HC Deb 06 March 1989 vol 148 cc709-34 10.27 pm
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I beg to move, That the Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 32) dated 12th January 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th January, be revoked.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I understand that it will be for the convenience of the House if we discuss with this the following motions: That the Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 63), dated 17th January 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th January, he revoked. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Abolition of Domestic Rates (Domestic and Part Residential Subjects) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 241), dated 23rd February 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th February, be annulled.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The third motion, on the abolition of domestic rates, Statutory Instrument, 1989, No. 241, has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I hope that you can give me an assurance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if any technical fault is found by the Committee, which will discuss the instrument tomorrow afternoon, it can be debated in its entirety again at some other stage. I also hope that it will not automatically be approved, or that further consideration on it will be excluded, because we will have referred to it in the debate. There is little point in setting up a Joint Committee to scrutinise statutory instruments if decisions are cut and dried the day before the Committee is due to examine a statutory instrument.

Several of these poll tax instruments have been reported by the Joint Committee to the House, and abuses by the Government have been noted by the Committee. Therefore, it is important that the Committee should have the opportunity to examine the instrument and to report on it if there is that justification. The counsel to the Joint Committee, who is, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, counsel to the Speaker, has not yet had an opportunity to give his views to the Joint Committee, so it is vital that any consideration of the instrument should be deferred until the Committee has considered it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) for giving the Chair notice of his intention to raise a point of order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall not be making a decision tonight on Statutory Instrument, 1989, No. 241. It will be debated with the other measures, but the House will not make a decision upon it. Should the Joint Committee find fault with it tomorrow, there will be a subsequent opportunity for the House to debate the statutory instrument and come to a decision upon it.

Mr. Maxton

We want the severely mentally handicapped to be exempt from the poll tax. We want also the mess that the Government have got themselves into with students to be sorted out. We shall debate the regulations and vote against them because we shall continue to oppose in any way possible in the House any measures that relate to the poll tax. That unwanted, unfair and unworkable tax has been rejected by the Scottish people. We have a responsibility to recognise that by opposing whenever we can regulations such as those mentioned in the Order Paper.

As we approach April Fools' day, when the first payments will be made, the tax becomes more ludicrous and unfair. Within the past few weeks it has become apparent that at the same time as imposing new and intolerable burdens upon the poor and the low paid in our society the Government are prepared to give private landlords in Scotland a massive £40 million handout as a result of the poll tax legislation. Many of those who rent private accommodation make a combined rent and rates payment to their landlord. It is clear that the Government have no intention of doing anything to stop those landlords from continuing to ask for the same amount of money after 1 April, even though the rates element of the charge will have disappeared.

When the Council of Scottish Local Authorities suggested to the Department of Social Security that it should reduce housing benefit payments to landlords accordingly, it was told that it could not do that by statute. It is incredible that, while those who can afford so little are being asked to pay exactly the same as the wealthiest in the land, private landlords should be encouraged blatantly to profiteer.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

My hon. Friend has told us that the Government have made substantial concessions to landlords. Is he aware that a specific group of landlords are doing quite well out of Government concessions? I refer to farmers who have had empty farm cottages taken out of the poll tax system. Only last week the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board refused to do anything to compensate 10,000 Scottish farm workers, who may be earning as little as £103 for a 40-hour week, who are paying for their accommodation through their labour. They will not be compensated for the extra imposition of the poll tax. What sense can there be in that?

Mr. Maxton

My hon. Friend is right. That is typical of the Government's mean-mindedness. They promised that they would increase students' grants to compensate for the 20 per cent. contribution to the poll tax that they will have to pay, and that they have done. There is a mean-minded nature to this iniquitous tax, and it is clear that it is becoming an administrative nightmare.

It is absurd that, with only three weeks to go before the first payments are made, we are debating regulations that must take effect on 1 April. It makes nonsense of the procedures and democratic nature of the House that that is happening with only three weeks to go. Indeed, social security regulations that relate to the poll tax have not even been laid before the House, even though they have been the subject of consultation for months. That is what I have been told by COSLA. They have not yet come before the House, but they will have to take effect on 1 April.

The second group of regulations that we are discussing tonight deals with those who will be completely excluded from paying the poll tax. Almost all the exclusions have been wrung unwillingly from the Government as the Scottish and English legislation wound its way through this House and the other place. There were very few concessions in the Scottish Bill, only those for people in hospitals. The original Bill did not exclude people in old folk's homes and bit by bit the Opposition have won and have excluded more and more people. We would not particularly welcome some of the exclusions. I do not see why an American service man living in Dunoon should be exempt from paying the poll tax while a British service man serving in Dunoon must pay it.

It is typical of the Government that to the end they cannot be even remotely generous in the exclusions. The first regulation, for all the exclusions that it will involve, will not exclude any elderly person suffering from Alzheimer's disease despite the demands from the Opposition and from the caring organisations in Scotland that they should be treated in the same way as those suffering from other forms of severe mental handicap.

Many Alzheimer's disease sufferers are cared for by elderly relatives—wives, husbands, sisters or brothers. They have a thankless task, but one which many undertake rather than see someone they love put into institutional care. How heartless it is now to impose an extra burden on them. The sums of money involved are paltry in comparison with the money that will be collected by the poll tax in Scotland for local authorities, yet the Government refuse to concede anything.

The medical evidence used to debar Alzheimer sufferers from exclusion is spurious, as my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) will show if he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to tell us from where he got his medical evidence.

Even at this late date we appeal to the Minister to show some compassion and to introduce regulations within days to allow Alzheimer's disease sufferers complete exemption from the tax in the same way that the Government are exempting sufferers from other forms of dementia. If the Minister introduces such regulations, I promise that we will not pray against them or oppose them in any way.

The regulations about students show the complete administrative muddle into which the Government have got themselves. This is the second regulation that we have debated in this House about the definition of students and how they are to be registered for poll tax purposes. The first regulation proved to be such a mess that it had to be withdrawn after we had debated and approved it when the Government realised that it simply would not work and that the registration of students would be impossible under it.

Because of that fiasco, some registration officers, particularly the one in Strathclyde, refused to register anyone as a student until the regulations came into force on 3 February. As a result of that, the whole process is now way behind schedule. The regulation states that all students in Scotland should have been issued with a document certifying that they are full-time students by their college or university by last Saturday 4 March. I am assured by the National Union of Students in Scotland that many simply have not received those certificates and many will not receive them for some time. However, registration officers are refusing to register students until they receive a certificate from them.

That is a doubtful legal procedure because there is nothing in the legislation which says that they must be given certificates before students can be registered. They are interpreting the law as they see it when they say that they will not register students until they have received a certificate. No one knows how long that will take, but it means that it is impossible for all students in Scotland to be registered on the poll tax register by 1 April when the first bills will be issued.

Therefore, students will face bills for the full poll tax and will face a long bureaucratic procedure to ensure that they pay only the 20 per cent. that they are due to pay as students. It is worth bearing in mind that bills for £250 or £300 will drop through students' letterboxes and will then have to be appealed against, so that they will be reduced to 20 per cent. of that figure, at exactly the time—in April, May and early June—when students in the colleges and universities of Scotland will be sitting examinations upon which their whole future will depend. For the Government to impose that burden on students at such a time is wholly unacceptable.

