HC Deb 04 March 1992 vol 205 cc325-43


(1) Mr Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons.

(2) Such a Committee shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.


  1. (1) In this paragraph "the proceedings" means proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the Report of such a Committee.
  2. (2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
  3. (3) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
  4. (4) If the proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on the Motion shall be added to the period at the end of which the proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion.

The Bill carries through the Government's decision to abolish the community charge, and to replace it with a new council tax. Once we had made that decision, as part of the review of local government, we were determined to carry it through as quickly as we could. I am sure that everyone in the House and outside will agree with that intention.

The timetable motion continues the momentum that we have established. We set ourselves the demanding but achieveable target of introducing the council tax on 1 April 1993. The Opposition said that that could not be done, and pressed us to return to a rating system based on the discredited 1973 rateable values; but the progress that has been made through this Bill and in other ways now demonstrated just how wrong the Opposition were.

The first stage was to pass the Bill. We had it ready for introduction at the very start of the present session, and, once the House had accepted its principle on Second Reading, we sought approval for a timetable motion. The House's agreement to that motion ensured that the Bill could be enacted on the fastest possible timetable, which will give local authorities a firm basis on which to plan for the introduction of the council tax in April next year.

Today's timetable motion is appropriate, not least because we have taken further action in parallel with the parliamentary debates in order to ensure that all the necessary parts of the jigsaw will be in place in time.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

My opposition to the guillotine motion is not based simply on the fact that it perpetuates the poll tax for a further year—it will not be abolished until 1993. My opposition is more specific. I think that we should devote far more time this afternoon to discussing Lords amendment No. 57, which relates to computer evidence.

I am advised by those who helped my constituents David and Eleanor Bullard to take their case all the way to the High Court—it related to computer evidence, and lay behind the introduction of the amendment some days ago—that it is defectively drafted. It merely allows the Government to use computer evidence to prove payment of the poll tax; they cannot prove non-payment. For that to be possible, the amendment would have to use the precise words, relating to negative hearsay, that are contained in the Civil Evidence (Scotland) Act 1988. That is why two hours will not be enough. The Minister has not closed the loophole, and if he does not believe me, we will see him in the High Court.

Mr. Portillo

The only way in which two hours may not be enough is if I am interrupted at length in the debate on the timetable motion, thereby preventing us from debating the amendments. I am keen to debate the amendments.

We have drafted the key orders and regulations that local authorities will need to design their computer software and other systems for the new tax; drafts have been placed in the Library. We intend to make the necessary statutory instruments and lay them before Parliament as soon as possible after Royal Assent.

We have taken further action to ensure that computer software will be up and running before April 1993. The Department has sponsored a specification for users for council tax computer systems, and a copy was sent to each billing authority in December.

Preparations are well advanced on every front for the introduction of the council tax in April next year. No one, not even the Opposition, is saying that it cannot be done.

I commend the motion knowing that Parliament has given the Bill full scrutiny. In Committee, it was subject to 88 hours of detailed examination, including lengthy debate of all its important aspects. It was debated for two days on Report. In another place, the Committee stage lasted six full days, followed by a further three days on Report.

Throughout all its parliamentary proceedings, the details of the council tax have been subjected to rigorous examination. Alternatives have been proposed and discussed, but the council tax has stood the test. The principles have emerged with the endorsement of both Houses.

Today's consideration of Lords amendments is not controversial. Where improvements have been suggested in either House, we have listened and, where appropriate, have amended the Bill, although it is worth noting that it has not needed much amendment.

The House will recall that in Committee we introduced additional powers to allow a scheme of relief for disabled people. In the other place, we clarified the information powers of local authorities. Throughout proceedings on the Bill, we have responded positively to constructive suggestions. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) will recall that I even added my name to one of his Committee amendments about certificates for students.

That constructive approach continued in another place. The majority of the Lords amendments represent the outcome of that approach. I am glad to be able to say that the Government will urge the House to accept all their Lordships' amendments.

I hope that the Opposition will take a constructive approach today. I am heartened to see that no official Opposition amendments have been tabled seeking changes to the Lords amendments.

The consideration that the Bill has received is a possible model for future parliamentary procedure. There can be no possible reason for suggesting that proceedings this evening should he delayed beyond the time allocated in the motion. The key is to get the Bill on to statute book and to give local authorities the firm base that they need to implement the tax at the earliest practical date—1 April 1993. We can now either debate the motion for an hour or the Bill for nearly two hours. I commend the motion to the House.

4.18 pm
Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)

It is now well known and established that the Government have had recourse to the guillotine on more occasions than any of their predecessors. It is perhaps worth establishing a further point: we are not talking about an agreed and planned timetable for legislation—an idea that has sometimes commended itself to some of our more responsible parliamentarians. Not a bit of it. There was a hint in the specious argument advanced by the Leader of the House that this procedure might be a model for other legislation, but that simply is not the case. This is not an agreed and planned procedure designed to produce good legislation. It is being unilaterally and irresponsibly imposed. It is the negation of good government and good legislation.

We began with a bad Bill and, by virtue of successive guillotines, we have at the very least failed to make it better and, in some senses, it could be argued that it has been made worse.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

"They", not "we".

Mr. Gould

My hon. Friend is right: the Government bear the responsibility for that sequence of events.

