HC Deb 21 June 1989 vol 155 cc443-67 10.37 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I beg to move, That the Housing Benefit (Community Charge Rebates) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 361), dated 7th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th March, be revoked.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the next two motions: That the Community Charges (Deductions from Income Support) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 507), dated 15th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th March, be revoked. That the Community Charges (Information Concerning Social Security) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 476), dated 14th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th March, be revoked.

Mr. Dewar

The regulations which we are discussing tonight make unfortunate and unhappy reading. As the House will know, they deal with the poll tax and the enforcement machinery designed to extract an unfair tax from one of the most vulnerable groups in the community, people who have, almost by definition as recipients of income support, suffered under this Government in half a hundred different ways. I am aware that we are not having a general debate about the demerits of the poll tax, and I wish to concentrate fairly briskly on the regulations and some of the salient points which arise from them.

Will the Minister say a word or two about the Housing Benefit (Community Charge Rebates) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1989, particularly paragraph 14? This is the paragraph that deals with the 56-day rule. In their doubtful wisdom, the Government decided that the payment of the poll tax would start on 1 April this year, and if an eligible person applied for a rebate within 56 days of the starting point, the rebate—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There is a great deal of distracting sedentary noise. I hope that hon. Members will listen to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), as I am seeking to do.

Mr. Dewar

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall now go back to the fascinating subject of the 56-day rule.

I use the word "fascinating" in some seriousness, because it is an illustration of the Government's approach. Let me recapitulate. If one applies within 56 days, one is held to have applied as at 1 April 1989, and any rebate to which one is entitled will be taken from that date. The 56 days have now expired, so anyone who now applies for a rebate will receive one, only from the date of application. As three months have already passed, anyone who failed to apply in that period has already lost three months' worth of rebate. We must not assume that the people who are involved are those entitled to the maximum rebate, but many will lose substantial sums.

The rebate system is a difficult and complicated jungle, and the pain and confusion that have followed its introduction have made it difficult to know exactly how matters stand. I am told by Strathclyde region,which is by far the biggest levying authority in Scotland, that it estimates that around 580,000 people are eligible for rebates. It told me that, on its best estimate, only 480,000 have applied. It looks as though some 100,000 applicants, many of whom have dependants, will have to suffer because of the 56-day rule. They cannot now catch up, and have lost at least three months' rebate this year. Every day that they delay, mostly because of confusion—there is no doubt about the confusion and misunderstandings that the complexities of the system have produced—means that they will suffer financially even more. That is not an unhappy situation, it is an intolerable one, and one that the Government have consistently refused to remedy, although the remedy was simplicity itself.

I and many of my hon. Friends, and many people who are not politically inclined but know the social realities, have pressed on the Minister the need to extend that 56-day period and to allow a more generous approach towards rebates. We have done so in vain. The Minister of State, Scottish Office, who has borne the brunt of the argument, has reinforced his reputation for not being a man of spontaneous warmth. He is not noted for relating to, and understanding, the problems of the deprived, and he has made it clear that the Government will turn a deaf ear to these proposals. That is a tragedy of which he and his colleagues should be ashamed.

The 56-day rule is formalised in these regulations. If that were the only point at dispute between ourselves and the Government, it would fully justify a vote against them. I hope that the Minister will say something about paragraph 15. For the sake of simplicity, I shall merely quote the explanatory note. It says: This paragraph extends the information which may be provided by the Secretary of State to levying authorities to include a person's date of birth. I mention it because I know that there is a great deal of genuine puzzlement in Scotland as to why the system in England is organised without a person's date of birth being used as part of the poll tax information package, but this has had to be imposed as a statutory requirement in Scotland, and further powers are being taken. This is not the most important point that we shall be debating. It does not have the social implications of the 56-day rule, nor its capacity for damage, but perhaps the Under-Secretary will say a word or two about it.

I do not often face the Under-Secretary across the Dispatch Box, and I do so tonight with an open mind. He will gain valuable brownie points in my eyes if he can provide the explanation that his colleagues in the Scottish Office were unable to provide in the many hours of debate that we had about the machinery of the poll tax.

The real crux of the debate, and the point of particular concern to me and my hon. Friends, is that the main drive of the principal order is to allow the deduction of poll tax arrears from benefit, especially from income support. It is a mean measure that will force the worst off in our community to fall below even the subsistence level of income support as presently calculated by the Government.

We know from recent exchanges with Ministers—and even with the Prime Minister—that the Government do not think that the basic pension is designed to provide comfort or to be an adequate income in itself. If that is true of the pension, it is very much more true of income support, which allows no gracious living, no room for the little luxuries that mean so much to morale and the quality of life of families. I know from constituency experience—as, to be fair, must Conservative Members—that those on income support have to struggle and do not have the decent sufficiency that almost all of us want accorded to those in the greatest difficulty.

It is a shabby proposition to claw back poll tax out of income support. There is no real defence and no social justification for it. I appreciate that the Minister will no doubt advance a number of arguments, one or two of which I can anticipate. He will say that it is perfectly fair because those in receipt of income support have had a special supplement to cover the cost of the minimum poll tax contribution. Of course, the calculation of that is an arcane art, and one that I cannot pretend to have mastered. My understanding is that it is calculated on a United Kingdom basis, which is odd because the poll tax does not yet apply throughout the United Kingdom. It is also odd because in Scotland there are substantial variations, based upon local policy and local needs, in the amount of poll tax to be paid. In a broad-brush approach, everyone apparently has the same supplement—£1.15 this year for a single applicant under the age of 25; £1.30 for those over 25 and, strangely, for a couple it is £2.30, although we might reasonably have expected it to be £2.60.

All that is most unconvincing. I know from conversations with many people that few will believe that it is adequate cover to allow people living at that economic level to meet their poll tax commitments without difficulty or financial embarrassment. I have tried explaining that first, we take the income support personal allowance for the current year, take out the rates element, uprate it by the retail price index less the housing element, arrive at the magic figure of 4.7 per cent.—which sounds suspiciously low compared with the real rise in the cost of living—and then add on the special supplement. There is no credibility in that exercise. Any such argument is blown away by the pressures of reality, the pressures of poverty and the true condition in which those who will be victimised by the rules actually live. No one will think that justifiable, because nothing can justify the tax itself and the basis on which it is levied. There is no doubt in my mind that many people, faced by the clawback authorised in the orders, will find themselves living at a subsistence level that none of us should be prepared to accept.

The Minister may argue that there are many precedents for clawing back from benefit. The main precedent is where there has been overpayment of benefit, and because it must be reclaimed it is taken out of that same benefit in subsequent months. That may have unfortunate financial consequences, but there is a logic in it. It is all in the same benefit payment and there is a rough consistency which most people can understand.