Both sets of regulations show, in their different ways, that the tax is unfair and unworkable. The Government are not prepared to be generous in any way. They are getting themselves into an administrative muddle, and my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote against both measures simply to make the point that they are an absurd part of a very absurd tax.

10.40 pm
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang)

The regulations bring us to the brink of the introduction of the community charge in Scotland, which is now less than four weeks away. They represent almost the final pieces of the jigsaw that we have been working to complete since before the Green Paper on abolishing the discredited domestic rates system which the community charge will replace.

Far from being the shambles that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) suggested, the procedure has advanced in an orderly and efficient way, despite all the attempts of the Labour party to inhibit progress.

To place the legislation in context, it is worth reviewing briefly the community charge arrangements as they now stand—up and ready to go. Looking first at the registration process—the key to the whole system—we see a remarkable success story. The canvass of households started in April 1988, and when the community charge registers came into force on 1 October last year, as planned, they showed that, on average, more than 99 per cent. of adult residents in Scotland had, according to the registrar general's population figures, been registered.

However, the Government made it clear at the time that that figure was subject to adjustment once individuals had been given opportunity to check their register entries. That checking process has now largely been completed, and I am delighted to report that the adjusted registration figure, as at January 1989, is 98.8 per cent.—a very marginal drop on last October's figure. That is an excellent result and shows, once and for all, that those who ran campaigns against the registration process totally misjudged the good sense of the Scottish people, who would not contemplate breaking the law.

On the basis of those registers, which are being continually updated, local authorities are now printing bills, which will be sent out to everyone on the registers in the next four weeks. The scale of that achievement is itself impressive, particularly when one considers the obstacles that many local authority practitioners had to overcome, and which had been imposed by their own councillors.

The most disappointing and self-indulgent of those obstacles was the refusal by a number of district councils to co-operate in the collection of the charge and in the operation of the rebate scheme. All that does is to make life difficult for the elderly and for the less well-off people in those councils' areas—for nothing more than the greater glory of a few councillors. The rebate scheme will help a very large number of people—more than I million people in Scotland stand to benefit from it. Both the Government and local authorities are continuing to encourage those who have not yet applied for a rebate to do so.

We have not been helped by the constant barrage of griping about the rebate scheme that has conveyed the message that only the very low paid could benefit from it. Opposition Members ought to know better by now. I need give only one example to demonstrate the fallacy of the Opposition's argument. A married man with two children aged under 11 living in Edinburgh could, depending on other circumstances, earn £168 net, including child benefit—which works out at about £10,400 per year gross—and still qualify for rebate. There are many more aspects to the new arrangements, and I shall deal with some of them later. The message that is clearly emerging is that every aspect of the policy is working.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

I should be grateful if the Minister would say how much a single person living alone could earn while still qualifying for rebate.

Mr. Lang

Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that the circumstances of every individual will depend on a number of factors. I cannot possibly give him a specific figure without knowing many of those factors first.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Before the Minister leaves his own example, will he tell us what the rebate was for the married man in Edinburgh whom he cited?

Mr. Lang

The precise rebate will depend on a number of factors, but the point is that he will receive a rebate. What Opposition Members do not like is that some 1 million of the adult population of Scotland—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister has been addressing the House for four minutes and has not yet addressed his remarks to the motion. I hope that he will do so now.

Mr. Lang

I have been trying to do precisely that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am happy to do so.

The Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 repeal and replace the corresponding regulations that came into force in April last year. We have taken the opportunity to make some changes in the criteria that must he met for a person to receive the full-time student concession. For example, the wording of regulation 3(b)(iii) has been expanded to make it clear that a sandwich-course student on a placement will continue to qualify for the student concession provided that he meets the other requirements.

The main changes, however, reflect changes and improvements made in the community charge arrangements by the Local Government Finance Act 1988. In particular, regulation 5 prescribes the arrangements under which educational establishments will have to provide certificates to their full-time students, and regulation 6 requires establishments to provide any additional information required by the registration officer, provided that it is information that he reasonably requires to carry out his functions and is in the possession or control of the establishment.

The provisions are designed to facilitate the registration of students to ensure that those who qualify for the concessionary rate can be readily registered without requiring time-consuming investigation by the registration officer. All the evidence that I have suggests that the system is working well, and that full-time students are being recorded on the register without problems. Regulation 4 makes specific provision in relation to student nurses and, taken with regulation 3, has the effect of providing that student nurses studying at universities, central institutions colleges of education, polytechnics or further education establishments in England and Wales and who are liable for the personal community charge in Scotland will pay only 20 per cent. of the personal charge and personal community water charge. The effect of the 1988 student regulations was in practice no different, although those regulations did not differentiate between students and student nurses, leaving the rules on students to determine which student nurses would receive the concession and which would not. Following the changes made to the 1987 Act by the Local Government Finance Act 1988, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment stated the Government's policy in a written answer last October, and the present regulations are consistent with that policy.

There has been criticism that the student arrangements were not finalised until too late and the hon. Member for Cathcart repeated it. That is nonsense. As I have said, the main student provisions have been in place since April last year, and the changes that have been made have effectively been to improve the operation of those provisions. Educational establishments have been implementing the new arrangements, and students are being entered on the register in time for them to receive their bills at the concessionary rate.

Mr. Maxton

Strathclyde region is the largest single local authority. Its registration officer, Jack Wood, rightly said when the Government withdrew the previous regulations and put forward new ones that he could not register anyone as a student until the new regulations came into force, because he did not know whether Parliament would bring them forward. For that reason many students in Strathclyde will not be registered by 1 April.

Mr. Lang

It is for the registration officer in each region to decide how he will discharge his statutory duties. I understand that in Strathclyde it was decided—for administrative reasons—to await the revised regulations. That was a temporary measure, until students had received their certificates and were able to send them to the registration officer. The registration officer sent a standard letter explaining what was happening to everyone who was entered on the community charges inquiry form as being a student, and where appropriate those people have now been entered on the register as students.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Is this not a bit like the baptism of the Chinese with a hosepipe? Is this not to be an individual Act applying to individuals, rather than a portmanteau provision swallowing them all up?

In regulation 6, what precisely is the extra information that is wanted? What is wanted by the registration officer that is not covered by regulation 5?

Mr. Lang

The registration officer may, for example, require information about the course that the student is following to make sure that it qualifies. Some courses might not be long enough to qualify under the terms of the regulations affecting students. There is a requirement as to the number of weeks and the number of hours worked during the week, and so on. The registration officer will not ask for information that he cannot properly and reasonably require; nor will he ask for information that is not in the possession of the establishment.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Does the Minister intend to bring in emergency legislation to protect some of the 40,000 Scottish tenants in the private sector, many of them students, following the abolition of rates?

Mr. Lang

I should have thought that most students in that situation would be able to take care of themselves. However, I was about to mention landlords because the hon. Member for Cathcart referred to them.

I reject the across-the-board criticism of landlords as though they were all rogues and scoundrels. The plain fact is that most landlords are earning an honest living in a responsible and respectable way, and it is quite inappropriate to abuse them. Nevertheless, I am grateful for another chance to make it clear that in the new situation—I refer to the fact that rates will disappear from 1 April—landlords should, of course, reduce the rent charged if it includes a sum for rates. Landlords have no right to ask for contributions of that kind. Regulated tenancies allow for the rent to be registered. In that case the rates will be separated, and the position will be perfectly clear. I urge students in that situation to have their rents registered.

