§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Glenarthur)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Glenarthur.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Clause 8 [Liability for personal community charge]:
§ [Amendment No. 109 not moved.]
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Listowel)
Before I call the next amendment, I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 110 is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 112A.
The Earl of Perth moved Amendment No. 110:
Page 7, line 9, at end insert ("except that any overseas student undertaking a course of education shall be liable to pay only one half of the personal community charge determined by the local authority in whose area he is resident during term time.").
The noble Earl said: I think all your Lordships will be glad that we heard first the most interesting Statement on the Prime Minister's visit, and although it has meant that I have lost the chance of a captive audience I am not sorry in the event. As Members of the Committee know, Clause 8 is about who is liable for the community charge and I want to draw special attention to subsection (4) of Clause 8. That reads as follows:
For the purposes of this section, a person undertaking a full-time course of education shall be regarded as being solely or mainly resident in the area of the local authority in which he is resident during term time".
In other words, university or other such students will be liable for the community charge at their university or place of study. That would mean that university students at Dundee would pay their charge to Tayside region or those at St. Andrews to Fife.
§ My amendment is an extremely simple one. It is that in relation to these students I ask that overseas students—and I understand that "overseas students" is a term of art which can easily be identified—instead of paying the full charge should pay only a half a charge. I shall go into my reasons for this half charge rather than, a full charge later.
§ What I want to say to the Committee at the start is that I feel sure Members will all agree that nothing should be done further to discourage overseas students from coming to this country. This is more particularly important in relation to Scotland because, in one way or another and partly because our university courses are more suitable for many students from overseas than those in England and Wales, we have a very considerable proportion of overseas students coming to our universities.
§ Perhaps I should say at this moment that both the British Council and the principals of universities of Scotland have written to the Secretary of State for Scotland seeking help on this point which we are discussing, and pointing out the very grave consequences that there would be for Scotland of a lessening in the number of overseas students who come to us. I think both groups have made representation that the reduction should be not just for overseas students but perhaps for all students, and maybe that would he right. But perhaps that is going a little far, particularly for the ones who live in Scotland. If the Government were prepared to accept the suggestion in the amendment of my noble friend Lady Saltoun—namely, that the whole grant should be covered and not just half—I for one would rejoice and would very happily withdraw my amendment.
§ I should like to tell the Committee why this is so important to the Scottish universities. The fees of St. Andrews represent nearly 10 per cent. of its whole revenue, and that is about £2 million. Can noble Lords imagine what would happen if its revenue became very much less? I can only say that things are hard enough already and that would produce such a crisis that I honestly believe that one or two of the universities would go to the wall. Therefore, it is not just a matter of being kind to one or two overseas students; it is critical for the universities of Scotland.
§ On the other hand, I suppose someone may say, "We are not talking about a great deal of money". The community charge is perhaps £250, which may be only 5 per cent. of the total that is being paid already. But we all know how often a straw breaks the camel's back. Five per cent. extra for the Scottish universities—not the English and the Welsh universities—would be a very serious matter for the reasons which I have given.
§ My amendment is in a sense flawed, and I only recognised that at a later stage after I had given the whole matter a great deal of thought. I think that the other amendments which are grouped with this amendment are also flawed to the extent that they only relate to overseas students. But what about students coming from England and Wales? For example, at the University of St. Andrews, such students represent 40 per cent. of the total. I can imagine a situation in which those students might be discouraged from coming. Also, is it fair that they should in some way be paying 708 rates in either England or Wales and still be charged the community charge in Scotland? Although my amendment is strictly related to overseas students, I hope that the Minister of State will give thought to what I am saying in relation to students coming from England and Wales. If, by a happy chance, he agrees, I hope that he will not only tell us so but also introduce an amendment at Report stage to embrace the English and Welsh students. Alternatively, I am sure that someone else—perhaps myself—will be happy to do so.
§ I said that I would explain why I have put down an amendment covering only half the charges. In the course of debating this within myself, I have said, "If you ask for all, you may get nothing; and we all know that half a loaf is better than none". My reasoning for the reduction is very simple arithmetic. There are three terms and each term is about eight weeks long. If we do a sum on that, that is half a year, and there is therefore only half a year of study at a university. That is why I thought in the end that the right thing to do was to put down what may not be the best amendment but one that I very much hope the Government will feel able to accept.
§ I shall finish by asking the Minister once again whether he will think about the position of English and Welsh students, and perhaps, if my fears and the fears of many Members of the Committee are real, we may have some sort of review at the end of a year or two to see what the effect is, even if the figure is only half of the whole. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
May I ask the Minister for clarification? As I understand the grouping, we are discussing Amendments Nos. 110, 112, 117 to 126, 139 and 140. Is the discussion on all those amendments taking place under the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Perth?
§ Lord Glenarthur
As I understood it, yes. That was agreed and I am anticipating that noble Lords opposite will come in on those grouped amendments.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkhill
I should like at this stage to do exactly that. In the light of the query raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I should like to make a comment on Amendment No. 117, which refers to Clause 8, page 7, where I wish to leave out subsections (4) and (5). In contrast to the earlier comment made by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in relation to his own amendment. I do not think that my amendment is flawed on that point. I think it takes care of the English difficulty to which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has just referred.
It seems to me that a student should be treated as liable to pay the community charge to the local authority in which he is solely or mainly resident, as is everyone else in the population. That means that students would be liable to pay the community charge to the local authority in which they live during term time but only when they are there during term time. During vacations, they would pay the charge to the local authority where they live. Just like everyone else in the population, they should also be entitled, in my view, to apply for rebates.
709 As I understand it, the proposals of the Government are that students who are eligible for grant, including those who, because of their parents' income, receive no grant payment at present, should receive assistance towards their personal community charge liability. It is proposed that,the assistance should be based on the average level of a personal community charge in Scotland each year, and that it should have regard to the level of assistance available under the community charge rebate system for other people on low incomes".That quote comes from col. 559 of the First Scottish Standing Committee Report dated 22nd January 1987.
In my view that is unfair, because, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has just said, there will be a reluctance on the part of students to attend, say, Edinburgh or Glasgow universities, and a preference undoubtedly will be shown for, say, Stirling or St. Andrews universities, where the charge will be of a lesser nature. It will also mean a reluctance on the part of English and overseas students to seek to engage in courses at Scottish universities.
There is another question which must be put directly to the Minister: who is going to pay for those rebates? Will it be the Scottish education department? I think that the Committee is entitled to a straight answer on that important question.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
I think we should all be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for raising this question and also for the grouping we have. It gives us an opportunity to discuss the whole problem of students who are likely to be affected by the Bill and the many problems they may have. At present, overseas students in Scottish universities pay full course fees per term. As has been said, on top of that they will now be required to pay their personal community charge. That must surely deter a certain number of students from coming to Scotland. There is a very long tradition of overseas students coming to Scottish universities, in particular to study medicine, divinity, engineering and law. Although I do not have the figures at my fingertips, I should imagine that proportionally more overseas students have come to Scotland over the decades than have gone to any other country.
It is not too bizarre to suggest, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, did, that the effect upon Scottish education could he very serious. There are about 200,000 students in full-time education in Scotland of whom about 20 per cent. are foreign. When I say "foreign". I include all those from outside Scotland, all those who have no domicile in Scotland. About 40,000 English and overseas students attend Scottish universities. If, because of the Bill, they do not come to Scotland but prefer to go to English universities such as Keele, Lancaster and York, we could easily reach the stage where departments of Scottish universities, some already hard pressed, are no longer viable. Staff would begin to disperse; there would be a spiral of decline in many cases; and in one or two instances, universities, which have been holding on by resorting to all kinds of ingenious methods of self-financing and raising money outside, might find it too difficult to continue.
710 As I have already said, we are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for allowing us to discuss the grouping of amendments mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and agreed by the Minister. This is a general discussion on the plight and position of students. For those students who remain in Scotland the type of accommodation in which they live will affect the level of the community charge they will pay. For those in halls of residence, it is proposed to set a collective charge. What allowance will be made for the fact that halls provide student accommodation only for two-thirds of the year and are used for commercial purposes during the summer? How will account be taken of those under 18 who will not be paying the community charge although they may be living in halls of residence? The tendency is for first year students to live in halls of residence. Let us remember that in Scotland we have a high proportion of students who go to university at 17. The system is slightly different south of the Border. They will be occupying halls of residence.
Parents like the idea of their children of 17, away from home for the first time, living in student accommodation and having a watchful eye kept on them at least in the first year. In the final year of an honours course, the tendency is to try to get back into halls of residence. But the high proportion of students in Scotland under 18 living in halls of residence will not pay the community charge. How will the charge be collected? In what way will a calculation be made so that the institution's halls of residence will be paying their fair share, allowing for the fact that they are used in the summer and out of term for commercial purposes?
The bulk of students who do not live at home occupy rented accommodation. For them the position is even worse. Due to their low income, most students tend to share accommodation, sometimes to the point, and beyond the point, of the capacity of the accommodation, as noble Lords living near universities will be aware. While, at present, this helps to share the rates burden, in future all will be liable for the full appropriate community charge. The effect in relation to benefits is still to be clearly given to us. We do no know whether they will have access to benefits, a point I hope I made strongly at Second Reading. There is nothing in the award to cover rates for which benefit is paid. Yet the current proposals abolish rates and also assume that the award from the SED or the local authority will cover the community charge.
There is another category of students. Scotland has more students in that category than most other universities in the rest of the United Kingdom. I refer to the large number of students who live in the parental home. For them the impact will be full and direct. There will be a new liability to pay the community charge and the impact will be decidedly on those in the poorest housing and likely to be on a lower income. A student who lives in the parental home receives an award already 32.8 per cent. Less than a student staying elsewhere. This is because it is assumed that accommodation is being provided by the parents. However, all students, no matter where they live in Scotland, will be liable for the community charge. If the community charge is not passed on, the difference in expenditure between a student living in a 711 parental home and a student who studies south of the Border or who lives in a hall of residence will rise from 32 per cent. to about 60 per cent. He will receive less than a student living in a hall of residence or a student living in lodgings which have no connection with his family. When the charges come in there will be an even greater incentive for a student who is at present living at home to leave; and if he is going to leave home in any case he may try to enter a university in the South. The only recourse for students who do not do that will be to seek more money from their parents, but we already know that in a large number of cases students who live at home do not get the full student grant.