There are occasions on which the South of Scotland Electricity Board or the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, if not too outré or faraway organisations for the Minister to contemplate, have direct deductions to meet debt. It is, of course, theoretically possible for that to be done without the consent of the debtor, as I understand it, although the Minister may want to comment on that. However, in almost all cases in which I have been involved, which must run to many scores, such a step has been taken with negotiation and consent. The debtor is, of course, anxious to reach that consent because he has a specific service—the supply of electricity or gas—that he wants to maintain. There is a logic in that and a benefit for the person concerned, which is understandable.

Under the 1988 regulations for housing benefit, it is possible to deduct an overpayment from income support. However, talking as I did with a number of local authorities in Scotland, I believe that, very properly, that power has never been used. If it were used, it would lead to bitterness and a lack of confidence in the system, which would do none of us any good. I do not believe that, in terms of precedents or in terms of the financial calculations of income support personal allowances, there is a case for what the Government are doing. I perceived justice, and in term of social impact, there is no case at all.

I recognise that many of my hon. Friends want to contribute, so I will not make a long speech. However, I want to ask a couple of technical questions about the regulations. Perhaps it is my curiosity that is to blame, and there may be simple answers to my questions. I want to draw the Minister's attention to paragraph 2(2)(a), which deals with the issue of a summary warrant in the name of a couple. Perhaps the Minister could give an example of a circumstance in which it would be likely that a summary warrant would be issued in the name of a couple. I understand that a husband and wife living together or a man and a woman living together may be jointly and severally liable for the poll tax debt of each. However, as I understand it, there would be an attempt to recover from both individually and only if one failed to pay would a bill be issued for the debt to the other. It is unlikely, although I may have misunderstood the matter, which is why I am raising it, that summary warrants would go out in the name of both parties, as a couple. Perhaps the Minister could explain when that would happen.

I hope that he will also say a word about the appeal procedure. There will be appeal to the commissioners and in certain circumstances not to one commissioner but to three commissioners, and on a point of law ultimately to the Court of Session. It is an interesting comment on the complexity of the system and on the labyrinth we are constructing that that mass of overlapping and extending appeals is being erected. Perhaps the Minister—

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

There is no Scottish Minister present.

Mr. Dewar

Perhaps the Minister could say a few words about the availability of legal aid in such cases.

Perhaps the Minister could also say a few words about deductions, which are the key to the matter. As I understand it, if a single debtor is involved, the deduction is 5 per cent. of the personal allowances for a single claimant aged not less than 25. Although it is not slated, because it may vary from time to time, I believe that it is £1.75 a week at present. For a couple who are both over 18, the relevant allowance is £54.80, I believe that the deduction is rounded up to £2.75. There is a reference to another claim and another test that has to be met. The unfortunate victim of the scheme is left with a minimum of lop of income support.

I accept immediately—I do not wish to mislead anyone—that if someone is living on income support alone, the £2.75 maximum if he is living as part of a couple will still leave him with quite a significant income, not merely 10p. If someone is left only with 10p, he clearly has a significant amount of other income. However, I repeat the important charge that, even so, many people will be in a difficult situation because they will be living significantly below the very basic level which has been laid down by the Government, who are not noted for their generosity i n this area. They are a Government who openly argue that the poor need the spur of poverty so that they will better themselves in the market place. If we are driving people below even that standard, all hon. Members, whatever their political convictions, should take time to pause and to consider.

As the Minister no doubt knows, about 150,000 old-age pensioners in Scotland have to supplement their income with income support payments. Some of them will doubtless be driven near to the 10p rule and test by the deductions. In effect, they will then be living on that basic pension which the Prime Minister herself made clear that the Government recognise as not being sufficient for a decent standard of living. Is it right that we should force people into what the Prime Minister has recognised as an inadequate situation simply to recover 20 per cent. of a tax that has no valid basis and that is almost universally seen as unfair and unjust? The answer to that question is a resounding no.

I object strongly to the fact that, typically, it is the local authorities that are being put in the firing line. They are being given the duty of administering a scheme that they neither like nor want. Under the regulations they have to apply in writing to the Department to have the deduction machinery put in motion. As Ministers have doubtless calculated, it will be the local authorities that will be left to take the flak and the burden of the protests.

Having spoken again to the local authorities in my part of the world, which I do frequently, I can report that they have a good record in dealing with those in genuine poverty who find themselves wrestling with the problems of debt to statutory authorities. Strathclyde's record will stand any examination because, sensibly, that authority does not make dilettante political statements about policy, but takes each case on its merits and applies humane and sensible tests, while avoiding the rigours of civil diligence, which is naturally repugnant to public opinion and is a disaster for the individuals concerned.

I expect the same understanding to be applied in this case. However, I believe that on behalf of my hon. Friends I am entitled to protest that local authorities with such records are put again in this embarrassing and difficult position in defence of a system that they regard as an anathema.

Once again, it is a case of the poorest in the community being made to suffer—people who, by definition, are in unfortunate financial circumstances. It is another example of social legislation—because there are important social implications in this—further dividing society and driving a greater and greater wedge between those that have and those that have not.

One third of my constituency—one of my regional wards—has an unemployment rate of over 36 per cent. I am not talking about a couple of streets chosen at random but about large swathes on the west side of the city of Glasgow. Many people there are living in genuine poverty, dependent on benefit. Thoughtless, mean-minded legislation such as this exacerbates that problem, yet Ministers wonder why they face alienation and a level of dislike in Scottish politics that is almost unique in my experience.

Measures such as this are not simply about the mechanics of a collection system. A social principle is involved. A difference of approach is built into this legislation and it shines through the debates and arguments on this matter. If the regulations are forced through by the Government—I accept they will be tonight, perhaps by many hon. Members who have not had any opportunity of considering them—the House should be ashamed. Even now, the Minister should think about drawing back.

I wish that the Scottish Office was represented on the Treasury Bench to try to defend a system which the vast majority of the people of Scotland regard as unrelated to the ability to pay, which is unjust and which shifts the burden of taxation on to those who can ill afford to bear it. In reinforcing that essentially unjust system, this mechanism has on its shoulders all the disadvantages, all the difficulties and all the shame of the grand design.

10.59 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) raised some points which it seems sensible for me to deal with straight away. He asked particularly about the date of birth. Inclusion of the birth date was requested to make it more convenient and easier for the local authority to distinguish between individuals of the same name—[Interruption.] Local authorities may not have asked for it—I do not know—but certainly it is being put in for their additional convenience. That is the reason for it. I am glad to be able to answer one of the first points about which the hon. Gentleman asked.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Does the Minister agree that the real reason why the date of birth has been made a statutory requirement is that local authorities will have to trace people as they move around the country and every individual in Scotland has been given a computer tag? Does he agree that that is why the date of birth has been made a statutory requirement?

Mr. Lloyd

It makes it easier for local authorities to distinguish between people of the same name living in the same household.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden asked about appeals. The appeal system is the normal social security appeal system. First the adjudication officer is involved, then the social security appeal tribunal and finally the commissioners on a point of law. It will be exactly the same as in the usual procedure. That is the method with which the social security system and local offices are familiar, and that people on social security who have appealed before know well.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about summary warrants. It will be possible to take out a warrant against one individual when there is a debt in respect of a couple, and it will be possible to proceed against the couple. That is for the local authority to decide.