I do not accept that the harassment excuse that is raised is a valid one. Indeed, in the Housing Act 1988 we strengthened the provisions to resist harassment, and I believe that that is the right approach for students in that situation.

Tenants with assured tenancies are entitled to obtain a statement as to the terms of their lease, and they will then be able to deduct from their payment the amount due for rates. Of course, from 1 April the rates element will disappear altogether.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will the Minister make it clear that, if a landlord continues to charge a tenant the sum that represented the old rent and rates, that will be nothing less than fraud and that the landlord ought to be prosecuted?

Mr. Lang

Whatever the hon. Lady chooses to call it, there certainly is a sanction available to such tenants. They can use the resources of the law to have their rights enforced.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lang

I think I had better press on. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak during the debate. I must cover the other regulations.

The Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 make provision in relation to four exempt categories: service prisoners, the severely mentally impaired, cross-border students and care workers. The service prisoner provisions in regulation 3 are technical in nature and have the effect of placing service prisoners in the same position as other prisoners in relation to their community charge liability.

The regulation and schedule relating to the severely mentally impaired is also technical in nature. After we had made the previous regulations covering the severely mentally impaired it became apparent that there might be some benefits, particularly some war pensions, that ought to be included in the list of qualifying benefits for which people have to be eligible as part of the exemption criteria. The present regulation makes sure that nobody who is entitled to exemption would fail to qualify on a legal technicality.

The regulations relating to cross-border students are required to ensure that full-time students from Scotland who study elsewhere in the United Kingdom do not have to pay the community charge in Scotland when they return for any length of time during their course—for example, during the summer vacation—so long as a student's term-time address is outwith Scotland.

Regulation 8 covering care workers prescribes the criteria that have to be met if a person who is a care worker is to be exempt. The criteria have been drawn up after consultation to ensure that such workers who are disqualified from receiving income support by virtue of the hours they work will not be disadvantaged in terms of the community charge. The regulation necessarily defines the exempt group quite tightly to ensure that exemption is granted to, for example, community service volunteers where hardships would otherwise result, but not to workers who might in practice be better off financially than other non-exempt groups in the community.

Finally, the Abolition of Domestic Rates (Domestic and Part Residential Subjects) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 close the loophole that occurred as a result of a drafting error in the amendment of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 by the Local Government Finance Act 1988. Under the terms of the incorrectly amended provision, people such as the proprietors of boarding houses, hotels and pubs who are solely or mainly resident in premises which are subject to non-domestic rates will be exempt from the personal community charge. The regulations represent no change in policy, as the Government have always intended that people in these circumstances should be liable to pay the community charge. Naturally I regret the need for the regulations to be made, but it is of course right that this loophole should be closed. An amendment to correct the error in the primary legislation has been inserted in the Local Government and Housing Bill. Once the correction comes into force, the temporary regulations will be repealed.

This is the last time that we shall have the opportunity to discuss Scottish community charge regulations in the House before the new community charge arrangements come into effect in Scotland on 1 April. The new system is ready to operate. I commend the regulations to the House.

10.55 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I shall not detain the House for very long. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said, we are now within three or four weeks of the poll tax coming into force in Scotland. However, we are still debating the regulations, many of which have been introduced only because the Government did not get it right in the first place. I do not think that the Minister believed it himself—he had a wry smile on his face—when he claimed that all is going forward in an orderly and efficient manner.

The Minister said that the arrangements that have been made to close the loophole will not come into effect until the Local Government and Housing Bill, now being considered in Committee, comes into force. When he replies to the debate I hope that he will refer to the position of those who in the meantime are exempt because of the loophole. If the Bill does not receive Royal Assent until the autumn, as it has to go through all its stages in both Houses, will those people be required to pay the community charge retrospectively for the forthcoming year?

Mr. Lang

It may help if I deal with that point at once. The purpose of the regulations is to bring individuals in that category into liability for the community charge until such time as the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers comes into force later in the year.

Mr. Wallace

I am grateful to the Minister. Those people will therefore be liable to pay the community charge as from 1 April. I assume that all the necessary registration and administration that go with it will have to be completed within a short period.

The Minister began his speech by referring to rebates. Although you pulled him up, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will allow some latitude, in as much as the Minister raised a pertinent issue. There may be people who do not quite make it into the exemption categories. People who could be thought of as students but who probably do not fall into that category are constituents of mine. They are employed by the Orkney youth theatre. They receive approximately £40 a week, but they were informed when inquiries were made that they would be entitled to a rebate of only 47p per week. The local authority maintains that it will be unable to pay that rebate because it is under 50p per week. I hope the Minister will explain whether that is to be a national rule or whether it is just a question of a particular local authority's administrative convenience, because 47p per week—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the House allows the Minister to speak again, I hope that he will confine his remarks to what is contained in the regulations.

Mr. Wallace

I am sure that the Minister accepts that if these students do not quite fall within the scope of the regulations, a legitimate point has nevertheless been raised. If he is not allowed to reply to that point in the debate, I hope that he will write to me about the matter.

The hon. Member for Cathcart referred to those who will be exempt because of severe mental impairment. Many hon. Members referred to that point last week at Question Time and it has been the subject of much correspondence between hon. Members and the Minister. I refer to those who are suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It would not have been remiss of the Minister, who has taken the opportunity provided by the regulations to make amendments in order to close some gaps, to extend the scope of the exemption to those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. We have heard of no rational or justifiable reason in the exchanges for the exclusion of those people.

We have been told that there has been medical advice. I think that in an answer last week it was said to have been given by the chief medical officer and others—the others being, curiously, anonymous.

I understand that some 90,000 people in Scotland suffer from dementia. Many in the earlier stages of the disease would not be classified as severely mentally impaired, so the number involved is probably well below that. It would not amount to many people, but those people can be hard hit by the regulations. There is considerable disparity which demonstrates that when one embarks on legislation which is inherently unfair the number of injustices which result when it is applied in detail are expected to be quite considerable. It is yet another injustice which goes to the heart of a very unjust tax.

The Minister will know that we have consistently proposed a local income tax. The Minister tries to find some justification for not exempting people suffering from Alzheimer's disease by saying that they were never excluded from rates. References to previous omissions do not justify their continuation. If one were to apply the system of local income tax, clearly that injustice would be covered, as such people could not possibly be earning. If they had substantial income from capital, it would not be unreasonable for them to contribute.

The regulations demonstrate the difficulties of implementing a basically unjust tax and we shall have no hesitation in supporting the Labour party and voting against the regulations tonight.

11.2 pm

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

The kernel of our opposition relates to the principal legislation and the role of the poll tax registration officer. The principal statute gives that individual considerable latitude in his or her responsibilities. Poll tax registration officers are circumscribed by statute, but they are responsible to no elected individual. There is no one in the local authority, which is responsible in theory for collecting the tax, to whom the poll tax registration officer is responsible.

Many of our people fought against Hitler's Germany and Fascist Italy to remove dictatorial powers, but we are giving such powers by statute. Tonight we are discussing regulations that enhance the powers of the poll tax registration officers. Part of those regulations relates to service personnel. It is easy to determine when service personnel are in prison but how do we determine when they are at sea?

