HC Deb 17 February 1970 vol 796 cc313-29

8.15 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

I beg to move, That the Rate Rebates (Limits of Income) (Scotland) Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before the House on 4th February, be approved. The purpose of this order, which is simply to maintain the benefits of the rate rebates scheme introduced under the Rating Act, 1966, ought to commend itself to the House. The Scottish local authority associations have been informed about what is proposed and are in favour of it.

As hon. Members know, the rebate scheme gives relief to domestic ratepayers of small means. The limits built into the scheme determine the income below which ratepayers qualify for the full amount of relief. Section 7(6) of the 1966 Act empowers the Secretary of State to raise this qualification level as may be required. This has already been done once, in 1968, by an order similar to the one which is now before the House.

The reason why the time has come to raise the limits again is quite straightforward. Most of those who qualify for rate rebate—as many as 75 per cent.—are pensioners. A pensions increase was awarded last November, and, unless something is done soon, the effect of the pensions increase on them could be that they would lose a good part of it through a reduced rate rebate. That would be very undesirable, and so the order is designed to hold the position.

This is a purely Scottish order. A similar order will be laid for England and Wales at a later date. Perhaps I should explain why the timing of the Scottish order has to be earlier.

It goes back ultimately to the fact that the rating years are different north and south of the Border. This affects the periods over which rebates are paid, and also the prior periods over which income is assessed for the purpose of determining rebate. For the rate rebate period beginning in Scotland in May of this year, income is assessed over a six month period from October 1969 to April of this year. Income in that period will have been strongly influenced, so far as pensioners are concerned, by the pensions increase awarded in November. In England and Wales the effect will not be felt until next October, so that a later order is appropriate there.

Now as to the amount of the increase. The income limit for a single person is raised by this order from £9 to £10 a week, and for a married couple from £11 to £12 5s. a week. This matches very closely the pensions increase. The provision for each resident child remains unchanged at £2 a week. I should emphasise that these are not absolute limits, above which no rebate is paid at all: they represent the point at which the benefit begins to taper off—I think that it is 5s. for every £1 of excess income.

Perhaps hon. Members will be inclined to ask: why have the limits not been put up further, so as to bring more people into the scheme? Here it is important to be clear what the rebate scheme is and what it is not. It does not pretend in any way to be a social security or social welfare scheme: it is only a way of taking the rough edge off the rating system, which, as we all recognise, bears hardly on the householder of limited means. That was the stated object of the provisions in the Rating Act 1966 and the income limits as fixed in the Act. All we are seeking to do now is to keep in benefit the same people whom the scheme was originally designed to help, and has helped since it was introduced.

We should all like to see the drawbacks of the rating system not merely relieved but removed: and in the Green Paper on local government finance which will be coming out later this year we shall be taking an entirely fresh look at all the aspects of the rating system. Meanwhile, through the domestic element of rate support grant, which reduces domestic rates in Scotland to a figure 2s. 6d. in the £ below what it would otherwise be, and through the scheme we are now considering, we are doing our best to shield the hard-pressed householder from the worst effects.

If this order is passed, the number of recipients of rate rebate in Scotland can be expected to remain at the present figure; that is, about 95,000. If the order is not passed, the number of recipients is likely to drop to about 85,000, and some of those 85,000 would have their present amounts of rate rebate reduced. That, I think, sufficiently makes the case for the order.

Now as to the cost of the order. The rate rebate scheme is financed three-quarters by direct grant from the Exchequer and one-quarter from the rates. The order will not materially add to the present costs, because it is concerned not with the amount of benefit paid—that is determined by a formula laid down in the Rating Act itself—but with the level of qualification for benefit. Neither the taxpayer nor the ratepayer will lose, to any measurable degree, by the passing of the order. It is true that if the order is not passed there would be a total saving of about £200,000 a year. That would be wholly unintended, and the wrong type of saving would be obtained by cutting deserving claimants out of benefit. So we are preserving the position for the people involved despite the fact that their pensions have been increased.

On the matter of timing, the order affects rate rebates for the period from May onwards but application for rebate can be made as early as 16th March. That is why it is proposed that the order should come into operation ahead of the actual rebate period. If it is approved, we shall arrange for the necessary publicity as soon as possible.