Mr. Douglas

What a lot of dirty work local authorities are being asked to do.

Mr. Lloyd

The local authorities will want to recover the community charge owing to them in exactly the same way as they want to recover rates that are owing to them. There is no difference in principle or in the final procedure. On behalf of all its rate or charge payers, the local authority will need to collect what is due. There is nothing new in that.

With regard to the regulations before us, I will begin with the Community Charge (Deductions from Income Support) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 which were laid before Parliament on 17 March and came into force on 8 April. They reflect the intention that there should be equality of treatment, wherever possible, between those in employment and those receiving benefit. The hon. Member for Garscadden rightly made the point that deductions from income support for those receiving benefit represent a parallel and equivalent measure to arrestment of earnings for those in work.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in October last year, as part of his uprating statement, that there would be a once-and-for-all adjustment to income support levels to meet the minimum 20 per cent. contribution which recipients will have to make to the community charge. Because this extra amount has been included in income support it is only right to ensure that it is used for its intended purpose.

As it has to with those in work, the levying authority must first obtain a summary warrant, to prove it is owed the money. This will be the trigger for these regulations. Principally, they provide that an authority, having obtained a summary warrant, may apply to the DSS for deductions from income support to meet that debt. In asking for such deductions the authority has to provide sufficient information to enable the local social security office to identify the debtor. Here the birthday date helps. We shall only consider deductions for the amount specified on the warrant or the authority requires.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

My wife telephoned me tonight and told me that she had a letter saying that the Government want young people in YTS schemes. Such young people would probably receive about £35 per week, and would then be expected to pay 20 per cent. of the poll tax, plus 15 per cent., which exceeds their income support of £27.40. Therefore, a young person who gets, say, £35, which the Government are encouraging, is now expected to pay another £1.14 per week. Does the Minister not think that it is tragic that the Government are encouraging young people to come off the dole and into training schemes for which they will be given some money, but then taking some of that money back? Young people are really being sent to the graveyard, because they will not be able to pay the poll tax. Does the Minister realise that letters have been sent out to the managers running the schemes, and the managers are putting their hands up in horror, because young trainees are expected to live on the trainee allowance? What does the Minister say about that?

Mr. Lloyd

The Minister says that the purpose of the community charge is that everybody should make a contribution. The rate will be set by the local authority and there are rebates for those on low incomes. Those who are on YTS obviously come into the category of those on low incomes, and they are likely to get a substantial rebate.

Mr. Graham

Does the Minister not realise what I am saying? The Government have implemented a programme to encourage young people to go into employment training schemes—YTS—by saying that, from the guaranteed income support of £27.40, they would be expected to pay a 20 per cent. contribution to the poll tax. The Government are now saying, however, that because they receive additional money for travelling costs, the Government will take that amount off in poll tax, which comes to a loss of £1.14 a week. Will the Minister answer that? Young people in Scotland will have that amount deducted, while those in England will not have that money deducted until next year. The young people in England will be far better off on the YTS scheme. Will the Minister tell the young people in Scotland what they are expected to live on?

Mr. Lloyd

The young people on YTS are earning above the income support rate for their age group, so they have a rebate in exactly the same way as anybody who is on income support, but adjusted for their actual earnings. That appears to be a much fairer system than the one we have now—the one that the hon. Gentleman appears to be defending—where some people pay heavy rates bills and some people pay absolutely nothing. In our system the burden is spread across the whole of the population. It is adjusted for those on lower incomes to suit those incomes. That appears to be basically fair and I should think that the hon. Gentleman would find it very easy to explain that to YTS trainees.

Where there is an outstanding community charge debt and sufficient income support, as decided by the adjudication officer, the rate of deduction will be, as the hon. member for Garscadden said, £1.75 a week for a single person and £2.75 a week for a couple, if both partners are debtors. Those weekly deductions are fixed by the regulations. There is no provision for them to be varied. The adjudication officer will decide that there is sufficient entitlement to income support only—again we come to a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Garscadden—if, after the deduction, the person is left with lop or more of that part of his income which comes from income support.

This is easy to misrepresent—the hon. Member for Garscadden sailed near to it, but he did not quite go across the line—but this safeguard, which appears in existing provisions for deductions to pay third parties, is there to ensure that we do not extinguish entitlement to benefit. The fixed flat rate deduction for a single person is £1.75 a week, and it is totally wrong to suggest that we propose to make that deduction and leave someone with an income of only 10p. Benefit can be reduced to 10p only if income support was very low to start with and the individual relies mainly on another source of income.

Mr. Dewar

I think that the hon. Gentleman would concede that I was very careful not to make that suggestion. If he reads my speech, he will see that I spent some time establishing that point. Will the hon. Gentleman, however, address himself to the example that I cited, which is that of the many thousands of old-age pensioners in Scotland who have the basic pension and income support? Some of them might well be taken down to an income near the basic pension, if not down to 10p above it. We know from the Minister for Social Security and the Prime Minister that it is accepted that that is not sufficient for a comfortable living. Is it necessary that they should be driven into that situation in order to recover the poll tax in the way that is outlined?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security was referring not just to income support but to housing benefit. The amount taken away will not be more than the income support element of their social security benefits. That is what the hon. Gentleman is asking about.

Mr. Dewar

What level could the income be taken down to?

Mr. Lloyd

It could get down to a level 10p above the basic pension, but the hon. Gentleman is forgetting that that pensioner may have housing benefit and may well be paying 20 per cent. of the rates now. The point that my hon. Friend was making was that not all the household outgoings have to be met by the single person's pension alone. There are other benefits in addition to income support.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The Department is about to introduce the scheme into Macclesfield, Scarborough, Cambridge, Bolton and all sorts of other places. With that in view, would it not have some sort of report from the Scottish managers on how matters have worked out in practice? Following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), is the Minister saying that the managers think that things have worked out as smoothly as he has suggested to the House?

Mr. Lloyd

I have not suggested that it has or has not worked out smoothly. I have not reached that issue yet. The community charge has started extraordinarily well in Scotland. It was an enormous change. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I have sat in this Chamber listening to Opposition Members explaining how registration would be a complete disaster, how it could not be managed by Scottish local authorities and was administratively impossible. But I understand that Scottish local authorities have done much better than Scottish Members ever believed possible and that the numbers registered range from 99 to 100 per cent.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I do not know how familiar the Minister is with recent Scottish newspapers, but is he aware that, in a report in The Scotsman last week, local authority finance officers in Scotland estimated that at least 1 million Scots have not paid their poll tax? What does the Minister think about that?

Mr. Lloyd

One cannot rely on such figures put out in the newspapers. What I do know is that the expectations for registration have been fulfilled, that many of the bills have been sent out, on time and rebated, but not all of them. There is a large backlog to be made up, as one would expect with any substantial change in a system such as this. Our estimates of the case load for rebates was 780,000, which includes couples and individuals. That means over I million individuals. At the end of the 56 days to which the hon. Member for Garscadden referred, we had about one and one third of a million applications. If one grosses that up for the individuals we find that our predictions for the caseload look as though they are being fulfilled.