This may be the last time that we receive some indication of the power of the poll tax registration officer to create almost unilateral exemption. We have fought, and are fighting on the Floor of the House, for exemption for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The Secretary of State and his Ministers resisted that on the basis of spurious medical opinion.

Let us consider service personnel. I have a letter on a matter I raised concerning people in the Royal Navy. The regulations refer to people in the Royal Navy being in prison. I received a letter from Fife regional council saying: The failure of the Community Charge Legislation clearly to define what is meant by 'residents' has meant that a practical approach has had to be taken in many cases. This approach may or may not eventually be upheld by the courts, but it is one of those matters which is left to them to determine. At this stage, we have to leave it to the courts to decide who is resident. The letter continues: Insofar as the Royal Navy is concerned, the Community Charges Registration Officer for Fife has made an arrangement that residence will be determined by its quality and intention rather than its duration. There is no reason why this same criteria should not be applied to Merchant Seamen. Having secured the navy's agreement, it is reasonably certain that Navy personnel will accept the arrangements made, although they will still have their individual Rights of Appeal. No such assumption can be made for Merchant Seamen. Married Seamen or single Seamen who have a permanent home will be registered at that address and will be removed from the Register only if at sea for a continuous period in excess of six months. Depending on information provided by the Navy, it is possible to get out of the poll tax bracket, if that is administratively possible. We know about someone who is in prison—that is provided for in the regulations—but do we know when someone is at sea? The Russians spend a lot of money keeping Klondikers and others out in the North sea to determine the movement of our vessels. All they need do now is buy a copy of the poll tax register. That would save them a heck of a lot of money. I know that I am verging on the farcical, but the whole issue verges on the farcical. Someone in Fife—Mr. Thompson—can make an arrangement with the Royal Navy about who will be on the register.

I shall not stray out of order by referring to the other debatable nonsense in the letter. I am being respectful to the chief executive of Fife regional council—he is only saying what the poll tax registration officer determines. If I ask, "To whom is the poll tax registration officer electorally responsible?" he will tell me that the power is provided by statute. Someone can go on and off the register because of the say-so of that one person.

Is the Minister honestly telling the House that the poll tax registration officer can determine when someone is at sea for 61 days but cannot determine whether someone suffers from Alzheimer's disease? Is it impossible for medical opinion to say that someone is so severely mentally impaired that he ought not to be registered? The Minister knows the stand that I have taken on this matter. If the poll tax registration officer will not accept a case for exclusion on the grounds laid down in the regulations or the word of the general practitioner, a person who is acting on behalf of the severely mentally impaired person has to prove his case. That is the depth to which we have sunk to get this nonsense of legislation through.

I am convinced that this legislation will not remain on the statute book for long. I am aware from meetings during the past few months that there is a growing undercurrent of resentment at it. I can illustrate how it operates. I recently sat across the table from someone who earns about £35,000 a year and whose rates bill is £2,500. His poll tax bill will be £600. I have also sat opposite someone whose rate bill was £600 and whose poll tax bill will be £1,200. All of us could give such illustrations. We know from our surgeries that there are depths of poverty that we thought had been abolished. People come to my surgeries on Saturdays who are threatened with eviction or with great difficulty and they do not know which way to turn. I ask the House, at this late date, to take cognisance of the fact that the regulations are nonsense. How quickly they are removed from the law of the land depends on our tenacity.

11.10 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) put his case well and he is undoubtedly deeply concerned. However, I believe that he would agree that the rating system had enormous anomalies which caused great difficulties. I promoted two Bills which attempted to change the legislation on rates and which were subsequently incorporated into Government measures so that the anomalies were dealt with.

The regulations will be welcomed. The students will welcome the opportunity to have certificates to show that they are students. There is a question about cross-border students, which is important in applying for rebates. Like everyone else, the students will apply according to their position and income to ensure that they enjoy the rebates.

Mr. Maxton

For the record, I must point out that the students will pay a student community charge. They will not claim a rebate.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that I have two daughters who are students, so I know what is going on. Whatever he may say, I want to raise the matter of cross-border students. Some future cross-border students will be at school or about to leave school. They will take up their positions in colleges or universities south of the border after the summer holidays. At what point does the students' position become clear? Is it when they have been offered their places, as is happening now, or is it when they take them up at the end of the summer holidays?

I also welcome the provision affecting war pensioners. I am pleased that there has been a response on that. People in my constituency who are affected by the boarding house and hotel technical amendment would have wished for the loophole to remain. However, we must understand that the community charge is a charge against individuals, and those people have always understood that they would have to pay the community charge.

I believe that, contrary to some remarks, more people are beginning to acknowledge that the community charge is a viable method of funding local government. Contrary to the Opposition statements, with the passage of time it is unlikely that any future Government will remove the community charge.

11.13 pm
Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

We know for sure that travel broadens the mind. The further one goes north over the border into Scotland, the more one learns that Thatcherism is hated. It is hated because of the attacks on jobs, living standards, social services and the welfare state and now because of the poll tax. The working class of Scotland attack the Tories and vote accordingly. That is why the Tories have little support in Scotland and why the Scottish people oppose the regulations. Whatever we are talking about, we must tell the Prime Minister that she got it wrong when she went to the Church of Scotland and gave a lecture. She tried to tell us that Scotland needed not less but more Thatcherism. She may have believed that God was on her side. Her god is the god of profit. That has been confirmed on many—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is speaking to the wrong subject. I hope that he will address his remarks to the regulations before the House and put theology aside.

Mr. Brown

Thank you for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

People in Lothian can see what the regulations mean. Effectively they mean that many students and others—that includes the low-paid and pensioners—will have to pay the poll tax. They will have to pay £392 a year. That may not seem a lot of money to some members of the Government, but it is a lot for a family. It is not a matter of saying to the low-paid and pensioners, "Under the regulations, you can get a concession or some sort of rebate." Those people did not pay rates before because their income was so low. Now they will have to pay at least 20 per cent. Because of a sliding scale, many old-age pensioners will have to pay much more. Many will have to pay the full whack.

The poll tax, or community charge, call it what one will, is regressive. It attacks the working class—the vast majority—and benefits the rich. There is no doubt about that. Hon. Members may call it what they like, but it is a counter reform. It has taken back one of the gains that we achieved through the rating system. I am not saying that the rating system was perfect. I have heard it said tonight that the rating system also had some flaws, and I agree, but the rating system since 1979—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention the fact that we are discussing some narrow regulations. I hope that he will address his remarks to them. So far he has not done so.

Mr. Brown

I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, as the matter was mentioned, I must say that high-spending councils are a myth. There are lies, damn lies and Tory statistics. Tory statistics are about unemployment, inflation, and anything that they care to cover. The experiment is being put to the test in Scotland because the Tories think that they will get away with it. They will not. Community organisations, unions, Labour councils and other groups—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is clearly disregarding the advice which I have offered to him. He will either address himself to the regulations or resume his seat, and I will allow another hon. Member to have an opportunity to speak.