We now have a two-hour debate in which to debate the very motion that limits debates to two hours and which then, in what is left of the two hours, allows us—magnanimously—to debate the implications of no fewer than 77 Lords amendments. To discuss a guillotine motion and 77 amendments in two hours is not serious government or serious debate. It is almost laughable that the Minister can with a straight face pretend to support the motion on the ground that it guarantees the merits of the legislation. Indeed, the reverse is true.

The Minister argued that the amendments deal with issues that are not controversial. I beg to differ. The matters covered by some of the amendments are matters of the greatest controversy. They are the product of an attempt by the Government to resolve that controversy, but we should at least have the opportunity to debate properly the so-called solutions suggested by the Government.

Let us consider some instances of matters of considerable consequences which are now enshrined in the amendments and which we shall have precious little time to debate in proper form. One such matter is the question of the joint and several liability of the unfortunate people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and who were rightly singled out originally in schedule I for exemption from liability to pay their own poll tax. We pressed on the Government the illogicality—even in terms of the Bill's own perverted logic—of exempting such unfortunate people from liability for the personal element of their own council tax but then making them potentially jointly and severally liable for the personal element of someone else's tax.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been an important development relating to that point? There should be some provision in the Lords amendments for recovery from Alzheimer's disease because, as my hon. Friend will recall, Mr. Ernest Saunders was discharged because he developed Alzheimer's but made a remarkable recovery. That complicates matters because the legislation needs to be suitably amended.

Mr. Gould

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. It is barely relevant to the debate but it is certainly the case that, contrary to received medical opinion, great medical advances have been made. I heard that particular person arguing with great clarity and coherence not only that he had been dealt with unfairly and that the procedures were wrong but that he was innocent. He was compos mentis to that degree.

The amendments are shot through with illogicality. The Government have dealt with a particular aspect of the problem, but the Minister has still not acknowledged the illogicality of the exemptions in schedule 1, combined with the joint and several liability provisions in the early clauses.

Mr. Nellist

On the point made by my hon. Friend the. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), it is interesting that Mr. Ernest Saunders was let out early because of the circumstances described, having served one day in prison for every £30,000 that he was alleged to have defrauded and found guilty of having defrauded during the Guinness scandal. However, Mr. Cassidy, a pensioner from Northumberland, was sent to Durham maximum security prison—with no possibility of remission because non-payment of the poll tax is a civil offence—for one day for every 62p that he owes. That was not just a question of a good recovery being made from a tragic disease, but a classic illustration of the old story that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Mr. Gould

That is a powerful point, but I do not propose to be diverted further by it, important though it may be.

The second group of amendments provides examples of the important debates for which we ought to have time. Those amendments concern the obligations imposed on taxpayers to divulge information to the collecting authorities—the Minister of State referred to that matter—and the authorities' plea to be given in turn the statutory authority to maintain what they accurately describe as a council tax register.

The amendments deal with that problem up to a point, but it may be useful for the Minister of State to hear, simply as an illustration of the anxiety that remains, a quotation from a letter written by the Birmingham city council treasurer to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett): The Government is proposing that there will be a statutory obligation to answer questions on liability so that I can, in effect, maintain a 'Council Tax Register'". Incidentally, it is interesting that the city treasurer immediately sees through the pretence that no register is to be kept. He continues: In my view, and this is shared by many colleagues throughout the country…this does not go far enough. I would wish to have a statutory right to require people to provide me with information on discount entitlement so that the Property Register contains all the information needed to calculate at the outset the proper Council Tax liability for a dwelling. It is of the utmost importance that local authorities are able to issue bills for Council Tax next year which are as accurate as possible. If we have to rely on people claiming discount status then I can see all sorts of administrative problems because people will think they will get discount automatically when in fact the Government's current proposals require them to claim it.

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Gentleman will recall that, when we debated the matter on Report, I said that I intended to discuss it with the local authority associations. I did so, and the associations, while calling for the power which is now included in the Bill, did not call for the power that the hon. Gentleman quotes the Birmingham city treasurer as requesting. If the hon. Gentleman found himself in government, would he respond to every individual request made by a city treasurer, or would he tend, as I have done, to base what he put into legislation on what local authority associations said to him formally?

Mr. Gould

For the sake of brevity, I omitted a phrase from my reading of the letter. I shall now read the full sentence: In my view, and this is shared by many colleagues throughout the country as well as the Local Authority Associations, this does not go far enough. The city treasurer then went on to make the fuller point. The Minister had better resolve with that gentleman which of them has the right interpretation of the views of the local authority associations. I would lay a small bet that the city treasurer is more in tune with those views than is the Minister of State.

The group of amendments likely to be of greatest concern is that intended to plug the legal loophole concerning the use of computer records which has arisen over recent weeks and months. No one should doubt the enormous problems that that loophole has caused local authorities, and the Opposition believe that it should have been foreseen and acted upon much earlier. As soon as it became clear that magistrates courts, and then the High Court, had ruled to the effect that computer records could not be relied upon, the Government should have acted immediately.

I have repeatedly offered our co-operation for a short Bill, which could have been completed in a single day, to ensure that local authorities collecting the poll tax were not frustrated in that way. Instead, we have the measure in the Lords amendment, which has been long delayed and simply does not deal with some of the legal problems, including problems of retrospection, that local authorities now have to face.

The truth is that the Bill is complex. It began with 117 clauses and 14 schedules. It could hardly have addressed a more difficult and important problem than the replacement of what is probably the most important and most damning single policy mistake made by any Government in modern times. Yet throughout the proceedings on the Bill, we have been forced by Government diktat to treat the legislation with a cavalier disregard for proper debate and proper principles.

