HC Deb 05 March 1987 vol 111 cc1051-72

Amendment made: No. 130, in page 31, line 41 after 'standard', insert 'community'.—[Mr. Ancram.]

4.48 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

I beg to move amendment No. 131, in page 32, line 14, at end insert— '(1A) Where a levying authority are satisfied that a person liable to pay a community charge in respect of a financial year has (for whatever reason) not been issued with a demand notice in respect of that liability they shall, notwithstanding that the date prescribed under sub-paragraph (1) above in relation to that year has passed, cause a demand notice to be issued to him.'. This amendment corrects an omission from the Bill. Subparagraph (1) of paragraph 2 of schedule 2 to the Bill provides for the issue of demand notices in respect of community charge liabilities before such date in relation to each financial year as may be prescribed. This provision is adequate for the ordinary case of demand notices issued in relation to a liability starting on 1 April for payment for one of the community charges by a person who is already registered as liable at the prescribed date. However, there will be circumstances in which it will not be possible for an authority to issue demand notices at the prescribed date — most obviously, in relation to liability for the personal community charge which only arises later in the financial year as someone moves into the area from elsewhere. The amendment therefore provides that where a person liable to pay community charge has not been issued with a demand notice after the prescribed date a demand notice should nevertheless be issued to him.

This is a reasonable amendment and I hope that the House will support it.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 132, in page 33, line 13, leave out 'any instalment' and insert 'the instalments'

No. 133, in page 33, line 14, leave out 'this paragraph' and insert 'sub-paragraph (1) above'. — [Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)

I beg to move amendment No. 134, in page 33, line 36 leave out sub-paragraph (9) and insert—

'(9) Where—

  1. (a) a community charge is payable by a person in accordance with sub-paragraphs (1) to (8) above;
  2. (b) any three instalments thereof are due but unpaid; and
  3. (c) the levying authority give the person notice in writing of the effect of this sub-paragraph.

then, if these instalments have not been paid within seven days of the sending of that notice, the whole amount of that charge for the financial year in respect of which it was imposed shall, so far as not paid, thereupon become payable by him.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: Government amendment No. 135,

Amendment No. 168, in page 33, line 47 leave out paragraph 5 and insert— '(5) The levying authority may make arrangements with any housing body for the community charge of a tenant and spouse to be collected by that housing body.'. Government amendments Nos. 136 and No. 137.

Mr. Lang

The first and fourth of these amendments, Nos. 134 and 137, relate to sub-paragraph (9) of paragraph 4 of the schedule. The paragraph gives those liable to pay the community charge a right to pay by 12 monthly instalments. The effect of sub-paragraph (9) is that where an individual is three months in arrears he loses the right to pay by instalments and becomes liable to pay the whole of the amount outstanding both for the period of arrears and for the remainder of the financial year. This provision parallels the present situation in regard to rates, where individuals have the right to pay by 10 monthly instalments, five in the first half of the year and five in the second. If an individual is four months in arrears at the mid-point of the financial year—that is, at the end of September—he loses the right to pay by instalments and becomes liable to pay the whole amount.

In consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities officials last summer, the need to maintain this provision and adapt it to the circumstances of the community charge was clearly identified. It was argued that it would be unrealistic to provide that, where substantial arrears arose and the local authority had to go to the trouble and expense of taking legal action to recover the debt, it could proceed only for the precise sum outstanding. It would often be fairly clear that recovery of that amount, while at the same time securing normal payment of the remaining instalments, was simply not a practical proposition. In such circumstances, as happens with rates at present, the first step would be for the local authority to offer rescheduled payment arrangements aimed at recovering the sum outstanding and the amount of community charge due for the remainder of the year by somewhat higher instalments.

Only if that approach failed would the authority normally take legal action and once again it makes sound common sense for the relevant warrant to refer not just to the arrears but to the sum due for the remainder of the year so that a sensible schedule of payments can be worked out. The advice of COSLA officials was that in the circumstances of the community charge it would be more appropriate to have a shorter period of delay than under the rating system where, effectively, nothing can be done until the half-year stage.

So much for the background to the provisions of paragraph 4(9). When this was considered in Committee the point was made that it was unreasonable to take action on the lines implied in the sub-paragraph without giving people due warning. On consideration, the Government accept that there is a valid point here, and the amendments seek to meet it. Thus, amendment No. 134 provides that the local authority must give notice in writing and that the provisions of the sub-paragraph shall not become operative until one week after that notice has been given. It is a matter of judgment how long the period of notice should be, and in considering the adequacy of the proposed period of one week account must be taken of the fact that the existence of arrears will, in most normal cases, not be news to the individual involved—nor, indeed, in most cases will the consequences of not paying up be news to him or her. On the other hand, it is important that local authorities should not be unduly handicapped in their attempts to get the money in. We consider that one week strikes a reasonable balance.

Amendment No. 137 sets out to achieve the same result in relation to housing bodies collecting the community charge from those resident in houses which they own. In such cases, the responsibility for taking legal action for debt recovery will rest not with the housing body but with the levying authority — that is to say, the regional council. But since day-to-day contact with the community charge payer, — or, in this case, non-payer — will be a matter for the housing body, it seems sensible to provide that it is the latter who should give notice. The technical difference between amendment No. 137 and amendment No. 134 is that, because the collection arrangements by housing bodies are not tied to 12 monthly instalments but are designed to provide greater flexibility, the amendment cannot simply refer to three monthly instalments, but refers instead to one quarter of a year's liability for the community charge. I consider that these amendments represent a sensible response to a reasonable point raised in Committee which I recall undertaking to reflect on, and I commend them to the House.

Amendment No. 135 addresses a problem which was identified in Committee. It has always been envisaged that where some difficulty was encountered with the normal instalment arrangements for payment of a community charge the remainder of the charge could be rescheduled by agreement between the person liable and the levying authority. Thus, if someone started to pay a personal community charge by 12 monthly instalments, but got into arrears, it should be possible for the authority to reach agreement with him to reschedule the outstanding debt before any question of formal recovery procedures arose.

Concern was expressed in Committee that the Bill as drafted would not allow for this. The amendment meets the point by providing that sub-paragraph (10) of paragraph 4 of schedule 2, which suspends the ordinary instalment arrangements in cases where agreement to that effect has been reached between the person liable and the levying authority, applies to cases not only of a community charge for the whole year but to any outstanding balance of it. It thus puts beyond doubt the fact that levying authorities will be able to enter into informal arrangements for debt rescheduling with persons liable for community charge payments.