Mr. Dewar

indicated dissent.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but I am talking about figures that were carefully prepared by my Department for our guidance.

Mr. Dewar

I am sorry to intervene again, but this is important. I took the trouble to speak to senior officers of the biggest authority, Strathclyde region, today. Their genuine and best estimate was that the authority was about 100,000 short of its estimate. In other words, somewhere out there in Strathclyde there are about 100,000 applicants who are probably eligible who have not yet applied. Even if there were only a handful, would there not be a strong case in humane terms for extending the 56-day rule and not penalising those people, particularly in view of the extraordinary confusion that all Scottish Members find in their surgeries every week, when constituents come in with a mass of incomprehensible papers that they do not know what to do with?

Mr. Lloyd

The 56-day concession was suggested by Scottish local authorities and we were happy to adopt it, knowing that there would be difficulties at the beginning of the changeover. The total arrangement comprises those 56 days, eight weeks, allowing for two demands for payment, and three spare weeks afterwards. The most vulnerable—those receiving housing benefit—automatically transferred on to the rebate. Those receiving income support were sent a personal letter with a claim form well before 1 April, so they received not a general but a specific notification. Since then there have been television advertising, press advertisements, and a great deal of editorial comment, assisted by the attacks made by Opposition Members, for which I give due credit and for which, in this context at least, I am very grateful.

Applications for rebates not only match but exceed our expectations. The number arriving now is quite small, but one expects applications to continue as people move or become entitled to rebate for the first time. However, from the figures that I have seen and on the basis of our calculations, there is no justification for extending the 56-day period. Other people may produce different calculations, but I am sceptical of the basis on which they were made.

There remains the good cause provision for backdating entitlement, available to those who can show good reason for not having yet made an application. It is for the local authority to judge whether or not the individual had a valid reason for not knowing that application could be made, or for not being able to apply, or was totally confused by wrong information or propaganda—or even by the advice that he should have nothing to do with the community charge.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

As one English Member to another, may I ask the Minister how many Scottish local authorities he has visited to discuss at first hand with officials the difficulties that are arising?

Mr. Lloyd

Speaking as one English Member to another, I think that the hon. Gentleman knows the likely answer to his question. Of course I have not visited local authorities in Scotland. I rely, as all Ministers do, on information from not just one, two or three local authorities but, through the system of reporting, from every Scottish local authority. I have information from them all, which is far more valuable and a much sounder basis on which to form a judgment than dashing up on a train or plane to spend a few days in Scotland talking to just one, two or three local authorities.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the degree of confusion that exists in Scotland has been brought about by politicians making comments about non-collection of the community charge? I refer particularly to members of the Scottish National party, yet the only district council that it runs is collecting the community charge. Is it surprising that confusion exists?

Mr. Lloyd

It is not surprising at all. As I said earlier, local authorities in Scotland have done extraordinarily well to introduce the system with such efficiency and effectiveness, given the tirade of propaganda from Opposition Members. I am certain, however, that those efficient local authorities will be able to judge whether some individuals have been confused—retirement pensioners, for instance—and will take that into account and allow them to backdate their rebates to 1 April.

The Community Charges (Information concerning Social Security) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 permit the Secretary of State, through the staff of DSS local offices, to pass certain specified information to community charge registration officers. As people on income support are receiving additional money to help them pay 20 per cent. of the community charge, it is reasonable that they appear on the community charge register. The purpose of the regulations is to ensure that that happens. I will explain to the House why the regulations take the form that they do.

Community charge registration officers need access to certain sources of information so that their registers are as accurate as possible at any given time. They are able to require the information that they need from the authorities which administer housing benefit and community charge rebate, so they have access to the names, dates of birth and addresses of everyone who has claimed either or both those benefits. If it were not for the regulations, however, the CCROs would not have access to information from DSS offices, as information about income support is held on a confidential basis. That information may be passed to CCROs so that they can check it against their registers and ensure that there are no discrepancies.

I stress that the information that is specified is the minimum necessary for the purpose, and that the CCRO may not use it for any purpose other than for maintaining his register.

The Housing Benefit (Community Charge Rebates) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1989 make a number of changes to the arrangements for rebating the community charge in Scotland. Some were necessary to maintain alignment between these regulations and the Housing Benefit (General Amendment) Regulations 1989. It is important that the two schemes should be as closely aligned as possible so that they are as simple as possible for local authorities to administer, and as easy as possible for claimants to understand.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The rather dry manner in which the Minister is dragging his way through his brief gives me the impression that he may be having a dummy run for this time next year, when he will be applying the same regulations to England. Will he have a shot at convincing me that he is not simply using Scotland as a guinea pig? Can he also convince me that he knows something about what he is talking about by naming just three local authorities in Scotland which administer the poll tax?

Mr. Lloyd

Certainly Scotland is not being used as a guinea pig. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the reason why legislation was applied to Scotland first was that there was a larger and earlier demand for a change in the rating system there after the revaluation. That is why Scotland is lucky enough to be experiencing this excellent change first.

If Scotland were being used as a guinea pig, we should have delayed the provision for England and Wales for another year. It might then have been possible to learn some lessons from Scotland—if there are any lessons to be learned. The English legislation is already on the statute book, however, and the preparations are well down the track, so we are treating England in exactly the same way.

The hon. Gentleman asked for three examples of Scottish authorities administering the poll tax. Well, Strathclyde is certainly one. Another is Central. How about that?

Mr. Bill Walker

Tayside, Grampian and Fife.

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is quite right. I suspect that if hon. Members asked me to name three English counties now, I should be hard put to do so.

There are a number of other points which might be touched upon, but I have already commented on the main issues that have been raised by Opposition Members, particularly by the hon. Member for Garscadden and I wish to leave time for other hon. Members to make their points, which may be different from those that have already been made. I have confidence, nevertheless, in commending these excellent regulations to the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I appeal for brief speeches in the short time that is left.

11.25 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

I shall, of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, try to be brief. As you very well know, I tabled a motion on the poll tax that was not taken, for good or bad reasons, on Friday.

I want to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) about the 56-day rule. The Minister was somewhat sceptical about who speaks for Scottish local authorities. It is unfortunate that, once again, no Scottish Minister is on the Treasury Bench to instruct other Ministers about what happens in Scotland. I assume that the Minister knows that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and its president speak for Scottish local authorities. Mr. Milligan, the president, made a speech on 12 June in which he said: It is extremely likely therefore that a good number of those not paying at that time will be eligible for a rebate which authorities will be unable to backdate as the relevant period for doing so will have expired. These categories of potential claimants plus the general conclusions from our trawl"— that is, of all local authorities— suggests that there may be up to 200,000 or so individuals who will lose out unless the 56-day rule is extended. That is the view not of one local authority but of all Scottish local authorities, and 200,000 is not an insubstantial number.

