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Hansard 23 March: Column 179 ...
Hansard 23 March: Column 179

Business in the commons was scrapped - Kosovo bombing notwithstanding - because the government used its majority to impose a guillotine imposing time limits on discussion of the Local Government Bill.

This followed more than eight hours of clashes over the Bill - beginning with opposition to a second resolution, tabled only the previous day, to allow the government to spend money under the Bill. This would allow the secretary of state to make extra grants to the Audit Commission - additonal powers not previously in the Bill. Andrew Lansley, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, protested that MPs had had no guidance on what extra fees might be charged to local authorities and nor was there any upper limit. Yet the Bill had already had a money resolution approved.

It is understood the extra measure is, in part, for the Audit Commission's policing of the best value concept.

Local government minister Hilary Armstrong said the clause related to the Audit Commission's ability to work effectively with such organisations as Ofsted, the Social Services Inspectorate and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools. It would allow funding for best value authorities to meet any new costs for best value inspections and to ensure where best value inspections are funded by central government, money could be paid to the Audit Commission for them. It would also allow the government to be reimbursed when, for example, the secretary of state, used his powers to intervene in local authorities.

The government won the new clause and money Bill, but after almost a further seven hours of debate on the Local Government Bill - considering a new Clause 4, brought from standing committee by the government - on the co-ordination of inspections of best value authorities, social services, schools and police authorities - the leader of the commons, Margaret Beckett, said she would impose a strict timetable on further discussion of the Bill in place of the scheduled business.

Former environment secretary John Gummer protested: 'The motion stops us discussing democracy in local government. The house is supposed to be a guardian of democracy'.

The government's overwhelming majority imposed the guillotine on the Bill.

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