HC Deb 17 July 1985 vol 83 cc438-52 11.42 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

I beg to move, That the Revaluation Rate Rebates (Scotland) Order 1985, dated 9 July 1985, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10 July, be approved.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the debate that has just ended, the arguments that could be advanced by the parties representing 25 per cent. of the electorate in Scotland were not heard. The mess that Edinburgh faces is the direct result of the confrontation between the Conservative and Labour parties. We have been denied the right to contribute to this debate. In those circumstances, although we oppose the actions of the Government, it was impossible for us to vote when we had no opportunity to explain our views. Is this a democractic Chamber, or is it not?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Equally, I understand that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, including one Minister, were disappointed in the last debate. The Chair always does its best in the limited time available.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale. Ettrick and Lauderdale)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Of course I will take the right hon. Gentleman's point of order, but I hope that he realises that time taken up by points of order now is taking valuable time out of this debate, which can last only for an hour and a half.

Mr. Steel

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that this will be helpful to the Chair—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I want to hear this point of order.

Mr. Steel

Under Standing Order No. 3(1)(b), where the occupant of the Chair is of the opinion that because of the importance of the subject matter of the motion, the time for debate has not been adequate, he shall, instead of putting the question as aforesaid, interrupt the business, and the debate shall stand adjourned till the next sitting (other than a Friday). May I suggest that when the Front Benches have taken so much time, when an hon. and learned Member from well outside Edinburgh has taken so much time and when one Edinburgh Member has spoken for 25 minutes, the only discipline available to the occupant of the Chair is the use of that Standing Order to make it clear that hon. Members who try to occupy the time of the House in that way will not get away with it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have dealt with the issue raised in that point of order; I am rot sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the time. I exercised my discretion. That is the duty of the Chair on such occasions.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In your response to my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), you referred to the disappointment of a number of hon. Members in all parts of the House, but I hope that you were not suggesting that the disappointment felt by Back-Bench Labour or Conservative Members could be compared with the frustration of two political parties that represent a quarter of the electorate—a disappointment which is compounded by the fact that in his opening speech the Secretary of State specifically invited contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon and from myself.

The Government side took 52 minutes of the debate, the Labour party took 58 minutes and they excluded third party opinion. The procedures of the House were grossly abused and it was noted that there were no suggestions from the Chair about the desirability of short speeches. In the latter part of the debate, remarks strayed very far from order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has made his point. I hope that we can now get on.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If those roles are to be invoked, do not matters of geography become relevant? Why does an hon. Member from 300 miles to the north think that he can take precedence over some of us who represent the area concerned? I make no complaint about not being called, but let it be recorded that if there is to be precedence, hon. Members who represent the area should take precedence over those from a long way away.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the House now realises very well that the Chair is sometimes in the middle of the crossfire.

Mr. Ancram

The order is the last link in the statutory chain needed to bring into effect the relief for ratepayers which my right hon. Friend announced to the House on 14 May. The powers enabling the order to be made are prescribed in the Rating (Revaluation Rebates) (Scotland) Act 1985 which was given a Second Reading on 3 June. After a speedy passage—I am glad to record our thanks for the co-operation given by the Opposition—the Act received Royal Assent on 26 June. It comes into force on 26 August, which is also the date of coming into operation of this order.

The order is also the latest measure by the Government to mitigate the most severe effects of the 1985 revaluation. As the House knows, we increased the domestic element of rate support grant, first, on the basis of early estimates of the new values, when it became apparent that the domestic sector as a whole would have to bear a substantially greater share of the rate burden and, secondly, to the unprecedented level of £102 million after local authorities had determined their rates and it became clear that an intolerable burden on the domestic sector was being imposed by the effects of revaluation, together with high spending plans. I am bound to say there have been some irresponsibly high spending plans, in one case so wildly irresponsible that my right hon. Friend has been obliged to take the selective action approved by the House tonight.

