HC Deb 05 March 1987 vol 111 cc1105-28

Amendment made: No. 154, in page 50, line 48, leave out 'the words'.—[Mr. Ancrami]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

8.26 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Clearly, at such a stage in the consideration of a Bill of this complexity and importance, it is difficult to conceive of anything fundamentally new that is likely to be said by Members on either side of the House. Nevertheless, I want to begin by emphasising that there are perhaps four ways in which fundamental defects in the existing system of local government finance have been identified, each of which is covered by the Bill and none of which is accommodated either by the proposals of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) or by the existing domestic rating system.

The first defect is well known, but I make no apology for repeating it. Some 750,000 adults in Scotland—21 per cent. of the total—make under the existing system, or would make under the proposals put forward by the Labour party, no contribution towards the raising of local revenue. For the purpose of this discussion I acknowledge, as I did on Second Reading, that spouses have a financial interest in the rates contributions of their husbands or wives, but even taking that into account we are still left with a substantial minority of the electorate who make no contribution. That is not because of their level of income their status in any general sense or because they are less in receipt of benefits or services from the local authority. Some may be wealthy, some may be of moderate wealth, some may be relatively poor—[Interruption.] Some will be very wealthy. Those with a private suite in the Caledonian hotel in Edinburgh will pay no rates at all whereas the impoverished person living round the corner will.

Mr. Maxton

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Rifkind

In a moment. I am just developing my point.

At no stage during the course of our debates have the Opposition either stopped to justify the exclusion of 21 per cent. of the adult electorate from any contribution towards a system of local authority revenue, nor have they put forward proposals which would rectify that.

Secondly, certain groups of the community, those who by any stretch of the imagination are among the lower income groups, will benefit in some cases very significantly from a system of community charge as opposed to a system of domestic rates. We have calculated, and no one has questioned this, that more than 85 per cent. of all single pensioner households will gain under a community charge, and that of these 30 per cent. would gain more than £1 a week.

We have also demonstrated that some 80 per cent. of other single adult households would gain, and that of these more than half would gain more than £1 a week. Within that last group, more than four fifths of all one-parent families would gain, about half of them gaining more than £1 per week. No one has yet suggested, and no one could suggest with any conviction, that those people are not among the poorest members of the community. It has been demonstrated, without any evidence to the contrary, that they will benefit, in some cases significantly, from the community charge as opposed to domestic rates.

The third consideration is the question of accountability, on which there has been much comment and to which the Opposition pay lip service, but which they have not dealt with in any convincing way. Under our existing arrangements it is not just the 21 per cent. who have no possible accountability. It is probably one third of the total electorate when one includes those who receive 100 per cent. rebates under the existing arrangements. Therefore, about one third of the adult electorate can vote for any level of rates increase in the knowledge that they will not have to make one penny contribution towards its cost. That is a substantial proportion of the electorate. The same does not apply in the case of a general election or in respect of central Government because all adults, irrespective of their status and their income, pay tax to central Government.

Mr. Maxton

Value added tax.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is correct. A proportion pay income tax, but 100 per cent. pay value added tax. The hon. Gentleman should be first to be aware that as local authorities have only one source of revenue from their local electorate, anyone who does not pay that local tax is totally immune from the consequences of the decision taken by that local authority — unlike the electorate in their relationship with central Government where there is not one elector who does not find himself influenced by decisions on public expenditure by central Government, either through value added tax or through income tax or through both. That is a factor that the Opposition have not begun to answer at any stage in this debate, nor have their proposals for reform of the system in any way dealt with that fundamental point.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadeen (Mr. Dewar) who at least does not interrupt with the same boring regularity as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) — [HON. MEMBERS: "The Secretary of State is getting bored."] Yes, I am getting more and more bored by the hon. Member for Cacthcart. "Boring for Britain" should be his slogan at the next general election—he might make some impact with that.

At least the hon. Member for Garscadden understands that these are not bogus debating points but legitimate considerations. I acknowledge that, and I must assume that he is also worried about them. He must be as acutely conscious as anyone that the lack of accountability of the present system, the extent to which large minorities of the electorate make no contribution towards local rates and the extent to which pensioners and other single-parent families lose out under the existing arrangements are all defects which his own proposals will in no way bridge. That is a fundamental problem.

The fourth consideration regards the non-domestic ratepayer. Business and commerce are in the extraordinary position that under the existing arrangements they have become the milch cow of local authorities. They are perceived as bodies which can be expected to sustain any level of rates increase. The average Labour councillor—not all of them —maintains that rates increases do not have the slightest effect on the viability of the industries or businesses concerned or on the employment that they can provide. However, the chambers of commerce and the Scottish CBI have emphasised that the rates increases which are now proposed by certain local authorities will severely damage employment and will lead to significant job losses which will harm the local economy.

There are a number of fundamental considerations. We must ask to what extent the Labour party can respond to those concerns in any way, given its opposition to the Government's proposals.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his courage and determination in taking action on rating reform has earned him great admiration in Southend-on-Sea as well as in Scotland, but is he prepared to take action on the grotesque anomaly whereby agricultural buildings are not subject to the payment of rates?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I hope that the Secretary of State will stick to what is in the Bill, which is the appropriate thing to do on Third Reading.

Mr. Rifkind

If I had residual doubts about the merits of the Bill, the approbation of the good people of Southend-on-Sea would have put my mind at rest. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) will be aware, if he is interested in levying from the farmers of the United Kingdom the responsibility of paying rates for agricultural land and holdings, that the Labour Government would be the only Government liable to impose such a damaging innovation on the farming community at this difficult time for its interests.

In seeking to respond to the basic anomolies and unfairnesses which our Bill will rectify, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden has not produced any convincing alternatives. Labour Members have laboured mightily and they have produced a mouse. The extraordinary proposal of capital values as the answer to the ratepayers' dream—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Chair often has great difficulty on Third Readings because the pattern that is set by the Secretary of State, or whoever it may be, is inevitably followed by all other speakers. The rule is that on Third Reading of a Bill we confine ourselves to what is in the Bill. I hope that the Secretary of State will do that.

Mr. Rifkind

I am happy to accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I notice the enthusiasm and relief with which the Opposition heard your ruling. They, too, are clearly even more delighted that I shall be unable to comment on their proposals at this stage, and we can all understand why.

I do not wish to speak for too long because I know that many other hon. Members will wish to comment. However, I wish to comment on the other major area, because it is a point which has been central to the—

Mr. Maxton

Is it relevant to the Bill?

Mr. Rifkind

It is indeed relevant to the Bill.