The Bill started as a hotch-potch and it ends up in no better condition. The council tax preserves all the worst features of the poll tax. It preserves the unfairness of the exemption for those at the top of the income scale from the liability to pay their fair share. It preserves the whole concept of the head count and, as we have heard from the city treasurer of Birmingham and many others, it preserves the requirement for a register. It also preserves the administrative complexity. It adds to those known problems all the difficulties of a wholly new and untried property tax proceeding on the basis of a Mickey Mouse valuation which is already throwing up huge problems because it has been carried out so unsatisfactorily.

One of the most bizarre aspects of the proceedings on the Bill has been the transformation in the personality and style of the Minister of State who has piloted it through. When we began, we were confronted by a man who was perhaps slightly austere, certainly rather detached and even commendably academic in style. We should no doubt have been put on notice that things were about to change when he changed his hair style to a sort of Heseltinian haystack.

We then found that, instead of the rather attractive, reserved and academic figure, someone came to the Dispatch Box—but for his perfunctory speech, we might have seen another illustration today—whose eyes flashed, whose lips curled, whose nostrils flared and whose voice vibrated with synthetic outrage. He gives all the appearance of having enrolled in a youth training scheme leading to a diploma in the "Michael Heseltine school of Labour bashing".

Clearly the qualifying test is the ability to spout absolute nonsense with utter conviction. I have every confidence that the hon. Gentleman will shortly be awarded his diploma. The only point in which we can take comfort is that he shows no sign so far of reaching for the peroxide bottle.

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend is talking about the Heseltine factor. Has he considered the fact that 25 Victoria street, the well-known headquarters of the person who challenged the previous Prime Minister and who led the way to the change when she was kicked out like a dog in the night, was also the headquarters of that little coup? I passed it the other day. I do not know what will happen to the poll tax or the council tax on that property. It has turned into a slum and there is nobody there any more. It is almost as though it was bought and used for the purpose I have mentioned, which suggests that the Secretary of State for the Environment has a lot of money.

Into what council tax bracket will the property fit? It is a slum-like building with barred gates and rubbish chucked inside. It is now not even fit for someone with a cardboard box. Will it be at the bottom of the range, at the top or somewhere else? One thing is certain. The Secretary of State paid a lot of money for a building to get to the top of the tree. The Minister of State was with him, although that has not served any useful purpose.

Mr. Portillo

I was not.

Mr. Skinner

Well, the Minister is now. They have finished up with the poll tax round their necks when they wanted the top job.

Mr. Gould

My hon. Friend is understandably interested in 25 Victoria street. I do not know what council tax liability will be attracted by that property. What. I can tell my hon. Friend may be even more interesting. The millionaire house of the Secretary of State in Westminster will pay less than £200 in council tax, which will be lower than the council tax paid by the poorest people in virtually every other London borough. That alone tells us something about the fairness or lack of it of the Government's proposals.

We are entitled to draw only one set of conclusions from the whole tawdry performance. The Government are acting so irresponsibly and piling up such obvious problems for themselves in the passage and then administration of the council tax that I and many others conclude that they have literally no intention of ever implementing such a hopelessly confused and ill-prepared measure. If by any chance they win the general election, it is clearly their intention that this ill-digested dog's breakfast will be immediately regurgitated. But that would mean—let us be clear—that, if the council tax or something rather like it was ever properly implemented, there would then have to be a further delay in getting rid of the poll tax. This measure replaces the poll tax, but a new measure would not be in a position to do so by 1 April 1993. The voters should be put on notice that a re-elected Tory Government would certainly give a further lease of life to the poll tax while they worked out a scheme to replace it that would work.

There is only one other interpretation of the Government's irresponsibility: the Government, or at least that part of the Government represented by the Secretary of State for the Environment, realise that the game is up and the general election is lost. They know that there is no prospect of their ever having to implement this ill-prepared legislation. The Bill is their continued effort at a face-saving device, a last desperate throw at pretending that a Government who have wibbled and wobbled over the poll tax have something decisive to say or do about it. The truth is that the Government are still ducking and weaving over the poll tax. First, they tried to put the blame for the poll tax and for this year's high bills on local councils. But that simply has not worked—for a very good reason. The problems in collecting the poll tax are clearly intrinsic to the tax. It is not only the Labour party which says so: the Prime Minister described the poll tax as virtually uncollectable.

Local government has been engulfed in the biggest debt collection exercise in the history of the world. Local authorities have had to issue 11.5 million summonses. Local councils are still chasing at least £1.5 billion-worth of poll tax arrears. The Government have not helped. They have made things worse. They have no one to blame but themselves for the current problems facing local government and, for that matter, poll tax payers.

First, the Government have consistently turned down the urgings of the local authority associations that the Government should at the very least fund an advertising campaign to make it clear to people that they are still obliged to pay the poll tax and will be so obliged for at least another year. That campaign is necessary because of the Prime Minister's glib and unjustified assurance in October last year that "We have abolished the poll tax." How can people be sure of their obligations when the Prime Minister tells them that the poll tax no longer exists?

Secondly, the Government have kept the poll tax alive when they could have abolished it for the forthcoming financial year. If they had taken up our offer of support for a Bill to replace the poll tax with something along the lines of our fair rates proposals, we could indeed have seen the back of the poll tax by the end of this financial year.