Mr. Brown

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I must say to Conservative Members—there are not many here tonight—that Adam Smith, the great mentor or guru, advised the Bourbons that there would be disaster if they imposed iniquitous taxes. That led to the French revolution 200 years ago. The Tory Government will lead to another revolution, not just devolution. That fact must be faced. Scotland is anxious and, obviously, will challenge the Government.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were quite correct to ask me to make some points about the regulations. When Conservative Members talk about democracy, they talk about hypocrisy. They are trying to impose class rule on the small country north of the border by means of the regulations, which, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, point out, are important.

Let us consider the law—which, in this place, is worshipped daily—and regulations to see what happens to individuals who work in many factories throughout this country. Some are injured, many are killed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We have heard all about Adam Smith, the French revolution and the Bourbons, but so far we have heard nothing about the Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 or the Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989. The hon. Gentleman must either address his remarks to the regulations before the House or resume his seat.

Mr. Brown

I am always grateful for your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker. We are talking about regulations, and this place—and about reality, which is not just in a little closet or box. We like to kid the working class punters outside that there is something marvellous about this place. However, as a mere representative of Leith, as a shop steward writ large—or small, because I am not that tall—all I can say is that, when we talk about the law and what happens to people outside, the ruling class is not that concerned.

The ruling class avoid regulations and paying taxes—certainly the poll tax—when that suits them, even though the poll tax is generous to them and benefits them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is a very short debate and a number of hon. Members are waiting to speak on the regulations. I must instruct the hon. Member to resume his seat.

11.22 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Minister has been poorly supported by his Back-Bench colleagues tonight and, after the speech of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), he probably wishes that he had been completely unsupported and had answered the House alone.

I shall be brief because the debate is no longer taking place in the House. Its focus has shifted to Scotland. The level of resistance to its imposition in Scotland over the next few months will determine the longevity of the poll tax.

It has been said that the separation between the severely mentally handicapped—who will be exempt from the poll tax—and the merely mentally handicapped—who will have to pay—is one of the most offensive distinctions in what is undoubtedly an offensive tax. There is also no doubt that the Minister of State's defence of imposing the poll tax on people with Alzheimer's disease, on the basis that such people would be offended if they were exempt, is equally offensive. What manner of morality or sensitivity argues that American air force or army personnel will not be offended if they are exempt from poll tax in Scotland but those with Alzheimer's disease will be?

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Are people with Alzheimer's disease exempt from rates in Scotland?

Mr. Salmond

If the hon. Gentleman had not just wandered into this Scottish debate, he would have known that that precise point was addressed earlier in the evening. [Interruption.] The answer is simply that two rights do not make a wrong—[Interruption.]—or even that two wrongs do not make a right.

If the Minister seriously argues that people with Alzheimer's disease are anxious to pay the poll tax and would be offended if they could not do so and were placed in an exempted category, he demonstrates how out of touch he is—not just with the people with Alzheimer's disease and their carers, but with the vast bulk of Scottish public opinion that finds such definitions totally offensive.

The Minister recently made a concession for unoccupied farm cottages, apparently not realising that the real issue in Scottish rural communities is occupied farm cottages. Can he not find it within his heart, even at this late stage, to make a concession for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease?

Statutory instrument No. 32 refers to students. I had an interesting opportunity last Thursday night to test students' attitudes to the poll tax in Scotland when I spoke in a debate at St. Andrew's university. Hon. Members will know that St. Andrew's has suffered from the reputation of being responsible for the genesis of the radical Right in United Kingdom politics. Even worse, it has had to carry the burden of having been responsible for the university education of the Under-Secretary of State for opting out—thereby devaluing the worth of my degree from that noble institution. In a packed union debate on Thursday night in the old parliament hall in St. Andrew's, the students not only voted by a majority of three to one against the poll tax but they voted for a non-payment campaign against it, which did much to restore the reputation of the university and showed that free thought is still alive in that institution. It also showed the amount of resistance to the poll tax that is building up in Scotland.

Resistance will be greatest at the point of payment. Over the next few weeks and months the Minister will find himself even more isolated in Scotland than he has been in this debate.

11.26 pm
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

The Government have lost a golden opportunity to show that Conservatism has a caring face. They had the chance to heed the representations of those representing sufferers from Alzheimer's disease and senile dementia. They have ignored those representations in a way that has caused a great deal of anger among the groups acting for the disabled.

Regulation 4 does not cover millions or hundreds of thousands of disabled sufferers. It deals with a few lives that have been blighted in their later years by the tragedy of Alzheimer's disease. Appeals have been made to the Conservatives to include that small but important group in the legislation and it is little short of tragic that the Government and the Minister have not taken this opportunity to reverse last week's decision and show some compassion to the disabled.

The Hansard report of oral answers to questions on Scotland on 1 March has given my constituents a true insight into the thinking of the Conservatives on Scotland. Last week, the Minister of State said: Because of the gradual onset of the disease, many people suffering from degenerative disorders seek to play a full part in the community, which includes contributing to the cost of local government. There are people like Mr. Guthrie of Lasswade road in my constituency. His wife phones me every weekend to tell me about her husband's condition and her worries about his having to pay the poll tax, and the notion that people like him can ever again play a full part in the community would be laughable if it were not tragic.

The Minister went on: The disease has a gradual onset, leading to progressive decline in all aspects of mental functioning. That is what we believe. The difficulty is one of diagnosis to establish precisely at what point any exemption should be made. All that we are asking is that the Minister shows some generosity of spirit and of action in accepting that at a certain stage people suffering from Alzheimer's disease should be exempted. We are not asking for hard and fast rules. We are asking that for a few thousand people in Scotland suffering from the disease the Government should accept the advice of medical officers and make an exemption. The Minister of State said: The balance of medical advice that we have received is that it is impossible to establish a method of assessing precisely at which point an exemption could be granted".—[Official Report, 1 March 1989; Vol. 148, c. 260–61.] That is used as an excuse not to grant any exemption, and it is little short of disgraceful.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Most Conservative Members take the view that you are dotty. Do you think you should be exempted? We should be happy to exempt you.

Mr. Griffiths

Many Opposition Members realise that far from you being dotty, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your faculties are as good as ever. We deplore the fact that Conservative Members treat as a laughing matter and a joke people who suffer from senile disorders and who are being described as dotty.

That attitude is exemplified by the rather typical intervention on Wednesday by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who sought to make cheap, party political points at the expense of disabled people. We know that such attitudes are not lost on the people of the United Kingdom, and that relatives who have to care for disabled people and cope with the day-to-day problems of senile dementia know full well that the comment "dotty" by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) is typical of the Government's uncaring, arrogant, aristocratic attitude towards the problem.

The second set of regulations is about personal community charges. I should like to speak on a slightly different tack. Yesterday I visited Pollok halls of residence which contain 1,800 students. I was accompanied by David Martin, the Labour Euro MP, and local councillor Alan Tweedie. We met Terry Cole, the senior warden, and students in those halls. They told us of their worries about their grants which have fallen by 20 per cent. in value under the Government. The grants are simply not sufficient to meet the charges laid on them by the personal community charge. The Minister mentioned that the whole of the community water charge will have to be paid by students. There will be no 20 per cent. exemption.

Mr. Lang

The exemption applies also to water charges for students.

Mr. Griffiths

We are pleased to hear about that concession and that they will not have to pay the full water charge. Will the Minister extend that to make the water charge rebatable? I think that the answer to that must be no.