Relief for the domestic sector and adjustment of the effects of revaluation through reduction of industrial derating from 50 to 40 per cent. were possible by using powers already available to us. When later information became available for individual ratepayers of the combined effects of revaluation and high rates, it became clear that something more needed to be done, in particular for commercial ratepayers for whom our earlier average figures had indicated that the effect of revaluation was broadly neutral. Once the rolls were published, we learnt that there were many individual cases of horrifying rate increases. They seriously jeopardised the ability of many commercial ratepayers to continue in business. The powers that the Government already had did not enable us to meet the circumstances, hence the need to seek the powers which are now enacted in the Rating (Revaluation Rebates) (Scotland) Act 1985.

The House may find it helpful if I briefly remind it of those powers. The Act enables my right hon. Friend to provide by order for rating authorities to grant rebate of rates on property where the 1985–86 rateable value is more than three times the 1984–85 rateable value. Property valued by formula or by order, property occupied by the Crown or local authorities, and industrial and freight transport subjects benefiting from industrial derating are all excluded. An order may be made for the current financial year or any year thereafter. The order before the House exercises those powers for 1985–86.

Articles 1 and 2 are the normal provisions dealing with citation and commencement, and with interpretation.

Article 3 simply provides for rating authorities to grant rebates to lands and heritages which qualify under the Act.

Article 4 provides for the amount of rebate to be calculated by comparing old and new values for the same property. Rates payable after rebate will be as if the new rateable value were no more than three times the old value.

There is also provision that, in calculating rebate, no account should be taken of any reduction in the amount of rates payable when any valuation appeal is pending. Until an appeal is settled, a ratepayer is required to pay only 90 per cent. of his rates, or such lesser amount as the rating authority may agree. The effect of the provision in article 4(2) is that the 90 per cent. rule is not taken into account when determining a rebate. It might be thought that it is unnecessary to give a ratepayer the benefit of both a rebate and the 90 per cent. concession on the amount payable while a valuation appeal is pending. But it is important that the new rebate scheme does not encourage ratepayers from appealing if they think that the valuations are wrong.

My right hon. Friend and I have made it clear that the rebate scheme should not be regarded in any way as a substitute for going ahead in the normal way with an appeal where the ratepayer disagrees with the assessor's valuation. We therefore think it important to retain intact and separate the "upfront" incentive of 10 per cent. off the amount payable, without having it confused by being subsumed in the revaluation rebate at this stage. Obviously, once the appeal is determined one way or the other, the result will be the basis of the final entitlement to revaluation rebate, if any. Thus, someone who is in due course successful in his appeal, to the extent that his revised valuation would not have entitled him to as much revaluation rebate, will have his account adjusted, in accordance with article 6.

Article 4(3) is a provision restricting the rebate for any one property to £10,000. The intention is to focus relief on the small ratepayer and especially smaller businesses. We recognise that there is some rough justice in this provision. There is an obvious disadvantage for the large one-shop business as against the large business which

operates many small shops. But resolving anomalies of that kind would seriously complicate the scheme and there is no guarantee that any solution would not itself produce further anomalies. A restriction of £ 10,000 for each rebate is considered the simplest method of targeting relief on small businesses.

Article 5 first places a duty on rating authorities to ascertain those lands and heritages which qualify for rebate and to grant the appropriate rebate by 16 September 1985. This provision is based on the advice we received from officials of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and of rating authorities and assessors whom we consulted about the practical application of the scheme. Briefly, they advised that the scheme would operate more smoothly if rating authorities determined from their records who was entitled to rebates and calculated and awarded the appropriate amount. Modern systems make this much easier than obliging ratepayers who think they may be entitled to rebate to lodge a claim. We are grateful for that advice, which we were glad to accept, and for which other sound advice which those bodies gave which has been taken into account in the order. The deadline of 16 September should allow any ratepayer to make payments by instalments of rebated rates within the prescribed arrangements.

Rebates may be granted either by a payment to the ratepayer or by reducing rates payable. Given the numbers involved it is not improbable that, because, for example, records are not completely up to date, some ratepayers may not be granted a rebate by the due date. Provision is therefore made for claims by ratepayers who have not been granted a rebate.