Amendment No. 136 remedies an omission in the Bill. It has always been intended that housing bodies, when they collect personal community charge payments from people resident in the houses they let, should determine the instalment arrangements which will apply. The ordinary instalment arrangements for community charge payment are disapplied in these cases by sub-paragraph (10)(b) of paragraph 4 of the schedule. In the Bill as drafted, however, there is no explicit provision for instalment arrangements when a personal community charge is payable to a housing body. The amendment remedies this omission. It will be for housing bodies to determine what instalment arrangements are most appropriate. In the case of tenants, it may well be that they will wish to collect personal community charges at the same time as rent, and institute parallel arrangements for the collection of personal community charges from non-tenants who are resident in the houses they let. But that will be a matter for them to decide in the light of operational considerations.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

First, I welcome amendment No. 134, as it is in line with what we said in Committee. Normally, if a Minister has anxieties he expresses them in Committee and does something about them on Report. My memory may be shorter than the Minister's, but I do not recall him saying anything at that time.

Amendment No. 168 deals with paragraph 5 of schedule 2 which lays on the district authority and other housing bodies — the Scottish Special Housing Association and the new town development corporations — the responsibility for collecting the personal community charge from all who are resident in houses that they own. It is worth spelling out what that means.

At present housing bodies collect rent and rates from their tenants or joint tenants. In other words, someone who rents a house from a local authority pays rent and rates at the same time. That is provided for under the Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1976 and it is a duty laid on housing bodies. However, there is a clear difference between a personal community charge and rates.

The Bill seeks to set up a different tax system from the present one. The whole idea is to break the link between tax and property. It is justifiable to say that rent, which is a charge on a property — one pays rent for the use of the property—and rates, which are a charge on the property for the services provided to that property, may be collected together, and it is perhaps right that they should be paid by the tenant in one bill. Indeed, if there are rent and rate arrears, a local authority may take the tenant to court on both sets of arrears jointly. However, what the Government are doing is completely different. They are saying that a personal community charge is the responsibility of each individual and has nothing to do with the house in which he lives. Individuals will pay it wherever they live. Therefore, in principle it seems wrong, especially if the Government are to be consistent, to keep this link between tax and property.

This measure will create enormous administrative problems for the district authority and other housing bodies. In Committee the Minister made it absolutely clear that the housing authority could not collect this sum with the same bill, even from its tenants and those paying rent, but had to send two separate bills. The Minister is nodding. Therefore, the housing authority must set up a collection service for this particular community charge.

5 pm

Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

My hon. Friend must not look for consistency in the Government's position. Has he managed to elicit from the Minister any indication of the extra cost that will fall on local authorities, the Scottish Special Housing Association and other housing bodies because of administration?

Mr. Maxton

No. Throughout the whole Committee stage we kept pressing for the costs of collection. We found it impossible to get an answer. The Ministers said they had to consult the local authorities and other bodies before they would know exactly the final cost. My hon. Friend is right. There will be great expense.

First, the housing authority will have to establish a collection service for the personal community charge separate from collection of rents. We are talking about not just tenants or joint tenants and their spouses but about every person who lives in a local authority house—the children, grandparents, grandchildren of tenants, lodgers, and other people as well. The Government estimate that 350,000 or 400,000 people live in local authority housing who are not responsible for paying rent or rates but from whom the local authority will have to collect. Over half the people who live in council houses at present are non-ratepayers, and the Government will have to collect from them by a totally separate system.

That will be very expensive. The housing authority is being given no powers to take action against anyone who falls into arrears. Collection of arrears goes immediately to the levying authority, which is the regional authority. There is a clear differentiation between people who live in council houses and those who live in other types of housing. The Minister, explaining this in Committee, said that part of the community charge goes to the district anyway, so it is right that the tenants and those who live there should be responsible for payment.

I pointed out that everyone, whether living in a council house or not, pays a portion of the community charge to the district. No one except council house occupiers will pay anything else directly to the district. They pay to the regional levying authority. The Government admit that for the regions to establish machinery to collect the personal community charge will be much more expensive than the collection of rates.

The Minister is shaking his head. I have never heard any denial that this process will be a much more expensive procedure to establish than the collection of rates—[Interruption.] I thought that the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) wanted local government costs to be kept down. It would be cheaper to make the region responsible for the collection of all community charges and not create a second tier of bureaucracy for the collection of the community charge from people in district authority housing.

Two separate authorities will have to be established with their own systems of bureaucracy to collect this tax. That is part of the administrative nightmare that has emerged in debate on the Bill, which I am delighted to see reinforced by a document published by the Tory Reform Group, which has used that same expression. Part of the administrative nightmare is the peculiarity of having the district collecting the tax. The district authority does not have responsibility for anybody but its own tenants; therefore, it should not be asked to take on the job of collecting the tax.

Following the Government's logic behind the Bill, why not introduce legislation to enable the local authority to collect electricity bills for the electricity board, gas bills for the gas board, telephone bills for the telephone companies, or TV licences? I could go through a whole list of housing-related services, the bills for which, on the logic of this measure, could very well be collected by the local authority.

The amendment at least allows local authorities to take that decision whether or not tenants and their spouses might pay the community charge jointly with their rent. That is something for local authorities only to decide. The Government make great play of wanting to see bureaucracy reduced in local government. They ought to look again at this part of the Bill and consider my amendment seriously.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North East)

I was delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman seemed to be advocating the whole concept of contracting out of services where that would be most effective.

Mr. Hugh Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I draw attention to the fact that since the Committee stage we have had what I regard as one of the best submissions on the Bill from the Rating and Valuation Association, representing the views of the Scottish branch, which includes housing authorities, local government and people in the business of valuation. I do not suppose the Minister will accept the amendment, even at this late stage of the proceedings. Whether the amendment is defective or not I do not know, but I cannot understand why the Government do not take on board the philosophy of trying, wherever possible, to make a clean break from the established practice of collection of rates. This is a whole new tax.

