HC Deb 25 April 1988 vol 132 cc61-87
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang)

I beg to move amendment No. 78, in page 70, line 15, after second 'by', insert 'or determined in accordance with'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to discuss also Government amendments Nos. 79, 80, 75, 91 to 95, 95A, 96, 97, 76 and 77.

Mr. Lang

Most of the amendments in this group relate to registration issues, and, like the other Scottish amendments to the Bill, they fall into three broad categories. Some bring provisions in the Scottish Act into line with the equivalent provisions for England and Wales; some make minor and technical changes to the 1987 Act; and a few introduce new provisions.

Of the amendments in this group, two fall into the first category; that is, they bring the Scottish provisions into line with the equivalent English provisions. Amendment No. 95A gives registration officers power to make inquiries of individuals who are, have been or are about to be resident in their area.

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Mr. Foulkes

The Minister talked about bringing the Scottish provision into line with the English provision. Can he explain why he is still persisting with the requirement to include the date of birth in registration? A number of people have objected to it recently, for a variety of reasons, and I can find no explanation for its inclusion. Why is the date of birth needed in Scotland but not in England? This is causing considerable offence, not least to my mother.

Mr. Lang

I am sorry about the circumstances of the hon. Gentleman's mother. However, I think that if I were to argue that all the Scottish provisions should shadow the English provisions exactly, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would be the first to complain.

The provision about dates of birth was pressed on the Government by local government practitioners in Scotland to enable them the better to identify——

Mr. Douglas

Name one.

Mr. Lang

I can name one: the Rating and Valuation Association pressed it on the Government very strongly. It was thought to be a better way of identifying people, and after considering the matter the Government decided to agree.

Mr. Foulkes

Why is that greater means of identification necessary in Scotland, but not in England? Are there more people with the same name in Scotland? I would have thought that it might be more important to apply the provision in Wales, in view of all the EvanJoneses and others of the same name. So far, the Minister has failed to explain that.

Mr. Lang

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my responsibilities in the context of the amendments relate to the Scottish provisions. I can only assume that my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent English constituencies and who are Ministers at the Department of the Environment have not come under the same pressure from local government practitioners.

Amendment No. 95A gives registration officers power to make inquiries of individuals who are, have been or are about to be resident in their area. At present, the basic source of information for registration officers is the canvass of responsible persons. It is clear, however, that at a certain stage in the canvass process, registration officers may wish to seek information direct from individuals—for example, those who claim to be students or to be exempt —and the amendment gives them power to do so. As the power will relate to identifiable individuals, it will not supplant the general canvass process but will be a useful supplement to it. A similar power is contained in paragraph 10 of schedule 2 as respects England and Wales.

Amendment No. 96 also falls—or at least partly falls —into this category. Among the amendments it makes to section 20 of the 1987 Act is an amendment to allow the Secretary of State to prescribe other persons who will he entitled to inspect the register. This power will be used to allow auditors to inspect the register in line with the equivalent provision for England and Wales. Amendment No. 96 also amends the part of section 20 which requires regional and islands councils to sell copies of the public part of the register.

A number of interests have objected to this requirement and have suggested that, if it is retained, provision should be made to allow individuals to request the removal of their name. Amendment No. 96 therefore replaces the relevant part of section 20 with a provision empowering the Secretary of State to make regulations providing whether, and on what terms. the public part of the register may be sold. It brings section 20 into line with the corresponding provision for England and Wales in paragraph 18 of schedule 2 to the Bill.

Three of the amendments in the group introduce what are effectively new provisions. Amendment No. 91 amends section 13 of the 1987 Act to make it clear that the register should not be divided into three parts, relating to the personal, standard and collective community charges respectively. If the register were organised in this way it would, at least arguably, feed through into the public part of the register and would thus completely negate our intention that it should not be possible to identify second homes from the register. A separate part would also make it easier to identify women's refuges, undermining the anonymity that we intend to achieve for them.

Amendment No. 93 amends section 15 of the 1987 Act to overcome difficulties which might otherwise arise in the case of deaths. As that section stands, registration officers are required to notify persons whose register entry is changed or deleted using a form prescribed for that purpose. The form addresses the registered person in the second person singular, and it would clearly he unfortunate if such forms were sent out bearing the names of people who have died. Amendment No. 93 therefore amends section 15 to provide that in such circumstances the notification should be sent to the deceased's executors.

The last amendment in this category is amendment No. 95. It inserts into section 18 of the 1987 Act a new subsection, which provides that when a person dies his executors must notify the registration officer of the date of the death within one month. This will help to ensure that the register is kept up to date.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Can the Minister estimate how many registration forms have been sent out to deceased people in Scotland over the past month, naming them as responsible people?

Mr. Lang

No; I am sorry. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the registration process has just started. Although in some regions it is quite well advanced and is proceeding smoothly, in others some of the information is not yet available.

Amendment No. 95 is unlikely to impose any additional burden on executors, as they will no doubt wish in any case to seek confirmation that there is no outstanding liability for the community charge in respect of the deceased.

Mr. Douglas

Do the Government intend to introduce any penalties for failure to inform the registration officer that a person is deceased?

Mr. Lang

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the 1987 Act already makes provision for a civil penalty of £50 in the first instance and £200 in the second.

The other amendments in the group are all essentially minor and technical, and raise no issues of substance.

Mr. Douglas

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that we have a truncated debate, and I do not wish to detain any hon. Member who wishes to take part, but the Government have tabled a plethora of amendments. Surely it is an insult to the House to guillotine the debate. Does the Minister intend to say anything about Government amendment No. 84 which introduces substantial changes to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has quite understood. We are discussing the group of amendments being taken with Government amendment No. 78. Government amendment No. 84 will come later, if there is time. It cannot be discussed with this group of amendments.

Mr. Douglas

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Substantial changes are being made under a guillotine. I shall respect your ruling. However, the thrust of the amendments relates not to the 1987 Act but to the 1973 Act. Is the Minister not going to say anything in defence of his amendment?

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) has made a very good point. This is a very short debate to cover many Government amendments that are both technical and important. I think that it would have been more sensible if the Minister had taken some time at least to say a word or two about the other amendments—as we must finish the debate by 7.30 pm—or even for the amendments all to have been grouped together, so that we could have talked about all of them. Some of the others are also important, but there will be no time to debate them all.

I intend to keep my remarks relatively brief, because I am well aware of the shortness of time, and we want to get through as much as possible. I do not know about the Minister, but I spent considerable time during the past weeks canvassing in my constituency. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) never does that, but I do. I have found, on doorstep after doorstep, people who voted Tory even as late as June last year saying, "I shall never vote for that woman again." The major cause of that is, of course, the poll tax. Our canvass returns in Cathcart show Labour support 6 per cent. higher than it was in June last year, when the majority was increased from 4,000 to 11,000. That is why the Government are doing so badly. I say to English Conservative Members loud and clear: if they want to experience the same thing as their Scottish colleagues did in June last year, let them continue to vote for this legislation.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

Has my hon. Friend seen the report in the Galloway Gazette and Stranraer-News?

Mr. Maxton

I should be delighted to read it, if my hon. Friend lets me have a copy.

