HL Deb 09 April 1987 vol 486 cc1118-204

11.26 a.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 BARONESS SEROTA in the Chair.]

Clause 16 [Registration appeals]:

[Amendments Nos. 202 and 203 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 204: Page 14, line 38, leave out from ("have") to end of line 39 and insert ("allowed the request")

The noble Lord said: This amendment—

Lord Tordoff

I wonder whether I may draw attention to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is trying to catch our eye.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

May I please raise a question of grouping? Would it not save a considerable amount of time, and be convenient, to take with the grouping of Amendments Nos. 257A, 258, 259 and 261 also Amendment No. 257 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and Amendment No. 260 in the name of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy? All the same points arise. It would save time. It is only a suggestion.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I should not mind if we adjourned the Committee for a quarter of an hour to look at that point.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps the best thing to do is to discuss it when we get to the point. The first amendment is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and if he agrees I am perfectly happy.

Lord Ross of Marnock

This is quite an important point. One of the troubles about this Bill is that it is so hasty. The Government want it to be efficient, and that may well mean cutting corners to the detriment of fairness to those who have to pay these unfair community charges and the like. Amendment No. 204 covers the case where there is an appeal against a decision by the community charges registration officer. If a reply does not reach the person who is appealing, after a certain time the request is deemed to be refused, but I think it should be the other way around. The person who has to respond to the payer is the community charges registration officer, and if he does not reply within a certain time it should be conceded that he has allowed the request.

There is already sufficient unfairness to the person involved, without giving this strange power to the community charges registration officer. He need not reply to a letter. If he has not replied to a letter, the person who is appealing must assume that the appeal has been refused. After that he can go to the sheriff. Surely it can be settled in a fairer way: if he does not reply to the letter, he is allowed the appeal. I beg to move.

11.30 a.m.

Lord Glenarthur

As described by the noble Lord, the amendment would turn the presumption contained in the clause around and deem it that the registration officer had allowed the request. That would not of itself achieve anything, since unless a change were made in the entry the register would remain in its original condition and the liability of the individual for the charge would be governed accordingly. Even if it were thought attractive to use the mechanism to provide an incentive to registration officers to give their determination promptly, I do not think that the approach which the amendment suggests will work. The logic of the approach which provides for appeal against a deemed refusal is therefore perfectly correct.

I also believe that there is no unfairness in the procedures in the Bill as it stands. There is no suggestion that registration officers will routinely fail to give determinations so as to force people to exercise their rights of appeal. When they are satisfied that they have the available facts upon which to make a decision, they will do so and notify the individual, who, if it is agreed, can then take an appeal. To have no provisions at all for what is to happen in the rare cases where the registration officer fails to give a decision would be a clear weakness in the procedures. As I have explained, a deemed acceptance would not work, so provision for a deemed refusal, which is well established in matters of this sort, seems to be the logical and sensible approach.

The Earl of Perth

I have listened to the reply of the Minister. It seems to me that the paragraph encourages registration officers not to answer. I appreciate the point which the Minister has made. However, I wonder whether he will look into providing some sort of mechanism to ensure that officers do answer. The Minister says, "Ordinary people will do so". However, I have often found that it is difficult to get answers out of government departments.

Lord Grimond

I should like to support what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. It seems to me highly desirable that such officers should reply and that they may be encouraged not to do so. Does the Minister expect that in the normal case the officer concerned will not only reply but will also give some reason for his decision? If he is not to reply, then the person who has objected will have no knowledge, as I understand it, of the reasons for the refusal. Surely the normal procedure would be for the officer to give a reason. Without such a reason, it will be difficult for the person in question to pursue the appeal. I therefore ask the Minister to look again at the matter and see whether natural justice does not mean that it should be turned the other way round so that if the person objecting gets no answers, it should be taken that the objection is accepted.

Lord Glenarthur

I hear what the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, have said. However, it seems to me that the amendment would result in an illogicality because the register cannot be changed until the registration officer has changed it. Therefore the fact that he is deemed to have allowed the request for a change does not seem to me to have any particular meaning. The amendment will presumably provide the opportunity for a debate on the fairness of the appeal procedures.

I believe that what we have set out not only has precedents but is also precisely the right way to deal with the problem. If the arguments of the noble Earl, which I shall certainly study, lead me to believe otherwise, then I shall see what I can do. However, I do not think that his argument holds water. Knowledge would presumably be made available normally, which seems to be the burden of the remarks of the noble Lord. But to turn it round in the way that the amendment suggests would not provide anything other than an illogicality for which there are no other precedents.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My noble friend is absolutely right on the logic of the structure of the Bill. This amendment would simply introduce an element which conflicts with other elements in the Bill. He is right about that, and I do not presume to argue with him. However, I am bound to say that I am a bit unhappy about the merits of the matter. The concept that if a public officer fails in his duty the person who has applied for the exercise of his powers shall be deemed to have had the application refused is not a very attractive principle.

There is the further point, which I think was made by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that, if the person concerned desires to exercise his right of appeal, it will be difficult to do so in practice if he does not know the grounds on which the application was refused. If he is given the grounds of refusal, then he can argue that those grounds are inadequate or unsound. If he is given only the failure to answer a letter, it is not to his advantage. I hope that my noble friend will appreciate that there is a point to be made on the merits here. He is absolutely right on the technicalities. But there is a point on the merits and many of us have a lot of sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lord, Lord Grimond.

Lord Glenarthur

I am grateful to my noble friend. His explanation has helped me to understand the point which I perhaps did not take when the noble Earl first made it. Perhaps I can examine the matter and see whether there is anything which can be done or whether we are getting ourselves in a muddle. I cannot give an undertaking that that is the case. But I shall examine with great care what has been said.

The Earl of Selkirk

Perhaps I may make two short points. First, how does one know that the letter has been received? There are letters which go astray, even with our wonderful Post Office. Secondly, should there not be a time period when one may make an assumption that the terms of this particular subsection have been fulfilled?

Lord Glenarthur

I understand that the provisions here follow precedents in other Acts, notably planning Acts. Presumably the same reasons which the noble Earl suggested would apply to the documents sent in relation to them. Apparently, so far as concerns planning Acts, if the planning authorities fail to decide a planning application, they are deemed to have refused it. It may be that it would be wrong to couple planning Acts and this particular Bill together. I shall study what has been said and take on board the point made by my noble friend.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

Perhaps we can distinguish between planning and people. This Bill refers to people and not to those applying for planning permission. To that extent, I ask the Minister to examine the whole of paragraph (b), which really is a let-out for the registration officer if he has failed to carry out his duty within the prescribed time. For myself, if I may use the dreadful jargon of computer people, I ask the Minister to make the Bill a bit more user-friendly.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps I can look at that in the light of what I have said as regards looking at the amendment as a whole. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, asked about time periods. The time limit is described under Clause 16(2)(b). It will probably be a month. At any rate, I hope that the Committee will agree that I should take that matter away, as well as the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think the Minister appreciates the sense of the Committee. The technicalities may be such as suit the business. This very much suits the registration officer. On the other hand, it is obviously unfair and so many things can go wrong. This is not like planning. Planning is very often done by professional people who know what is what. As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, this is about people, and some of them will be very simple people. Not only that, but the change that a person is requesting the registration officer to make may involve a considerable sum of money from an ordinary person's point of view. He may be charged thereafter with default for up to three years.

It is not good enough to have this rather comfortable position for the registration officer and a potentially dangerous one for the person who requests the registration officer to make or amend an entry in the register. However, I gratefully accept the assurance that has been given by the Minister that he will look at it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 204A not moved.]

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Duties in relation to registration]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 205: Page 15, line 23, after ("is") insert ("reasonably")

The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment. We are dealing with a man who is fairly experienced in the business of getting information from people. The registration officer—I wish he could be called something else because he is also the assessor, the valuer and the electoral registration officer in Scotland—has to draw up the register; he can do so only by getting information in respect of the people in the area, probably household by household. He has to find information. Clause 17(1) says: The general duty of the registration officer… shall include the duty to take all reasonable steps to obtain such information as is required by him".

People can ask unreasonable questions when they are going to houses canvassing in this way. This is how it is done. Somebody is sent out to query a response. First of all he must find who in the household is responsible and then ask the questions. I believe that the questions should be reasonable and that reasonable steps should be taken. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I certainly appreciate the noble Lord's concern that unless the registration officer's actions are subject to precise control, he might be tempted to make over-zealous inquiries in obtaining information for registration purposes. I do not think the amendment is entirely necessary, but in the light of the noble Lord's explanation I am perfectly happy to accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 206: Page 15, line 26, leave out ("assessor or electoral")

The noble Lord said: I shall just mention who the registration officer is. He is the assessor; he is the electoral registration officer. And here the Bill says: The registration officer shall for the purpose of discharging his functions under this Act have access to and the use of any information which the assessor"— That is himself— or electoral registration officer"— That, again, is himself— for the area which comprises or includes the registration area of the registration officer may have acquired in connection with any of his functions". There is a man who talks to himself. Many people have been doing it in politics for years. I think the Government might have found some other way of doing this. I just want an explanation. I beg to move.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps I can give the noble Lord the explanation that he seeks and say how we envisage the working of the arrangement for exchange of information between the community charges registration officer, the assessor and the electoral registration officer.

Subsection (2) of Clause 17 provides for this exchange of information but I should point out that there is a restriction on it. The access and use which the registration officer may make of the information held by the assessor or electoral registration officer is restricted to the purpose of discharging his functions under the Bill, and, similarly, the information to which he can have access is restricted to the information which these other officers have acquired in connection with any of their functions.

The provision that the community charge registration officer should also have access to information held by the electoral registration officer is in large part simply a formal recognition of the fact that the community charge registration officer, like any other citizen, will have access to the electoral register which is of course a public document. However, the provision goes a little wider in that it will allow, for instance, the community charge registration officer's department to have access to information which the electoral registration officer's department may have collected in order to prepare an electoral register which has not yet been published. It would be wrong to deny him the use of that information as a basic input.

The provisions of Clauses 14 and 15 for notification by the registration officer of people who have been entered in the register and their rights of appeal will ensure that no improper or careless use is made of the information available from the electoral registration officer. The official concerned is wearing three hats. He has three sets of powers and three data bases. They are governed by separate statutes and information cannot be exchanged between them without a statutory authority. That is why the provision is necessary, in order, as the noble Lord said, to allow the person concerned to talk to himself in the capacity of the hats that he is wearing.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

There are other aspects of the holy trinity which we want to discuss on the amendment down in my name. I refer to the question of the voter trying to keep himself off the register to avoid paying the personal community charge. It must be significant to someone of 18 who will be paying the charge, perhaps for three years or four years between elections, but is not particularly political. It seems to me that he would try to evade paying £200 a year for that term for the privilege of voting.

We really want to encourage people to vote. I wonder what the Government think of the possible outcome of the register being a three part register. Have they considered whether a large number of voters will, for the sake of the money, remove themselves from the electoral register so that they do not go on the community charge register? I think that it is a very real danger. The Government must have thought about it, and it is a point about which we require information.

Lord Glenarthur

While there may well be a risk, I should have thought that the mechanism that I have outlined, which allows the person wearing those three hats, so to speak, to look at the other elements which I have described to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is designed to do precisely that—to lessen the possibility which may be real in the noble Lord's mind that some people may try to get away with it. I hope that what is allowed for in the Bill will make that possibility less likely. That is why I have given the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, the explanation about the working of this part of the Bill and why I believe that the provisions in Clause 17(2) are necessary. I think those provisions go a long way towards meeting the noble Lord's concerns.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

That raises unpleasant factors in our society. The assessor, or whatever one may call him, has three jobs and obviously has access to information. I think it is clear that some people will try to avoid the charge and from that arises the question of people passing information; in other words, people informing on neighbours who they think are getting away with not paying the charge.

That is one of the bad aspects of the Bill. It proposes a set-up which will encourage people to inform on their neighbours. People will try to get off the electoral register because to be on it they will have to pay money.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord should not assume that someone who stays off the electoral register will be able to avoid the community charge register. There may be those who would like to, but I do not think it will be easy to do that because the community charge register will be based on rather more intensive registration procedures being kept up to date throughout the year, with access to a wider range of information.

I said earlier that the access to and use which the registration officer may make of information held by the assessor or electoral registration officer are restricted. They are restricted to the purpose of discharging his functions under the Bill. Similarly, the information to which he can have access is restricted to the information which these other officers have acquired in connection with any of their functions. Therefore, it seems to me that the loophole by means of which people could try to get information to which they are not entitled is covered in the Bill.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I think that the Government have tried to cover it. However, the unease in my mind arises from the phrase that the Minister just used—"more intensive registration procedures." It is that which brings fear into the minds of many people. However, I shall study what the Minister said and come back on Report.

Lord Burton

May I put this question to my noble friend the Minister? I do not necessarily want an answer now. Why cannnot the national insurance list be used in helping to compile the register?

Lord Glenarthur

I do not have the answer now but I will contact my noble friend later. I do not think it could be used, because, as I have said, the restriction is entirely dependent on the information which is required in connection with the other functions, to which I have referred, under the three hats that this individual is wearing.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, shows the dangers of the registration officer trying to get as full and accurate information as possible. We had a report recently, supported by the Home Secretary, which drew attention to the fact that a great many people are not on the electoral roll. The Committee should remember that in Scotland the same person who draws up the electoral roll will be drawing up this register.

The study that was carried out in Scotland by the Consumer Council and the local authorities, who dealt with difficult groups of people, discovered that a considerable number—as many as one in three—of young people aged between 18 and 24 did not register. If they do not register for a right and a privilege when they pay nothing for it and do not take the trouble to vote; and if the voting register is to be used to check the fullness of the new register so that if your name appears on it you are liable for a community charge of between £200 and £400 per year, payable in monthly instalments, there is going to be difficulty in getting them to register to pay that sort of money.