Then the Government refused to abolish the 20 per cent. minimum contribution rule. They have conceded the principle, but they persist in maintaining for the time being the practical problems which even the Audit Commission excoriated when it said that it cost £15 in administrative costs for every £6 net revenue raised. Lastly, the Government have demonstrated amazing complacency about plugging a legal loophole that most students of local government and certainly most local government practitioners saw coming months ago.

We are entitled to conclude that, somehow or other, the Government misled themselves and believed for a time that they had some vested interest in stoking up the collection problems in the hope that they could be turned back on Labour authorities. It is a testimony to the good sense of of local government and of poll tax payers that the vast majority of the people of Britain rightly attribute responsibility for the difficulties to the Government who introduced the wretched tax in the first place.

As we have long suspected, the latest twist is an attempt to delay poll tax bills. The back page of The Times today gives the game away. Despite ministerial denials, it is quite clear that a paper was prepared on the instructions of the Secretary of State to put forward various ways in which poll tax bills might be delayed until beyond a general election. The report in The Times sets out the options considered in the paper. Each has as its objective the delaying of poll tax bills at least until after 9 April.

The Minister of State permits himself the faintest shake of the head. Since he appears—in that careful manner—to disagree with what I have said and with the report in The Times, I invite him to assure the House that those reports are wrong. Will he deny that the Government have considered any proposals which might lead to a delay in issuing poll tax bills? [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on, get up."] I suspect that the House and the country will form their judgments as to what has happened.

The truth is that the Tories are running scared. They know that poll tax bills will arrive during the week preceding 9 April and that there will be no more powerful invitation to vote Labour than their arrival. Thirty-eight million people will receive the reminder, in its most direct and potent form, that poll tax lives on and that it is rising, on average, three times faster than the rate of inflation.

No wonder the Government are doing all that they can to divert attention from that certain time bomb, which will blow up their electoral prospects. It will be poetic justice that the arrogance which led them to introduce the poll tax, the incompetence with which they applied it and their dithering attempts to keep it alive will come to judgment on election day.

Today's further disreputable episode will do nothing to avert that deserved judgment, when it is inevitable that the electorate will have its say on this vital and central mistake by a Government who have made so many.

4.42 pm
Mr. David Bellotti (Eastbourne)

The Minister began by saying that there had been a great deal of debate on the Bill. Yet if one asked most people outside the House what the council tax was, they would be unable to answer, because the Government have not explained what it will mean for them. They have not done so because the detail of the Bill will be further bad news for the people.

The reason for the Bill in the first place was purely an attempt by the Government to bail themselves out of the poll tax fiasco in which they had become enmeshed. As a result, they cobbled together a mixture of measures—supposedly a tax on people and on property—which adds up to misery for millions of people.

I suspect that less than 10 per cent. of the people have heard of the council tax. In those circumstances, it is important that, given it has the opportunity, the House should scrutinise every aspect of the Bill. Serious defects in the legislation are still emerging at this late stage.

During 100 hours of discussion, the Bill has not been substantially improved. The only Government concession that I can trace is the decision to exempt people with a disability, by moving them one band lower. As the Minister will know, that change was prompted by me and my hon. Friends in an amendment. Apart from that, it is difficult to see that the original Bill has been much improved and it is still hugely defective.

We need time during the legal process to continue to investigate the results of using computer evidence to establish whether someone has paid the tax. Eleven million people have been summonsed for non-payment and the poll tax legislation has caused a hiatus in our courts, so so it is essential that we tackle that key issue when changing the system of taxation.

Mr. Nellist

I wish to correct something which is raised in these debates time after time. I am the one with all the information on that issue—statistics collated from Home Office computer information in the Library, on a quarterly basis.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

Oh yes?

Mr. Nellist

If my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) doubts that, we can check it later and go through all the parliamentary questions that I have asked in the past few years.

For the record, there are 11,051,000 summonses in England and Wales, to which must be added 2.75 million sheriff's warrants in Scotland. So 14 million people are being dragged through legal proceedings, not 11 million.

Mr. Bellotti

I am grateful for that correction, because it adds to my argument. I have no doubt that it is factually correct, because the hon. Member always checks such figures. If the Government sat back for a moment and thought about the number of people involved in that process, they would surely conclude that they had got something wrong. If they conclude, that they had got the poll tax legislation wrong they would realise that the council tax deserves closer scrutiny.

As the Lords have tabled more than 70 amendments, we certainly ought to have more than a two-hour debate. It is clear from the Government's attitude and from the Minister's opening speech that all they want is a vote in the direction they seek. They could not care less whether the House considers the Bill sensibly.

In Committee, there was considerable debate over joint and several liability and yet the Minister and his hon. Friends did not take on board the arguments. The Lords have tabled an amendment concerning joint and several liability and I think that the Government have today accepted the principle that people with severe mental impairment should not be responsible for another person's council tax. If the Government accept that principle, surely we should now debate whether another range of people ought not to be responsible for someone else's taxes. The question is, should anyone be responsible for someone else's tax? Should we not ensure that that principle is enshrined in future legislation?

There is a sense in which millions of people are responsible for other people's taxes. Millions of people are having to pay extra as a result of non-collection of the poll tax and because the Government introduced a tax which has been unworkable as well as unpopular. The Government did not care when they introduced the poll tax legislation and, in introducing this legislation, they do not care about inflicting the payment for some people's taxes on to other people.

