HC Deb 20 April 1988 vol 131 cc839-88 3.51 pm
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Michael Howard)

I beg to move amendment No. 43, in page 13, line 31, leave out 'and recovery'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following:

Government amendments Nos. 44 and 47 to 49.

Amendment No. 137, in schedule 2, page 80, line 43, at end insert 'and for this purpose earnings shall not include income support or other social security entitlements'.

Government amendments Nos. 50 to 55.

Amendment (a) to amendment No. 55, in line 9, leave out paragraph (c).

Government amendment No. 56.

Amendment (a) to amendment No. 56, in line 11, leave out paragraph (e).

Government amendments Nos. 45, 46 and 73.

Amendment (b) to amendment No. 73, in paragraph 5, at end insert— '(5) No attachment orders may be placed on income derived from any social security entitlement'.

Amendment (a) to amendment No. 73, leave out paragraph 7.

Mr. Howard

The main purpose of the Government's amendments is to set out in detail the arrangements for recovering unpaid community charges, civil penalties and rates. These arrangements were foreshadowed in the Bill as introduced, and the new schedule does no more than to spell out the provisions originally set out in paragraphs 5 to 7 of schedule 2.

Broadly speaking, the enforcement of arrangements which currently exist for rates will be carried over to the new system, but with one important difference. In future, charging authorities will be able to attach a person's earnings to recover unpaid community charges.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the great majority of people will pay their community charge just as they pay their rates at present; indeed, by making payment by instalment the norm and by encouraging direct payment methods the incidence of arrears will be reduced. It is essential that local authorities have an adequate framework within which to enforce, where necessary, payment of the community charge.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

Will the Minister clarify whether, when he refers to attachment of earnings, he is also referring to attachment of benefit?

Mr. Howard

I shall deal with that point in a moment, if the hon. Lady will wait.

The provisions in the schedule are reasonably clear, and I do not propose to say anything further about them at this stage.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does the Minister agree from his experience of these matters that the practice by the courts varies from area to area as to whether they take the line of distress, attachment or imprisonment? Is he saying that it is proposed that in future the path to be followed will be the same in every petty sessional division and that a strict order of sequence will be applied?

Mr. Howard

There will be provisions that will lead to greater uniformity in future.

Opposition amendments Nos. 73(a), 55(a) and 56(a) seek to remove the power to commit a person for refusing to pay a community charge or a penalty, non-domestic rates or residual domestic rates respectively. Committal is not widely used: fewer than 400 people were committed for non-payment of rates in 1986. I am confident that considerably fewer will be committed after 1990 because instalments, direct payment methods and obligatory reminders will reduce the need to pursue arrears through the courts. Attachment of earnings will make it much more difficult to refuse to pay.

Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North)

If people are to have their earnings attached, many employees, particularly those in clerical and managerial work, might have difficulty in meeting payments. Their employers might use that fact as a judgment against them as employees and they could face dismissal. Is there any protection for such people who have their earnings attached?

Mr. Howard

I very much doubt that an attachment of earnings order would justify dismissal in accordance with the procedures of employment protection legislation. I do not think the hon. Gentleman need have any fears on that score.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Will the Minister make reference to a couple in my constituency who have two adult teenage sons? Their current rates bill is £321.70. After the poll tax is introduced they will have to pay £1,460 a year—that is an increase in one year of £1,138.30. The lady works as a lollipop lady, so an attachment of earnings would take all her earnings. Would she be committed to prison?

Mr. Howard

The answer is that the notoriously profligate Labour-controlled London borough of Waltham Forest should bring its spending under control so that the community charge for that area is at a reasonable level which all the hon. Gentleman's constituents will be able to afford.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

The Minister gave his reasons for believing that there will be fewer committals as a result of this legislation, but has he not underestimated one main reason why there are likely to be more committals, which is the unwillingness of people to pay the poll tax because of its blatant unfairness?

Mr. Howard

I do not believe that that will be a factor because, as I said a moment ago, the availability of attachment of earnings orders will make it much more difficult for people to refuse to pay when they have the means so to do.

We recognise the importance of ensuring that charging authorities have an effective sanction to back up the enforcement provisions. Committal has proved an effective final sanction over the years under the present system, and the small number of people who are imprisoned is a testament to the effectiveness of this power as a deterrent. Without it, local authorities would face a far harder task in collecting their community charge and rate income from those few people who persistently refuse to meet their financial obligations. Indeed, I wonder how local authorities would view the Opposition's attempts, through their amendments, to undermine the recovery system. I am sure that those who have to operate the system recognise the value of committal as a last resort.

It is also important that in those areas where residual domestic rates will be retained for a transitional period local authorities should be able to enforce payment in the same way as for community charges. It would be anomalous if a charging authority taking enforcement action against a person for failing to pay his residual rates and community charge had different enforcement powers available for each bill. It is also desirable that as far as possible there should be consistency in the enforcement procedures for non-domestic rates and community charges.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Has the Department done any work on the number of additional people who will have to be employed by local authorities to bring about recovery? I have been told by Dick Knowles, the Labour leader in Birmingham, that it will have to take on 400 to 600 additional people—which, incidentally, is the figure for Lothian, too—to operate the poll tax. Obviously, not all those people would be involved with recovery, but has any assessment been made of the number of additional people who will be needed?

Mr. Howard

We have made a preliminary assessment, and we are looking at the various estimates that have been made by some of the local authorities concerned to find out whether we can arrive at a more accurate idea of what will be involved.

Amendment No. 137 and amendment (b) to the new schedule seek to prevent the attachment of earnings provision from applying to income from income support or other social security entitlements. We believe that it is important that there should be equality of treatment, wherever possible, between those who are in employment and those who are receiving benefit. Attachment of earnings will be available for defaulters in employment, and it is right that there should be parallel arrangements for income support recipients.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Given that the concept of income support is that it is a minimum amount of money on which people are expected to live, if there is to be attachment of income support, is it not inconsistent that those people will be expected to live at a level below that which the Government have defined as reasonable?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that income support will be increased to reflect the liability of those on income support to a residual 20 per cent. of their community charge liability.

It would be quite wrong if people whose benefit had been increased to help them to pay the community charge were able to avoid payment without being subject to the same sanctions as those in employment. The local authority will be able, as in all cases, to take distress proceedings, but, without some provision for attachment of benefit, the only sanction would be commitment to prison if distress proved ineffective.

Mr. Terry Fields (Liverpool, Broadgreen)

How will the Minister and the Government tackle the problem where an attempt is made by the Government to attach an individual's earnings, when he is employed by a local authority? He might, for example, be employed in Liverpool where we personally will be campaigning to undermine what the Government are trying to do with the poll tax. We are advocating non-payment of the poll tax. What would the Government do in such circumstances? That problem relates not only to people in Liverpool but to people in other major working-class areas where there is a Labour-controlled council.

4 pm

Mr. Howard

I have made plain what steps will be available to local authorities. I am sure that electors in the city of Liverpool, who will be voting in the local elections in a few days' time, will take careful note of the way in which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) has pledged the Labour council in Liverpool to defiance of the law and illegal tactics. It is important that we place on record that the hon. Gentleman is nodding vigorously in support of the assertion that Liverpool council will engage in unlawful tactics.

Mr. Terry Fields

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not say that Liverpool would. I said that we, the activists in Liverpool, will be advocating that we have a policy that the Liverpool city council refuses to implement. We are campaigning on the estates, and we are campaigning at places of work, to offset what the Government are trying to do to working people.

Mr. Howard

The policy that the hon. Gentleman has been advocating is the policy that he advocates that Liverpool city council should follow. We know what great influence the hon. Gentleman, and those who think like him, have over the affairs of Liverpool city council. That is an important matter which the electors of the city of Liverpool will no doubt take into account when they vote shortly.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

May I pursue the point made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley)? For those who live in areas where the poll tax will be higher than average, but where income support meets only the national average of the 20 per cent. bracket of differential, will not such people be liable to imprisonment for non-payment? In the words of the Bill, they will be liable to imprisonment for "culpable neglect", on the basis that they have, in theory, the money to pay. In fact, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon said, they will not have the money to pay, because income support will still not meet the total bill which in their area they will be liable to pay.

Mr. Howard

Given the hon. Member's professional background, he must know that that is wrong; culpable neglect is not based on theory. Imprisonment apples only where there is deliberate non-payment, and where the person has the means with which to pay. The hon. Gentleman must know that that is not based on theoretical considerations. When the matter comes before the court, imprisonment will be available only where there is a wilful refusal to pay by someone, who has the means with which to pay.

Mr. Simon Hughes


Mr. Howard

I will give way again. It is an important point.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful. Does the Minister, therefore, mean that in areas where the poll tax is higher than average, where someone is on income support and has less money than they need to pay on the Government's assessment, they will in no case be liable to imprisonment?

Mr. Howard

Of course, that is not the case either. That will by no means follow, either from the question posed by the hon. Gentleman or from my answer to it. That is a different matter. It is something which will be considered by the court in each case and on the facts of each particular case.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Could the Minister clarify one matter, as I do not wish to misunderstand him on this important issue of the relationship between someone who is in employment and someone who is on income support? As I understand it, when three payments are missed, the whole poll tax for the year will become due. Is he advising local authorities to demand from someone the whole of the year's income support contribution, or is he willing to have the payments phased? Will he give advice in terms of a lesser payment than a full year's payment being due? If people get a bill for a full year's income support contribution, they will not know where to turn.

Mr. Howard

I am not giving local authorities any advice whatever on that question.

Mr. Bermingham

Will the Minister put at rest one small problem with regard to the attachment of DHSS benefits, income support benefits, and other such benefits? Will the Minister be advising a level to the amount of attachment? As we have seen with attachment of earnings in the British courts, there is a great variation. What may cause people concern is that when benefits are attached, one may find that in one court they are attached to a rate of £2 or £3 a week, whereas in another court they may be attached at the rate of only 50p per week. Does not the Minister agree that guidelines need to be given to the court in that respect?

Mr. Howard

That is a perfectly reasonable point. There will be a maximum beyond which attachment will not operate as a proportion of benefit or income support.

Ms. Mowlam

Will the Minister be able to tell us what that maximum will be? I am very worried about families on income support, who will get 20 per cent. of the national poll tax average but whose local poll tax might be higher than the average and who may have loans rather than single payments to pay back. They may have a £50 fine for failing to register. Without some knowledge of that maximum, how is that family going to pay?

Mr. Howard

I cannot go into further details on that matter at this stage. Those details will be made public in due course.

In order for charging authorities to be able to arrange for direct payment from benefit, it will be necessary for them to know about a defaulter's source of income. We intend to introduce a duty on people who are subject to a liability order to provide information about their source of income, including income support. That will be on the same lines as the duty in the schedule on those in employment to provide information about their earnings.

We also intend that people claiming income support at their local DHSS office should be invited to complete an application for the 80 per cent. reduction in their community charge to which they will be entitled. That will be passed to the local authority to arrange for the reduction to be credited to their community charge bill. Therefore, local authorities will have the names of the people on income support who will be entitled to the reduction.

We also intend that the names and addresses of income support claimants, who do not apply for reduction, should also be passed to the community charge registration officer. That will be a sensible additional source of information for the registration officer in ensuring that the registers are complete.

The provisions, as they stand, relate only to income from employment. For the reasons that I have given, we think that they should be paralleled by provisions relating to the payment of income support. We shall be bringing forward amendments to the enforcement procedures to give effect to that. Similiar provisions will be made in this respect for Scotland.

I shall be inviting the House to accept the Government amendments in this group, which set out enforcement arrangements for the community charge, non-domestic rates and residual domestic rates. I invite the House to reject the Opposition amendments and those in the name of the Social and Liberal Democratic party, which seek only to undermine those enforcement procedures.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

We now come to an important part of the Bill. All parts that have been chosen for debate under the guillotine are, by definition, important. The Minister, in introducing the amendment, seemed to give the impression that the Government were tidying up matters that had been discussed in Committee. The fact is that Government amendment No. 73 is a new schedule of at least 4,000 words on enforcement, which was not in the Bill on Second Reading or, indeed, in Committee. We should not deal with this matter in the insensitive way in which the Minister introduced these draconian amendments, because the matter is much more serious than that.

The general issues of this debate are fairly wide, taking in enforcement, imprisonment and attachment of earnings and benefit, plus aspects of the administration of the poll tax. The last people with whom I want to have rows or difficulties are my hon. Friends. However, I say to the majority of my hon. Friends, who were not fortunate enough to serve on the Committee, because on our side membership of the Committee was voluntary and not everyone who wished to serve on it had the opportunity to do so, that it is a fundamental misconception that an elected council can decide how it goes about collecting the poll tax.

It is fine for individual members of a political party, whether they are councillors or not, to advocate any policy that they like in a democracy. However, the idea that an elected council could advocate a policy of non-collection, non-administration or of slowing down the collection of the poll tax is a non-starter because under the Bill the elected council is not the body with the powers to carry out the collection of the poll tax. The person responsible is the local authority treasurer. A whole swathe of new powers go not to the authority, but to an individually named officer—not to the chief executive, but to the treasurer. In carrying out his or her duties under the law, that treasurer will be responsible not to the employing authority, but to Ministers.

Mr. Terry Fields

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Rooker

I shall give way to my hon. Friend when I have completed this point.

It must be made absolutely clear that it is not a question of elected local government collecting its own local revenue and dealing with its administration in the caring and sensitive ways that are sometimes required and which are followed under the existing system. That will not happen any more because the authority will not have control over that officer—

Mr. Terry Fields


Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)


Mr. Rooker

I shall give way to my hon. Friend before I give way to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), but I want to complete my point.

