concannon, J. D. Healey, Frank Parker, John
Conlan, Bernard Horam, John Parry, Robert
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C.) Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H.) Pendry, Tom
Corbett, Robin Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Perry, Ernest
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Hughes, Rt. Hon. C. (Anglesey) Phipps, Dr. Colin
Crosland, Rt. Hon. Anthony Hughes, Mark (Durham) Prentice, Rt. Hon. Reg
Cryer, Bob Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N.) Prescott, John
Cunningham, G. (Islington S.) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Price, C. (Lewisham W.)
Cunningham, Dr. J. (Whiteh) Hunter, Adam Price, William (Rugby)
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Radice, Giles
Davidson, Arthur Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rees, Rt. Hon. Merlyn (Leeds S.)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N.) Janner, Greville Richardson, Miss Jo
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Jeger, Mrs. Lena Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C.) John, Brynmor Robertson, John (Paisley)
Deakins, Eric Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Roderick, Caerwyn
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
de Freitas, Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Delargy, Hugh Kaufman, Gerald Rooker, J. W.
Dell, Rt. Hon. Edmund Kerr, Russell Roper, John
Doig, Peter Kilroy-Silk, Robert Rose, Paul B.
Dormand, J. D. Lambie, David Ross, Rt. Hon. W. (Kilmarnock)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lamborn, Harry Rowlands, Ted
Duffy, A. E. P. Lamond, James Ryman, John
Dunn, James A. Leadbitter, Ted Sandelson, Neville
Dunnett, Jack Lee, John Sedgemore, Brian
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth Litterick, Tom Selby, Harry
Eadie, Alex Lomas, Kenneth Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Edelman, Maurice Lyon, Alexander (York) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Edge, Geoff Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Shore, Rt. Hon. Peter
Short, Rt. Hon. E. (Newcastle C.) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E.) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Short, Mrs. Renée (Wolv NE) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) White, James (Pollok)
Silkin, Rt. Hon. John (Deptford) Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Whitehead, Phillip
Silkin, Rt. Hon. S. C. (Dulwich) Tierney, Sydney Whitlock, William
Sillars, James Tinn, James Willey, Rt. Hon. Frederick
Silverman, Julius Tomlinson, John Williams, Alan (Swansea W.)
Skinner, Dennis Tomney, Frank Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Small, William Torney, Tom Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Urwin, T. W. Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Snape, Peter Varley, Rt. Hon. Eric G. Wilson, Rt. Hon. H. (Huyton)
Spearing, Nigel Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V.) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Stallard, A. W. Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd) Wise, Mrs. Audrey
Stewart, Rt. Hon. M. (Fulham) Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Woodall, Alec
Stoddart, David Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Woof, Robert
Stott, Roger Ward, Michael Wrigglesworth, Ian
Strang, Gavin Watkins, David Young, David (Bolton E.)
Summerskill, Hon. Dr. Shirley Watkinson, John
Swain, Thomas Weetch, Ken TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Taylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton W.) Weitzman, David Mr. James Hamilton and
Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wellbeloved, James Mr. Thomas Cox
Adley, Robert Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Lawrence, Ivan
Aitken, Jonathan Fox, Marcus Lawson, Nigel
Alison, Michael Fraser, Rt. Hon. H. (Stafford & St) Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian Fry, Peter Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Arnold, Tom Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Lloyd, Ian
Atkins, Rt. Hon. H. (Spelthorne) Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Loveridge, John
Awdry, Daniel Gilmour, Rt. Hon. Ian (Chesham) Luce, Richard
Banks, Robert Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Beith, A. J. Glyn, Dr. Alan McCrindle, Robert
Bell, Ronald Godber, Rt. Hon. Joseph Macfarlane, Neil
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Goodhart, Philip MacGregor, John
Benyon, W. Goodhew, Victor Macmillan, Rt. Hon. M. (Farnham)
Berry, Hon. Anthony Goodlad, Alastair McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Biffen, John Gorst, John McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Biggs-Davison, John Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Madel, David
Body, Richard Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Boscawen, Hon. Robert Grant, Anthony (Harrow C.) Mates, Michael
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Gray, Hamish Mather, Carol
Boyson, Dr. Rhodes (Brent) Griffiths, Eldon Maude, Angus
Braine, Sir Bernard Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald
Brittan, Leon Grist, Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Brotherton, Michael Hall, Sir John Mayhew, Patrick
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Bryan, Sir Paul Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Miscampbell, Norman
Buck, Antony Hampson, Dr. Keith Moate, Roger
Budgen, Nick Hannam, John Monro, Hector
Bulmer, Esmond Harvie Anderson, Rt. Hon. Miss Montgomery, Fergus
Burden, F. A. Hastings, Stephen Moore, John (Croydon C.)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Havers, Sir Michael More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Carlisle, Mark Hayhoe, Barney Morgan, Geraint
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Heseltine, Michael Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Channon, Paul Hicks, Robert Morris, Michael (Northampton S.)
