HC Deb 04 April 1990 vol 170 cc1199-209 3.32 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the introduction of a scheme in Scotland which takes account of the fact that the increase in the upper capital limit for community charge benefit which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget speech cannot be applied restrospectively.

I propose accordingly to set up a temporary scheme outside the social security benefits system to provide for special payments to those affected in Scotland. I have in mind those with capital resources of between £8,001 and £16,000 who will receive community charge benefit this year and were liable for the personal community charge during 1989–90. The scheme which we are discussing with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities envisages that these people will get a special payment which will be the same percentage of the community charge that they paid last year as their rebate will be of this year's charge. I intend to make minor amendments to the transitional relief regulations in order to implement the scheme.

I have already indicated that we believe that around 15,000 to 20,000 individuals might be eligible. Expenditure will depend on the precise numbers benefiting, but I consider that a scheme of the kind I have described will require financial provision of up to £4 million, to cover both the value of payments and administration costs. The sum of up to £4 million is small in comparison with the total resources of £9,500 million available to me, and will be found as part of the normal process in which projected underspends and overspends are adjusted throughout the year. No spending programme will be cut.

With this scheme the Government have shown willing to respond to the concern which was expressed in Scotland about the implications of the increase in the upper capital limit.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I welcome the statement; it would be ungracious to do otherwise. I recognise the Secretary of State's embarrassment about the announcement on the poll tax made in the Budget. I would have been more impressed by his personal position if he had not so vehemently argued that Scotland's complaint was entirely bogus until the llth hour.

Today's announcement is a small mercy indeed when measured against the disaster brought by the poll tax. Yet again the Secretary of State is trailing lamely at the rear, splicing this ex gratia scheme on to an already impossibly complicated system. It is a recipe for a continuing sense of injustice in Scotland.

May I ask the Secretary of State some specific questions? Is it true that he made no attempt to obtain additional funds from the Treasury? If not, why not? If the Chancellor was not contributing, why did the Secretary of State have to go cap in hand for permission to correct a basic injustice from his own resources? Is it not nonsense to pretend that an underspend on a planned target is anything but a cut?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that transitional relief must be calculated before entitlement to the ex gratia scheme can be settled? Does not that mean that no one will see the colour of the Secretary of State's money for some months? When does he think that payment is likely?

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has decided to calculate the percentage rebate entitlement for 1990–91 and apply it to last year's poll tax figure, will he consider an alternative? Would not the best option be to calculate the sums due to applicants in the last week of 1989–90 on the assumption that the new scheme applied then, and calculate last year's total payment on that basis?

The Secretary of State has been careful to stress that the cost will be up to £4 million. Was not the value of the concession greatly exaggerated by the Government, and, from all the indications, it is not clear that the likely payments in Scotland in total will be less than £2 million and that well below 15,000 people will benefit? Will not the average annual payment be well under £100?

Does the Secretary of State accept that the fundamental difficulty is that the scheme, which in effect is being extended to cover 1989–90, does little to help that vulnerable group with modest savings and limited income, perhaps boosted by a small occupational pension? Is it not true that in the coming year a pensioner couple in Glasgow with a basic state pension of £75.10 and a works pension of £15 who have a combined capital of £15,000 will be left to find the full poll tax of £12.18p a week without any form of help? Can he confirm that a single person aged 50—for this purpose again living in Glasgow—who has recently lost his job, is in receipt of unemployment benefit of £37.35 and has capital of £11,000 derived from his redundancy payment will not receive any rebate even when the scheme is in place? In the coming year, such a person will pay 16 per cent. of basic income in poll tax because of the assumed income of £4 a week for every £1,000 of savings above £3,000.

May we have an assurance from the Secretary of State that, this time at least, he will stir himself to push for necessary change? May we have the floor level of £3,000 increased to a realistic figure to reduce the taper, or at least have the tariff income, which assumes a return on capital of 21 per cent., brought down to a figure that an investor might receive from a bank or building society? Is there not a pressing danger that, if the scheme remains as it is, for thousands hope will turn to dismay and disappointment and then to anger?