One other group of students will be badly affected. I refer to married students. Over the past 20 years we have been trying to encourage married people to go to university or to go back to university. Certainly in the modern climate a large number of students marry while they are on the course. At present the award system pays allowances for the spouse, whether male or female. It is important to know whether these will be increased to meet the cost of the community charge, and if so whether it will again be limited to 80 per cent. for these cases. If that were so there would be double loss in the ability of the two students to pay. It would be even worse if they were mature students at university, or taking a nursing course, or students in other areas of higher education with children under 18 years of age. The Government will find a great many difficulties when they come to the question of organising the community charge for students.
I may appear to have dealt only with university students, but a whole host of other people will fall into the same category. I refer to student nurses and police cadets. We do not know how the Government intend to treat cadets at Tulliallam College. We do not know how prison officers, many of whom are probationary, will be treated. I hope that when the Minister has listened to contributions from other noble Lords he will be able to give satisfactory replies. I am only too happy to support the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Perth.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
As my Amendment No. 112A is so closely allied to the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, it might be a good idea if I now said a few words about it.
Ever since the sudden rise in fees for overseas students in 1980 many students who formerly came to Britain have been going instead to other countries. In 1980 there were 88,000 overseas students in Britain, of whom 54,000 were at universities or polytechnics. By 1985—the last year for which statistics are available—those figures had fallen to 56,000 of whom 44,000 were at universities and polytechnics. In Scotland the corresponding figures were 6,300 in 1980 and 5,676 in 1985—a decline of nearly 10 per cent. Through vigorous campaigning abroad the Scottish universities have succeeded so far in reversing that unfortunate trend. Their enrolments rose from about 4,000 in 1980 to nearly 4,600 in 1985. However, enrolments for the rest of the country fell by about 9,500.
712 As we have heard, particularly from the noble Earl, Scottish universities depend to a very large extent on their intake of overseas, English and Welsh students. Without them they would be in grave financial difficulties. If students are faced with a community charge they will probably go, first, to England or Wales and then, when a community charge is introduced in England and Wales, they will go elsewhere—that is, abroad.
It is questionable how far the financial benefits of a community charge will outweigh the losses in good will and the influence of British culture and our way of life on foreign students who will be the politicians and the businessmen, and so on, of their own countries in the future. It is also questionable how far it will outweigh the loss of an invisible export which is worth at present over £1,000 million a year. My amendment is merely a probing amendment, offering the Government another, simpler and more complete way of dealing with this serious situation.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 118 and 139. Amendment No. 118 widens the definition of "student" to others under full-time training, and Amendment No. 139 adds these people to the exceptions from the community charge.
I am greatly tempted to use words which are totally unsuitable for this Chamber, such as "bonkers", "daft", and so on, about the possibility of actually making students and people in full-time training pay the community charge. That is extraordinary. As many speakers have said, there is no doubt that it will drive students from the Scottish universities. Students are by no means well treated, though perhaps they are better treated than they have been in the past. However, one of the great points we need to watch in this country—everyone who studies the problem is saying this—is that we need to get more people into full-time, highly-skilled jobs. To do that, we must train them.
One of the great wells of ability that we have failed to tap is the working-class families with clever boys who, when they reach the age when they can leave school, see their contemporaries earning good money if they are lucky enough to be in an area where they can get jobs. Unfortunately the whole family background is not always conducive to going on with full-time training if to do so would mean being hard up. Consequently, the boys say that they will take a job where they can get good money instead of going into training and putting up with a smaller income in return for a better future. It is vitally important that we tap every source of high skill in this country, but we are failing to do that.
My understanding from Second Reading is that not only will we impose this community charge on students but we are going to pay them to pay it. That is a ludicrous situation which is certain to lose a great deal of money in the passing of it from the Government to the student and from the student to the Government. The Government may mean that they will merely take it into account, but that is a phrase which I understand can mean anything and there may be only a very small addition to the students' incomes to pay for the charge.
713 On the general thesis of making it more expensive for overseas students and deterring people from taking up full-time training, particularly in the present situation regarding our friends and competitors in the EC, the whole situation is most curious. I am absolutely astonished that a man of the obvious intelligence of the Minister should be loyal enough to his party to put forward this sort of nonsense. I hope that noble Lords on the Government Benches will try to persuade the Government that it is much simpler not to impose this charge on students than to offer to pay the money to them and then take it hack. There is no question of accountability; it is just doctrinaire politics.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Broadly, and in principle, I support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. These grouped amendments are all designed in one way or another—and it is fairly complex—to mitigate the incidence of Clause 8(4) as it concerns students and to provide exemptions to the personal community charge under Clause 8. subsections (1) to (3).
As a matter of principle I disagree with the concept advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, that students should qualify for rebates under Clause 24 and the regulations to be made thereunder. I do so for reasons that, with the Committee's leave, I do not propose to give now. I will give them on the grouped amendments relating to Amendment No. 130. It is not the time to anticipate, but there is a very important principle at stake. The situation as a matter of principle should be dealt with by exemption under Clause 8(7) and not by way of a rebate. In that sense—the drafting sense—all these amendments are flawed because if the principle is right they should come for consideration within the exceptions provision of Clause 8(7): but that is merely a matter of drafting.
The tradition—and that is why this is so important; it is a question of tradition—to which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, referred is of very great importance. It is by no means limited to overseas students. I support the general principle of Amendment No.110, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, as it affects overseas students, and I take the point about the extra 5 per cent. being a sizeable imposition. That requires no repetition. It is equally trite to say that students must be encouraged, particularly overseas students. However, in this context I prefer Amendment No.112A, in the name of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, which is more realistic because it gives the whole benefit and avoids the difficulties of administration to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, referred.
However, with the greatest respect, best of all I prefer Amendments Nos.139 and 140, which take in all students. It is rather like grandmother's footsteps. In the end, one reaches the stage where one is led by the logic to go for Amendments Nos.139 and 140. What it comes down to is that this is something of a muddle at the moment. If some form of composite exception could be either drafted by the Government or in some form made acceptable to them, maybe after consultation as one would wish—and it would be a 714 matter for the Committee of course—would it not be appropriate for such amendment to be carried into the exemption provisions of Clause 8(7)? Then it would be as clear as a bell and not so diffuse, complex and muddled as it appears to be today.
I speak only for myself and represent no one, but the hope must be that my noble friend the Minister will take this matter on board generally and without commitment to see what can be done, bearing in mind the administrative difficulties to which many Members of the Committee have referred and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. Then in due course this Chamber could consider the form of such exemption, perhaps at some subsequent stage of the Bill. That is the only contribution that I am able to make.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
I have great respect for the views of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and I see great force in his argument. I take his point that as a matter of correct drafting it would have been better if Amendments Nos.118 and 139 (which are the ones with which we on these Benches are principally concerned) had gone in under the exception clause, Clause 8(7). However, so far—and I hope the Minister agrees—this has been a useful preliminary discussion of the immensely difficult problem of dealing with students in a Bill of this kind.
Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I venture to think that some of his more extreme remarks were well justified but I do not propose to repeat them now. This Bill has been described repeatedly and with justification as one which will give rise to something of a bureaucratic nightmare. There is no doubt that in dealing with this immensely difficult problem of students, the more one tries to tackle it in detail, making all sorts of exceptions and provision so that they will be compensated for their grants under some sections and that even those who are not in receipt of grants will be compensated, the more one sees that there is much to be said for the clean break provided by Amendments Nos.118 and 139. Beyond that, looking at the clauses which have been spoken to in isolation, I certainly agree with everything that was said by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun.
I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that the whole problem should be looked at further. At the end of the day —and this is something that we on these Benches feel most strongly, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has already said — it would have the benefit of taking something of the edge off the worst of that bureaucratic nightmare that we on these Benches believe will result from this measure.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Will the end result not be that we shall finish up making students pay the community charge and then have to give them more money for their grants? What will happen is that one bureaucrat will take some money away from them and another bureaucrat will put it in his pocket and then hand it across his desk to someone else to put the money into another pocket. That seems an extremely silly thing to do.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
I am glad that my noble friend Lord Perth has raised this question of the importance of students, and particularly of overseas students, to the Scottish universities. Let me take just one example. There has been a long tradition — and tradition is important — of contacts between Norway and Heriot Watt university over many years. They have been greatly valued by both countries, and a number of Norwegian students have come here. I should not like to see that relationship upset.
I can understand the case for students in general paying the community charge, and in contributing to the cost of the services that they undoubtedly use. I rather favour the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Perth and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, if anything is to be done. I think that their amendments probably cover the case. However, my plea to the Minister is to take time over this matter, because it is important. Rather than for him to tell us his decision now, I should like him to give this matter a lot of thought and if necessary postpone any decision until the Report stage of the Bill.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 140, which is the last of the amendments in this group. Also, I wholly support Amendment No. 138 which has been moved by Members of the Committee who are no longer in the Chamber. It appears to be the mood of the Committee that students should be treated differently. It is also quite clearly ridiculous that the Government should pay money to students to enable them to pay out money. What is even more ridiculous, if the situation is as I understand it, is the intention of the Government to pay them 80 per cent., so that they have to pay an extra 20 per cent.
However, there are people other than university students who have to be taken into account. I want to use this opportunity to draw attention to the training of nurses, because that is equally a large element of the Scottish contribution to society in that the Scottish hospitals undertake considerable training of nurses.
We heard an excellent speech yesterday from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about the difficulties which nurses are under, and I do not wish to repeat them. However, my understanding is that a first-year student nurse, living in a nurses' home and paying for her lodging but not for her food, is left with about £60 per week. As I understand it, according to the terminology of Clause 8, something must be put in the Bill to exclude people who are full-time students or people in full-time training, because I should have thought that there is nobody who spends more time as a student in actual training than does a student nurse. It is ridiculous to ask student nurses to pay something—it may be £6 a week—out of their very small pay and then expect the Scottish hospitals to have nurses available to train. They can go down South—and indeed they are already being recruited and advertisements are appearing for them in Scotland to be trained in England—and not have to pay this £6. Clearly it is ridiculous.