This is not a region versus district argument, but why not use a wee bit of imagination and leave to it to the regional authorities, which are the levying authorities? They would obviously consult district authorities if that was thought to be desirable. Why not leave to those bodies the decision on the best way of levying and collecting this tax. I hope the Minister has read the submission. The worst aspect of dealing with two Ministers is that we are never sure who is dealing with it or who has done all the homework. — [AN HON. MEMBER: "Do not be patronising."] I am not being patronising. I know the difficulty only too well when one is not entirely in charge of a Bill.

Paragraph 15.3 of the document, which I assume has been read by the Minister, states: The collection of community charges from residents in Housing Body houses generated considerable debate among Forum members. Presumably, the Government's intention in placing a duty on housing bodies to collect rates from residents in their houses is that the tenant's charge would be collected with rent and a separate bill (the demand notice) would be issued to non-tenants. This intent is surprising in the light of the Government's philosophy that Community Charges are personal taxes as opposed to property taxes. That seems to fit in with my idea. Whether the Government will have the power over the next two or three years to change this is a matter for debate; but if they do have that power, why not use it and take the opportunity to make a clean break from the existing practice of the collection of rent and rates by housing bodies? This is a new tax with a different purpose. It will be levied on more people directly and individually. Therefore, this seems a good opportunity to make a clean break.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has referred to the electricity boards. I am just guessing, but I do not suppose that there is a single house in Scotland that does not have electricity and an electricity bill to pay. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) is muttering something. Have I said something wrong?

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

Not all houses have electricity.

Mr. Brown

Some of the hon. Gentleman's farm cottages still have oil lamps, and I suppose that is a reflection on rural landlords. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) had better not say anything, although I suppose all his tenants have an electricity supply. Why not use the electricity boards to collect this money? The boards cover all houses. That would be an easier way of doing it than having more than 40 housing bodies in Scotland involved in collecting the money.

From whom will the money be collected? Will it be collected from the tenant, the tenant and his wife jointly, and severally from other individuals as well? I do not think that this has been thought out.

Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and exciting suggestion. If the responsibility is on the regional authority, on his reading of the Bill what objection would there be if it decided to contract out the service to the electricity board? Surely there would be nothing to prevent the authority from doing that?

Mr. Brown

I have an open mind on the matter. I cannot see any ideological reason—if that is what the hon. Gentleman is trying to extract from me — or practical reason why the levying and collecting authority should not use any means that it wants to use to collect the money. I am saying that it is not the responsibility of a housing authority. The Government should make a clean break with the existing practice. I think that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities wants it left to the discretion of local authorities. I do not know whether I am right in that, because I have forgotten whether we got submissions from COSLA about that. I hope the Minister will at least give some assurance that in consultation he will be willing to look at this.

It is almost impossible to go back over all the suggestions that I and other Committee members made. The Bill might go through, but, even at this late stage, will he consider with the relevant authorities whether there is merit in the suggestion of leaving it entirely to the levying and collecting authority to decide, after consultation, the best way to approach the matter?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) spoke about what I had or had not said in Committee when dealing with matters covered by the earlier Government amendments. By implication, he accused me of discourtesy for failing to show a degree of understanding of his point. For the sake of the record, I draw his attention to column 1155 of the Committee proceedings on 12 February. Admittedly not in response to arguments by him but in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Corrie), I said: My initial resistance to the amendment was diffident, as there is something in the case of the hon. Member for Cathcart. Mine was perhaps a probing resistance. If the hon. Member for Cathcart will withdraw his amendment, I shall reflect on the points that have been made and see whether it is possible to find a form of wording that will ensure that a person is made fully aware of his debt." — [Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 12 February 1987; c.1155.] I do not think that I could have trailed my sympathy for his case more clearly than that.

5.15 pm
Mr. Maxton

I unreservedly withdraw any remark that I made against the hon. Gentleman. It was said in the Committee that the hon. Gentleman had considerably more grace than his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram)

Mr. Lang

I hope that my subsequent remarks in the debate will not ruin my record. I might even suffer the fate that I suffered from the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who said that he could do business with me.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the Minister say whether he or any of his Front Bench colleagues are now or ever have been associated with the Tory Reform Group?

Mr. Lang

I am a broad member of a broad church in this party. I am not a member of the Tory Reform Group.

Amendment No. 168 would change the arrangements whereby housing bodies, district councils, the Scottish Special Housing Association and new town corporations would be required by the Bill to collect the personal community charge payable by residents in houses let to them. The amendment would make such arrangements subject to the discretion of the levying authority, and would restrict them to the collection of the personal community charges of tenants and their spouses. As the hon. Member for Cathcart said, these issues were fully debated in Committee and I accept that he persists in a different view from that expressed by the Government at that time.

At present, housing bodies are responsible for collecting the rates along with the rent on houses let by them. In considering the arrangements for the collection of personal community charges from people living in council houses and similar accommodation, it seems sensible that housing authorities should continue to deal with the personal community charge liability of the present rateable occupiers of their houses and the spouses of such people.

The amendment raises three questions — whether these arrangements should be mandatory, or, as the amendment proposes, at the discretion of the levying authority, and whether housing bodies should be required or enabled to collect the personal community charge from people living in the houses which they let, other than tenants and spouses. On the question whether the arrangements should be mandatory or discretionary, we think that the advantages of certainty about how the system should operate outweigh the argument that some flexibility would be desirable.

As I shall mention again later, the arrangements that we propose broadly allow for the equal division of the burden of collection of personal community charges between districts and regions. There is clear advantage in that provision being set up throughout the country. The hon. Member for Cathcart spoke about administrative complications. It was precisely with that in mind that we decided on a sensible approach. I am reluctant to accept that different arrangements should apply in different areas.

Mr. Craigen

Ministers have always said that this is a personal tax and not an in-house tax. They do not accept that there are likely to be more administrative difficulties under the new system than there are under the existing system. Therefore, why is he so resistant to a discretionary arrangement in this instance?

Mr. Lang

Administrative simplicity and certainty are better secured by the approach that we are taking. The Opposition constantly raise the bogy of administrative difficulties. They are overstating those difficulties and in Committee it became increasingly apparent that the administration will not be as complicated as they fear.

Mr. Maxton

The Minister will admit that housing authorities cannot use exactly the same system to collect the personal community charge as they use to collect rents. Therefore, each housing authority will have to establish a collection service for the personal community charge. If that is the case, how can he possibly say that there will not be a large administrative cost and large numbers of people employed to administer the scheme?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman raises undue difficulties. Of course the system is different and is not a direct parallel to the collection of rents. In administrative terms it is sensible to take the approach that we are taking, because it will be less complicated than the hon. Gentleman anticipates and there will be far greater overlap in the administration than he suggests.