I commend the draft Order to the House. In its modest way it is a humane measure and will make life easier for a good number of the less well off amongst us. It may seem to us a small measure but to many people it is a very big measure.

8.21 p.m.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I congratulate the Government on producing the Order. A short discussion is justified because it will help to publicise the facilities contained in the scheme. As the Secretary of State has said, this is really only maintaining the position which was introduced by the Rating Act 1966.

I begin with one word of criticism. I have had to rely on Command Paper No. 3815 for the year 1967–68 in order to get any information on this. I do not think that there has been a later publication, and I ask "Why not?". I do not know what the intention was or what was contained in the Act but it seems odd that a matter of such political significance, one which is entirely in our favour, should be ignored by the Government in their attempt to publicise this scheme. Therefore, some of the observation that hon. Members might have to make on this on a factual basis will inevitably be dated.

I am disturbed because when the scheme was introduced, according to the Command Paper to which I have referred, the number involved in Scotland was 113,205. The figure has now dropped, according to my right hon. Friend, to 95,000, and it seems to me that we require a little more examination and explanation as to why there has been this drop.

It is interesting that for Scotland as a whole the percentage of domestic householders taking advantage of the scheme is 5.1, but inevitably there are tremendous variations in the percentages in each of the local authority samples which are given. For example, Glasgow has about the average of 5 per cent. It is not because I have some regard for the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) that I point out that the higher percentages are in Cullen Findochty and Portknockie. I am not suggesting that these are major areas with heavy population, but the percentages of domestic householders enjoying the rate rebate in those areas are all over 21 per cent., which contrasts strangely with a large city like Glasgow. I know there are all sorts of imponderables coming into this, but it requires a little examination and investigation.

It is with these points in mind that I suggest to my right hon. Friend not only that much more publicity should be given to the advantages of the scheme but that a report should be prepared for hon. Members so that we can draw the scheme to the attention of laggard authorities.

One other practical point that I am concerned about is that the Secretary of State said that 75 per cent. of all recipients were retired. It may well be that this was a section of the community that the scheme was intended for. But it strikes me as a little disturbing that the figure should be so high among retired people, and obviously there is a low take-up by low-paid wage earners. I am sure—and this may be the experience of many hon. Members that somehow or other a widow, or perhaps a deserted married woman, because she is working is sometimes completely unaware of the fact that she is eligible for rate rebate.

We need a lot more information on whether the people who could benefit from the scheme are aware of it. They may not be aware of it simply because they are working and do not come into the normal category of persons who might be more aware of it because they are claiming rent rebates.

Second, although I know this is a difficult subject, has any attempt been made by the Secretary of State to harmonise—and I am not sure whether he would have powers under the Act to do this—the level of the qualification figure with some of the rent rebate schemes operating in local authorities?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have been listening to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) carefully and have given him some latitude. But he cannot discuss rate rebate schemes in general or the working of the present system. The hon. Gentleman can only discuss the increases proposed under this Order.

Mr. Brown

I should have mentioned in my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am dealing with the Order in so far as it increases the qualifying limit from £11 to £12 5s. a week and continues the benefit rate for a child of £2 a week. It seems to me quite in order—and I do not mean this to challenge your Ruling at all, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and quite appropriate in looking at the cost involved in this Order, that we should look at the attempts to publicise the availability of this service and see whether it cannot be linked to the rent rebate schemes of local authorities.

I defy any hon. Member to sit down with an application form for this rate rebate scheme and for a rent rebate scheme and work out whether it is of more advantage to the person to claim both those benefits or to claim supplementary benefit. This is the matter in which I think the Government are required to make some inquiries and examination.

Finally, what publicity steps are to be taken? Is enough work done for the individual? The Command Paper says that notices are stuck up in post offices and other public places where people go. But I doubt very much whether people read the notices stuck up in post offices, for example. Is enough done to make use of the groups which are available—the Old Age Pensioners' Associations and the Tenants Associations, for example? In this age of participation, it strikes me that we are a little laggard in encouraging local authorities to take advantage of the community associations which are in existence.