Churchill, W. S. Higgins, Terence L. Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Holland, Philip Morrison, Hon. Peter (Chester)
Clark, William (Croydon S.) Hordern, Peter Mudd, David
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Howe, Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey Heave, Airey
Clegg, Walter Howell, David (Guildford) Nelson, Anthony
Cockcroft, John Hunt, John Neubert, Michael
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W.) Hurd, Douglas Newton, Tony
Cope, John Hutchison, Michael Clark Nott, John
Cordle, John H. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Onslow, Cranley
Cormack, Patrick Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Costain, A. P. James, David Osborn, John
Critchley, Julian Jenkin, Rt. Hon. P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Page, John (Harrow West)
Crouch, David Jessel, Toby Page, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby)
Crowder, F. P. Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Pardoe, John
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Pattie, Geoffrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jopling, Michael Penhaligon, David
Drayson, Burnaby Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith Percival, Ian
du Cann, Rt. Hon. Edward Kaberry, Sir Donald Pink, R. Bonner
Durant, Tony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Prior, Rt. Hon. James
Eden, Rt. Hon. Sir John Kershaw, Anthony Raison, Timothy
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Kilfedder, James Rathbone, Tim
Elliott, Sir William King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Emery, Peter King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Eyre, Reginald Kitson, Sir Timothy Renton, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Hunts)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Knight, Mrs. Jill Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Fairgrieve, Russell Knox, David Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Finsberg, Geoffrey Lane, David Ridsdale, Julian
Fisher, Sir Nigel Langford-Holt, Sir John Rifkind, Malcolm
Fookes, Miss Janet Latham, Michael (Melton) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Tugendhat, Christopher
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Sproat, Iain Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Royle, Sir Anthony Stainton, Keith Viggers, Peter
Sainsbury, Tim Stanbrook, Ivor Wakeham, John
St. John-Stevas, Norman Stanley, John Walker, Rt. Hon. P. (Worcester)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree) Wall, Patrick
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Walters, Dennis
Shelton, William (Streatham) Stokes, John Warren, Kenneth
Shepherd, Colin Stradling Thomas, J. Weatherill, Bernard
Shersby, Michael Tapsell, Peter Whitelaw, Rt. Hon. William
Silvester, Fred Taylor, R. (Croydon NW) Wiggin, Jerry
Sims, Roger Tebbit, Norman Winterton, Nicholas
Sinclair, Sir George Temple-Morris, Peter Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Skeet, T. H. H. Thatcher, Rt. Hon. Margaret
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Thomas, Rt. Hon. P. (Hendon S.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Smith, Dudley (Warwick) Thorpe, Rt. Hon. Jeremy (N Devon) Mr. Cecil Parkinson and
Speed, Keith Townsend, Cyril D. Mr. Spencer Le Marchant.
Spence, John Trotter, Neville

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

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