The Minister and I both spoke at the rating and valuation conference in Dunblane last Friday. He did not impress the experts, the people who must put the system into practice, by arriving at 11.30, speaking for 20 minutes and leaving to do a press conference. He did not answer a single question that the experts wanted to ask. Those experts said loud and clear to me that they will keep all their valuation rolls for domestic properties because their view is that the tax will collapse in a matter of years and the Government will have to return to the rating system.

Mr. Salmond

Did any one of those experts suggest to the hon. Gentleman in those discussions that the information on the date of birth was necessary for the community charge register?

Mr. Maxton

None of them did. Equally, every single one was opposed to the concept of a non-payment campaign.

One thing which the Minister said, which is important in regard to the amendments, was: It is our clear intention that no change made to the Bill should prejudice the timetable for the introduction of the new system in Scotland. When the hon. Gentleman spoke to the press later, he said: Our legislation is through. It would not upset the timetable for Scotland. The driving force is to abolish the discredited and grossly unfair rating system and we are determined to bring early relief to domestic ratepayers in Scotland. That is what the change is all about. That is a major shift in Scottish Office thinking. Until now, the Secretary of State has made it abundantly clear that if there are any major changes in the English legislation, inevitably it will mean the holding back or withdrawal and repeal of the Scottish legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh yes. That is what the Secretary of State has said time and again.

Mr. Lang

To help the hon. Gentleman along, the question was not about change; it was about delay.

Mr. Maxton

That is not what the Minister is quoted as saying. He said: It is our clear intention that no change made to the Bill should prejudice the timetable". That is astonishing. Are they saying that if the Bill is defeated on Third Reading tonight—it may be a remote possibility, but it is not impossible—the Scottish Act will go ahead? If the other place amends the Bill, as the House came close to doing on Monday last week, will the Government say that they will still press ahead with the Scottish legislation, despite such a major change in the English Bill? If so, that is a direct contradiction and a major shift in the view of the Scottish Office and its Ministers.

The amendments are about registration. As the registration process is taking place in Scotland, chaos is developing. Repressive measures are having to be used —I say that advisedly—by registration officers to try to get the information. Jack Woods, the registration officer for Strathclyde, made it clear that he had to use postcards giving people three days to return the information because, if he did not, it would have been impossible to obtain the information in time to complete the register by October this year. He is having to use means which, if legal, are not strictly within the spirit of how the process should be carried out.

The amendments try to tighten up further the registration procedure, to try to make sure, if at all possible, that nobody dodges the tax.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

indicated assent.

6.15 pm
Mr. Maxton

The hon. Gentleman nods. Every time that is done, the expense increases and the return decreases because every time one pushes up the expense of registration one gets a smaller return.

Many people in Strathclyde are returning their forms, not just because we are asking them to and saying that that is what they should do. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) referred to the date of birth. Many people ask why on earth they should give that information and why they should provide information that is not required under the English Bill. What absolute guarantee can the Minister give that the information of the date of birth will be kept secret and not be made available to a much wider public? We must deal with the registration procedure.

The amendments are bizarre and threatening. For example, amendment No. 95 deals with what happens when someone dies. That is right. It is amazing that when we went through the Committee on the Scottish Bill Ministers forgot that people died. Ministers did not remember that and did nothing about it.

Mr. Lang

Did the hon. Gentleman raise the matter?

Mr. Maxton

It was not my responsibility to ensure that the Bill was correct. It was the hon. Gentleman's responsibility. [NON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am sorry, I take that back. Of course, it was not the Minister's direct responsibility; it was the responsibility of one Michael Ancram, who pushed the Bill through. We all know what happened to him.

It is important to know whether there will be penalties if the executor does not inform the registration officer that someone has died. In my constituency, for example. a husband who has been unemployed for the past 20 years may die. The couple may have no property except the contents of the House. An executor will not be appointed. The widow is left with the responsibility to ensure that arrangements are made—an executor will not do it. It is she who has to arrange the funeral and go through all the procedures; she will be the executor in fact, if not in law. Will she have to return the forms and make sure that she sends back the information within a month? If she does not, will she suffer a £50 fine, on top of all the other things that she is suffering? That would be absurd.

Through the amendments, the Government are seeking further information. It is not clear from the amendments whether this is the case, but the Minister said at Dunblane that under the new system DHSS payments are now subject to court orders and local authorities will be able to seek deductions from DHSS payments. The Minister also said that the DHSS will be able to provide information to registration officers. If someone seeks income support, he will be given a form to claim a rebate on his poll tax, but he will be informed that if he does not send in the form the DHSS will inform the registration officer accordingly. That is a breach of the commitment given by Michael Ancram in the Committee on the Scottish Bill, that DHSS records would not be available for the registration process. He said that time and again in Committee. We have yet another breach of the rules as Ministers realise that they are having more problems with the tax and that they are in difficulties.

Visiting service men are now to be exempt. I do not know what that will mean in Argyll. I do not know how much American service men living in Dunoon pay in rates on houses that they rent or own. If they rent or own their houses, presumably they pay rates. Now they are to be exempt. I assume that if the service man is married to a Scots girl she will be exempt too. As I understand it, a spouse will be exempt as well. That makes some sense, but there is something obscence about well-paid American service men and well-paid diplomats living in Scotland —I do not know whether the consuls are in the same position—being exempt from the poll tax when the Government intend to impose the tax upon the mildly mentally handicapped, the severely physically handicapped, the old, the unemployed, the ill and the sick.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Does my hon. Friend recall the notorious Mr. Michael Ancram seeking to rebut the suggestion that in reality the community charge would be a poll tax by arguing that those not entitled to vote would not have to pay tax? We now see the Government seeking to exempt a large group of foreigners who are not able to vote but should have to pay the tax.

Mr. Maxton

My hon. Friend is right. The Government are making nonsense of the argument that the tax is about ensuring that anyone who makes use of local services should pay something towards them. An American service man living in Dunoon will make use of local services, perhaps the full range of such services. However, he will not have to pay the poll tax. The Government are in a considerable mess.

I shall quote what the Secretary of State for the Environment said about the unified business rate on Thursday of last week. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) raised the matter in the same debate. The right hon. Gentleman said: Scotland will move towards a unified business rate at the English rate poundage after rateable values have been harmonised. No changes to the Bill are proposed, because it is unclear how fast harmonisation can proceed."—[Official Report, 21 April 1988; Vol. 131, c. 1026.] As I understand it, we do not have any legislation for the introduction of a uniform business rate in Scotland. Perhaps some of the technical amendments before us will make the necessary legislative provision. I should think that separate legislation will be required. Is the Secretary of State for the Environment telling us something that we in Scotland do not know, or is he just plain ignorant?

Mr. Douglas

My hon. Friend is making a valuable point, but what the Secretary of State said to me was much more specific: The idea is that the rateable value bases of the two countries should be brought entirely in line as soon as possible so that there is no distortion between arrangements in England and Scotland."—[Official Report, 21 April 1988; Vol. 131, c. 1025.]

Mr. Maxton

My hon. Friend reinforces my argument. I do not think that the Scottish Office is aware of the problem. If it is, it is clearly abrogating its responsibility to deal with Scottish legislation and Scottish local government. It seems that it is happy to hand over its responsibilities to the Department of the Environment.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman in a small way. There may be other changes that will require legislation but that will not be necessary when it comes to valuation practice. The hon. Gentleman may not realise that the Inland Revenue has different practices for the decapitalisation rate for different types of hereditament. It is that area in which harmonisation is required, where valuation opinion is involved. That would be likely to benefit Scotland.