In a short time, the Minister will be disappointed. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) suggested that, within a week or two, the Minister might be looking for a youth training programme. Unfortunately he is not quite young enough to go on one. I am sure that he might find opportunities in employment training, which is for adults. He would need to have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who in the last few months has substantially cut the amount of money available for people going on Government training programmes. Those opportunities are reducing fast.

Rather than placing his hopes in an employment training programme after the Government fall, the Minister would do better to tackle the issues seriously, by continuing to debate the Bill and by giving more serious consideration to the alternatives. We shall be able to explain to the public that the Government have continued during this two-hour debate to treat the people in the same way as they have always treated them. They have not considered what people can afford to pay or their ability to pay. They have taken only one thing into account—their desire to pass whatever legislation they wish without any consideration for the people.

4.49 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Today we have been given a very short time in which to deal with the most unpopular piece of legislation that has ever been brought before the people. That legislation is universally hated. There can be no doubt about that, given that 14 million people in England, Scotland and Wales are now subject to legal proceedings. The vast majority of them have never been dragged before a court before.

In fact, 20 times more people have been brought before the courts because of the poll tax than under the old rates system. Under the old system, about 1.5 million people a year were brought before the courts, but that figure covered not just domestic rates but industrial and commercial ones. Up to 31 December 1991, 11,051,000 people in England and Wales had been brought before the courts and a further 2.75 million people had faced legal proceedings in Scotland. Those 14 million have been taken to court in relation to the domestic poll tax alone.

This week, the oldest person charged with non-payment was brought before the courts. Tudor Rhys Jones, who is 94, was brought before Kensington magistrates on behalf of Hammersmith and Fulham council. He has severe hearing and eyesight problems and he was on the point of being sent to prison, but his case has been adjourned until 7 May because the magistrates are waiting for the passage of the Bill.

I have already asked the Secretary of State what powers are available to magistrates courts to adjourn cases in anticipation of a decision yet to be made by Parliament. Hon. Members are aware that I am neither a solicitor nor a lawyer; my knowledge of the law comes from the headline stuff that I have dealt with in my nine years in the House. I believe that it is strange that Parliament's role to set legislation can be usurped by a lower body, a magistrates court. However, a magistrates court has adjourned a case in anticipation of a decision that Parliament is about to make. Courts have been adjourning cases for some weeks—particularly since my constituents, David and Eleanor Bullard, appeared in the High Court some days ago—while they wait for the Government to make the amendments to the Bill that were accepted in another place.

I believe that the sole role of the court is to apply the law as it now stands and not to wait to apply the law as it wishes it might become in some weeks' time. The case of Mr. Rhys Jones, the 94-year-old who is on the point of being sent to prison, should have been thrown out. The council should have been told to return to the courts afresh once the legislation had been cleared up. The court should not have held the proceedings in abeyance. When I asked how that could come about, I was told by the Home Office that the magistrates courts have general powers to adjourn a case.

Since the particular case in the High Court in February to which I referred, what advice has been given to magistrates' and justices' clerks? I was told by the Home Office that, as a result of the decision on computer evidence on 20 February, it did not believe that there was any need for further guidance. That is not true. I have copies of guidance that has been issued—hardly anyone in the House is aware of it, including those on the Front Benches.

Letters were issued by the Department of the Environment on 31 January and by the Home Office on 4 February. Those letters anticipated the High Court decision on computer evidence and gave advice to clerks, local authorities and magistrates in advance of what this debate might decide.

The letter from the DOE contains misleading advice to councils. Notwithstanding decisions reached in the past 12 months in magistrates courts and by stipendiary magistrates not only in Clerkenwell but in the north, the DOE states that there is no obstacle to authorities proceeding with cases.

The Home Office letter contains advice about what procedures should be followed, which has far more serious implications. Because of the time limit, I shall paraphrase that letter. It gives direct advice to councils and to magistrates clerks to get together to decide on how long to adjourn cases in advance of this debate. I do not know what you think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there must be a conflict of interest in magistrates clerks discussing with one party to an action, the local authority, tactics about the best way in which to proceed in a case. That tactical discussion is obviously not open to the other party in the dispute, the defence.

We should have far more time today to discuss the Lords amendments, especially No. 57, to which I have tabled a starred amendment. I know that that amendment will not be selected, but I tabled it because I believe that the Lords amendment, as drafted, is seriously defective. We should have more time to debate the technical nature of the amendments.

While Parliament has awaited today's debate, the Home Office, the DOE and the magistrates have been colluding to undermine the authority of Parliament. They have taken decisions in advance of possible parliamentary decisions. Surely that must colour the nature of today's debate.

If the Bill is passed in just over an hour's time, it will not get rid of the poll tax. It will perpetuate it for another 13 months, with all the injustices that flow from it. As I said, the cases of 11,051,000 people in England and Wales have already appeared before the courts and 250,000 of them have turned up in court to argue their case. It is because of their appearance that the problem of hearsay evidence came to light. Lords amendment No. 57 is supposed to address that problem, but it fails to do so.

As of 31 December, 28,325 hours of court time have been taken up by the poll tax and, according to Ministers, that has cost £217 an hour, which is equivalent to £6 million in court time. The vast majority of people who have been dragged before the courts are unable to pay the poll tax. So far, 11,259 means inquiries have been conducted, but no instruction has been given to magistrates to remit, in part or in whole, an outstanding poll tax debt or, as a result of the new legislation, an outstanding council tax debt. I have asked Ministers to issue such an instruction, but the amendments tabled by the Government do not address that issue.