Rating authorities are required by 23 September 1985 to advertise in the press informing, ratepayers that they may claim rebates within 28 days of publication of the advertisement. A form of claim is contained in the schedule to the order. Rebates must be granted as soon as an application is accepted. If it is refused, the applicant has to be informed immediately in writing. If the rating authority fails to determine an application within 28 days of it being submitted, it shall be deemed to have refused the application. The ratepayer then has 28 days from a determination or deemed refusal in which to appeal against these to the sheriff. The procedure for such appeals, which was a matter of some debate when the Bill was before the House, is set out in article 7. There is also provision in article 6—which I have already mentioned—for rebate to be reassessed where values or rates are altered.

According to the latest return which COSLA has obtained from all Scottish rating authorities, some 133,000 domestic and 62,000 non-domestic, including commercial, ratepayers will qualify for rebate and the total cost of the scheme is estimated at about £30 million, which is a considerable and unprecedented figure. But the scheme is demand-led and the final cost will only be known once all rebates are settled.

As I pointed out in my opening remarks, the order applies to the current year only. Further rebate orders may be made for subsequent years. We have thought it right to go no further for the present than provision for 1985–86.

Mr. Dalyell

Has any rough estimate been made of the cost? It cannot be cheap.

Mr. Ancram

Various estimates have been made. It is thought that the cost will be under £1 million. I made it clear when the primary legislation was passing through the House that the expenditure would be disregarded for penalty purposes in future years.

Decisions on local authority expenditure and grant are normally made in the autumn of the year preceding the financial year to which they will apply. Any extension of this rebate scheme beyond 1985–86 falls to be considered along with the other relevant matters for that year in question and most appropriately provided for at that time.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House—if not this evening, at the earliest possible opportunity—whether the provisions will continue next year? What arrangements are being made to reimburse local authorities for administering the scheme? I expected that important aspect to be covered in the hon. Gentleman's description of the order.

Mr. Ancram

I thought that I had made it clear that the cost of administering the scheme would he disregarded. That would be local authority expenditure which the local authorities would bear themselves. It would be disregarded for the purposes of guidelines. I appreciate that it is in the interests of ratepayers and others to know the intentions for the following years as soon as possible. Those decisions, and decisions on the domestic element of rate support grant, are announced and taken in the House. We hope to make those announcements in November or December this year.

The order will bring much needed relief to those ratepayers in Scotland who face greatest hardship from increases in values and in rate bills in the current year. It is a practical expression of the Government's concern. Although there will still be people who face massive rate increases, we will have met the worst of the burdens that have been created by some elements of the revaluation. That is what we undertook to do when we were passing the legislation. The process has been completed by the order, and I commend it to the House.

12.12 am
Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

The Under-Secretary of State has acknowledged the assistance rendered by the Opposition during the passage of the enabling legislation. There was a problem in the commercial sector, especially for many small businesses.

The generosity of the £50 million in new money has been shown to be more apparent than real. The Under-Secretary of State referred to the order as the "last link." but there seem to be a few lost chords. A shortfall of £20 million is a considerable underestimate of the cost. By refusing to lower the threshold below the three times factor, the Government have effectively denied many ratepayers the assistance that they might have thought would be available, given the Younger declaration at Perth on 9 May. So many figures have been cited for the number of commercial and domestic ratepayers who will benefit under the order that they would have been wiser to rely on COSLA's figures, on which the Government now rest their case. I am encouraged to look at the order by the reply that the Under-Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) in a letter on 15 July 1985, in which he said: Now that the rebate scheme's main features have been enacted I think it would be best if we were to get on with putting it into practice. Given the embarrassment that the order has caused, I concur with the Under-Secretary of State.

There were two significant developments in the enabling legislation—the duty imposed on a rating authority to give the rebate and the payment by the Secretary of State to the rating authority for its payments, but not the costs that it incurred in making them.

Does the Minister expect most rating authorities to make a payment or merely to deduct the amount of rebate that might be due? I ask that question because he is giving local authorities that discretion.

Will the Minister say something about some of the problems that may arise following successful appeals where the ratepayer has to pay back a rebate that he or she has been given?