Mr. Maxton

Now that the hon. Gentleman has resumed his place, I shall inform him of his ignorance. Valuations in Scotland are not carried out by the Inland Revenue. Separate legislation would be required to make properties in Scotland liable to valuation by the Inland Revenue. We need to know from the Minister exactly what is going on.

The poll tax is obscene and it is not wanted in Scotland. The time has come for the Government to withdraw their proposals, even for their own political good. If they fail to withdraw the legislation that will apply in Scotland, there will be no Conservative Members representing seats in Scotland after the next general election.

Mr. Bill Walker

The comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) about the anomalies in the valuations of non-domestic properties in Scotland are interesting and astonishing. He must know that hon. Members on both sides of the House have introduced private Members' Bills to eradicate anomalies between the Scottish and English valuation systems. Caravans and reed beds, for example, may ring some bells for the hon. Gentleman. The bringing into line of the two rating and valuation systems is long overdue. The distortions have worked substantially to Scotland's disadvantage, and that is something we should never forget.

The hon. Member for Cathcart talked about visiting service men and I expect that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will take up his remarks. I understand that the hon. Gentleman was referring to visiting service men who take up rented accommodation. The owners of such properties will have to register them under the legislation. That applies also to second homes, for example. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that visiting service men should not broaden our elections. I hope also that he will agree that service men should make their contribution, as they have in the past. Military bases have had their own system for ensuring that that happens.

The hon. Member for Cathcart told us that he has been canvassing in his constituency. It will come as no surprise to him that he is not the only one who has chosen to go out knocking on doors. He is not the only one who has been canvassing.

Mr. Foulkes

That explains why the hon. Gentleman is wearing dark glasses.

Mr. Maxton

What happened?

Mr. Walker

I happened to suffer some injuries to my eyes over the weekend. I find that the more sensitive hon. Members are sympathetic to anyone with such problems. The less sympathetic and understanding usually find it amusing when someone suffers such injuries. I leave Labour Members to decide which cap fits them.

The hon. Member for Cathcart has told us that he has done some canvassing. As I have said, I have been canvassing in my constituency. Over the weekend, I spoke to Health Service managers in Edinburgh and to the Association of School Meals Organisers at its annual conference on Saturday. I went through the community charge proposals in some detail with both bodies because I knew that they were interested in them. The hon. Member for Cathcart will be surprised to hear that in the main they were responsive to the Government's position and attitude. Indeed, they were constructively helpful and responsive. The gentleman who replied to my speech and thanked me at the conference of the Association of School Meals Organisers said that he was one of the converts. I found that interesting.

The hon. Member for Cathcart has said that his constituents are saying that they will never again vote for the Conservative party. I did not expect to be received favourably at the association's conference. Indeed, I expected to have to defend the Government's policy on these matters, including the amendments that we are discussing. I was pleasantly surprised when there was a warm response and a positive reaction to what I had to say in going into detail on the community charge. It is the misinformation about the Bill that is causing the public to be concerned. When one deals with facts, one should present them as they are.

This morning, I received a letter from some individuals who said that they had never voted Conservative, but, having had the opportunity to hear me speak and to study in detail the booklet that the Government sent out, they now believe that the Conservative party is the only party bringing forward sensible proposals in respect of local government finance. That is why the amendments, particularly those in respect of registration and other matters that require tightening up, are before the House.

Of course, there were problems with deceased individuals being notified. Whoever the dependants may be, they have other sensitive matters to deal with. As everyone knows, a bereaved person has many difficult and sensitive matters to deal with. In most instances bereaved people are assisted by relatives and others. It normally falls to someone else to carry out such activities. That will become the norm in respect of many things that must be done. We all know that, at some time or other, our parents will be deceased, and we must deal with the matters that must be dealt with. It is nonsense to suggest that, somehow, there is something different about this matter.

I welcome the amendments. They will help to tidy the Bill and will make it easier for people such as myself, who have been out positively canvassing the benefits, also to explain what will happen.

6.30 pm
Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

I, too, regret that we are faced with all these amendments and, once again, are not allowed sufficient time properly to debate them. Some amendments, such as No. 95A, refer to obtaining information. As we know, preparation for the poll tax has been under way in Scotland for some time. Forms are dropping through people's doors throughout the country. I should have thought that the alarm and, indeed, the chaos that seem to be threatening would be a warning to England and Wales.

What I could most usefully do is to read a letter that I recently received. It is one of many such letters to registration offices from various people in my constituency. One gentleman states: Firstly I have never signed to promise money without knowing the figure involved. I appreciate that you cannot know the exact figure but an estimate to the nearest £20 would suffice. That gentleman strongly objects to putting his signature to a hit of paper, promising money when he does not know how much will be involved. He went on: Secondly, although I may be a responsible person under the terms of the the Act, one can only be responsible for oneself. I cannot be responsible for any information regarding names and dates of birth of any additional occupants of the above address. An awful lot of people are objecting on such grounds. That gentleman objects also on the ground of fairness. As hon. Members will probably realise, that constituent lives on an island. He does not see why he should pay the same as a resident in a town, when I have neither street lighting nor a footpath in front of my house, have no access to recreation and leisure facilities and suffer the obvious penalties of living on an island. [Interruption.] He was not forced to live on that island —he was born and brought up there. His parents before him and his grandparents before them lived there. I shall never accept the argument that, if one does not want to take on the penalties of living on an island, one should get out or not go there in the first place.

It was interesting to see the registration form that was delivered to my house at the weekend. At the top, it states: A responsible person can be required to provide information, but being a responsible person does not make that person liable to pay a community charge on behalf of any other person. That is misleading. Often, those who are designated as responsible are husbands or wives. Most often, it is the husband, because, in the past, they have been the ratepayers. The form does not make it clear that a husband could be responsible for his wife's poll tax if she is not an earner. Registration officers must examine and solve that problem.

Going back to amendment No. 95A relating to obtaining information, an article on the fairness of the poll tax in this week's editon of The Observer was particularly instructive. It stated that, when canvassers tried to obtain information from council estates, they were sent packing. In fact, the only welcoming ports of call for poll tax canvassers were those that had BMWs in their drives or, perhaps, had double-glazed windows.

I hope that the Minister will examine, albeit briefly, amendment No. 81, which refers to visiting forces. It is causing some concern, particularly to my council in Argyll and Bute. I hope that he will be able to tell us what the consequences will be for visiting forces and their wives. Clause 128 refers to people who have relevant associations with members of visiting forces. Who are such persons? Does it mean that the wives of men in visiting forces are not to pay the poll tax? If so, all the girls in Dunoon may rush off to marry United States naval chaps.

Mr. Home Robertson

Surely they have better taste.

Mrs. Michie

Many of them have married United States naval men.

What will happen if a United States naval officer is posted back to the United States and his wife and children must stay in Dunoon? Will they continue not to pay the poll tax? I am not clear about the consequences, and I shall be glad if the Minister will say a word on the matter.