It is already difficult to attract student nurses. The Auditor-General confirms that there are 9,000 fewer 716 nurses in Scotland than there should be. This shortfall will double by 1990 because people are leaving the profession and because the number of 18-year-olds who are available for training will decrease for demographic reasons. I wholly support Amendments Nos. 139 and 140. But, if the Minister is going to consider the matter, there is another difficulty. There are places such as St. Andrew's and Edinburgh, which have so high a proportion of students, that if students are all to be excused payment, the local authority will probably require some compensation in grant to ensure that the load does not fall almost totally on the university lecturers.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I wish to draw the Committee's attention to one aspect of this discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Morton, mentioned 80 per cent. It is that 80 per cent. of grant that concerns me, because the Bill provides that a flat rate sum will be paid each year towards the student's personal community charge liability. That will be based on the average level of personal community charge in Scotland.
We must look closely at that provision if we are talking about fairness. I cannot go along with the idea that it should be based on an average throughout Scotland. As was pointed out on Second Reading, students who attend Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities will be worse off under this provision than if they go to St. Andrew's.
I urge the Government to look closely at that aspect of the matter. If it is suggested that the Scottish education department finds itself in difficulty trying to organise the matter region by region, I find that a pretty lame excuse. It is not fair to have an average across Scotland. I urge the Government to look closely at this matter before coming to a conclusion on it.
§ Lord Addington
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 118 and 139. Before I go any further, I feel that I should declare an interest, because I am currently attending Aberdeen University. As a student in Scotland, I am aware that the Bill will reduce my fellow Scottish students' income. The sums which will have to be paid, according to government estimates, vary considerably depending upon where one happens to be. Fortunately, in my case, in Aberdeen, the charge will only be £15, but in Edinburgh it could be £58. Although those sums may not seem large, they represent a considerable chunk of the average student's income, especially if he is dependent upon a full grant.
There are no guarantees that those charges will not increase later. It is blatantly unfair further to reduce students' incomes, which in many cases are already alarmingly low. It would make much more sense completely to exempt students from paying this charge.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
The noble Lord's speech is the most significant of any we have heard, because it comes straight from the coal face at which the students work. It is interesting to note that the debate has been approached from two angles so far. One has been that of the universities, because clearly they must try to attract more, not fewer, overseas students. I 717 believe that students from the European Community arc treated differently from students in England and Scotland and I should like to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench about that. We have talked about it, but we have looked at it from the students' point of view.
I should like to see students receive a bill for the services they use, and pay it. We must bear in mind that 86 per cent. of the services they use are paid for by the British taxpayer and local industry. We are talking about the 14 per cent. to be paid for by the community charge. That does not by any means represent an enormous slice of the cost of the services that they use.
We must also bear in mind that the Scottish Consumer Council survey, to which I expect we shall return at a later stage in the Bill, revealed the rather unnerving fact that in Scotland 31 per cent. of people between the ages of 18 and 24 have not registered to vote. In the previous regional elections, 32 per cent. did not vote. Although the number of students is not identified in that part of the survey, it is clear from other figures that the survey gives that the figures must contain a proportion of students. Interest in local services and local government is bound to increase if one contributes to them.
None of us is under the illusion that students have a great deal of money to play with. I am against students receiving money which is hidden in their grants and not paying for services. That is what has happened with students' unions. Students have not understood what they were paying for students' unions. My experience on the court of the University of Dundee suggests to me that it would be much better if students received the money and then paid a cheque to the union. They would then know what they were paying for and what the unions did with the money. That is a good way to learn responsibility in a democratic society. It is not necessary to prescribe the level of change, but I should like to see that happen. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, and still less with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who said that that was rubbish.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morton, that the recirculation of money is necessarily a bad idea. It is not being carried in a bag by a man on a horse's back; it is a transfer of figures on a computer. If it results in the student paying for himself or herself, that will be a good thing.
I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that, as 86 per cent. of the costs will be paid other than by the community charge, there should also be a reduction in the cost of digs and residences, because there will be no rates to pay. That is an important point. If that does not happen, universities and landladies will not be doing their stuff. That should clearly happen.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Sanderson that the averaging of the rebate is not fair. It must be based on where the university is in order that justice may be done to the students. I hope that the Committee will not attempt to make a decision this afternoon, because so many different things are being said. This is not a party political issue. We are trying to achieve the right thing for the universities and the students. I do not think the Bill has the matter right at the moment. I 718 hope that my noble friend will take the provision away, look at it and return having taken account of everything that has been said. What has been said is important. Nearly everything I thought of has been brought forward. I hope that I have not repeated too much of what others have said.
§ Lord Monkswell
I wonder whether I may add another word on behalf of students. We have heard about their financial problems. I should like to say a few words about the administrative side of the matter. I remember from my student days that it is a difficult existence. One is studying hard and trying to take on board sophisticated and difficult academic and technical knowledge. Whenever we can, we should try to relieve students of the burden of the normal trials and tribulations of living in our complex society. It has been said that one virtually needs to have a university degree in order to fill in forms. We should not ask students to fill in more forms.
I noted the suggestion made by the previous speaker that students should receive a chunk of money in their grant and then shell out to students' union and pay local authorities for the poll tax. No doubt there are other administrative burdens that we could place on students, but we should seek to enable students to devote all their energies to their studies. It is difficult enough being a student and having to cope with and pay for one's lodgings and food. There is also the difficulty of paying for clothing, for transport to and from college and of having to go round the shops buying books. However, to impose the additional burdens of what I would describe as life in our complex society is too much for our student population. We should do everything possible to reduce the burdens. I hope that the amendments which have been suggested and the deliberations of the Government will seek to reduce that burden and not extend it.
§ 5 p.m.
In view of the comments that have been made about the possible effects of the community charge upon the student body in Scotland and on the institutions which they will attend, I should like to ask my noble friend whether he can answer one question and comment upon one point which I should like to make.
Is my noble friend in a position to say whether the meaning of a full-time course of education, and therefore a person undertaking a full-time course of education (which remain to be prescribed) is likely to extend only to courses which are recognised for student allowance purposes by the Scottish Education Department or whether it will extend to all courses of further education in Scotland? I should be grateful for his comment upon this point. On my reading of the Bill, until such time as domestic rates are abolished in England and Wales, students domiciled in Scotland who attend universities and other institutions offering courses of further education in England and Wales will be liable to pay no community charge whatever.
§ Lord Glenarthur
We have had a long and interesting debate on a matter which understandably has raised a great deal of interest. Perhaps the best way 719 for me to reply to many of the points which have been raised—and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed towards this discussion—would be to start by, I hope, assisting the Committee in setting out in general terms our approach to the question of liability of students for the personal community charge.
In the first place, we have carefully considered whether students should in fact be liable for the personal community charge, or, as would be provided for by Amendment No. 139 to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, spoke, and indeed Amendment No. 140 to which in particular the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, spoke, they should be exempt. I noted that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway felt that total exemption was perhaps the order of the day, though my noble friend Lord Home did not agree with him.
We have come to the conclusion that there is no really sound reason for exempting students from personal charge liability. Students use local authority services and share in the responsibility for electing local councillors. In addition, many students at present contribute to domestic rates. I cannot therefore accept that students should be exempt from the personal community charge liability, though I note that some noble Lords suggested that that should be the case.
Amendment No. 117, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, and Amendments Nos. 119 to 125, seek to amend the arrangements for registration proposed in the Bill. It may be useful if I deal with this point first. Perhaps I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, as he particularly asked about this matter when he referred to the additional grants and who would pay for them, that the Scottish Education Department will pay the additional grants for Scottish students, and students from England will receive the addition from the local education authorities which pay their grants at present, with reimbursement from the DES. I hope that that gives the noble Lord the answer which he sought.
I should perhaps first make the obvious point that the provisions of subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 8 do not relate to students' liability to pay the personal community charge. The question whether someone falls within the definitions to be set out in regulations made under these subsections does not therefore affect that person's liability to pay the personal community charge. If he does not come within those definitions he will be liable to pay. The subsections, however, address the fact that for registration purposes students are a unique case. By and large, they have a pattern of residence moving regularly between their place of study and their home address.
If no special arrangements were made for their registrations, therefore, different views might he taken by registration officers in different parts of the country as to whether their sole or main residence changed when they moved between their term-time addresses and their home addresses. At best, this would lead to confusion and uncertainty, and at worst it could lead to a change in registration having to take place up to six times a year for every student in the country. In order to address that problem, therefore, the Green Paper proposed that students should be deemed to be 720 resident at their term-time address for the purposes of registration for the personal community charge. The regulations to be made under subsection (5) of Clause 8 will simply serve to provide a definition of student for this purpose. That is the justification for the subsection which Amendment No. 122 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Morton of Shuna, seeks to delete.
Their alternative amendments, Nos. 121, 123 and 124, would remove the requirement for definitions of "term-time" and "ceases to undertake the course". It will be necessary for these terms to be defined because there are many circumstances in which students may stop attending their courses before they formally end, or where they may take time out and cease to be students for a short time. A student may, for instance, simply leave his course in the middle of a term; or he may leave after taking his final exams but be uncertain as to whether he will have to return to take resits. The regulations will deal with all such circumstances, and it is therefore necessary that the powers to prescribe definitions should be wide. The regulations will be brought forward in due course after further consideration and consultation with local authorities and other education interests. While they are likely to be relatively complex, the basic principles we propose for the registration of students are quite simple and we do not seriously expect that the details will be contentious. I cannot give the undertaking—as would be required by Amendment No. 125, which is grouped with these amendments though not specifically referred to—that the regulations will be brought forward within 14 days of the passing of the Act. Indeed, if we tried to keep to that improbable timetable we might even be accused of unseemly haste.
Amendments Nos. 119 and 120, again in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Morton of Shuna, propose the variation that students should have the choice as to whether they should be registered at their term-time addresses or their home addresses. I believe that that would be totally impracticable. The system makes no provision for registration anywhere else than at the sole or main residence of each individual.
No one has a choice as to where he or she is to be registered. The special provisions for the registration of students, as I have said, are designed to meet the particular circumstances of students' patterns of education. However, if a student were entitled to choose where he was to be registered, not only could he opt—unlike anyone else—for a lower rather than a higher level of personal community charge, but he would also have every opportunity, unless a complex and time-consuming system of cross-checks between registration officers was set up, to try to avoid registration altogether by convincing each registration officer that he had exercised his right to be registered in another registration area. That could lead to quite unnecessary administrative complexity which I think the Members of the Committee would quite rightly expect us to avoid. Therefore, I am not persuaded that those amendments are valid.