Will the Minister also tell us how the order is to be uniformly advertised? He will be aware that the Scottish information office was busy at the time of revaluation trying to soothe ratepayers' anxieties about the effects of rising assessments. My hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden has elicited the fact that about £3 million of the £30 million will go to the owners of poster sites. I wonder whether Saatchi and Saatchi will be involved in the promotional aspects. Rating authorities will be advertising in the press, but ratepayers will have more general anxieties about the order.

In Tayside, for example, 7,000 lock-up garages figure among the 12,700 subjects that will benefit from the order.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)


Mr. Craigen

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. He and I spent many hours together on the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1984. I pay full tribute to the part that he played in achieving the derating of commercial reed beds. I described it as the "Bill Walker benefit Bill." I wonder whether we are now seeing the lock-ups of Tayside coming into the same category.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in Tayside, especially in Angus, the revaluation has hit badly commercial premises. A substantial number of those premises will benefit from this measure. I acknowledge that lock-up garages are included. The fact that the majority of the shops, especially in Forfar, will benefit is welcome. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the answer to the problem is to get rid of this iniquitous rating system?

Mr. Craigen

I find the hon. Gentleman's comment about Forfar interesting, because I was reading in a newspaper only the other day about the devastating effect that the problems have caused in Forfar.

I understand that one of the aspects of the rebate scheme that might disappoint many people is that domestic ratepayers may receive only a small rebate. In West Lothian 50 per cent. may receive £10 or less, and for one in three of the beneficiaries who receive more than £1 it will be in respect of lock-up garages. The Government could have assisted by lowering the threshold from the three times factor.

The Government have a duty to reimburse the payments that arise from the order, but the rating authorities are anxious about the effect that the order will have on their cash flow, especially in respect of interest charges that may be incurred. I wonder whether, in the 50 per cent., 45 per cent., 5 per cent. arrangement that the Minister is proposing, he is giving adequate recompense to the local authorities. They will have to fork out the £1 million cost of operating the order, and also the interest charges involved.

The point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is of importance, because there is a value for money aspect. On the basis of that £1 million and the £30 million that the order will cost, we are talking about 3 per cent. for administrative and interest charges, the rating system itself collecting about £1,700 million. The Minister gave me a figure of £16 million, approximately the equivalent of 1 per cent., for the entire cost.

Will the Minister say something about the appeals procedure? There is concern among the assessors that the detailed advice that the Scottish Office finance division put out should answer many of their queries. I know, for example, that the Fife regional assessor is a little perturbed about the terms "lands" and "heritages". I believe that there have been discussions between the Scottish Office and COSLA about the matter, but the regional assessor in Fife is concerned that there are possibilities for litigation in a change of description, from, say, "store" to "warehouse". He feels that many points of litigation could arise unless the Scottish Office spells out in considerable detail some of the anxieties that can arise from the order.

The regulations are, of course, brought to us in the form that we take them or leave them, because we cannot amend them. The Government have been singularly at fault in the way that they have calculated the costs. They have been mean-minded in not agreeing to recompense the local authorities for the costs that they will incur. I hope that tonight, and in the ensuing Scottish Office circular, the Minister will clarify various points and prevent more people from feeling that they have been rather hard done by because of the way in which the order will operate.

12.13 am
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the fact that I have caught your eye rather early in the debate. It is interesting to note the rather changed structure of the participants. The great bosom pals of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who were backing him to the hilt in the last debate—the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) and for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery)—seem to have decided that this debate has not the same interest as the previous one. In the circumstances, perhaps one can understand their choice of priorities and the issues on which they choose to intervene.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bruce

Not for the present.

The order is one which the Minister, a few months ago, might have led us to believe was the salvation of the ratepayers to Scotland, and the salvation—more to the point—of the seats of his hon. Friends. The order as it appears tonight is a long way short of that. The money that will come back to the ratepayers of Scotland now looks like being a little over half of what was originally promised.

The Government have refused to contribute to the cost of the administration of the scheme by the local authorities, and the Minister has already told my hon. Friend that he is unable to give any kind of indication whether anything will be carried forward into next year, leaving many businesses in particular, as well as domestic ratepayers, in a position of considerable uncertainty as to whether they have real relief or just a stay of execution. The running sore of rates in Scotland is causing deep and considerable embarrassment to the Conservative and Labour parties.