The other major area which is central to the debate is the question of ability to pay. The Opposition have sought to imply on various occasions that somehow the proposals before the House will lead to unacceptable and unreasonable hardship for the average person in Scotland. [Interruption.] We are now told that they will not lead to any problems for the average person in Scotland [Interruption.] It looks as though we are making progress at this late stage. It seems that the hon. Member for Cathcart does not wish to argue that the average person in Scotland will be worse off as a result of these proposals. I am prepared—[Interruption.] As I say, we are making considerable progress. The average income in Scotland is, we heard recently, £201 per week for persons in employment. Therefore, an average community charge payment of between £4 and £5 per week is a relatively small amount that is unlikely to produce hardship. The hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members will say, "Ah, yes, but it is not just the average person that we are talking about. We accept that he may not experience any hardship, but what about those being brought into the net for the first time? What about the young single person who does not pay rates at the moment and will pay rates in the future?" He may pay between £3, £4 or £5 if he is in employment, but if he is unemployed he is unlikely to pay the full amount.

Let us consider the position of the young, single, employed adult. We know what the situation is, because the latest figures illustrate that in 1985, which is already some two years ago. approximately 90 per cent. of youngsters between 18 and 24 who were in full-time employment earned more than £80 a week

Mr. Maxton

There are not many of them.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman simply does not know the facts. Almost 90 per cent.—88 per cent., to be exact—of all young adult males between 18 and 24 earned over £80 a week. Many are paying rates; many young adult males are ratepayers. They have to pay. Why should others with the same income make no contribution? The hon. Gentleman is silent all of a sudden. Even if those young people have had the good fortune to have no contribution to make up to now, the suggestion that a maximum payment—it is the maximum that we are talking about—of some £5 a week will be a cause of hardship is ludicrous.

The hon. Gentlman and the House as a whole are aware that, in addition to the fact that the vast majority of those who are in employment will have incomes far in excess of any level that would imply hardship in respect of such payments, there is to be a rebate scheme, which will assist not just young single adults but any whose income is below a level that would imply hardship if the full community charge were levied. That policy applies at present to domestic rates.

I believe that we have been able to demonstrate to any fair-minded person that the proposals will benefit some 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. of single pensioners and single-parent families. Our proposals will remove the anomalies to which we have drawn attention and they will not create hardship either for the average person in Scotland, which has already been conceded by the Opposition or, as I have demonstrated, for those on lower incomes.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Is the Secretary of State saying that nobody will be worse off? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In that case, will he tell us who will be worse off?

Mr. Rifkind

Those who pay nothing at the moment will be worse off. That goes without saying. Whether that is unfair is a separate issue. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that those who pay nothing at the moment do not necessarily pay nothing because their income is low. It may simply be that they are not the occupier of a rateable property. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate that point.

I commend the Bill to the House in the very sure knowledge that, despite more than 100 hours in Committee, two days on Report and a public debate that has gone on much longer than that, and quite apart from the outcome of the votes, it is a well-recognised fact throughout Scotland—[Interruption.]—that, due to the splendid advocacy of the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) and his colleague who is responsible for industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), the Government's case has been demonstrated to be infinitely superior to that of the Opposition.

Mr. Douglas

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rifkind

I understand —[Interruption.] I understand the sensitivity—

Mr. Douglas


Mr. Rifkind

I am not giving way.

I understand the sensitivity of Opposition Members. They have had their opportunity to demonstrate their view as to the defects of the Bill and the advantages of domestic rates. It is a widely held perception in Scotland that they have failed to do so and that the Government's case has been enormously strengthened by the parliamentary consideration of the Bill. On that basis, I commend it to the House.

8.45 pm
Mr. Dewar

There is a slightly frivolous atmosphere, which is not surprising at this point, but I cannot help spending a minute or two welcoming the authentic voice of Southend man back to our Scottish debates. The earthy populism that he brings can be useful. He has given us a useful quotation on agricultural rating, to which I may give a wider airing in Scotland in the months ahead.

When the Secretary of State is reduced to saying, "It is a well-known fact that," we know that he is on weak ground. I do not accept his analysis. I do not accept his philosophical position, although I accept that it can be debated. Almost anything can be. I do not accept that the House should pass the Bill at this stage. It is the end of a rocky road. The Bill came to us as a bad Bill. I fear that it goes to another place still as a very bad Bill.

I should like to thank my hon. Friends who served on the Committee and worked extremely hard, along with representatives of some of the other parties, to try to get our case across. It was at times, I fear, a thankless task, but it was bravely discharged. I do not like the Bill. That is no secret. There are so many objections to it that they are difficult to summarise in what must be a reasonably brief speech. To some extent, we have been sandbagged just by two days of listening to the Minister, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), during the closing stages.

I do not make any apology for referring to this. Today there has been published a useful summary of the arguments, which came from a Conservative source. That was the Tory Reform Group publication in England and Wales. I am interested in the fact that the defence against quotations from the document is that they are invalidated by their English origin. It is a remarkable Conservative argument. The Secretary of State no doubt will remember that the Green Paper was a common document, which was given currency north and south of the border. The reason was simply that the arguments were the same north and south of the border, and it turned out that the solution was the same north and south of the border. It is remarkable that the Secretary of State should try to make a distinction and say that in some way, merely because an argument comes from an English branch of the Tory party, it is per se invalid. That suggests a certain amount of embarrassment.

I do not put enormous store on the Tory Reform Group and it would be ludicrous if I did, but it is worth saying to the Secretary of State that the group has on its notepaper the names of the deputy Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Paymaster General, the Secretary of State for Energy and some other very respectable Conservative leadership figures. It is interesting that the group has come up with such sharp and trenchant criticism of the fundamentals of this series of proposals.

Mr. Anderson

The hon. Gentleman may not have seen the whole document, in which there is a specific reference to the fact that the group does not pretend to have consulted, far less received the approval of, those who are its patrons or vice-presidents.

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman misinterprets my point. I am not suggesting that the views of the Tory Reform Group are the views of the Scottish Office. Perhaps they should be. Clearly, and sadly, they are not. I can do little about that. I am entitled to pray them in aid because they make a useful summary. I should like to draw the attention of the House—

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dewar

I shall not give way.

I shall not spend the whole of my speech on the document, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to one or two points because they are put concisely and effectively. The Tory Reform Group says: The real criticism is that Government was acting in the cause of rating reform in a haphazard way, making up these decisions as it went along. It had no clear idea as to why it had to intervene so constantly, what was so fundamentally wrong in local government and how to put it right. I could not have put it better myself. The group went on to say: The proposed community charge … is misconceived and it will undermine local self-government. This is because it will: involve substantial and excessive centralisation of power in Whitehall; isolate businesses from local government; fail to achieve the degree of accountability that is required; be administratively expensive. That seems to be a very simple and straightforward account of our case and our attack upon the Bill.