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) asked about the Rating and Valuation Association's submission. I should certainly be willing to consider further the association's comments to see whether there is substance in them. On the matter of whether all residents in local authority and similar houses should have the personal community charge collected by housing bodies, we must consider, first, the extent to which this would as a matter of principle be a sensible arrangement, and certainly we would need to consider the caseload involved.

As a matter of principle, a decision must be taken as to whether non-dependants who are living in council houses should be dealt with, for community charge purposes, by the levying authority—the regional council in the two-tier areas — or the housing bodies. In all cases, these people will represent a new group, since they will not, at present, be responsible for making any payment towards local taxation.

We have taken the view that it would be sensible for housing bodies, rather than the regional council, as levying authority, to have the responsibility for collecting the personal community charge in such cases. There are two main reasons for that. First, it would be strange if non-dependents in council houses were to receive community charge bills from a different authority from the tenants and their spouses, and they then had to pay the personal community charge by a different instalment system from that which applies to tenants and their spouses. That would lead to confusion in people's minds as to what the personal community charge was and when payments became due.

Secondly, housing bodies will already have some information — I accept, not comprehensive information—on non-dependants living in houses, since they are already responsible for administering housing benefit. The presence of non-dependants is relevant to the assessment for housing benefit purposes of the tenant. If an argument is a good one, it bears repetition, but obviously it has not got through to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton).

I accept that these arguments, although strong, are not conclusive, and I would have been prepared to consider whether the personal community charges of non-dependants in council houses should be collected by the levying authority if it had been clearly shown that the other arrangement would have radically altered the balance of responsibility for collection of local tax payments as between the two tiers of local government. That is not the case at present.

Of the 2 million ratepayers in Scotland, slightly fewer than 1 million live in council houses and have their rates collected by housing bodies. We estimate that, of the total number of non-dependents in Scotland from whom the personal community charge will have to be collected, about half live in council houses. Thus, if the responsibility for collection is to be divided in the manner that we propose, housing bodies will continue to be responsible for just under half of the total caseload. We consider that that is fair and equitable. It reinforces our conclusion that the division that we have proposed is right.

I must resist the hon. Gentleman's amendment and urge the House to support the Government's amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 135, in page 33, line 40, after 'charge', insert

'(or any outstanding balance thereof)'.

No. 136, in page 34, line 4, at end insert

'in such instalments and at such times as the housing body may determine'.

No. 137, in page 34, line 19, at end insert—

'(4A) Where—

  1. (a) a community charge payable by a person in accordance with this paragraph is payable by instalments.
  2. (b) instalments amounting to a quarter or more of that charge are due but unpaid; and
  3. (c) the housing body give the person notice in writing of the effect of this sub-paragraph,
then, if these instalments have not been paid within seven days of the sending of that notice, the whole amount of that charge for the financial year in respect of which it was imposed shall, so far as not paid, become payable by him.'.—[Mr. Ancram.]

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I beg to move amendment No. 169, in page 35, line 20, leave out paragraph 7.

As the House will have gathered — this is not a complex matter — this amendment deals with the collection of the community charge. We tabled the amendment because we wish to ask some questions and get some further advice from the Minister about the recovery of arrears, which is a controversial matter and one which has raised a good deal of foreboding among many people who have a good deal of experience in this sector. Clearly we do not expect the Minister to remove the power to collect arrears; that would be going a little too far, although a more adequate measure might be put in at another stage if this amendment were accepted.

Our main purpose is to find out a little about a subject which is fraught with difficulty. I do not say that in a sarcastic manner, but there are problems involved.

The main way in which community charge arrears will be gathered is by use of the summary warrant. The Minister will say, almost certainly, that that is a well-tried procedure which has been used in the case of rates arrears for a long time and which has led to few problems. As the Minister will appreciate, the community charge is a substantial matter. It is difficult to make estimates, but the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers, in a memorandum, considered that the increase in warrants would be fourfold. We shall be talking about a large number of warrants. Summary warrants will be flying around all over the place. The question is, once they have been issued, can and how will they be enforced?

The Minister would make great virtue of the fact that an enormous number of people are being brought into the local taxation system for the first time. Not only are they large in number; they are mobile in a sense that a householder is not. One of the virtues of rates—even those who are glorying in the possibility of the domestic rates system being abolished will accept this—is that they are easy to collect because they are a tax on property, which, by and large, is static. Therefore, the number of people involved is limited to the householder, who is tied to the house. The amount of money involved is likely to be higher in each case than with the community charge.

The community charge will have a scatter effect which, I suspect, will produce a large number of cases of arrears, some of which will involve extremely small amounts. We are thus in a completely different situation in terms of practicalities. That destroys the perhaps too easy answer that we are creating fears where they need not be because we are using an existing system which is familiar to all rating authorities.

I want to stress the point about the amount of the community charge. It is not just that the community charge will be smaller than the average rates bill but paid by a larger number of people, but in many cases—not necessarily because of this reform but because of the activities of the Department of Health and Social Security — people will face the prospect of paying only 20 per cent. of the community charge. No one knows the exact figure, but that is the rule of thumb that even Ministers have been using for illustrative purposes. Therefore, it is not unfair to advance that example.

In my constituency, probably more than 50 or 60 per cent. of the adult population will qualify for some form of rebate, and many of them will be paying as little as 20 per cent. Therefore, we are looking at a proliferation and multiplicity of debts that may, in the early days of the community charge system, the early 1990s, merely be debts of £30, £40 or £50. The problems that that will create will be considerable.

It may be even more complicated than that. The Minister will recognise that, and I hope that he will say how he expects it to be dealt with. I am sorry to take a parochial example, but it is one that is familiar to me. I represent and live in a constituency on the edge of Glasgow. It is often referred to as a peripheral housing estate. There is an enormous amount of coming and going between, for example, the Drumchapel housing estate and Clydebank. That takes the form of social movement and, in the good old days, it used to take the form of employment movement. A large number of my constituents used to work for Singer sewing machines, for example, and in the yards at Clydebank, UIE and John Brown.

