HC Deb 27 April 1988 vol 132 cc345-6
15. Mr. Allen Adams

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to monitor expenditure incurred by local authorities in compiling the community charge register.

Mr. Lang

The setting-up costs for the community charge register will be taken into account by local authorities when completing the usual monitoring returns which they send to central Government.

Mr. Adams

Does the Secretary of State agree that the cost is borne by the local authority? Does he further agree that the registration officer responsible for distributing poll tax forms and cards is an employee of the regional council? If he does agree, will he remind the registration officer for Glasgow that he works for the regional council and not for the Government? Apparently that officer does not agree that he is an employee of the council, and has said so both in court and to the press.

Mr. Lang

The already generous 1988–89 RSG settlement has made provision for an extra £12 million to be made available this year to meet current expenditure costs for the setting up of the community charge, in addition to which about £20 million of capital costs have been provided over the past two years.

The powers of the community charge registration officer in Glasgow are clearly prescribed in the 1987 Act. I note that when the hon. Gentleman took his case to court recently he lost on all four counts.

Mr. Favell

Will my hon. Friend monitor the cost of non-co-operation of the kind sponsored by so many Opposition Members? As to dates of birth, does he recall that one has to give a date of birth when applying for a driving licence? Does he have any information on whether the Scottish Labour party will insist on people in Scotland giving up driving?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is right. The increased cost resulting from the non-co-operation urged by the Labour party will have to be borne by other community charge payers. As to driving, the one consolation I have is that the Labour party does at least drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Mr. Dewar

The Minister referred to the recent judgment in Glasgow sheriff court. Does he agree that the sheriff made it clear that the card being distributed by the registration officer, which appeared to suggest that people should not exercise their right to take three weeks to consider their position before returning the form, had no legal validity and could be ignored? Will the Minister take this opportunity to dissociate himself from the widely reported allegations by the Secretary of State for Scotland to the effect that those exercising their rights in raising genuine doubts about their role as responsible persons, and in testing the system, as they are legally entitled to do, may be liable to fines and criminal penalties that do not exist in the statute? That form of near-intimidation, or at least of misrepresentation, has been widely resented.

Mr. Lang

I would not dream of dissociating myself from anything said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, when accurately represented. As to the court case, I recall that the sheriff regarded the procedure of issuing postcards as being sensible, reasonable and practicable.