The idea of a council or of party members advocating a campaign of non-payment or slowing down the collection in some way, which under the Bill will lead directly to attachment, distress or prison, and then going back to the electors who have suffered that distress, attachment or prison and asking them to vote Labour again to support a Labour council will be an absolute non-starter. The elected local authority will not be in any position to carry out the mandate that is advocated by non-collection or slowing down collection. It is a fundamental misconception that the local authority is in control of that process. It will not be in control when, as presently drafted, the Bill becomes an Act, or in the form that it will be when the amendments are carried.

Mr. Terry Fields

What will the Government do to a local authority that tries to attach the earnings of an employee if that local authority does not comply with the provisions in the Bill? Can my hon. Friend conceive of local authority workers taking a conscious decision that they will not comply with the poll tax? If one is talking about Liverpool and electoral liability, despite the campaign that we waged in Liverpool, the local authority still has mass support. The council and its work force will stand up to defend the rights of ordinary working people, and we will still get their support—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should not intervene from a sedentary position. They should try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

Mr. Rooker

The point is that the local authority will not be in any position to save its employees who take that action because control will be taken completely out of the hands of the local authority.

Mr. Wilshire


Mr. Rooker

No. I am explaining the position so that there is no misconception.

There are many ways in which the administration and implementation of the Bill will cause a complete and utter mess in local authority administration. The administration of the poll tax will not work in the way that Ministers intend.

Mr. Wilshire


Mr. Rooker

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I want to make this point absolutely clear. We are discussing some crucial and draconian additions to the Bill, for example, imprisonment, which was not originally an option.

4.15 pm

We must get out of our minds the idea that either as a political party or as individuals we can lead such a campaign. It will not be any good asking the local authority to be the long-stop because the local authority does not have the powers. We will not be able to sack the treasurer, tell him to slow down or to go easy, or deprive him or her of resources, manpower or materials, because, under the Bill, he or she can get those resources from the Government and not from the local authority. Treasurers will not be responsible to the local authority at council, sub-committee or committee level. That is why it will be so easy for the Government to blame local authorities for things that go wrong with the poll tax. However, the local authorities are being deprived of many of the powers that are needed to carry out sensitively the administration of this iniquitous tax.

Mr. Wilshire

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the powers about which he is complaining should rest with councillors so that they can openly encourage defiance of the law and can openly encourage an officer to ignore a democratically elected Parliament? Is he saying that he supports the policy of his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields)? Is the policy of the Labour party to defy democracy and stoke up rebellion?

Mr. Rooker

I know that there is national discussion at the moment about brain transplants, but I shall not give way again to stupid interventions such as that. There are no grounds whatsoever for making that assertion—[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman will be sanctioned in any event by my hon. Friends because we will not give way to him again. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman sat through 150 hours in Committee, and he knows as well as we do that powers have been removed from local authorities and that it will be an individual employee of an authority who will have the powers. Therefore, the idea that there is any long-stop by the local authority is a non-starter.

Mr. Cohen

Is not the logic of my hon. Friend's argument that local authorities, and especially Labour local authorities, could say to their treasurers who, under the Bill, will be responsible for collecting the poll tax, "We are not going to give you any resources because the Government can give those resources"? Should not local authorities say to treasurers, "Go to the Government for those resources", because that would make the Government accountable in those areas?

Mr. Rooker

The Government will not give the treasurers any money. The Government will divert local authority money to give it to the treasurer. It is not a question of trying to gain extra resources because I do not think that it has ever crossed the Minister's mind that extra resources would be available. It will be the local authority's own resources that will be dealt with by Ministers.

The idea of prison was hardly referred to at the outset. Ministers originally wanted imprisonment as a long-stop. When the Government published the Bill, imprisonment was not even a remote possibility. Imprisonment would not have been available to any local authority treasurer or local authority. Although imprisonment is now included in the Bill, we have not had a satisfactory explanation of that.

Attachment of earnings should deal with most cases. Although there will be thousands of such cases, that method will be more practical for the administration because the idea is that the Government can get the money to the local authority through attachment of earnings.

There is also the question of distress. However, it will be difficult to enter a household in which only one person is not paying the poll tax and attempt to seize the television set because there will be an argument in the family about who it belongs to. This is a minefield. Nevertheless, there are sufficient powers to enforce payment.

If my memory serves me correctly, I understand that imprisonment is still not available in Scotland because, we are told, there are sufficient civil remedies that can be used in Scotland. We have never had a satisfactory explanation about why imprisonment has been brought forward on Report. There is also the argument that prisoners are not subject to the poll tax, providing they have been convicted and have not been found "not guilty", having spent time on remand, during which time they will be responsible for the poll tax. It is a farce.

The Minister has said that the only people who will go to prison are those who have wilfully refused to pay, having had the means to do so. Those are important words. I have paraphrased the Minister's remarks, but by and large that is what he said.

It will be argued by Ministers that those who have definitely had the means to pay are those on income support. It will be alleged that the money to pay the 20 per cent. was included in their benefit. We all know that provision will be made only for the average 20 per cent. poll tax. We all know as well that an average will mean that the poll tax will be higher in some areas than in others. Some of the really poor—those on income support and subject to the means test—will gain if they are in a low poll tax area. They will receive payment for the average 20 per cent. poll tax. Others, however, will lose. Those who are on the lowest incomes on which the House has said that it is possible to exist will end up being even worse off if their local authorities are in above average poll tax areas. That will he the position in many Tory-controlled local authorities.

This is not a matter of the political complexion of the authority. In effect, the Government are saying, "You will have even less than the current means-tested benefit because we shall give you only the average sum for the 20 per cent. poll tax."

This is an issue that will have to be determined by the courts. If a person does not have the means to pay the full 20 per cent. because he has received only the average sum and he happens to live in a high poll tax area, how can it be held by the courts that he had the means to pay the poll tax? Surely no reasonable person could send anyone to prison in those circumstances. That is inconceivable.

This issue was never raised in Committee because it arose at the very time—virtually on the same day—that the guillotine was imposed on the Bill. We discussed attachment of earnings in Committee, and the guillotine fell when we started to discuss penalties. I am as guilty as any other member of the Committee because I did not ask about the attachment of benefit. The issue was not raised in Committee but it was taken up by someone in the Public Gallery, who talked to a Minister who was not especially pleased with the poll tax. A hint was given that there was a possibility of attachment of benefit. I estimate that there are about 4,000 words in the new schedule, and we can study it until we are blue in the face in an effort to find provisions on the attachment of benefit. Provisions on the attachment of earnings occupy one page of the schedule, and we all know that if an individual has earnings he must have an employer. That does not apply to anyone who is on income support or benefit. There is no employer and no earnings in the terms of a legal definition.

Paragraph 18, which is one of the shortest paragraphs in the schedule, reads: Regulations under this Schedule may make, as regards the recovery of such a sum, provision equivalent to that included under Part II of this Schedule subject to any modifications the Secretary of State thinks fit. Part II deals with attachment of earnings, and if someone does not have an employer the equivalent of earnings is benefit. We find in two lines towards the end of the schedule the link that provides for attachment of benefit. If I am wrong, I shall be corrected. I am stating my interpretation of the schedule on the attachment of benefit. I cannot find a link anywhere else.

This is outrageous and deceitful. Ministers are not prepared to write on the face of the Bill that attachment of social security benefit is a possibility under the Bill.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman could not have listened to my earlier observations. I said that the current provisions relate only to income from employment. For the reasons that I advanced, I said that they should be paralleled by provisions on the payment of income support. I added that we would be introducing amendments to the enforcement procedures at a later stage to give effect to that. There is no question of deceit or an attempt to conceal.

Mr. Rooker

Ministers were aware of this issue when we discussed penalties in Committee, and they said nothing about it. It was leaked that they had already decided to introduce the attachment of benefit. The massive schedule that is before us, which covers more than seven pages and covers almost everything, does not make that clear. Today is the first time that any Minister has spoken about attachment of benefit. If such a provision is to be placed on the face of the Bill in another place, why has it not been placed in the Bill in the House of Commons? Why has it not been included? Am I wrong in my assessment of paragraph 18?

The last thing of which I would accuse the Minister is deceit, but it is deceitful of the Government to proceed in this way. They do not have the guts to make their position clear and to introduce provisions to give effect to attachment of benefit so that we can seek to amend them. The amendments of the Labour and Liberal parties reflect only what we think the Bill means when it comes to attachment of benefit. We cannot be certain.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that an article in The Independent on 26 February suggested that the Cabinet Committee had already come to a decision and that that information had been kept from the Standing Committee that was considering the Bill because Ministers feared a hostile reaction to the proposal in this place. We must deduce—we have no facts—that Ministers know that, if they produced the explicit proposal that those on income support, especially in above average poll tax areas, should be liable to attachment of benefit and potentially to imprisonment, they would face a massive and additional hostile reaction. That is probably why we are hearing and seeing nothing specific in this place.

Mr. Dalyell

Has my hon. Friend taken into account the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), and possibly my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), and I are rather inquisitive about the effect that the Government's proposal will have on Scottish legislation? This is the first that we have heard of the proposition. I hope that the Scottish position will be clarified. My hon. Friend will be aware that Scotland is one year ahead of England and Wales in this respect.

Mr. Rooker

The first I knew about the Government's proposal was when I read the article in The Independent to which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred. It was never discussed in Committee. We spent 150 hours discussing the Bill in Committee and we shall have a massive five-day debate on Report. If the Government introduce a specific amendment in another place, I believe that they will probably have difficulty in getting it accepted.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is getting carried away on a point of absurdity. Surely he will agree that the important point is that the House should have the opportunity of debating the principle of the provision. Indeed, it has that opportunity. There are amendments that deal fairly and squarely with the principle. I have outlined to the House fairly and clearly the Government's intention in respect of attachment of benefit in respect of England and Wales. I said earlier that similar provisions will be made in respect of Scotland.

The Government have declared their intention clearly. It is absured for the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to suggest that we have held back the detailed provisions for fear of a reaction. I have stated clearly the Government's intention. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) must know that it has not proved possible to introduce amendments in this place on all matters in respect of which we have clearly declared our intentions. There are some matters in respect of which it will be necessary to bring forward amendments in another place. The important thing is that the Government should declare their intention on this matter, which I have done, and that the House should have an opportunity to vote on the principle, which it will have.

Mr. Rooker

The length of that intervention proves my point. It is as simple as that. As the Minister knows, the House will probably not have an opportunity to vote on anything other than Government amendment No. 43 because the Bill has been guillotined. The chance of having anything other than a symbolic vote on this group of amendments, to which we object, is remote.

4.30 pm
Mr. Douglas

My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job for the Opposition. I wish to make it clear that the Scottish Act has no provision for going directly to income support payments. The Secretary of State for Scotland has 29 amendments that will go through on the basis of this Bill. It may be excusable for the dodos in the Department of the Environment who have not gone through the process, but it is inexcusable for the Secretary of State for Scotland, on the eve of elections in Scotland where the flagship is already on the statute book, not to have the guts to come forward with the provisions that the Minister for Local Government is asserting will operate in Scotland. Let us discuss those provisions on the Floor of the House before the May elections so that people in Scotland may know of the additional imposition in this noxious Act.

Mr. Rooker

My hon. Friend deserves an answer to that point at some time. I shall move on because many of my hon. Friends wish to speak on this aspect of the Bill.

Most of my other points can be put in the form of questions because they relate to the part of the Bill covered by the large group of Government amendments. Before the close of the debate, may we have clarification about the right of poll tax payers to pay by instalments? It is not clear from schedule 2, paragraph 2(2) (b), whether those with small bills—probably those on maximum rebate—will have the right to pay by instalments. We know that the regulations—much of the Bill will be administered by regulation—under schedule 2, paragraph 2(2) (b), will make payment by instalments the norm. There is no doubt that that will apply to the general population. That will lead undoubtedly to a massive increase in transactions. Many people now pay their rates in two halves, which they are entitled to do. I suspect that a few pay in one go. I know for a start that that will lead to a tenfold increase in transactions in Birmingham. Has the Minister or his colleagues had discussions with those who run the banking system in this country? The increased number of transactions will be gigantic and we should like to know whether the banking system will be able to cope.

The refusal of our constituents—that may be too strong a word—the non-co-operation of our constituents even to supply information, let alone pay the poll tax, can lead to a penalty—not a fine—of £50 imposed by the local treasurer. It will not involve going to the magistrates court to obtain a court order to impose the penalty. After a lack of co-operation the first time, a £200 penalty will be charged the second time.

We debated that aspect briefly in Committee because there was always the threat of the guillotine. I return, without apology, to the part of the Bill that used to be known as clause 5(7). It is now clause 6(8), which, deals with the setting up of the register. Clause 6(8) gives the registration officer a duty to compile and maintain a register in accordance with this Part". It also includes the duty to take reasonable steps to obtain information for that purpose under the powers conferred on him. That gobbledegook needs to be translated into plain man's English or Brummie English. Under regulations a local authority treasurer in England will be entitled to decide for himself—the authority of his council will not matter—that he will introduce a personal identity number made up from the date of birth and the initials of a person's name. If people then say, "Hang on a minute. The Minister has repeatedly said in Committee that it is not necessary to have numbers and dates of birth in Scotland or England in order to run the system and we will give our name and address and a promise to pay the poll tax but nothing else", he can fine them £50. If they refuse a second time, he can fine them £200. That can be imposed without people having an opportunity to go to court and argue the case. It will simply be added to their bill. Has the Minister given any more thought to that?

Is it proposed that applicants for income support or a means-tested benefit will be given, at the time they apply for income support, a poll tax rebate application form? I want to know whether that is proposed anywhere in the Bill or in regulations. If people refuse to fill in the poll tax rebate form, that will be taken as an indication of the fact that they are probably not registered for poll tax and the Department of Health and Social Security will then be obliged to report them to the poll tax registration officer. It has been put to me that that is proposed in the swathe of Government amendments. I cannot find it, and I should like to know whether that will be the case.