Unfortunately, nothing in the amendments does anything to ease the additional burden that has been heaped on church and crofting communities. Because of the inequity of the poll tax, the Government have lost the argument. That inequity will never be forgotten—certainly in Scotland.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I welcome the amendments, just as the House should welcome them. They refine and improve the legislation. Anything that does that to any measure going through the House of Commons should be welcomed in the interests of the people in this country. I advise the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) that the explanatory notes on the form that I received clearly show what the figure will be —£210. I am surprised that her local authority has not given her constituent the same valuable information. Some Opposition Members have been shouting about £300 and £400 in my part of the world. That shows just how they have gone out of their way to mislead the population about the community charge. As has been said, it is most unfair and unreasonable of Members of Parliament, and candidates in the election, to cause alarm and despondency by quoting figures which are way out of proportion to what they will be in a year's time.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Name one example.

Sir Hector Monro

I have just given the hon. Lady the average figure in Dumfries and Galloway, as quoted by the regional council and the local government information leaflet published last week. That was £210 for Dumfries and Galloway and for the districts therein. That is as accurate as can be ascertained at present. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady laughs about that, she had better stick to her own district and not interfere with other people's.

I believe that the wishful thinking of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), that this important Bill might be in jeopardy at Third Reading, is totally without any foundation. He will discover that shortly. If that is so, then the legislation will proceed in any event in Scotland. I am glad that the regional authorities are making such important steps towards collecting the information as required by the Act, and proceeding with all pace to carry out the procedure satisfactorily. I wonder what the policies of the various parties opposite—including the Scottish National party, the Labour party and every Tom, Dick and Harry—are to the implementation of the community charge. Some hon. Members say, "Take illegal action"; others say, "Take legal action."

The general public is thoroughly muddled by the deliberate attempt by Opposition Members to make life as difficult as possible for the people of Scotland, when they should be assisting them to introduce a scheme that is much fairer to all the people in Scotland. They certainly believe that in Scotland.

It is fascinating that, when I have been knocking on doors, in which I suspect I have been more effective than the hon. Member for Cathcart, I have found a very different response. Hon. Members opposite also fail to explain during their tours of their constituencies the very effective rebate system which is so important to the community charge. Once people understand that rebates operate on a sliding scale, going up to 80 per cent., and perhaps beyond for those on very low incomes, they will begin to realise that the rebate system is a valuable and important one

Mr. Maxton

Second to the anger that people are expressing about the poll tax is the large number of people who are bitter, bitter, bitter about losing their housing benefit and social security payments as a result of this Government's legislation.

Sir Hector Monro

They also say how delighted they are that the Government have increased nurses' salaries so substantially. If the hon. Member for Cathcart wishes to move away from the Bill, he can have that answer.

The amendmends tabled by the Government are certainly advantageous. It is right that the Minister should take the opportunity to put them in this Bill, so that they can be included in the work going ahead on the community charge in Scotland. I have every intention of supporting the Government tonight.

Mr. Salmond

I hope that the four English Conservative Back Benchers who have stayed to listen to this debate, and who, perhaps, are "beginning to understand" the full implications of this legislation, will find the Scottish debate instructive.

We have reached a fine pitch in the poll tax debate as it applies to Scotland—a fine pitch of argument and also a fine pitch of absurdity, which is reflected in some of the amendments that the Government are proposing.

Amendment No. 92, for example, substitutes "registered person" for the phrase person whose name is entered in the register". In amendment No. 97, "registered person" is defined as someone who is registered in the register". That was an amendment crying out to be tabled!

The Minister has already given us an insight into the only two certainties of life, which are death and taxes. Amendment No. 95 contains what must be the Government's major and generous concession in the Scottish legislation. The Minister releases dead people from the responsibility of telling the registration officer that they have died. That responsibility is placed on the executors. If the Minister is concerned about the feelings of the relatives of the deceased, will he say how many deceased people have received, as responsible people, a registration form, because of the use of the electoral roll? If the Minister is so concerned with the feelings of relatives, perhaps he will try to estimate how many such forms have been distributed and what the Government propose to do about it.

6.45 pm

There are a number of other serious matters in these amendments. Amendment No. 95A, for example, extends the list of people to whom the registration officer can elicit information to anyone whom he reasonably believes is, has been or is about to be resident in the registration area. How can a registration officer know who is "about to be" registered in his area? The only source of information is other registration officers in Scotland, who have supplied him with the names of people who are leaving their registration areas. We have to square that with the question on page 10 of this multi-coloured brochure "You and the Community Charge" from the "Ministry of Truth": Will it be a national register? The answer was


There will not be a national register for the poll tax only —in the same way as there was not a national police force during the miners' strike. There will certainly be shared information and the exchange of information between registration officers. That is clearly implied within the amendments.

In amendment No. 96, we see another breach of civil liberties in the legislation. That extends the list of people who can seek information from the register: any such other person as may be prescribed shall be entitled to inspect the register to such extent and for such purposes as may be prescribed". In other words, an extension of those who are allowed to inspect the full poll tax register.

The original legislation detailed that the assessor and the electoral registration officer would have that entitlement. This amendment is a major extension of those who are going to be allowed to look at the full register. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) asked the Minister why date of birth information was required in the Scottish legislation. We have the answer in this amendment. It is that, within a fairly short period, the poll tax number, including the date of birth information, will be the "passport", without which a member of the public will not receive, or be able to receive, access to any entitlement of right of any state service. The lie to the Government's position on the matter is given in that amendment, with the extension of those who can look at the full poll tax register.

We are debating the Scottish amendments at the fag end of the English legislation. As several hon. Members have said, it will mean that many important amendments receive no discussion at all this evening. I doubt very seriously whether the 38 officers and gentlemen who revolted last Monday night are going to revolt on these Scottish amendments. Of those 38 hon. Members, no fewer than 30 voted for the Scottish poll tax in the last Parliament. Indeed, two other hon. Members were not in the Parliament. These amendments will not be decided by Scottish Members, 63 of whom are now opposed to the poll tax. These amendments will be decided by the English Members who are not even present in this Chamber to hear the arguments. The revolt of the officers and gentlemen makes it clear that English Members of Parliament vote blind on Scottish legislation. We are seeing yet another example of that this evening.

The anger in Scotland, I should tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), is expressed not just in terms of opposition to the poll tax but takes in no less than 71 per cent. of the supporters of the Labour party who wish to go further. According to an opinion poll last month, 71 per cent. wanted a campaign of non-payment, in line with 78 per cent. of the supporters of my party, a majority of the supporters of the Democrats and even 20 per cent. of the supporters of the Conservative party. They all wanted a campaign of non-payment.

Mr. Bill Walker

If the Scottish National party is so keen on a campaign of non-payment, why is Angus district council assuming a policy that payment and registration should be carried out? Will the hon. Gentleman also say why it is necessary for Scottish National party activists to send letters to the local papers in my constituency asking questions that were never asked of me at public meetings and giving answers that I have not given? The answer is that they have to rely on distortions about the facts, on misinformation and downright lies. That is how desperate they are.

Mr. Salmond

Many things are said about the hon. Gentleman. My view is that most are understatements rather than overstatements. The position of the Scottish National party is that a mass campaign of non-payment is necessary and justified given the circumstances in which the Scottish legislation was passed.

Mr. Maxton

I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not congratulated the Government on the changes that they have introduced to allow direct access to DHSS payments by the courts and finance officers. That was requested of the Government by Grampian regional council, of which the SNP is part of the ruling group which voted for the proposal.