Students form a low-income group in society and will have to meet the community charge. Previously they did not have to pay rates because the University Grants Committee reimbursed halls of residence for rates. Now there will have to be a charge. The impact of the Government's failure to exempt students and chronically disabled people from the charge is plain for all to see. Ten years ago the Government provided £58 for every £100 spent on local services such as schools, housing, street cleaning, libraries, swimming baths, environmental health and pollution inspection. In 10 years, the figure of £58 out of every £000 spent has gone down to £31. That has rocketed the rates, and it is blasting the poll tax into the stratosphere.

Sad to say, the Government will now inflict a higher than necessary charge on my constituents in Edinburgh who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and on the students. If Edinburgh residents got the same allowance from the Government towards the poll tax as the average Scot, they would be paying not £392 each but £250. If they got the same allowance as the Government are providing for Glasgow's residents, they would be paying only £146. Instead, the Government have brought all the powers that they can to bear on Edinburgh's residents to force up the poll tax to unbearable levels. The tragedy is that under these regulations, when, at the eleventh hour, the Government had a chance to help vulnerable groups and to recant on some of the worst aspects of the community charge, they failed.

I am pleased to say that in the Euro-election coming up in June, only two short months after the community charge comes in, the people of Scotland will have the chance to show the Government what they think of that tax. We can expect another rout of the Tory party in Scotland.

11.36 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

At first sight, these regulations refer only to Scotland. If that were so, I would be happy to leave them to the representatives of that part of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, like so many other matters in a unitary state, these regulations have consequences beyond the boundaries of Scotland. In particular, I am concerned about the position of students from Northern Ireland.

It is true that those who leave Scotland and come to England, Wales or Northern Ireland will initially be leaving a place where they have to pay a community charge, and arrive in a part of the kingdom where rates are still the norm. However, there is no proposal, as far as I am aware—indeed, it has been denied—to extend the community charge system of financing local government to Northern Ireland. This means that students from Northern Ireland in Scotland will find themselves paying 20 per cent. of the community charge, while their parents in Northern Ireland will continue to pay rates at the level applicable in that part of the kingdom. This is manifestly unjust, and. despite the fact that it has been reduced from the full rate to 20 per cent., that does not remove the inequity of injustice from which students from Northern Ireland suffer.

I remember interrupting a Labour Member during the passage of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 and asking him why, if the Act was so damaging to the Conservative prospects, the Labour party was not supporting it. I was told that the Labour party was a party of principle—a fine sentiment. I only regret that its principle did not extend to insisting that the same level and type of taxation prevailed throughout the kingdom. When the Minister replied on behalf of the Government, I asked him why Northern Ireland was denied the evident benefits that the Government saw in this system of local taxation, and I got a non-answer. It was even worse than that from the Labour representative. I regret that, because this question should have been faced.

The House knows what the reality is. It is that a Government who cannot see to it that the BBC collects the television licence in the Republican-dominated ghettos of Northern Ireland know very well that they cannot collect the poll tax there either. Therefore, I accuse them of cowardice in the face of the terrorist organisations.

Mr. Bill Walker

I trust that the hon. Gentleman is aware that many Conservative Members believe firmly that Northern Ireland should be treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom when it comes to local government taxation and other related matters.

Mr. Ross

I welcome the general principle behind the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I should like to discuss it with him at greater length on another occasion rather than trespass upon the time of hon. Members who wish to contribute to this debate. The hon. Gentleman's general principle is welcomed, but if he were trying to introduce this system of local government taxation in Northern. Ireland it would not meet with general approval. It would not meet with my approval. By introducing this system of local government financing we are merely replacing one bad system with another.

11.40 pm
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

There has been more than a touch of hypocrisy and humbug about the debate. We heard a moving speech from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), who told us that certain categories of people should be exempt from the community charge. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that everyone who he says should have been exempted from the community charge is currently not exempted from the rating system. The Labour party had time to do something about that and it chose not to do so.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Guthrie of Lasswade road does not pay his rates. His wife pays the rates.

Mr. Marshall

It seems that the householder pays the rates. The hon. Gentleman knows that Labour Governments could have considered the problems that he has described and that they chose not to do so.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South complained about the level of rates in Edinburgh. He should have said that Edinburgh had a high-spending Labour authority which forced up the rates. In days gone by Edinburgh used to be a byword for efficiency and economy of local government—[HON. MEMBERS: "How does the hon. Gentleman know?"] I lived in Scotland for many years. I know that within the local government system Edinburgh was well known as being the most efficient authority throughout Scotland among the four cities. That is no longer true.

Mr. Maxton

If the hon. Gentleman had managed to listen to any part of my speech, he would have different ideas about the regulations.

Mr. Marshall

If the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Maxton

Why did the Tories lose Edinburgh, South?

Mr. Marshall

The Conservatives won Edinburgh, South at the district council elections. It was the Labour party which lost it. That tells us about the verdict of the electors of Edinburgh, South at the district council elections on the policy of the then district councils. The electors did not support it and wanted to see it changed.

I was sorry tohear the speech of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) about his visit to the University of St. Andrews. Why the hon. Gentleman was not here last Thursday and was in St. Andrews, only he can tell us.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the Under-Secretary of State was also billed to appear for the debate at St. Andrews, and that he mysteriously failed to turn up.

Mr. Marshall

Obviously my hon. Friend felt that it was his duty to be in this place.

Mr. Bill Walker

My hon. Friend will be interested to know as well that St. Andrews asked me to attend the debate. I made it clear that it was my duty to be in the House.

Mr. Marshall

That is the sort of devotion to duty that we would expect from my hon. Friend.

It is unfortunate that the University of St. Andrews, which is well renowned historically as being a centre of compassion, voted against the community charge. We know that 80 per cent. of single pensioners will be better off under the community charge than under the rating system. I must apologise to the people of Scotland that my former university has become so heartless as to vote against the community charge.

11.44 pm
Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

The contribution from the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) was one of the most disgraceful contributions to the debate. He is not just an hon. Member of this House, he is also a Euro Member for north London and he collects two salaries.

Mr. John Marshall

That is not true. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that I do not take any salary as a Euro Member? I do not know whether his Labour colleagues can boast the same.

Mr. Galbraith

I withdraw that and rephrase it. The hon. Gentleman collects two lots of expenses. We do not require any tutorials from him about hardship and pensioners. He also made a great play about talking to local authorities. He should speak to his local authority and to the chief officer who is bitterly opposed to the poll tax before he talks to us about that.

Mr. Marshall

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Galbraith

No. Sit down. The hon. Gentleman is not interested in what we have to say, so he should not bother boring the House with his comments.

I rise at the Dispatch Box briefly once again to challenge the Government's medical advice on the regulations. I did that in the House last week and I want to do so again now. I have taken extensive advice since last week from my colleagues who are experienced in these matters and who might have expected to have been consulted, but were not. They are at one with me in the belief that the Government's medical advice in relation to Alzheimer's sufferers is wrong. I do not expect the Minister to give me any specific answers tonight. I accept that because I am going to make some technical points and it would be unfair of me to ask the Minister to respond to specifically medical matters. I expect the Minister to reconsider my remarks and return to the House to say that he will stop treating Alzheimer sufferers differently from other patients with dementia.