The Minister is under an obligation to redress the imbalance. People may not have cottoned on to all the sophisticated advertising. It may be that there has been obfuscation and that people do not understand it. Notwithstanding that, 200,000 people who ought to be receiving benefits that the Government suggest are generous should have their benefits fully backdated.

Those who are really suffering from the poverty trap are just above the income limit for claiming rebate. Scottish local authorities have a great deal of sympathy for personal circumstances, but they are required by the legislation to carry out the appropriate debt recovery procedures.

What we are talking about was highlighted yesterday during the Prime Minister's exchanges with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). We are talking about taking money away from people who are on income support and benefits that provide them not with a luxurious standard of living but with a bare minimum standard of living. By the use of obnoxious procedures, any income support that they receive from the state will be taken away from them, probably leaving them with only 10p. The fact that only a few hon. Members are here this evening demonstrates the lack of knowledge about the subject. Only one Scottish Tory who might know something about it is here this evening. The rest of the Tory Members might know something about the theory, but we are talking about the practice.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Douglas

I shall not give way. Front-Bench speeches have taken up an hour of our time, so Back Benchers are due their time to speak.

We are talking about taking money back from people who are just above the poverty line to impose a tax that is completely unrelated to ability to pay. The Minister may shake his head, but it is the truth. It is not a charge for local authority services. All hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies could adumbrate their own experiences. I shall give one or two examples of what can happen.

An old woman came to me for advice. She has moved two doors down the road to look after her 90-year-old mother. The local authority deemed her to be living with her mother and so asked her for four lots of poll tax—two because she was living with her mother and two standard charges for the housing that she had vacated. That is not a charge for local authority services; it is a property charge, as it applies to the house that has been vacated. It may be that the multiplier is wrong, but if the multiplier is wrong, why the hell do the Government use that multiplier for the rate support grant?

You know quite a lot about taxation, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I put it to you that this is the first tax that the Government claim has no anomalies. I suggest that it is riddled with anomalies. The Government will have to bend and review those anomalies, some of which bear most heavily on a section of the population which I have mentioned before and which I make no apologies for mentioning again—the severely mentally impaired.

I have a letter from the Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped which has issued a leaflet at a cost of £725. I hope that the Minister will arrange through the Scottish Office for that sum to be reimbursed. The letter states: There are also cases where disabled people who are not exempt may be required to pay a Community Charge out of a personal allowance of £10 per week. This has happened in some hostels which have been treated as residential care homes for income support purposes but are classed as domestic homes by Registration Officers. Why are we removing the burden from those who are most able to pay and putting it on the backs of those who are least able to pay?

I know that I am at odds with some of my hon. Friends in the stance I have taken, but I know what is happening in my area. The position in Scotland is unlike the theories for England and Wales. It does not apply to Northern Ireland where the same social security legislation applies. The Government will not apply the poll tax in the Falls road or the Shankill. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. They should try it there.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

That is because they cannot collect it there.

Mr. Douglas

The hon. Gentleman should not intervene from a sedentary position because he is one of the proponents of a united kingdom. If we are a united kingdom, we should all be treated equally.

An explosion is coming in Scotland. It is not that people want to defy the law. They will have no choice.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)


Mr. Douglas

Hon. Gentlemen should not say, "Rubbish." If they want to intervene, they should stand up and do so. It is not rubbish: it is fact. People will not be able to meet the obligation. I challenge any of my colleagues who have any responsibility for dealing with local authorities or any communication with them to tell me what is happening to housing debt. I know that it is soaring in Dunfermline, because people cannot meet their obligations. The poll is first call on them. It is automatic. It is an instrument whereby a button is pressed to take away their income support.

The House is empty of Scottish Tories tonight; indeed, Scotland is nearly empty of them. One solitary Scottish Tory is here tonight, and he will vote for this, knowing that many people in his area do not want to defy the law, but will have no alternative, because this is an automatic process. The button is pressed, and income support is taken away. The button is pressed, and warrant sale takes place. It is pressed again, and wage arrestment will follow. The procedure will malign local authorities. If the Government want to implement this, let them take the stick. Let them administer the tax and do the dirty work.

Scottish local authorities cannot stand back another two or three years until the next general election, hoping for a Labour Government then. I dearly want a Labour Government to remove this burden. In the meantime, the people whom I represent will suffer all the more because of the passing of regulations such as these.

11.36 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

At least the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) had the courtesy to accept that I know something about the situation in Scotland. I do not doubt the integrity with which he looks after his constituents. I hope that he does not doubt the integrity with which I look after mine.

It was interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman highlight the problem of the lady who moved two doors down. I accept his worry on that score. I too am deeply concerned about that aspect of the community charge. I believe that the problem could have been resolved if the local authority had handled it a little more sympathetically. I have had the local authority's decisions reversed in one or two cases in my constituency. In fact, that has happened on four or five occasions. I am not sure of the fifth occasion, because I have not had it confirmed in writing.

When a person moves to stay with a child—as is normal within families—he should not have to pay a double community charge on his usual nearby home. To have to do so is nonsense, as we all know. This anomaly has been created by the way in which some local authorities have handled certain cases. But this is not a long-term criticism. It was inevitable, during this dramatic change, that problems and anomalies would be highlighted. I have shown that many of them can he dealt with at local level.

These regulationss are to do with rebates and clawbacks, and the principles involved in them. The taxpayer is the chap on average income, with two children, who lives next door to someone who is in receipt of public support because his circumstances require that support. The person who pays for that support is the taxpayer. As my hon. Friend the Minister intimated, we should not deviate from the principle that taxpayers' money should be used for the purpose of support for which it was allocated. We have a duty to protect those on low incomes who pay income tax. Many do, and I wish that they did not.

I draw this to the attention of constituents who come to see me. I know where they live, and ask them whether they expect their taxpaying next-door neighbours to pay their dues.

Taxpayers are not the rich and wealthy. Instead, they are average individuals who form the majority. We must protect them, and that is why it is right that clawback powers should be provided in the regulations. We must deal with individuals, and my hon. Friend the Minister told us that each individual would be receiving a letter telling him how the system would operate and how claims could he made. It is right that each individual case should be treated on its merits.

I acknowledge that a small minority will cheat deliberately. We all know who they are. Our constituents come to us to complain about cheats. Those who live near them—perhaps in the same street—know who they are. My constituents tell me about them. When reports have been made to me, I have taken the matter further to the proper authorities. Where necessary, I have ensured that prosecutions follow. That is right and proper.

Mr. Graham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

I shall give way in a minute. The hon. Gentleman has had his fair share of the batting—of the evening's activities—and there are others who want to make a contribution.