It is not unusual—I frequently come across this—for families to be split between Clydebank and my part of Glasgow. It is not uncommon for a youngster to move, for no sinister purpose—I am not trying to construct a conspiracy to avoid the poll tax — between his grandparents in Clydebank and his parents or other members of the family in Garscadden. The result of that may be that someone will be due to pay 20 per cent. of his poll tax for two thirds of the year in Glasgow and one third of the year in Clydebank.

We are thus talking about the apportionment of a small percentage of only part of the poll tax in each area. Presumably the debt still has to be honoured. It may be, for various reasons, that the debt will not be honoured. That may be more due to inattention and carelessness or a failure to have due regard to the provisions of section 20 of what will by then be the Act. That will throw up substantial problems of recovery, which the Government have brushed aside with the suggestion that we are squawking a little too much about something which, with a little ingenuity, could be handled comfortably. However, I want to make it clear now that I do not think that it will be handled very comfortably indeed. I invite the Minister to look at these matters again with some care, and, I hope, some sympathy.

I was not a member of the Committee which considered the Bill. Inevitably, someone in that position tends to drop out of the day-to-day developments in the argument and I make no apology for that. However, problems still remain and it would be useful if the Minister addressed himself to some of them.

As I understand it, it is proposed that a summary warrant will be applied for. The levying authority will apply to the sheriff asserting that there is a debt. It will have to establish, presumably by means of recorded delivery slips and so on, that written notice has been given to the debtor requiring payment within 14 days and that that period has expired without payment being made before it can go ahead.

5.30 pm

That is rather more plausible as a method when talking about one householder in a house which is his residence. It is much more difficult to be satisfied that that message has been delivered to the 19 or 20-year-old who may be working on a building site but whose home may originally have been, and may nominally still be, 15 Smith street or 63 Brown street, or wherever the bill has been sent. There will be considerable difficulties in establishing beyond doubt and satisfactorily that written notice has reached the young person concerned. No doubt the Minister dealt with that point in Committee, but I am not entirely happy that that will be as watertight as some of us would like.

There is little doubt that the summary warrant will be issued if application is made, but then there will be the problem of enforcing it and what diligence is used. The methods are:

  1. "(a) a poinding and sale;
  2. (b) an arrestment and action of furthcoming or sale."
I can remember—this was referred to in our debates before the Bill was discussed in Committee — that considerable reservations were expressed by the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers about the present legal situation. The Minister may be able to assure me that those have been fully dealt with, but they are worth mentioning in passing. The practical one is simply identifying the goods that can be poinded. It is not always immediately obvious what is owned by a householder and what may be owned by the rest of the family — the young man concerned or by his siblings. It will be extremely difficult for the sheriff officers to act in such circumstances.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

A further point occurs to me, which may have been dealt with in Committee. Under the present rating system, if a summary warrant is sought the jurisdiction for the sheriff granting that is heritable property within his jurisdiction. As the community charge is a personal matter, has the hon. Gentleman or the Minister given any thought to what the basis of jurisdiction will be if the person upon whom the community charge is exigible as levied is no longer within the shrieval jurisdiction?

Mr. Dewar

That is the sort of exchange that makes me regret that I was not a member of the Committee. I probably have not given enough thought to that. It is an interesting point. It puts rather more neatly what I was fumbling towards when I referred to the difficulties of ensuring that the 14-day notice has been served on someone who may not be at home or may be moving between a variety of different premises.

Furthermore, there is the problem, as I said, once we get to that stage, of identifying the goods. No doubt the sheriff officers' point has been answered, but I remember that they had some doubts about their legal right forcibly to enter premises. That was based upon the fact the debtor was the householder. I am not sure whether that point has been adequately met, but I have no doubt that the Minister will be able to reassure me on that.

Let me move on to one of the main issues that I wish to raise. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) that we had a useful memorandum from the Rating and Valuation Association quite late in the day—it was dated 13 February. I know that the Government will not dissent from that because the Secretary of State was praying it in aid yesterday as an example of support for his amendment introducing the clean break and getting rid of the transitional period.

In its memorandum the Rating and Valuation Association raises several general and specific points about the collection and recovery of arrears which we are entitled to put to the Minister because they arise in the paragraph that the amendment seeks to excise. Let me remind the Minister that paragraph 16(5) of the memorandum says: The Government should be in no doubt that the relative yield from Community Charges will be considerably less than that from Domestic Rates. Community Charges will be easily avoided and considerably more expensive to collect than domestic rates. We should always bear that point in mind because it strikes at the certainty of revenue expectation for the local authority and it adds considerably to the administrative costs.

Many of the calculations that Ministers have been making, assuming that the community charge was in operation in the current year, have, I suspect, been based on optimistic assumptions of what the yield and collection will be. I suspect that a considerably higher community charge would have to be imposed to allow for the almost inevitable shortfall given the sort of complications and difficulties to which I have been referring. Certainly the Rating and Valuation Association has no doubt that that is a considerable problem.

In paragraph 15(4) of its memorandum, the Rating and Valuation Association says: It is considered that recovery of Community Charges will be considerably more difficult than recovery of rates, particularly from non-tenants/owners (especially those in receipt of unemployment and supplementary benefit, many of whom will have little or no poindable assets. The Government's stated intention is that everyone will be expected to pay a minimum of 20 per cent. of the charge; if this is truly the intention, local authorities will require the power to arrest unemployment, supplementary and other state benefits or alternatively statutory provision being made to allow, at the request of the local authority, deduction at source of community charges from state benefits. If either of these alternatives are not acceptable it is considered that recovery of community charges from such cases will prove to be virtually impossible. "Virtually impossible" is strong language from a rather sober group of people.

I had correspondence with the Secretary of State on this matter at the beginning and he made it clear to me—I presume that there has been no change in the official position—that there was no question of, for example, compulsory deduction from benefit at the request of the local authority; that any such arrangement would have to be voluntary, entered into after arrears had arisen, and there would be no question of it being done unilaterally by the local authority on the basis of a summary warrant. I also understand that there would be no possibility either of arrestment of benefit which would clearly be an extraordinarily serious matter given the financial circumstances of people who are dependent upon benefit.

I am not trying to misrepresent the Minister's position. I presume that he is taking the sensible view that both those requests from the Rating and Valuation Association cannot be granted, although we all understand why that has been raised. The association is saying that if those doors are closed, in its view the collection of the community charge from a large number of people will be virtually impossible.

That is something which the Minister must take seriously. The amendments invites the Minister to go away and think about the matter ab initio. Given those comments, he should consider his position carefully.