§ Lord Kirkhill
May I intervene for one second only? The Minister should accept that everyone else in the 721 population will pay in the area in which they are solely or mainly resident. That is the point, is it not?
§ Lord Glenarthur
Unless I have misunderstood that point I do not think that it is really relevant to this particular argument. However, I shall study what has been said, and if I have misunderstood I can only apologise to the noble Lord. I turn now to the matter of assistance—
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
That is a very important point because many of the students in certain city universities live at home. I presume that the register will ask how many people over the age of 18 live at the student's home. Would it not be just as easy to have them registered there and save the complications? Who will register them at the university? Will the registrar at the university give a list of names, and what will prevent the possibility of the student being registered twice? What about those students who live in houses, perhaps six or seven of them together, and who pay rent to a landlady who is either present or not present? Will they pay the collective charge or could it possibly arise that they would pay the collective charge as well as the personal charge? There are so many complications here that I do not wish the Government to be hasty about these things, but I want them to start thinking now about what a tangled web they have weaved in respect of this whole business.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
I am not talking about students being required to pay, but that can happen. When will they know about it—when they get two bills, one from the university registrar or assessor (they may have thought up a new word when students were involved because there is a registrar at universities as well) and a personal bill at their home?
§ Lord Glenarthur
Perhaps I should have added the word "accidentally", if that satisfies the noble Lord. He is concerned that students might conceivably be required to pay in both establishments, at their home and at their place of residence in term-time, their university or wherever that might be. They will be registered at the address where they live for the purpose of attending the university. If they stay at home, that will be the address for the purpose of that registration. I cannot see that the severe risk that the noble Lord implies may occur when this takes place will arise. I suppose that it is conceivable, but in the realms of practicality, once the system is working, I cannot believe for a moment that the occasions would be more than very few and I am sure that in time good practice will ensure that it does not happen.
Nevertheless, any system that is new is bound to take some time for everyone to understand fully. I accept that, but I do not think that a real risk of someone being accidentally required to pay twice—which is the burden of the noble Lord's concern—would arise. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, wishes to intervene.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
I wonder whether the Minister has ever been in an area like the Byres Road area of Glasgow, where almost every Sunday he would see groups of students changing digs. They do not like the digs that they are in and they move to other ones; they move around. I do not know how they can be traced.
Another possibility is that they could be billed at different addresses, as has happened with electricity and gas and other things, and be given a bad credit because they have been billed at two addresses and not paid one of the bills. They could lose credit rating because of that. That has happened as a result of double bills being sent out by local authorities and public utilities. A lot of thought should be given to this point.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I accept that there is movement. Having taken on board that particular concern, perhaps I may continue as it will crop up as I develop a little further the whole question of students, and discuss the arguments that have have been put forward about students, whether they be overseas students or students living in digs in the Byres Road area of Glasgow.
I come now to the point on assistance, which is of course very important. The Members of the Committee opposite in their Amendment No. 126 would reimburse all students eligible for grants for the full amount of their personal community charge liability. At the simplest level this would be equivalent to exempting students from personal community charge liability. I have already dealt with the bulk of the arguments on that. In addition, there would be little point in making students go through the procedures for registration for, and payment of, the personal community charge if they were to be fully compensated for its cost because, it seems to me, that would take us very much down the path that my noble friend Lord Onslow suggested when he said that money would be shifted from the hand, as he put it, of one bureaucrat to another.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
Will the Minister explain a point which I have failed to understand? The purpose of the poll charge and the purpose of students paying it is apparently accountability. Therefore, they vote for the party that they decide to support. How is that relevant in the amendments we are discussing which deal with overseas students? They have no accountability; they cannot vote. They must pay, and of course they must pay either rates under the present system or a community charge, but accountability does not exist for them.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I shall come to them in a moment and I shall answer the noble Lord when I deal with overseas students in general.
We dealt just now with the question of full compensation and we discussed my noble friend Lord Onslow's suggestion that we should get ourselves in a muddle, shifting money from one pocket to another. Another question arises and that is that the amendment would go against the principle that all those liable for local taxation should themselves make some contribution towards their local tax bill. I must 723 say to the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna—because he has just raised the point—that this is one of the key elements in this Bill and in our proposals to increase the effectiveness of accountability for local authorities. It will be embodied in the reformed scheme of housing benefit for rates to be brought into force on 1st April 1988 under the provisions of the Social Security Act 1986. I cannot really accept an amendment which would entirely negate that principle in respect of one group of people.
It may be useful if I again say a word about the assistance that we propose to make available for students towards their personal community charge liability. We accept of course that students will require help to enable them to meet the personal community charge. It is, however, the Government's policy that in the longer term students should no longer be entitled to social security benefits but should return to the position whereby their support comes from the students' awards system, from parental contributions, and from money which they often earn during vacations.
It is not therefore appropriate that support towards a community charge liability of students should be provided through the proposed community charge rebate system. Instead we propose that students eligible for grant, including those who, because of parental income, receive no grant payments at present, should receive assistance towards their personal community charge liability. We propose that the assistance to be made available will be based on the average level of personal community charge in Scotland each year, and will have regard to the level of assistance available under the community charge rebate scheme for other people on low incomes.
Bearing in mind those two aspects of assistance—average level and the assistance available—I note my noble friend Lord Sanderson's point, supported by my noble friend Lady Carnegy, that to use the average level would impose an unfair burden. I very much take my noble friend's point on that. I would not like to say more now and I shall wind up what I have to say in due course when I have answered a number of questions that have been raised. I agree, however, that my noble friends have a point there. Precisely how it could be dealt with is a matter I shall have to consider, but I understand the force of the argument. The details of the proposed schemes would have to be worked out well before the introduction of the community charge system.
I come now to the proposal in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that the arrangements for the registration of students should be extended to persons undertaking full-time training as well as full-time education, and indeed that persons undertaking full-time training should also be exempted from the personal community charge liability. The concept of training goes a great deal wider than that of education and will include many people undertaking on-the-job training who are in fact being paid wages or salaries. There is therefore no reason for excluding them from personal charge liability any more than there is any reason for excluding students more generally.
In cases where, because of low income, people in this position might have difficulty in meeting their full 724 community charge liability, we would expect that they would be eligible for the rebates under the proposed community charge rebate scheme, while if their course of training—as, for instance, would be the case with teacher training—brings them within the categories of eligibility for student grants, they would equally be eligible for assistance towards their personal community charge liability through the students' awards system.
I shall deal with the matter of foreign students, returning almost full circle to the first speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. However, I should like to clear up one point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, about the position of overseas students and the question of accountability. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that overseas students use local authority services irrespective of where they have come from, and that there are some from overseas, particularly Commonwealth students, who, so far as I can see, on some occasions vote, although that is something of which I am not entirely certain as I speak. I may have got it wrong.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
I think I am right in saying that the only people entitled to vote who are not British subjects are subjects of the Republic of Ireland.
§ Lord Glenarthur
Perhaps I ought to clarify my facts on that point, and I shall do so when I come to wind up.
A number of categories of students are not eligible for the award of grant at present. Among these are foreign students, in relation to whom Amendment No. 110 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, would provide for a reduced rate of personal community charge. Amendment No. 112A in the name of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, would exempt students altogether. Other similar categories, however, are students repeating parts of their courses for reasons such as examination failure, and students who are undertaking second first degrees for which no awards are normally available.
There are also significant numbers of students who choose to undertake certain courses, particularly postgraduate courses, without the benefit of an award. Students in these categories therefore, in many cases, have to support themselves without assistance from public funds. It would be illogical to provide that students in that position should receive help only with their community charge liabilities, and we therefore propose to restrict assistance to students who are eligible for grant. But this will cover those who, because of their parents' income, receive no grant payments at present.
The amendments of the noble Earl and the noble Lady would take the different approach of partial or complete exemption in relation to foreign students. It would not be right to change the actual liability of a single group of people in this way, as I see it at present. The whole personal community charge liability will not in any case form such a large part, for instance, of a foreign student's living expenses that large numbers of students are likely to avoid undertaking courses of study in this country.
I should like to pick up a number of points that have been raised. The reason why I have set out my initial 725 discussion in this way is purely because of the complexity of bringing in so many different amendments, but I shall now deal with the points that have been raised. So far as the collective community charge for residence is concerned, which is the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael's point, we do not intend that students should be liable for the collective community charge contribution. This is a point to which we shall return on Amendment No. 136. Those living in halls of residence, like all others, will be individually registered and charged for the personal community charge if they are over 18.
There are a lot of notes from this debate. On the question of halls of residence used for commercial purposes for part of the year—I understand the concern on this important point—I can say that while halls of residence have a significant degree of use of this nature, they will probably continue to be valued as non-domestic and will be subject to part residential treatment, the value being apportioned, and rates charged, only on the commercial part. I was also asked about students in parental homes.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Can my noble friend help me for a moment? He uses the expression "collective community charge". I am finding that difficult to understand. There will be two types of rating: one for a hostel and another for digs. I am using simple language. Can the Minister explain? I do not understand what is happening.
§ Lord Glenarthur
At very great length—and I shall come to it in due course—we shall consider Clause 11 which deals with collective community charges. When we deal with that I hope that my noble friend will be further enlightened. I do not think that I can deal with it now.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
As the Minister dealt with apportionment in relation to residences in our debate on Tuesday, we were then dealing with a building, part of which was normally non-residential, and part of which was used as a residence, such as the owner's or manager's flat in a hotel. It does not appear to me—and no doubt the Minister will tell my why I am wrong—that anything in the apportionment schedule covers a whole building such as a residence which is used for part of the year as a residence and for part of the year as a commercial subject.
§ Lord Glenarthur
The noble Lord is right. It does not. That is why I said that where the degree of use is significant in a commercial sense—I think that this is the noble Lord's point—they would probably continue to be valued as non-domestic, which means that they will be subject to part-residential treatment. That is my understanding. If I have misunderstood it I shall let the noble Lord know, but from the information I have I believe that to be the case.