Mr. Salmond

If the hon. Gentleman was following closely—he should have been, as he attended some Committee meetings at which I explained at some length the SNP proposal for the mass campaign of non-payment —he will know that it is precisely those who are in a position to pay, those who can pay but who will not pay, whom we are trying to recruit for a mass campaign of non-payment. They will stand shoulder to shoulder with many people in Scotland who cannot and will not pay. That is the point behind the mass campaign of non-payment.

In conclusion, when English Conservative Members do not even attend Scottish debates, vote blind on Scottish legislation and ram issues such as the poll tax down the throats of the Scottish people against the wishes of the vast majority of Scottish Members, it is little wonder that there is the level of resentment and anger in Scotland that will sustain a mass campaign of non-payment. There can be no more eloquent testimony to the need for a Scottish parliament than the circumstances and the decision of this evening's vote.

Mr. Butterfill

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) might reflect that many of the Labour Members who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill were from Scotland. We commented on that at the time. Indeed, we welcomed the interest that they were taking in what is predominantly an English Bill, which affects Scotland only peripherally. It is a little disappointing that only one of the Scottish Labour Members who served on the Standing Committee is participating in this debate. Perhaps that reflects the interest of Scottish Labour Members in the legislation.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) chastised me when I intervened to say that I am ignorant of Scottish affairs. I assumed that valuations in Scotland were carried out by the Inland Revenue, whereas, as he correctly pointed out, they are carried out by the local government valuers. However, the principle of what I was saying—that valuation practice does not require legislation—is absolutely correct. The hon. Gentleman would do well to reflect that properties that are valued according to the contractors' test, such as extractive industries and large-scale petrochemical industries—many of which are important to Scottish industry—operate at a disadvantage compared with their competitors in England, which have a decapitalisation rate that is a good deal more favourable.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that he thinks that that is an anomaly which should be corrected and that he is considering how best it should be corrected. He has suggested that we might have an automatic mechanism for adjusting the decapitalisation rate which might require an amendment. I would have thought that that should be welcomed by Opposition Members. It is something of which the hon. Member for Cathcart would have been aware if he had taken the trouble to read the Hansard of the Committee proceedings.

Mrs. Fyfe

The reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) is absent is simple. He is serving on a Committee. I do not know the reason for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), but, knowing his strong commitment to getting a lot done in this place, I can only assume that it is a good reason. It was unreasonable of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) to assume that there is an inadequate reason for their absence.

I shall raise two points briefly, as other hon. Members wish to speak. We heard earlier from the Minister that people in Scotland are required to give their date of birth to the poll tax canvasser because the Government received representations on that in Scotland. When pressed on that point, we were told that the local government body that called for that was the Rating and Valuation Association. The people of Scotland will be amazed to learn that, in spite of their strength of feeling and their vehement opposition to the measure requiring their birth date, they are getting it because of the wishes of a body of which the vast majority have probably never heard. I should add that the Rating and Valuation Association has conducted itself in a most responsible fashion by explaining clearly to people all along what the legislation is about and why it should not be brought into force. It is incredible—it will certainly be noticed with anger in Scotland—that that is the best reason that the Government can produce for enforcing the date of birth requirement on the Scottish population.

The main reason why I wish to speak is that only this weekend I discovered that in my constituency a poll tax canvasser had knocked on the door of a mentally handicapped person on Friday night. That man has lived all his life until recently in institutions and has managed to live alone and independently only recently, in a small flat in my constituency. He can do so only with the support of local social workers who give him advice on his budget. He lives in a block of flats in which other people are similarly placed. Many cannot read or write with any fluency, yet the poll tax canvasser went round on Friday night, handed over the poll tax form and said that she would be back on Monday. When the man, who was alert enough to have been taking in information from the television, said that he knew that he had 21 days in which to return the form, he got the reply that he had better return the poll tax form on Monday or he would be liable to be fined.

I should add that that man is able to work at a relatively undemanding job, with low pay of about £67 per week. He is on housing benefit, which is about to be cut heavily. At the moment it is uncertain what housing benefit he will end up with. However, it seems pretty certain that he will be liable to pay the full poll tax, considering that last week we learned that a single man with a take-home pay as low as £53 per week would be liable to pay the poll tax.

Since this sort of thing is happening in Strathclyde, we must assume that it could be happening elsewhere in Scotland right now and that there are dangers of its happening throughout England and Wales when registration begins there. As the Secretary of State has evidently not yet taken any steps to ensure that poll tax canvassing is carried out with some sensitivity, is it not reasonable to say that before people go around knocking on doors, they should at least find out in advance where people such as I have described are living, so that they can be approached far more sensitively than has been described? What training does the Minister propose shall be given to poll tax canvassers? What information will he ensure that they are given? People are being misinformed about their rights in the most aggressive manner. It is important that the Minister takes up this issue without any further delay.

7 pm

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), I support the amendments.

It is important to deal with the allegation made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) that the Government have changed their position. He did not produce any exact quotations of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to back up that allegation. As I understand it, the Government's position has been clear and unchanged throughout. It has been that, obviously, there might need to be detailed changes in this Bill to apply to the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 because of changes that have been agreed to the legislation south of the border, but that that would not change the timetable. The Government have always made it clear that detailed changes such as the amendments entail might have to be introduced without changing the timetable.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) once again used the opportunity to tell the House about the SNP's great campaign of non-payment.

Mr. Bill Walker

Did my hon. Friend notice, as I did, that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) ducked completely the question whether Angus district council, which is run by the SNP now but will not be after 5 May, would co-operate with Tayside region in the registration process?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only did the hon. Gentleman duck that, but he ducked the question from the hon. Member for Cathcart about Grampion region, and whether he and his few hon. Friends would be the first over the barricades.

Mr. Salmond

If the hon. Gentleman is looking for an answer to whether I shall pay my poll tax, it is that I shall not pay it.

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's confirmation that SNP Members of this Parliament will under no circumstances pay the community charge, so they will subject themselves to the inevitable penalties of the law. We shall see in due course. In the past, that question has been ducked by SNP leaders.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) raised an important point which my hon. Friend the Minister may wish to comment on if he is successful in catching your eye at the end of the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have found a continuing confusion about the difference between the responsibility for filling in the form and the responsibility for paying the community charge. All hon. Members know what the position is, because we have been following the legislation. but it is important that people know what their joint and several liability is in relation to their spouse, and that their liability does not extend to other members of the household. A man came to my surgery, critical of the community charge, but when I explained that he did not have to pay for all his teenage children over 18, he was immediately transformed into a supporter. He left with the words, "That will get them out of the house a bit quicker."

The hon. Lady also said that people did not know what their community charge would be. Obviously, it is not known what the precise community charge will be, but I would have thought that we do know what it will be within £20, as she asked. The figure for Eastwood on the latest calculations is £264.

A disinformation campaign is continuing in significant parts of Scotland, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not underestimate it. People who are not necessarily heavily involved and do not necessarily have sources of advice easily available are particularly vulnerable to the disinformation which is being supported implicitly and explicitly by some hon. Members.

Mr. Foulkes

I never thought that I would find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), but he is absolutely right: there is a disinformation campaign, but it is coming from new St. Andrew's House. What is more, it is being carried out at the expense of taxpayers, and the Comptroller and Auditor General might do well to look into that.

I have not spoken in many of these debates——

Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

Why not?