The Rating and Valuation Association continues: The administrative costs falling on local authorities in implementation of the Bill will be considerable and authorities must be given sufficient additional resources which will enable them to implement the provisions of the Bill. I fear that that is knocking at a door that is firmly bolted and barred, but it is a fair point for the Minister to consider.

There are two other minor points. One relates to the main issue that I raised, the association's view that a local authority should have the right to waive collection — I would call it the introduction of a de minimis rule—if the debt is below a certain amount.

My final point is a small detail. In the association's document there is an inquiry about the provision for the repayment of community charges paid in error. As the Minister knows, there is such a provision in the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1963. I am informed that there is no apparent parallel provision in the legislation. I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments on that. I say that with some feeling, having been fortunate enough to have had returned to me by post two £12 cheques for parking tickets that had apparently been paid twice. I am unlikely to make that mistake with my community charge, but if I did so I should' like to think that I could get the money back. I commend! that point to the Minister.

However, the serious point that I am making concerns the spread of debt that is likely to result from this measure and the problem of properly getting a summary warrant. The undoubted view of the Rating and Valuation Association is that that will not be possible without powers which this House would be unwilling to grant and that, to be fair, Ministers would be unlikely to want. However, without those powers, it would not be possible to administer the system. I put that point to the Minister because it is important that he gives some thought to it.

I have also been reading — it is interesting that it should come from this source—the now well-known memorandum that was published today by the Tory Reform Group. I have no doubt that this will crop up later—

Mr. Rifkind

The English group.

Mr. Dewar

Yes. I am glad to see that the Minister is such a strong devolutionist when expediency drives. Perhaps that is a reversion to first principles. I agree that the Scots have different views. I do not for a moment dispute their right to those different views, but the arguments, the biting analysis from that particular source, cannot easily be shrugged off. The point that I was about to make was that they too express grave doubts about the way in which these matters will work in practice. They express doubts especially about the 20 per cent. rule. They make the simple point — with which I certainly have some sympathy as it restates the point that I have been hammering during the past 10 minutes—that, in effect, the 20 per cent. amount will be so small that the administrative cost of recovery will be larger than any conceivable yield that would be forthcoming. I quote that additional source as something that the Minister may wish to consider.

I have raised one or two of the many points that could have been raised under this amendment, but I have given a flavour of the doubts that we have about its practicality. I hope that the Minister can say something to reassure me that a little more thought has gone into this Bill in general political principles than is apparent and that he can deal with some of the real and substantial technical objections which are still there for all to see and are being pressed upon him by sources that he may feel are slightly less partial than me.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I am glad that this amendment has been moved by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) because it enables us to return to matters that were considered at some length in Committee. As they were considered at length in Committee, it is not necessary to expatiate on them and to cover the same ground today, but I wish to take the opportunity that this amendment offers to ask the Minister whether he has given any further thought to whether the clause which the amendment seeks to delete, which provides a permissive power to the levying authority to pursue the recovery of arrears, is adequate to meet needs and whether the permissive power can be used to enable a local authority to pursue a policy of not seeking to recover arrears from classes of people who are liable to pay the community charge, and to whom a notice has been issued?

Mr. Maxton

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, like myself, was slightly surprised, following the debate in Committee, that there was not an amendment from the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) replacing the word "may" with the word "shall", as he expressed considerable concern that local authorities might opt out of taking people who owed them £50 to a sheriff's court.

5.45 pm
Mr. Maclennan

I am surprised at that, in view of the debate that we had in Committee. I am also rather surprised by the absence of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) from our deliberations today. However, I am more concerned with the attitude of the Government and their view on this.

I wish to put to the Minister a point that was not made in Committee. Earlier, he argued that there might be a fiduciary duty on the other payers of a community charge to seek to recover a debt even though only a permissive power is given by the Bill. However, because of the extreme complexity of the task and the difficulty of administering a tax of this sort, when so many of those to whom it applies are mobile, there must be cases in which it would be unreasonable for a local authority to seek to pursue the debt because the cost of pursuing the arrears would rapidly exceed the amount owed.

Is the Minister prepared to say that the procedures set out in paragraph 7 are not expensive in view of the sums of money at stake? Not having been a practitioner at the Scots Bar, I should be interested to know what it would cost to go through the full procedure of diligence described, the seeking of a summary warrant and the pursuance by diligence of "a poinding and sale" or an arrestment and action of furthcoming or sale. How much will it cost to go through all that for one defaulter who has failed to pay an instalment of community charge?

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but what the Bill involves in relation to collection already happens in relation to non-payment of rates. The unfortunate factor is that if someone defaults on payment and poindings and sales are carried out, the costs are borne by the debtor.

Mr. Maclennan

Yes, they are borne by the debtor, but that presupposes that it is possible to track down the debtor. I fully defer to the professional expertise of the hon. Gentleman, but—

Mr. Maxton

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is right. When the sheriff's officer goes to poind, collect and sell the goods, he must write his own expenses out of that. In many cases, especially with young people, the sort of goods that they have will not even cover the community charge that they owe, let alone any costs that may be involved in that process. Therefore, the local authority will have to bear the cost.

Mr. Maclennan

That is precisely the point. Many young people moving around the country, sometimes from one family home to another, have no more than what they stand up in, and they will not yield arrears because they have nothing to yield. I should very much like to know what is supposed to happen in those circumstances. What duty is there on a local authority to pursue such people? Was it to cover this situation — to allow the local authority not to pursue arrears—that the paragraph was originally couched in permissive rather than mandatory language?

Mr. Wallace

I do not wish to labour the point after the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), but what will be the basis of jurisdiction for the sheriff in any such case? My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to the costs of diligence being executed, and the costs having to be borne by the defender. I am sure that it will come as no surprise to hon. Members to know that in my constituency it can often be a considerable cost when one takes into account not only the fees but the outlays. On occasion, there have been complaints—usually from the creditor rather than from the debtor—of the infrequent visits by sheriff officers and messengers-at-arms to the islands communities.

In pursuing one such case I was made aware that in the 1960s some form of diligence was proposed which would have made enforcement easier in remote rural communities. I have not been able to track down the report, and I do not expect the Minister to reply to this now, but I should be grateful if he would agree to consider ways of making the enforcement of community charge debts simpler in remoter communities. At present, particularly when one takes into account the outlays that might be incurred, the outlays could be greater than the community charge that gave rise to the initial debt. If the Minister will consider ways in which the outlays and expenses might be reduced, I should be grateful.