On page 16, the group gives a very interesting account of how all this happened, and I think it is worth sharing it with the House. Hon. Members will remember that we have been very puzzled by the fact that the Government, having gone through very careful preparation and considered investigation of the arguments, came to a measured conclusion in late 1983 that the rating system was fundamentally sound and that no major change was necessary. Then, suddenly, in one jump, we ended up with this extraordinary object, the Abolition of Rating Etc. (Scotland) Bill. We had our suspicions and have suggested what happened.

I will read what the Tory Reform Group thinks about it. It says : What happened was that Ministers had to act with excessive haste. Up to the summer of 1984 the firm line being put out by the Department of the Environment was that rates were here to stay. Suddenly, with a difficult Party Conference debate on rates coming up, Ministers went into a 180 degree turn and felt that they had had to find a quick alternative to rates. It was one of the occasions when a Party Conference actually determined Government policy. The speed of change led the Department to bounce the key Cabinet Ministers into a poll tax…and to avoid having to put forward more considered alternatives. That is a remarkably similar account of what happened to the one that we have put forward as the most likely, indeed the only, explanation we can think of. It is the group's submission that the Bill and the proposals that we are now seeing in this Bill in fact add up to the centralisation of power and the administrative nightmare which the community tax will entail. When we use words such as "administrative nightmare", as I freely concede we do, we are normally chided as being irresponsible and as putting forward propositions which no one could sustain.

I think that the Tory Reform Group has a lot going for it in these arguments, and I certainly believe that there may even be some support, although I do not know how widespread it is, for it in the ranks of the Conservative party.

I cannot resist saying that we took the trouble this morning to telephone the Tory Reform Group to ask it who its Scottish supporters were. We were told that its organiser is the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) and that the assistant organiser is the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley). We then telephoned the independent headquarters of the Tory Reform Group in Scotland, who turned out to be a gentleman who works in Conservative Central Office in Edinburgh. He had obviously had the message passed to him because he said in the most definitive terms that no Scottish Conservative Member had anything whatsoever to do with the Tory Reform Group.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

He has been made a peer.

Mr. Dewar

Well, not quite yet; but he has certainly got Brownie points.

I must say to the hon. Lady that I was particularly interested in this because when I looked up her little biography in one of the standard works of reference I found a lot of rather outré judgments about her—that she is outspoken, formidable, vivacious, sexy and cuddly. Let me hasten to reassure the hon. Lady that as far as I know it is not a well-known fact that that is true. But what is also in the biography—and presumably it was supplied by the hon. Lady—is that she is a member of the Scottish executive of the Tory Reform Group.

Therefore, I hope that she has some respect for the views that her colleagues in England and Wales have put forward.

I will move on and say a word or two about some other aspects and leave the Tory Reform Group to its troubles and its problems and the wrath of its parliamentary colleagues. One thing it said in passing was that the English Ministers would have been required to see what happened in Scotland, to use Scotland as some sort of dry run, and, on the basis of the nightmare that enveloped us, the Government might be tempted to abandon their plans south of the border.

Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

If the hon. Gentleman considered a different situation, wherein England had gone through the revaluations that we have in Scotland, he might then say that the Tory Reform Group here in England might be thinking along the lines that the Tory Reform Group members in Scotland are at this very moment.

Mr. Dewar

I must say that that is an interesting admission. The hon. Lady is conceding that it was all panic over the revaluation and had nothing to do with the great matters of principle which have been imported into the debate by the Secretary of State. It was all to do with saving the votes of discontented Tories who were panicked by revaluation. That has the ring of truth, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on saying it.

I have never taken the view—here I disagree with the Tory Reform Group—that this was something that was being tried in Scotland at the behest of the English to see what happened. We were not being used as some sort of medical laboratory in which the virus was let loose. I believe that we have got this Bill because the Secretary of State for Scotland and his colleagues want it. That is why I find it particularly alarming that someone who could get things so totally wrong should be in charge of so many other matters of importance. If I thought that the Secretary of State was being dragged reluctantly along, I might draw some consolation, albeit rather doubtful consolation, from that, but I believe that he wants this wrong-headed and misconceived legislation.

I believe that the Bill is misconceived and wrongheaded because, despite the special pleading, it is unrelated to the ability to pay. Self-evidently, at the most basic level, irrespective of one's income — I concede that I am talking about the position above the level of the rebate—the richest man in the land would pay the same as someone of very modest means. It is so much per skull across the board. Many of the statistics which are paraded are valid only because of the introduction of the 20 per cent. rule, which will victimise the lowest paid. We believe that that is absolutely unforgiveable and will bring genuine hardship in some cases. It is in my view only because the Government are doing that that they can give the most vestigial cloak of plausibility to their claim that this is not a seriously regressive tax.

Furthermore, it is based upon a flawed and irrelevant concept of accountability. I do not wish to overstate my case, but, reverting to the point that we have just been on, I genuinely believe that to imply that accountability demands that those who are the most disadvantaged in our society should pay 20 per cent. of their local taxation bill is a perversion of any argument of humanity or equity in British politics. I am very sorry indeed that this form of argument should have been put forward. All that I can say to the Secretary of State is that we shall — [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) must contain himself.

Mr. Dewar

We have tried to advance arguments during the debate about the complications, expense and difficulties of collection and administration. I do not intend to discuss them even in the most brief fashion. We shall regret the Minister's attempts to minimise and sweep aside difficulties if the scheme is introduced.

The truth is that this is openly partisan legislation. It is an attempt by Ministers to help their own. I find it a most unpleasant phenomenon. As has been said, it will not work, because there are flaws in the scheme. Those who are meant to be beneficiaries will end up as victims. If the only way in which to increase income is by increasing the community charge, we shall hammer the burden on to a narrow tax base. One or two somewhat twisted people—twisted politically, and not in any other way—take pleasure from that prospect. But the trouble is that any responsible local authority wage settlement of perhaps 14 or 15 per cent., depending on the RSG percentage, will have to be funded out of locally raised revenue. At the moment, that burden is spread. The Secretary of State represents it as making commerce and industry the milch cow. That is not right. They use many local services, as do individual ratepayers. In any event, they will be largely excluded, as the only increase is subject to the RPI ceiling.

Therefore, if one has the kind of settlement that the teachers got, which is well supported by Members and has been praised as a statesmanlike settlement, it will have to be funded from increased community charges. To use a term that is familiar to people who work in the City, high gearing is involved. If one must increase one's revenue by perhaps 3 per cent., one is likely to find about 9 per cent. going to the community charge.

At the moment there are people who regard the issue from a selfish point of view as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but in perhaps four or five years, when the gearing begins to take effect and the built-in escalator starts to work, the community charge will go up and up, and people will begin to wonder whether they received a favour from their local Conservative Member of Parliament.