Will it be proposed that court procedures should be used for the arrestment of benefit—that is the case with wages—with the result that the benefit claimant will also be hit with legal costs? That point has to be taken on board. It has been suggested to me that that threat from the Department of the Environment is designed to encourage the DHSS to co-operate in deduction at source. It would be much cheaper and administratively convenient to put the 20 per cent. poll tax in income support and then deduct the poll tax at source. That would be much cheaper than chasing up the poor people who have to survive, under this Prime Minister, by sleeping with foil under their bedclothes. Is it intended to use the courts for the arrestment of benefit, and is that being used as a threat by the Department of the Environment to force the DHSS to co-operate?

Mr. Bermingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a problem if a man whose wife is working leaves his job and is deemed not to be entitled to unemployment benefit? If the wife continues with her job, he would not receive any benefits. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell me what will be attached in his case.

Mr. Rooker

I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that they would attach her earnings. Joint and several liability comes into operation and she is responsible. He has no income because, under the means test, her earnings put them above the level. Therefore, she is responsible for both poll taxes, and if she does not pay his full poll tax they will attach her earnings. We have had that drummed into us by Ministers who have made it clear that the poll tax is not an individual tax with universal accountability. Joint and several liability destroys the concept of universal accountability.

Mr. Bermingham

Perhaps my hon. Friend could assist me further. What happens if the parties have separated because of a domestic row but there is no court order and no legal separation? Is the separated or perhaps the deserted wife also expected to pay her husband's poll tax liabilities?

Mr. Rooker

Not if he is not living in the same household. We discussed in Committee that a couple might live under the same roof but not in the same household. Many of us in our surgeries hear about such situations where by all criteria a couple may be under the same roof but not in the same household. We were told in Committee that, if that could be proved, joint and several liability would not operate. We are creating a minefield. Who is to decide whether, for the purpose of attachment of benefit or earnings, a couple are in the same household? It is ludicrous and frightening. The problems that are likely to arise frighten me.

We cannot under the guillotine do justice to all the matters referred to in the amendments. I apologise to the House for having taken so long. I wanted to speak about warrants of commitment. I will ask my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), who will reply for the Opposition, to deal with that if time permits. We think that the Government's proposals are outrageous. We shall divide the House on principle because we are opposed to the concept of what the Government plan in this group of amendments.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is a shrewd parliamentarian. If I remain a Member of Parliament for as long as he has been a Member, I hope that I shall become as adept as he is at operating in the wilderness of mirrors that represents Labour party policy. I sat in Committee for 147 hours with the hon. Member for Perry Barr. He told us that he had not been prepared to come to the Second Reading debate without a policy, or to the House of Commons unclothed, but he is still unclothed and without a policy. On Monday he found my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) bathing in the pool of self-indulgence. The hon. Gentleman promptly stole his clothes and is now sliding into the waters of political opportunism.

Once again the hon. Gentleman has regaled the House with an incredible speech. He spent the larger part of it lecturing my hon. and learned Friend about his duty, although my hon. and learned Friend has made his intentions absolutely clear. There is no intention to disguise anything from Parliament, and the hon. Member for Perry Barr spent the greater part of his speech erecting a great fabrication. His voice rose with false anger. The real thing that he was trying to hide from the House was the comment made by his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields). The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has left his seat, but he, backed by the hon. Member for Broadgreen, advocated a policy of civil disobedience. I am glad that the hon. Member for Perry Barr is listening. Will he dissociate himself and the Labour party from that policy? I am prepared to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Rooker

There is no doubt about it. We have made it clear that we are in favour of obeying the law, even though we oppose it and will repeal it at the first opportunity. We will not co-operate in its implementation, but the money has to be collected to pay the salaries of local government employees. The point I was making was that it is not within the competence of a political party to advocate non-compliance in the hope that the authority can obey that policy, because the authority is not in charge. I pointed to the contradiction in doing that, leading to people having their earnings attached, being arrested and ending up in prison, and then going round at the next local elections asking people to vote Labour. That is not on.

Mr. Leigh

We are back to the wilderness of mirrors. The hon. Gentleman is not prepared to say in plain, simple language, which the electorate can understand, that Parliament is supreme, that he may not like what Parliament is doing, but that Parliament has a right to legislate and that Liverpool and the London boroughs have a duty to carry out what Parliament wants. The hon. Gentleman is hiding behind the false screen which he has erected that local authorities have no discretion in the matter. Local authorities always have a certain amount of discretion to carry out not just the letter but the spirit of the law. The hon. Gentleman is saying that he is prepared to condone action by the Labour local authorities to thwart the spirit of the law.

4.45 pm
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

If the hon. Gentleman cares so much about respect for the law and the authority of Parliament, his hon. Friends should have refrained from carrying out the Scottish legislation. They paid no heed to what they were doing in Scotland. In some respects they realised what they had done only when the matters came up in the English legislation. It would help people to have more respect for Parliament if, when replying to questions from Opposition Members, the Government gave honest replies and did not attempt to deceive the House and the people.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)


Mr. Leigh

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) may make his point now; I see that he is on his feet.

Mr. Barnes

Is there not an unholy alliance between the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields), in that the proposal that there should be imprisonment for non-payment of poll tax was introduced in Committee by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle and withdrawn when there was agreement from the Minister that an amendment would be tabled? The hon. Gentleman introduced a proposal that would have produced a martyrs' charter. People would have used it against entirely unjustified legislation. The hon. Gentleman should examine his position as well as discussing that of my hon. Friend the Member for Broadgreen.

Mr. Leigh

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman intervened. Only this week I read in the Market Rasen Mail that he had told the local Labour party that I wanted to put people in prison and that in Committee I had proposed an amendment for that purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am delighted to have the opportunity to put matters into their proper context.

On behalf of the Rating and Valuation Association, in which I have no financial or other interest, I suggested to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister that the present rating legislation contains a last ditch device by which local authorities can commit to prison people who wilfully refuse to pay their rates, despite the fact that they have the resources to do so. I did not propose any amendment. The Minister simply said that that was right. He proposed to bring forward his own amendment on Report. Those are the facts.

I want to return the point to the hon. Member for Broadgreen. Is it not profoundly anti-social and anti-socialist that people who have the means to do so but wilfully refuse, for any reason, political or otherwise, to pay their dues to society should get away with it? Is that what the Labour party wants?

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Under the legislation, who will decide whether someone has the means to pay?

Mr. Leigh

If the hon. Gentleman, like myself or the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), had spent any time in magistrates courts he would know that magistrates do not send to prison for non-payment of rates people who do not have the means to pay. They imprison only those who wilfully refuse to pay. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South is in his seat. He is an experienced lawyer. If I am misleading the House, he should rise and say so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I remind the House that interventions only take up the time of other hon. Members. In deciding who should catch the eye of the Chair, the Chair will take into account those who intervene.

Mr. Leigh

I draw my remarks to a conclusion by saying that when the glossy packaging is taken away there is revealed the true nature and the militant heart of the Labour party—resist Parliament, resist democracy, and resort to civil disobedience.

Mr. Bermingham

I did not rise to the bait of the trite intervention of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). The hon. Gentleman should know, if he casts his mind back to his days in the magistrates courts, that the magistrates did not always examine in depth the ability to pay and wilful refusal to pay. Regrettably, a person who could not keep up the rate of repayment ordered was incarcerated.

I was amazed that the Minister for Local Government, who is an honourable and learned man, had forgotten so much about the court system. He is in a world of unreality.

Mr. Howard

I never knew as much about the courts as the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bermingham

That means that the Minister knew nothing at all, because I know precious little.

For years we have been trying to take imprisonment out of the system of enforcement of payment of civil debt. The prisons, rotten as they are, do not have room for the people who will fail to pay their poll tax. One can imagine the conversation between the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Home Secretary. The Secretary of State for the Environment would say, "We have a measure into which we shall put a penal clause. Is there any room in your prisons?" The Home Secretary would reply, "No, I do not have any room." It will cost more than a whole year's poll tax to keep a person in prison for only a week.

Why must there be this penal clause? The Minister has said that only 400 people went to prison last year for non-payment of rates. He should not mislead the House. Many more people will be liable to pay the poll tax than were ever ratepayers. Many more poll tax provisions than domestic rates provisions are the subject of penal sanctions, Many more people will be involved under this legislation.

The new schedule is iniquitous. We have already seen the beginning of the problems. There is stage one: if a person does not pay, the authorities will try distress warrants. Local authorities throughout the land are levelling distress warrants against ratepayers who do not pay their rates. In stage two, there will be attachment. One can understand that system being applied if a person is in work, but there is a problem, which the Minister has either forgotton or about which he or his advisers do not know enough. There is great variation in the petty sessional divisions. The way in which people are treated by magistrates varies enormously depending on whether they live in a shire county or in an inner city area. I have known magistrates in the shire counties who think it rather a joke that a person has not paid his rates, so they levy payment at about £1 a week. I have seen persons sitting in judgment in inner city areas order payment of £5 a week out of the £25 a week, or whatever, received by the unemployed. That is vicious. Will there be guidelines on the way in which the poll tax is to be levied? There may be a high poll tax in one area and low tax in another. How will the deductions be made?

There is the other side to the coin: social security benefits will be the subject of deduction. I raised the same matter recently in respect of fines imposed by the courts under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill. The Home Office people told me that social security payments cannot be attached to recoup fines. As the House will be aware, our prisons are full and we have been trying to get fine defaulters out of prison. Apparently that cannot be done by those means. Why can benefits be attached for non-payment of the poll tax but not for penal fines?

Will the Minister confirm his undertaking in respect of people in prison on remand? Apparently, if they are convicted, they pay no poll tax but if they are acquitted they are liable to pay it. These days people are in prison on remand for so long that it may be cheaper for them to plead guilty, and not have to pay the poll tax, than to plead not guilty, be acquitted and pay the poll tax. That is absolute lunacy.

I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) about the position of a wife whose husband lost his job. This legislation is becoming a lawyer's paradise, and I declare my interest as a barrister. Can hon. Members imagine a court of law and a matrimonial dispute when one of the wife's complaints, which led to the husband being thrown out, was that she had to pay his poll tax because he had lost his job, and he had clocked her one? Where on earth are we going? We have created a legal minefield.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

The minefield becomes even greater because, after the wife has left the man—because he clocked her one for what he did or did not do with the poll tax—she will still be liable for his poll tax because of joint and several liability.

Mr. Bermingham

My hon. Friend makes a useful point, which I shall not pursue, lest I make a remark that will get me into even more trouble. We all know the problem.

It was fascinating to turn over the pages of amendment No. 73 and find the charging orders in paragraph 8. Oh, how sweet. There is a lovely get-out if a person owns his house. There is no need to bother with attachment of earnings—tell the boss not to bother—and no point in sending the man to prison. Instead, a charging order can be put on the property. For those with properties, there is no imprisonment. For those who do not have properties, there is imprisonment. For those with properties, there is no imprisonment. Are we not a sweet little nation and do we not have a sweet little Government?

When one is at the bottom of the pile all the worst things happen. What about those a little further up the pile? What about the percentage of home ownership? What happens if there are tenants in common, co-owners who are not married? The house is to be charged, but against which share? How is the charge levied? Does that put a block on the person who is not liable for the charging order? Again, there is a lovely minefield for the lawyers. It has been created, regrettably, by a Minister who is a lawyer but who said that he did not know as much about it as I do.

I have had only the time since the amendments were published to look at them. I have mentioned just a few of the little problems that I found in the new schedule. When the real professionals get at it, they will create a morass of questions. Once again, the Government will have rendered a piece of legislation a litigation paradise but will have done nothing for the ordinary person. The penal clauses can be summed up beautifully: a person with a house and a job will not go to gaol. However, when a person has a rented place and not much furniture and he is at the bottom of the pile, may not have a job and may be on benefit, the authorities will not waste a moment on him. They will not go to that expense and trouble. Magistrates courts are inconsistent. That is why I ask the Minister to produce some guidelines for consistency, because they will not bother. They will just lock a person up.

Then the silly situation will arise as a result of which it will cost more in a week to keep someone in a police cell—because the authorities will have run out of prison places, as they always do—than it would cost to collect the poll tax off that person for two or three years. At the moment, it costs £1,000 a week to keep a person in a prison cell.

Perhaps the Minister will have the courage to take away Government amendment No. 73, bury it and come back. with some better ideas.

5 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes

I want to start exactly where the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) left off, but I shall address my remarks to the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) because it seems to me that there is no logic in the Government's proposals. Yesterday the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle argued that, whatever else we did, we should seek to be logical and consistent. As he is a lawyer, I ask him to think about the logic of the proposals before us.

According to the logic of the Government's proposals, there will be three penalties for people who do not pay. First, one's earnings may be attached; secondly, one's goods may be the subject of a distress warrant and may therefore be sold; thirdly, and most severe, one may be sent to prison. We are grateful that the Minister has made it clear that he intends that the amendments ensuring that those penalties will apply to all people, whether earning a wage or receiving benefits from the state, will be part of the Bill.

When the Bill was originally published, it did not refer to imprisonment. Imprisonment for non-payment of the poll tax does not apply in Scotland. However, imprisonment will be imposed on anyone, unless the amendment tabled by the Labour party or that of my party is accepted. It will be up to the courts to decide who will be imprisoned. Given the injustice that will follow, all hon. Members should think carefully about whether to support the amendments even if a schedule has to be brought into the Bill.

Although I do not like the implications, especially in respect of the schedule, it is not as bad as it might have been. When the matter was raised in Committee—the Minister, the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle and others will know that I was not a member of that Committee because I was sitting on the Housing Bill Committee at the time—it was originally proposed that, in some cases, no discretion should be available to the courts. An amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) on that point was debated. At that stage, it was conceded that discretion should be available for the courts, so that there would be a more flexible approach towards those who default. That is right because justice must always be tempered with mercy by those who administer it. That system allows judges, not juries, to pass sentence in this country. We all want to uphold that system.