Mr. Foulkes

I have been happy to sit and listen to my hon. Friends make powerful and persuasive arguments against all aspects of the Bill. But I am glad to have an opportunity to speak now, because last Thursday I was speaking at a public meeting in Cumnock town hall, where every seat was taken. It was a packed meeting, the like of which I have not seen since the miners' strike. Almost unanimously, those present wanted us to oppose and obstruct the process of registration by every legal means. They objected strongly to, and rejected SNP suggestions of, non-payment. In particular, one person remembered being pushed into a rent strike by SNP personnel and that the people who had been pushing had paid their rents, leaving the rest high and dry.

Mr. Salmond


Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Gentleman has had his say. At the meeting, the people wondered whether, if they followed the advice of the nationalists, they would again be left high and dry, or whether the SNP would bail them out in their hour of need.

Mr. Salmond

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the System Three poll showed that 71 per cent. of Labour voters wanted such a campaign? The real division on this issue is not between the Labour party and the SNP, but between the Labour leadership and Labour supporters.

Mr. Foulkes

It is about time that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues started attacking the real enemy, the Tories, instead of spending hour upon hour attacking the Labour party. I was saying that the SNP was leading people down a path when it knows that it cannot support those whom it encourages down that path.

The other point that became clear at the meeting was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). In several areas registration officers are intimidating, threatening and harassing all sorts of people to return the forms within three days, and it is implied that if they do not a £50 penalty will come into force.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency I have just discovered that those who are dishing out poll tax forms are not only eagerly and zealously collecting them—it is 10p to hand one out and 40p to bring back a completed form—but are insisting that elderly people should fill in the forms, and even filling in the forms and signing them on those people's behalf? That must be illegal and I am certainly having that investigated in Kilmarnock.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend from the Ayrshire mafia. My hon. Friend rightly describes the unfortunate activities of those who are becoming known as bounty hunters in certain parts of Scotland.

The Minister should be careful and he should have a wee word with Mr. John Brewis about what it is like to be the ex-hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. Protest meetings are not only taking place in places such as Cumnock town hall. Let us consider what The Galloway Gazette said on Saturday 23 April. The headline ran: Larger hall needed as 200 turn out to Poll Tax 'Stop It' campaign meeting". That meeting took place in the Minister's constituency. Mr. Dangerfield, a Stranraer solicitor, chaired the meeting —he does not sound like a Labour supporter to me—and he is reported as saying: the way Tory voters who will benefit from the Community Charge had still opposed the legislation 'makes me proud to be Scottish'". He quoted from the Tory Reform Group—I think that the Secretary of State used to be a member of that; Michael Ancram was. Mr. Dangerfield quoted from the Tory Reform Group pamphlet that said: Poll tax is fair only in the sense that the Black Death was fair—it is indiscriminate. We did not say that, the Tories did. Mr. Dangerfield quoted those words in Stranraer—part of the Minister's constituency—at the packed meeting. The Galloway Gazette also reported that: Rev. Thomson said that his worry about the Poll Tax was both as a parish minister and as an individual … Mr. Thomson said that people had to find 'any ways we can to help at a local level, to try to bring home to the Government our concern'.

Mr. Maxton

The Minister will not meet such people.

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend is right; the Minister is not prepared to meet such people and listen to their concerns. The Minister need only read the leader in The Galloway Gazette to realise that, in Galloway, the writing is on the wall for him as it was for Michael Ancram, Anna McCurley——

Mr. Galbraith

Michael Hirst.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful for that timely prompt from my hon. Friend. The writing was on the wall for all those people who served on the Scottish poll tax Bill Committee and the same will be true of the Minister.

The leader in The Galloway Gazette says: Democratic accountability, the Tories argue, demands the Poll Tax, but there are many waverers now in the party who will be urging caution and now is surely the time to think again. If The Galloway Gazette is now calling for time to think again it must be time for the Minister to shake in his shoes.

At the meeting held in Cumnock town hall the feeling that came through loud arid clear was that we must obstruct and oppose registration by every legal means. That is what the "Stop It" campaign has said, that is what the Labour party says and I believe that is what the Scottish Social and Liberal Democrats—what a mouthful —are saying. The Churches and trade unions in Scotland are also saying the same thing.

Mr. Bill Walker

The hon. Gentleman has, quite properly, harangued the SNF'. He should consult his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) who put some direct questions to Gordon Wilson during a programme in which he and I participated. Gordon Wilson ducked those questions and, equally, gave no suggestion that he would be prepared to give legal advice to all those whom he is advising to break the law. Is that not typical of the SNP?

Mr. Foulkes

I find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and, since that is a dangerous position to be in, I shall return to the theme of my speech.

Over the weekend I got my poll tax registration form and I have already amassed a whole series of questions to put to the registration officer before I can even contemplate filling it out. Who is the responsible person in my household? [Interruption.] Apart from the person to whom it is addressed—myself—my wife and indeed my mother are also in the household. I have already told the Minister that that lady strongly objects to that part of the registration form where she must put her date of birth— there is no conceivable reason for that. As Members of Parliament we have a legitimate question—given that we also have to live down here—regarding which is our main residence. That is not clear on the form. I have a young son of 17 who is currently in the middle of examinations. How do I know whether or where he will be a student during the course of the next financial year? I cannot answer that question, but that is just the beginning regarding the questions that need to be answered.

7.15 pm

Many of the officers who have been asked to administer the registration say that it is becoming an administrative and bureaucratic nightmare. The Secretary of State for the Environment has already said that the poll tax will cost twice as much as the rates to administer—other estimates say that it will cost three times as much. The way things are going I believe that it will cost more than three times as much to raise exactly the same amount of money. Surely that is crazy.

Mr. Home Robertson

How is my hon. Friend advising his constituents to reply to the question on the form that says: If no-one is solely or mainly resident in the premises, please write 'no-one.'"?

Mr. Foulkes

Earlier on we needed clairvoyance to predict debts, now we need spirits to complete the form. My hon. Friend, in his usual eloquent and humorous way, has illustrated one of the many, manifest ridiculous aspects of the poll tax form.

The message that comes across loud and clear is that we must obstruct the poll tax. We are organising the obstruction campaign because we are convinced that sensible members of the House of Lords—we have already heard from Lord St. John of Fawsley—will throw out the legislation. We in Scotland must delay the implementation of the poll tax until it is defeated, if not in this Chamber, in the other place. We shall then hold the Secretary of State for Scotland to his promise, that if the legislation does not go through for England it will be scrapped for Scotland. In answer to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), that is what the Secretary of State said and that is on record.

The poll tax is unfair and unworkable. In Scotland we shall do everything we can to obstruct it. We shall do everything we can to obstruct it for England in the House of Commons. We shall do everything we can to make sure that it never sees the light of day.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I have sat through almost all of the five days of consideration of the English Bill. It is curious that here, in the Scottish debate, it is as though the seasons are rather more advanced than they are south of the border. The English have got as far as the early spring; we are approaching high summer because we know more about the proposals.

The tragedy of all this is that the House of Commons is not being allowed to do its proper job because we are under the guillotine. If we were not under the guillotine the Bill would have what Enoch Powell, on another memorable occasion, called "the smell of death" about it. It would have been half way to destruction because of the kind of ribaldry to which it has been subjected by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). My hon. Friend has, quite properly, made a joke of many things, but they are serious points. They are creepy crawly things that are coming out from under the stones.