There will be winners and losers. In a dismissive way, the Secretary of State seems to suggest that the only losers will be those who will be brought into the system. That is not true. There will be many other losers. The statistic that the Secretary of State forgot is his own basic one in the Green Paper. Fifty two per cent. of Scottish households will be worse off. That may not sound too dramatic until we see where the households are and who lives in them. The truth is that this measure has unashamedly been brought in to produce a shift in the balance of taxation in Scottish communities. Undoubtedly, it will result in a shift in favour of districts which, by any test that may be applied, are more comfortably off. Of course, the Government defend that argument. They say that the rating system is corrupt and helps those who are disadvantaged. That is what the argument is about. There is no point in Conservative Members suggesting that there will not be a shift. The argument is whether the shift can be justified.

We must look at the victims—the people who will lose—who live in areas with poor services where life is difficult. We must compare them with those who live in areas which, by and large, support the Conservative party, and where there is already a high level of personal income. I concede that there will be many individual exceptions. There will be little old ladies, to use the parody of the argument for the sake of convenience, who will benefit.

If we look at the broader scope, which, as Scottish representatives, we are entitled to do, we shall see that there is no doubt that the legislation is selfish and has no basis in social justice or equity. It will undermine local democracy. It will centralise power to a dangerous extent. That is true whether there is a Labour or Conservative Secretary of State. It will bring sadness and sorrow to the people of Scotland if it comes into operatin. My hope, and fortunately my expectation, is that it never will.

9.4 pm

Mr. Allan Stewart

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) made a considerable claim about the Tory Reform Group document. Of course, that document is the sole responsibility of its author. I am amazed at the hon. Gentleman's discomfort in that he must leave the Chamber immediately another hon. Member begins to speak. As my hon. Friend the Minister said in an earlier debate, it is worth reminding Opposition Members that that document states: The decay of local government can be traced to the loss of democratic accountability and the disintegration of the traditional Labour party. The combination of the two has been devastating. I have reiterated that so that Opposition Members have it clearly in mind. The hon. Member for Garscadden was rather ungallant to my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley), but he made a number of complaints about unflattering references to his hon. Friends during the long consideration of the Bill in Committee. I thought that it was a reasonably congenial Committee. The Opposition's problems were not competence, but the absence of a coherent policy behind which they could combine. That is why the Bill had such an easy ride in Committee.

The Bill will be considered in another place, and perhaps my right hon. and hon. Friends will consider introducing amendments for their Lordships to consider. One area of the Bill that is worthy of further thought is the position of the mentally handicapped, an issue that may well be raised in another place.

The principles on which the Bill is based have been set out clearly by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. He said that about 750,000 people make no contribution to local authority expenditure in Scotland. The status quo is indefensible. The revaluation was important because it highlighted the deficiencies and unacceptability of the present system. That is why I believe the Bill will be welcomed by the people in Scotland. It will be welcomed by the wealth creators, who are currently reeling under the unacceptable rate increases that have been imposed upon them by regional councils, such as Lothian and Strathclyde.

The hon. Member for Garscadden made a considerable point about equity, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State dealt with that in his opening speech. It is worth emphasising that the bulk of local authority expenditure will be covered not by the community charge, but by the non-domestic ratepayer—[Interruption.]—or through the national Exchequer. Any Government are therefore able to set out a taxation system —[Interruption.]—to meet any social equity considerations. I wish that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Douglas) would stop acting as Dunfermline's answer to Falkirk, West.

Mr. Douglas

The hon. Gentleman is a St. Andrews-trained economist, but I am not going to malign that university. I hope that he had some idea during his student days, if not as a Minister, of equity in taxation. I ask him to tell me of any degree of equity in a tax that everyone has to pay at a basic rate that is unavoidable. Where is the equity in such a tax?

Mr. Stewart

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is in favour of the abolition of value added tax, which has precisely the attributes to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. If the hon. Gentleman would listen instead of shouting and muttering all the time, I am saying that national Government can change the national taxation system to meet any social justice or equity criteria that they wish.

My constituency has been referred to throughout our consideration of the Bill. It will be of great benefit to people such as pensioners who wish to retain a reasonable standard of housing and to young couples who wish to extend or improve their homes. It is also of interest to my constituents that, during the course of the Bill, the Labour party has confirmed that it wishes to see the abolition of Eastwood district. The Social Democrats have confirmed that, in practice, their policies would also result in the abolition of Eastwood district. The policies of the Labour party and the Social Democratic party are not dissimilar, because of the long time scale suggested by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) with regard to the introduction of a local income tax.

It must be emphasised that the Government's proposals will be implemented on 1 April 1989. If by any mischance the proposals were not implemented—for example, because of the results of the general election—the rating system in Scotland would not only continue, but the Scottish people would be faced with another revaluation in 1990.

1 congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on reaching Third Reading of the Bill. It has emerged unscathed from 125 hours in Committee. The Opposition have opposed the Bill without confidence, competence or clarity. I commend the Third Reading to the House.


Mr. Maclennan

If the Bill is enacted it will leave a successor Government with the urgent task of reintroducing a system of local government taxation that is fair, accountable and acceptable to the Scottish people.

The Government have rightly diagnosed what is wrong with the present system of rates and how capricious, complex and. in some cases, unjust that system has become. However, they have failed to replace that system with a system of local taxation that will command support and acceptance because of its equity and ease of administration. They have certainly not established a system that will make local government more accountable for its expenditure. As a result of the decision on non-domestic rates—effectively to turn such rates into an assigned revenue, thus removing from local authorities any responsibility for determining the rate level—and the increased reliance upon central Government grant, local authorities will be left with a mere 13 per cent. of expenditure derived from personal taxation. How that system can possibly be dressed up by the Government as representing an increase in local accountability is beyond all sensible people, including the Tory Reform Group. The views of that group were quoted earlier by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar).

The Minister has said that the Bill was not subject to improvement in Committee. However, one major concession was made earlier tonight—the removal of the extraordinarily widely drawn power to amend, by regulation, any piece of legislation, subordinate or primary. The removal of that power was a concession to the powerful debate that took place in Committee. I believe that the Bill has been improved.

What has not been shaken is the Government's determination, made clear from the beginning, not merely to enact the Bill in the precise terms in which it was originally put before the House, but to do so with extraordinary speed. That has been done without the normal deliberations that have accompanied the consideration of past local government finance bills.

The Bill is of major constitutional importance because it is altering the balance of power between central and local government. It is altering that balance to fulfil the dogmatic requirement of the Government that they should have absolute control of public expenditure. They failed to achieve that end earlier by means of rate capping and direction and reduction of the grant element in the amounts available to local authorities. All the means that they have tried since 1979 have failed to satisfy the Government that they have got the reins of local government fairly in their grasp. They want to achieve that through the Bill, and that is why they have been so determined to get it through.