I intervened in the Minister's speech on the matter of phraseology. There has been a change and a penalty will be available if it can be shown by the prosecuting authority that non-payment is due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect. The problem is that the illogicality remains. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South was right. The earnings of those who earn a wage or salary can be attached. They will not go to prison because there will be no need. The money will be recoupable by an attachment order. For those who have property, that property can be taken away. They will not need to go to prison because the less severe remedy will be available to those seeking to enforce it. Who will be likely to face the reality of imprisonment? It will not be the person who is earning, even if he is not earning much. It will not be the person with property and goods, even if they do not amount to very much. It will be the person who has neither.

Mr. Leigh

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members know that people who have no goods, no regular income, apart from that provided by the state, and often no home appear in the courts throughout the country every day. They appear regularly on all sorts of charges in magistrates courts and they are often queuing up to be dealt with first thing in the morning, having spent the night in a cell.

Those people will inevitably face imprisonment because they have no earnings that can be attached and no goods that they can hand over. Those people will be liable to go to gaol. Who will the bulk of them be? They will be the people on the most pathetic incomes and those with no homes. The homeless will face imprisonment in the already overcrowded prisons. Those who are least likely to be able to contribute will be sent to prison as a result of the Bill.

Mr. Leigh

That is an important point and, if I put the wrong reflection on it, perhaps my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will correct me. As I understand it, the purpose of the Bill is not to catch that sort of person with no means. The Bill aims to catch, for example, a company director who wilfully refuses to pay rates and puts property into the hands of his company.

Mr. Hughes

That is an important point, but the facility to deal with the company director is there. The attachment of earnings ability is there. One can deal with somebody with a large amount of money or three homes—the Minister appears to think that many of us have three homes—by dealing with their goods. The company director can be dealt with. There must be a backdrop if, for some reason, the company director manages to avoid anybody paying him anything in a visible or tangible way.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

I shall give way in a moment.

The people who will be in the front line, because they have no earnings to attach and no goods on which a warrant of distress can be executed, will be the homeless. They will be locked up. It is a funny way to solve the crisis of homelessness in Britain by putting people in prison.

Mr. Boateng

Given the Government's great difficulty in catching, convicting and sending to prison any company director for insider trading, is it really likely that they will be able to capture and imprison one for evading the poll tax?

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman makes a generally well-agreed and self-evident point. The Government increasingly add laws to penalise people with the least money. The people who escape most and have most left to play with financially are those with most money.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that the sanction of imprisonment will not be used to pursue a poor person who is unable to pay? The courts would not take the view that that was a proper thing to do. The sanction of imprisonment would be used for somebody who wilfully refused to pay, even when he had the capacity to pay, and who, having had the money, loses it in some way and wilfully defies the law. That is the point of that ultimate sanction. It is likely to be used only in those circumstances. Those are the only circumstances in which it is used currently.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman would be right if the only definition given by the Government was wilful neglect or refusal, but that is not the case. The definition also includes culpable neglect.

In an earlier intervention, the Minister said that amendments will be introduced to allow an attachment of earnings to be made in respect of people who are entirely dependent on income support. My borough will pay a higher than average poll tax, as will many other boroughs and some districts. There will be a gap between the amount my constituents receive in income support and their poll tax bill because they will get at most an 80 per cent. rebate and then the average amount of the differential rebated and paid to them. They will not have money from the state to pay their bill. That is all they will receive because the social security system will provide them with no more.

The Minister refused to say that in those cases the court could not send those people to prison because of "culpable neglect"—the Government's phrase from earlier legislation. The Government want to go after those people—this was clear from the leak in The Independent on 26 February—because they are terrified that if people on income support do not have their income attached, they will use the money from the state for other purposes—for example, to pay an electricity or gas bill. So those people are liable to be guilty of culpable neglect and to go inside. That is the inequity of the system.

There is no guarantee that somebody who has not a penny piece left of the income that the Government—the meanest to the poor in my lifetime—say is the minimum necessary to survive will not go to prison because he cannot afford to pay the poll tax.

Mr. Butterfill

Can we surmise what may be meant by "culpable neglect"? If a person receives money in social security, repeatedly uses it on beer and betting shops, and time and again does not pay his bill because he has wasted the money, what do we do to bring home to him the reality that something must be done about that conduct?

Mr. Hughes

I shall not be drawn down that road. When our society has finished dealing with the money wasted on beer, betting shops and the rest by people on enormous salaries, it can turn to those who have £30 a week to live on. Then we can see whether we can act as judges on their spending.

The provision is clear. Apparently, the Cabinet Committee decided in February that people should be prevented from using their income, even if theirs is the lowest income in society, in such a way as to avoid a poll tax bill for which they will not have income from the state to pay. That is the inequity of the system. It is a disgrace for a civilised society to allow the best off massive reductions in their bills—the Prime Minister and her colleagues on the Front Bench will have massive reductions in their bills—and to allow people with nothing to be imprisoned because they cannot pay.

Mr. Wilshire

I wish to focus on three points that have been raised in the debate. First, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to what I regard as wild claims about the administrative burden that will be imposed, especially for collection and enforcement. Secondly, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) attempted to water down the provisions for enforcement. Thirdly, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) made outrageous points about the Labour-backed campaign to frustrate the collection of the community charge when the Bill reaches the statute book.

It seems right that somebody should say something about the administrative side of this issue. Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 both sit within schedules 8 and 11, which deal with administration. They need to be put into context, because wild claims are made about the administrative problems of collection and enforcement. It is claimed that the cost will be vastly more than the present cost, and that to run the new system we shall need a huge army of extra council staff.

My 11 years in local government, five of which were as leader of an authority, have taught me to treat such claims with the most enormous pinch of salt. If one tries to conduct a calm study, as I have tried to do in the past, one concludes that to double the staff is likely to cost less than double the cost. Yet I have seen reports which claim to be accurate and calm which suggest that the cost will be three or four times as much, or even five or six times as much. Those are some of the crazy allegations being made about the cost of collection and enforcement.

We would do well to ask why these wild claims are being made. Clearly, some are politically inspired. If people can be frightened about the cost of a proposal, they may oppose it. Some claims have been based on wholly incorrect assumptions and have been made by people who have not taken time to study the Bill in detail or to get to know the intricacies of local government. I have seen council reports that claim for the whole future staff numbers that will probably he needed only to start the system and will certainly not be needed to keep it running.

5.15 pm

I do not see any need to apologise for the additional cost and for saying that collection and enforcement might need additional staff. There is no need to apologise for that, because fairness costs money. If Opposition Members wish to argue that only the cost of the system matters, perhaps they should advocate highway robbery to collect local government money, because that must be the cheapest way to get money from people.

Mr. Dalyell

This is not a question of reports. In my case it is a question of talking to officials in Lothian and central region. They are staid, serious assessors, who are faced with the job. Scotland is a year ahead in this respect and that is the problem that we face. I assure the House that the assessors and others who must deal with this matter will not employ people needlessly.

Mr. Wilshire

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I have not had the good fortune to study those figures in detail, but I have looked at many others and will be delighted to look at those figures to see whether any of my points about incorrect assumptions and people building empires are valid. I shall happily look at the figures if the hon. Gentleman supplies them, but I cannot comment on them if I have not seen them.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr spoke about enforcement. There is no need to be coy about the provisions in the amendments on this score. I have not heard Opposition Members mention any need for us to ensure that those who keep the law and pay, often with difficulty, are protected by Parliament. Those who do not keep the law should not be allowed to get away with it and to undermine the principles that drive most British people, so there must be proper enforcement and adequate penalties. The means of extracting money from such people is not enough when they seek to defy the law of the land.

Mrs. Fyfe

Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on what has been happening in Strathclyde region in the past few weeks? The poll tax registrar has been acting against the clear instructions of the law, in that he has sent poll tax forms to householders with an accompanying postcard which says that they have three days in which to return the form instead of, as the law clearly states, 21 days. There will also be 21 days in the English and Welsh legislation. Would the hon. Gentleman not be worried if that occurred in England and Wales, and would he not advocate steps to prevent that throughout Britain?

Mr. Wilshire

That matter can be dealt with adequately by the registrar's employers.

Mrs. Fyfe

This point was raised on an interim interdict with the sheriff in Strathclyde region, and her judgment was that the matter was between the registrar and the Government, because for these purposes the Government, not Strathclyde regional council, are the employer. That is why I am addressing the question to the hon. Gentleman. Otherwise, I would address it to Strathclyde regional council.

Mr. Wilshire

It is fascinating getting lost in the details of the Scottish system, but I was trying to address myself to the Bill and not to what is or is not happening in Strathclyde.

It is proper that a range of sanctions should be available in trying to enforce collection of the community charge. Non-payers are not represented by one particular group of people who can all be dealt with in the same way. There seem to be two groups among those who do not pay. There are the "can't" payers and the "won't" payers. Yesterday, I and others were discussing rebates and exemptions as they apply to the first group and we do not want to return to that, but it is important to understand that the "can't" payers of this country, who have genuine problems with their ability to pay, need help. I am sure that the Government will address themselves to that issue, so that such people can be eliminated from the system by being helped through income support and other measures.

The people to whom we must address ourselves are the "won't" payers. They must not be allowed to sponge off others. As I said earlier, when it comes to wilful refusal, it is more than a matter of finding a means of extracting the money that is owed. There needs to be some mechanism for enforcing a penalty against those who try to take a free ride on the back of society.

The third point made by the hon. Member for Broadgreen was about campaigning to defy the law. I suspect that the pressures to water down the enforcement mechanism are a means of trying to help that campaign. If there are no real penalties for defying the law, there is very little risk in withholding the money that is owed, other than that of having it taken away at some stage in the future.

If the campaign to defy the law is successful, two very nasty things will happen. First, local government itself will be harmed. If an unknown number of people do not pay, how will any council be able to organise its finances, make plans, or produce budgets? As a result, services will suffer. It is as well to understand that those who advocate a campaign of defiance are arguing that services should be reduced in their communities.

Complaints were made earlier that powers would be taken away from local authorities if they did not observe the law. The Opposition Front Bench complained that treasurers had powers which councillors cannot exercise. I was invited to rise to my feet and say that it would serve councils right if that happened to them. I am now happy to say that for the record. If councils defy the law, they must not be surprised if Parliament takes steps to ensure that services improve and that proper care is taken of the local population. That is the second thing that will happen.

If the campaign to undermine the rule of law is pursued, all of us will suffer. The Opposition Front Bench tried to wriggle out of saying whether the voice of Labour Back Benchers was that of the Labour party. I believe that earlier this afternoon we heard the authentic voice of the militant Left. We heard what really is going on. There is a cancer that is gnawing at our way of life. It is not just the Mace that those people wish to smash; they wish to smash also our way of life.

Mr. Boateng

Absolute rubbish!

Mr. Wilshire

If it is absolute rubbish, I look forward to hearing the Labour party disowning what was said earlier this afternoon.

In debating these amendments, it is high time that we exposed the exaggerations of those who claim that administration of the system will get out of hand. It is high time that we made clear the fact that there will be a complete range of sanctions against those who wilfully do not pay. Above all, now is the time to shine the spotlight on the Left, which is determined to defy the law and destroy our way of life.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

At the end of the Spartacus revolt in Rome, the poor and depressed who took part were crucified in their thousands along the roads leading to the capital.

Mr. Leigh

They broke the law.

Mr. Fraser

They broke the law in wanting their own freedom. I rather agree with that breach of the law, but if the hon. Gentleman believes in oppression, then he must follow his own conscience.

In a token way, the Government are out to crucify the poor and the oppressed, certainly of the borough that I represent. There are about 90,000 ratepayers in Lambeth. When the poll tax is introduced, about 190,000 people will be liable to pay it. The number of people now receiving income support—or social security, as it was last week—represents about 25 per cent. of the population of my borough, or about one person in four. So just under 50,000 people liable to poll tax in Lambeth will be receiving income support. They will be entirely reliant on the state for their income. They are the people who, until 1 April this year, when they were liable for rates, paid no rates at all. About 50,000 people will now have to pay the poll tax.

Secondly, the average burden that people will bear in my borough will be twice the present level. The projected poll tax of £547 per person per year is almost exactly double the average burden of rates, although for the poorer members of the community the burden of poll tax will be, not untypically, 400 per cent. greater than the burden they now bear.

I turn next to the 50,000 people who will be paying one fifth of their poll tax in cash from income support. The nature of the crucifixion will be that those people will suffer much more agony than they do at present in managing their personal affairs. They will feel more wretched and stressed because the poll tax will be greater than the compensation they now receive under social security arrangements; they will be more impoverished than they are at present. To do that to 50,000 people is a kind of financial crucifixion, of which the Government will be guilty.

The Minister told the House this afternoon—although this provision has been slipped into the new schedule—that it is possible that not all such people will go to prison, but they may find that their income support is attached. When housing benefit was introduced, for sensible reasons and in the order to ensure that vast arrears of rent did not accrue, as happened among many poorer boroughs, the arrangements operated in such a way that the whole of the housing benefit payable to the recipient went in settlement of his rent and rates. As a result, at least there is not the level of rent and rates arrears that there was with the previous system, under which supplementary benefit was paid to the recipient, who in turn was meant to pay his rates of council rent direct.

We are now returning to a system where recipients will be paid some compensation for the payment of poll tax. However, the 50,000 impoverished members of my borough will find that if they do not pay, they will be taken to the magistrates court. The costs of that action will inevitably be added to the amount owing. If they still cannot pay and are found guilty of wilful refusal, their income support will be attached. We shall return to the same point as before, where people will be more wretched, more agonised and more impoverished than when the system started.

I represent a borough and a constituency where the level of crime is far too high. It is often exaggerated, but even so it is very significant and substantial. Since my election, I have tried to work with Governments—whether my party has been in government or in opposition—and with my local police force and the community to reduce the level of crime, because I consider crime to be an invasion of people's civil rights. It has not always been an easy ride for me, particularly representing an area such as Brixton.