The Government are laying down who the community registrar is to be. The levying authority does not appoint. We are told in the Bill who it is to be in the same way as we were told that the assessor is to be the electoral registration officer. Perhaps the Minister will look at a point which has just this moment come into my mind. The assessor is a privileged person in the local authority. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, who has been on a local authority, will know that once appointed he cannot easily be removed. I believe a two-thirds majority of the council is required to remove him. I do not know whether that is true of the electoral registration officer. It is certainly not true of the community charge officer. By appointing him we are virtually giving him a special position as well. That is one important aspect. We do not want political interference with the assessor.

Would it not be far better to allow the local authority to appoint the community charge officer? He would be vetted, of course, by the Secretary of State; and there are ways we can do that, as we do with chief constables and so on. He would be a completely separate officer and could give more of his attention to the job. It might be that he could help with the business of getting young people to take more interest and to have more accountability. There could be difficulties if one man has the power to go into another room in his office and check in respect of two aspects. It might also worry some of the people paying non-domestic rates because the continuing sphere of his work is with commercial and business properties. It would be overloading the assessor or the electoral registration officer with work. I hope that the Government will look at that point.

One of the troubles with this Bill is that we do not have the time to go into it. We have to prepare for the next stage of this Bill, which is being taken the day after we return from the Easter Recess. I do not know where everyone else is going for Easter but I know where I am going. I will be locked up with this Bill and looking over all the amendments that have been agreed to and those that the Minister has promised to consider. The Minister will have a nice time, too. Perhaps he should come to Ayrshire and stay with his mother for a fortnight, where he will be near me!

It will be difficult for us to make sense of the Bill if we are to return to it the day after we return. The Bill will not be printed until Wednesday of next week. By the time it reaches Ayrshire it will be Friday. If I am to post amendments back in time I shall have only three days to deal with it. That also applies to my noble friend Lord Carmichael, who comes from Glasgow, to my noble friend Lord Kirkhill, who comes from Aberdeen, and to my noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna, who comes from Edinburgh. Are we going to have time to get together? We could find that someone, unthinking of his duties to this House as placed on us by our Leader, has gone away for the weekend! The next stage should be taken a week after we come back to enable us to get some sense out of this Bill.

That has been the trouble with this Bill right from the start. It has placed local authorities and civil servants in a difficult position. The draftsman is never placed in a difficult position. He just writes it down and tells the Minister that it is precedented and away we go. Of course the draftsman is not employed by the Scottish Office but usually by the Crown. No wonder the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate is keeping out of the way!

However, will he think about the possibility of having a separate registration officer in respect of these charges? It is a very big and important job. It makes no sense for that man to talk to himself provided that he goes into another room to do it. What will they do in the Highlands? He has also to look after the rather defective computer about which the noble Lord, Lord Burton, told us. The whole process is not good enough.

Lord Glenarthur

I shall study what the noble Lord said, but I do not think the concerns that he raises are entirely valid. The appointment of the assessor as community charges registration officer ensures automatically that the degree of independence from the local authority that is already enjoyed by the assessor will be carried over as is necessary to the appointment of the community charges registration officer.

That seems to meet the concern of the noble Lord. I shall study with great care what he has said and I hope that he will study my remarks. We dealt with this matter to some extent in relation to Clause 12, but I hope that he will study what I have said. I shall equally study his observations and we shall both have an enjoyable Easter.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The important point is that a man who has security of tenure by virtue of one appointment then has two other appointments. Is the Minister telling us that that security of tenure carries over? Suppose the registration officer turns out to be a hopeless failure. One cannot get rid of him without having a 2,000 voice majority in the council. Let the Minister think about that situation because it raises another very serious problem. However, in view of what he has said, I shall certainly give him time to look over the matter. I shall leave my telephone number with him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 206A not moved.]

12 noon

Lord Wilson of Langside moved Amendment No. 207: Page 15, line 32, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble and learned Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 207 with which it may also be convenient to consider Amendment No. 209. This amendment probes further some aspects of the issues that have already been raised by the two previous amendments. The matter is of some importance and must be discussed further but I shall endeavour to be brief because it seems to me that we may well have to come back to it at a later stage.

At the outset it is relevant to observe that the Layfield Report, to which there have been many references in the course of the debates on this wretched Bill, commented in Chapter 10 that in relation to what it calls the "benefits" of the rating system: There are no problems of confidentiality of the taxpayers' personal income or circumstances (save now, where rebates are claimed)". The two amendments to which I now speak are designed to alert the Government to the widespread anxieties on aspects of confidentiality of which we have become aware since this Bill was presented. Having regard in particular to Clauses 17(2) and 17(3) it seems clear that these anxieties could lead to very serious problems.

The purpose of Clause 17(2) is to provide that the registration officer is to have access to and the use of any information collected by himself, the assessor, or the electoral registration officer for the purpose of discharging his functions under the Bill. That provides a basis for the coming into operation of the poll tax or what is less accurately described as the community charge, if that is preferred.

This matter has been touched upon before, but I must raise it again. It is almost inevitable that the registration officer will use the electoral register as a major source of his information and some people will be registered for tax purposes on the basis of that information. There will always be some houses in which no one is present and canvassing does not take place, and the electoral register will then become the major source of information.

My noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie has already touched on the danger of tying up the taxation system with the electoral registration system, and I shall not develop the point further. It raises dangers in principle. Clause 17(3) goes further and provides for the registration officer also to be able to collect information from local councils, subject to subsection (4), and provides that the registration officer may require his fellow registration officers in other neighbouring areas and the regional or islands council or any district council in his registration area to supply him with such information as he may reasonably require in connection with his functions.

As the Minister has already said, it is true that that is limited to matters in connection with his functions; but, as I have said, those provisions have given rise to considerable anxiety among people in Scotland who may be affected by it, and who are concerned lest confidential matters might be disclosed under these provisions, and these anxieties have been brought to our attention.

I should be interested to learn whether the Minister has anything further to say that might help to allay the anxieties that have been expressed to us and to satisfy us that it is not necessary to probe further at the next stage. I beg to move.

Lord Grimond

In connection with this amendment, which I support, I wonder whether I can raise a point relating to the electoral register. I do so with diffidence because I must confess that this area is not one in which I am a leading expert. I find it very difficult to foretell the results of this Bill.

I think it is agreed that the electoral register will be a prime source of information when it comes to levying these charges. As I understand it, at the moment the electoral register depends upon the returns put in by householders. The person who is entered on the register by the householder may have no means of knowing whether he has been so entered. I put my next remark in the form of a question: if he does find out, has he any means of appeal?

Subject to correction, I do not think that it is an offence to appear on two electoral registers. It is an offence to vote twice. I ask the question: is it an offence to appear on two electoral registers? Further, is there any appeal against being entered on a register? As has been said, many people will strongly resent being entered on the register. Does it not put the householder in a somewhat invidious position if the decision is to be left to him? The electoral register is the only evidence of which I know that the regional, island or district councils can put forward without, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, said, trespassing on confidentiality.

It would be convenient if the Government would explain what type of information they presume might be obtained from those councils, because, as has been said, there is considerable anxiety about the whole matter.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendment No. 211A, which is in the same batch, so that the Minister can reply at the same time. Its purpose is to probe the type of information which will not be made available to the community charges registration officer even allowing for the fact that it may be the same person in another hat who will be collecting the information. I am asking that question because I know that Strathclyde regional council and one or two others make a survey. They call it the voluntary population survey. It is of great help to them.

The councils send a letter to the electors in which they make clear the purpose of the voluntary population survey. Its purpose is to enable the councils to plan and provide services as economically and efficiently as possible. The councils should know how the population is changing. That is information which it is difficult to obtain in any way other than by personal survey. They need to know the number of children requiring school places and the number of old people who generally have a greater need for the various social services.

The population survey achieves that by collecting information about the ages and sexes of the population. It provides statistics which are updated annually. In addition, population information about individual addresses may help in the provision of regional services such as education and social work. Because of the nature of the survey, its confidentiality is stressed to the individuals involved. A letter from the chief executive of the regional council is sent which states: I assure you that the information you provide will be treated in the strictest confidence. It will not be printed in the register of electors nor will it be made public in any way which would allow individuals to be identified". If such information, which regional councils find helpful, must be given, even if they were given statutory authority to bypass the principles of the Data Protection Act under which they are registered, they would be breaking a promise to the public, which has responded well. I imagine that any future benefit from such a survey would be much less than it is now because the local authority would be unable to assure the public that the information was purely for internal administration purposes and that the information, some of which is personal, would not be available to anyone else.

I hope that the Minister will take that point on board because I think that it is important. The council has told me that it was required, by virtue of the Data Protection Act, to register the holding of that information and the purpose for which it was being obtained. However, I think that the promise to the public is more important. I hope that the Minister will give me some information about Amendment No. 211A, which was tabled as a probing amendment in order to obtain his view.

12.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

The amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, would remove from Clause 17 the provision that the registration officer may require the local authorities in his registration area to supply him with such information as he may reasonably require in connection with his functions. That information is information which the local authority has in connection with any of its functions.

I should perhaps make two points about the way in which we envisage that such information will be provided. First, local authority departments would not be required to open all their files to the registration officer. That would be wrong and would in any case be inefficient as the registration officer will in the vast majority of cases be seeking to check simple information on names and addresses and such matters. Local authority departments will only be required to supply the registration officer with such information as he requires. That is subject to a test of reasonableness and to the provision that it should be information which the registration officer requires in connection with his functions.

Secondly, the provisions of Clause 17 in no sense require other local authorities to act as collectors of information for the registration officer. The information which they will be required to provide is restricted to information which they will hold in connection with their present functions.

I should also mention another safeguard on the availability of local authority information to the registration officer. Clause 17(4) provides that the local authority should not be required to supply the registration officer with prescribed information. That prescription may be a reference to classes of functions of a local authority or classes of information. The Government have already made clear that it is their intention to use that power to put off limits particularly sensitive or confidential personal information held by social work departments or the police.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was worried about the nature of the information. It is right that in making and keeping up to date the register of those who will be liable to pay for local services, the registration officer should have access to information held by local authorities which supply the relevant services. In the vast majority of cases, as I have said, access to that information will be needed merely to check the information provided by individuals or responsible persons about residents in the local authority's area; for instance, local authority housing records will contain information about the names and addresses of tenants of local authority houses, and education records will contain some relevant information on the addresses and dates of birth of young people who become liable to pay the personal community charge at the age of 18. Other departments will have records of the names and addresses of people taking up local authority services such as library services or bus season tickets.

In answer to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, as I understand it, it would not be an offence to appear on two electoral registers. I think that that was his first question. The second was whether there was an appeal mechanism. I understand that if a person wanted to be on another electoral register, and for some reason his application was refused, he would have a right of appeal against that refusal. That works rather more to his advantage than does the suggestion that the noble Lord was making. I assure him that it is not an offence to appear on two electoral registers.

On the question of what information would be obtained from councils, we are talking about fairly basic information. For example, the names of local authority tenants would enable the canvass process to start off efficiently which it obviously has to do. Other records might provide a useful check—for example, the names of school leavers. What we are trying to do is what concerns the noble Lord, Lord Mackie: to make sure that within the bounds of the safeguards contained, the information — which it is reasonable to have to make the system work—should be available. That is the burden of this entire part of the Bill.

I hope in the light of that explanation that I have been able to afford some reassurance and that the noble and learned Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment. In a moment I shall be returning to some other amendments—Amendments Nos. 208 and 210 to 213—which are connected with it. They are government amendments and provide some further safeguards.

Lord Grimond

Before the noble and learned Lord makes up his mind what he is going to do, perhaps I may thank the Minister for the information that he has given. When he is mulling over what he will do with this Bill in the long Easter break, can I ask him to consider this? Up to now it might be considered an advantage to appear on two electoral rolls because one then has an alternative; if one does not vote in one place, one might vote in another. It may be a very serious disadvantage to appear in two electoral rolls. Further, one may not know that this has happened. As it is no offence, there is no means of knowing. I do not ask the Minister to go any further on this point now but I ask him to consider it. He has changed the situation round. People may be affected by being entered on rolls about which they know nothing.

Lord Burton

I am not sure whether I misheard or misunderstood the Minister. He referred to the registration officer not being entitled to receive information which was not already available to the person he was asking. Has it been borne in mind that the number of people occupying district council houses is not currently available to the district council? It only knows who its tenant is; it does not know who else is living in the house.

Lord Glenarthur

I shall take note of that remark. I do not have the information with me to comment on the point about district councils.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I am most grateful to the Minister for his careful reply to these two amendments. I do not know whether what he has said will allay the anxieties that have been expressed to us in the real world outside. But this adds to my anxieties because all these prescriptions are to be subject to the negative resolution so that they can always be changed. I am sure that the present government would never depart from any undertaking which they have given, and which has been given in particular in your Lordships' House as to how these powers of negative resolution will be used. But the powers remain there and in this context one is a little anxious about the future. However I shall consider carefully what the Minister has said and my friends and I will consider whether we wish to raise this issue again on a future occasion. In the meantime—

Lord Glenarthur

Before the noble and learned Lord withdraws his amendment—which he looked to me as though he might be about to do—perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. He asked me during the Easter break to mull over the question of people not knowing that they are on two rolls. As I understand it, if being on the electoral roll leads to registration for a community charge, the individual will be notified. Clauses 14 and 15 are perhaps relevant. The noble Lord will bear that in mind.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 208: Page 15, line 32, leave out ("or any district council") and insert (", any district council, or any housing body")

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 208, perhaps I may speak to Amendments Nos. 210, 211, 212 and 213 together. These amendments extend for the sake of completeness provisions of Clause 17(3) and (4) to include not only local authorities but also housing bodies as defined elsewhere in the Bill—district councils, the Scottish Special Housing Association, and New Town Development Corporations. Under the present provision the registration officer will be able to have access to records held by district councils as housing authorities of the names and addresses of tenants living in the houses they let. On consideration that seems to go some way to answering the point of my noble friend Lord Burton.