I do not believe that any hon. Members want those who cheat deliberately, who milk the system, to get away with it, whoever they are and at whatever level they operate. That is why I think it right that, when we use public funds we should—

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Has the hon. Gentleman considered the position of someone such as Lord Vesty, who is famous for cheating the taxpayer out of several thousands of pounds? Lord Vesty will stand to gain huge sums from the introduction and implementation of the poll tax in Cirencester, where he lives. The hon. Gentleman seems to be referring to those on low incomes when he talks about cheats, but he has not yet addressed himself to those who have not paid the poll tax because they cannot afford to do so.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Lady protests too loudly. If we live in a civilised society, and I hope that we do, and if there are genuine problems—I have said that individual cases must be examined on their merits—we must recognise them. I deal with each problem as it relates specifically to the individual who has brought it to my attention. I think that all hon. Members adopt that approach. I think also that we all find that not everything is as it is presented to us.

An irate constituent came to me to draw attention to the problems that his mother was facing. He told me that his mother was required to pay the community charge in full. He argued that that was shameful as she was a pensioner, a widow and living alone. I told him that I would examine the circumstances. I did so, and found that the lady had £30,000-worth of equity. When my constituent returned to see me I asked him—I shall not give the names of these people because I am sure that they would not wish me to disclose them—"Do you think that Mr. So-and-So who lives next door, a bus driver with two young children, should pay your mother's community charge? That is effectively what you are saying. You are expecting the taxpayer to pick up the bill." That is why each case must be examined individually.

I have no doubt that in some instances something will have to be done to recognise the special circumstances in which an individual finds himself, possibly as a result of events over which he does not have full control. It is essential that there are provisions within the system to allow for that. We must recognise that there will always be individuals, sadly, who will have to be helped out of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

When the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that there was confusion, I pointedly drew attention in an intervention to the fact that the confusion in my constituency, in Dundee, West and in Dundee, East had been caused by the situation in Tayside. Nobody is in any doubt about where the Labour party stands on this issue. There is confusion in Tayside because the leaders of the Scottish National party are telling the public at large—including those in receipt of housing benefit, those on public support and those who will be affected by the instruments before the House tonight—not to pay the community charge.

But the SNP in office locally—the administration in Angus district—is collecting the community charge. Indeed, additional staff are being taken on to deal with it. So on the one hand SNP members are saying that they will bring in enforcement orders and issue warrants, and on the other, the SNP at the highest level is telling people not to pay. It is no wonder that there is confusion. That is why—for example, in Dundee, East, Dundee, West, Angus, East, Perth and Kinross and in my constituency—we have this problem.

The hon. Member for Garscadden was right to talk about confusion. The people of Tayside have no idea what the SNP—in or out of administration—is telling people, and that is causing the most awful confusion.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I remind the House of my earlier appeal for brief speeches.

11.47 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Frequently it seems to be my unfortunate duty to speak following the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). I hope that the bus driver of whom he spoke is voting for him, after all the hon. Gentleman's heroic efforts on his constituent's behalf.

After examining the instruments Nos. 507 and 476, my hon. Friends and I would like to know why people on income support for their basic income are being asked to pay the poll tax at all. The progenitor of the poll tax, former Councillor Douglas Mason, is quoted in an interesting article in the Aberdeen Evening Express of 14 June last—[Interruption.] I gather that Conservative Members would rather I called it the community charge. In that article, Mr. Mason revealed that he had called it the poll tax, and he added disarmingly: I wish I had thought of calling it the community charge. It sounds so much nicer. He went on to say that, from the point of view of the poll tax, he had three main criticisms of the measure that the Government had introduced. The report said of his second criticism: Secondly, because he designed the tax to make sure local authorities were accountable to the people they serve, he proposed that those who were on benefits should be made to pay the full amount of the poll tax. We find, therefore, that ex-Councillor Mason, the progenitor of the poll tax, is disappointed that the Government have gone only as far as making those on income support pay 20 per cent. of the poll tax, plus the community water charge.

It would not have been so bad had the Government arranged matters in such a way that those in receipt of income support and facing the poll tax charge were fully compensated for the amount of poll tax that they must pay. We can only conclude that a Minister who cannot even name three local authorities in Scotland is not aware that in Scotland there are many people whose uprating of income support will not cover the poll tax bill that they face. In my constituency, a single person loses by 31p a week, a married couple by more than 60p a week. In many other areas of Scotland where the poll tax is higher, the loss to those people on income support who face the poll tax is much greater. The Minister must say why, depending on where they live, those on income support in Scotland should find that the poll tax eats into their basic income levels.

This evening we must ask ourselves why the Government are bringing in statutory instruments which require more information and the direct deduction of poll tax from income support. The answer is given in the recent publicity about the I million people in Scotland who are not paying the poll tax.

This Sunday's Observer contained an interesting comment from the leader of the Labour group on Lothian regional council, Councillor John Mulvey, who said: the non-payment campaign is alive and well and going from strength to strength. There is clearly a sizeable number of people who are not prepared to pay the poll tax and their ranks are being swollen by those who cannot afford to pay. In spite of council officials saying that things are going well, the reality is that they're really quite worried by the scale of opposition that is developing. Not everyone in the Labour group on Lothian regional council shares his opinion. Councillor Eric Milligan was mentioned earlier in this debate. In the words of Councillor Tony Kinder, the Labour councillor for Broxburn in the Lothian region, Councillor Milligan is the self-appointed poll tax collector-in-chief to the Conservative Party.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

What about Grampian?

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Member mentions Grampian region. It is interesting to note that the Scottish National party finance convenor of Grampian region was the one finance convenor in Scotland who was prepared to go to the wall to stop warrant sales in the poll tax, while members of the Labour party in the Grampian region sat on their hands and allowed the Democrats and the Conservatives to vote him out of office. We all know that that is not something which "warrant sale Milligan" is likely to do in the Lothian region.

Statutory instruments Nos. 507 and 476 are signs of Government panic in face of the strength of the non-payment campaign in Scotland. There is no breach of civil liberties which the Government would not be prepared to encounter. There is no imposition on the poorest in the community that the Government would not be willing to consider to try to keep the poll tax show in Scotland on the road. However, the poll tax in Scotland will be ground into the dust of history where it belongs. That will be done by the strength of the non-payment campaign which is under way at the moment.

11.53 pm
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

We have just heard the red Clydesider from Banff and Buchan talking about the great and stalwart fight which his colleagues in the Grampian region are conducting. His colleague sitting next to him, the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) comes from the local authority which is one of the most assiduous collectors of the poll tax in Scotland. However, I would be wasting the five minutes available to me if I talked any longer about this farce to my left.

I found none of the farce on the Conservative Benches at all funny this evening. These proceedings have been an outrageous mockery. We were talked down to by a Minister representing the rolling downs of Hampshire, who would not know a Scottish local authority if it hit him in the face. No Scottish Office Minister was present until the Whips went into the back shop and dragged the Minister responsible for the poll tax in Scotland away from his bottle of port. As soon as the Scottish press left the Gallery, the Minister returned to his drinks party in the back shop. Only one Tory Scottish Member of Parliament has sat through this farce from beginning to end, and that is the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), whom it is not easy to embarrass.