I commend the Order to the House. It is one of the most practical proposals that have been before this House, and certainly there is a lot for pensioners and for non-pensioners in it. Unlike hon. Members opposite—I do not want to be personal—who keep parading the hardship of non-pensioners, the Government have found a practical way of giving help to a group in the community which should have been helped long before 1964. For all those reasons, provided that we make some attempt to bring in some of the low-paid wage earners, I support the Order.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)

I give a very warm welcome to the Order. It comes at a very appropriate moment for me as a constituency Member. I was approached only on Saturday on this matter by a lady in my constituency. She and her husband had applied for a rate rebate, and because their joint income was slightly above the £11 limit they had been turned down. It is a particularly tragic case and must be typical of many.

Less than a year ago, the husband developed multiple sclerosis and had to give up work. For the best part of a year the wife continued to work, and their income from her earnings and his sickness benefit brought in from £13 to £14 a week. But, with the advance of the husband's illness, the wife has had to give up work in order to stay at home and look after him the whole day. Their joint income from sickness and unemployment benefit comes to barely above the £11 mark and, as I have said, they have been turned down for the present rate rebate. This Order will come as a godsend to them.

There must be many others like them. Indeed, apparently about 11,000 more people will benefit by the Order. I welcome it very warmly indeed and hope that it goes through without opposition.

8.32 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

I, too, welcome the Order very much. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, it takes into account the rises in benefits—pensions, sickness benefits and the rest. Although my right hon. Friend at this stage does not expect many more old people to make application for rate rebates because of this increase, it is possible that others, the low wage earners, about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) is so concerned, may find themselves able, under the new scales, to claim rebate.

It is of the greatest importance that the utmost publicity be given to this scheme. I am glad that 95,000 families are benefiting under the scheme. I understand that 75 per cent. of them are elderly people. Amongst those elderly people are people with small fixed incomes with perhaps no State pension. These people are finding the rebate scheme of inestimable value.

These, the non-pensioners, are the very people for whom the Government have done so much. The Government have helped them by this scheme. I still get letters from all over Britain from elderly people who were left completely out in the cold when the Conservatives were in power. Within the last few weeks, old people I have never met have written to me saying what a different kind of life they are having now. These non-pensioners are getting a supplementary pension and they are getting it for the first time because of the changes brought about by the present Government.

All of us should show the very greatest concern for old people in our community, and anything more than can be done to help them is of the greatest importance. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) wish to interrupt?

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I was observing to one of my hon. Friends; what about the over-80s without a pension?

Miss Herbison rose——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

The subject of this Order is the increases that it includes and not, I am afraid, a discussion on the general aspects of rate rebates.

Miss Herbison

I believe that within the general order I shall be able to answer the hon. Gentleman the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Ian MacArthur) who has been sitting there listening, and must really be in cloud-cuckoo-land, because all of my last remarks were directed towards the non-pensioners, the over-80s who under his own Government got no help at all, only cold comfort.

Mr. MacArthur

Would the right hon. Lady give way? They will receive a pension as of right from the next Conservative Government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The debate is going much too wide of the order. I must bring the right hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman back to order.

Miss Herbison

The same old people could say to the hon. Gentleman, "Lead an old horse and you will get corn"—and that is what they had to do with hon. Members opposite. Does not the hon. Gentleman who interrupted really know the very great help in pensions as a right that these over-80s are getting Many of them under this Order—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before we get another intervention I must insist that we come back to the Order.

Miss Herbison

I am very sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but that was just exactly what I was going to do. I was coming back to this order which raises the amount for the single old person or single young person from £9 to £10 a week.

This will help some of the old people, non-pensioners living on a small fixed income. More of them might be brought in under this scheme. I would hope it will also help old couples by raising their amount to £12 5s. My hon. Friend the Member for Provan wondered whether old or chronic sick people or low wage earners really knew what their rights were under this scheme. He wondered whether some old people were able to weigh up whether it was better for them to take a rate rebate under this scheme—and some of them may have to do it all over again because of the amount being raised from £9 to £10, and for the couple to £12 5s.,—or to take a supplementary pension.