5.30 pm

It is almost a cliché that, to ensure that we operate against crime to achieve a more stable and tranquil community, we must try to get the community working with the so-called forces of law and order—the local police force, the local authority and so on. We must work cohesively to battle against crime, and in other respects to have that more stable and tranquil community. Graffiti and anti-social behaviour, for instance, lower the quality of people's lives in an area that is already very much impoverished.

What will the poll tax do? It will mean that those 50,000 people are much more likely to find themselves sent to prison for non-payment than under the present system. I say that for two reasons. First, those who may now be candidates for prison at least have a number of hurdles to cross before they get there. There must be wilful refusal to pay; and, if they are very poor, until now they will have been receiving certificated housing benefit, in which case the problem will not have arisen in the first place.

Secondly, if those people are not receiving certificated housing benefit, it is likely that they will own personal property of some kind, or they may have bank accounts or earnings that can be attached. Many of my constituents are both in receipt of housing benefit and owners of property. Of course, they will not be receiving benefit for much longer, because of the £6,000 rule. But we are now introducing a new class of people. I am talking about the people—nearly 50,000 of them—who will not have certificated benefit or personal property, many of whom will be paying the tax for the first time. Those 50,000 are much more likely to be adjudged by the courts as wilfully refusing to pay their poll tax.

If Conservative Members think that magistrates take a benign view of refusal to pay, they are mistaken. A good many people are sent to prison for that reason. Although some of them at present have the money, or can find it somehow, the new group of 50,000 candidates for prison do not fall into that category.

Who will have to chase those people around the estates and the streets? The very people with whom the community has been trying to work for the last decade to increase co-operation between the police and the community, and thus to combat one cause of the lower quality of our lives.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)


Mr. Fraser

I think that it would be unfair to accept interruptions. Many hon. Members wish to speak.

We already live in a society that contains refuseniks. Very poor people do no always pay their television licences, or car tax, and often they do not even pay the fines imposed on them when they are unlucky enough to find themselves in the magistrates courts. Not a few people, but a great cohort in an inner city London borough, will be pushed up against the police, who will have to act in a civil role to enforce a law that is being introduced by the Government in a most oppressive way.

The last poll tax, in 1381, prompted a civil revolt. I do not wish to encourage or prophesy civil trouble on the streets. I have experienced quite enough of that already in my constituency, but if there is one thing that could fracture the co-operation with my police force and others working for a stable and tranquil community—one course that is likely to undermine that co-operation, and put thousands of people at risk of imprisonment, financial penalties, degradation and ultimately criminalization—it is the legislation, and the amendments to it, that we are discussing. If the Government want a society in upheaval, they are certainly going the right way about it.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

When the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to the lack of logic in the Government's proposals to reintroduce the ability to send people to prison for non-payment of rates, he could have extended his argument to the lack of consistency in the approach to sentencing between the Department of the Environment and the Home Secretary.

When the Bill was going through its Committee stage, the Criminal Justice Bill was also in Committee. On that Bill, we discussed report after report and survey after survey that clearly demonstrated that we were sending far too many people to prison. We were discussing the principles and criteria on which we decide which offenders merit imprisonment. The time to review whether rate defaulters should be sent to prison is now, in our current debate. If we are to avoid more and more people being sent to prison, that inevitably means that we must look at the offences for which the courts can sentence them. I remind the House that in 1987 the average prison population in England and Wales was 49,000, and the prison capacity was 42,000. Prisons in England and Wales are now overcrowded to the extent of 7,000 prisoners. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) made a clear and valid point about that.

The Government give the impression that they seek value for money in these matters, yet they seem to have conveniently forgotten that it costs £250 a week to keep a person in prison, whereas, for example, it costs £14 a week to impose a community service order. Would it not be better for the Government, rather than thinking of sending people to prison for rate default, to consider ways in which those people can benefit the community, at much less cost? The Government should certainly accept an argument that offers them cost benefits.

I was much taken with the hypothetical discussion cited by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South between the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Home Secretary. I can imagine the Home Secretary, discussing the matter with his colleague—perhaps on the way from a Cabinet meeting—saying, "Be careful about this proposal, because you may well be reminded of the speech that I made to magistrates in London at the beginning of the year."

As the discussion is hypothetical, I may as well remind the House of what the Home Secretary told the south-east London branch of the Magistrates Association on 15 January this year. He said: The Court of Appeal has long made it clear that courts should not sentence on a purely punitive or deterrent basis without regard to the costs or the individual characteristics of the offender. We must try to ensure that custody is used only when the offence is so serious that a sentence outside prison would bring the system into disrepute". It seems to me that in the Bill the Government are giving the courts powers to do the opposite.

Apart from considerations of prison overcrowding and the undesirability of increasing the prison population, we should also consider the principle behind the Government's proposal. The Government have disregarded the consensus view within the legal profession, and, increasingly, among judges, that we should not send people to prison for this sort of thing. Sending people to prison should be retained for the serious offences that we all abhor. All the organisations concerned with offenders and people who continually offend believe we should not send people to prison for minor technical offences. We are discussing a civil not a criminal matter, yet we are going in the opposite direction.

The Government's approach could lead to absurdities; there are already some. Take, for example, a man who is ordered to pay maintenance to his wife but refuses to do so. A court may send him to prison for that. Year after year he may go to prison for non-payment of maintenance, but his wife will not get the maintenance—it is wiped off the slate. That is absurd and helps no one—neither the wife nor society. Like all other countries in western Europe, we must move away from the idea that we must send people to prison for non-payment in these matters.

The Government did not intend to include this provision originally. Had they intended to do so, it would have been in the Bill. The provision has been included because of what Conservative Members have said about rebellions that might take place in parts of England. That does not help the millions of people who will pay the poll tax and may fall into difficulties in certain circumstances. Everyone will be caught in the net and tarred with the same brush.

I sincerely urge the Government, on the basis of consistency and logic and because we are moving away from the sort of arguments the Government are using, to consider accepting amendment (a) to amendment No. 73.

Mr. Butterfill

Many of the arguments that we have heard from the Opposition have exaggerated the problem. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser)—I know his constituency well—suggested that there would be a large extension of the intrusion of the police into the affairs of certain members of the community in his constituency. To a degree, that may be so, but there is the problem that a minority in certain sections of society consider themselves above the law and somehow outside the general principles that govern society. They think that they do not need to comply with the law.

That is where we come to the principle of wilful refusal. Anyone who has had any experience of trying to collect debts from those who are determined not to have them collected from them, even though they possess the resources, will know of the difficulties that face officers of local authorities who are charged with such responsibilities. I shall give an illustration of that from my personal experience.

When I was driving home from the House late one night a couple of years ago, a gentleman drove a car out from a side road into the side of my car. He said, "Oh unhappy day," and proceeded to be helpful. He gave me his name and address and the details of his insurance company and admitted that the accident was entirely his fault. I assumed that a claim on his insurance company would mean I would be able to recover my loss, but I am afraid that I was mistaken. I discovered that my insurance company was not going to try to recover from the man because it was a waste of time. The company said it would delete my no-claims bonus. I said that that was ridiculous; the man was insured and I knew his insurance company. My insurance company said that, although he had cover, he had not claimed against his insurance company, and unless he made a claim against it, it would not meet the liability. My only recourse was to take action against him personally. My company said that if I could recover the money from him, it would reinstate my no-claims bonus. I proceeded to try to do just that. I went to the local court in Battersea which gave me judgment against the chap, and then the problem of trying to recover the money started.

Time after time I used all sorts of devices to recover the money, but all in vain. I sent bailiffs to his home. He kept moving and when they eventually found him they discovered that nothing in his home belonged to him—it all belonged to relatives or others, so there was nothing for them to take. They said that this was a common problem that happened all the time. The police agreed that the man's lifestyle showed that he had plenty of money, but said that I was wasting my time trying to get it from him.

5.45 pm

In the end I abandoned the attempt. That is the sort of person whose actions constitute wilful refusal, and the provision in the Bill is intended to deal with such behaviour. It relates to the right of a public authority to recover money that is due to it.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that he did not like the extension of culpable neglect. When I pressed him on that and asked how one would deal with someone who repeatedly received money from social services and had money with which to discharge his debt, yet used it on beer and betting shops, the hon. Gentleman castigated me and said that lots of rich people spend their money on beer and betting shops. He asked me why, if that was good for them, it was not good for such people. My response, from a sedentary position, was that the rich people were spending their own money, not public money.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) wanted such people to be dealt with. Will he tell the House how he proposed to have them dealt with? Does my hon. Friend recall the hon. Gentleman's words?

Mr. Butterfill

If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey cares to intervene, I shall be glad to give way.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Enforcement of attachment of earnings and distraint of goods are ways of dealing with these sorts of people, and imprisonment, if it is available at all, should be available for those who wilfully refuse to pay. If someone wilfully refuses to pay, when he could do so—the category of person to which the hon. Gentleman has referred—that is a different issue from that which the Government have addressed.

Mr. Butterfill

The hon. Gentleman has not been listening to what I have said. Attachment of earnings for people who are not earning and distraint, which I found impossible to enforce despite the support of the courts and the bailiffs, are not adequate remedies in every case. From the discussions that I have had with bailiffs, I fear that this is a frequent problem.

I suggest that there are people who may not be wilfully refusing but who so manage their affairs as repeatedly to fail to use money being given to them by the state and the taxpayer to discharge their debts for that purpose—they waste it on other things. There will come a point when some sanction must be brought to bear on them to convince them that they need to comply with the ordinary standards of our society.

Mr. Simon Hughes

This is an important point. There can come a time—it can be prescribed in regulations—when certain activities, such as failure to answer requests for information or to fill in forms, will be deemed wilful refusal.

Mr. Butterfill

At least we are getting somewhere with the hon. Gentleman. Of itself, wilful refusal is inadequate. Culpable neglect will be used sparingly. The court will not use it other than in extremis, when it believes that somebody is behaving quite unreasonably. At the end of the day, there must be a sanction that persuades people that they must behave in the way in which 99 per cent. of civilised society behaves.

Ms. Mowlam

Many Opposition Members wish to speak in the debate, so my remarks will be brief.

One difficulty that we have in speaking to the amendments is that which we faced in Committee—the lack of information and factual detail from the Government. It is like pulling teeth. For every bit of information that we want, we must pull all the time so that we may have a sensible, open, honest, rational debate. The charitable interpretation of the difficulty is that, as the Minister said when opening the debate, the answer is not yet available and that it is truly legislation on the hoof. As we have heard, the maximum amount that will be attached to benefits to get money back has not been decided.

The uncharitable interpretation is that the Government have made a specific, concrete decision to make it difficult for people in the House and outside to know exactly what has happened. To support that argument, one has only to refer to the document that was leaked from the Prime Minister's Office. It said about the poll tax: Careful thought would need to be given to the timing of any announcement of a change to the proposed community charge rebate. It would be desirable to avoid giving precise details until after the debate on April 18th. That is the uncharitable explanation, but, in view of what has been leaked from the Prime Minister's Office, perhaps it matches the reality of what we are dealing with. The Minister for Local Government said that we could discuss the principle—the principle is there—but we do not need the specifics. I have never heard a more ludicrous, crass statement in the 140-odd hours in which I have listened to the Minister during debates on this subject. It is like saying that we can discuss the Alton Bill without talking about the number of weeks. It is like saying that we can discuss the Licensing Bill without knowing when public houses are to open and close. We have been subjected to this kind of illogicality time and again when debating the Bill in the House and in Committee.

It would be useful to hear the answer to the question that was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I do not know whether it is charitable or uncharitable. My hon. Friend said that as the regulations seep out, poll tax will be deducted from people's benefits at source. That is what Opposition Members fear. It would be useful if the Minister, who is undecided about the question, could let us have an answer—yes or no, undecided, do not know—so that people who are surviving on family credit and income support may have some idea of what the future holds.

Amendment No. 137 refers to the attachment of benefits for the non-payment of poll tax. When he moved the amendment, the Minister for Local Government said that he supported equality of treatment. We all support equality of treatment. We would support equality of treatment so that all school children may have decent, hot meals. We want everybody to have decent housing and decent holidays, although the Minister for Health obviously does not believe that people on benefit should have holidays. How can the Minister talk of equality of treatment in relation to the poll tax when people on income support who do not have the financial wherewithal to pay the 20 per cent. will still be required to do so?

The Minister cannot ignore the other factors that affect payment of the 20 per cent. At present, somebody on income support faces a cut in benefit. If we are honest with each other, we will agree that, back in October 1977, benefit was actually cut. We are faced with single payments being abolished. Out of the £203 million that replaces single payments, only £60 million is in the form of grants, and the rest is in the form of loans. Already, someone on income support who has specific needs will have to pay back what he or she borrows. Water rates are included, without any clear element of income support to pay them. Electricity prices and television licence fees are going up. Many pensioners will face an increase in television licence fees.

Many people on benefit face such outgoings, and we are told that under the rebate system it will be possible for them to pay. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) cannot ignore the fact that 20 per cent. is the national average. It is no good ignoring Opposition Members who say that people will be faced with more than the national average. Even by the Government's own standards, they will have less money to pay back.

Mr. Butterfill

Does the hon. Lady accept that the remedy is in people's own hands? If they were to elect a sensible council, such as mine in Bournemouth, the national average would more than cover the 20 per cent. If they choose to elect high-spending authorities, it will not. The remedy is in their hands.

Ms. Mowlam

The hon. Gentleman is ignoring two points. First, there are differences in needs. Many Labour local authorities face variations in needs, which is why the figure will be above the national average. Secondly, one lives in the real political world and knows that 25 per cent. of a local authority's budget will come from the business rate, 50 per cent. will be what the Government decide is needed, and the remainder will come from the poll tax. This means that there will be direct Government interference in the running of local authorities. This is not the democracy or the accountability about which we have heard in the arguments about the poll tax. Exactly the opposite will be at work. That is why the hon. Gentleman's point does not match reality. It is not local accountability; it is central Government control. That is the bottom line of what the poll tax is about.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Does the hon. Lady agree that, in the context of her point and the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), the proof of the pudding will come next week, when the Conservative party takes control of Langbaurgh council? Thereafter, there will he a direct comparison to enable all the people in that constituency to decide which way to vote in the future.