This farce typifies the sad position to which the government of Scotland has been reduced. These regulations will allow the poorest people in Scotland to be hunted down for a few pence and in the name of the community charge. It is only a few pence to Her Majesty's Government, who are sitting atop billions of pounds worth of surplus. The tax, and the farce associated with it, exemplify the reasons why each election and each opinion poll bring home—or ought to—to Her Majesty's Government the extent to which they are now virtually bereft of popular support in the country of Scotland, which they purport to govern.

The Government, and their comprador in the Scottish Office, are a Government of Scottish Bourbons, who have learnt nothing and are forgetting nothing. There are no prizes for guessing who the Marie Antoinette is. I thought about who the Secretary of State might be, and the only figure I could come up with was Cardinal Rohan, whose patch was Strasbourg, but perhaps that is a delicate subject in these troubled times for the Tory party. The Government, who are implementing their mean-spirited, dire and pathetic regulations, are doing so without the slightest scintilla of popular support. As others have said, they are taking money from people on benefit, which, by definition, gives a level of financial support that is the very lowest that can be accepted in a civilised society of the Prime Minister's type. Even by this Government's standards, that is shameful.

Robin Small of the Low Pay Unit described the regulations as scandalous. He said: The whole notion of arresting Income Support which is considered to be subsistence level is scandalous. How can the Government say they are keeping people off the poverty line by giving them Income Support and then take it away in certain circumstances? The Evening Times in Glasgow has fought a courageous campaign against the poll tax. It said in an editorial: The community charge is a tax without pity. Today we expose how it will be collected from many poor families who won't, or can't afford to pay … Is this the sort of heartless society we truly want? It describes the Minister's memorandum in this way: This is a brutal, oppressive memorandum. It shows how hard-nosed official channels are becoming about poverty. The State will have its pound of flesh, come what may, and never mind if people starve in the process. There are people in Scotland who are pretty nearly going hungry, and this poll tax and these mean-spirited regulations will make it even harder for people living on the breadline to make ends meet. I hope that that is a pretty sight from the rolling downs of the Minister's constituency, because from where I sit, it is a pretty ugly one.

11.59 pm
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

It speaks volumes for the concern of the Scottish National party that, when the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is given the opportunity to criticise the perpetrators of the poll tax in Scotland, he instead spends his time attacking the only potential Government, the Labour party.

During my short career in Parliament I have sat through debates on shameful pieces of legislation, but none more shameful than what we are discussing tonight. It might benefit the season ticket holders who have arrived late for the vote, and who were not here to watch the match, if I explained what the legislation is all about. Tonight we are contemplating taking powers to withdraw from essential benefits the anticipated arrears in payment of an unfair tax from those who can least afford to pay it.

If there was ever an admission of the callousness of the poll tax and of the Government who introduced it, this statutory instrument is it. We were told that it was a fair tax, that it took account of ability to pay, that it was designed to encourage individual responsibility and individual dignity. What a sham, what hypocrisy. What is fair about a tax for which arrears can be anticipated and which will deprive the poorest in society of a minimal subsistence benefit designed to keep them not in comfort, not even in the less than comfort of the pension, but just minimally above the poverty line? How can a tax that takes any real account of ability to pay anticipate that the poorest will fall into arrears and inevitably will have to be punished by withdrawal of benefit? How can a tax encourage independence and dignity when, even before it is three months old, the Government are laying regulations that will reduce even further the little economic independence and dignity that anyone on income support can muster?

This is not simply a technical measure. It shows why the poll tax is absolutely rotten to the core. The poll tax already flies in the face of all progressive legislation by treating women as the chattels of their husbands. It stands on its head the Government's claim of individual responsibility by lumping husbands and wives together, even when the wife has only a minimal income. This measure is the most ignominious of all the aspects of the poll tax. It is no wonder that the Scottish Office Ministers did not have the guts to sit on the Front Bench while the Minister defended it.

This is not a tidying-up measure; it is an open admission of the bankruptcy of the Government's social morality. It is an open admission that the poor will fall into arrears and will be punished for it. How much have we heard tonight about the technicalities of the regulations? We heard much about 10p and 56 days. We cannot possibly portray the misery of a family on the poverty line through some chap in a Civil Service office. We cannot possibly understand what families on income support who face the poll tax are going through simply by reading some fancy footnote from the Department of Social Security. We need to live with those families to understand what they face. The Minister's kids do not go to school with the kids of families on income support. The Minister does not have meals with those families. A Minister who cannot name three local authorities in Scotland and cannot name three families in poverty in Scotland has no right to introduce legislation that will so adversely affect them.

I have many criticisms of the poll tax legislation. It is as needed in Scotland, as popular in Scotland and as useful in Scotland as the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). I have searched all night for a worse criticism, but I cannot find one.

12.3 am

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I am glad to have this opportunity to point out that when the memorandum from the Secretary of State for Social Security was sent to DSS offices in Scotland—it was based on statutory instrument No. 507—it was kept secret from Members of Parliament. When I asked to see a copy, I was told that I could not have one. I asked that it be placed in the Library, but that was refused. Another hon. Member asked whether it would appear in Hansard, but was told that it would not, on the grounds that it was only an interim order and that further instructions would be issued at a later date.

The Government were hoping to hide their iniquitous action. They were also hoping to hide the incompetence of the Ministers concerned. I managed to get hold of the memorandum and I have it here with me tonight. On page 2, it says that if a person fails to pay the poll tax, one of the options open to obtain the poll tax from him is confinement in prison. One point about the poll tax that is well known in Scotland is that people do not go to prison in Scotland for not paying the poll tax. We have the spectacle of the Department of Social Security sending out a memorandum telling officials that people in Scotland go to prison for failing to pay the poll tax although that is clearly wrong. It is hardly surprising—

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Fyfe


It is hardly surprising, considering that the Minister could not name three of the Scottish local collecting authorities. It would help if he could at least manage to consult his Scottish Office colleagues to get right the law in Scotland and to avoid the embarrassment of the reaction that rightly came from people when the Evening Times exposed the fact that the Government were prepared to leave people in desperate need of money with as little as lop of their income support. I do not know why they bother to leave 10p. Why not leave nothing, or at least 19p, so that those people can at least put a stamp on a letter to their Members of Parliament to take up their case? There is nothing more to say except that the regulations are one of the main reasons why this Conservative bunch who come in late and hear nothing of the debate—

Mr. Knight

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mrs. Fyfe

Those Conservative Members will vote for the regulations. They have nothing but contempt for the people of Scotland.

12.5 am

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

I would—

Mr. Greg Knight

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McAllion

I would consider giving way to the hon. Gentleman if he had had the courtesy to come into the Chamber and listen to the arguments about these regulations and the Scottish response. He has spent his time in the bar or somewhere else. He should go back there now and make no more attempts to intervene in this important debate.

We have seen here tonight the best possible argument for the establishment in Scotland at the earliest possible date of a Scottish Parliament to deal with Scottish matters. Conservative Members have shown an absolute lack of appreciation not only of the Scottish issue—

Mr. Greg Knight

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman alleged that I have been in the bar. In fact, I have been in the Library, and I hope that he will give way to allow me to answer some of the criticisms that have been made on the subject—

It being one and a half hours after the motion was entered upon, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to order [16 June]:

The House divided: Ayes 193, Noes 280.