In spite of its willingness to attack the Government, the Labour party is not willing to declare exactly where it stands in relation to the budget in Edinburgh, nor, indeed, where it stands on the future of the rating system. That is not surprising, because if the hon. Members for Coventry, South-East or for Liverpool, Broadgreen were here, they might say they were in favour of rates, because they recognise that the majority of Labour voters do not pay the same level of rates as the majority of voters for other parties. It is therefore a good way of buying votes on the cheap, and the Labour party has not yet come clean about where and how it will reform the voting system.

Mr. Home Robertson

The hon. Member has talked about coming clean. Has he made up his mind about how he would have voted if he had not had a fit of pique before the last Division?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I have been listening very carefully to the debate. It is a short debate, and I remind the House that remarks should be addressed to the adequacy or otherwise of the amounts of rebates and their calculation. Hon. Members should not stray into the debate that ended an hour ago.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am addressing my remarks to the inadequacy of the order.

The Government have come forward with a botched-up, temporary expedient, which has been announced in a flush of glory. When it is closely analysed, it does not live up to the spectacular announcement made in front of the television cameras at the Conservative party conference. When we get down to the nitty-gritty, we find a squalid and cheap situation, in which the Government are not prepared to give the ratepayers of Scotland the funding which they said they would give back. Nor will they give a firm commitment that such rebates will continue in the future, and that is the only solution which can help to alleviate the problems of Scotland's ratepayers.

One of the problems facing Scotland is that too many local authorities are squeezed by Government policy. Their rate support grant is cut, and that forces them to increase the rates. In addition, the revaluation effect is proving an even greater problem. The tragedy for the Government is that as a result of revaluation the public have finally discovered that the game is a bogy. The Government claim that they have the interests of ratepayers at heart, but that has been shown to be empty, shallow, and a sham. Their policies over the last five years have meant that the ratepayers of Scotland have paid, year in and year out, more and more for less and less.

This relief will not cause widespread rejoicing. It just means that ratepayers will be forced to spend more and more for still fewer and fewer services. It is no great relief to ratepayers to he told they will have to pay rate increases of 30, 40 or 50 per cent, and no great relief for them to know that they may yet have to pay rate increases of 200, 300 or 400 per cent. next year. The ratepayers of Scotland now know that, and any short-term recovery which the Government achieved by producing this deus ex machina has evaporated, as the polls in Scotland clearly show.

After the next election the Minister will not be able to hold up his head in Scotland. because he and his colleagues will be swept out of office and the city of Edinburgh will return alliance Members of Parliament. They will, of course, be drawn equally from Conservative and Labour-held seats. The Minister would be well advised to take away this squalid order and to return with one that gives to Scottish ratepayers the £50 million which the Secretary of State promised at the Conservative party conference earlier this year. If he cannot do so, I and my hon. Friends will force a Division and vote against the order.

12.20 am
Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee. East)

I shall follow the spirit of the debate and speak only briefly. Since you invited us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to address our remarks to the method of calculation, it is strange that the Minister did not explain to the House why £20 million was missing. At the Conservative party conference, the Secretary of State promised that £50 million would be available—

Mr. Ancram

No; £40 million.

Mr. Wilson

The Minister says £40 million. but I had the impression that he promised £50 million. Even so, £40 million is still £10 million above the figure that the Minister now says will be available. It is remarkable that, after it was suggested that £50 million would be made available, only £30 million will be provided.

If the Government could convince us that this was a speculative calculation, that they had to keep the amount within the £50 million limit, and that they were not sure how much they must shell out, I could understand the need to be cautious and not to incur the wrath of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But they have estimated that the cost of the aid will be about £30 million. If they can estimate what a multiplier of 3 will produce, surely they could adjust that multiplier so as to increase the number of people falling within the net and therefore honour the promise made by the Secretary of State.