One of the things which officers from the Ministry of Social Security, who are excellent people, were asked to do was to discuss with the old people this very problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Provan raised in order to ensure that old persons took whichever was the better for them, a supplementary pension and no rate rebate or a rate rebate and no supplementary pension. I hope that this will be used much more often than it has been to ensure that under this Order old people get all the benefit from it that they possibly can.

My hon. Friend mentioned a figure of 5.1 per cent. of families and gave some figures for the northern part of Scotland. It may be that in the northern part of Scotland we have a higher proportion of old retired people but the difference between 5 per cent. and 20 per cent. is so great that that cannot be the whole answer. I hope, therefore, that now when we are publicising these new rates in this order the Secretary of State will take every possible step to get publicity on this home to people in every area in Scotland, and not only to our old people but to our low wage earners.

Some of the less responsible sections of the Press sometimes give the impression that we are a nation of malingerers. The statistics prove that this is not so. The survey I had conducted showed that there were 140,000 families in which the fathers—low wage earners in full-time employment, proud to be working for their families—were earning less than the National Assistance scale. We want to help such men and their families with the Order. The Order, by raising the limits to £12 5s. for husband and wife with £2 for children, will help many more families where the father is in work.

The vast majority of our people are decent. I hope that there will be the widest possible publicity to this extension of the limits so that people who are decent and want to work can be helped. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the new figures. This is another example of the care that this Government show for the people who desperately need it.

8.41 p.m.

Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline Burghs)

I add my welcome to the order. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on introducing the Order so soon after the parliamentary Answer a few weeks ago in which he gave notice of the new limits. These will be of great advantage to many people in Scotland.

I have in mind many retirement pensioners whose income is much higher than that which allows them to receive benefit at the moment. When the pensions were increased last November, these people were worried that it would be much more difficult for them to obtain benefits under the rebate scheme. The Order will ensure that these people are brought into the scheme.

I am interested in many types of retirement pensioner. There are a number of miners who were in the principal scheme for mineworkers' pensions and who are well beyond the limit for receiving supplementary benefit. However, some of them were only marginally above the limit for receiving help under the, rate rebate scheme. The Order will bring them within the scheme.

I have in mind also single women who are householders and live alone. In my area many such single women earn very low wages and claim under this scheme.

I agree that the scheme should be publicised much more widely, because many people do not realise that if they are only marginally outside the limits they can claim something. Local authorities should institute publicity schemes to acquaint people of their rights.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I, too, as glad that it has been possible to introduce the Order at this time. Despite all the talk about reducing public spending and the squeeze, the evidence is that the Government—shall I say "our Government"—can still look with a great deal of sensitivity at those areas where the need is greatest. It will be generally agreed that those on very low incomes are those who should be helped first.

I accept that often a person on a very low income does not know that he can claim a rate rebate. Therefore, the scheme should be publicised as widely as possible. I am particularly glad that it has been possible to raise these limits in face of all the pressures which are extant today and the widespread clamour, which perhaps comes most stridently from right hon. and hon. Members opposite, to curtail public spending. This is an example of the type of public spending which should be stepped up because of the advantages which accrue to so many of those who most deserve assistance.

I should like my right hon. Friend to give me a little information about how the scheme as a whole is working. It is perhaps not generally known that whereas in England and Wales anyone who is on supplementary benefit cannot normally claim under the scheme, this is not the case in Scotland. Or perhaps I should say that provision has been made in Scotland whereby a local authority can operate a scheme of its own and so cover those who are in receipt of supplementation.

I know that in my area of Motherwell those who are on supplementation and are receiving money in lieu of rates as well as rent can, in certain circumstances, obtain advantages from our local scheme, and if my right hon. Friend——

Mr. Adam Hunter

Does my hon. Friend agree that Lanarkshire is the only county in Scotland which does this?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I must tell the hon. Member that the Minister will be in order only if he relates his remarks to the increases set out in the Order.

Mr. Lawson

This is a matter which bears closely upon the choice which people can make, but I should not dream of trying to stray beyond the bounds of order.