Because the Bill has that major constitutional aspect, I hope that another place will look at it hard and long and that not only Scottish, but English, peers will give it the scrutiny that it deserves—scrutiny that we have not been able to give it because of the manner in which the Government have driven it through. We know that it is a forerunner of what is to be done throughout the United Kingdom.

I notice that a distinguished member of the English so-called Tory Reform Group is Lord Whitelaw, whom I find it strange to be described as English not only because of his ancestry but because of his land owning in Scotland. I hope that these noble Lords will regard it as their constitutional duty to delay the Bill and subject it to rigorous scrutiny. If the Bill is not enacted before the dissolution of Parliament, that will be a service to the people of Scotland.

The Government pretend that they have safeguarded the position of those less well-off members of our community from the burden of universal taxation by a system of rebate. It is quite bizarre that this system is not incorporated in the Bill and that the Government have not explained in any detail how it is to be operated. It is dependent upon the decisions of Government, which have not been made, but the Government expect the House and the country to believe that this is an equitable method.

There has been some argument about the winners and losers. Nobody is in a position to make an authoritative judgment about this, but it is clear that the balance of the burden will be shifted, and shifted substantially, to the disadvantage of the less well-off members of our community. It is also clear that the Public Finance Foundation was right to say that those households with an income under £200 per week will be much worse off, while households with an income over £200 per week will be much better off. That is the kind of broad conclusion that it is possible to draw, but it is not possible to draw more specific and precise conclusions because the Government have never provided the configuration. The illustrative figures published in the Green Paper have not been adhered to by the Government, and they have been treated merely as illustrative. We do not know how the new charge will operate.

As the Bill has gone through the House, the people of Scotland have not been attracted to what the Government have put forward. The Government have sought to interpret some criticisms made by the Labour party in Committee as being a failure in argument. That is not fair to the Labour party in Committee, nor is it a true interpretation of Scottish opinion.

Every responsible organ of opinion in Scotland—the Glasgow Herald, the Daily Record, The Scotsman and every other newspaper—has condemned this tax, as it properly should be condemned, as a tax appropriate only to uncivilised societies. The Government are not able to pray in aid of their scheme any example of this tax even being tried in another civilised country, for the obvious reason that no civilised country would impose a compulsory tax upon its destitute population.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Come off it.

Mr. Maclennan

If the hon. Gentleman doubts that there are destitute people, he has not been around his constituency in recent weeks.

The Bill fails to remedy a mischief, and it will have to be corrected by a successor Government. It is not possible on Third Reading to describe in detail or at all the nature of the local income tax which is the most fair system to replace the existing creaking rates system.

It is now well understood that local income tax is the preferable system and it has operated successfully in a number of other countries. The people of Scotland have to look forward to the prospect of a more equitable system of local taxation, one which increases local accountability, following the defeat of this Government at the general election. I believe that this Bill will play a significant part in achieving that defeat.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Barry Henderson.


Mr. Henderson

Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have not heard the hon. Gentleman yet.

Mr. Douglas

You are lucky, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Henderson

I am glad that not only you, Mr. Speaker, but Opposition Members are so anxious to hear me. I am delighted at that. It may be helpful if I tell Opposition Members that I want to be as brief as I can—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—If Opposition Members continue to interrupt me rudely and make noises, my speech will take longer. The trouble with the Opposition throughout the passage of the Bill, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, is that they have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the measure. They believe that levity, length, noise, rudeness or crudeness are a substitute for effective opposition.

Mr. Norman Hogg

What a pompous idiot!

Mr. Henderson

If the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) had come to the Committee Room and seen his hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) misbehaving himself and had done something about whipping him out of the place, I might not have received the kind of remarks that I have received now. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth heard his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) remarking about my hon. Friend the Member for Renfew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley). If such comments had been made by one of my hon. Friends about one of his hon. Friends, I should have heard some very rude remarks from the Opposition.

The Bill is about justice and responsibility —something about which the Opposition know all too little. That is why they will remain the Opposition for a very long time.

Mr. Norman Hogg

The hon. Gentleman will not know about it because he will be out next time.

Mr. Henderson

If I am out next time, I can confidently say that a Labour person will not put me out—[Interruption.] Just as when I defeated the Labour candidate in East Dumbartonshire, it was not a Labour candidate who put me out.

Mr. Norman Hogg

The hon. Gentleman lost East Dumbartonshire.

Mr. Henderson

Of course I did, but the Labour candidate still could not defeat me there. I am sorry that I am taking longer that I intended, Mr. Speaker, but it is entirely because the Opposition keep interrupting me.

Throughout the Committee stage my hon. Friend the Minister has resisted exemptions from the community charge and he was absolutely right to do that. The Bill is now leaving the Commons and the Government have triumphed. They have won the argument and carried the House with conviction. There is, however, one exemption which they should seriously consider further, and I hope that it will be made in another place. I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister that, because the Bill is about justice and responsibility, there is one section of the community to whom we should give more justice because they cannot accept responsibility. I refer to the mentally retarded and mentally handicapped.

Mr. Douglas

Do not be so patronising.

Mr. Henderson

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

Mr. Douglas

Yes. I declare an interest because I have a daughter who is spastic.

Mr. Henderon

I know that.

Mr. Douglas

If the hon. Gentleman really feels that there should be such an exemption, he should have tabled an amendment earlier.

Mr. Henderson

I said as a preliminary to my remarks that my hon. Friend the Minister was quite right not to accept exemptions earlier.

Mr. Douglas

But that is what the Committee stage is for.

Mr. Henderson

The Opposition could have made that point and tabled amendments themselves, but they did not.

Mr. Maxton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Henderson

I have given way a great deal.

Mr. Maxton


Mr. Speaker

Order. One at a time.

Mr. Henderson

The Opposition will say that I am detaining the House when there is a guillotine. I am doing my best to make a brief speech which is relevant to the Bill and I am being prevented from doing so by Opposition Members. I shall give way if they want me to, so long as they do not then accuse me of making a long speech.

Mr. Maxton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Henderson

I think that I shall get on. The hon. Member has had 100 hours to make his arguments, which he did incompetently and inadequately. He will get a chance to make his own speech before the end of the debate.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider further representations on this matter and make this one exemption to the community charge in another place. I hope that a satisfactory formula which achieves that objective can be found. I realise that there will be problems doing that, but I hope that such a formula is beginning to form in my hon. Friend's mind.

In view of the barrenness of the Opposition's arguments, it is interesting that the hon. Member for Garscadden prayed in aid the Tory Reform Group. So few are the Labour party's arguments that the most effective argument that it could hope to raise on Third Reading was from a Tory publication.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

A Tory Reform Group publication.

Mr. Henderson


The Bill proves that the Government care about Scotland and that it is the Tories who speak for Scotland and want to correct a system that has been unjust for years. Opposition Members are right to say that the community charge will apply to all adults in Scotland, but they are wrong when they say, as they often do, that all will pay the same. I hope that they will try to remember to differentiate between the two.