Ms. Mowlam

I do not know why I gave way to the hon. Gentleman on such a facile point. I hope that he will live in political reality and not in the political fantasy in which he seems to operate today. Langbaurgh council is a good example of a council in an area with a high level of needs, where the poll tax will not serve the needs of the people.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said that we must remember that fairness costs money. Many people will agree with that clear statement, and it must be remembered when debating the amendments. Opposition Members, along with some Conservative Members, have pushed hard for the rebate system and the amendments because it costs money to be fair. The prime aspect of the poll tax is that it is unfair and unequal.

Mr. Cormack

It is not good to send people to gaol for debt. The stories about debtors' prisons in the 19th century are hardly the most inspiring in our history. However, one must accept that there must be an ultimate sanction for those—that small group—who wilfully refuse to pay. I hope that there will be most strenuous efforts to ensure that nobody who cannot afford to pay finds himself or herself going to gaol. That would be quite unacceptable to people throughout the country.

Opposition Members know that their dislike of the measure cannot exceed mine. I have made that point plain on many occasions, both by what I have said and by my votes. At the same time, members of the Labour party who succour, support, encourage and incite those who are inclined to break the law do a grave disservice to parliamentary democracy and to their own position.

I know that there are strong feelings about this measure in Scotland and, no doubt, there will be in England and Wales. The way in which those strong feelings should be channelled and directed is the parliamentary, democratic way. Parliament is where the law is made and where it must be changed. If this measure is not amended significantly in future years, a Government will be elected, of whatever political complexion, who will change it. There will need to be much alteration and careful monitoring. I am unhappy that as yet no significant amendments have been made, but I hope that they will be made in the House of Lords. If they are, I hope that they will not be overturned here.

The law is the law. No legislator should ever encourage people to break the law that has been democratically passed by Parliament. Opposition Members share my dislike of the Bill and I hope that they will share that view. I hope that in a calmer atmosphere, in Scotland, England and Wales, there will be consistent democratic opposition while the measure is going through Parliament. By all means, let there be pledges to change, alter or repeal the Bill, but not incitement to break the law, because there lie anarchy and the destruction of the system that we are here to uphold.

6 pm

Mr. Barnes

I had hoped that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) would be present when I made my speech because we had a dispute earlier about whether his role in these amendments and the provision for imprisonment had been that of a midwife. I refer hon. Members to the Standing Committee Hansard of 18 February 1988, columns 819–36, to check the role that he played. Had he been present, I would have gone into greater detail and he could have responded to my interpretation of what he said.

Just as many people have been unable to adjust to the cuts in social security and housing benefit—they are trying desperately to survive and are panicking about how they will manage—so masses of people will be unable to adjust to the imposition of the poll tax. Despite all that has been said about exemptions and rebates, that problem will become apparent, and it should be considered in the context of the speech of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack).

If this measure is passed by Parliament, it will ride on people very strongly indeed. Parliament should give thought to what it is doing and should not impose on people burdens which lead to responses that cut over the division between law and order and potential lawlessness. There are bureaucratic pressures in this system and it makes attacks on privacy. There will be penalties for non-registration, and the penalties for non-payment will include the attachment of earnings, the sending in of bailiffs and distraint of goods and imprisonment.

With regard to poor people, the Minister says, strangely, that the ability to pay will be taken into account by the courts. If that is so, why cannot it be taken into account in the legislation? It is for us to introduce that principle into the measure.

The bureaucratic arrangements, invasions of privacy, penalties and, above all, the unjust payments that people will have to make will lead to many people disappearing from the poll tax register and the electoral roll. Many young, mobile people, and those who are encouraged by the Government to get on their bikes to look for work, will begin to disappear from the register. That is already happening in Scotland, and the surveys that have been carried out in this country show that that problem will extend here. At the election in June 1987, excluding Northern Ireland as this measure will not apply there, there was a 75 per cent. turnout. There were 42 million people on the electoral roll and just under 32 million people voted. If 10 per cent. of those people disappear from the electoral roll, 3.5 million people will lose their voting rights. That is a very serious problem.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Barnes

I shall not give way as the hon. Gentleman has not been present during the debate.

Young people and the lower socio-economic groups would be much more likely to vote for the Labour party, given the pressures that will be created by the poll tax, were it not for the fact that disproportionately large numbers of them will begin to disappear from the electoral roll. Conservative voters will certainly not be in that position. At the last general election, the Conservative party polled 13.7 million votes, the Labour party 10.1 million votes and there were 7.3 million votes for the then alliance party. The disappearance of 3.5 million people from those socio-economic groups is a very disturbing matter.

There have been many historic battles in the House about the extension of the franchise, and its development. We now have a universal franchise, but it is under attack. The poll tax seeks to perpetuate the Government's rule. It is not an open measure; it is not like the Parliament Act 1911 being used to extend Parliament because it is claimed that there is an emergency, such as during war time, nor is it a crude and hideous device such as that used in Nazi Germany when Hitler managed to pass an enabling Act to impose his diktat on society. Nevertheless, it is a fix, and we should be concerned about that. Parliament should be bothered about the manipulation that is taking place in this legislation.

Every hon. Member is a beneficiary of the extension of the franchise and should act to protect the franchise and ensure that a measure such as this is not passed.

The fate of those on the electoral roll who cannot pay or who feel justified in refusing to do so because of the injustice of this measure needs to be considered. Attachment of earnings will be used against them. It is a highly problematic measure, but when difficulties arise and when information is available to employers, will it finish up with the Economic League and will people end up on black lists and be unable to find employment? Will it be used politically against them?

Bailiffs present serious problems. Bailiffs may be directed against self-employed people and against many unemployed and partly employed people to get payments. I do not know whether many hon. Members have had a visit from the bailiffs, but I have been visited by the bailiffs because I objected to the operation of the Housing Finance Act 1972, not in any great illegal sense, but merely in a Gandhian sense of civil disobedience. I was willing to go before the court and face its decision and use that as pressure against that measure.

I was chairman of a ratepayers and rent payers association in the Dronfield area. For a fortnight we ran a rent and rates strike. I did not pay rent, only rates, and I withdrew the payment of the princely sum of £2.79. The bailiffs were sent in under the General Rate Act 1967. They took new furniture—a table, four chairs and a coffee table—and six LP records. If that system operates for many ordinary people for sums much greater than £2.79, it will be damaging. A table, four chairs and a coffee table might not matter much to some people, but at that time my home seemed to be denuded by the absence of those pieces of furniture. They were taken away because more money was needed than £2.79. Money was needed to cover the visit by the bailiffs and the retention and sale of the goods. I am not saying that four times as much money than is owed will have to be collected in regard to much larger sums owed for poll tax, but the secondhand value that could be obtained from the contents of many people's home will mean that their homes will be almost denuded.

That will not be the case when people have taken action to ensure that bailiffs cannot get hold of them, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill). Ordinary, decent people who do not have the ability to pay will be visited by the bailiffs. The bailiffs' first visit will be to put the frighteners on people. They will put a marker on the furniture to be taken and give the people a time to pay. Later, they will come back and take away the furniture.

The final measure involves imprisonment. It is not unreasonable in certain contexts, but in the context of the poll tax it is an entirely unacceptable measure which exacerbates the evil of the Bill. We should be extremely careful about treating a whole section of society as criminals, as it is more likely that they will then start to behave in that way. Parliament will be responsible for creating such circumstances if we do not resist the poll tax legislation.

I am greatly concerned with the aspect of the measure involving democracy and civil liberties and rights. I mentioned it in the House when I pointed out that the Secretary of State for Scotland suggested that in Scotland petitions would be a legitimate means of finding out the names of people who should be on the poll tax register.

6.15 pm

Petitioning is an ancient right that goes back to Anglo Saxon times when people could petition the monarch.

Later they could petition Parliament. In that regard, I wish to quote briefly from "Erskine May." On page 858 it, states: The right of petitioning the Crown and Parliament for redress of grievances is acknowledged as a fundamental principle of the constitution. It has been uninterruptedly exercised from very early times, and has had a profound effect in determining the main forms of parliamentary procedure.

On page 147, it states: Any abuse of the right of petition will he treated by either House as a breach of privilege. On page 869, it states that petitions themselves may be forwarded to Ministers—it does not say anything about the names—so that they can make use of and respond to them.

It is quite clear that public petitions—we are discussing public petitions in this case—are the property of the House and that people have a right to petition Parliament and to press their views without fearing that the information will be used against them, even at a future time when an illegal situation might then exist.

I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity that he did not take on Monday to disown that provision. If he does not, it may have to be raised as a matter of parliamentary privilege of interference with rights.

The House has to face a most serious situation concerning the defence of parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy is under attack in this measure, which hits at civil liberties, petitioning rights and rights of franchise. Everything must be done to stop the measure being introduced, otherwise there will be problems about responding to the injustices that will occur.

Even the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who believed in sovereignty and in the right of the sovereign body to determine matters and considered that nobody should have the right to challenge it, asked that the sovereign authority should act in a wise fashion and not rile people or exploit them too strongly, because, whatever the circumstances, people could rebel. It is up to hon. Members not to pass legislation that puts people into a situation whereby the only way that they can justifiably defend their interests is to rebel against the provisions.

Mr. Boateng

There is something peculiarly unpleasant about the sight of Conservative Members in hot pursuit of those whom they would classify as the undeserving and intransigent poor. That is what the penal provisions of the Bill do. They establish as part of the monstrous machinery of enforcement envisaged in the Bill a means by which the poor will be persecuted, because under this Government, in particular, the rich get the pleasure and the poor get the pain. The Government's proposals are fundamentally unfair.

The Bill is monstrously divisive between north and south, between inner London and outer London, between London and the rest of the south-east and even between black people and white people because 67 per cent. of the black community in London will be net losers after the introduction of the tax compared with a far smaller proportion of the rest of society.

Still more, the Bill is divisive between those families who care for those who are least fortunate among them—an unemployed son or daughter or a distressed or disabled grandparent—and those who do not. It will be divisive among families and a threat to the cohesiveness of our community. Nowhere is that threat greater than in the monstrous administrative and enforcement machinery that the schedule envisages.

Mr. Butterfill

The hon. Gentleman suggests that those who care for elderly relatives will be disadvantaged by the Bill. That suggestion was made yesterday by a number of hon. Members, and I tried to intervene but was unable to do so. That is just not the case. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about it, he will realise that whether an elderly dependent relative living in a home is liable for the community charge will depend entirely on that person's income. If he or she is on a low income, or has no income, there will be an 80 per cent. rebate and they may also qualify for—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are straying from the amendment. We must return to the question of administration, enforcement and collection.

Mr. Boateng

We have drifted away from it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have no intention of running away from it. If a family chooses to have the grandmother or the grandfather to live with them as opposed to putting that person in a home, as a larger family it will be penalised for making that choice. All the statistics bear that out. If the family income is limited, the position is even worse.

The provision is divisive both between groups of people and within the community. That division is made still worse by the provisions in the schedule that relate to administration and enforcement. A burden will be placed on councils. They will have to administer the community charge at great cost. It has been suggested in this debate that the cost will not be so great as we have suggested and that for political motives we have deliberately inflated the sums involved. Conservative Members would do well to consider the advice that this Government have received on that point.

One would hardly describe the Rating and Valuation Association as a politically motivated body, dominated by the extremists of the Left, whom Conservative Members have asked us to disavow. It is a responsible body that will be directly and professionally concerned with the procedure for the administration and enforcement of these provisions. The Rating and Valuation Association says that it is concerned because it believes that millions—that is the association's word—of people will attempt to evade the impact of this legislation. It says that an "expensive and intrusive inspectorate" will be needed to track down those whom it describes—they are the association's words, not mine—as the "missing millions."

We need to look at the impact of that expensive and intrusive inspectorate on civil liberties and on local authority and Exchequer expenditure. How will that inspectorate be received in the communities that it will be required to police? I mean quite literally police, because the idea that that inspectorate will be able to avoid a policing role and that it will not be required to poke and pry into people's lives is absolute nonsense. It will be responsible for compiling the register. Ordinary members of the public may have access to the register under the Data Protection Act 1984, but they will not have access to the minutiae, to the trivia, to the tittle-tattle, to the pieces of information to be found here, there and everywhere that the inspectorate will have to collect in order to compile the register. We have heard not a word from Conservative Members about the access of the general public to that hidden register. We want to hear from them exactly how the privacy of the individual will be protected.

It goes even further than that. Local authorities will be required—they will have no choice in the matter—to act as the Government's snoops and agents. A fiscal gestapo will he established by the diktat of this Administration. It will be the job of men and women to gather information about who is or who is not trying to evade the impact of the tax. Conservative Members smile, some of them are indignant, but this intrusive inspectorate will be operating in their communities. They, too, will have to face that reality, just as ratepayers will have to face the reality of paying for it. Because of its impact on the ordinary people, that is entirely wrong and entirely unjustifiable.

In constituencies such as mine we are trying to create cohesive communities that stick together and can sustain growth and enterprise. How is the impact of such an inspectorate on those communities to be judged and evaluated? What will be the impact of the policing and the exercise of the bailiff's functions that will inevitably follow from these provisions? It will split those communities. It will set neighbour against neighbour. It will provide a fertile avenue for individuals to denounce people because they have a grievance against them.