We on this side of the House try to inform people about how they might fare better under one scheme rather than under another, and it is in order to help people decide whether they are faring better under one scheme rather than under another that I should like my right hon. Friend to tell us how many authorities operate the other scheme. I do not know whether any authorities, apart from Motherwell, does so. If they do, I shall be happy to know that that is so. I know the battle which my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. John Robertson) had to give local authorities in Scotland the right to continue the type of scheme which they were operating, and I hope that we can be given some information on how it is operating now.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

I shall not be tempted to follow the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) into the wider issues of the over-80s. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) for putting the record straight with regard to the Conservative Party's commitment to assist these people. I accept the right hon. Lady's point that they will be helped by the Order.

I welcome the Order, and I welcome, too, the opportunity, which we did not have on the last occasion the Order was debated, to discuss it in relation to Scotland alone. This has given many more hon. Members an opportunity to take part in the debate.

I am glad that we are able to assist people in the lower income groups, because, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) said, this is the right principle on which to work. We are giving help where it is most needed. This is a principle which many of us would like to see extended beyond schemes such as this.

I have great sympathy with what the hon. Member for Provan said about the need to simplify the different ways in which those who are less well off can benefit from schemes of this nature. Very often people find it difficult to understand the multiplicity of forms that are used, and, despite the help given by officers of the social security services, to decide what they should claim, and what will give them the best benefit. I was encouraged to hear the Secretary of State say that this factor would be taken into account in the whole review of rating. I hope that he will take to heart what has been said this evening about the need to simplify the different schemes under which people can benefit. The Order takes account of the increase in pensions. If the Order had not been introduced fewer people would have qualified for rate rebates, and the pension increase would have been nullified.

We are not thinking only of pensioners; we must be concerned also about the low wage-earner with a large family. It is not just a question of an increase in pensions and making sure the benefit is passed on. The Secretary of State takes credit for increasing the limits at which a person qualifies. Let him also remember that, since we debated the last order in June, 1968, there has been a rise in the cost of living and the Index of Retail Prices has gone up by 8 per cent. It is necessary to make certain that the increase in benefit is worth while and also to take account of the rate at which the cost of living has increased under the policies of the Government.

The Secretary of State said that the order takes the rough edge off the rating system. Well might he use those words. In answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) a few weeks ago, the Secretary of State said that in 1968–69 rates in Scotland went up on average by 9d. in the £. In 1969–70 it looks as though the rate poundage will be up by 1s. 4d. in the £. We must view the Order not merely against a background of the increase in pensions but against the increased costs which have to be borne by those whom we hope the Order will benefit. The Government are responsible in many ways for putting an extra burden on the people they are trying to help by the Order.

I find it difficult to balance the increased benefit from the Order against the increased burdens which people have to bear. Will the Secretary of State give us this information in real terms? How do the people who qualify for rate rebate under the Order compare with the people in 1966 when these provisions were first introduced, and in 1968 when the last Order was passed?

May I reinforce what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) said. It would be helpful when we debate the Order to have before us a report on how the scheme is working. The last report was produced in November, 1968, for the year 1967–68, and we might reasonably have expected a report for 1968–69 to have been in our hands in November last year. This would have helped us in debating the Order.

I should like to know why there is such a great variation in the numbers of those who will qualify for rebate in one part of Scotland or another and what research has been made into the matter? It is most important that those who qualify for rebate should know how to apply for it. It is important—and I know that local authorities are alive to this matter—to know what further ideas the Secretary of State has on giving due publicity to this order to make certain that those who qualify will get the benefit of the rebate. All those who need assistance should get it. Therefore, I am pleased to support the Order.

8.56 p.m.

Mr. Ross

I cannot complain about how the House has received the Order. It has been given a very general welcome indeed. I only wish that when I was sitting on that side of the House I had been in a position to get up and congratulate the Government of the day. The fact is that the rise in the cost of living did not start in October, 1964, nor did the rise in rates. But for all those long years hon. Members opposite had no thought of introducing a scheme by which they could relieve those who were hard hit.

This matter is related not to the cost of living but to the increase in pensions. Bearing in mind that we have increased pensions three times in the last five and a half years, indeed in less than that period of time, as against the number of pensions increases in the 13 years of office of the Conservative Government, and bearing in mind the increase in the value of the pension, I would have blushed for shame had I been trying to put the case put forward by the hon. Gentleman tonight. When the hon. Gentleman talked about a rise in rates, he should have known that, such is the flexibility of the formula, the effect of this rate rebate scheme is that automatically two-thirds of any change is covered by rebate.