It would, however, be equally desirable for the registration officer to have a similar access to the records of the other housing bodies I have just mentioned. These amendments provide for this extension. They also provide that the information held by housing bodies may be restricted in the same way as the information held by local authorities under the provisions of Clause 17(4) which I have mentioned to allow prescription of certain information which should not be made available to the registration officer. Housing bodies will of course be fully involved in the collection arrangements for the community charges. We shall have an opportunity to discuss these arrangements when we debate Schedule 2. It is right therefore that there should be the same provision for the exchange of information between the Scottish Special Housing Association and the New Town Development Corporations and the registration officer as there already is between the district councils and the registration officer. I hope that the Committee agree that these amendments provide a useful and necessary extension of the provisions of the Bill and I commend them to the Committee.

The Earl of Selkirk

Will there be an effective definition? "Housing body" is a very vague term. I can think of a lot of organisations which might or might not fall within it.

Lord Renton

Before my noble friend answers that, can he say whether the term "housing body" has been used previously in Scottish legislation?

Lord Hughes

May I also come in on that point? I thought that the Minister indicated that "housing body" would be defined somewhere as district council, Scottish Special Housing Association and the New Town Development Corporations. If it were so confined, then obviously that is all right. But if there is not a tight definition, then one would find that housing associations would be roped in as a housing body because in ordinary language "housing association" is a housing body. But I do not think that the Government are intending to involve it in this work.

Lord Glenarthur

I hope that I can help my noble friend. On the question of the definition of "housing body", if we look at Schedule 2, paragraph 5(6) we find that in (a) "housing body" means a district council, in (b) the Scottish Special Housing Association, and in (c) a development corporation (within the meaning of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968). That provides the definition which my noble friend Lord Selkirk asked for.

On the point made by my noble friend Lord Renton, or the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on whether housing associations included the Scottish Special Housing Association and the new towns, the noble Lord may have given me food for thought on that point. I should like to read what the noble Lord has said rather than to commit myself now. Three points were made quickly which necessitated reference to Schedule 2 fairly speedily, and I may have missed a point.

12.30 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

May I ask the noble Lord whether he would consider putting this definition in the interpretation clause, Clause 26? It should be quite clear what we are talking about. Schedules are terrible things to understand.

Lord Renton

May I support my noble friend on that point and perhaps take the matter a little further? There are so many definitions dotted about the Bill, some of which are quite new. There is the interpretation of Part I in Clause 6, where there are about a dozen definitions. There is the interpretation clause towards the end of the Bill with a lot more definitions. Now my noble friend Lord Selkirk has pointed out that there is a definition right along in the second schedule, which is not related solely to that schedule. It is a definition which we needed in order to understand Clause 17. Therefore, the case for having the definitions all together and only in the Bill is very strong indeed. It would save time and simplify the task of my noble friend.

Lord Glenarthur

If my noble friend looks at Amendment No. 265 to Clause 26, he will find that is precisely what we propose to do.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I do not disagree with that suggestion. I am surprised the Minister had not read through the list of amendments to see exactly what he was to move later on. There is also the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burton. The information will be of limited value. It will give the names of the householder—the person who pays the rates. Of course they are not to be included in future. If you are concerned about who else is living in a house you will not find out from the district authority, and let us not be surprised that there are more people than the person who pays the rates.

I remember a time when the Government were encouraging people in the Highlands and elsewhere from a tourist point of view to take in people so they would receive some revenue during the summer and other periods. As I have said the information will be of limited value. Perhaps the most important part of the Bill in relation to this matter is further on. I do not know whether we shall finish the Committee stage by Monday if we continue at this rate.

Lord Burton

I am sorry to say I think the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is right. Page 15, line 37, states: the local authority have in connection with any of their functions. It is not their function to know who is living in a house.

Lord Glenarthur

I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, much in the same way that I hoped I had reassured the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, earlier, that the information that we need is the information which would be provided for starting off the canvass. That is why it is necessary to have the names of the householders. I hope with the explanation of what we are trying to achieve by these amendments, and indeed the point that we are trying to correct by a later amendment—the definition in the schedule—that we can consider this amendment concluded.

Lord Hughes

In view of the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, concerning the difficulty of finding interpretations and knowing where to look for them, perhaps the Minister may consider specifying a Scottish housing association or a new town development corporation in such places, instead of saying "or any housing body". Then it becomes perfectly clear that the matter is being confined to the district council, the SSHA and the new town development corporations. Will he keep that suggestion in mind as a possibility?

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps I can consider that as a drafting point. I shall certainly look at that suggestion but I do not wish to give an undertaking on it without further consideration.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 209 not moved.]

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 210: Page 15, line 37, after ("authority") insert ("or housing body")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 211: Page 15, line 38, after ("council") insert ("or housing body")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment no. 211A not moved.]

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendments Nos. 212 and 213: Page 15, line 40, leave out ("or a") and insert (", housing body, or other") Page 15, line 43, after ("authority") insert ("or housing body")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

The next amendment is Amendment No. 214. If this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment Nos. 215 to 218.

[Amendments Nos. 214 and 214A not moved.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 215: Page 16, leave out lines 3 to 5

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 215 and at the same time speak to Amendment Nos. 215A, 216 and 217. The purpose of this amendment is to look at the position of an owner or a tenant occupying the premises. We are trying to find a definition for a responsible person in a household. This matter has already been discussed in a number of cases. It was raised concerning the question of a group of students living in a house as to whether or not any of the students would be willing to take the responsibility. For example, there may be two people who pay equal rates in a house living as man and wife, or actually being man and wife. There is the possibility that people would refuse to take the responsibility and under the clause the registration officer would be given the right to say, "You will be the responsible person". It may be quite inappropriate to do this.

We need a much better definition of who is a responsible person. The responsible person would be required to give information, and if the information given was false information, there could be, as comes later, a heavy penalty of a £50 or £200 fine which could be added to the community charge. Without being able to define who is a responsible person this would seem to be too much. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The next amendment makes much the same point. It appears that with the possibility of imposing a fine of £50, and then for a second offence, £200, it is putting too much on the registration officer to be able to designate someone who is neither an owner nor a tenant for 12 months. It is very difficult to see who is going to designate the responsible person. It gives the registration officer far too great a power. It would be most unfortunate for a student in a house which is occupied by students to be designated and made the responsible person. What disturbs people is that the registration officer can make someone responsible who is neither the owner nor a responsible tenant. Perhaps in such a case the house should become liable to a collective charge or become a non-domestic subject. Certainly the amendment appears to give draconian powers to the registration officer if it means that he can appoint some unwilling person who is neither a responsible tenant nor the owner and make him responsible for giving mandatory information.

The Earl of Selkirk

Let us be quite clear about the matter. Is it obligatory to be a responsible person? Does one volunteer for that or can one refuse to be a responsible person? In other words are we nominating someone who will be liable for a fine or are we asking someone to say who is living in the house?

Lord Kirkhill

The Scottish Office consultation paper talked about "head of household" which then became "responsible person". In practice if this part of the Bill is carried into the Act, one person sharing a flat will have to speak on behalf of some other flat sharer. That seems to me to be a most odious concept.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

It may help the noble Earl if I quote line 21 on the same page, which states: Where the registration officer is satisfied that a responsible person…has failed to comply with the duty to provide the information, he may be fined.

Lord Glenarthur

First, there is not very much between myself and noble Lords opposite as regards the way in which we envisage the system working. It seems to me that in the vast majority of cases it will be obvious who the responsible person is. From what I have said it will be obvious that in the vast majority of cases, however the responsible person is identified he or she will be resident on the premises; but it is conceivable that in some cases he will not be. That is why I cannot accept Amendment No. 216.

I hope that what I have said so far will serve to explain why I do not feel able to accept Amendment No. 215A which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, because that would remove altogether the registration officer's power to designate a responsible person. While I do not expect that the power will have to be used in very many cases, I trust that from the examples that I have given it will be clear that in certain circumstances it will be essential.

I cannot accept Lord Kirkhill's suggestion that to make someone a responsible person is an odious concept because the information is obtained in similar ways for electoral registration and censuses. I cannot think for one minute that either of those is an odious concept.

Lord Kirkhill

I do not wish to prolong the discussion unnecessarily, but I do not think that the Minister is drawing a fair analogy. There is benefit from membership of the electoral roll. As regards registration, if there is a failure to register a penalty ensues. My objection is that one flat sharer has an inappropriate responsibility towards one of his fellow flat sharers under this clause of the Bill. The Minister must address himself to the fact that this matter is without precedent in Scots law.

12.45 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord makes a point about precedents. It seems to me that, precedents or otherwise, one cannot possibly say that just because something is without precedent it must have tagged to it the word "odious". Responsibility comes in a number of different ways. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Selkirk will have understood from what I have said that nominating someone as responsible will be an obligatory process. To suggest in the wider sense that nominating somebody as responsible could be such a simple process that one could apply the stricture "odious" is going rather far.

I hope that I shall answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, by saying that if a person is designated as a responsible person by the registration officer he has a right of appeal to the sheriff under Clause 17(9): on the grounds that it is not appropriate that he should be so designated". That covers the question of he or she who may be one of two people sharing a flat together, which concerned the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene?

Lord Kirkhill

No. I was just sitting crouched in case I had to interrupt. However, I did not wish to intervene; I thought better of it. Nevertheless, I want the Minister to believe that I consider that my use of the word "odious" was in the circumstances restrained.

Lord Hughes

Reference was made to the possibility of a student being designated. My noble friend Lord Carmichael mentioned that possibility. It is fairly common, certainly in Edinburgh and possibly in Glasgow, for flats to be occupied by three, four or even more students and for them to be the only occupants. However subject to anything else which may come up in connection with students, as they will not be paying the community charge the position will arise that nobody in that flat will pay the community charge for the flat. How does the registration officer satisfy himself that they are all students and that therefore nobody should be designated for that flat?

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps I may return to that point in a moment.

I now turn to Amendment No. 218 which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, because it is of relevance. It would insert a provision whereby if a person thought it was not appropriate that he should be designated as a responsible person, he should be able to object to the registration officer as a first step in the existing formal appeal to the sheriff. I fully appreciate that that is a helpful approach. I am not entirely convinced that it is necessary, but the debate has thrown up a number of concerns about what might befall the person who is nominated as the responsible person.

In relation to Amendment No. 218, I am prepared without commitment to consider whether any change in the Bill is necessary to meet the concerns which have been expressed. I hope that on that understanding as regards Amendment No. 218 the noble Lord will feel a little reassured.

I say briefly in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that, as I understand it, when students are sharing a flat the responsible person is not necessarily liable to pay the personal community charge himself. That seems a very brief answer, and if I can help the noble Lord by considering his remarks further I shall do so in due course.

Lord Hughes

It is so brief as to be totally unhelpful.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am glad that the Minister has decided to look again at this matter. We may look at it lightheartedly but this is one of the more important aspects of the Bill. It is not a question of canvassing to see who in the household is to go on to the election roll. People do not mind about that. We want to be more accurate. Is this the way to achieve that accuracy? If there is no agreement, the community registration officer can say, "You are the responsible person". He might be the most irresponsible person in the place, but as soon as the registration officer nominates him, the matter is decided, although he can go to the sheriff eventually. I had intended to move Amendment No. 218. A great many amendments I was not going to move, but I might as well move them. The Minister may be querying that point. We had an amendment that covered the whole provision, and we could have started with that, leaving out subsection (5) to (12). However, in the interests of time, we decided not to move it.

The point is that it is unfair to take this high-handed action. The community registration officer must obtain his information from somewhere. He would normally obtain it from whoever was in the house at the time the canvasser called, not necessarily the head of the household. However, it is a very different canvassing job in respect of this Bill. It could be that somebody who lived next door was able to give the information. But that is inviting somebody to be responsible for the accuracy of the information; many people would be unwilling.

My daughter used to live in a flat in Glasgow with six or seven others. I warned her mother never to go and see the place because the fantastic rents that are charged in certain parts of Glasgow are quite ridiculous. Who will be the responsible person if one person does not agree to it? The first responsibility is to give the information; the second, that the information should be adequate. If that is not done, there is a fine in the first instance of £50, and for further refusals to give information, one of £200. Who will invite that upon themselves?

And soon after Scotland has been used as a guinea pig, London, will be next. Many young people arriving in London have to live in a flat, five or six together, in order to begin to look at paying the kind of rents that are charged in this city. Nobody will volunteer to give the kind of information that the officer will require once this comes to England. We have been promised it. The Green Paper about which we have been talking was not referring to Scotland: it was referring to England, Scotland and Wales. So beware, the benefit spoken of the other night by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is coming to you!

Is it fair that if agreement is not reached a person should be told, "You will be the responsible person?" It does not need to be somebody in the house at all. Section 17(6)(c) states: In any case, such other person as the registration officer considers it appropriate to designate as the responsible person". It could be your granny who has been to see you only once. It could be anybody. I am glad that the Minister now appreciates the importance of this matter. I can foresee the difficulties of the registration officer.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

It appears that this subject has been well ventilated. The difficulties appear to be legion. I think that the Minister should look at the matter again. It must be grossly unfair that a county official can designate someone in a flat to take the responsibility. That is not the way one normally chooses leaders. It is a different matter altogether to have the initial designation of a tenant for 12 months. I know that there is an appeal, and that is something. However, it is enormously clumsy to choose someone and force that person to go to appeal. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will look again at this matter.

Lord Glenarthur

That is precisely what I said I would do; so I do not think that I need prolong the discussion any further.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I hope that the Minister takes this on board. There is opinion throughout the Committee of the need to find a better definition for "responsible person". I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 215A and 216 not moved.]