We are told that the Government have received advice, not from a politically opinionated or motivated body but from a body that during the passage of previous legislation the Scottish Office felt it necessary to approach for advice, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. It appears that CIPFA has given advice to the Government on this issue and that local authorities have been told that it is important that they should be inventive in their approach to this task. Is it to be suggested that local authorities should set up sneak boxes, as was done during the French revolution, to get people to say whether a new person has moved into the neighbourhood or block, whether Mrs. X or Mr. Y has a new member of the household? Whether X is registered or not may determine whether X should be allowed to use certain civic amentities. Will local authorities be encouraged to produce a card to this end? It will be up to the local authorities; there is nothing in the legislation to preclude it.

Imagine in such places as the city of Westminster or the London borough of Wandsworth, where the writ of the Conservative party holds sway, people having to carry a card to show that they have paid their community charge before they are allowed to use the public swimming baths. Is that to be the nature of the enforcement procedure that Conservative Members propose? If it is, there is every reason to believe that we shall, indeed, have to put up with an expensive and intrusive inspectorate. If it is, this tax will be an incubus on the backs of our communities. It will sap and drain the civil liberties of individuals throughout the country.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) have made great play of civil liberties. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it is a proper description of civil liberties to say that large numbers of people can seek to disappear—to use the description of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East—and avoid making right and proper payments to the rest of the community while at the same time wanting all the benefits of belonging to the community? Is that his view of civil liberty?

Mr. Boateng

What is inconceivable and unacceptable, when introducing an inherently unfair tax, is the creation of machinery which will be intrusive, expensive, and all embracing and which will not provide adequate protection for the liberty of the individual in terms of his or her privacy. It is because it is unacceptable that we shall seek to divide the House tonight. There will be a price to be paid for this legislation. Initially, it will be paid by the whole community, but, ultimately, it will be paid by the Conservative Members responsible for introducing it.

6.30 pm
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

I make two preliminary remarks before I turn to the substance of my speech. First, as a solicitor, like my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), I should declare an interest. I am pleased that the Government are making provision for my old age, with the amount of litigation that this legislation will create.

Secondly, I commend the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). He showed by his statement and, of course, his vote the other night, along with his colleagues, an integrity which is sadly lacking on the Government Benches.

I came to this debate hoping to hear what the Government have learnt from the Scottish experience. In Scotland, we are conscious that the poll tax was floated there a year earlier than in England, as an experiment. I am sorry to say that the Government have learnt nothing from what is going on in Scotland and from the year's experience that they have had there. I listened, for instance, to the Minister talking about the low number of people whom he would expect to suffer imprisonment for debt. The Minister should look at and listen to what is happening in Scotland.

Let us look at some of the statistics that the Government have presented. They have produced estimated figures of the poll tax for every local authority area in the country. In Scotland, we have had the opportunity to look at those very carefully. In my own area of Aberdeen, the estimate was £200 per individual. From that estimate, we could see that the Government has not, for instance, taken any account of the cost of collecting the poll tax, of the shortfall in payment, and of those people who will not register and will simply hide from the register. Whether the Government like it or not, that will happen.

The figure that we in Scotland produced for each individual was nearer £260 or £270 a year for the current year. I am gratified that the director of finance for the Grampian region, which is the rating authority for my area, agrees with that figure. He assesses the figure for poll tax in my area as £261 on this year's figures. He has had to be realistic, as have all local government officers in Scotland. Unfortunately, the Government are not being realistic. The local authorities in Scotland are taking into account, for example, the fact that they anticipate a shortfall of some 10 per cent. in registration. I raised that point with the Minister at Question Time a couple of weeks ago.

We had about 63,000 electors at the June election in Aberdeen South, but by the time the draft register came out in December the total had reduced to 58,000. I do not pretend that the 5,000-odd voters whom we lost are all due to the poll tax, but a significant proportion of them are.

In addition, local authorities estimate that there will be about 10 per cent. of people with bad debt—people who will not or cannot pay. It is important to compare that with the present shortfall in rates payments. The Minister will be aware that the national figure is something less than 1 per cent. of arrears for bad debt on the rates. Local government officers in Scotland have to plan for about 10 per cent. of bad debt, because this tax will apply to far more people and will be far more difficult to collect.

The process of recovery which the Government have instituted in Scotland was recently analysed by a professor of Scots law at Edinburgh university, Professor Robert Black. He is one of our leading legal commentators. He commended the Government, not for the poll tax, because I think that he is an opponent of it, but for the way in which they had drafted the Scottish legislation. The professor said that it was drafted very tightly and that he had, in fact, never seen such watertight legislation. That legislation made it very difficult for people to evade their responsibility for payment of the poll tax. Those are not my thoughts, but the thoughts of Professor Black.

I compare that with what we have in England. As I understand the Minister's response to the various points that have been made by my hon. Friends, there are a number of difficulties which the Government are facing and which clearly have not been considered. I am not an expert on the English procedure. I know Scots law and, if I were to learn anything about English law, it would simply confuse me.

I read, for example, amendment No. 73 concerning the liability orders. In Scotland the procedure excludes the possibility of going to court. According to paragraph 3 of the schedule, the authority may apply to the magistrates court. Therefore, there will be an opportunity for hearings. What account has the Minister taken of the extra burden that that will place on the courts? If I am correct, and the local government officers in Scotland are correct, about the 10 per cent. bad debt, 37 million people in England and Wales may be liable to pay. That means between 3 million and 3.5 million new debtors. That is an assessment of the burden that this legislation will place on the courts, because of the fact that individuals will be entitled to defend themselves in court. What assessment has been made of the extra cost of, for example, legal aid? Have the Government done any research on that? As I say, in Scotland that opportunity is not available. I am not advocating the Scottish procedure as it is an outrage—it is almost an administrative procedure.

I wish to hear what the Government have to say about the extra costs that are involved. There are also the additional costs of imprisonment. Thankfully, in Scotland, when Parliament passed the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987, it did away with the idea of imprisonment for non-payment of debt. However, we see it being introduced here in England.

The Minister played down the anticipated number of people who will be imprisoned. If that provision existed in Scotland, people would be queuing up to go to prison. That is how strong the feeling is on the poll tax in Scotland. What consideration has been given to the burden that that will place on the prison service?

I have been travelling around London and the south-east of England, speaking to local groups about the poll tax, and I know that the feeling that we had in Scotland a year ago is here in England today, and is building up. In Scotland, there is a ferment about the poll tax. There is now as strong a feeling about this issue in England as there is in Scotland. There will be people who will take the opportunity to make a court appearance, because they will vocally refuse to pay the poll tax. What consideration has been given to such matters?

I conclude by saying that the Government have not learnt anything from the Scottish experience. That is typical of the arrogant and reckless way in which this Government carry out their business.

Mr. Pike

This afternoon we have been debating a group of amendments which address issues of considerable importance. They give us considerable fears as provided for in the Bill, and the amendments that the Government have tabled will further increase their power to enforce this legislation.

As I have cut my speech to the minimum, I shall not be able to refer to every speech that has been made in the debate. I have done so to allow as many hon. Members as possible—particularly my hon. Friends—to speak in the debate. It is significant that most of the contributions have been made by my hon. Friends. There have been few contributions from Conservative Members. That in itself shows our anxiety over these provisions in the Bill and in the Government amendments.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) did something that is typical of the Government. Repeatedly throughout the passage of this legislation, when the Government have been in difficulty defending their legislation, they have tried to divert us from what the Bill is proposing and to focus attention on unimportant issues.

The hon. Gentleman said that two categories of people would be covered by the provisions in this part of the Bill—the "can't payers" and the "won't payers". It is significant that at least he accepted that there will be some people who cannot pay, because that is the issue that we have been arguing during our debates on this legislation. Because of the Bill's failure to take into account ability to pay, there will be people who cannot pay. That is the message that the hon. Gentleman should send to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to his hon. and learned Friend the Minister who is to reply. The Government have not addressed themselves to the problem of dealing with those who are unable to pay.

Mr. Wilshire

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pike

No. I shall not give way now because I intended to give way only once as time is short and I want to say something else about the hon. Gentleman before I give way. I shall save him the need to intervene on a second occasion.

The hon. Gentleman then went on to attack my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) about the Labour party's position on the operation of the law. My hon. Friend made it clear where the Labour party stands on that issue. The Labour party is a democratic party and believes in exercising its power through winning elections at local and national level through the ballot box. That is the way in which we believe in operating.

There is a difference between breaking the law, which we do not advocate, as we believe that laws must be made by Parliament or by local byelaws or decisions by democratically elected councils, and non-co-operation with the law. Conservative Members always seem to imply that breaking the law and non-co-operation with the law are unique to people on the Left of politics in this country. That is not true. One needs only to consider the legislation relating to comprehensive education. Many Conservative-controlled councils with responsibilities for education refused to co-operate with the legislation for many years and thereby hindered the education of our children.

Mr. Wilshire


Mr. Pike

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman just once.

Mr. Wilshire

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Taking him back to my reference to "can't payers", I wish that he would remind the House that, as well as referring to such people, I explained the way in which we should handle that problem. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will conveniently have forgotten that I was explaining that the way to deal with "can't payers" was to do something about their income support.

With regard to my comments about the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), we still have not had an answer—can the hon. Gentleman give the House an answer—on whether he does or does not dissociate himself and his party from the comments of his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) to the effect that he was in favour, and that Liverpool seemed to be in favour, of refusing to implement the legislation? That is incitement to break the law. It is criminal activity. Is that the policy of the Labour party?

Mr. Pike

My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr was very clear on that. In fact, I have his statement on that, but because time is short I shall not repeat it. The hon. Member for Spelthorne and other hon. Members will be able to read my hon. Friend's comments in the Official Report tomorrow. The hon. Gentleman's attitude typifies the way in which the Government and the Conservative party work. They want to divert attention from the crucial issues of the legislation to issues which they feel are of more advantage to them and which, in many cases, are totally irrelevant to the real issues.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Does my hon. Friend not find it the height of hypocrisy that Conservative Members should mouth platitudes about staying within the law when on two occasions recently Ministers have come to the House with two sets of regulations which have been found to be unlawful by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments but have insisted on railroading unlawful regulations through the House to impose the poll tax on Scotland?

Mr. Pike

My hon. Friend has made a valid point. Indeed, the Secretary of State who is responsible for this legislation probably has the record among Secretaries of State for breaking the law on the greatest number of occasions.

6.45 pm

I turn quickly to the amendments in the time that is now available. I must emphasise a point that has been made on several occasions this afternoon. The registration officer responsible for creating the register and for the collection of the poll tax is not responsible to the local authority, but is subject to the direction of the Government. The Bill clearly provides for that and the officers must carry out its provisions.

The Minister suggested that attachment of benefit was an issue that the Government intended to deal with by an amendment in the other place. We are rightly worried about the implications of that, because we will not he able to debate it at the length at which we would wish to do so. I hope the Minister will seek to ensure that when the Bill returns from the other place we shall have an opportunity to discuss that amendment. We in this House have the right to discuss Lords amendments, but because the Bill is guillotined here, it will be guillotined when it returns from the other House. Time may well be so tight that we shall be unable to debate these important issues at that stage. We are worried about that amendment and may well be utterly opposed to it and want to debate it at length.

Last night the Minister suggested that he would be conciliatory and that at a later stage he intended to introduce an amendment relating to prisoners on remand in custody. Having been given that undertaking, we want to see exactly what he proposes to do because we have fears about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) made a valid point about enforcement and the role of the police. They will encounter difficulties and conflict because of certain duties that they will be asked to perform as a result of the Bill. They will come into conflict with the very people with whom they have problems in enforcing something that should not be within their responsibilities.

Unfortunately, because of the way in which the guillotine falls, we shall have to vote against the Government's first amendment in this group, No. 43, which is not the one that we consider the most important in the group. Because of the guillotine, we are precluded from voting on amendments that are perhaps even more important. However, by voting against that Government amendment we shall be showing our feelings on the subjects that we have been debating this afternoon.

Amendent No. 137 is a Labour amendment which would prevent the attachment of income support or social security entitlements to poll tax payments. I wish to make an important point, which has been made once or twice earlier. If there is an attachment for those who are entitled to the 80 per cent. rebate—against the other 20 per cent. which will be paid for from their benefit—and if that attachment to their benefit to meet that 20 per cent. Is an authority where the poll tax is above average, what will be the position if the attachment of benefit to pay the poll tax reduces that person's level of income, through benefit or income support, below what the statute decrees that person needs for his or her requirements? We would argue that such attachments of benefit to meet the 20 per cent. payment defeat the whole object of the accountability that the Government claim for the Bill. Such situations could arise where the poll tax is more than what the Government say it will be and where it is more than the average that win be paid in benefit to cover the 20 per cent. That is an important point.

As I have said repeatedly in our debates on the Bill, both in Committee and in the House, I want us to get out of the situation where we allow the Government to get away with talking about over-spending and high-spending authorities. The Government have failed to recognise that authorities have to meet the different needs and requirements within the communities that they represent. The Government are not prepared to accept that there are different needs and requirements throughout the country.

Government amendments Nos. 55 and 56 provide for imprisonment for the non-payment of residual rates and the national non-domestic rate. The Opposition believe that it is wrong to provide the power of imprisonment in such instances. Such powers are unnecessary and draconian. By placing these powers in the Bill the Government are showing once again that they recognise that the proposed tax is unpopular and that it will be difficult to collect. They understand that if they do not provide fall-back powers they will be unable to collect the tax and it will not work. They have failed to understand that they must deal with the crucial and fundamental problem of ability to pay.

Mr. Howard

First, I welcome the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) to the Opposition Front Bench. He and I have spent many hours discussing the community charge and many other issues in various Standing Committees. He made a substantial contribution to the deliberations that took place as we considered the Bill in Committee.

Unfortunately, in the devotion which he attributed to his party in its desire to abide by the law, the hon. Gentleman was guilty of a good deal of wishful thinking. We shall study with care the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). We shall also read and study with great care the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Field). We noted the embarrassment which was experienced by the hon. Members for Perry Barr and for Burnley when they listened to the incitement to law breaking from the hon. Member for Broadgreen. Their embarrassment was apparent to the entire House.