I now come to the points which have been raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) mentioned the White Paper on this matter, which he will remember is not an annual publication but appeared two years after the scheme began. A full explanation was given of the scheme and all that had been done, and the figures were given. I agree that these figures should be given every year. It is our intention to produce, not as detailed a paper as that White Paper, but a document giving statistics to show how things are moving and to enable us to see whether or not we are meeting the needs of those faced with hardship.

My hon. Friend said that there would be variations between one area of the country and another, and cited the situation in Banff compared with that in Glasgow. He will find the relevant explanations in the White Paper. Rate burdens are different in certain parts of the country, and it may be that in Banff the rate burdens are relatively high. From that point of view there may be more people there who will gain from this scheme. Then again the situation may be related to wages or supplementary pension. There are, of course, alternative ways of helping those in need. If help is given in supplementary benefit schemes, then those concerned will not normally get help under this scheme. When my hon. Friend quotes a figure of 5 per cent. for Glasgow, it may conceal a higher number who get help through social security, whereas in Banff this would comprise a smaller number. It is very difficult to generalise, and one has to appreciate the circumstances in the various areas.

There is the other point, and this brings us to the need for publicity and an understanding of the scheme. It is a relatively simple one and it should be easy to get it across to people. However, the people to whom we want to get it across are not necessarily those who are more readily able to understand it. People who are 80 years of age are more likely to become confused and more likely to be a little stubborn about accepting help. From that point of view, I appreciate that we have to work at getting it across, and considerable attention was paid to that right at the start. Even when we had about 113,000 applications, we did not think that we had reached all those who could be helped. Certainly we shall do all that we can to ensure that publicity is given to the scheme.

I know that members and officials of local authorities know the benefits that it has brought. I remember talking to the town chamberlain of a burgh in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). He thought that the scheme had been a godsend in his area. His is not a town which one associates with slums. It is one which is associated with people who have gone there to retire. They live on and on, and their incomes tend to remain fixed. They are the sort of people who have benefited from the scheme. Many of them are owner-occupiers. That is one reason why hon. Gentlemen opposite should be a little less grudging about the scheme—[Interruption.] Yes, they damn it with faint praise and say how well they will do in the next 100 years when they become the Government again.

The scheme has met a need among a category of people who were left out before. The benefits are tremendous, and I intend to make sure that everything will be done to give the scheme widespread publicity. Hon. Members can help a great deal, and I hope that the kind of publicity that we get from this debate will assist in that direction. Quite a lot is done through the voluntary organisations, and we have material which can be made available to assist them. Then there are old people's committees in the towns, meals on wheels, health visitors and others who are in touch with the very categories of people who need help, and they can be encouraged to spread the information about the scheme.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), who has done so much in this and other aspects of social security, was right to mention that it concerned not just pensioners but low-paid workers as well. It is not just a matter of the £12 5s. There is also the £2 per resident child.

I would like to comment on the attempt to harmonise the levels of rent rebate and rate rebate and much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) raised. However, it would be out of order to do that, and I have never been one to stray out of order. I got the impression that there was no burgh like Motherwell for looking after those who need help. My hon. Friend should come to Kilmarnock and see how we treat our people there.

Miss Herbison

I cannot allow my right hon. Friend to get away with mentioning only Motherwell. Lanarkshire county gives a special rebate as well, especially to old people who are in receipt of supplementary benefit.

Mr. Ross

Yes, but this is not a joint scheme. It is an alternative scheme. It is a matter of choice. I do not want to embark on a long speech about that.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) instanced the kind of case that would suffer if we did not take this action. I am glad to have his assurance of the extent to which it has been welcomed.

The same matter was drawn to our attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter). There are those people—they may be pensioners, single people or people on fixed incomes—who are marginally outside any other help. This has been a godsend to them for meeting one part of an inevitable expenditure.

I am glad that the House has welcomed the Order. I shall honour the pledge about publicity and also about getting annual information so that the House can be kept up to date on how the uptake proceeds.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved. That the Rate Rebates (Limits of Income) (Scotland) Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before the House on 4th February, be approved.