When considering patients with Alzheimer's it is important that we distinguish between a diagnosis and a clinical picture because often those two factors are confused. The diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease while the clinical picture is a separate presentation. The latter is the way in which the patient behaves and his relationship to surroundings, relatives and the environment. Alzheimer's disease is a diagnosis and I accept that it is not necessarily the same thing as severe mental handicap. Essentially, for those patients the diagnosis is irrelevant. We must decide whether patients can lead an independent existence and whether they have severe impairment of social and intellectual functions.

When we consider diagnosis and presentation, we must also consider acquired dementia. I have referred to severe mental handicap which may be due to dementia. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) was right. Between 90,000 and 100,000 people in Scotland suffer from that form of dementia. The majority of those people have Alzheimer's disease, the figure being about 80 per cent.

If I use slightly technical terms it is not for the Minister's benefit, but for the benefit of his friends and colleagues who will consider this later. Ten per cent. of those dementia sufferers have what is known as a multi-infarct syndrome. It is impossible to distinguish between a patient presenting with Alzheimers's disease and multi-infarct syndrome based on the presentation. That is clinically impossible. Alcoholism is another cause of dementia and the clinical picture can be the same as Alzheimer's disease. Parkinson's disease is another cause of dementia and its clinical picture can be the same as Alzheimer's. Similarly Huntington's chorea is another form cause of dementia.

The clinical presentation and everything that the Minister has said about Alzheimer's disease—that it is progressive and intermittent—applies to all those causes of dementia. However, the only cause that the Minister is excluding is Alzheimer's disease. Will the Minister explain why that is so? Alzheimer's clinical presentation is exactly the same, as is the nature and cause of the disease. Why is it that those suffering from Alzheimer's disease are discriminated against? What is the difference between a patient suffering from Alzheimer's disease and one suffering from multi-infarct syndrome?

In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), the Minister wrote: Parliament recognised that considerable difficulties and some potential for unfairness would be involved in assessing precisely when a person with a degenerative condition, such as Huntington's Chorea, reaches the point during the progress of the condition where intelligence and social functioning are severely impaired. I accept that, and I do not dispute that it can be difficult to decide when that point is reached—but the same applies to every other form of dementia, even congenital dementia. Will the Minister explain what difference the diagnosis makes?

In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the Secretary of State for Scotland wrote: People with degenerative brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, have a very gradual onset of their condition and may continue for a period of some years to carry on a normal life". So may a patient suffering from multi-infarct syndrome, from alcoholism, from dementia caused by a head injury, or from Parkinson's disease. Why do the Government persist in discriminating against patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease? That is the question I ask the Minister to answer tonight.

The Minister may give the easy answer that people in residential care will be exempt. He surely does not suggest that the way to exempt a loved one from the poll tax is to place him or her into care. I quote again from the Minister's letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North: I do not therefore believe that the community charge arrangements offer any financial discouragement to caring for people … in the community. In truth, they do just that. Instead of being able to look after a loved one at home—albeit that they may have no relationship with those around them or with their surroundings—it is suggested that they be placed in residential care and in that way be exempt from the poll tax.

It is not the diagnosis that should concern us but the clinical picture. The regulations refer to "severe mental handicap", which makes the actual diagnosis irrelevant. Everything that the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends have said in relation to Alzheimer's disease applies to every other cause of dementia, be it congenital or acquired. The diagnosis remains irrelevant. I put it to the Minister again that the medical advice which the Government have been given is wrong. By accepting it, the Minister penalises those who wish to look after their loved ones at home. For all those reasons, we shall certainly be voting against the regulations.

11.52 pm
Mr. Lang

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I reply? Nobody can say that this evening's debate has been a particularly uplifting affair. As was said by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the debate has shifted to Scotland, where we all eagerly await the arrival of the army of 100,000 protesters that the hon. Gentleman promises will descend upon us at some unspecified time.

Perhaps I should first concentrate on the constituency of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), where the Scottish Nationalist council is implementing the community charge so efficiently.

Mr. Salmond

I hope that the Minister will answer the substantive points made in the debate, but perhaps he noted that the thousandth nor -payer has been signed up in the constituency of his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Lang

It will be interesting to see what happens about that army of 100,000 people who "Can pay, won't pay". I think that it will be more a case of "Can't find, won't find".

Alzheimer's disease is a serious subject, and it is one that I am content to address. However, it was significant that when my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) asked what was done by the Labour party to exempt Alzheimer's diseases sufferers when they had the opportunity to do so, there was no answer. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) suggested that the House should reverse last week's decision. The fact remains that, after two years' debate, only now do the Opposition begin to show any concern for those suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

The debate concerns a serious and sensitive issue. Many of us know people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and we all recognise that it is a tragic condition, but when the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) says that we are discriminating against those with Alzheimer's disease he misunderstands the position, which is that diagnosis is difficult: his comments underlined that. We are not discriminating against Alzheimer's. We are taking exactly the same attitude to all degenerative brain disorders.

Mr. Galbraith


Mr. Lang

I am sorry, but I should like to reply to the points that the hon. Gentleman made.

Considerable serious research is going on, some of it promising, but an indication of how much there is still to learn about diseases such as Alzheimer's can be found in the most recent edition of the Lancet. In an article headed Senile Dementia of Alzheimer's Type: Normal Ageing or Disease? it states: The clinical diagnosis of dementia is very inaccurate in general practice, and the same applies to senile dementia of Alzheimer's type in hospital practice, with a preponderance of false positives when checked against the post mortem findings. In the Lancet of 4 March, an article headed Senile Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease states: The existence of senile dementia of Alzheimer's type as a disease entity has lately been questioned. Is it instead part of the normal process of ageing? In the Lancet of 29 October, another article asks: Do general practitioners miss dementia in elderly patients? It continues: How accurate are general practitioners in recognising dementia in their elderly patients? In a frequently cited study by Williamson and colleagues, 200 patients in three Scottish general practices were assessed by a geriatrician and a psychiatrist. Later their diagnoses were compared with information taken from the general practitioners' medical records and from interviews with them about each of their patients. The general practitioners were said to be aware of only seven of the 48 cases of dementia identified by the investigation team. I could give a number of other quotations from articles in the Lancet. They prove that diagnosis is extremely difficult, and that is the underlying problem that we face in finding any method of assessment whereby we can decide on a dividing line making it appropriate to exempt sufferers from degenerative brain disorders.

Mr. Galbraith

The Minister continues to make the mistake of confusing clinical diagnosis with clinical picture. The regulations apply to the clinical picture—severe mental handicap and severe impairment of social and intellectual function. The diagnosis is not at issue here.

Mr. Lang

The difficulty is of assessing when it would be proper and fair to grant an exemption without creating more anomalies than it would remove. That has governed the balanced medical advice that we have received.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) asked whether the maximum rebate of 50p was a national rule or one local to his area. The answer is that regulation 51 of the Housing Benefit (Community Charge Rebates) (Scotland) Regulations 1988 provides that housing benefit shall not be payable in respect of any claim where the weekly amount awarded would be less than 50p.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) asked about the community charge in Northern Ireland. It is not, of course, for me to say anything about the Government's intentions in the Province, but, as I am sure he will acknowledge, the structure of local government, the level of its funding and the area of its responsibilities are very different there from in the rest of the United Kingdom. For students from Northern Ireland to come to the rest of the United Kingdom and pay the community charge at 20 per cent., although their parents are paying rates in Northern Ireland, seems entirely acceptable to me, and I do not believe that it will reduce the enthusiasm of students from Northern Ireland to come to Scottish universities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) asked when students would start to pay. The answer is, when they enrol for the start of their courses, as regulation 3(c)(i) of the student regulations shows.