If the Government were trying, in desperation, to attract a modicum of political support by promising this aid to ratepayers, it is strange that they have back-tracked on that promise. That sort of thing would undermine confidence in any political party. Indeed, had the Government been floating a company on the basis of that prospectus, they would have ended up in the dock because of promises made but not honoured. The entire procedure is a swindle. The only joy is that this £30 million is £30 million more than ratepayers might have received. However, that will be of no consolation to the ratepayers—including, I suspect, some hon. Members—who had hoped to benefit to a small extent, but who have discovered that they fall just short of the multiplier and will not so benefit. Tens of thousands of ratepayers will be deeply disappointed.

I cannot understand why the Government will not pay the administrative costs of the scheme. It is a simple matter. If they have so much spare cash, they should give £1 million to our hard-pressed local authorities. Indeed, it is an insult to say that local authrities will not be penalised for implementing the Government's scheme. It was a remarkable piece of effrontery by the Minister to say that, given the small sum involved and the fact that the Chancellor had already agreed in principle to give that £1 million to local authorities.

It is deeply disappointing that the Government have not introduced a new multiplier that would reflect the need to spend the £50 million that was originally offered. Instead, they have restricted aid to £30 million and so lost much of the benefit that this move might have brought.

12.24 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) and I would like clarification on one issue. We understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have said that this is a one-off operation, and is not to be repeated.

Mr. Ancram

indicated dissent

Mr. Dalyell

The Minister shakes his head, but I think that he had better clarify the matter, because what the Chancellor said is at odds with my understanding—and of course I will give way and be corrected—of what he said.

Mr. Ancram

I cannot, and obviously would not, without reference to reports of what the Chancellor said, try to quote him exactly. What he was saying was that new money which was available this year would not necessarily be available next year. That does not preclude this scheme being financed in other ways.

Mr. Dalyell

In what other ways?

Mr. Craigen

In the same way as the £38.5 million in regard to the Health Service.

Mr. Ancram

I have said to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that these are the matters which are for consideration, and we have to consider all the decisions which we make about expenditure—in particular the matters relating to local government finance, which take place in the autumn. I am not being discourteous to the hon. Gentleman in saying that at this time of the year, before those decisions are taken and before consideration is given to the implications of them, I am not in a position to answer the question.

Mr. Dalyell

We will look forward to see what happens when autumn leaves are falling.

Mr. Craigen

I think my hon. Friend should take it that the Chancellor in effect was saying that this is an unrepeatable offer and that, if the scheme continues, it will be at the expense of the general body of ratepayers.

Mr. Dalyell

I think that we might want, as soon as Hansard is printed, to write to the Treasury and try to get a view from Treasury Ministers, because this is important.

I am not at all happy about the sheer administrative costs of this operation. If this money were available, there are certain other things in the Lothian area which ought to be done. First, I speak here as much as a Member of Parliament representing Lothian as the member for the main organising committee of the Commonwealth games. Is it understood in regard to the Royal commonwealth pool that the roofing work, unless £750,000 is spent, could become dangerous? I have checked and rechecked this. If the money is simply not available for a basic site for the Commonwealth games, where is the money going to come from to do necessary structural roofing repairs to the Commonwealth pool?

Secondly, is it true that £130,000 is needed urgently for Meadowbank and the James Kane centre and that, if this is not done, both those places may close?

Thirdly, the Edinburgh cornmarket, which is to

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am finding great difficulty in relating this to the order.

Mr. Dalyell

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. it is quite legitimate to talk about alternative uses of this rebate.

With regard to the Wan-ender baths, which are closed, £100,000 is urgently needed if they are to be re-opened. If they are not re-opened, training facilities for the 1986 games will be open to considerable question. This is very relevant. If the Minister cannot answer now, perhaps he could write to me about it. Paying back comparatively small sums of money with these disproportionate administrative costs is not a very sensible way of conducting our affairs.

12.30 am
Mr. Ancram

Many points have been raised in the debate and I shall answer as many of them as I can, beginning with those raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). The question of capital allocations for the types of subject to which he referred are also matters for consideration in the autumn, when the Government consider what allocations can be made available. We consider seriously the bids that are made and the priorities put forward by local authorities and try, within available resources, to ensure that, so far as possible, those priorities are met.