Perhaps I may return to the question of students in parental homes. I find it difficult to follow the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that those students in parental homes would be particularly hard hit. They will have to pay the charge throughout the year like all students and will be eligible for the addition to grant 726 on the basis that we have already made quite clear. On the question of police cadets and other trainees—the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, referred specifically to nurses—those categories of trainees will, typically, be in employment. I cannot agree with the noble Lord that they should be exempt from the charge when other young people will be liable.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
I am sorry to continue to intervene. Does that mean that for the years until the community charge comes in in England and Wales—if it ever does—the health boards will be enabled to pay their trainee nurses more to enable them to compensate so that they can attract nurses? Otherwise the nurses who would be trained in Edinburgh will go to be trained in Newcastle.
§ Lord Glenarthur
Since I deal with the health service in Scotland fairly regularly, perhaps I can say two things to the noble Lord. First, on the matter of pay, the independent review body which was set up by this Government in 1982 to look at pay has met the nurses' pay review body in full ever since then. Secondly, while I fully share and recognise the need to encourage nurses to take up the profession, and indeed to retain those who are within the profession, a scheme called Project 2000—of which the noble Lord may be aware—is designed for precisely that purpose. It is designed to take nursing out of training and more into education. It provides for the need to encourage nurses to come forward in a way that he would find quite acceptable.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
The Minister does not seem to see that if one puts a community charge on nurses in Scotland where there is none in England the nurses in Scotland will leave and go to England.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I do not think that the noble Lord is necessarily right. There is much to encourage nurses to stay within Scotland. Indeed, I am sure that many of them would be reluctant to come to England. In any case, in due course the same situation will appertain here as will be the case in Scotland after this Bill is enacted.
The provision for part-residential treatment in Schedule 1 paragraph 11 refers to the extent to which the subject is used for residential purposes. This is not confined to division of space but can encompass different uses at different times.
I return to the various answers which I felt it important to give on this important matter. I note the concern of my noble friend Lord Home about Norway and the Heriot-Watt University and I note his suggestion that no decision ought to be taken on this issue because of the importance of foreign students to Scotland as a whole and perhaps Heriot-Watt University in particular. I note the general number of good points that have been made in this debate.
On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, it will be the case that for a short period the community charge system will operate in Scotland but not in England. The period will last for only a couple of years. Again, I cannot believe that that factor would weigh heavily in the minds of a significant number of potential students who will he contemplating a three-year or four-year course. Students from England and 727 Wales who are eligible for grants payable by English and Welsh local authorities, subsidised by the DES, will, like Scottish students in a similar position, be eligible for assistance through the grant system towards their personal community charge. That is in answer to a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Perth.
My noble friend Lord Gray asked one other question about whether the prescription under Clause 8(5)(a) would be likely to apply only to courses recognised by the Scottish Education Department for grant purposes, or to all courses of further education. The main coverage of the courses to be prescribed will be those recognised by the Scottish Education Department for grant purposes. Some courses of further education may be relevant, though many of those undertaking such courses will be under 18. The noble Lord will realise that that is a significant age. I noted with considerable interest the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who said that he himself was a student and that difficulties would he raised for many of his fellow students at university.
In summary, this debate has provided a lot of food for thought. I cannot say that it will be possible to go the whole hog, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, and agree that total exemption for students is a practicable course to follow. However, I am quite prepared to take away the many arguments that have been put forward in relation to students on this occasion. I am sorry that it has taken some considerable time to reply fully but it was important that the various arguments which support the procedures that we have decided to follow in this role were fully explained and that as many of the points that I can answer were answered. With the undertaking that I shall examine the proposals with very great care—I must take away and consider what has been said before I can agree what to do—I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, will agree that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The Earl of Selkirk
I have two questions. First, when the Minister says "full-time courses of education", does that include apprenticeship, for instance? Secondly, what about people in the armed forces who may do a course at some civilian establishment such as Rolls-Royce in Glasgow? Will they come under this provision, or are the armed forces wholly excluded from this arrangement?
§ Lord Renton
Perhaps I may follow the point raised by my noble friend. There are vocational courses which are part of a professional training. A person may already have a degree. It may be the degree, so-called, of "barrister-at-law" but before he can earn his living—certainly in England and I think in Scotland too—he has to be a pupil for at least six months. That is the sort of problem which arises. My noble friend has had an excessively difficult time. The difficulty has been partly caused by the grouping of the amendments, if I may say so. It has given us far too wide a discussion covering far too many disparate details.
My noble friend has tried very hard to answer the points. To my mind, the most difficult part of all this 728 subject is the burden that will be placed on the local authorities if subsections (4) and (5) of the Bill stand. That has not been so much discussed. There has been some discussion but not a great deal. When my noble friend is considering this further, he should consider the difficulty of collecting the charge, if the Bill remains as it is, the difficulty of enforcement against those who do not pay but could, and the cost to the local authority administratively of collecting the charge and trying to enforce it. I am glad my noble friend has said that he will look at this again, but I think he has to take in those further points as well.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I shall certainly take on board the points made by my noble friend Lord Renton. Perhaps I can now briefly answer my noble friend Lord Selkirk and say that neither apprentices nor the armed forces would come into the category in the way he thought they might.
§ The Earl of Perth
First of all. I feel sure I should echo what the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has said and thank all those who have taken part in this very wide-ranging debate and those who, without exception, I believe, have shown how very unhappy the whole Committee is with the Bill as it stands. I think the whole Chamber agrees on that.
Quite frankly I am very puzzled over what the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur said in relation to overseas students. I was afraid that he said there was not to be an exemption, not even to the extent for which I asked in my totally reasonable amendment. So I am in two minds. Unless he can say to me that I have got that wrong, I believe I simply cannot avoid dividing the Committee.
§ Lord Glenarthur
Before the noble Lord does that—and I hope he will not—I should like to say that I hope he understood what I said. If he has not understood, I must apologise for not making myself clear enough. In relation to the whole group of amendments which raised a number of different issues on students, including the matter of overseas students, I said that I would study what had been said and would see what, if anything, could be done.
It is important to have time to study fully all the important points raised by all those who have spoken so that it is possible to understand the full implications of the various views that have been expressed. That is what I meant to say and, if I did not say it clearly, I apologise to the noble Earl. Certainly I am now taking away the whole group of amendments on students so that we can see exactly what the arguments are, and that includes the noble Earl's point.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
The Government have had to deal with these amendments in the other place as well as here. The amendments have been down on the Marshalled List and the Government have had the opportunity to study them one by one as well as collectively. It is unfortunate that they may have been grouped together—I tend to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, on that—but it is not good enough just to say, "I will take them away and look at them."
We have been subjected today to a little bit of manipulation and manoeuvring and I sincerely hope 729 that we get something better than that from the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur: otherwise, I think it would be wise to test the opinion of the Committee. That would probably make the Government do something.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I beg the noble Earl, Lord Perth, not to divide the Committee. We have had a serious reply, listened to by all of us. Many of us have doubts as to the wisdom of what my noble friend is doing. I think everybody realises that. But to divide for the sake of dividing would merely create more bad will and bad feeling. I think that my noble friend has gone a long way. Certainly I would have hesitated previously about going into the Lobby with him but now, if we are unwise enough to divide, I shall not hesitate to go into the Lobby with him.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Very briefly, I should like to thank my noble friend for at least adopting my suggestion that he should take the whole thing back. If I may say so, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, it was rather unfair for him to say he was so disappointed. What more can my noble friend the Minister do other than listen to our arguments, and then accept the suggestion that he should take the issues back for consideration in good faith? I have supported many of the amendments from the Opposition side. What more can my noble friend the Minister do? I, also, would support the Government if there was a Division.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
If the noble Earl, Lord Perth, will allow me to intervene, he will remember that I asked my noble friend to take plenty of time. So many good suggestions have been made that they ought to be considered. My noble friend has heard them for the first time and I think it is reasonable now that he should be given until the Report stage to tell us what further thoughts he has had.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
I find myself still a little uncertain as to the extent of the Minister's commitment. At one stage I understood him to say that he would not go the whole hog—meaning Amendments Nos. 140 and 139. As I understood it, he rejected them outright. Later, he said he would commit himself to a full and thorough consideration of everything that had been said. This leaves me in a little doubt as to the extent to which he is prepared to commit himself.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I said that I had listened carefully to the debate and that I had listened to all the arguments. I said that I found it difficult to believe it would be possible to go so far as total exemption but that there are other ways in which perhaps to some extent the noble Lord's point may be taken on board. I also made a particular commitment to my noble friend Lord Sanderson, which the noble Lord seems to have forgotten. I said that so far as averaging was concerned I thought that my noble friend had made a very good point and that I would take it away and consider it.
I do not think there is anything more that I can add. I have said that I will look at it, and that I undertake 730 to do. But there are an awful lot of arguments to take into account and that is why it would be wrong suddenly to embark upon a drafting exercise at the Dispatch Box.
§ The Earl of Perth
It seems to me there are really two questions here. One is the great number and variety of the points made on various clauses and all that is connected with them. That is quite clear, and I am sure the Committee will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, for having undertaken to look at those.
It seems to me that the question of overseas students stands quite simply by itself. The last thing I want to do is to divide the Committee, as all Members of the Committee will know. But the question of overseas students was quite clearly, from the beginning, something on its own. It did not embrace all the other items. I would hope that the noble Lord could give us some comfort on that one and not merely generalise about looking at all the arguments.
The point that I made could not have been more simple, as an amendment. Will or will not the Government recognise that overseas students should be in their own category? I am sure it is right, as regards all the rest, that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, should say he will think about them. But this issue is really a very simple one. I would hope that he could give us greater help than simply saying he will look at it with everything else.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
The difficulty arises that if the noble Earl were to divide the Committee he would be dividing it on a specific amendment, and I, with a number of my noble friends, might not necessarily think that amendment was right. There could be an alternative proposal which my noble friend might hit on and which might be a great deal better. I do not want to commit myself at this moment.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
There is a problem too, because if it came to a Division and I were forced to decide on this issue I have said that I would support the Government; but I would sooner support the amendment of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, than that of the noble Earl, Lord Perth. It puts us all in an impossible position if the noble Earl divides the Committee. We must allow the Minister to consider the matter in a civilised fashion and come back with a suggestion.
§ Lord Glenarthur
The noble Earl has invited me once more to return to the box. I can assure him that I listened with very great care not just to his speech and also the speech which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, made, which took a slightly different tack, but which nevertheless has been commented upon by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, but also to my noble friend Lord Home. I recognise that some very forceful and important arguments have been made.