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 217: Page 16, line 7, after ("designate") insert ("from time to time").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting amendment to remove any doubt that there may be about the powers of the registration officer to withdraw or amend the designation as a responsible person if the circumstances change. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ross of Marnock had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 218: Page 16, line 19, after ("may") insert ("object to the registration officer that it is not appropriate that he be so designated and if the registration officer fails to withdraw the designation may")

The noble Lord said: We have had some comforting words from the Minister with regard to Amendment No. 218. As a result of what he has said, I will not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 218 not moved.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 218A: Page 16, line 21, leave out subsections (10) and (11) and insert— ("(10) It is an offence for any responsible person to:—

  1. (a) fail to comply with the duty to provide the information required within the prescribed period, or
  2. (b) give false information,
without reasonable excuse, and anyone convicted of such offence shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale in the case of a first offence or level 2 on the standard scale in the case of a second or any subsequent offence".

The noble Lord said: The object of this amendment is to remove the provisions for a civil penalty to be imposed and to make it an offence not to provide the information required or to give false information. It seems to me to be unreasonable to expect the registration officer to inquire in every case whether or not a person has a reasonable excuse for providing false information. It imposes a responsibility on the registration officer to decide what is or what is not a reasonable excuse, subject to appeal to the sheriff.

That puts a heavy duty on the registration officer. It would be simpler if, in cases where he believed that false information had been given, this was made an offence and the sheriff should make the appropriate decision. In the words of the Secretary of State in another place, this would help to build up case law on this subject. I beg to move.

The Earl of Selkirk

The noble Lord has raised a serious point. This is an on-the-spot fine. Someone is designated to a position and then told he has not done his job correctly. Apparently, it is only the judgment of the officer and nobody else. He says, "Right, £50 on the spot." I believe that is a little arbitrary.

1 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

The effect of the amendment would be to provide for criminal rather than civil penalties—the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, appears to think that I have this wrong—on responsible persons who fail to provide information or who provide false information. At any rate, that is my reading of the amendment, unless I am totally mistaken. We are dealing with Amendment No. 218A.

I acknowledge that such an approach would accord with precedents such as those which can be found in the Representation of the Peoples Act relating to the canvass for the establishment of the electoral register and in the Valuation Acts relating to the provision of information requested by the assessor. However, I suggest that such a change would be to move in the wrong direction. The approach embodied in the Bill is in tune with current trends in taxation law, particularly following the report of the Keith Committee on the enforcement powers to the revenue departments, which recommended civil rather then criminal sanctions in relation to breaches of tax legislation. We believe that criminal sanctions would impose too heavy a potential stigma on individuals who may have been merely careless or dilatory.

The Bill places responsibility for the imposition of civil penalties under Clause 17, which relates to registration, on the registration officer. The reason for this is quite simple. It is the registration officer who is in charge of making inquiries who will receive the information from the canvass process and who will be responsible for following up gaps or inconsistencies. He will therefore be best placed to identify circumstances which appear to him to overstep those for which there is a reasonable excuse.

There is no reason to believe that registration officers will act unreasonably or unfairly in this matter.

They are responsible public officials who are already well acquainted with the operation of a registration procedure through their role as electoral registration officers. It is very important to bear in mind that individuals will have a right of appeal to the sheriff against the imposition of civil penalties, so registration officers will not impose such a penalty arbitrarily or capriciously and will take into account the lessons to be learned from any court judgments which are made. That takes account of the need to build up the case law.

I believe that the provisions for civil penalties get the balance about right. The system should provide a reasonable deterrent, as it should against the refusal by responsible persons to provide information truthfully, while it will avoid criminal sanctions with all the stigma that they imply. The arrangement for the imposition of penalties provides safeguards for the individual and the arrangements for the collection of sums due but not paid will fit in well with the rest of the community charge system.

I hope with that explanation that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I can understand the attitude of government in relation to certain of the aspects of the revenue laws having a preference for the civil approach and so on. But I think it is a mistake in the context of this Bill, which has been described in a great variety of ways, particularly by Lord Ross of Marnock. I have in mind especially when the registration officer has designated the responsible person. I think the description of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, of this as an erroneous conception was an understatement if one thinks of the situation in which it is likely to happen.

In any event I cannot see the sense. I should have thought, in spite of the reluctance which we all have to make further criminal offences, that in this context the matter at least required further thought before the Government plumped for this solution.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

This is a a very difficult area. I believe it is all tied up with the definition of "responsible person". I shall read the Minister's reply and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 18 [Obtaining of information from individual residents]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 219: Page 17, line 6, leave out ("notify") and insert ("be notified by")

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment something like one we had earlier where we felt the boot should be on the other foot. Here we are: every person now in Scotland who becomes 18 on or after 1st April 1989, instead of receiving a birthday greetings card, has to send one. Every person liable on 1st April 1989, or who becomes liable on or after that date, to pay the charge shall notify the registration officer. "Look, I am 18. Please send me my demand for £230". This is ridiculous. My suggestion is that he shall be notified that he is liable because the register should be fully kept up. It should not be the responsibility of someone who becomes liable for a tax to say, "Look, I am 18 now. Count me in. I shall be delighted to pay £230".

I hope the few English Peers who are here will appreciate that this is coming to them too, and they will have to justify this in England and Wales. We are very reluctant guinea-pigs in trying this one out. But is it not nonsense that we should ask the victim to say, "I am here, come and slaughter me"?

It is the registration officer who should notify the intended victim that he is now 18 and, thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Thatcher, he will now pay the penalty, and £230 per head, including his payment now that he is 18, will be paid. I beg to move.

Lord Grimond

I wish to support what has been said on this amendment and to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that not only will this wretched chap aged 18 have to notify the registrar that he wishes to pay the tax, but he will have to read the Bill to find out whether he is liable. That will take him some time. I reckon he will be 21 before he finds out whether he is liable.

Lord Wilson of Langside

Once he has read the Bill he will be looking for a solicitor and no doubt in many cases will have to apply for legal aid. It will all be great fun for the lawyers.

Lord Glenarthur

I have no doubt that the noble and learned Lord will find that to his liking. But seriously, it is easy enough to be facetious, as the noble Lord is, about the change that is being made. Let us come down to the practicalities. So that the rolling register can operate properly, which it has to do, and record all changes of residence and liability as they occur, there has to be a flow of information to the registration officer as changes occur. The Government have reached the conclusion that it would not be reasonable to place on responsible persons the duty of notifying all changes as they occur. It seems to me that if we applied that duty to them, that would make the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, in relation to those who might be sharing flats rather worse. We are probably helping in this respect. Surely it is more sensible to require individuals who become liable, or whose liability changes and who are thus most directly affected by the change, to inform the registration officer of that fact so that he can amend the register accordingly. This provision is achieved by Clause 18(1) and (2).

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Ross, referred to Amendments Nos. 219A to 219D?

Lord Ross of Marnock

No, I shall not be moving those.

Lord Glenarthur

In that case I shall not refer to them. I do not believe that to expect someone to provide the information without being asked to provide it can be an objection. There are a number of instances where the onus is upon the individual to say that circumstances have changed. That applies to a number of different records that are kept for one reason or another. I hope that with the explanation that this seems a much more sensible and practical way of going about it, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The only thing that enables me to withdraw the amendment is that there is going to be a Report stage. Obviously we have not nearly enough time to debate these matters. We are dealing here purely and simply with someone being liable on 1st April 1989 or becoming liable on or after that date. It is asking far too much to spoil anybody's birthday by saying, "Notify the registration officer that you are 18 and you are ready to pay". I do not know what the precedent is for that, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 219A to 219F not moved.]

Baroness Carnegy of Lour moved Amendment No. 220: Page 17, line 24, leave out from ("thereon") to ("and") in line 26 and insert (", at such rate or rates as may be prescribed, in respect of the period commencing one month after the date shown on the register as the date from which he is liable to pay the community charge and ending on the date on which the entry is made in the register;").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment attempts to deal with a problem which I believe has rightly been concerning the assessors on administrative grounds. It also concerns me very much indeed on grounds of fairness and on grounds of trying to achieve comprehensibility for the individual payer of the community charge. The matter was originally raised during the Committee stage in another place, as the Committee will know, by the Scottish Rating Forum of the Rating and Valuation Association. Clause 18 as it stands—and I would remind the Committee that here we are in an area where one has to add five to all the numbers in the margin of the page in the Bill—implies that where someone has not registered in time and there is a backdated period on which the community charge is due, that person must pay not only the backdated charge but also interest on the whole of the sum. If the period is over three months an additional surcharge is added.

Clearly there is a problem here, especially when people move house and go from one local authority area to another. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ross who said that you had to send something off on your birthday, as opposed to being told what you were due. I remind him that not everybody is going to be in the same area when they move house.

This clause says that when somebody moves and becomes liable they have a month in which to register. When they move, it is quite clear that many will not register immediately. Few will register before they move and certainly they will not register on the day they arrive, when they will still be unpacking the furniture van. Most people, in order to comply with the law, will register within one month, which is the time allowed. When they have done that the local authority will send them a bill which will include interest. That interest will be on the backdated period up to that date.

Then, as the Bill stands, when they pay, as the assessors have pointed out, a further bill will have to be sent for the further interest which is due up to the date when their name gets on to the register. So they will get two bills. The first will be for the community charge and the interest up to a certain date and the second one will be for further interest. That will be confusing for them, and may seem extremely unjust. Also, administratively it is very clumsy.

My amendment would have two effects. The interest would not be payable at all for the first month after a person becomes liable and the interests would cease to be payable on the date of the register entry. That would mean that the people who took up to a month to register would be liable to the backdated community charge but not to interest. That is the month in which they are allowed to register and there would be no interest due. The amendment would also mean that the local authority could then make up a single bill rather than having to send a follow-up bill for the additional interest, which would depend on the date when the initial bill was paid.

Of course the legislation would still provide that if a person did not pay the normal debt recovery procedures would operate, and that includes the surcharge. It therefore seems that one can say in effect that the surcharge would make up for the interest due from the date the bill is sent. Without this amendment, I suggest that there would have been a double penalty on some people. On grounds of justice and ease of understanding by people when they receive their bills, and also on the grounds of workability from the point of view of the assessors, I hope the Government will consider this amendment very carefully.

1.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

I have noted the criticisms of the existing provision in Clause 18(3)(a) put forward by the Scottish Rating Forum and which my noble friend has just spelt out. It seems to me that the solution proposed in the amendment meets the criticisms which have been made but does so without departing from the fundamental principle that there should be no financial advantage in avoiding registration. In the light of that, I am perfectly happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 22A to 224 not moved.]

Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 19 [Effect of register]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 224A: Page 18, line 7, at end insert— ("(d) the address at which liability is incurred")

The noble Lord said: Very briefly, this is just so that the address at which the liability is incurred will be inserted. If that address is not provided, how will the CCRO in one district be able to use the register of another district to prove the presence in and the departure from that district of any individual? I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps I ought briefly to explain the purpose of Clause 19. Liability for any of the community charges depends on the circumstances set out in Clauses 8, 10 and 11 in relation to the personal standard and collective community charges respectively. Liability is not of itself established by the appearance of the name of a person or of premises on the register. A person is liable for the personal community charge by virtue of being solely or mainly resident in a local authority's area and not by virtue of appearing on the register. However, in order to ensure the evidential status of the register as a basis, for instance, of the arrangements for the billing and collection of community charges, Clause 19 provides that, subject to the appeal rights, the register is to be conclusive in respect of the liabilities it records.

However, the amendment would add to these provisions the provision that the register is to be liable as to the address at which the liability is incurred. As I have explained, liability flows from residence in a local authority's area and not from residence at a particular address. While the register will of course record the addresses of the persons who are liable, the fact or the amount of their liability will not, strictly speaking, depend on whether they are resident at one address in the local authority's area rather than at another. So I think that the amendment is unnecessary. I hope that with that explanation of the way in which Clause 19 works, and of what this amendment would do, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I believe that this amendment comes under Clause 19 and not Clause 20, as shown on the Marshalled List. But in view of that explanation from the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Glenarthur

Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, perhaps I may say for the sake of clarification that it seems there may be a mistake on the Marshalled List and that Amendment No. 224A should refer to Clause 19. I hope that clarifies the point.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Inspection of register]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 225: Page 18, leave out from beginning of line 16 to ("and") in line 18.

The noble Lord said: I hope that the Government will make clear how many registers there are, where they are held, who can inspect them and what kind of limited inspection there will be, because there is a strange collection of rights and non-rights here. I do not know what is the grouping of amendments here, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has an interest; but, if I may speak to Amendment No. 228 as well, I am worried about the power of the authority to sell the whole register which is how I read subsection (4) of Clause 28, on payment of such fee as may be prescribed, for sale by the regional or islands council". That is strange. I know that we sell electoral rolls to election agents and people who are interested, but selling this kind of information is a very different matter. I hope that we shall get some enlightenment in respect of that. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

Taking first Amendment No. 225, it may help if I explain why we consider that a member of the public should have the right to inspect the parts of the register which show the names of persons relating to each address. Unless a member of the public has this right, he will not be able to satisfy himself that the persons who appear to reside at an address are shown as registered in relation to it, and therefore as being liable to pay the personal community charge.

It is right that a person who is paying any of the community charges should be able to satisfy himself that the charges are being fairly applied, and that others who appear to him to be liable to pay any of those charges are also shown on the register. Otherwise, there is a very grave risk that the whole system of community charges could be brought into disrepute. I do not think this can be thought of by anybody as some sort of snooper's charter or anything like that. It is a matter of legitimate public interest. It is merely the equivalent of the fact that a member of the public can at present inspect the valuation placed on his neighbour's house in the valuation roll.

I turn now to Amendment No. 228, which would remove the power of a regional or islands council to sell those parts of the register which a member of the public may inspect. Perhaps I may stress to the noble Lord that this refers only to the public part of the register—that is to say, names and addresses. It is a very useful and harmless facility for a local authority to have. It is no more than a power which a local authority may exercise at its discretion to sell information to persons who could have obtained their information by themselves inspecting the register without paying any fee to the local authority. It enables the local authority to sell that information to those persons in a more convenient form.

There is a similar power under the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 1986, which enables the registration officer to sell copies of the electors' lists or the electoral register. I do not see any good reason why a local authority should not have a similar power. Of course we are talking about a single register, allowing for inspection of different parts depending on the interests of different persons. So I hope that the noble Lord accepts the validity of what is written into the Bill on this point, and that what is there is designed to help and is precedented by some of the other examples which I have just given.