Mr. Rifkind

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous welcome for the statement and for the speech that followed. I shall respond first to his question about additional funding.

I did not seek additional funding, and I shall explain why. The Chancellor's statement on the increase in the capital limits applies throughout the United Kingdom—to Scotland as well as to England and Wales—and community charge payers in Scotland will receive the same full benefit as charge payers in England and Wales. The additional provision that I have announced today applies to the past 12 months. Those who paid community charge in Scotland but had savings of more than £8,000 may now get a refund, whereas ratepayers in England or Wales, whose rates may have been higher than the community charge in Scotland and who did not receive a refund, will not be entitled to any payment. It seems, therefore, that if I propose a scheme which is limited to those making payments in Scotland, it is not unreasonable that I should administer it from within the Scottish Office. That is a matter of principle and is appropriate in the circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman asked why I needed to discuss this matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my other right hon. Friends, when normally the Secretary of State has full discretion about how he uses his funds. That is a prefectly fair question. I have complete discretion on how I use funds for the normal purposes for which the Scottish Office is responsible. However, when I am considering the use of certain funds for a policy issue which does not normally come within the responsiblilty of the Scottish Office and which will be properly interpreted as a change when compared with the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer only two days earlier—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Ah."] The Opposition have been out of office for a long time and I appreciate that they may not be able to recollect easily the normal conventions that operate within government. When a Secretary of State proposes to make an announcement which is not in accordance with a statement made by the Government 48 hours earlier, it would be seen at least as a matter of normal courtesy to discuss it with colleagues, as each Minister speaks on behalf of the whole Government.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the actual refund that will be paid will be a percentage of the sum paid by the community charge payer in the last year. He asked why it could not be calculated on the basis of the payments made in the final week of the year. That is the suggestion that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities made in discussions with the Scottish Office. It is an interesting question. The consequences of adopting COSLA's approach could be bizarre. If a person's savings and earnings in the 52nd week of the year were significantly different from the rest of the year, the refund paid might be greater than the total community charge payment of the individual for the year in question. That would be an absurd outcome, which the hon. Gentleman would not want to acknowledge.

The hon. Gentleman queried the number of people who might benefit in Scotland and the consequential cost as a result of the proposals. Our figures are the best estimates and are provided by the Department for Social Security. No one can say for certain what the figure will be. The best estimates are the figures of 15,000 to 20,000 people leading to a cost of up to £4 million. If it is less or greater, it will be accommodated within the scheme. Time will tell. It depends on the number of people who apply under these arrangements.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call Back-Bench Members today, I must say that I understand that yesterday there was concern that some were not called following the statement, although I did call all those who were adversely affected. As this statement is welcomed by the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and bearing in mind the constraints on time as again we have to debate a timetable motion, in order that as many hon. Members can be called as possible I ask hon. Members to put one question and the Secretary of State to answer one question.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that we on this side of the House welcome without any grudging his remedying of this unfairness? Does he further accept that he could avoid all this debate about where the money comes from to pay for this if he would only take it from his overspend?

Mr. Rifkind

I am not sure whether I follow my right hon. Friend to his conclusion. He will recall from his days in the Scottish Office and other Government Departments that during the financial year there is always underspending on particular programmes and as a consequence supplementary allocations are made to other programmes. When underspends are identified, as they always are, we have already identified that which will be the first call on that underspend.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the numbers may not be as great as he anticipates? The earnings rules could well mean that many people with capital up to £16,000 will still not qualify. It looks as if the administration of the scheme will take up a substantial part of the £4 million and will probably be more than the actual delivery.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman comment on the decision by the English Department to offer revenue support grant in advance to English and Welsh authorities although he is not doing the same for Scottish authorities? That will further increase the poll tax this year in Scotland compared with England and Wales by £3.50 per head.