It was sad to hear the hon. Member for Garscadden, an honest man, defending a corrupt system. Indeed, it has been sad to hear the Labour party throughout our proceedings on the Bill. It has been sad to hear a party which claims to be radical defending the status quo and forgetting its roots.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on presenting such a major Bill. The subject has defeated many fine men and women before, but he has found the solution and an alternative to the rating system. This Conservative Scottish ministerial team has shown the way forward for the whole of the United Kingdom.

9.29 pm
Mr. Donald Stewart

The hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) has just said that the Bill is about justice. Not even his hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench pitched the thing that high. We are all aware that it is a panic measure that was brought in by the reaction against the second revaluation in Scotland. The Government's supporters in Scotland made their opposition known and therefore the Bill was cobbled together.

The hon. Member for Fife, North-East discussed the great advantages that the Bill would bring. It is only three years since his own Front Bench said that they could not think of a better system for raising local authority revenue in Scotland. However, all of a sudden he describes the system as corrupt. We all know of the great inefficiencies and the many anomalies in the rating system. I should not have supported that system. The Labour party agreed that a local income tax would be the answer.

The Bill is a remedy that is worse than the disease. One of its outstanding points is that, regardless of income, people will have to pay at least 20 per cent. of their rates bill. Even a means test has been abandoned. The poorest in the community will be obliged to pay 20 per cent. towards the poll tax, which hits the lowest paid the hardest. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has stated : The new charge will be more regressive than rates. Those on high incomes will be the biggest gainers. There is no way round that. My hon. Friends have suggested an income tax that would at least take into account the ability to pay. However, the Bill does nothing of the kind. Local authorities in Scotland have been bedevilled by the gradual erosion of the rate support grant. The Government pretend that they have nothing to do with the fact that services are disappearing. However, that is due to the way in which the Government have gradually cut off funds from local authorities.

I am a Highlander and I make no claim to second sight, but I advise the House that the Bill will never be implemented in Scotland.

9.31 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I support the Bill on its Third Reading. I should especially like to draw attention to one of the amendments that was agreed to yesterday. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench will appreciate the wonderful reception that the amendment affecting sports grounds has received in Scotland. Scottish people are looking forward to the fact that they will begin to see real benefits in such activities because local authorities will have discretion and will know that they will be refunded.

It is interesting to listen to the comments of Opposition Member about the Bill. If one listened to them carefully—I listened to them carefully yesterday as well as today —one got the impression that we would have to be made to introduce such a Bill at this time if we wanted to be re-elected. According to them, it has no friends and will be rejected by the Scottish electorate.

I have news for the Opposition. I am delighted to go back to Tayside, North and to fight the next election on the basis of this Bill and my party's record in government. I am happy to face any of the Opposition parties. Quite frankly, it is nonsense for them to say that, because we all know how popular the Bill will be among the people who care about what happens in local authorities. It will certainly be popular in Tayside, North. I have no doubt whatsoever about that.

I also know that the Scottish people will see the fairness of the system, in which differences in incomes will be taken into account. The impression has been given that there will be no rebates. Of course there will be rebates—that is provided for in the Bill—and of course account has been taken of the fact that individuals have different circumstances. I am prepared to stand on any public platform and defend the reason why 20 per cent. should be paid by all those who are adults and making use of—[Interruption.] I am happy to defend that position. I am not ducking that issue any more than I duck issues on nuclear disarmament or anything else. It is my experience that if one gives the true reason for doing something, one need not fear the reaction from one's supporters. I am not ashamed that I speak for those whom I expect to support me. It is right that a caring Government should make decisons centrally in order to care for those who need to be cared for. That is why we have social security benefits, housing benefits, and so on.

It is also true that there has been a ghastly failure in getting people to take an interest in and to participate in local government. There has been a decline in the numbers who vote.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

That is not true.

Mr. Walker

I can remember when greater numbers turned out to vote in Dundee than do today, so do not tell me that there has not been a loss of interest. [Interruption.] There has been. [Interruption.] There have been reductions in the numbers of voters and the reason is that people cannot relate what goes on at local level to what they want done—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to give the hon. Member a fair hearing.

Mr. Walker

The Bill will have the additional effect of making people want to vote because they will know that that they are contributing to the cost of services, even if it is only 20 per cent. Twenty per cent. of an increasing figure, when local authorities wish to spend more money, will give voters an interest. That is why I am happy to defend the Bill and to welcome it.

9.36 pm
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about the Bill. I have not had an opportunity during previous stages for one reason or another, such as—

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Foulkes

No. No one can accuse me of not wishing to participate in matters of all kinds—[Interruption.]— whether I have responsibility for them or not. I have not had the opportunity because I have been preoccupied with matters—

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)


Mr. Foulkes

—beyond this country, as the Secretary of State, were he here, would recall that he used to be before he was promoted.

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) as he is the only Conservative Member who was supported by more than 50 per cent. of the electorate at the general election. Given the relative wealth of his constituents, I can understand why he is so enthusiastic about these proposals. Moreover, if the poll tax were introduced there is a grave danger of his being the only Scottish Conservative Member after the general election.

I am also glad that I was present for the unique opportunity of hearing the hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) speak.

Mr. Henderson

I spoke about the Bill.

Mr. Foulkes

It was the first time that I have heard someone concede defeat not merely before the election takes place but before it is even announced.

Mr. Henderson

I am well aware that I shall continue to be the Member of Parliament for Fife, North-East. I said that in no way was I going to be beaten by a Labour candidate. I could have gone on and said that I would not be beaten by an SNP candidate, a Liberal candidate, an SDP candidate, an Ecology candidate or any other.

Mr. Foulkes

It has taken a long time for the hon. Gentleman to remember to add those and all hon. Members present understood that in a state of panic the hon. Gentleman spoke the truth.

I am grateful for the opportunity of saying a few words because this is a very important matter. For nine years before I came to this House I had the opportunity of being in local government as a member of the Edinburgh corporation—where I served not alongside but opposite the Secretary of State for Scotland—and subsequently on the Lothian regional council. Unlike some Conservative Members, particularly the hon. Member for Tayside, North, I have some experience of local government and its pressures. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Two more hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.

Mr. Foulkes

The Bill is of somewhat doubtful parentage, born of two trends or pressures. The first was the revolt of the ratepayers, particularly in Troon. I remember the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, panicking at the pressure put on him from the ratepayers of Troon, and his fear of losing his seat. He still faces that danger, and I do not expect him to be the Member for Ayr after the election.