Lord Hughes

The three lines which my noble friend Lord Ross has asked to be excluded contain words in brackets. They read: the name or names of any person or persons relating to each address (but not so as to ascertain whether that person resides at that address)". I do not understand at all what that means. First, who is "that person"? Is it one of the people who are on the register at that place, or is it the person who is asking to look at the register? If he is able to look at a list of the persons who are there, how on earth can he be prevented from ascertaining who lives at the address? There may be some purpose in the words which are in brackets. I do not know whether I am being stupid, but I do not understand what that purpose is.

Lord Glenarthur

I do not think that the noble Lord is being in the least bit stupid about it. It is a complex area and, as is the case in so many of these statutes, the interpretation of the Bill has to be put beyond doubt from the point of view of lawyers. It has to be clear precisely what is meant. The register will not show whether a person named in relation to an address actually resides at that address and is therefore liable to the personal community charge, or whether he is the owner but not the occupier of those premises and therefore liable for the standard community charge.

The reason for this is fairly straightforward. It is to avoid the register being used for criminal purposes by assisting persons to identify premises which might be unoccupied, such as second homes. So it is a further safeguard. I hope that that helps the noble Lord.

Lord Hughes

Partly, yes. But the noble Lord has not answered the other point that I raised. Who is "that person"? Is it the inquirer or somebody who is listed as being at the address?

Lord Glenarthur

I am bound to say that I cannot quite remember the context of the noble Lord's second point. Perhaps he could repeat it.

Lord Hughes

The words in brackets are: (but not so as to ascertain whether that person resides at that address)". I did not know whether "that person" indicated who was making the inquiry, or whether it was to find out if a particular person, "that person", was listed among the names and addresses.

Lord Glenarthur

That is embodied in the answer I have just given to the noble Lord. If he goes back he will see that we are talking here about a person who is entitled to inspect the register. So the words "that person" refer to the person on the register. I think it is clear. The noble Lord does not seem to believe me, but I believe that to be right. If my interpretation is wrong, I shall let him know. But I think he will find that my description is correct, because "that person" is the equivalent of the person on the register.

Lord Hughes

I am happy to accept that the Minister believes that is the position. He has not convinced me, however.

Lord Ross of Marnock

If it had been convincing and if it was as clear as the noble Lord suggests, I should not have put the amendment down. However, I shall not hold the Committee up on this point at the moment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 226: Page 18, line 22, at end insert ("(but not the collective community charge multiplier relating to premises within such class or classes as may be prescribed)").

The noble Lord said: This is an important though I trust not too controversial amendment. It covers a subject which we have discussed at some length in considering Amendments Nos. 22 and 163A. Therefore, I shall not detain the Committee too long. The amendment has become necessary because, when the community charge multiplier becomes appropriate for a residence where, for example, there is a women's refuge in which battered women may live for long periods of time, the existence of the multiplier on the public register could jeopardise the confidentiality of the addresses of such refuges and allow husbands, boyfriends or anyone else wishing to see such women to trace them to that address. Scottish Women's Aid is very concerned about that threat and I believe that this amendment will go some way to allay the fear.

The amendment allows the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing a class or classes of premises whose collective community charge multiplier would not appear on the public register. I think that it is easy to get carried away with a subject whose protagonists suffer from such tragic abuse. However, I hope that the Committee will see the amendment as going some way to protect their identity and thus make their lives more secure. I beg to move.

The Earl of Dundee

I have listened carefully to what my noble friend has said. We have already discussed at some length the position of women living in refuges under the new system. As the Committee will recall, I have agreed to consider further, in consultation with Scottish Women's Aid, how such refuges might best be treated. I accept that if it is considered right that a collective community charge liability should arise in respect of them it would be useful to have a provision whereby the collective community charge multiplier would not appear on the public register and thus any possibility of easy identification of where such refuges are would be avoided. On that basis, and without prejudice to the general reconsideration of the position of women's refuges which we are now undertaking, I am happy to accept the noble Lord's amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

It may be that this amendment is acceptable to the Government. However, I should not wish the Minister to think that those of us who are concerned about the position of women's refuges find that it makes any great contribution to solving the problem.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 227 and 228 not moved.]

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 229: Page 19, line 16, at end insert— ("(10) The registration officer shall as soon as is reasonably practicable send a copy of the whole register as in force on 1st April each year to the Keeper of the Records of Scotland for preservation by him. (11) The Keeper shall not, except as may be prescribed—

  1. (a) make any register sent to him under subsection (10) above available for inspection; nor
  2. 1149
  3. (b) issue under section 9 of the Public Records (Scotland) Act 1937 extracts or certified copies of such a register.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has become necessary since under Section 35 of the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854, as amended, valuation rolls are made available to the Keeper of the Records for Scotland for the purposes of research into local history and genealogy, as well as other legal purposes. This has been extremely useful in helping people to find out about the past when few other pieces of information are available. I therefore believe that it is reasonable for the keeper to receive a copy of the community charge register on 1st April of every year. This then allows for a detailed record to be kept for historical analysis in the future.

However, it has been pointed out that there is a question of confidentiality. The amendment also allows the Secretary of State to restrict by prescription those having access to the register. I now believe that it would be right to make the register available to all after 30 years, which is the normal closure period for government records. I beg to move.

The Earl of Dundee

I fully accept the force of the points which have been made on the usefulness, in due course, of the register to researchers and I consider that this would be a desirable amendment. I understand that the Keeper of the Records of Scotland has agreed with that and has indeed requested that the amendment be made.

I should, however, say a word about the question of confidentiality, which is addressed by new subsection (11) proposed by the amendment. It would not of course be desirable if information on the register which is not available to the public through the normal inspection process should be made available through the rather more indirect process of consultation of the register as deposited with the keeper. New subsection (11) therefore restricts inspection of the register sent to him to the circumstances to be prescribed by the Secretary of State.

I should make it clear that the Government's intention is to prescribe that no part of the register as sent to the keeper should be made available for inspection, or for copies to be taken, before 30 years have elapsed. This is in accordance with the standard closure period for government records: it will ensure that the registers deposited with the keeper will be used only for their correct purpose—historical and genealogical research—and not for any other purpose. On that basis, I am happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Levy, collection, payment and recovery of community charges]:

Baroness Carnegy of Lour moved Amendment No. 230: Page 29, line 14, leave out ("cause to be issued") and insert ("issue").

The noble Baroness said: This is an important group of amendments. In speaking to Amendment No. 230, it may be convenient if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 231, 232, 233, 241, 246 and 247. These amendments are designed to make the arrangements in the Bill for collecting the community charge through housing bodies much more flexible. We have already discussed what the Bill refers to when it uses the phrase "housing bodies". These arrangements are set out in paragraph 5 of Schedule 2. The Committee will see that Amendment No. 241 is the main amendment, the others being consequential upon it.

Several professional bodies have asked for greater flexibility. The Scottish Rating Forum of the Rating and Valuation Association made representations at Committee stage in another place and more recently at their conference. Members of the Committee will have read in the press that the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy made a number of suggestions.

The problems identified seem to be these. As paragraph 5 stands in the Bill it places a duty on housing bodies, district councils, new town development corporations and the SSHA to collect community charges from residents in the houses they let. However, it does not say anything about how that is to be arrived at or whether they may help with other residents apart from tenants. Circumstances, as has been pointed out, vary enormously across the country and the possibility for involving housing bodies varies as well. Clearly housing associations and new towns are not in direct contact with residents other than their tenants. The district councils have a variety of contacts with most residents. I believe that these amendments meet most of the anxieties which have been expressed.

Amendment No. 241 rewrites paragraph (5). It provides for arrangements not unlike those that exist at present under Section 10 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975, whereby rating authorities can make arrangements of varying kinds with housing bodies to collect rates. Where there are difficulties under this arrangement in coming to a scheme it is up to the rating authority to ask the Secretary of State, after consulting with those concerned, to impose an agreement. My amendments provide the same kind of flexibility.

The arrangements under the amendments made between the levying authority and the housing bodies could vary widely to suit local circumstances. At one end of the spectrum the housing body could do the whole thing. It could issue community charge bills and undertake all collection, and this collection need not be confined to those living in public housing. At the other end of the spectrum, the levying authority might issue bills and do most of the work, with the housing body simply providing collection points in its local offices. There could be many variations in between.

The only point of substance where these proposals fall short of the total flexibility for which the assessors and others have asked is that they do not allow all housing bodies to undertake debt recovery through summary warrants. At present, as the Committee will know, rating authorities have these powers but other housing bodies do not need them. They recover arrears as part of the rent arrears recovery procedures. It seems sensible to extend to district councils the use of summary warrants under the Bill. They are, after all, like the regions, tax raising authorities in their own right. But I understand that, after discussion with Government, they feel it is inappropriate to extend the right to use the summary warrant procedure to new town development corporations and the SSHA, and I am bound to say that I take that point.

The other amendments in this group are consequential. In paragraphs (2) and (3) of the schedule there seems no need to say that the levying authority will cause bills to be issued. It will either issue the bills itself or delegate the responsibility to a housing body. Amendment No. 247 reflects the fact that with these amendments housing bodies will no longer have a separate statutory duty to collect community charges but will be carrying out functions of levying authorities on their behalf.

I must emphasise—and this is important—that these arrangements in no way interfere with the intention of the Bill that community charges collected in this way should and can be separately billed and clearly identifiable as opposed to the rent notice. I hope the Committee will feel that this considerable change is an acceptable and sensible approach. I beg to move.

1.45 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

I am aware that pressure for greater flexibility in the arrangements made under Schedule 2 has come not only from the Scottish Rating Forum of the Rating and Valuation Association and from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy but also from a number of individual local authority directors of finance. This amendment picks up very well the sense of what is required. It provides for flexible arrangements with the fallback of appeal to the Secretary of State by the levying authority on a basis which pretty closely matches the arrangements under the present system for rates. I am perfectly happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour moved Amendments Nos. 231 to 233: Page 29, line 27, leave out from ("passed") to end of line and insert ("issue him with a demand notice"). Page 29, line 31, leave out ("cause to be issued") and insert ("issue"). Page 29, line 37, leave out from ("which") to ("against") and insert ("issued the demand notice").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The next amendment is Amendment No. 233A. If this is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 234 to 237.

Lord Burton: moved Amendment No. 233A: Page 29, line 43, leave out from ("payable") to ("as") in line 44 and insert ("at such times").

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 233A and perhaps at the same time we may discuss Amendments Nos. 234 to 237, 237A, 238 and 238A.

The purpose of this amendment must be perfectly clear and I hope covers the objects of the next six or seven amendments. I raised the principle of this matter at Second Reading and I am pleased to see that on this occasion the Front Bench opposite seem to have agreed with me. They have also put down the next amendment, which I think was intended to cover what I am trying to do. Unfortunately, the next amendment appears to be faulty as it seems impossible to have ten equal monthly payments in view of the fact there are 12 months in the year. However, I hope that with Amendment No. 233A I have found a solution agreeable to everyone—perhaps a difficult thing to do on this Bill.

The existing rate-levying authorities will be given the unenviable task of collecting the community charges. They have already set up the systems for collecting rent and rates. Surely the Bill is complicated enough without adding complications to the collection. Why not give the local authorities discretion? After all, they have all the expertise and experience in this matter. Last night after a council meeting in Inverness I had an opportunity to discuss the Bill with our chief executive, and the whole question of collection arose. I raised the question of computers which from previous parts of the Bill I note is dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. This is an urgent, expensive and difficult matter, as it transpires that several different types of computer are being used by local authorities in Scotland. Several of these computers will not speak to each other. I raise this now as it is a complication which will have to be dealt with urgently. If new computers are to be acquired we shall have to decide which ones will be used and obviously they must be compatible with each other.

This is another reason for giving as much freedom as possible to the local authorities over collection matters. However, we must not focus too closely on collections to do with council houses. There are many other collections to be made. Clearly these collections must be made as simple as possible not only for those collecting but for those paying. We should therefore grant the maximum flexibility in this matter to the local authorities which already have that expertise. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps I may make first what I think is the obvious point that payment by 12 monthly instalments is not to be imposed on all the community charged payers—far from it. Schedule 2(4)(10) provides that where the person liable to pay the community charge has agreed in writing with the levying authority—the region or islands council—that he will pay it otherwise than in accordance with the standard arrangements, that agreement will over-ride these arrangements. This means there is nothing to stop local authorities offering those liable for the community charge, if they wish, arrangement of payment options as they do at present in the case of rates, as my noble friend will acknowledge. Secondly, in many cases community charges will not be collected by levying authorities but by housing bodies under the terms of paragraph 5 of this schedule.

In discussing the amendments to that paragraph, tabled by my noble friend Lady Carnegy, we have had the opportunity to consider what these arrangements should be. I think we are all agreed that the arrangements in that case should be as flexible as possible. Nevertheless, it is desirable that standard instalment arrangements for collection by levying authorities should be set out even if in many cases they may be deviated from; and that is what paragraph 4 of the schedule does.

I believe that these points also meet the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Burton. His amendments would, in effect, leave all arrangements to the discretion of the local authorities while removing the provision in paragraph 4 which now grants a considerable degree of flexibility by allowing anyone to reach agreement with a local authority to pay otherwise than by the standard arrangements. I am sure that it is highly desirable for the standard arrangements to be clearly set out in the Bill.

It seems to me that there is one very good reason why the standard arrangements should be based on 12 monthly instalments rather than on 10 monthly instalments. Liability for community charges, unlike domestic rates, is a liability which is coterminous with the circumstances which give rise to them rather than a fixed annual liability. If rates are due on a house, there can be no doubt, in the vast majority of cases, that the liability which arises at the beginning of the financial year will have to be met at some point in the course of the year by the rateable occupier of the premises.

The position in relation to the community charge is different. If a person is resident in a local authority's area on 1st April, but leaves at some point in the course of the financial year, his liability only subsists for the period of his residence. It is thus logically important that the payment arrangements should mirror that fact.