Mr. Rifkind

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's first question, I have to say that we will have to wait to see what the numbers are. He is wrong about the administrative cost. The scheme that I propose is administratively simple, because people will be applying for benefit for the year that is just beginning in any event and the same application will be made. All that they will be required to identify is their community charge payment for last year, and a simple formula will determine the sum that has to be paid.

The hon. Gentleman is under a misunderstanding about the other matter that he raised. We have already discussed with COSLA the question whether there should be front-loading of payment of revenue support grant. We are awaiting a paper from COSLA about whether and, if so in what way, it would like to see the payments changed. It has made no such request in the past. We have said that we are quite willing to discuss the matter with COSLA and to respond constructively if it puts forward reasonable proposals.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the Opposition that in Scotland the community charge raises only 20 per cent. of local authority expenditure, whereas in England it raises 30 per cent.? Before the Opposition stand on their consciences and ask for fairness, they should be reminded that if they want fairness for Scotland they should be screaming for fairness for England.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. and learned Friend is right when he says that the average contribution of community charge payers is lower in Scotland than the average in England. Of course these averages vary from place to place—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—which is not surprising. Therefore, within Scotland and England a range of contributions is made by community charge payers depending on the social and economic circumstances of the locality in question.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

How can the Secretary of State's scheme address the original injustice done to Scotland when neither the Chancellor nor the Prime Minister have moved an inch from their respective positions on Budget day? There will not be a penny of extra Treasury cash for Scotland. The whole amount is to be found from within the Scottish budget and from areas where that £4 million might otherwise have been expended. If this is the best that the Secretary of State can do from within the Cabinet, it is time that he got out of the Cabinet by tendering his resignation now.

Mr. Rifkind

I appreciate that the latter comment must be a crucial part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I shall deal with the more substantive element. The hon. Gentleman keeps changing the story. The concern expressed was whether the relief in terms of savings that has applied from day one in respect of community charge payers in England and Wales should also be available for those who have been paying the community charge in Scotland for the past 12 months. The scheme ensures that that will be the case.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this scheme is another example of how the Prime Minister and the Government respond generously to Scotland, as they have done for the past 11 years? That was recognised on 19 March, when there was not a single demonstrator outside the Scottish Grand Committee meeting in Edinburgh when we discussed the community charge. That clearly shows that the Scots have now understood that the community charge is fair.

Mr. Rifkind

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the Government have consistently shown that they are responsive to concern expressed in Scotland. The very fact that, within 48 hours, the Government were prepared in the face of criticism to respond to the concern shows that my hon. Friend's observation is entirely justified.

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement to the House was brief. There is nothing wrong with that. It is the explanation that worries many of his hon. Friends and the Opposition. What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say to the charge that there seems to be a permanent pot of gold in the Scottish Office when any problems beset the Government? How does he reply to the charge that, as a consequence of the way in which this was done, it is more of a zig-zag than a U-turn? It is dangerous that for the first time in history a Secretary of State is inviting the Treasury to cut the budget of the Scottish Office.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting observation which no doubt will be listened to carefully by the Treasury. It will be grateful for allies, from whichever source they may come. The hon. Gentleman is an unlikely ally of the Treasury—but who knows? He has been a Minister and no doubt is aware of such matters. He knows as well as I do that during any financial year every Government Department finds that it requires less than it originally anticipated for particular matters and makes supplementary allocations elsewhere. All Ministers do that. Today I am simply identifying the target which will be the first charge on the underspends when they appear.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

One accepts that, particularly at this stage of the financial year, there will be no difficulty in the Scottish Office finding £4 million from underspends and good housekeeping. However, for the avoidance of doubt, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it absolutely clear that the timetable of the A77, the Ayr road route, will not be jeopardised by today's announcement?