Division No. 258] [12.07 am
Abbott, Ms Diane Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Allen, Graham Grocott, Bruce
Anderson, Donald Harman, Ms Harriet
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Henderson, Doug
Armstrong, Hilary Hinchliffe, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Battle, John Home Robertson, John
Beckett, Margaret Hood, Jimmy
Beith, A. J. Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Bell, Stuart Howells, Geraint
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Hoyle, Doug
Blair, Tony Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Blunkett, David Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Boateng, Paul Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Boyes, Roland Illsley, Eric
Bradley, Keith Ingram, Adam
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Kennedy, Charles
Buckley, George J. Kirkwood, Archy
Callaghan, Jim Leadbitter, Ted
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Leighton, Ron
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Clark, Or David (S Shields) Livingstone, Ken
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Livsey, Richard
Clay, Bob Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Clelland, David Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Loyden, Eddie
Cohen, Harry McAllion, John
Corbett, Robin McAvoy, Thomas
Corbyn, Jeremy Macdonald, Calum A.
Cousins, Jim McFall, John
Cox, Tom McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Crowther, Stan McKelvey, William
Cryer, Bob McLeish, Henry
Cummings, John Maclennan, Robert
Cunliffe, Lawrence McNamara, Kevin
Cunningham, Dr John McWilliam, John
Dalyell, Tarn Madden, Max
Darling, Alistair Mahon, Mrs Alice
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Marek, Dr John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dewar, Donald Martlew, Eric
Dixon, Don Meale, Alan
Dobson, Frank Michael, Alun
Doran, Frank Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Douglas, Dick Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Duffy, A. E. P. Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Moonie, Dr Lewis
Eadie, Alexander Morgan, Rhodri
Eastham, Ken Morley, Elliott
Fatchett, Derek Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Mowlam, Marjorie
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Mullin, Chris
Fisher, Mark Murphy, Paul
Flannery, Martin Nellist, Dave
Flynn, Paul O'Brien, William
Foster, Derek O'Neill, Martin
Foulkes, George Patchett, Terry
Fraser, John Pike, Peter L.
Fyfe, Maria Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Galbraith, Sam Prescott, John
Galloway, George Primarolo, Dawn
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Quin, Ms Joyce
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Radice, Giles
George, Bruce Redmond, Martin
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Godman, Dr Norman A. Reid, Dr John
Golding, Mrs Llin Richardson, Jo
Gordon, Mildred Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Gould, Bryan Robertson, George
Graham, Thomas Rooker, Jeff
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Rowlands, Ted Turner, Dennis
Ruddock, Joan Vaz, Keith
Salmond, Alex Wall, Pat
Sedgemore, Brian Wallace, James
Sheerman, Barry Walley, Joan
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wareing, Robert N.
Short, Clare Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Skinner, Dennis Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Snape, Peter Winnick, David
Spearing, Nigel Wise, Mrs Audrey
Steel, Rt Hon David Wray, Jimmy
Steinberg, Gerry Young, David (Bolton SE)
Stott, Roger
Strang, Gavin Tellers for the Ayes:
Straw, Jack Mr. Frank Haynes and
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Mr. Frank Cook.
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Alexander, Richard Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Allason, Rupert Colvin, Michael
Amess, David Conway, Derek
Amos, Alan Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Arbuthnot, James Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Cope, Rt Hon John
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Couchman, James
Ashby, David Cran, James
Aspinwall, Jack Currie, Mrs Edwina
Atkins, Robert Curry, David
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Baldry, Tony Day, Stephen
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dicks, Terry
Batiste, Spencer Dorrell, Stephen
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bellingham, Henry Dover, Den
Bendall, Vivian Dunn, Bob
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Dykes, Hugh
Bevan, David Gilroy Eggar, Tim
Biffen, Rt Hon John Emery, Sir Peter
Blackburn, Dr John G. Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Body, Sir Richard Evennett, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Boswell, Tim Fallon, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Favell, Tony
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Fishburn, John Dudley
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Forman, Nigel
Bowis, John Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Forth, Eric
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Fox, Sir Marcus
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Franks, Cecil
Brazier, Julian Freeman, Roger
Bright, Graham French, Douglas
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Fry, Peter
Browne, John (Winchester) Gardiner, George
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Gill, Christopher
Budgen, Nicholas Glyn, Dr Alan
Burns, Simon Goodlad, Alastair
Burt, Alistair Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Butcher, John Gorst, John
Butler, Chris Gow, Ian
Butterfill, John Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Greenway, Harry (Eating N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gregory, Conal
Carrington, Matthew Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Carttiss, Michael Grist, Ian
Cash, William Ground, Patrick
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Chapman, Sydney Hague, William
Chope, Christopher Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Churchill, Mr Hampson, Dr Keith
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hanley, Jeremy
Hannam, John Nicholls, Patrick
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Harris, David Norris, Steve
Haselhurst, Alan Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hawkins, Christopher Oppenheim, Phillip
Hayes, Jerry Page, Richard
Hayward, Robert Paice, James
Heddle, John Patnick, Irvine
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Patten, John (Oxford W)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Pawsey, James
Hill, James Porter, David (Waveney)
Hind, Kenneth Price, Sir David
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hordern, Sir Peter Redwood, John
Howard, Michael Renton, Tim
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Rhodes James, Robert
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Riddick, Graham
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hunter, Andrew Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Irvine, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Jack, Michael Rossi, Sir Hugh
Jackson, Robert Rost, Peter
Janman, Tim Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Sackville, Hon Tom
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Key, Robert Shaw, David (Dover)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Shelton, Sir William
Kirkhope, Timothy Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Knapman, Roger Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lang, Ian Speller, Tony
Latham, Michael Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lawrence, Ivan Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lilley, Peter Steen, Anthony
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stern, Michael
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Stevens, Lewis
McCrindle, Robert Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stokes, Sir John
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maclean, David Summerson, Hugo
McLoughlin, Patrick Tapsell, Sir Peter
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Madel, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Major, Rt Hon John Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mans, Keith Thorne, Neil
Maples, John Thornton, Malcolm
Marland, Paul Thurnham, Peter
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Tracey, Richard
Maude, Hon Francis Tredinnick, David
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Trippier, David
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Trotter, Neville
Mellor, David Twinn, Dr Ian
Miller, Sir Hal Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Mills, Iain Viggers, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Moate, Roger Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Moore, Rt Hon John Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Waller, Gary
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Ward, John
Moss, Malcolm Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Moynihan, Hon Colin Warren, Kenneth
Neale, Gerrard Watts, John
Needham, Richard Wells, Bowen
Nelson, Anthony Whitney, Ray
Neubert, Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Wiggin, Jerry
Wilkinson, John Younger, Rt Hon George
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann Tellers for the Noes:
Winterton, Nicholas Mr. Tony Durant and
Wood, Timothy Mr. David Lightbown.
Yeo, Tim

Question accordingly negatived.