I fully accept that the arrangements for a standard system of 12 monthly instalments means that the timetable for the announcement of the revenue support grant settlement leading to local authority budgeting and the setting of community charges will have to be different from the present arrangements for rates. However, that is not an insuperable problem. So far as central Government are concerned, we have always aimed, and will continue to aim, to give local authorities as much notice as possible of rate support grant—and, in the future, revenue support grant—settlements. We will, of course, consult fully local authority and other interests before the community charge timetable is set.

I have given a thorough explanation to my noble friend Lord Burton about why we believe that, as things are set out, the system will work and that the fears which I believe my noble friend has on his own particular area—or, indeed, the relevance, which I understand in a technical way at any rate, of the need for computers to talk to one another—are taken care of. We need the sort of flexibility here which the Bill already applies.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I see that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Burton, is grouped with Amendments Nos. 235 and 236 in the names of myself and my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie. All I proposed to say about them was that they are two niggling little amendments which only lawyers could think of. I should have thought that, of the possible solutions to the matter, this was the most sensible. The paragraph would read that the charge would be payable by 12 monthly instalments, as near as may be equal". I should have thought that that would be the sensible solution, but I do not know whether or not the Government agree.

Lord Glenarthur

Those amendments would alter the reference to 12 equal monthly instalments in paragraph 4(1) of the schedule to: 12 monthly instalments as near as may be equal. I should explain that sub-paragraph (1) is explicitly made subject to the remainder of the paragraph and various other provisions in the paragraph make it clear that the monthly instalments will not in all cases be exactly equal.

For example, sub-paragraph (6) provides that the levying authority may round off the amount of the instalments payable, except the first, to the nearest 5p and adjust the amount of the first instalment accordingly. That mirrors the present arrangements in relation to rates. However, it is important that subparagraph (1) should set out clearly the principle on which the standard instalment arrangements will be calculated, and there seems no need to derogate from the basic principle that they should be equal.

While there is little between the suggestions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, and the intention of the paragraph, I must say that in drafting terms I feel that the present sub-paragraph (1) is preferable. It is not merely a semantic point and I hope that the noble and learned Lord will accept that.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I shall have to read what the Minister said. As I said, I thought it was a simple matter over which only lawyers would niggle. However, I will read what has been said and see what I make of it. In the meantime, I shall not be moving my amendments.

Lord Burton

I am disappointed to hear my noble friend's reply because he has not answered my points. There are many complications in this matter. For example, one of the reasons why there are currently 10 payments rather than 12 is that the local authorities have to set their budgets. Having done that, and set out the amount that currently has to be charged to rates—the community charge in future—that has to be printed and circulated. It will mean that all the budgets of the local authorities will have to be thought out very much earlier in the year and the whole system will be disrupted. I cannot see the object of that. Why are central Government trying to thrust this on local authorities when it does not seem to be necessary?

I suggest that my noble friend refers to Amendment No. 238A. He referred to sub-paragraph (10)(a), and I have an amendment down to delete that altogether. If my present amendment were accepted it would not be necessary. I am somewhat at a loss because I do not want to divide the Committee so I hope my noble friend will look at this carefully and give the local authorities some consideration, because I believe that there is considerable substance in the matter.

Lord Glenarthur

This is a complex matter and I hope that my noble friend will read what I have said. I have given him much information and I included in my comments the administrative arguments. However, I shall set out my comments in a slightly different form and I hope that will satisfy my noble friend.

We have obviously considered the administrative arguments. We recognise that the present arrangements for 10 monthly instalments in paying rates provides local authorities with what one might call a fallow period in March and April when they can bring up to date their records for one year and issue the demand notices for the next. It was clear from the initial comments which some local authority professionals made—perhaps even he to whom my noble friend spoke last night—that the idea of continuing this fallow period was attractive to them.

However, others readily accepted the Government's proposals for 12 monthly payments. The Scottish branch of CIPFA, for example, commenting on the Scottish Office paper on operational issues published early last year, suggested that the charge should be due in 12 monthly instalments. Therefore, I hope that, with that further explanation and the fact that we have considered the difficulties raised by my noble friend, he will at least study what I said before he decides to press his amendment to a Division.

Lord Burton

Certainly I shall study what my noble friend has said, but before we come to Report stage I hope that his officials will have discussions with the chief finance officers of the local authorities who will have to handle this matter. Part of my information came from some of them and they are not happy about the situation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 234 to 240 not moved.]

2 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour moved Amendment No.241: Page 31, line 13, leave out paragraph 5 and insert— ("5.—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (3) below, a levying authority may make arrangements with a housing body for the exercise by the housing body on behalf of the levying authority of any of the authority's functions under this Schedule. (2) Arrangements under sub-paragraph (1) above may, without prejudice to the generality of that sub-paragraph—

  1. (i) provide for the receipt, collection or recovery by the housing body of any amount for which a person is liable under section 18(3) of this Act;
  2. (ii) in relation to the functions to be exercised by the housing body, provide that appeals under paragraph 3(a) above be to, and appeals under paragraph 3(b) above be from, the housing body;
  3. (iii) provide as to the terms upon which, instalments by which and manner in which community charges are to be payable to and collected and recovered by the housing body.
(3) Arrangements under this paragraph for the exercise of functions under paragraph 7(1)(a) below may be made only with a district council. (4) Every person by whom a community charge is payable to a housing body under arrangements under this paragraph shall pay it to the housing body in accordance with those arrangements. (5) Arrangements under sub-paragraph (1) above shall be on such terms as may be agreed between the levying authority and the housing body or, failing agreement, as may be determined by the Secretary of State. (6) Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that a levying authority wish to make arrangements under sub-paragraph (1) above with a housing body but the housing body have not agreed to enter into them, he may, by regulations made after consultation with the levying authority and the housing body require the housing body to do so.").

The noble Baroness said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 242: Page 31, leave out line 13 and insert— ("5.—(l) Subject to the terms of any agreement between the levying authority and the housing authority it will be in order for—").

The noble Lord said: I shall take this amendment together with Amendment No. 243. I shall try to be brief in relation to this amendment. At the moment we are giving power to levy to the housing bodies etc. I can see the force of the argument in respect of people who have already been contacted for the collection of rent and rates, but it is a different matter collecting from other people who reside in the area. They may be people who are relations—sons, daughters, grandmothers, grandfathers—or even lodgers. Hitherto these people have had no contact with the housing body. Unless some special agreement has been reached with someone who represents them in some way, I think it would be quite wrong that those who reside in the dwellinghouse should not themselves be subject to collection by the housing authority itself. That should be a matter for the levying authority to sort out in another way. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I feel that Amendments Nos. 242 and 243 would remove much of the flexibility which described in relation to the amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Carnegy. They would restrict any power of the Secretary of State to resolve difficulties or disagreements over the arrangements provided for by levying authorities and housing bodies in relation to the collection of the personal community charge from the tenants of housing that is let by the housing bodies. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, feels that that is sensible.

The levying authorities and the housing bodies are just as likely to be unable to agree in relation to the arrangements to be made in respect of this category of community charge payers as they are in relation to community charge payers generally. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will understand that I cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am certainly glad to withdraw the amendment for the sake of getting on with the business.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 243 not moved.]

Lord Taylor of Gryfe moved Amendment No. 244: Page 31, line 36, at end insert— ("( ) In the case of moneys collected by a charitable organisation 50 per cent (or a higher percentage at the discretion of the levying authority) will be retained by the charitable organisation from the moneys thus collected and the balance will be forwarded to the levying authority.")

The noble Lord said: The case for this amendment is stated therein. It permits the levying authorities at their discretion to rebate charitable organisations to the extent of 50 per cent. or a higher percentage, as they see fit. There has been a good deal of discussion during our debate on other aspects of the Bill about how we treat charitable and well meaning organisations. There was a fair amount of discussion on the question of women's refuges, and the Government agreed to take back the matter of the obligation of women's refuges and their liability for community tax.

In this case we are looking at the organisations and not the occupants of organisations such as women's refuges. I should be happy to hear from the Minister why he feels that this discretionary power of the levying authority should not be granted in the case of charitable organisations. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has indicated, we discussed at an earlier stage the position of employees living in tied houses. This approach is a rather different one but it tackles the same question in that it proposes that charitable organisations housing employees rent free should be "housing bodies" in terms of paragraph 5 of Schedule 2, and should retain 50 per cent. of the personal community charges that they collect.

Certainly I can say to the noble Lord that it is an ingenious approach, but I am afraid that it is not as acceptable as its ingenuity might indicate.

I appreciate of course the intention of the amendments that charitable organisations which at present provide tied houses for employees rent and rates free should continue to meet the personal community charge liabilities of these employees but should not thereby be placed in any worse financial position than they are already. Although the amendments should obviously be seen against the background of an intention by the charity in question to pay the personal community charges of its employees in tied houses, I have to say that the amendment makes no specific provision for this; as it stands, therefore, it appears to give charities the right to retain a percentage of the money they would collect as housing bodies—and would indeed, in the absence of any specific restriction, allow that possibility. For that reason alone I do not think that I can accept the amendment.

Secondly, however, I am afraid that the amendment runs much too wide. It would make all charitable organisations housing employees rent-free into "housing bodies" in terms of the Bill. There must be many such charities, some employing only a very small number of people living in tied houses. The amendment would therefore greatly extend the number of "housing bodies" and would go well beyond the intention of the "housing body" provisions, which is that in appropriate cases public housing authorities should play some part in collecting the community charges of persons living in houses let by them.

I am afraid that as it stands the amendment would create a plethora of housing bodies which could only lead to administrative confusion. Even if that were not the case, it would not be right for the Committee to include in the Bill a provision affecting many such bodies without consultation with all those who may be affected. I can well imagine that many bodies would be affected by the amendments and would not be happy about being required to undertake that duty.

I have listened carefully, and I have given reasons why the Committee should not accept the amendments. The proposal must be seen against the intention of the charity to pay the personal community charges of its employees in tied houses. I hope that the noble Lord will be happy with that explanation.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am not being ingenious in trying to raise the subject about which I wish to speak at this late time. The Minister dealt with Amendment No. 244 and pointed out some of the difficulties, but I am sure that he realises that the whole matter is full of difficulties. Mention has been made of the problem of churches, manses and presbyteries, which sometimes have a number of people living in them. In the case of one or two Catholic presbyteries there may be seven, eight or 10 priests. Most of them have no income. I understand that under the present system rate relief is given to such premises.

Convents and abbeys—if that is still the right word—present a more serious problem. Large numbers of nuns or monks may live in them. At present they have certain privileges. I hope that the Minister will be able to look at this point, although I know that he may not be able to do so today. I do not think we have so far received an answer on it and this is the best time at which I can reinforce my appeal for a definition in respect of religious and other such organisations.

Lord Glenarthur

I shall reflect upon the noble Lord's words, especially as they connect with an earlier amendment. I should like to re-read what he and I said then. On their merits, the amendments are unacceptable.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Renton)

I must apologise to the Committee. My only excuse, although perhaps it is more of a reason, is the change of the Chairman of these proceedings a few minutes ago. I am now advised that this amendment should not have been called and Amendment No. 245 should not be called when we come to it, because they are in conflict with Amendment No. 241 to which the Committee has already agreed. I owe an apology especially to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, but in the circumstances the best way out of this little difficulty is for him now gracefully to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I am much indebted to the Chairman for permitting me to move an amendment which was obviously out of order, because it enabled me to state a case which I hope is worthy of further consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked about religious organisations which would be affected. I accept that the amendment is rather widely and poorly drafted, but the Committee must appreciate that with the massive representations we have received on this Bill it is extremely difficult for part-time Members of this place to draft amendments appropriately.

I have taken note of what the Minister said, and in the circumstances and in view of the fact that it is out of order, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The next amendment is Amendment No. 246, which goes with Amendment No. 247. They have already been discussed. I understand that they are accepted.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour moved Amendments Nos. 246 and 247: Page 32, line 36, leave out ("personal") Page 32, line 46, leave out from ("charges") to end of line

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 246 and 247.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Cameron of Lochbroom) moved Amendment No. 248: Page 32, line 47, leave out ("recoverable") and insert ("recovered").

The noble and learned Lord said: For the convenience of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 249 to 255 and 271. The latter amendment introduces a new clause after Clause 30.

All these amendments relate to procedures for recovery of arrears of community charges. The relevant provisions relating to recovery procedures are presently set out in paragraphs 7 and 8 of Schedule 2. They are modelled on the present procedures for recovery of rates. That is normally done by the use of summary warrant, as my noble friend Lady Carnegy said earlier, though in some cases a decree may be obtained in an action of payment. Local authorities have considerable experience of using summary warrant procedures for the recovery of rates arrears and it seems eminently sensible that this expertise should be applied in relation to community charges.

The Committee has fairly recently considered the Debtors (Scotland) Bill which reforms the law relating to the enforcement of debts due under court orders in Scotland. It contains provisions applying its reforms to the procedures for recovering various types of debt including rates. The purpose of these amendments is to align the provisions of the present Bill as appropriate with those reformed procedures.

The amendments fall naturally into two categories: first, those which amend the basic recovery provisions contained in paragraphs 7 and 8 of Schedule 2 of this Bill; and secondly, those contained in the new clause which apply relevant provisions of the Debtors (Scotland) Bill to the system of community charges as it will exist after 1st April 1989.

With one exception, the amendments to Schedule 2 involve detailed drafting changes and the insertion of cross-references to ensure that the provisions of the schedule parallel those for the recovery of rates as reformed by the Debtors (Scotland) Bill and are there set out in paragraph 1 of Schedule 4.

There is one amendment to which I would draw particular attention. That is Amendment No. 251. The amendment includes an earnings arrestment among the available diligences. This is a new procedure introduced by the Debtors (Scotland) Bill to provide a simpler, more effective form of earnings arrestment which may apply to more than one pay period and is in that Bill available for the recovery of arrears of rates.