Mr. Rifkind

Not only can I reassure my hon. Friend, but I can anticipate similar questions from other hon. Members on both sides of the House and give them the same unqualified assurance.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to eradicate another unfair anomaly arising from the fact that the poll tax was introduced in Scotland a year ahead of England and Wales —that people in Scotland who receive income support receive no additional benefit to enable them to meet the additional burden of the poll tax? If the Secretary of State is incapable of persuading his Cabinet colleagues to give a backdated rebate to those people, will he join me in calling for the abolition of the poll tax, which is an absolute nightmare for many poor people and is fast becoming a nightmare for the Government?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. Income support was increased for all recipients throughout the United Kingdom at the same time. The 20 per cent. rule, to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, was introduced under the rating system in both Scotland and England and Wales. The hon. Gentleman's memory is failing him.

Mr. David Lambie (Cunninghame, South)

Now that the Secretary of State has made this change to the poll tax rebate scheme, which will benefit only a small number of people, is it not time that he considered the whole rebate scheme and introduced a 100 per cent. rebate instead of the present maximum of 80 per cent?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the community charge rebate or benefit scheme is a matter for the Department of Social Security. The fact that approximately one in three people in Scotland benefit from community charge rebates suggests that the scheme is widely applied. That is how it should be.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

This is one of those rare parliamentary occasions when a new character enters the parliamentary and political folklore of Scotland—Malcolm the magician, a Scottish Office Minister who is apparently capable of conjuring vast amounts of money out of thin air. Let me ask the questions which many people will be asking the Secretary of State for Scotland. From where is the money coming, and who would otherwise have benefited from it? Does he expect people in Scotland to believe that he was in the Scottish Office contemplating the problem when he suddenly discovered £4 million in his hip pocket or that he had a piggy bank marked, "Chancellor of the Exchequer Mistakes Bank"? Will he come clean and tell us who will lose so that these other people may benefit?

Mr. Rifkind

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his complimentary introductory remarks, which are entirely appreciated and, some might say, entirely appropriate, but it is not for me to speculate on that. With regard to the substantive part of his question, I am responsible for a budget of £9,500 million. The likely maximum cost of the scheme will be £4 million—

Mr. Dewar

Two million.

Mr. Rifkind

If it is £2 million, it will be even less of a problem, but our estimate is up to £4 million. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will not cause any loss of sleep for any Ministers in the Scottish Office and will not involve cuts in any programmes. I have already told the House,how the matter will be dealt with, so I shall not risk repeating myself in order to inform the hon. Gentleman further.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

For the benefit of the House, can the Secretary of State tell us the precise moment at which the level of political panic became such that he decided that the protests were not bogus but legitimate? Why cannot he answer the simple question of where the £4 million would otherwise have been spent? Does he realise that a pensioner couple in his constituency on basic state benefit, with lifetime savings of £12,500, are liable for more poll tax than the Secretary of State for Scotland as an individual? Justify that to Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

First, the hon. Gentleman is straying into issues for which the Department of Social Security is responsible—the rebate scheme.

I do not know at this stage of the financial year which programmes will be underspent. What I do know is that every year, under successive Governments and in every Department of Government, there are significant underspends in programmes. Usually when they appear, one then decides where to use the resources. I anticipate only that the first call on such underspends will be the scheme that I have announced today. That is only right and proper, because it will involve a benefit for the people of Scotland that will not be available to those elsewhere in the United Kingdom, whose rates payments may have been higher than the community charge payments of those in Scotland who will receive funding under the scheme. I know that the hon. Member for Garscadden, who is always anxious to be fair in these matters, will understand the strength of that argument.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Ron Brown.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. English money goes to Scotland and English Members of Parliament are entitled to be called in the right order on a statement such as this.

Mr. Speaker

Since the hon. Gentleman has disclosed what I hoped was a private message that I sent him, I must tell him that I will call English Members—this is a United Kingdom Parliament—but this statement concerns Scotland, and I propose to call Scottish Members first.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is that not yet another example of abuse of the television cameras in the House? That lamentable hon. Member wanted to be called before four and has just managed to do so.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that we take no notice of the cameras—

Mr. Faulds

They are why the hon. Gentleman did what he did.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sure that hon. Members do not do that.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been sitting here and have not sought to catch your eye, but I sit here regularly, as you know, and I want to know whether, in future statements by Secretaries of State from England, English Members will be called first, before Scottish Members—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not usurp the authority that has been given to me. I have said that I will call English Members, and I decide in what order they will be called.