The second pressure, the second parent of the Bill, was the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who was considered by most of his hon. Friends as somewhat eccentric in putting forward the idea of a poll tax. [Interruption.] He was regarded as extreme as well as eccentric. I well recall how he was put down time and again by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), the present Secretary of State and both Under-Secretaries of State, the hon. Members for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang) and for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram). All the people now espousing the cause of community charges were putting down the hon. Member for Stirling and saying what a silly little upstart he was to come up with such an idea. The truth is that he is the other parent of this bastard child, the community charge—or poll tax, as I and others in the House prefer to call it.

The poll tax must be opposed for six reasons. First, it is unfair. Secondly, it is costly to administer and a waste of resources. Thirdly, it will disrupt the family. The party which claims to be the party of the family is disrupting the family through the tensions that will be created between sons and daughters and the householder who is responsible to pay. Fourthly, it is against Scottish opinion. No serious opinion in Scotland is in favour of it. The recent poll in the Glasgow Herald gave the Conservative party only 19 per cent. support in Scotland. Fifthly, this tax is the easiest to evade. The one good thing about rates is that they are difficult to avoid. It is difficult to hide property because a house cannot be tucked away somewhere.

I think my next point is number six. I was always good at arithmetic. From what we have heard from the Tory Reform Group in England—I shall not mention names—we will get a strange and eccentric system. The hon. Member for Stirling described it as an extreme tax and it is clear that the example will not be followed in England. We will be out on an unfair, unfortunate, eccentric and extreme limb. The people of Scotland do not want this tax and I am certain that they will reject it at the next election.

9.46 pm
Mr. Michael Forsyth

I do not feel able in the time allowed to me to respond to some of the points about doubtful parentage.

There are six good reasons for supporting the Bill. The first is because, apparently, the Tory Reform Group is opposed to it. The second is that throughout the passage of the Bill the Labour party has singularly failed to make any case against it.—[Hon. Members : "Not at all."] Opposition Members say, "Not at all." However, they insist on calling it a poll tax rather than a community charge because they sought to identify in the minds of the electors that their ability to vote was somehow linked to whether or not they paid a tax. They knew that they could not defeat the community charge on the basis of argument, so they had to spread fear and alarm.

The third reason for supporting the Bill is that it will help the elderly, pensioners and single-parent families. The Opposition have sought to dismiss them as they have sought to dismiss every other group which will benefit, on the ground that there are not many of them.

The fourth reason for giving the Bill a Third Reading is that it will deal with the problem that the Tory Reform Group identified in its report as being central to local government difficulties—the problem of the loony Left and the extremists in the Labour party who have their hands on the levers of power in local government. Because the system of local government funding does not have built-in accountability, they are able to carry out their policies, secure in the knowledge that they will be voted in again and again by people who do not have to pay for their decisions. Their extremism has been encouraged, but it has failed.

The fifth reason for supporting the Bill is that, by its reaction in Scotland to the measure, the Labour party has shown that it believes it is a fairer system. Opposition Members may scoff, but only last night they suggested a pilot scheme to see how it would work and in Committee they argued that the rating system is unfair. The Opposition parties have singularly failed to come up with an alternative to the rating system, yet they all admit that the rating system is failing in Scotland and is bad for local Government.

The sixth reason for supporting the Bill is that it is good for local government. It will restore spending decisions and accountability to local level. The whole machinery of central control over expenditure will disappear and councillors, Labour and Conservative, will be able to stand for election and give their expenditure plans, knowing that everyone will have to make a contribution to implementing those plans and that there will be true local, democratic accountability, which the Labour party has always said it favours.

One other reason why the Bill is good news for Scotland is that we have finally dealt with a problem that Labour councils have allowed to grow in Scotland—sports clubs. Labour councils have had an opportunity to help sports clubs and, with one or two notable exceptions, they have refused to do so.

Mr. Douglas

What about Fife?

Mr. Forsyth

I said "with one or two notable exceptions", of which Fife is one. Strathclyde, Central and all the other Labour councils in Scotland have failed to follow that lead. The Bill provides an opportunity for them to help sports clubs in Scotland, without any financial penalties for them to hide behind.

The Bill should be given a Third Reading because it is good for the people of Scotland and local government and bad for the Labour party.

9.52 pm
Mr. Douglas

We have heard advocates of Tory reform support a radical reforming measure. The Secretary of State is a man who, one might say not disparagingly, is looking at any time for a backbone to crawl up. On other occasions, he is a man of principle, but when he grasps a principle it crumbles and is destroyed in his own hands.

Conservative Members assert that this poll tax will make local government more responsible. Every penny that we get in this House comes from the transfer of taxes. The burden of tax is not on us, but does that make us irresponsible? Does it make us irresponsible because the burden of taxation is, in practice, not on us—[Interruption.] Other people pay taxes to pay us. The Secretary of State does not understand that. It is a little beyond him at this time of night. We get paid because other people pay taxes. We are extremely responsible in terms of the political process.

Teachers are paid out of the transfer of taxation. What we are trying to obtain here, in the overall balance of taxation, is an equitable and fair system. Other people pay taxes—[Interruption.] I do not want to lecture the Secretary of State on economics. It is difficult, because he is a lawyer and he does not understand economic matters. Taxes are levied on us, but we pass them on, because we do not pay them. This is part of the problem in local government. What is happening with this tax[Interruption.] The Secretary of State has been absent for most of this Third Reading debate, and he has exposed the House to extreme discourtesy. This tax, which the Secretary of State asserts will make people more responsible, is inequitable. It is an unavoidable tax.

We have heard some hypocritical statements from the Johnny-come-latelies, who have suddenly discovered that a group of people who would have not normally paid tax to local authorities—the mentally handicapped—will have to do so. We had two Conservative Members, not one, pleading with the Secretary of State, "Why cannot something be done for this group?" That was minutes after they had voted against our amendment which tried to get remission of the poll tax for certain classes of people. It does not come prudently from the mouths of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to support this tax and then to say, "But there are certain groups who ought not to pay it." I ask the hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson), who has Auchtermuchty in his constituency, to go to Auchtermuchty town hall and find people queueing up who want this tax. There has not been one meeting in his constituency.

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman must have seen advertised in the Fife Herald the open public meeting which was addressed in the corn exchange.

Mr. Douglas

How many came? It was the talk of the women's rural institute and others in Auchtermuchty. They are all queueing up to support this tax.

As I said about another noxious Bill that went through the House — the Dockyard Services Bill — the Government should ensure that the media and the people whom a Bill affects are persuaded that it is a good thing.

I have challenged the Secretary of State to come to Dunfermline and debate not just this measure but the whole orbit of Government policy as it affects Fife. I have asked him to see whether he can persuade people there to support the measure. There is no bedrock of public opinion that desires this iniquitous and inequitable measure.