Mr. Ancram

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has left the Chamber for the moment. I shall try to leave my response to his questions until he returns.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) raised again on the Floor of the House the same point that he raised with some force in Committee. He referred to the duty on a levying authority to recover outstanding community charges. In Committee, during consideration of schedule 2(7), the question arose as to whether a levying authority was under a duty to recover arrears of community charge. The point was made, and accepted, that there is no express provision in the Bill to that effect, nor is there any express statutory provision in relation to the recovery of rates under section 247 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947. But there is well-established case law, which starts with the case of Roberts v. Hopwood in 1925 — to be found in All England Reports 2, page 24—that a local authority is under a duty to carry out its functions in a businesslike manner, with reasonable care, skill and caution and with a due and alert regard to the interests of its ratepayers. That is what is normally referred to in England as the fiduciary duty. The levying authority is required to comply with its duty in exercising its functions to collect rates, and of it fails to do so, the ordinary remedy against a local authority for failing to comply with its duties will be available—judicial default action and audit control.

I see no reason why a levying authority would not be required to comply with a similar duty in exercising its function to collect the community charge. The levying authority will be required to discharge that function with reasonable regard to the interests of the community charge payers and, obviously, its ratepayers in a businesslike manner and with reasonable care and skill. For that reason, I am satisfied that there is no need to include any provision in the Bill on that point. Arguments were put forward in Committee that there should be a firmer provision requiring an authority to recover outstanding community charges, but as I said at the time, the effect would be either declamatory—I am not keen on seeing declamatory provisions in legislation and I doubt whether many others are—or it would impose an absolute duty—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) apparently finds something funny in the idea of declamatory provisions. If he wishes to intervene, I shall be delighted to give way. I think that he is enjoying a recollection of some other matter. Perhaps he will let us into the secret later.

The only other option would be to have an absolute duty. I do not believe that any hon. Member would think that that was the right course because there may be occasions when it is clear that recovery would be impossible and an absolute duty would require an authority to pursue impossible debts regardless. Therefore, relying on what is referred to in England as a fiduciary duty appears to be the right way to proceed.

The hon. Member for Garscadden said that this matter might come up on other occasions today, so I do not want to go into detail. I have not had time to read the document fully, but the recommendations of the English Tory Reform Group—

Mr. Home Robertson

English? It does not say that.

Mr. Ancram

If the hon. Gentleman reads the document, he will find that it refers to England and Wales.

Earlier, from a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Garscadden said that he thought that the document was splendid stuff and that it had cheered him up. That shows how easy it is to cheer him up and how much he needs to be cheered up. It struck me as slightly surprising because of the premise upon which the whole document is based, as far as I could see, and which appears on page 2. The document states that one of the reasons why the system needs reform is as follows: The decay of local government can be traced to the loss of democratic accountability and the disintegration of the traditional Labour Party. The document also states: the Labour Party fell into decline and decay. As its local membership and vigour fell away, it came more and more under the control of tightly knit bands of left-wing extremists. This became very true of the inner cities, where Labour was strongest, and the old traditional Labour Party was at its most vulnerable. I am glad that that cheers up the hon. Member for Garscadden. It shows his views on the behaviour of certain Labour councils in Britain today.

I return to the specific point about England and Wales. It may interest the House to know that the Scottish Tory Reform Group this afternoon issued its own statement, in which it avers its support for the community charge, as it always has done, and dissociates itself from the England and Wales report.

Mr. Wilson

When did the Minister contact Conservative Central Office with the request for it to issue an immediate disclaimer?

Mr. Ancram

If the hon. Gentleman follows Conservative politics in Scotland, he will find that the Scottish Tory Reform Group is in favour of the Bill. It always has been and has previously expressed concern about the line taken by the Tory Reform Group down south, which, equally, has always been against the community charge. There is nothing particularly new in the proposals or in the positions north and south of the border. If the hon. Member for Garscadden wishes to raise that matter later, I have several other interesting passages that I am sure he would like to hear about.

Reference was made to the repayment of sums not due. Government amendment No. 138, to which I spoke yesterday, made the provision that is sought. Government amendment No. 138 would put at the end of schedule 2 the heading: "Repayment of sums not due" and the words: A levying authority to whom there has been paid by way of any community charge any sum which (for whatever reason) is not due shall repay that sum or arrange for its repayment. So that covers that particular point.

6 pm

Turning to the general debate, into which I think the question of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) fell, I quite understand the concerns of hon. Members as to the effectiveness of the procedures proposed for the recovery of the arrears of community charges, particularly in relation to debts incurred by people who at present have no liability for taxation payments. However, I think that those concerns have been considerably exaggerated and I do not expect serious difficulties in those areas.

The first point that has to be made is that the system that we propose will discourage people from getting into significant arrears in the first place. The provision for the standard method of payment of the community charge to be 12 monthly instalments will mean that each payment will be a modest amount of money. In cases in which people on low incomes may nevertheless find difficulty in meeting the full community charge payment, the availability of rebates will further reduce the net payment to be made. In addition, each payment will be immediately due in the month in which it is incurred. This contrasts with the present arrangements for rates, whereby in many cases the date upon which payment becomes due is unclear and in practice authorities tend not to start recovery action in relation to any arrears until September of the financial year in which the rates are payable. This inevitably means that where arrears have built up they have already reached a considerable sum before recovery action can be taken. Under the community charge system, levying authorities will be able to initiate earlier and thus, by definition, more effective recovery action.

Mr. Maxton

I take the Minister's point in that somebody who is rebated may well be only £12 or £15 in debt at the end of, say, three months, but once that three months point is reached he may well be still in arrears under the terms of the Minister's Bill. Then, of course, the total amount for the whole year becomes liable to payment.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman misses the point, which is that the simplicity of the system in many ways, compared with that which now exists, is more likely to ensure that people pay on a regular basis. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Garscadden for not putting the argument that somehow we would find vast numbers of people deliberately setting out to avoid payment of the community charge, because I would find that very hard to accept. I genuinely believe that in Scotland people by and large are prepared to pay what is due from them. The hon. Member for Garscadden puts his hands on his head, but I am sure that he would not suggest that the bulk of the Scottish people would deliberately set out to avoid paying the community charge.