Mr. Sillars

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I shall not object to your first ruling. I understand that you think that this is the Parliament of the United Kingdom, but may we have your assurance that your decision to call English Members will have nothing to do with the spurious proposition that English money goes north of the border—because it does not?

Mr. Speaker

I am not concerned with spurious propositions.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Despite the Secretary of State's gimmicks, is it not clear that there is a community charge in Scotland, and the charge is that the Government are oppressive and vindictive? That has been clear for some time, irrespective of the poll tax.

Even so, the guru of the Tory party, Adam Smith—a Scot—warned the Bourbons a long time ago that a capitation charge would mean revolution—and decapitation. The Government should be warned of that. The regional elections are coming up shortly. To the fore in those elections will be those who are wholly opposed to the poll tax. I only wish that the Labour party was 100 per cent. against it. I certainly am.

Mr. Rifkind

The House will have heard the hon. Gentleman's rebuke of the Labour party and his perception that the Labour party lacks enthusiasm for the campaign against the community charge that it is currently waging. I have not the slightest doubt that the hon. Gentleman, who appears to be a convert to the views of Adam Smith, can put forward his views with his customary eloquence.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that this money will not be found through staff cuts in the Scottish Office? Is there not concern about the machinations of his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who has made that proposal?

Mr. Rifkind

I can give the hon. Gentleman a categorical assurance to that effect.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

Can you, Mr. Speaker, enlighten the House on whether there is any precedent for a Secretary of State—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Watson

Is there any precedent for the Secretary of State coming to the Dispatch Box at a time when his party's support is on a par with the bank rate? That event is clearly connected with the fiasco of two weeks ago. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he expected 15,000 to 20,000 people would benefit from the change. That suggests an individual payment of about £250. Can he explain where that comes from? Is it not true that, in fact, the figure will be much lower, both individually and in total?

Mr. Rifkind

The precise figure will depend on the rebate to which the applicant is entitled for the financial year that is just beginning. For example, if he is entitled to a 50 per cent. rebate, that same percentage will be applied to the community charge that the applicant paid last year. It will vary depending on the personal circumstances of the individual concerned.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the Budget debacle has damaged beyond repair his ability to represent Scotland in the Cabinet? We all know that he had to go cap in hand to the Prime Minister to obtain his concession. Can he confirm that he also had to go cap in hand to the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not understand the question. If, on some other occasion, the hon. Gentleman would care to explain his question in slightly greater detail, at least I would understand it, even if I could not respond to it.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Could the Secretary of State tell me—I promise not to tell anybody else—how he got himself into this mess in the first place? Why did none of his ministerial colleagues consult him? Why did no one tell him that the limit was being raised from £8,000 to £16,000? Why did he protest that the whole argument was bogus? Why has he turned cartwheels—which is not a pretty sight?

Now that the Secretary of State has such heavy influence with is ministerial colleagues, will he have the rebate scheme amended so that all entitlement to rebate is paid? We must get rid of the nonsense whereby, if the rebate is less than 50p a week, it is not paid. That is absolute madness. The work has been done on calculating the rebate, so it makes sense to pay it.

Mr. Rifkind

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already said that neither the Department of the Environment nor the Scottish Office was given advance notice because his announcement referred to social security benefits. Therefore, the Department of Social Security was the only Department informed. On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we will draw the points that he made to the attention of the Department of Social Security.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Is the Secretary of State embarrassed that the Prime Minister, who is responsible for the introduction of the community charge, has had her bill reduced from £2,200 to £750? Does he find it embarrassing when trying to explain that to the Scottish electorate? Now that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has his new-found persuasive powers, does he still think that the community charge is a vote winner?