The trouble is that it was very difficult to interest the Scots in the first place. It was even more difficult to interest the English. During the last election campaign—I hope that I am forgiven one personal reminiscence—I was in the Hyndburn constituency visiting proud Accrington. I was rebuked by the Labour candidate for spending 10 minutes of my speech on the poll tax. We have come some way since then.

As is my wont during English debates, I wish to ask some questions. The first was also asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). What has been said to those people who will receive 40p for each completed form? There is far more than anecdotal evidence that some of them are behaving roughly, and notices going up saying "Judas" are very unpleasant. We must ask whether it is worth the candle. Under what instructions and guidelines are they operating and what have they been told by the Government? Some of us believe that they may be exceeding what they have been told to do.

Secondly, in the debate late last Wednesday on joint liability, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill and other colleagues participated, we heard that even in England, which is a year behind us, people are deciding not to ask their grandmothers, their great aunts and others to live in the family home but are deciding that they should go elsewhere. All of us will have heard personal cases from our constituents. I do not wish to exaggerate the position because I do not believe that there has been much chucking-out of people, but in some cases the decision has been made not to take them in.

What have the Government done about that? I want the Minister to tell us whether the Scottish Office is monitoring the position. There is no evidence that it is taking into account matters such as the variation in need.

If the Bill goes ahead, many worthwhile people of all parties, not least the Conservative party, who would have gone into local government will have second thoughts. It may not be worth the candle to become a councillor. It is an honourable profession now, but in the future it may be rather different, and our country will be the poorer.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), as ever solicitous of my welfare, urged me to speak to the former Member of Parliament for Galloway, Mr. John Brewis, to find out what it was like to be defeated. Of course, he was never defeated as the Conservative Member for Galloway. He retired after a long and distinguished career. If I had to find a defeated Member, I would have to go to the Scottish National party and talk to Mr. George Thompson, who was defeated in 1979 and 1983.

Mr. Foulkes

As I recall. I asked the Minister to find out what it was like to be the former Member for Galloway.

Mr. Lang

Whether the hon. Gentleman said that or whether he used the word "defeated", his purpose was clear from his reference to my former colleague in the House.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said that he had wanted to debate several other amendments. I should have been happy to debate them, and we have managed to debate some of the points in those other amendments. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) referred to the use of postcards by Strathclyde community charge registration officer. The hon. Lady mentioned the alleged intimidation of a mentally handicapped person in her constituency. She will appreciate that I cannot comment on the case without knowing all the details, but I can say that intimidation has no part in the procedure.

The procedures adopted by the Strathclyde community charge registration officer were examined carefully in a recent court case brought by the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mr. Adams). He was turned down on all four counts, and the sheriff found that the procedures being used were "convenient, sensible and practical". The postcard in question makes it clear that if there is a difficulty with the form, the canvasser will help in its completion.

The hon. Member for Cathcart and the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) asked about the penalty on executors who fail to notify a death. The civil penalties in the 1987 Act do not apply to this provision. There is no provision for a penalty in the case of non-notification by the executors. The sanction on them is that until the deceased is deleted from the register, he and his estate will continue to be liable to pay the personal community charge. Therefore, it will be part of the executor's duties to the deceased's estate to ensure that notice is given to the community charge registration officer. When the officer is notified by the executor, he can amend the register retrospectively to the date of death. Any excess community charge that may have been paid will be repayable.

Moving from death to birth, the hon. Member for Cathcart asked me whether the date of birth would be kept private. I assure him that the date of birth will not be part of the section of the register that is available for public inspection. For the internal purposes of a local authority, the system may generate reference numbers from the date of birth for each individual, but they will not be numbers which a person is required to memorise or quote when he moves from one authority to another. Nor, as has been suggested in some quarters, will identity cards be issued.

During the passage of the Scottish Act, strong representations were made by local authority practitioners, including the Rating and Valuation Association, that an identifier was necessary to distinguish between people of the same name living at a single address or to allow the checking of the identifying numbers of individuals who move from one registration area to another. The need for that was subsequently underlined by Cipfa Services Limited in its report on the operational aspects of the community charge system.

The hon. Members for Cathcart and for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) asked about exemptions For visiting forces. The spouses of members of visiting forces who are citizens of the United Kingdom are not exempt. The exemption for members of visiting forces is an exemption from the personal community charge. If a member of such a force buys a second home in the United Kingdom, he may be liable for the standard community charge. I appreciate that that is important in the hon. Lady's constituency, since such a person is currently liable for rates.

Local authorities will not lose out financially, nor will their community charge payers, because of the community charge exemption for visiting forces. The rateable value of property occupied by visiting forces is determined by the Rating of Government Property Department in consultation with the local assessor. The department pays the rates for the property direct to the local authority and recovers a proportion, known as the beneficial proportion, from the visiting force. The beneficial proportion reflects the extent to which rates are payable for property services rather than personal services and is paid by the visiting forces by international agreement. The proportion is negotiated with the Governments concerned. The Government will be considering with those other Governments what similar arrangements may apply under the community charge system. Those arrangements will be designed to ensure that authorities need not bear an unreasonable burden as a result of the exemption for members of visiting forces who live in their areas.

The hon. Member for Cathcart asked me about the uniform business rate. We have always made it clear that legislation is likely to be needed to complete the harmonisation process. Legislation to introduce a uniform business rate will be needed after the harmonisation processes are complete, and it is premature to consider that now. In the meantime, we have made arrangements to freeze and index-link poundages.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said that amendment No. 96, which relates to inspection of the register, would mean that community charge registration would become a requirement for obtaining local authority services. That is the worst sort of scaremongering. The terms on which inspection of the register will be allowed have been made clear. They are limited to purposes connected with the administration of the community charge. The hon. Gentleman asked how a community charge registration officer would know that someone was about to be resident. An example would be when a house is sold and the seller's lawyer informs the registration officer of the name of the buyer well before he moves in.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) asked me to confirm that responsibility for completing the form and for paying the charge were not one and the same. I am happy to do so. Indeed, the registration form mentions that point in three different places.

The community charge in Scotland is now the law of the land and anyone who advocates disrupting the procedures, as we have heard from Opposition Members, must bear in mind the penalties that can be imposed upon those who fail to provide information or who provide false information when they are properly required to do so by registration officers. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North was absolutely right to refer to the shocking distortions and misrepresentations among the Opposition parties. By their antics in opposing the community charge they have shown their carelessness not only with the truth but with the rule of law. When I accused them in a recent debate of flirting with lawlessness, I think I was being too kind; now, day after day, week after week, in this House and outside it, Opposition Members demonstrate their contempt for parliamentary democracy, and in doing so they reveal that they are unfit for Government.

I urge hon. Members to approve the amendment as one more step towards the smooth and efficient implementation—despite the worst endeavours of the Opposition parties—of a new system of paying for local government that will abolish the discredited and unfair domestic rates system and put in its place a better, fairer system.

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

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 329, Noes 230.