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that he feels that the £30 million rebate, which effectively is the cost of the order, is unnecessary and unhelpful, because there are situations—hon. Members will recognise them in their constituencies—where, for instance, commercial organisations, such as small shops, might find themselves faced with rate increases, because of severe revaluations, which could put them out of business. The purpose of the order, as I have previously pointed out, is to try to mitigate the worst effects of revaluation without undoing revaluation itself.

Mr. Kirkwood

indicated assent

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) recognises the value of the order, because originally he asked the Government to provide £4 million or £5 million, and he sees the amounts that the Government are providing are generous. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Linlithgow will reflect on some of the people whose problems and burdens will be considerably relieved by the action that will take place under the order.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) raised again the question of the £50 million and what he referred to as the missing £20 million and the multiplier. In fairness to my right hon. Friend, it is important to recall what he said at Perth, when he announced the sum of £40 million for commercial or non-domestic ratepayers. He referred to a scheme, the cost of which would be about—

Mr. Dewar

Not "about." but "at least."

Mr. Ancram

He may have said "at least." I do not have the exact quotation with me, and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I would not want to be held to a quotation without having the reference before me. It was clear from that time on that we were talking about a certain cost. That cost, on the best estimates that were available to us at the time, was £40 million for the commercials and, as we announced the following week in the House, another £10 million for the domestics. Those estimates were on the high side. We accept, as more work has been done on the valuations, that the cost will be considerably less.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East criticises the three times multiplier, but we had to take account of setting a level of multiplier at which eligibility for benefit would begin and which would not, of itself, undo revaluation completely. I am sure that he accepts, as an ex-practising solicitor—he may still be practising—who in the House has previously expressed certain expertise on valuation and admiration for revaluation, that it would not have been sensible for the Government to have undone one side of revaluation—the losing side—while leaving the other side untouched.

We had to set a level which we believed dealt with the worst effects of revaluation. It is, interestingly, a level which is below the average multiplier of revaluation in the previous revaluation. We believe that it was the right figure, and the cost, as I said works out at £30 million.

Mr. Wilson

I find the Minister's attitude somewhat ingenuous. If Ministers and the Scottish Office were successful in screwing out of the Treasury £50 million, that money should have been made available to ratepayers who are finding it extremely difficult under the three times multiplier to meet increased rate demands for which they have had no opportunity to budget. That extra money would have alleviated the distress that many people are feeling.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman uses the rather indelicate phrase, "screwing £50 million out of the Treasury." It was not like that. The Government arrived at a scheme that involved the three times multiplier, and the cost followed that. That has been the position from the beginning, and it remains so. Opposition Members who, from the end of March and through April, were calling for sums of £4 million or £5 million, now find it difficult to accept that the Government have given a generous provision to aid ratepayers.

Mr. Craigen


Mr. Ancram

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, even though we have been through this so many times before.

Mr. Craigen

I have the words spoken by the Secretary of State in Perth. He said that he expected the scheme would help the 50,000 ratepayers who are most badly affected, and that it would cost £40 million. As 62,500 are to be helped over the three fold threshold, why was there that miscalculation in Perth?

Mr. Ancram

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman talks to assessors, he will find that the analysis takes place over time, and that the evidence presented to us by COSLA, which led to us accepting that the figure would be £30 million, was not given to us until 12 June, because it was also working on the figures. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) has confirmed my recollection that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had agreed to a scheme then and gave an estimate of the cost.