Mr. Rilkind

I certainly believe that those in Scotland who suffered heavily from the rating revaluation do not wish for a return of the rating system. I noted the reaction of Labour voters to the Labour party's roof tax proposal. It showed that more than 80 per cent. of Scottish Labour voters believe that the roof tax would harm them and Scotland as a whole.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

It is said that the Secretary of State had to offer his resignation to obtain the Prime Minister's permission to spend Scotland's money in Scotland. Is he aware that during his darkest hour that evening, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), was stabbing him in the back on Scottish television? Is it not time that he asked the hon. Gentleman to resign and do the Tory party in Scotland a favour and Scotland itself an even better favour?

Mr. Rifkind

I always appreciate helpful suggestions from Opposition Members, but I cannot help but think that if Opposition Members are so anxious for my hon. Friend to resign, it must be because they consider him, rightly, to be a tremendous asset to the Conservative party in Scotland.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Does the Secretary of State take any pride in coming to the Dispatch Box like a skinny-ma-link warlock having got permission from the mistress of the coven to take some silver from one pocket and put it into another? Is it not a disgrace that he has to be dragged here to make a statement on the issue when, if there had been any violence in Glasgow on Saturday, he would have been only too pleased to come to the Dispatch Box to condemn the Scots? Is he not putting the Union in danger, and is it not a fact that on 3 May his party will be eliminated from the Scottish scene?

Mr. Rifkind

I am not sure what will happen to my party, but at least I am still a member of my party, which is more than the hon. Gentleman can say.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Is the Secretary of State aware of the considerable concern in England and Wales that the Chancellor's Budget statement discriminated against couples? Does that discrimination also apply in Scotland?

Mr. Rilkind

I do not accept the premise that there is discrimination against couples, so I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Why is it that, the more melancholy the pibroch, the wider the British taxpayer's purse opens, giving the Scottish island ferries a substantial subsidy from British taxpayers when no other offshore islands in the United Kingdom receive such a subsidy? Why does Scotland have such a vice-like grip on the wallets of the British taxpayer?

Mr. Rilkind

Subsidies are given to Caledonian MacBrayne to ensure that the island communities remain viable. Any attempt to impose fully commercial tariffs on those services would soon lead to the depopulation of those islands. The same cannot be said for islands elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I will take points of order in a minute.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

My right hon. and learned Friend knows that I have difficulty rising in my place, but I have been doing so all afternoon because there is something that should be said. Is my right hon. Friend aware that during Scottish questions the Opposition have continually accused the Scottish Office and the Government of not listening and not caring? We have now proved that we listen and we have proved that we care in a positive way—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is supposed to be asking a question.

Mr. Dickens

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that we have proved in a positive way that we listen and care? Is he not amazed that, despite that, the Opposition do nothing but grumble? Are they opposing for the sake of it, or is it just that there is no pleasing some people?

Mr. Rifkind

No, I am not amazed. I would have been amazed if the Opposition had behaved any differently.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

If the Secretary of State is now responding to demands in Scotland, why does he not respond to the demands of 85 per cent. of the Scottish people and withdraw the poll tax altogether? If he is going down the road of making concessions under pressure, why does he not help those who are in genuine need as a result of the poll tax and ensure that he introduces 100 per cent. rebates, that he backdates all rebate claims to 1 April 1989 where they would have applied at 1 April 1989, and that he bases the transitional relief scheme upon the real poll tax figures, not the notional figures that he plucked out of the air when he introduced it? Would not that be a way of giving real help to the people of Scotland who are sorely oppressed by the tax?

Mr. Rifkind

It would be wrong to apply the transitional relief to local authority expenditure at whatever level local authorities choose to apply it. The purpose of a transitional relief is to provide support for those for whom the change in the system has led to increased bills, not for those who find that their bills have increased because their local authorities have decided to use the opportunity to increase spending substantially. The hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well.