This evening we have again witnessed the now familiar sight of the Opposition striving to find anything cogent to say in response to the new community charge arrangements. It is clear that they have nothing of substance to contribute, which is why they are reduced to scavenging for peripheral titbits. Even then they are finding nothing of worth.

The measures to introduce the community charge system have proceeded steadily towards implementation on our planned timetable, as we have always maintained that they would. This is possibly why the Opposition have run out of substance for their arguments.

This debate marks another, and near final, step forward in the process of removing the totally discredited domestic rating system. The Opposition's usual, tired criticisms of the regulations and of the community charge pale into insignificance when they are contrasted with the huge, and entirely justified, weight of criticism which, over the years, has been directed against the domestic rating system. It is a source of great satisfaction to me and to millions of ratepayers in Scotland that we are now within a few weeks of ending the domestic rating system there.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 197, Noes. 207.

Division No. 117] [12 midnight
Abbott, Ms Diane Fraser, John
Allen, Graham Fyfe, Maria
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Galbraith, Sam
Armstrong, Hilary Galloway, George
Ashton, Joe Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) George, Bruce
Barron, Kevin Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Battle, John Golding, Mrs Llin
Beckett, Margaret Gordon, Mildred
Bell, Stuart Gould, Bryan
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bidwell, Sydney Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Blair, Tony Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Blunkett, David Grocott, Bruce
Boateng, Paul Hardy, Peter
Boyes, Roland Harman, Ms Harriet
Bradley, Keith Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Bray, Dr Jeremy Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Henderson, Doug
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Holland, Stuart
Buchan, Norman Home Robertson, John
Buckley, George J. Hood, Jimmy
Caborn, Richard Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Callaghan, Jim Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Howells, Kim (Pontypridd)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Clay, Bob Illsley, Eric
Clelland, David Ingram, Adam
Cohen, Harry Janner, Greville
Coleman, Donald Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Kennedy, Charles
Corbett, Robin Kirkwood, Archy
Corbyn, Jeremy Lamond, James
Cousins, Jim Leadbitter, Ted
Crowther, Stan Lewis, Terry
Cryer, Bob Litherland, Robert
Cummings, John Livsey, Richard
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cunningham, Dr John Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dalyell, Tam McAllion, John
Darling, Alistair McAvoy, Thomas
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) McCartney, Ian
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Macdonald, Calum A.
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) McFall, John
Dewar, Donald McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dixon, Don McKelvey, William
Dobson, Frank McLeish, Henry
Doran, Frank Maclennan, Robert
Douglas, Dick McNamara, Kevin
Duffy, A. E. P. McTaggart, Bob
Dunnachie, Jimmy McWilliam, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Madden, Max
Eadie, Alexander Mahon, Mrs Alice
Eastham, Ken Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Martlew, Eric
Fatchett, Derek Maxton, John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Meacher, Michael
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Meale, Alan
Fisher, Mark Michael, Alun
Flannery, Martin Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Foster, Derek Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foulkes, George Morgan, Rhodri
Morley, Elliott Sillars, Jim
Mowlam, Marjorie Skinner, Dennis
Mullin, Chris Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Murphy, Paul Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Nellist, Dave Snape, Peter
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Soley, Clive
O'Brien, William Spearing, Nigel
O'Neill, Martin Steinberg, Gerry
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Stott, Roger
Patchett, Terry Strang, Gavin
Pendry, Tom Straw, Jack
Pike, Peter L. Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Prescott, John Turner, Dennis
Quin, Ms Joyce Vaz, Keith
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Wall, Pat
Reid, Dr John Wallace, James
Richardson, Jo Walley, Joan
Robertson, George Wareing, Robert N.
Robinson, Geoffrey Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Rogers, Allan Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Rooker, Jeff Wilson, Brian
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Winnick, David
Rowlands, Ted Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ruddock, Joan Wray, Jimmy
Salmond, Alex
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Ayes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Mr Frank Haynes and Mr. Allen Adams.
Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Short, Clare
Aitken, Jonathan Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Chapman, Sydney
Amess, David Chope, Christopher
Amos, Alan Churchill, Mr
Arbuthnot, James Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Colvin, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Conway, Derek
Atkinson, David Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Baldry, Tony Cope, Rt Hon John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Cran, James
Batiste, Spencer Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bendall, Vivian Curry, David
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Day, Stephen
Boscawen, Hon Robert Devlin, Tim
Boswell, Tim Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bottomley, Peter Dover, Den
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Dunn, Bob
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Durant, Tony
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Emery, Sir Peter
Bowis, John Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Evennett, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Brazier, Julian Fallon, Michael
Bright, Graham Favell, Tony
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fenner, Dame Peggy
Browne, John (Winchester) Fishburn, John Dudley
Buck, Sir Antony Forman, Nigel
Burns, Simon Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Burt, Alistair Forth, Eric
Butcher, John Fox, Sir Marcus
Butler, Chris Franks, Cecil
Butterfill, John Freeman, Roger
Carrington, Matthew French, Douglas
Carttiss, Michael Fry, Peter
Cash, William Gale, Roger
Gardiner, George Neale, Gerrard
Gill, Christopher Norris, Steve
Goodlad, Alastair Riddick, Graham
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Roe, Mrs Marion
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Rost, Peter
Gregory, Conal Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Grist, Ian Sackville, Hon Tom
Grylls, Michael Scott, Nicholas
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Shaw, David (Dover)
Hague, William Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Harris, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Haselhurst, Alan Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hayes, Jerry Shersby, Michael
Hayward, Robert Sims, Roger
Heddle, John Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hind, Kenneth Speed, Keith
Holt, Richard Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Stanbrook, Ivor
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Steen, Anthony
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Stern, Michael
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Stevens, Lewis
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Hunter, Andrew Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Irvine, Michael Stokes, Sir John
Jack, Michael Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Janman, Tim Sumberg, David
Jessel, Toby Summerson, Hugo
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Key, Robert Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Temple-Morris, Peter
Kirkhope, Timothy Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Knapman, Roger Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Tracey, Richard
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Tredinnick, David
Knowles, Michael Trippier, David
Lang, Ian Trotter, Neville
Latham, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Lawrence, Ivan Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Waddington, Rt Hon David
Lightbown, David Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Lilley, Peter Walden, George
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Lord, Michael Waller, Gary
Lyell. Sir Nicholas Ward, John
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Maclean, David Wells, Bowen
McLoughlin, Patrick Whitney, Ray
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Widdecombe, Ann
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Wiggin, Jerry
Malins, Humfrey Winterton, Mrs Ann
Mans, Keith Winterton, Nicholas
Maples, John Wood, Timothy
Marland, Paul Yeo, Tim
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Younger, Rt Hon George
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Maude, Hon Francis Tellers for the Noes:
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Mr. Stephen Dorrell and Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.
Mellor, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony

Question accordingly negatived.