Such an instruction should be given when it is apparent that a person cannot afford to pay his debt. I would prefer such powers of remit to be enacted at the liability order stage or, even better, that local authorities should have the power to write off that debt. Housing committees and housing chairmen have always had the power to write off rent arrears when someone is unable to pay and a similar power should be given to local authorities in respect of the poll tax. That has not happened and we have ended up with court cases by the tens of thousands in which there is no opportunity for a solid legal defence to be put.

Imprisonment for the civil debt of the poll tax is about the only occasion when one can be sent to prison for a maximum of three months without enjoying the right to the presence of a solicitor to ensure that one is dealt with fairly. The duty solicitor scheme does not apply to the poll tax. In July, I met the Lord Chancellor and asked him to change the rules either to make the duty solicitor scheme applicable in such cases or to grant legal aid at least in those cases where people are about to be sent to prison.

Earlier on, we talked about Ernest Saunders, but we could also cite the Maxwells and others who have no problem in getting hold of barristers who can charge £20,000 a day. The Minister will be aware of the solicitors who lobbied in Central hall a few weeks ago and of the strike that is taking place in the south of England because of concerns about legal aid. That strike is in protest against charges of £50 an hour for solicitors in criminal legal aid work being insufficient. In these civil cases, charges are similar, and people who can afford £50 for a solicitor can afford to pay their poll tax in the first place.

The amendments from the other place will not stop the injustice of people being sent to prison for inability to pay. That is clearly the reason for non-payment in the cases of the 180 people who have so far been sent to prison—I have dealt with the families of those involved in most of the cases. Of those 180, there have been at least 15 pensioners, four people whose only income is disability benefit and at least 35 people whose only income is income support. Had they had solicitors, it is probable that magistrates would have remitted, in part if not in whole, the debts for which they were being charged.

Mr. Skinner

Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to comment on the fact that in the past few days, we have heard about writs being issued on behalf of these people with money at Lloyd's who were supposed to pay their debts but did not want to. They were gambling at this posh gambling den known as Lloyd's and when the money came in, they took it. When they had to pay out some money, they decided that they were not going to. I have not heard any talk from those on the Government Front Bench about these non-Lloyd's payers who are trying to get out of their responsibilities.

Mr. Nellist

My hon. Friend is right. Perhaps it would strain your patience too much, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I were to use the example of the Caribbeans who had their debts written off two or three weeks ago by the Minister for Overseas Development, or the £14.5 billion-worth of debt written off for privatised companies. However, I do not intend to stray any further down that road, as I do not wish to try your patience.

The Government should give a pledge to bring Scottish and English law into harmony. This involves not only bailiffs and what can or cannot be taken in the form of distress and distraint—we shall debate that when we consider a Lords amendment to the Bill—but imprisonment. Five years ago, the Government, including all those who are at the moment sitting on the Treasury Bench, voted in favour of imprisonment for debt being abolished in Scotland when the House considered the Debtors (Scotland) Bill. Despite repeated demands from Labour Members, not least from me, the Government have never introduced legislation to allow the same to take place in England and Wales and to stop this mediaeval barbarity of using imprisonment for civil debt as a weapon of fear over the poorest sections of the community in England and Wales.

Instead, the Government have introduced regulations to extend the powers that are set out in the Bill from two to six years. It is an admission of failure that the Government do not think that authorities will be able to collect debts within two years. Despite the Minister saying that it is all about the abolition of the poll tax, the Bill allows local authorities to use the barbaric methods of imprisonment, bailiffs, distress and distraint for a further four years on top of the original two years. That should have been amended, but it will not be.

I have two more points to make, and these are on the detail of the amendments, which I feel should be debated at greater length than the guillotine will allow. Some of the amendments will prescribe the individuals who can act as bailiffs in the collection of poll tax debt. At the moment, there is no restriction on who may act as a bailiff in a poll tax case. Local authorities are not required to employ only certificated bailiffs. Any private citizen can act as a bailiff and there are legions of stories from, among others, the National Consumer Council, about the way in which such bailiffs operate.

For example, a woman's wedding ring valued at £147 was taken in pursuance of debt, and sold for £14 by the bailiffs, who then took their commission out of that money before putting it towards payment of the debt. In another example, a car worth £700 was sold for £70 and again bailiffs took out their commission. There can be no sensible recovery of debt from such methods. They are only a way to engender in the minds of other people the fear that they may be treated in the same way.

The amendments will give the Government power, after the Lord Chancellor has had his review in three months' time, to bring in conditions as to who can and cannot be a bailiff and to prescribe what goods can be taken. On a matter as important as this, we should not be handing the Government a blank cheque. If they cannot bring before the House, at the same time as the Bill is supposed to complete its final changes, the detail of what they wish to implement, the House should not give them the authorisation to continue.

I know that this is slightly outwith the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it will take two sentences to explain. If I brought before the House an Industry Bill that would give a Labour Secretary of State the power to nationalise any company at some point in the future and told Conservative Members that in three months' time I would produce a list of companies that we intended to nationalise, there would be mayhem. They would say, "You can't do that." But that is what they are doing with this Bill. It is enabling legislation that will hand to the Government a blank cheque, just a few days in advance of the calling of a general election.