The contributions of Opposition Members have been characterised by what can be described only as hysterical hyperbole. Their technique is to describe legislation which is not yet before the House and which was not before the Standing Committee. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) suggested that the proposed legislation will interfere with the right to petition Parliament. It will not. He asserted that it will interfere with the public's right to vote. It will not. The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said that it will be divisive for families. It will not. When we bring these facts to the attention of Labour Members, they say, as the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said yesterday, "That is a matter of theory." We are not discussing theory. We are discussing the Bill as it stands and not as it is in the figments of the imagination of Labour Members. We are not discussing it in the form in which they would like it to be for the purpose of stirring up anxiety throughout the country. We are discussing the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Wilson

The difference between the subjective and the theoretical can be illustrated clearly by the Minister's response to the claim that we are discussing an anti-family tax. No one is claiming that there is a provision in the Bill that declares that it is an anti-family tax. Therefore, it becomes a matter of subjective judgment when determining whether it is or is not. My hon. Friends and I prefer to accept, for example, the unanimous view of the Scottish churches that it is a profoundly anti-family tax. We prefer to accept the view of organisations such as Age Concern that it is a profoundly anti-family tax. We are permitted to apply our subjective judgments and to conclude, whatever conscience-salving fig leaves the Minister chooses to wear, that the tax is all of the things that he has denied it is. That is why it is opposed by 80 per cent. of people in Scotland and why it will come to be opposed by 80 per cent. of those in England and Wales.

Mr. Howard

It is true that there are many individuals and, sadly, many organisations that have been misled by the propaganda of the Labour party. When my ministerial colleagues and my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Back Benches discuss these matters, we do not base our opinions on the opinions of others. We base our opinions on the contents of the Bill, and it is to its contents that I invite the attention of the House, not the second or third-hand opinions of others who themselves are likely to have been misled by damaging and hysterical propaganda.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Minister's argument would be rather more credible if on one of the substantive issues in this debate—the rules for dealing with those on income support—the relevant provisions were before the House. The reality is that they are not. We have only his information that an amendment will be introduced in another place. That is probably because he dare not introduce it in this place.

Mr. Howard

As I said earlier, all the arguments that we have heard on this important matter have been based on principle. Opposition Members have not said, "We might be in favour of imprisonment, depending on the terms of the regulations. We might be in favour of adopting the methods that you, the Government, have in mind for those on income support, depending upon the details." We have heard only arguments on principle from Opposition Members, and it is possible to discuss them in principle without having before us details of the legislation that will be introduced in another place.

I shall try to answer some of the questions that have been asked during the debate. I wish to put right some of the misleading assertions that have been made by Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Perry Barr spent a great deal of his speech—it was an extraordinary passage that bordered on hysteria—talking about the extent to which those who are to be responsible for enforcing the collection of the community charge will be employees of local authorities and responsible to them. He suggested that that would not be the position. The fact is—this is an excellent example of why it is important to read the provision in the Bill—that the Bill places all the powers and duties in respect of billing, collection and recovery of the community charge on the charging authority and not, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, on the treasurer. This is in contrast with the registration duties that are placed on a named officer, the community charge registration officer. It was wrong for the hon. Gentleman to claim that the treasurer and not the charging authority will be responsible for collection and recovery.

The treasurer and his staff will carry out collection and recovery in practice but they will act under the direction of the authority. I do not know what caused the hon. Member for Perry Barr to make such an inaccurate assertion. I do not know whether he was confused by the provisions in part IX, which require each local authority to have a chief finance officer and set out the qualifications of that officer. That, of course, is an entirely different matter. Responsibility for all the duties that we have been discussing in this group of amendments will lie with the charging authority.

Nor is it the case, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), that it was recently decided in the courts in Scotland that the registration officer for Strathclyde was an employee of the Scottish Office. The registration officer for Strathclyde is a local authority employee. He carries out the duties that have been placed upon him in both primary and secondary legislation. The recent court case in Scotland found that he was—

Mr. Rooker

Deal with the specific questions.

Mr. Howard

I am dealing with the issue raised by the hon. Member for Maryhill. The registration officer for Strathclyde was acting entirely in accordance with the law.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr talked about reasonableness and the information—

Mr. Rooker

Deal with the specific questions.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions and I shall respond to them if he will give me the opportunity to do so.

The hon. Gentleman raised a question about reasonableness and whether registration officers should be confined to requesting information they reasonably require. That too was a matter that I dealt with yesterday in the course of the debate. I also said yesterday that there was nothing between us on that matter and I said I would see whether there was anything between the hon. Gentleman and the Government

Mr. Wilson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Howard

The only tactic that the Opposition can adopt in relation to these provisions in the Bill is—

It being Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Orders [22 February and 13 April] and the Resolution of 18 April, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House proceeded to a Division—

Mr. Bermingham (seated and covered)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Does the hon. Gentleman's point of order relate to the conduct of the Division? If so, I shall take it now. If not, I shall take it afterwards.

Mr. Bermingham

Indeed it does. Is it not a fact that, when a point of order is raised before a Division is called, that point of order ought to be taken at that stage because it may materially affect the calling of the Division? My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr.

Wilson) attempted to raise a point of order a few moments ago and, although the point of order had been acknowledged by your good self, the Division continued to be called. Therefore, whatever point my hon. Friend wished to raise, which may have been germane to the legality or otherwise of the Division, was denied by the fact that the Division proceeded. Is it not stated in "Erskine May" that, once a point of order has been called, time and the House stand still until the point is cleared?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. The short answer is that I am hound by the timetable motion to put the Question at 7 o'clock. That is what I did.

Mr. Bermingham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not challenging your ruling, but merely seeking guidance. Is it the case, therefore, that once a timetable motion comes into existence, the rights of hon. Members to question the procedures of the House are put into abeyance?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that he must not drag me into arguments of that sort. I am bound by the timetable motions that are passed by the House.

The House having divided: Ayes 333, Noes 222.

Division No. 267] [7 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Budgen, Nicholas
Alexander, Richard Burns, Simon
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Burt, Alistair
Allason, Rupert Butcher, John
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Butler, Chris
Amess, David Butterfill, John
Amos, Alan Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Arbuthnot, James Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carrington, Matthew
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Carttiss, Michael
Ashby, David Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Aspinwall, Jack Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Atkins, Robert Chapman, Sydney
Atkinson, David Chope, Christopher
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Churchill, Mr
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Baldry, Tony Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Batiste, Spencer Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Bellingham, Henry Colvin, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Conway, Derek
Bevan, David Gilroy Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Cope, John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Couchman, James
Body, Sir Richard Cran, James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Currie, Mrs Edwina
Boswell, Tim Curry, David
Bottomley, Peter Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Day, Stephen
Bowis, John Devlin, Tim
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Dickens, Geoffrey
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Dicks, Terry
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Dorrell, Stephen
Brazier, Julian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bright, Graham Dover, Den
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Dunn, Bob
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Durant, Tony
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Eggar, Tim
Browne, John (Winchester) Emery, Sir Peter
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Evennett, David
Buck, Sir Antony Fallon, Michael
Farr, Sir John Knowles, Michael
Favell, Tony Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lang, Ian
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Latham, Michael
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, Ivan
Fookes, Miss Janet Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Forman, Nigel Lee, John (Pendle)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forth, Eric Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Lightbown, David
Fox, Sir Marcus Lilley, Peter
Franks, Cecil Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Freeman, Roger Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
French, Douglas Lord, Michael
Fry, Peter Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Gale, Roger Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Gardiner, George McCrindle, Robert
Goodlad, Alastair Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gorman, Mrs Teresa MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gorst, John Maclean, David
Gow, Ian McLoughlin, Patrick
Gower, Sir Raymond McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Major, Rt Hon John
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Mans, Keith
Gregory, Conal Maples, John
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Marland, Paul
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Marlow, Tony
Grist, Ian Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Ground, Patrick Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Grylls, Michael Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mates, Michael
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Maude, Hon Francis
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hampson, Dr Keith Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hanley, Jeremy Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hannam, John Mellor, David
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Miller, Hal
Harris, David Mills, Iain
Hawkins, Christopher Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hayes, Jerry Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Moate, Roger
Heathcoat-Amory, David Monro, Sir Hector
Heddle, John Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Moore, Rt Hon John
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hill, James Morrison, Hon P (Chester)
Hind, Kenneth Moss, Malcolm
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Moynihan, Hon Colin
Holt, Richard Neale, Gerrard
Hordern, Sir Peter Needham, Richard
Howard, Michael Nelson, Anthony
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Neubert, Michael
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Nicholls, Patrick
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Oppenheim, Phillip
Hunter, Andrew Page, Richard
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Paice, James
Irving, Charles Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Jack, Michael Patnick, Irvine
Jackson, Robert Patten, Chris (Bath)
Janman, Tim Patten, John (Oxford W)
Jessel, Toby Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Pawsey, James
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Porter, David (Waveney)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Portillo, Michael
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Powell, William (Corby)
Key, Robert Price, Sir David
Kilfedder, James Raffan, Keith
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Rathbone, Tim
Kirkhope, Timothy Redwood, John
Knapman, Roger Renton, Tim
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Rhodes James, Robert
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Riddick, Graham
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Roe, Mrs Marion Thorne, Neil
Rossi, Sir Hugh Thornton, Malcolm
Rost, Peter Thurnham, Peter
Rowe, Andrew Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Ryder, Richard Tracey, Richard
Sackville, Hon Tom Tredinnick, David
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Trippier, David
Sayeed, Jonathan Trotter, Neville
Scott, Nicholas Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, David (Dover) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shelton, William (Streatham) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waldegrave, Hon William
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walden, George
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shersby, Michael Waller, Gary
Sims, Roger Walters, Dennis
Skeet, Sir Trevor Ward, John
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Warren, Kenneth
Soames, Hon Nicholas Watts, John
Speed, Keith Wells, Bowen
Speller, Tony Wheeler, John
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Whitney, Ray
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Widdecombe, Ann
Squire, Robin Wiggin, Jerry
Stanbrook, Ivor Wilkinson, John
Stanley, Rt Hon John Wilshire, David
Steen, Anthony Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stern, Michael Winterton, Nicholas
Stevens, Lewis Wood, Timothy
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Woodcock, Mike
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Yeo, Tim
Stokes, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Younger, Rt Hon George
Sumberg, David
Summerson, Hugo Tellers for the Ayes:
Tapsell, Sir Peter Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Canavan, Dennis
Allen, Graham Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Anderson, Donald Cartwright, John
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Armstrong, Hilary Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Ashdown, Paddy Clay, Bob
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Clelland, David
Ashton, Joe Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cohen, Harry
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Coleman, Donald
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Barron, Kevin Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Battle, John Corbett, Robin
Beckett, Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Beith, A. J. Cousins, Jim
Bell, Stuart Cox, Tom
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Crowther, Stan
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cryer, Bob
Bermingham, Gerald Cummings, John
Bidwell, Sydney Cunliffe, Lawrence
Blair, Tony Cunningham, Dr John
Boateng, Paul Dalyell, Tam
Boyes, Roland Darling, Alistair
Bradley, Keith Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Dewar, Donald
Buchan, Norman Dixon, Don
Caborn, Richard Dobson, Frank
Callaghan, Jim Doran, Frank
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Douglas, Dick
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Duffy, A. E. P.
Dunnachie, Jimmy Maxton, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Michael, Alun
Eadie, Alexander Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Eastham, Ken Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Faulds, Andrew Morgan, Rhodri
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Morley, Elliott
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Flannery, Martin Mowlam, Marjorie
Flynn, Paul Mullin, Chris
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Murphy, Paul
Foster, Derek Nellist, Dave
Foulkes, George Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Fraser, John O'Brien, William
Fyfe, Maria O'Neill, Martin
Galbraith, Sam Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Parry, Robert
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Patchett, Terry
George, Bruce Pendry, Tom
Godman, Dr Norman A. Pike, Peter L.
Gordon, Mildred Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Gould, Bryan Prescott, John
Graham, Thomas Primarolo, Dawn
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Quin, Ms Joyce
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Radice, Giles
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Redmond, Martin
Hardy, Peter Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Harman, Ms Harriet Reid, Dr John
Heffer, Eric S. Richardson, Jo
Henderson, Doug Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hinchliffe, David Robertson, George
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Robinson, Geoffrey
Holland, Stuart Rogers, Allan
Home Robertson, John Rooker, Jeff
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Howells, Geraint Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Ruddock, Joan
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Sedgemore, Brian
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Sheerman, Barry
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Illsley, Eric Short, Clare
Janner, Greville Skinner, Dennis
John, Brynmor Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Johnston, Sir Russell Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys M¯n) Snape, Peter
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Soley, Clive
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Spearing, Nigel
Kennedy, Charles Steel, Rt Hon David
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Steinberg, Gerry
Kirkwood, Archy Stott, Roger
Lambie, David Strang, Gavin
Lamond, James Straw, Jack
Leighton, Ron Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lewis, Terry Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Litherland, Robert Turner, Dennis
Livsey, Richard Vaz, Keith
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Wall, Pat
Loyden, Eddie Wallace, James
McAllion, John Walley, Joan
McAvoy, Thomas Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McCartney, Ian Wareing, Robert N.
Macdonald, Calum A. Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
McFall, John Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Wigley, Dafydd
McKelvey, William Williams, Rt Hon Alan
McNamara, Kevin Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
McTaggart, Bob Wilson, Brian
McWilliam, John Winnick, David
Madden, Max Wise, Mrs Audrey
Mahon, Mrs Alice Worthington, Tony
Marek, Dr John Young, David (Bolton SE)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tellers for the Noes:
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Martlew, Eric Mrs. Llin Golding.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions on amendments, moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, up to the end of clause 22.

Amendment made. No. 44, in page 13, line 33 at end insert— '(3) Schedule (Community charges: enforcement) below (which contains provisions about the recovery of sums due, including sums due as penalties) shall have effect:—[Mr. Howard.]

Forward to