What I have said in relation to this amendment before the Committee now—not the other ones which had been encompassed in this large grouping—is that I shall study it with great care. I cannot commit myself precisely as to how I should take it forward because I 731 shall need to examine with great care the arguments which have been made.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Home. Even if the principle is right the detail of the amendment which the noble Earl has put down may be faulty in all sorts of different ways. I am asking the noble Earl to accept that an examination in detail of the arguments would be the prudent way to go forward and I hope that he will accept that.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
I think perhaps it might be a good thing if I said now, regarding my own amendment No. 112A, that I have no intention of pressing it and if anybody else tries to divide the Committee on it when the time comes I shall not support him.
§ The Earl of Perth
Perhaps I may comment a little further. I am grateful to the Minister for what he said. I repeat that it seems to me that the issue of my amendment is very simple. If it is faulty, and it may well be, then it is very easy at the Report stage to change it, having taken all sorts of points into consideration. I received some encouragement when I understood the noble Lord to say that even if in principle he accepted it he might want to change its presentation. If that means that the amendment will almost certainly come forward in some form, then I could not press it. But if it means, "Oh well, we'll talk some more about it at another time", I feel I have a duty to the overseas students and to the universities to ask that this amendment be accepted.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Cullen of Ashbourne)
The Question is, That this amendment be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"; to the contrary, "Not-Content". I think the Not-Contents have it. Clear the Bar.
Tellers for the Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 51. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the Not-Contents have it.
§ 6 p.m.
Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 111:
Page 7, line 9, at end insert ("and the Secretary of State will recompense. outwith the RSG settlement, each authority for any personal community charges that cannot be collected provided the debt recovery procedures had been fully exhausted").
§ The noble Lord said: We now come to an entirely different point altogether. I think we shall have had a general idea from the last long debate that the position in respect of this amendment is not quite so easy as many people would have hoped. A poll tax which involves the richest and the poorest paying the same amount of money will lead to very considerable difficulties in relation both to registration and to collection. The Scottish local authorities and the Scottish Consumer Council have been very concerned about this. They have commissioned a report on the community charge mainly dealing with its effect upon the more vulnerable sections of the community. The report examined the difficulties and dangers which will arise in relation to pursuing this process.732
§ I received a note from somebody who had obviously been listening to this debate on the radio. He told me that when in 1381 that troublesome poll tax was introduced it was not quite so devastating in its regressive effects as the present one. In other words, this is worse, four times worse, in relation to the poorest of the poor. I think it was "labourers" that they called them in the legislation at that time.
§ When we take this report, we realise that we are dealing with and placing a liability upon the poorest of the poor. It does not matter who they are: if they are over 18 they are liable for it. It may well be that there would be some rebate, but even if there were and it was 20 per cent., we are dealing with people who have no money at all. They will not even be able to pay the 20 per cent. and what happens thereafter? They are billed, they are billed again, they are notified and after, I think, three months they are pursued with all the rigours of the law as in this Bill. What will happen? If they are getting rebates, it may well be only £1 or £2 a week that they have to pay. But if you have no money you cannot pay it and so in comes the summons from the sheriff, in comes the sheriff's officer and it may go as far as a warrant sale. Already the community is being involved in expenditure far greater than the amount of money involved.
§ What happens next? They have a warrant sale. The chances of this happening may not be related to the householder of the house and the sheriffs' officers are very concerned indeed as to whether they will be legally empowered to go into a house and to take over certain goods which may not belong to the person who has been pinned for his goods. The whole thing is so uneconomic. The person may be away.
One of the points that is brought out by this community charge report which is divided into several groups is that the 18 to 24 year-olds are the most vulnerable. Some of them have up to six addresses in a year. Some may not be where they are thought to be living so they have to be tracked down. If they come down to England it will be very difficult indeed to track them down. So once again the cost of this tracing and the debt which is not recovered will be very considerable. This paper states:
One person in eight said that they owned nothing worth £20 or more. This means that it would he impossible for local authorities to enforce payment. Half the samples had incomes of under £50 a week and one person in seven less than £30 a week"—
and people still have to live! This is how they get into debt. The paper goes on:
Over hall—56 per cent.—had no experience in making monthly payments and most of them saw real difficulties in paying the new charge every month.".
If they stay in the same place or are tracked down, they still cannot pay. What will happen thereafter? The cost of time and the expense are hardly worth while and yet if there are to be realistic efforts made it must be done, because there are other people—probably old-age pensioners—who still have to pay and who will make every effort to pay because such is their nature. They will borrow to pay, they will get into debt to pay, because they do not want to be entangled with the law.
§ What does it all mean from the point of view of levying and charging? It will be impossible for the levying authority to get the money. Is it fair that the 733 burden of failing to collect, even though the authority has tried, should be passed over to those who do pay? There is a limit related to inflation where the non-domestic ratepayers, commercial and so on, are insulated. So any failure to collect is passed to the personal community, the collective or the standard taxpayer. All my amendment suggests is that those debts which despite the efforts of the levying authority cannot be recouped should be paid directly to the levying authority by the Scottish Office. It is simple. Every pound that is levied and is not collected has to be paid for by the Government. That is fairly reasonable.
§ I sincerely hope that the Government do not need to take back this amendment, read it and then come back with a nil report. I have been in this place and in the other place for over 40 years. I know the formulas that come from this Bench, I know the formulas that come from the opposite Bench when the Government are up against it and are afraid that they will lose. Somebody says "Tell them you will take it back." I know what that means. It is not the Minister of State who makes those decisions. It is the Secretary of State and those he has to consult. What he should have said was "I am not empowered to accept any amendment"—
§ Lord Glenarthur
Just to clear the point, the decision to take it away was entirely my own, in the light of the arguments we went through, and not the Secretary of State's. But let us not return to that one.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
That is what I said. That is as far as the noble Lord can go. He does not have the power to accept that amendment. I trust that he has already gone over this amendment with his officials and has it all clearly marked where he should give a soft answer or resist. The noble Lord forgets that I was in that position for a long time and it is probably a formula that I have used myself, though not very often.
But in fairness to those who pay the community charge, when every effort has been made to get it and maybe it is not worth pursuing—and in many cases it is not worth pursuing, because that would cost far more than the charge that is at issue—it is right that the Government themselves should pay and not the other payers of the community charge. I beg to move.
§ Lord Glenarthur
We heard a good deal about losses on collection at Second Reading and the noble Lord has explained a little more today. Indeed, it is a matter that was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, when he moved his new clause, Amendment No. 108. We agreed then to take the amendments separately, which brings us to this amendment today.
I have to say that I really believe that a lot of what has been said about the complexity of this matter, and the need to make up these losses on collection, is rather exaggerated and somewhat alarmist. I accept the fervour with which the noble Lord moves his amendment, but I believe that that exaggeration nevertheless is there. At Second Reading we were told that a local director of finance speaking at a conference had forecast losses of 20 per cent. and there was even 734 a press headline translating that figure of 20 per cent. into a forecast of a £100 million shortfall. What that director of finance in question actually said was that it would,not be unrealistic to anticipate losses of anything between 5 and 20 per cent.",and having made his criticism of the system he also said that he believed it could be made to work; but that part of his opinion was not stressed during the exchanges we had at Second Reading.
I shall explain why we do not accept these forecasts of shortfall. The community charge registration system will be based on tried and tested procedures akin to those used under the electoral registration system. There will be a separate canvass and there will be separate registers, but the procedures will be similar. A study by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys carried out in 1981 showed that at the time when it was made up the electoral register was on average round about 95 per cent. accurate in Scotland. That is achieved by a system which carries out canvassing once a year without vast expenditure of resources, and the actual cost in Scotland is under £3 million. The Government are therefore confident that the community charge register which will be kept continously up to date will improve on that already high level of accuracy.
Are we really to believe those who forecast that people will be moving from place to place to avoid registration, setting off south of the Border to obtain one or two years' advantage, giving false information on forms, and so on? Particularly when taking account of the rebate scheme, the community charge is far from the unacceptable burden on individuals which noble Lords opposite seem to think that it is.
Given an accurate register, bills will be issued and rebates calculated. As I have said, for many people the sums of money that they are required to find will not be large. It is therefore unrealistic to envisage a wholesale increase in the level of debt. Where people get into debt, the debt recovery procedures will he based on those presently used for rates, including summary warrants. Experience has shown that those are both economical and effective. There is no reason why they should not operate similarly in relation to the community charge. We shall have an opportunity to discuss matters of diligence and debt collection in more detail when we come to Schedule 2 of the Bill.
The point of the explanation which I have given is to make it clear that we do not share the alarmist views expressed about the likely shortfall. Therefore, we cannot except that there is a need for specific compensation, either within or outwith RSG, which the noble Lord proposes in his amendment. With that explanation, I hope that he will see fit to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
Perhaps I may say from these Benches that I find that reply very disappointing. It may be that there is some exaggeration in the reports which have been in the press. Newspaper reports are not infrequently exaggerated. However, one does not need to be an alarmist to be aware that the fears that have been expressed in this context are real.
The Minister referred to an official, I think in the southern part of the country, who had suggested that 735 the losses that he anticipated might be between 5 and 20 per cent. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong about that. Even if the loss is at the lowest end of what is anticipated, why should this amendment not be put in to effect compensation? What harm can it do to anyone if it is there in the Bill just in case some of the fears which have been expressed turn out to be well founded or even half well founded?
§ Lord Glenarthur
The figure of between 5 and 20 per cent. was one which I quoted in relation to the director of finance in question in that particular conference. That figure was quoted at Second Reading. Therefore the figures were not entirely mine. I was using someone else's figures as the noble and learned Lord would expect.
The point is that it is conceivable that there will be some attempt on the part of some people not to pay. We believe that what we have in the existing system, which I described in my closing remarks in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is sufficient to deal with the matter. That is all that I can say on the point. Contrary to the views of the noble and learned Lord, I believe that many of the views which have been expressed are exaggerated. We do not believe that there will be wholesale and wilful abuse of the system. I do not think that that will arise. There will be those who will be helped through the rebate system. They, to answer the point of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, will be the very poor and those with less than £20 a year or whatever. However, I think that a system of rebates is one thing but the question of wholesale shortfall is another and unlikely scenario. That is why I cannot accept the amendment.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
I am sorry to press the Minister on this matter. I quite accept, as I thought I made clear, that there is a possibility of exaggeration. I know that the Minister has had a hard time this afternoon and he has coped magnificently. My point was that even if such views are exaggerated, can the Minister justify the refusal of this amendment as a safety net for a situation which many people in the field think is unlikely to arise?