Division No. 274] [7.30 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Alexander, Richard Bowis, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Allason, Rupert Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Amess, David Brazier, Julian
Amos, Alan Bright, Graham
Arbuthnot, James Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Browne, John (Winchester)
Ashby, David Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Aspinwall, Jack Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Atkins, Robert Burns, Simon
Atkinson, David Burt, Alistair
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Butcher, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Butler, Chris
Baldry, Tony Butterfill, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Batiste, Spencer Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Carrington, Matthew
Bellingham, Henry Carttiss, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Cash, William
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Bevan, David Gilroy Chapman, Sydney
Biffen, Rt Hon John Chope, Christopher
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Churchill, Mr
Blackburn, Dr John G. Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Body, Sir Richard Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Boswell, Tim Colvin, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Conway, Derek
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, John Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Couchman, James Hunter, Andrew
Cran, James Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Currie, Mrs Edwina Irvine, Michael
Curry, David Irving, Charles
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jack, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jackson, Robert
Day, Stephen Janman, Tim
Devlin, Tim Jessel, Toby
Dickens, Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dicks, Terry Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dorrell, Stephen Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dover, Den Key, Robert
Dunn, Bob King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Durant, Tony King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Dykes, Hugh Kirkhope, Timothy
Eggar, Tim Knapman, Roger
Emery, Sir Peter Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Evennett, David Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Fallon, Michael Knowles, Michael
Farr, Sir John Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Favell, Tony Lang, Ian
Fenner, Dame Peggy Latham, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lee, John (Pendle)
Fookes, Miss Janet Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forman, Nigel Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lightbown, David
Forth, Eric Lilley, Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Fox, Sir Marcus Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Franks, Cecil Lord, Michael
Freeman, Roger Luce, Rt Hon Richard
French, Douglas Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Fry, Peter McCrindle, Robert
Gale, Roger Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Gardiner, George MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Goodlad, Alastair MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Maclean, David
Gorman, Mrs Teresa McLoughlin, Patrick
Gorst, John McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Gow, Ian McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Gower, Sir Raymond Madel, David
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Major, Rt Hon John
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Malins, Humfrey
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
Hanley, Jeremy Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hannam, John Mellor, David
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Miller, Hal
Harris, David Mills, Iain
Haselhurst, Alan Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hawkins, Christopher Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Hayes, Jerry Moate, Roger
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Monro, Sir Hector
Hayward, Robert Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Heathcoat-Amory, David Moore, Rt Hon John
Heddle, John Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Morrison, Hon P (Chester)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Moss, Malcolm
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hill, James Neale, Gerrard
Hind, Kenneth Needham, Richard
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Nelson, Anthony
Holt, Richard Neubert, Michael
Hordern, Sir Peter Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Howard, Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Oppenheim, Phillip
Page, Richard Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Paice, James Stokes, John
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Patnick, Irvine Sumberg, David
Patten, Chris (Bath) Summerson, Hugo
Patten, John (Oxford W) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Porter, David (Waveney) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Powell, William (Corby) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Price, Sir David Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rattan, Keith Thorne, Neil
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Thornton, Malcolm
Rathbone, Tim Thurnham, Peter
Redwood, John Townend, John (Bridlington)
Renton, Tim Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Rhodes James, Robert Tracey, Richard
Riddick, Graham Tredinnick, David
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Trippier, David
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Twinn, Dr Ian
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Roe, Mrs Marion Viggers, Peter
Rossi, Sir Hugh Waddington, Rt Hon David
Rost, Peter Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Rowe, Andrew Waldegrave, Hon William
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Walden, George
Ryder, Richard Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Sackville, Hon Tom Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Waller, Gary
Sayeed, Jonathan Walters, Dennis
Scott, Nicholas Ward, John
Shaw, David (Dover) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Warren, Kenneth
Shelton, William (Streatham) Watts, John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Wheeler, John
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Whitney, Ray
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Widdecombe, Ann
Shersby, Michael Wiggin, Jerry
Skeet, Sir Trevor Wilkinson, John
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Wilshire, David
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Soames, Hon Nicholas Winterton, Nicholas
Speed, Keith Wolfson, Mark
Speller, Tony Wood, Timothy
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Woodcock, Mike
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Yeo, Tim
Stanbrook, Ivor Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stanley, Rt Hon John Younger, Rt Hon George
Steen, Anthony
Stern, Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Stevens, Lewis Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Abbott, Ms Diane Bray, Dr Jeremy
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Allen, Graham Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Alton, David Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Anderson, Donald Buchan, Norman
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Buckley, George J.
Armstrong, Hilary Caborn, Richard
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Callaghan, Jim
Ashton, Joe Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Barron, Kevin Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Battle, John Cartwright, John
Beckett, Margaret Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Beith, A. J. Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bell, Stuart Clay, Bob
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clelland, David
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bermingham, Gerald Cohen, Harry
Bidwell, Sydney Coleman, Donald
Blair, Tony Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Blunkett, David Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Boateng, Paul Corbett, Robin
Boyes, Roland Corbyn, Jeremy
Bradley, Keith Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Crowther, Stan Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cryer, Bob Loyden, Eddie
Cummings, John McAllion, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence McAvoy, Thomas
Cunningham, Dr John McCartney, Ian
Dalyell, Tam Macdonald, Calum A.
Darling, Alistair McFall, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McKelvey, William
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) McLeish, Henry
Dewar, Donald Maclennan, Robert
Dixon, Don McNamara, Kevin
Dobson, Frank McTaggart, Bob
Doran, Frank McWilliam, John
Douglas, Dick Madden, Max
Duffy, A. E. P. Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dunnachie, Jimmy Marek, Dr John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Eadie, Alexander Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Eastham, Ken Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Martlew, Eric
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Maxton, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Meacher, Michael
Faulds, Andrew Michael, Alun
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fisher, Mark Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Flannery, Martin Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Flynn, Paul Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Foster, Derek Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foulkes, George Morgan, Rhodri
Fraser, John Morley, Elliott
Fyfe, Maria Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Galbraith, Sam Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Galloway, George Mowlam, Marjorie
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Mullin, Chris
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Murphy, Paul
George, Bruce Nellist, Dave
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Golding, Mrs Llin O'Brien, William
Gordon, Mildred Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gould, Bryan Parry, Robert
Graham, Thomas Patchett, Terry
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Pendry, Tom
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Pike, Peter L.
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Grocott, Bruce Prescott, John
Hardy, Peter Primarolo, Dawn
Heffer, Eric S. Quin, Ms Joyce
Henderson, Doug Randall, Stuart
Hinchliffe, David Redmond, Martin
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Holland, Stuart Reid, Dr John
Home Robertson, John Richardson, Jo
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Howells, Geraint Robertson, George
Hoyle, Doug Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rowlands, Ted
Illsley, Eric Ruddock, Joan
Janner, Greville Salmond, Alex
John, Brynmor Sedgemore, Brian
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Sheerman, Barry
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Short, Clare
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Skinner, Dennis
Kennedy, Charles Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Kirkwood, Archy Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Lambie, David Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Lamond, James Snape, Peter
Leighton, Ron Soley, Clive
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Spearing, Nigel
Lewis, Terry Steel, Rt Hon David
Litherland, Robert Steinberg, Gerry
Livingstone, Ken Stort, Roger
Livsey, Richard Strang, Gavin
Straw, Jack Wigley, Dafydd
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis Wilson, Brian
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Turner, Dennis Worthington, Tony
Vaz, Keith Wray, Jimmy
Wall, Pat Young, David (Bolton SE)
Walley, Joan
Wardell, Gareth (Gower) Tellers for the Noes:
Wareing, Robert N. Mr. Tony Banks and
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N) Mr. Adam Ingram.

Question accordingly agreed to.

It being after half-past Seven o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Question on amendments moved by a member of the Government up to the end of clause 144 and new clause 14.

Amendment made: No. 79, in page 70, leave out line 19.

No. 80, in page 70, leave out lines 22 to 24.

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