The new clause contained in Amendment No. 271 makes amendments to relevant parts of the Debtors (Scotland) Bill itself. The general effect of these is to ensure that procedures and definitions relating to the recovery of rates are paralleled by those for the recovery of community charges. Just as with rates, time-to-pay orders and time-to-pay directions would not apply to community charge debts.

The amendments raise no new issues but simply apply to the community charge the reformed system of diligences that has already been before this Chamber in its consideration of the Debtors (Scotland) Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

2.15 p.m.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom moved Amendments Nos. 249 to 255: Page 33, line 3, at end insert ("accompanied by a certificate by them") Page 33, line 18, at end insert ("in accordance with Schedule 5 to the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987") Page 33, line 18, at end insert— ("(aa) an earnings arrestment") Page 33, line 43, after ("below") insert ("and without prejudice to paragraphs 25 to 34 of Schedule 5 to the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987") Page 33, line 46, leave out ("defender") and insert ("debtor") Page 33, line 47. leave out ("any person") and insert ("the debtor") Page 33, line 48, leave out ("that person") and insert ("the debtor")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 22 [Reduction of community charges]:

On Question, Whether Clause 22 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Wilson of Langside

As the Committee knows, Clause 22 gives effect to Schedule 3 of the Bill. As I read Schedule 3, it is just about the last straw. There are probably one or two more but this is the last straw in this Bill. It is a matter on which the Government are open to serious criticism.

I am aware that there has nearly always been a strain between local and central government. I know that that has been so in our country, and I am sure that it is so in many other countries. However, of late years, there has been a growing awareness that the strain between local and central government has gone beyond all bounds and that it is having a damaging effect on the work of government generally.

Against that background, it will be obvious to Members of the Committee that one important test for any reform of local government finance should be the extent to which it reduces the tension. The point was made during the Second Reading debate by those who oppose the Bill—all of us on this side—that far from reducing these strains and tensions so damaging to the whole body politic in this country, the Bill would add to them. We made this point quite clearly. Schedule 3 focuses upon this point because it was said that this Bill was to produce accountability and to free to some extent the working of local government. But with the operation of Schedule 3 the old situation is restored giving central government powers analogous to those which they already have.

The schedule states If the Secretary of State is satisfied that the total estimated expenses … of a local authority … are excessive and unreasonable, he may make and cause to be laid before the Commons House of Parliament a report proposing a reduction in the amount of the personal community charge". Surely this provision flies in the face of what the Government have suggested would be the benefits which would flow from this Act. We will be back in the old position of straying between central and local government. We are all agreed that no one wants to encourage profligacy on the part of local authorities.

I remember 20 years ago when the government of which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and myself were members, introduced a Bill giving certain powers to central government. The powers were extended and built on by successive governments until the situation in which we are today existed. My point concerning this clause and Schedule 3 is that it becomes apparent that we are not moving forward in the direction that any sensible scheme for the reform of local government finance should have taken us. I therefore oppose the Motion that Clause 22 stand part of the Bill.

The Earl of Selkirk

I should like to raise a point which is entirely different from the point spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson. Is it desirable that schedules should become the principle part of a part of a Bill? This raises the very difficult question as to what should be in the Bill and what should be in the schedule. I have never heard this defined, but I have always regarded the Bill as containing the principle on which it acts and the schedules containing the mechanism by which it be done. However, I may be wrong.

The whole of Clause 21 is not so bad because most of the levying collection is simply a mechanism. However, Clause 22 includes a principle which is not incorporated in the Bill but in the schedule. I believe that principle should clearly be in the Bill, and the mechanism by which it should be carried out should he in the schedule. I am making an objection in principle that this is a bad way of presenting a Bill. I should like to give one reason for my objection. Many noble Lords when reading a Bill read the schedules quickly, partly because they are very complicated. We do not go into detail but we like to see the principle of the Bill quite clearly laid out in the clauses. This is not done here.

I say with great respect that I think it is a great mistake and it is setting a very bad precedent when we say in effect, "Please read the schedule if you want to know what it is all about". I think that this is quite wrong and I ask the noble Lord to consider the matter very carefully. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, said there was a principle, but the principle is not in the Bill; it is in the schedule. In so far as that principle is there it should be incorporated properly in the Act. I ask the noble Lord to consider these points because I think we are setting a precedent which is thoroughly bad.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I rise to support without qualification every single word that my noble friend Lord Selkirk has said. The question of principle appearing on the face of the Bill will arise in acute form as regards the governing principles of the regulation proposed under Clause 24. I shall deal with that on its merits at the appropriate time. But that in no way derogates from anything that my noble friend has said and what he has said is in my opinion of crucial importance.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I wholly agree with my two noble friends who have just spoken. The Bill reads very oddly. There is nothing in Clause 22 which specifies what it deals with. However, when one looks at the side note it indicates that it relates to the extremely important matter of the reduction of community charges.

My own view is that Ministers should have such a power. I do not suppose that the Members of the Committee opposite necessarily share that view. However, whatever view one takes, this is an important provision of the Bill and I agree very much with my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Campbell of Alloway that it should be spelt out in the clause and that it should not simply be a clause giving force to a schedule.

I do not know whether this is an appropriate time to raise the matter. It probably is not because it will be dealt with on the Motion that the schedule stand part. But I should like as a preliminary observation to say that the other matter which I very much dislike is that the important power of approving the report by the Secretary of State, which will have the effect of reducing the charges, appears to be confined to another place and this House is excluded. When we come to that point I hope that I shall be given some explanation of that.

Lord Stallard

Strange as it may seem I wish to support the Members of the Committee opposite who are raising the importance of the schedule. I must confess that I have a foot in both camps. I am considering the matter from the Scottish point of view and I am also much concerned about the Bill that we have been threatened with as regards England and Wales.

If I read the Bill correctly, Clause 22, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has just mentioned, does nothing except refer to Schedule 3. Nowhere in the body of the Bill is there reference to the current system of rate-capping but it is referred to in the schedule. That is a very important principle and when the English Bill is drafted the question of rate-capping will be of major importance. Schedule 3 provides for the redetermination of personal community charges if the Secretary of State believes there are local authorities whose total estimated expenses are excessive and unreasonable. Those are important principles and they are not stated anywhere in the Bill except in Schedule 3. That is an extremely important point. We cannot develop it now but we have not heard the end of that principle or of the kind of powers that the Secretary of State has been given as a result of those paragraphs in the schedule.

The Earl of Perth

I have listened with great interest to the other Members of the Committee who have spoken. Perhaps it will not surprise the Minister to know that I am very much in agreement with what they are saying. Something which is as important as this should be in the Bill and not in the schedule.

As the question was in a sense raised originally by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, I say to him that something like this provision must be in the Bill in some form or another. He asked what would happen if a local authority was profligate. It is necessary that there should be some defence against that. With those two comments I leave it to others to continue the debate.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I too should like to make exactly the same comments as the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I think that the words used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, were, "No one wants to encourage profligacy". Those words are crucial in any reorganisation that we are undertaking. There must be back-up powers because we know of some very profligate local authorities in Scotland.

2.30 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

It is quite obvious that the format of the Bill is wrong. Principles have been breached, as is agreed on all sides of the Committee. I suppose that we might lose sight of the principle, because a bad principle can lead to a bad format and the confusion caused by this Bill could easily achieve that.

No one wants to encourage profligacy at all, but I thought that the whole point of the Bill was to spread accountability. If one is to spread accountability, one must allow people to be accountable. However, the Government do not believe that it will, so they have added the rate-capping clause, which seems to negate the whole purpose of the Bill. Therefore the principle is wrong as well as the format.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I do not think that there is any doubt that it is very unusual indeed to have such principles encompassed in a schedule. We have been moving along this line for a long time—since about 1979—and it springs from legislation that the Government said started in about 1948: the right of the Government to interfere in excessive expenditure. That has changed its meaning and also the purpose for which governments originally included it in Bills has changed. It is like an old woman being proud of a brush, saying that it has been in the family for 60 years and has had only three heads and two shafts. The whole thing is different and I have been in most of the arguments about this kind of thing.

We had guidelines and we had guidelines suddenly becoming statutory. We had rate-capping and the Government were always finding a new gap which had to be closed. They are doing that within this schedule. Most of the new departures were contained in the Bills and not in the schedules. To deal with it in this way is quite wrong. I do not know why, but I believe that people pay less attention to schedules. It used to be very nice for the Government at Committee stage when all the attention was paid to the Bill and fewer people paid attention to the schedule. This may teach us to treat things slightly differently. From that point of view I think that it is wrong.

The Bill is divided into various parts and there is no reason why the parliamentary procedures in relation to the reduction of community charges—That is slightly misleading. It is the Government's decision to intervene in the charge set by the local authority, not the local authority reducing the charge. There is a whole procedure which takes place before that happens and in which the local authority plays very little part.

I do not know whether the Government can act now. I am surprised, because the Bill was dealt with under guillotine procedure in another place and that may have something to do with it. I acknowledge the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and equally the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. Who and what is excessive? Whatever charge is fixed will be considered by many people to be excessive. It depends on one's outlook on government services. If one is prepared to reduce for the sake of reducing and forgets that by reducing one is not sweeping the streets, that is not doing the job that local government has been given by statute to do.

Local government is not doing anything unusual, but it is doing what we tell it to do. I see Members of the House here who in Bill after Bill are prepared to place more burdens on local authorities, but when it comes to paying for those burdens they will say no. The Government will interfere and say that it is excessive and unreasonable. I agree that the provision should not appear in the schedule; it should be included in the main part of the Bill.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

Nothing that I said would I retract, but I wholly support the main principle of this Bill.

The Earl of Selkirk

The noble Lord asked what is excessive payment. I am informed that in the Lothian region the word "economy" is a bad word. That is what I mean by saying that some regard for excessive payments should be made.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

As these references are obviously being directed at me by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, I consider that a 32 per cent. increase in a year for the Lothian region's charge is excessive when inflation is running at 4 and 5 per cent.

Lord Ross of Marnock

This is a very interesting argument, but it does not have an awful lot to do with what we are supposed to be discussing. I remind the noble Lord, if he is interested in local government finances, that in 1979 the Government paid 68 per cent. of the relevant expenditure. Today they are paying 56.7 per cent. in Scotland. They are paying even less in England, by the way. That is the cause of the crisis in local government finance. It was the cause of the panic in Perth. No doubt the noble Lord was there. I am sorry that the man who told him how to soothe things down—the Leader of the House—is not here. That is the trouble and that is why expenses are considered excessive. It explains why people trying to carry out the duties laid upon them are shoved off into this particular schedule.

Lord Glenarthur

It seems that we are encompassing in this clause-stand-part debate very nearly three different debates. The first is whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. I shall come to that in a moment. Another concerns the merits that are contained in the schedule which refers to it and the third concerns the point which was made by my noble friend Lord Selkirk, supported by my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Campbell of Alloway and by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that the provision should be part of the Bill and not in any sense removed from it and put into a schedule when it contains information of great importance and incorporates, if not absolute principles, at least a certain amount of detail relating to a new matter, that is to say, community charges.

I very much note those points. I should like to consider them but in the context of the fact that the schedule is virtually a re-enactment of the provisions of Section 5 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966 to make it apply to the legislation that we are now considering. There is absolutely no intention on the part of the Government to try to dodge the issue by placing in the schedule something which otherwise might appear in more or less precisely the same form in the main part of the Bill. I assure my noble friends that there was no thought whatsoever on the part of the Government of trying to evade their responsibilities, to confuse or to confound in any way what others might feel ought to have been a proper part of the substantive legislation, the substantive clauses of the Bill. I hope my noble friends will consider that.

Having said that, I shall try to find for my noble friends some precedents which may indicate that this is not a wholly unusual procedure. My noble friend Lord Selkirk shakes his head as if to indicate that it is doubtful whether I shall ever find such a precedent. Perhaps the burden can be upon me to do that. I shall look at it. I realise that my noble friends with their experience have brought to the attention of your Lordships a matter of great importance. However, I hope they will accept from me that there was absolutely no suggestion of trying to avoid discussion of this provision or of trying to push it into such a position that it might be skated over by putting it in the schedule. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter looks as though he wishes to intervene.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I merely wanted to make it clear that so far as I am concerned I was not suggesting for a moment that there was any intention on the part of the Government to conceal what was being done. Indeed, I went out of my way to express the view that I thought what was being done was right. However, since the Minister has invited me to intervene perhaps I may say on the question of precedent that he has quoted a very devastating one against himself. In the 1966 Act those similar provisions were enacted as Section 5, as he has just told us. I suggest that we should follow that precedent.

Lord Glenarthur

There is always a pitfall somewhere in these matters. I shall look at my noble friend's point. To return to that once more, the fact that it is in Section 5 means that it was not really necessary to put in a whole new section in the Bill. But perhaps we had better not pursue the argument any further.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

That is wise.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps I may now respond to the theme of Clause 22 and answer the question about why we need the selective action at all, which is very much the substance of Clause 22. We need it under the new system of local government finance for just the same reason that we need it now: it is to protect local taxpayers from the extremes of local authority behaviour. That is precisely what has been said.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, raised a number of points and made a number of claims which I feel bound to deal with. First, he asked: what is excessive? Excessiveness is carefully measured by objective criteria based on a client group of needs assessment and also on comparisons with other similar authorities.

As for the implication that central government interference is something new or something that has developed at an unprecedented pace in recent years, I really cannot accept that for one moment, because of course all governments have taken an interest in local government expenditure, including the government of which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was part. Perhaps when he comes to consider the matter of profligacy he will remember the reductions which were forced on local authorities as a result of the IMF negotiations in, I think, 1976.