The Secretary of State has proposed the measure—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State should not tempt me from a sedentary position on what to say about the Bill. He knows full well that this is a panic measure which is being dressed up by the slick process that he has adopted in Scotland to try to persuade the Scottish people that the Bill will remove the burden not just from those who have difficulty in paying but from all areas of the population who desire to see some reform of local government taxation.

If the Secretary of State wants the Bill pushed forward not just by Scottish Members but by Tory Members, and if it goes through another place and eventually becomes law, we shall rue the day when we adopted this Bill which turns the clock back.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Why, if the Bill is so wonderful, does it apply only to Scotland? Why was it not introduced for the whole of Britain?

Mr. Douglas

The answer is reasonably simple. Because of revaluation in Scotland, the panic is more evident there than in the rest of the United Kingdom. If it is such a boon—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the Front Bench spokesmen have had no time to respond to the debate.

Mr. Douglas

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I usually obey your strictures and rulings, but the Bill has been dragooned through because the Government have an overwhelming majority. If the Bill is such a boon and a blessing to men, why is it being introduced initially only in Scotland and not in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

My hon. Friend will know that the Caterpillar workers and the old-age pensioners were lobbying Parliament. Will he tell the House whether any of those influential bodies wanted this poll tax?

Mr. Douglas

There is no evidence of any support whatsoever, except for a very small number of people in Scotland, especially the small businesses which, I would argue, do not really understand the implications of this Bill and the damage it will cause there.

One of the points that the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) made—he raised it as usual in an extremely eclectic manner—was that local authorities did not pay attention to sports clubs. One of the provisions in the previous—

It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order [11 February] and the Resolution [4 March], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 204, Noes 150.

Division No. 112] [10 pm
Alexander, Richard Cope, John
Amess, David Couchman, James
Ancram, Michael Crouch, David
Arnold, Tom Currie, Mrs Edwina
Ashby, David Dickens, Geoffrey
Aspinwall, Jack Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Dover, Den
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dunn, Robert
Batiste, Spencer Durant, Tony
Bellingham, Henry Dykes, Hugh
Best, Keith Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Eggar, Tim
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Emery, Sir Peter
Blackburn, John Fallon, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Favell, Anthony
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bottomley, Peter Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fletcher, Sir Alexander
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Franks, Cecil
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bright, Graham Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brinton, Tim Glyn, Dr Alan
Brooke, Hon Peter Gorst, John
Bruinvels, Peter Grant, Sir Anthony
Buck, Sir Antony Greenway, Harry
Bulmer, Esmond Grylls, Michael
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Butcher, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)
Butterfill, John Heddle, John
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Henderson, Barry
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Carttiss, Michael Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cash, William Hind, Kenneth
Chope, Christopher Hordern, Sir Peter
Churchill, W. S. Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hunter, Andrew
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Jackson, Robert
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Jessel, Toby
Colvin, Michael Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Conway, Derek Knowles, Michael
Coombs, Simon Knox, David
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Ryder, Richard
Lang, Ian Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Latham, Michael St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lawler, Geoffrey Sayeed, Jonathan
Lawrence, Ivan Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lightbown, David Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lilley, Peter Shersby, Michael
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Silvester, Fred
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sims, Roger
Lord, Michael Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lyell, Nicholas Soames, Hon Nicholas
McCrindle, Robert Speed, Keith
McCurley, Mrs Anna Spencer, Derek
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Stanbrook, Ivor
Maclean, David John Steen, Anthony
McLoughlin, Patrick Stern, Michael
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Major, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marland, Paul Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Marlow, Antony Stokes, John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Sumberg, David
Mates, Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mather, Sir Carol Taylor, John (Solihull)
Maude, Hon Francis Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Temple-Morris, Peter
Merchant, Piers Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Meyer, Sir Anthony Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Thornton, Malcolm
Moate, Roger Thurnham, Peter
Monro, Sir Hector Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moore, Rt Hon John Twinn, Dr Ian
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Murphy, Christopher Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Neubert, Michael Walden, George
Nicholls, Patrick Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Norris, Steven Waller, Gary
Onslow, Cranley Ward, John
Osborn, Sir John Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Watts, John
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Pollock, Alexander Wheeler, John
Powell, William (Corby) Whitfield, John
Powley, John Wiggin, Jerry
Price, Sir David Winterton, Mrs Ann
Proctor, K. Harvey Winterton, Nicholas
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wolfson, Mark
Rathbone, Tim Wood, Timothy
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Yeo, Tim
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Rossi, Sir Hugh Tellers for the Ayes:
Rost, Peter Mr. Gerald Malone and
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Mr. Michael Portillo.
Abse, Leo Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Anderson, Donald Campbell-Savours, Dale
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Canavan, Dennis
Ashton, Joe Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Carter-Jones, Lewis
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Clay, Robert
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clelland, David Gordon
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bell, Stuart Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)
Bermingham, Gerald Coleman, Donald
Bidwell, Sydney Conlan, Bernard
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Boyes, Roland Corbett, Robin
Bray, Dr Jeremy Corbyn, Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Craigen, J. M.
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Dalyell, Tam
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leilh) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Buchan, Norman Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Deakins, Eric Meacher, Michael
Dewar, Donald Mikardo, Ian
Dobson, Frank Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dormand, Jack Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Douglas, Dick Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Dubs, Alfred Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Eadie, Alex Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Eastham, Ken Nellist, David
Fatchett, Derek Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Faulds, Andrew O'Brien, William
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) O'Neill, Martin
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Park, George
Fisher, Mark Parry, Robert
Flannery, Martin Patchett, Terry
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Pendry, Tom
Forrester, John Pike, Peter
Foster, Derek Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Foulkes, George Radice, Giles
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Randall, Stuart
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Raynsford, Nick
George, Bruce Redmond, Martin
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Golding, Mrs Llin Richardson, Ms Jo
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Hancock, Michael Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hardy, Peter Sheerman, Barry
Heffer, Eric S. Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Short, Mrs R.(W'hampf'n NE)
Home Robertson, John Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Howarth, George (Knowsley, N) Skinner, Dennis
Howells, Geraint Smith, C(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Snape, Peter
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Soley, Clive
Janner, Hon Greville Spearing, Nigel
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Steel, Rt Hon David
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Kirkwood, Archy Strang, Gavin
Lambie, David Straw, Jack
Lamond, James Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Leadbitter, Ted Tinn, James
Leighton, Ronald Wallace, James
Litherland, Robert Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Wareing, Robert
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Weetch, Ken
Loyden, Edward Welsh, Michael
McDonald, Dr Oonagh White, James
Maclennan, Robert Williams, Rt Hon A.
McNamara, Kevin Wilson, Gordon
McTaggart, Robert Winnick, David
McWilliam, John Woodall, Alec
Madden, Max Young, David (Bolton SE)
Marek, Dr John
Martin, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
Maxton, John Mr. Frank Haynes and
Maynard, Miss Joan Mr. Allen McKay.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.