Computer evidence is dealt with in Lords amendment No. 57. I tabled an amendment on this, which I accept is starred and therefore not formally before the House so I cannot divide the House on it. However, perhaps I can use it to illustrate why I think that the drafting of the amendment is defective. The amendment on the use of computer evidence in courts allows, under the Civil Evidence Act 1968, something that should have been introduced years ago—the use of computer records in magistrates courts.

However, what the amendment does not do but what everything else in that Act has done is give advance notice to the defendant of the document or record that has been brought as part of the case. That is defective, because it means that what can be presented on the day is a record that the defendant and, if he is lucky, his legal adviser cannot check as they could do in any other circumstance at any other court under the provisions of the 1968 Act. We should have more time to debate that, so that others of my hon. Friends can take it up.

In Coventry, as in other places, two-year-olds have been dragged before the courts. We have seen distraught families whose deceased relatives have been summoned before the court because of computer—[Interruption.] It is not funny. I have dealt with those families and I know that it leads to great trauma. I will not mention his name because he is not present in the Chamber, but an hon. Friend of mine, whose wife died five years ago, has repeatedly received notices, from the computer, asking for her poll tax payment. It is as distressing for him as it is for my constituents. If we had a minimum of seven' days notice before such records could be used in the courts, perhaps summonses would not be issued to two-year-olds and deceased people.

I have a technical point that I wish to put on the record. I gave the Minister some advance notice of it, so perhaps when he is winding up he will have had some advice from his civil servants. I am advised by the barristers for my constituents whose case went to the High Court at the end of February to test the rules on computer evidence that, as drafted, Lords amendment No. 57 will enable local authorities to bring computer records before magistrates courts to prove payment. However, computer records cannot be used in magistrates courts to prove non-payment. To achieve that, the words of the Civil Evidence (Scotland) Act 1988 should have been used, because it raises the question of negative hearsay.

As I have said on more than one occasion, I am not a legal expert. Like many other hon. Members, I take legal advice. However, there is a body of law, not least that concerned with the Walsall magistrates in the past year or so, in which the High Court has ruled that, when there is hearsay evidence, only Parliament is allowed to rule. Magistrates are not allowed to interpret.

I hope that the Bill will fail, because it perpetuates the poll tax. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) rightly said, the council tax is a dog's dinner and is no better. It would perpetuate many of the injustices toward ordinary people.

I warn the Minister, in what is probably the final debate on the Bill before an election is called next week, that if he thinks that his legal problems in courts throughout the country, including the High Court, are over because of the introduction of Lords amendment No. 57, we shall see him back in the High Court in weeks to come.

Mr. Gould

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We intend to vote against the timetable motion and it normally takes the House 14 or 15 minutes to divide. Can you advise us on whether that 14 or 15 minutes will be included in the two hours allocated for the debate? If that time will also be lost, does not that add insult to injury by denying us yet another period of time in addition to the two hours, which is already pathetically inadequate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

If the allocation of time motion is approved by the House, I shall be bound by it. It includes the following provisions: the proceedings … shall be completed at this day's sitting and, if not previously brought to a conclusion, shall be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of the proceedings on this Order. That means that the 15 minutes or whatever time is taken by a Division will be included in the time allocated for debating the matter.

5.10 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) has made another forceful, forthright and immense contribution to the debate. I do not agree with him and seldom do. But the hon. Gentleman was awarded an accolade of Back Bencher of the Year for his activity, assiduity—

It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the question necessary to dispose of them, pursuant to Standing Order No. 81 ( Allocation of time to Bills).

The House divided: Ayes 273, Noes 205.