The hon. Member for Maryhill asked a number of questions. He asked about the reimbursement of rebates. We have in mind, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told COSLA, that 50 per cent. of the estimated amount of rebates will be paid at the end of September. Most of the balance will be paid at the end of December, with the remaining 5 per cent. awaiting a more final figure from the authorities. That met one of the requests made to us by COSLA.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about advertising and the publicity that would be forthcoming from the Scottish Office. Again, we shall give some national publicity to the order, so that eligible ratepayers know that they need to claim, unless they have not heard from their local authority by the time that the local advertisement appears in the press, on or before 23 September. It is important that it is done that way round, because it was decided on the advice of COSLA that the order should be administered in this way.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the sheriff court appeal and the assessors' concern. The basis of the order is comparison between old and new rateable values on the same property. It is up to local authorities, which are best placed to decide, whether the property is the same. The Scottish Office guidance circular will be discussed with COSLA before we issue it.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the authorities would deduct the rebates from the rates or pay the rebates in cash. Some authorities advise us that they will do one thing, and others the other. It depends on their procedures. There is provision for both those procedures in the order.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the rebate payments that might have to be made after a successful appeal. After any valuation appeal is decided, some payment to or from a ratepayer has to take place. If he loses, he has to pay the 10 per cent. that he has deducted from his bill; and if he wins, the authority arranges for him to be credited or paid back. The order provides in article 6 for the revaluation rate to be recalculated, and for this recalculation to be part of the adjustment to the ratepayer's account, which will have to happen anyway. To put it more simply, it will all come out in the wash when the final adjustment is made.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) made a singularly unconstructive speech. He is obviously still labouring under the impression that giving aid to ratepayers is some form of warped priority, to use his words, on the part of the Government. It became clear that he would rather not have the order, nor the help that is being given to the ratepayers. He told us that he and his hon. Friends will vote against the order unless the three times multiplier is changed. He knows full well that that is in the primary legislation, not in the order, and is not capable of being changed tonight. It was fully debated when the primary legislation went through, and he did not vote against it then. He has shown his true colours today. He has shown, as Liberals so often do, that all they are out for is the main chance. When it becomes clear to the ratepayers of Scotland that the Liberal party was prepared today to stand up and say that it would rather that the ratepayers of Scotland did not get this £30 million, the ratepayers will be able to judge which party has their interests at heart.

Mr. Bruce


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Has the Minister sat down, or is he giving way?

Mr. Ancram

I have finished, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 147, Noes 7.

Division No. 283] [12.40 am
Amess, David Ground, Patrick
Ancram, Michael Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Ashby, David Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) > Hampson, Dr Keith
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Hanley, Jeremy
Baldry, Tony Harris, David
Batiste, Spencer Haselhurst, Alan
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Bellingham, Henry Hawksley, Warren
Bevan, David Gilroy Hayes, J.
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hayward, Robert
Blackburn, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Henderson, Barry
Bottomley, Peter Hickmet, Richard
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Hirst, Michael
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Holt, Richard
Brinton, Tim Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Brooke, Hon Peter Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Bruinvels, Peter Hunt, David (Wirral)
Buck, Sir Antony Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Burt, Alistair Jessel, Toby
Butterfill, John Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cash, William Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Chope, Christopher Key, Robert
Clarke, Rt Hon K, (Rushcliffe) Kilfedder, James A.
Coombs, Simon King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Cope, John Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Corrie, John Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Couchman, James Knowles, Michael
Cranborne, Viscount Lamont, Norman
Currie, Mrs Edwina Latham, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Lawler, Geoffrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Dover, Den Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Dunn, Robert Lightbown, David
Dykes, Hugh Lilley, Peter
Eggar, Tim Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Luce, Richard
Fallon, Michael Lyell, Nicholas
Farr, Sir John McCurley, Mrs Anna
Favell, Anthony Macfarlane, Neil
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Forth, Eric Maclean, David John
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Major, John
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Malins, Humfrey
Freeman, Roger Mates, Michael
Gale, Roger Mather, Carol
Galley, Roy Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Merchant, Piers
Garel-Jones, Tristan Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gow, Ian Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Gregory, Conal Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Moate, Roger
Monro, Sir Hector Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Moore, John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Moynihan, Hon C. Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Murphy, Christopher Speed, Keith
Neale, Gerrard Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Neubert, Michael Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Newton, Tony Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Nicholls, Patrick Terlezki, Stefan
Normanton, Tom Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Norris, Steven Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Osborn, Sir John Viggers, Peter
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Walden, George
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Younger, Rt Hon George
Pollock, Alexander
Portillo, Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Powell, William (Corby) Mr. Ian Lang and
Raffan, Keith Mr. Tony Durant.
Rathbone, Tim
Beith, A. J. Steel, Rt Hon David
Bruce, Malcolm
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Mr. Archy Kirkwood and
Johnston, Sir Russell Mr. James Wallace.
Livsey, Richard

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Revaluation Rate Rebates (Scotland) Order 1985, dated 9th July 1985, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.