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
This debate has been fascinating. We have a well-known saying in Scotland:Ye canna take the breeks off a Highlander".If they have no money, you cannot get it. Remember that what we are dealing with here is simply people who are on the register. There are a considerable number of people who will not have their names on the register. It was pointed out in relation to the study that many of the 18 to 24 year-olds do not bother to try. We shall not get full guidance from the electoral register to complete the register for the new charges.
I do not know whether the Minister will accept this quote, which comes from the tape, and which does not refer to Scotland. It says:Why 1-in-20 cannot vote. More than one in 20 adults in England and Wales cannot vote in elections because they fail to get their names on the electoral register … The report says that on recent trends 2.5 million of 37 million eligible voters in England and Wales are probably absent from the present electoral roll".736 How many will be absent from the register? Many of those referred to are people who want to get on the register.
What we are talking about is people who are actually on the register who are too poor to be able to pay and who are pursued by all the procedures of the law. I do not think that that will be done because it is going to cost too much. Whether or not they forget about it in the sheriff's clerk's office, it is a loss to the local authority.
Then there are the others—and there will be others—who, on their 18th birthday, receive a note from Mrs. Thatcher saying, "Dear 18 year-old: We are delighted that you are now 18. You will now pay a tax of £250 a year—or else". How many of those people will belatedly take the advice of Mr. Tebbitt and get on their bikes? They will therefore not be on the roll, or, if their mothers have put them on the roll they can depart and they must be found. That is yet another loss to the levying authority. Of course, that is if the mother is the responsible person, which is quite another debate which is coming up—and there are not many responsible people in the Scottish Office, judging by the debate which we have had today and by the unwillingness to bend.
All we are asking the Government to do is to accept that if the local authority have gone all the way to try to get the money and they cannot get it one way or another, then the Government should pay it and not the other community-charge payers in the local authority. Otherwise, it means that the community charge that they have to pay will be even higher. I am convinced that within a few years there will be a bigger outcry over community charges than there ever was about rates. The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, will then have to compete not just with the non-domestic ratepayers who are left with this frozen anomaly for the years until England and Wales are brought in, but will also have to compete with the objections of people who are paying the charge or are liable to pay it, when they see it going up year by year by year, without the protection of a multiplier in respect of inflation or anything else.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 111) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65; Not-Contents, 86.737
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Addington. L.||Diamond, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Donoughue, L.|
|Amherst. E.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Ennals, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Aylestone, L.||Ezra, L.|
|Barnett. L.||Falkender, B.|
|Bonham-Carter. L.||Foot, L.|
|Brockway. L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.]|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Carter, L.||Grey, E.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|David, B.||Hooson, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Hutchinson of Lullington, L.||Rrys-Davies, L.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Jeger. B.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Seear, B.|
|Kilbracken. L.||Serota. B.|
|Kilmarnock L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Silkin of Dulwich, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stallard, L.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran. L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Lockwood. B.||Stoddart of Swindon. L.|
|Meston. L.||Walston, L.|
|Monkswell, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Morton of Shuna, L.||White, B.|
|Nicol. B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Oram, L.||Willis, L.|
|Phillips. B.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]||Winstanley, L.|
|Ampthill. L.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Bauer. L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Layton, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Belstead. L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Long. V.|
|Boardman. L.||Lothian, M.|
|Borthwick. L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter. L.||Margadale, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Marley, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Mountevans, L.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Newall, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Carnock. L.||Onslow, E.|
|Cox. B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Cross. V.||Pike. B.|
|Davidson. V. [Teller.]||Portland, D.|
|Denham, L. [Teller]||Rankeillour, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Renton, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Elibank. L.||St. Davids. V.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Elton. L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Savile, L.|
|Ferrier. L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gray, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Greenway. L.||Strange, B.|
|Haddington, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Ypres, E.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.27 p.m.
Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 112:
Page 7, line 9, at end insert ("and within 14 days of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall make an order defining the expression "solely or mainly resident" ").
The noble Lord said: This amendment is of some importance because in a sense everything turns on
what is meant by the phrase "solely or mainly resident". The amendment states that the Secretary of State shall,
within 14 days of the passing of this Act … make an order defining the expression".
The expression will cause a certain amount of difficulty. It was suggested in another place that the matter would have to be resolved eventually in the courts. We do not want that because we want so far as possible some form of certainty so that people know what they are being asked to deal with.
§ There is no definition in the Bill of what is meant by "solely or mainly resident". It is different from "home", because some people have two or several. It is a concept entirely different from the legal concept of "domicile". For example, are people who serve on submarines and are based at Faslane and live either inside the naval base or in married quarters or elsewhere, solely or mainly resident in the house in which they live? Or do they come off the register each time their submarine goes to sea? That is one problem.
§ The same problem arises for merchant seamen. Are they solely or mainly resident at the place they regard as home, or on the ship on which they may be serving for 11 out of the 12 months wholly outside Britain? Are members of the armed forces solely or mainly resident in their barracks or their married quarters? Does that mean that the registration officer has to be informed of the names as well as the numbers of any movement of units of troops? My understanding of local authority finance is that at the moment Crown lands such as barracks pay a sum equivalent to rates to the local authority and there is no question of knowing what soldiers go from Redford or Arbroath or where they go to; it does not matter. However, they will be matters of concern.
§ If a person whose home is, say, in Inverness-shire joins the army is he wholly or mainly resident at Redford barracks, or is his whole or main residence in Inverness-shire? This is obviously a matter of concern to the registration officers because they will have to make up the register. It is also of great concern to every person who has some doubt as to where he is to be pinned down by this register. For example, if someone is lucky enough to have a second home and use it, say, in the winter for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and in the summer months commutes to and from his second home, is the city home or his country home his main residence? How will that question be answered if we have nothing either in the Bill or in any regulation to give us some idea of what the tests are going to be? I beg to move.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
I sympathise with the purpose of this amendment although I am intrigued by the form it takes. I confess that when I first read the Bill the expression "solely or mainly resident" did not greatly trouble me. I felt that it was something which would be easily understandable. However, as I spoke with others more learned in the law than I and more concerned in these matters I found a considerable concern about the meaning of that expression. When I reflected upon it, that concern became understandable. They asked whether some people being solely resident in the area of a local authority precludes the idea of residence in another area for part 739 of the year, and so on, until when one considers the words with a lawyer's careful eye, it becomes rather confused. Therefore, I can well understand why the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, tabled the amendment. I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to the need for clarifying the matter.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I appreciate the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, about the use in the Bill of the term "solely or mainly resident". The Bill, quite deliberately, does not attempt to define this expression. I think it would be wrong to accept this amendment which would require it to be defined in secondary legislation within 14 days of the passing of the Act.
In explaining how we expect the provisions of the Bill to work in this area, I should start by saying that in the vast majority of cases there will be no doubt as to where someone is solely or mainly resident. Most people have one home where they live and from which they carry out their daily business. People in particular kinds of employment or business activity—to say nothing of Members of this Committee and the other place—may have a pattern of residence which casts more doubt on where their main residence actually is. But in most cases they themselves, and even noble Lords, will be clear where their home is; and so will the registration officer when he considers the facts of the case. It is for the very reason that some categories of people move frequently between addresses that the phrase "sole or main residence" is not defined in the Bill. The question will be determined primarily according to the facts and circumstances of each case; in the vast majority of cases by the registration officer directly but, where there is some real difficulty of definition, by the sheriff on appeal.
The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, referred to sailors at Faslane and to merchant seamen. As I said, this will be determined primarily on the facts and circumstances of each case. They will probably be solely or mainly resident at their land-based homes. The noble Lord also asked about the armed forces. As regards barracks or married quarters, the charge would be made to an individual living there. The charges made to those in married quarters at the moment no doubt include an element of the rate figure to which the noble Lord referred.
I should perhaps say that among the factors which would be relevant in determining whether a person is solely or mainly resident will be the period of a person's residence, the quality of his residence in the sense of whether it constitutes his family home, and other circumstantial factors such as where a person attends his doctor or dentist and, thus, where he considers himself to have his home. I should emphasise however that there is no particular factor or standard which is determinative of this issue because everything will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. A person may, if he is lucky, have a city flat in which he resides all the week for the purposes of his work and only returns to his family in the country at weekends. This would not, however, preclude a finding that he had his main residence and home where his family was. Similarly, a person's own views as to what he regards as his main residence would be 740 taken into account, but only along with the other facts and circumstances of the case.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, asked whether "sole residence" precludes residence elsewhere for part of the year, if I have his question right. No, it does not. The point will depend, again, on the individual facts and circumstances of each case. I hope that answers the noble and learned Lord's point. The Government are content that the concept of "sole or main residence" without any further definition is entirely adequate and correct for the purposes of the Bill. Therefore, I cannot accept the noble Lord's amendment, which would require the Secretary of State to set out these matters in quite unnecessary and potentially misleading detail.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
I am obliged to the Minister for his answer, but with respect he does not appear to have seen the difficulty. The words "solely or mainly resident" say nothing whatever about the home, and that is what I endeavoured to get through. The words in the Bill do not carry this connotation of domicile which seemed to be in the reply of the Minister when he spoke about the person who lived in a flat in the town and went back for weekends to his home in the country where his family lived. His home in the country would be where he was solely or mainly resident. I should have thought that the word "resident" means "where he resides". It is a neutral word. It is a question of fact and not a question of intention. I can say that my home is in Edinburgh even though I am out of Edinburgh for years at a time. In that sense my home is in Edinburgh.
If the Government have some idea of producing an intention of where one's home is, that could be either in the Bill or in regulations. It would certainly make it much easier if this were made clear. Otherwise the registration officers, especially if they tend to be the same people who have been assessors for valuation, will do an arithmetical exercise and say, "You stay for 187 days of the year at point A and therefore that is the point at which you are solely or mainly resident."
It would appear to me that the same will apply if it is determined on where one lives or where one resides, rather than where one's home is, as in the Bill. It seems to me that someone who goes away on a ship or a submarine is living on that vessel if he is there for seven or eight months of the year. That is his main residence rather than his home. In that context there can be a difference. Let me take another example. Someone may serve in a lighthouse for four weeks and then have two weeks off (or whatever is the ratio); he may go to a rig and then leave it. That person will regard his home as the mainland, although he may reside more often on the rig or in the lighthouse.