Division No. 107] [5.10 pm
Adley, Robert Farr, Sir John
Alexander, Richard Fenner, Dame Peggy
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Allason, Rupert Fishburn, John Dudley
Amess, David Fookes, Dame Janet
Amos, Alan Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Arbuthnot, James Forth, Eric
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Ashby, David Fox, Sir Marcus
Atkins, Robert Franks, Cecil
Atkinson, David Freeman, Roger
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) French, Douglas
Baldry, Tony Gale, Roger
Batiste, Spencer Gardiner, Sir George
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bendall, Vivian Gill, Christopher
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Benyon, W. Goodhart, Sir Philip
Biffen, Rt Hon John Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Body, Sir Richard Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gorst, John
Boswell, Tim Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bottomley, Peter Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) Gregory, Conal
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bowis, John Grist, Ian
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Ground, Patrick
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hague, William
Bright, Graham Hanley, Jeremy
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hannam, Sir John
Browne, John (Winchester) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Buck, Sir Antony Harris, David
Budgen, Nicholas Haselhurst, Alan
Burns, Simon Hayes, Jerry
Burt, Alistair Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Butler, Chris Hayward, Robert
Butterfill, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carrington, Matthew Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cash, William Hill, James
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hind, Kenneth
Chapman, Sydney Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chope, Christopher Hordern, Sir Peter
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Colvin, Michael Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hunter, Andrew
Cormack, Patrick Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Couchman, James Jack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jackson, Robert
Curry, David Janman, Tim
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Day, Stephen Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Devlin, Tim Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dickens, Geoffrey Key, Robert
Dorrell, Stephen Kilfedder, James
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James King, Roger (B'ham Nthfield)
Dover, Den Kirkhope, Timothy
Dunn, Bob Knapman, Roger
Durant, Sir Anthony Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Emery, Sir Peter Knowles, Michael
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Knox, David
Evennett, David Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Fallon, Michael Lee, John (Pendle)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Rost, Peter
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Rowe, Andrew
Lightbown, David Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Sackville, Hon Tom
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lord, Michael Shaw, David (Dover)
Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Shelton, Sir William
McCrindle, Sir Robert Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Shersby, Michael
Maclean, David Sims, Roger
McLoughlin, Patrick Skeet, Sir Trevor
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Soames, Hon Nicholas
Madel, David Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Malins, Humfrey Squire, Robin
Mans, Keith Stanbrook, Ivor
Marland, Paul Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marlow, Tony Steen, Anthony
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stern, Michael
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Stevens, Lewis
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mates, Michael Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Sir Robin Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Sumberg, David
Mellor, Rt Hon David Summerson, Hugo
Mills, Iain Tapsell, Sir Peter
Miscampbell, Norman Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Mitchell, Sir David Temple-Morris, Peter
Moate, Roger Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly)
Monro, Sir Hector Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thorne, Neil
Moore, Rt Hon John Thornton, Malcolm
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Thurnham, Peter
Morrison, Sir Charles Townend, John (Bridlington)
Neale, Sir Gerrard Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Nelson, Anthony Tracey, Richard
Neubert, Sir Michael Tredinnick, David
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Trippier, David
Nicholls, Patrick Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Norris, Steve Viggers, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Oppenheim, Phillip Waller, Gary
Page, Richard Walters, Sir Dennis
Paice, James Ward, John
Patnick, Irvine Watts, John
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Wells, Bowen
Patten, Rt Hon John Wheeler, Sir John
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Whitney, Ray
Pawsey, James Widdecombe, Ann
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wiggin, Jerry
Porter, David (Waveney) Wilkinson, John
Portillo, Michael Wilshire, David
Powell, William (Corby) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Price, Sir David Winterton, Nicholas
Raffan, Keith Wolfson, Mark
Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Rathbone, Tim Yeo, Tim
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rhodes James, Sir Robert
Riddick, Graham Tellers for the Ayes:
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Mr. John M. Taylor and
Roe, Mrs Marion Mr. Neil Hamilton.
Rossi, Sir Hugh
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Beith, A. J.
Anderson, Donald Bell, Stuart
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bellotti, David
Ashton, Joe Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Benton, Joseph
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Blair, Tony
Barron, Kevin Blunkett, David
Battle, John Boyes, Roland
Beckett, Margaret Bray, Dr Jeremy
Beggs, Roy Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Ingram, Adam
Caborn, Richard Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Kennedy, Charles
Canavan, Dennis Kilfoyle, Peter
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Carr, Michael Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Cartwright, John Lambie, David
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lamond, James
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Leighton, Ron
Clelland, David Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Lewis, Terry
Cohen, Harry Litherland, Robert
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Livingstone, Ken
Corbett, Robin Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Corbyn, Jeremy Loyden, Eddie
Cousins, Jim McAllion, John
Crowther, Stan McAvoy, Thomas
Cryer, Bob McCartney, Ian
Cummings, John Macdonald, Calum A.
Cunliffe, Lawrence McFall, John
Dalyell, Tam McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Darling, Alistair McKelvey. William
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) McLeish, Henry
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Maclennan, Robert
Dixon, Don McMaster, Gordon
Dobson, Frank Madden, Max
Doran, Frank Mahon, Mrs Alice
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. Marek, Dr John
Dunnachie, Jimmy Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Eadie, Alexander Martlew, Eric
Enright, Derek Maxton, John
Evans, John (St Helens N) Meacher, Michael
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Meale, Alan
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Michael, Alun
Faulds, Andrew Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fearn, Ronald Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Fisher, Mark Moonie, Dr Lewis
Flannery, Martin Morgan, Rhodri
Flynn, Paul Morley, Elliot
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Mowlam, Marjorie
Foster, Derek Mullin, Chris
Foulkes, George Murphy, Paul
Fyfe, Maria Nellist, Dave
Galbraith, Sam Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Garrett, John (Norwich South) O'Brien, William
Godman, Dr Norman A. O'Hara, Edward
Golding, Mrs Llin Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gordon, Mildred Parry, Robert
Gould, Bryan Patchett, Terry
Graham, Thomas Pendry, Tom
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Prescott, John
Grocott, Bruce Quin, Ms Joyce
Hain, Peter Radice, Giles
Hardy, Peter Randall, Stuart
Harman, Ms Harriet Redmond, Martin
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Haynes, Frank Reid, Dr John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Richardson, Jo
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Robertson, George
Henderson, Doug Robinson, Geoffrey
Hinchliffe, David Rogers, Allan
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Rooker, Jeff
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Rooney, Terence
Home Robertson, John Rowlands, Ted
Hood, Jimmy Ruddock, Joan
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Sedgemore, Brian
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Sheerman, Barry
Hoyle, Doug Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Short, Clare
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Illsley, Eric Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Wareing, Robert N.
Snape, Peter Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Soley, Clive Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Spearing, Nigel Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Steinberg, Gerry Winnick, David
Stephen, Nicol Wise, Mrs Audrey
Stott, Roger Worthington, Tony
Strang, Gavin Wray, Jimmy
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Trimble, David
Turner, Dennis Tellers for the Noes:
Vaz, Keith Mr. Jack Thompson and
Wallace, James Mr. Ken Eastham.
Walley, Joan

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Order of the House [12th November] be supplemented as follows:—