We must therefore look at this in perspective. I shall not pursue the mystery, as far as I am concerned, of the hon. Member's parking tickets, but I am sure that on another occasion he will explain to me how that arose.

Mr. Dewar

I referred to the estimates of the community charges for current years on the assumption that the system was in being. Was any calculation built in for under-collection, for under-achieving, and the likely gap between the percentages achieved under the rating system and under the community charge system? Do the Government have any view on that?

Mr. Ancram

I do not think that it is possible to give definitive figures on a matter of that sort — I am sure that the hon. Member would be surprised if I tried to do so—but it is important to note that the new system is relatively simpler than the present system and thus more likely to be understood. There is a more regular system of payment, and so on, and this is likely, if anything, to reduce the estimates of default which were put forward by the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers and referred to by the hon. Member for Garscadden. I do not think that they took that strictly into account, but it is a valid point and we are having a serious debate, so it is important that we accept that fact.

In the relatively rare cases, therefore, in which people fall into arrears, the provisions that we propose will allow flexible response by the levying authority. There is provision, of course, for informal reminders, followed by final notices to people who still have not paid. and I believe that these are likely to secure payment in the majority of outstanding cases. In the remainder, the summary warrant procedure which, as the hon. Member for Garscadden admitted, is already well precedented for the recovery of rates debts, is a cheap and effective way of seeking payment. In only a few cases is it necessary to go through the full series of steps leading up to poinding and the possibility, in the last instance, of a warrant sale. A high proportion of those debts still outstanding will be settled as soon as a summary warrant is granted without the necessity for further steps. I should perhaps remind the House that last night when we dealt with the amendment on joint and several liability I made it clear that the summary warrant procedure would not be operated in those cases.

The assertions that I am making are not simply pious hopes because all the evidence from the rating system shows that the informal stages of debt recovery—reminders and follow-up action—together with the early formal procedures through the use of summary warrants will secure payment in the vast majority of cases. The evidence for this is contained in the Scottish Law Commission's report on diligence and debtor protection, which says that in Lothian and Strathclyde in 1979–80 and 1980–81, of the 7,500 cases in Lothian and the 38,500 in Strathclyde in which a summary warrant was obtained against a debtor, only seven cases in each region led to a warrant sale being executed. That shows that those preliminary stages are, by and large, effective. It is backed up by more recent evidence from Strathclyde suggesting that, of the 131,000 ratepayers who fell into arrears in 1985–86, 82,000 paid the bill at final notice stage and a further 25,000 settled when summary warrants were obtained.

It would, of course, be wrong of me to suggest that there will be no problems in this area. It is one of the major objectives of the Bill to spread the local tax base, and that inevitably means that larger numbers of people will face local taxation bills. In the nature of things there is likely to be a larger number of people falling into community charge arrears than into rate arrears. But while nobody in the House can make a confident prediction of how large these numbers will be, I seriously contend that the fact that each bill will be considerably smaller than the average rates bill makes it most unlikely that the increase in numbers of cases will be very large.

A number of specific points were put to me and I will try to answer the main ones.

First, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland intervened on the hon. Member for Garscadden to ask a question about jurisdiction. The bases of jurisdiction under the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982 are the debtor's domicile and the place where the debt was incurred. There will, therefore, be no difficulty even if the debtor changes his residence. That is an established form of jurisdiction which will continue to apply.

Secondly, there can be problems in the area of the ownership of goods. There are problems in this area at the moment, but I do not think that that would lead the hon. Member to suggest that the system for the recovery of rates is wrong. All sheriff officers in general poindings face the problem of identification of the owners of the goods. Basically, where this happens, I understand, the procedure is to ask those present who owns what, and by and large that produces a satisfactory response.

Mr. Wallace

I just want to clarify the position. Is it domicile "arid" the place of the debt or is it domicile "or" the place of the debt? Domicile really relates to a country—one can be Scots domiciled or English domiciled. Are we talking about domicile in relation to a particular sheriffdom?

Mr. Ancram

They are alternatives, because it would otherwise be restrictive rather than expansive in terms of providing a base. Domicile in the sense in which I used it refers to the place where the person lives, particularly under this Bill. The registration of sole or main residence forms the basis of the Bill and will be taken, presumably, to be the place where the person lives.

Thirdly, the power of entry under a summary warrant is there and is for the purpose of executing a poinding. So sheriff officers can enter a third party's premises for that purpose.

There is a great deal of detail in the way in which summary warrants and so on are to be operated. As time is restricted, it is worth reminding the House that this whole area will be debated very soon when the Debtors (Scotland) Bill comes before the House, when the adjustments being made to the present system can be well canvassed and aired. Obviously, those procedures will be provided by that legislation and will form the basis of recovery under this Bill. I hope that the House will agree that, rather than go into the detailed aspects of how it operates, those matters should be raised when we debate legislation.

Mr. Hugh Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

Does the Minister agree with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) about the possible arrestment of social security benefits and the recovery of arrears through that source?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) made it clear that he had already received a reply from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, and the position is as he set out in that reply. The answer is no, as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

It is inevitable that some people will slip through the net when the community charge is collected. It is difficult to think of any system of taxation that is 100 per cent. effective in either full collection or full recovery. We accept that there is a problem and that it may be slightly larger than that with the present rating system. The Bill provides a mechanism whereby recovery can be effected. Some of the assertions that have been made are exaggerated, and I am confident that the principles of the Bill will be effective in securing recovery of the community charges due. Therefore, I ask the hon. Member for Garscadden to withdraw the amendment—as I am sure that he will, in view of what he said in his speech.

Mr. Dewar

I do not wish to delay my hon. Friends. I shall withdraw the amendment, although I still feel unconvinced and somewhat gloomy about the prospects. No doubt there will be other occasions on which to argue these matters.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 158, in page 35, line 20, leave out '(4)' and insert '(3A) to'.

No. 159, in page 35, line 43, at end insert— '(3A) Sub-paragraph (1)(a) above does not apply to the recovery from a person of arrears of community charge for which that person is liable by virtue only of section 10(6) of this Act.'

No. 138, in page 36, line 22, at end insert— 'Repayment of sums not due 9. A levying authority to whom there has been paid by way of any community charge any sum which (for whatever reason) is not due shall repay that sum or arrange for its repayment.'—[Mr. Ancram.]

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