I suspect that the assessors will not read with great concern everything that is said in this Chamber. For reasons of clarity, it would be better if the word was defined or at least guidance given in some form of regulation.
§ Viscount Hanworth
It seems to me that there is a grave difficulty for someone who finds himself in that position. What is likely to happen is that he will be charged by two local authorities. I suppose that the person will then say, "I prefer this one", and the local 741 authorities will argue the toss for quite an indefinite time. Of course there is also the possibility that if one is lucky one might escape from both.
§ Lord Renton
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has turned up the precedents for the use of that word. I must confess that I have not done so on this occasion. However, I think it will be found, if I may say so with deep respect, that for once he has made rather heavy weather of this point. The expression certainly occurs elsewhere. I seem to recollect that in fiscal law it is important because if a person goes abroad the question arises as to whether he resides in this country to a greater or less extent. In matters of election law the same point arises. Of course, when Members of the Committee sign their allowances, if they ever do, they are asked to state their principal residence. There has never been any problem about it.
§ Lord Glenarthur
Perhaps I can explain a little further to the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton because I think I shall be able to amplify, to some extent at any rate, his point about precedents. It is thought that the registration officer and the court will approach the question of whether a person is solely or mainly resident in the area of the local authority by determining first whether the person is resident in that area. In this connection it is thought that "residence" will be given its ordinary dictionary meaning. The Shorter 0xford English Dictionary defines the verb "reside" as:to dwell permanently or for a considerable time, to have one's settled or usual abode, to live in or at a particular place".I understand that that definition has been quoted with approval in a number of court cases, including Fox V. Stirk, in 1970 (Vol. 3 of the All England Law Reports, page 7), concerning the question of where a student resided on a qualifying date for electoral registration purposes. I give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
Certainly, for that purpose, it is unfortunate to quote an English case in connection with a purely Scottish Bill. There may be some Scottish authority, but I have not looked for it. I should have thought that the question of residence of students for voting purposes is not very helpful.
§ Lord Renton
I think that the electoral law applies in Scotland in the same way as it does in England. Democracy prevails on both sides of the Border.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
I am certainly aware that democracy prevails. Fortunately for Scotland, it has prevailed with far greater sense, at least at local authority level, than it seems to do in "the other place" at the moment.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
Perhaps I may continue, as I hope that by giving further examples to the noble Lord, whether in England or not—and I think that my noble friend Lord Renton is quite right—he may be convinced. That particular example concerned where 742 a student resided on a qualifying date for electoral registration purposes. I think that it is perfectly in order to quote it because it does cross the Border.
It is not thought that any particular period of residence is required for this purpose. Furthermore, it is not thought that it would be required to be established whether the person is resident at any particular address in the area. Of course, normally that would be the case. For sole residence, after determining that the person is resident in the area of the local authority, the next point to cover is whether the person has a residence anywhere else; that is, in the area of another local authority or outwith Scotland. If the person is not resident anywhere else, and no doubt that would appear, so far as I can tell, actually to arise, he would be solely resident in the area of the local authority. It is only if a person has another residence outwith the area of a local authority that it requires to be determined where he is mainly resident—and I would remind the noble Lord that a person must be mainly resident in only one place.
The noble Lord has just said something that I did not hear. Some decision has to be made as to which is the person's main place of residence. In approaching that question, the main issue would appear to be what is the main residence of that particular person given the particular lifestyle that he has. As I have said, that will depend on all the factors and circumstances. However, among the factors that would appear to be relevant is the period of this residence at different places and the quality of that residence; for example, where it appears that the person has his home and family—and most people usually know where they consider their home to be.
I can continue and quote from the case of Frost v.Felthain in 1981, but I suspect that I may be wearying the noble Lord opposite. I agree that there may be a very keen legal point to be made here, but I hope that he has been reassured that there are precedents for exactly what I have said.
§ Lord Stodart of Leaston
It is always very dangerous to tangle with lawyers and I have always come off worst when I have done so. But is there not a perfectly simple precedent for this in the case of a person who has two houses? He is allowed either to choose which one is to be the subject of capital gains tax—in fact whether or not he can opt, I cannot remember—or he is told which one obviously is his main residence.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, is right about the capital gains tax provision but I am not in any sense knowledgeable on tax law. Perhaps I may remind the Minister that in the Scottish case of students "residing", it was decided that they could vote either at their home or where they resided at the university they attended. So they could legally be on both registers and choose where to vote. No doubt they voted as it suited them, but they were on two registers, say, Stirling and Ayrshire, or something like that.
I am only asking for guidance to be given so that people will know the standard. As I understand the position, it is only people who have two residences in local authority areas in Scotland who are concerned, and anybody who has a house in Scotland is going to 743 be regarded as solely or mainly resident there however many houses he may have in England or elsewhere throughout the world. It will be an interesting concept.
Did the Minister's answer mean, for example, that somebody who has a house or an estate in England and a shooting lodge in Scotland, at least until the English Bill is passed, will be regarded as solely or mainly resident in the shooting lodge even if he only goes there for one month of the year? That seemed to be what he said. I do not wish to weary the Committee further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Glenarthur
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, may I answer the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, because he asked about being charged by two authorities? I failed to answer him. The possibility of double charging is taken care of under Clause 16(7). which I am sure the noble Viscount will study.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 112A to 114 not moved.]
Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Cox)
May I point out that should Amendment No. 115 be agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 116?
Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 115:
Page 7. line 19, leave out from ("until") to end of line 20 and insert ("he ceases to be solely or mainly resident in that local authority area").
§ The noble Lord said: I thought that I was going to speak to Amendments Nos. 115 and 116 together. I wish to see whether there is a typing error, because I do not see why they do not fit together. They were intended so to do.
§ The purpose of the amendment is to avoid the prospect which is contained in the Bill, despite what the Minister said just now, of someone being required to pay twice. Under Clause 8(3) as it stands, a person who ceases to be resident in a local authority's area remains liable to pay until the date on which the removal of his name from the register takes effect. If the Committee looks forward to Clause 15(5), we see that the registration officer can take people's names off or put them on the register without telling anyone about it, but having done so he must send them a copy of the amendment.
§ Under Clause 18(1)(i) there is a duty on the person liable to pay the community charge to notify the registration officer of the fact that he becomes liable within a month of the date on which he becomes liable. Clause 18(3) provides that if he fails to do that, he is liable to back-dating to the date upon which he became liable. A person may easily move from one local authority area to another. It may be in a fairly small area. I understand that one can even move from district to district without even being aware that one has done so. One can, for instance, move from Aberdeen to Stonehaven or from Longniddry into Edinburgh or to Musselburgh. In doing so, one changes districts. The person continues to pay the personal charge for the house from which he is moving until the registration officer takes his name off the register. He can do nothing to force the registration 744 officer to take his name off the register. It is a factual date. But if he moves, he is liable to a penalty if he fails to tell the new registration officer in the area to which he has gone. There is therefore a liability to pay two community charges for the period of the move until the change in the register takes place.
§ Amendments Nos. 115 and 116 have been tabled for that reason, so the liability is to pay only up to the date on which the change takes place and not to the date on which the name is removed from the register. It is far better to deal with fact, as we do in Clause 18, rather than with the date of removal from the register. I beg to move.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
At first sight, I should have thought that that was right. I hope the Government will accept the amendment.
The Earl of Dundee
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. At first sight, it appears that there may be an anomaly here and that somebody might be required to pay twice. It may assist the Committee if I briefly explain the necessity for the form of drafting contained in Clause 8(3).
It is of course our intention that liability for the personal community charge should be exactly coterminous with residence in a local authority area. Liability should therefore cease from the date on which a person's residence in the local authority area ceases. However, it is possible that his name would not be removed from the register immediately he moved if he did not immediately notify the registration officer or if there were some delay or oversight in making the necessary change to the register.
In those circumstances, Clause 19 provides that the register should be conclusive as to the liabilities it records for payment of the personal community charge. That would mean that the charge continued to be payable notwithstanding that the person had left the area. The provision that the register should be conclusive is necessary for evidential purposes on appeal. Because of it, however, it is necessary for the cessation of liability to be framed as in Clause 8(3) in terms of registration rather than residence.
In practice, in the case I have mentioned, the registration officer would have the power to alter the register retrospectively and would be able, if the facts so justified it, to amend the register with effect from the date when a person ceased to reside in the area. Our policy intention is therefore the same as the amendments seem designed to achieve, but for the technical reasons that I have described it is necessary in drafting terms for that intention to be achieved in the way set out in Clause 8(3).
With regard to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, any adjustment to the register can be made retrospectively and any necessary adjustment of overpayment will follow that. That is provided for by Schedule 2, paragraph 9. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
I listened to the Minister's reply with fascination. My only regret is that the Committee is not as full as it was earlier. That reply 745 illustrates the point that we have made many times from this side of the Committee. It should, more effectively than anything we can say, persuade Members of that side of the Committee that we are embarked upon a bureaucratic nightmare.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
I am grateful to the Minister for his careful explanation. It appears that what is being done is an example, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, said just now, of a bureaucratic nightmare. We have the usual thing. There is a liability on the citizen until the name comes off the register. The registration officer is given discretion to take it off and can do so retrospectively. But if the citizen fails to tell the registration officer where he goes, lie has to pay a penalty. He has to pay everything back under Clause 18.
I shall study what the noble Earl has said and, in the confident hope that someone sitting alongside the Minister is about to move a Motion, I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I do not think that I need to filibuster as the opposite Benches had to at 3.30 p.m.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 116 not moved.]
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
We either move this amendment here and now or we do not move it. But if the noble Lord insists that I do so—
§ Lord Glenarthur
I assumed that, since this amendment was taken with Amendment No. 110, the noble Lord was not going to move it. I was trying to speed up the business of the Committee by suggesting that this may be a convenient moment to resume the House. In doing so, I suggest that we do not come back to this Bill until 8 o'clock. I hope that that is convenient to the noble Lord. In that case, I shall move that the House do now resume.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
I thought for a minute that the noble Lord was saying that we would not come back, full-stop! However, I do not object to the Motion.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.