It is true that processes have been refined, but those processes have been improved so that under this Government the penalties attach much more directly to the authorities which incur the overspending that undoubtedly happens from time to time. I readily accept there is room for argument about the circumstances in which these powers are to be exercised, but it appears that the party opposite wish the basic power to be retained. I acknowledge that others are adopting a position of high principle that there should be no interference whatsoever in the affairs of local authorities. I hope that the local taxpayers of Edinburgh, and perhaps Lothian in particular—Lothian rates are going up by 30 per cent. this year—will take note of the views that have been expressed.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, suggested, the Committee will be aware that one of the main purposes of the Bill is to strengthen local accountability. One might well therefore suggest that it is inconsistent to include in the Bill a power to intervene in local decisions. Certainly we confidently expect that the Bill's provisions will bring about a great improvement in the accountability of authorities to their electorates and in particular in regard to their financial decisions. That seems to be something which is to be wholly supported by at least some of us, if not all, on this side of the Committee. But no government can be expected simply to throw away the safety net altogether, and I am surprised that noble Lords opposite feel that they might be prepared to throw away a safety net upon which they might one day have to rely.

Local authorities' financial decisions have an important economic impact, both at the local level through the rates and the community charges at which they strike, and at the macroeconomic level through the total amount of expenditure which they incur. Past Labour governments have found it necessary to pursue tight policies on government expenditure, including local authority expenditure, and they too would want to have the control necessary to delivery such a policy. They would also want to be able to respond to the situation where a local authority had placed a quite excessive burden on its local taxpayers. These are the very powers that are contained in Clause 22 and Schedule 3.

Let me emphasise that it is the Government's intention to use these powers only in the last resort. In the past, the record shows that the Secretary of State has taken action. The noble Lord opposite laughs, but it must be remembered that action had to be taken as a result of the IMF negotiations, which caused local authorities to be put in a position which otherwise they would not have been put in. The noble Lord's party had to deal with that.

The Secretary of State has not done anything other than guard against excessive and unreasonable expenditure. He has not undertaken these tasks out of malice or with particular relish, but he has done so because they have been necessary. No one would be more pleased than the Government if the new selective action powers were never needed. If that were to be the case, what harm would have been done by including them in the Bill? The mere existence of the powers themselves constitutes an important constraint on authorities' behaviour.

On the other hand, if the powers were dropped from the Bill and individual authorities struck excessively high community charges, how would the government of the day explain to the irate local taxpayers why they had removed this protection from them? No government can give up last resorts such as those contained in Clause 22 and Schedule 3. I sincerely hope that noble Lords opposite will understand the force of that argument and accept that the clause and the schedule ultimately should stand part of the Bill.

2.45 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

It seems to me that the Government's actions are based on what the authority in East Lothian and the Lothians is doing this year under the present system, and that they give no credit at all to the new accountability. To use the arguments of the present day about the future appears to me to be confusing. There is a difference in principle between the two matters. For the Government to put in the rate-capping powers which exist today to deal with councils such as Lothian, and to say at the same time that accountability is all and that it will improve the conduct of local authorities, is totally illogical. That is why we oppose this clause.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

Is it right that my noble friend the Minister is giving consideration as to whether the principles will be extracted from the schedule, leaving the machinery in the schedule with a view to altering the structure of the Bill; or is he not?

Lord Glenarthur

What I said to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and my noble friend Lord Selkirk was that I would certainly consider the points that have been made. But I am not suggesting that I will necessarily come back with a whole series of amendments on Report which encompass Schedule 3 into suitable clauses of the Bill. What I have said—and it appears that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter beseeches me to take the argument no further—is that the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966, which this schedule largely re-enacts, is precisely that—a reenactment. Therefore there is no need, in the eyes of the draftsman or of myself, in my capacity as being responsible for the Bill, or the eyes of anybody else, to put it into the Bill in any other way. What I indicated to my noble friends was that I would take away their points and look at them, but without a commitment to come back in due course.

The Earl of Selkirk

I was not suggesting for a moment that the Government were trying deliberately to hide part of the clause. But I do say that this is a fundamental breach of good drafting. I want to put that over to the Government. They are wrong in saying, "Look at the schedule, old boy". The noble Lord is now quoting 1965; in a short time he will be quoting 1987 to show what the drafting was in this year. That is the point which I make and I shall be glad if the noble Lord sees that the draftsmen understand that this form of approach is viewed with regret and, if I may say so, disfavour by the Committee.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Hear, hear!

Lord Glenarthur

I hope that my noble friend is not under the impression that I do not take what he says extremely seriously. Perhaps I may also say to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who referred particularly to the question of excluding the Committee from approving, in Schedule 3, the paragraph which is headed Parliamentary proceedings for reduction of personal community charges, that that is evidently a matter of the privilege of another place, because it relates to financial matters which, by custom, are not debated. Perhaps I may also look at that matter. But I believe that to be an established principle.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to say that the principle is far from clear. I touched on it at the earlier stage by indicating that I thought it might arise on the Motion that the schedule stand part. If my noble friend wishes to debate that matter now, I shall be obliged.

Lord Glenarthur

I am not particularly keen to debate it now. However, if my noble friend raises the matter later, I shall endeavour to deal with it then.

Lord Hughes

The noble Lord having found, in his reference to Section 5 of the 1966 Act, what he later described as a pitfall following what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, had to say about it, now seeks to justify the schedule by saying that it is just a reenactment of what is in the 1966 Act. However, what I took from what he said is that the principle of seeking to have a check on local authority expenditure did not start in 1966. Therefore, what was in the Bill in 1966 would not be the first time that this matter came up. If it was necessary in 1966 to put into the Bill something which had been acted upon for years before, that is an added argument for having it in the present Bill.

Having said that, of course those of us who support the principle that the matter should he in this Bill do it with different ideas of what will happen in due course when it appears there. As my noble friend Lord Ross has made perfectly clear, if it becomes part of the Bill we may still he objecting to the form which it then takes. However, I think that everyone who has spoken, with the exception of the Minister, is agreed that something as important as this matter should be part of the Bill, whatever we think of the Bill. Therefore, we are agreed on the principle but not necessarily on what the principle then entails.

Lord Wilson of Langside

We have had a full discussion. I am sorry if the gravamen of my attack on the substance of the schedule was not expressed with sufficient clarity to convince the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson. I shall not try to remedy that now. In view of what has been said from all sides of the Committee, I shall not withdraw my Motion that Clause 22 should not stand part of the Bill.

2.53 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 22 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 89; Not-Contents, 56.

Alexander of Tunis, E. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Beaverbrook, L. Drumalbyn, L.
Beloff, L. Dundee, E.
Blake, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Blyth, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Enniskillen, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Erne, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Faithfull, B.
Burton, L. Ferrier, L.
Butterworth, L. Fortescue, E.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Glenarthur, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Gray, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Greenway, L.
Carnock, L. Gridley, L.
Chelwood, L. Haig, E.
Coleraine, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Cork and Orrery, E.
Cottesloe, L. Harvington, L.
Craigavon, V. Hesketh, L.
Craigmyle, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Hooper, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Portland, D.
Killearn, L. Rankeillour, L.
Kimball, L. Reigate, L.
Kinnaird, L. Renton, L.
Knollys, V. Richardson, L.
Lauderdale, E. Rodney, L.
Layton, L. St. Davids, V.
Long, V. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Lothian, M. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Manchester, D. Selkirk, E.
Margadale, L. Sempill, Ly.
Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L. Somers, L.
Stockton, E.
Merrivale, L. Strathspey, L.
Mersey, V. Swansea, L.
Milverton, L. Swinton, E.
Molson, L. Terrington, L.
Morris, L. Teynham, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Trafford, L.
Napier and Ettrick, L. Trumpington, B.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Penrhyn, L. Vickers, B.
Perth, E. Whitelaw, V.
Plummer of St Marylebone, L. Wolfson, L.
Young, B.
Ardwick, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Attlee, E. Lovell-Davis, L.
Basnett, L. Mackie of Benshie, L. [Teller.]
Briginshaw, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mais, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Molloy, L.
Carter, L. Nicol, B.
Clancarty, E. Parry, L.
David, B. Peston, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Elwyn-Jones, L.
Falkender, B. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Gallacher, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Galpern, L. Sainsbury, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Seear, B.
Gregson, L. Serota, B.
Grimond, L. Shackleton, L.
Hanworth, V. Silkin of Dulwich, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Simon, V.
Hughes, L. Stallard, L.
Hunt, L. Strabolgi, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Jeger, B. Tordoff, L.
Kagan, L. Underhill, L.
Kilbracken, L. White, B.
Kilmarnock, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Kirkhill, L. Wilson of Langside, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and clause agreed to accordingly.

Schedule 3 [Reduction of community charges]:

3.1 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 255A to 255G not moved.]

On Question, Whether Schedule 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

We had some preliminary comments earlier on one aspect of Schedule 3, and that is the aspect under which the important power to approve or disapprove of a decision by the Secretary of State to make a report and overrule a local authority is, under the schedule, confined to another place. Your Lordships' House is apparently completely excluded from any authority in that regard.

This matter, as my noble friend the Minister indicated, is rather on the frontier of the relations between the two Houses, but I should not like to let this go without a question and perhaps indeed a challenge. It is perfectly true that on matters of taxation your Lordships' House plainly has no power: that goes back to the Parliament Act 1911. However, although this is a matter affecting finance—obviously so, because it affects the finance of local authorities—it is not, as I understand it, a matter relating to the imposition of a charge on the taxpayer. Therefore, it is not the kind of matter which comes within the purview of a Finance Bill. It is the exercise of a power, an important power, in the Secretary of State to control the excesses of local authorities.

I know that there are two views in your Lordships' House on whether that power should exist and on how it should be exercised. I am not at this point concerned with that difference of view. However, I am a little concerned about whether, by excluding this House entirely from the power to control the Secretary of State in this matter and leaving it entirely to another place, we are not taking a further step in the erosion of the authority of this House in regard to general matters and in relation to another place.

On the merits of the matter, I have no doubt at all that the procedures of your Lordships' House enable matters of this kind—and they are important matters—to be discussed. I think I can say without disrespect to another place, where I served for 27 years, that we have rather more time at our disposal than is generally the case in another place, as well as the enormous experience of Members of your Lordships' House in all quarters, which can be brought to bear on such matters.

I am sure that since I raised the point—and I did so deliberately in advance in order to give my noble friend the opportunity so to do—he has been collecting precedents. When he goes into precedents I am sure we shall want to consider them. However, in the absence of those precedents, which he will no doubt be good enough to inform us about, it seems to me that this is not one of those obviously financial or taxation matters which are clearly, and have been since 1911, the prerogative of another place. It lies somewhere in the grey area of the relations between the two Houses. For my part, I should not like to let anything of that kind go through without challenge or examination.

It may well be that my noble friend will be able to show that this comes within a well settled area of the relationship between the two Houses. He may well be able to do so. At the moment I do not challenge that. However, I feel that the Committee should look carefully at each such provision to make sure that the general pressure from another place to increase its powers at the expense of this Chamber does not go without notice.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

There is another point of view on this question. It may be tested without consulting precedent at all. The veto of this Chamber would in fact have very important financial consequences and in those circumstances I am not sure that that would be entirely constitutional, quite apart from the question of precedent.

Lord Grimond

I hope that the Minister will not rely too much upon precedent. In the discussions on this Bill I think that we have already learnt that precedents can be extremely dangerous guidelines. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has raised a point which merits discussion. Like him, I do not wish to trespass upon the powers of another place over taxation but this matter seems to me to go beyond the simple question of taxation. The schedule speaks of "excessive and unreasonable" proposals by the local authorities, which are subjective words. So far as I can see, it does not insist that they should be defined, if they can be defined, in entirely financial terms.

As I understand it the Minister concerned will certainly take into account the economic situation of the country and the economic justification for the proposals, but he is not debarred from taking into account other considerations, particularly the purposes for which the money is to be spent. Again, I do not want to go into the rights and wrongs of the whole schedule.

I have grave doubts about giving Ministers this power. In any case to my mind on the face of the schedule the power is not confined simply to a financial examination. It goes wider than that. Therefore I should have thought that this Chamber at least had the right to ask to be considered.

There is one other point that I should like to raise. I have found during my brief sojourn in this place that Bills, orders and so forth not unnaturally are given much more consideration here. The whole of Parliament is so overloaded with legislation that a great deal of it, orders, regulations etc, goes through without proper discussion, as everyone would admit. I should have thought that this is the kind of matter that ought to be discussed as widely as possible because it has extremely important constitutional as well as financial implications. It is also extremely controversial and may cause great harm to both central government and local authorities. Therefore, I hope that the Government will not rest entirely on whatever precedents they can find and that they will take note of the points that have been raised.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as to whether this matter should be debarred from discussion in this Chamber is very important. If he looks at Clause 29, he will be interested to discover, as will the Committee, that in the whole of the Bill there is not a single rule or regulation that has to be drawn up by the Secretary of State that will come to this Chamber, because they all come under the annulment procedure resolution of either House. We seldom see them, particularly if the other place decides to have a prayer. It is difficult for us to accept this proposal. I have tabled an amendment to Clause 29. It does not cover this point. I was going to withdraw it because we can tighten up the amendment at the next stage of the Bill. That will give us the opportunity properly to debate the subject on report.

Lord Glenarthur

My noble friend is clearly concerned about this aspect of Schedule 3, paragraph 1(1). My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has raised matters which may go much wider than the schedule or even the Bill. It would be wrong of me to attempt to fall into the trap, which my noble friend claims I might have done earlier, by embarking on any suggestion of precedent. I think that I had better take this away and look at it. It is clearly something which was put into the schedule in good faith because it was believed to have been a matter of Commons privilege in the way that I described earlier when we spoke to Clause 22 stand part.

I believe that that is probably what the Committee would wish me to do. I undertake to look at that matter and to come back to validate my claim or to approach it in another way.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I am much obliged to my noble friend. That seems to be the right way to handle the matter.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Replacement of rate support grants by revenue support grants]:

[Amendment No. 255H not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Revenue support grants]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 255J: Page 37, line 12, at end insert ("after having regard to current rates of spending, changes in demand (for example, demographic changes), development needs and levels of pay and price increases").

The noble Lord said: Schedule 4 deals with revenue support grants and the determination of aggregate amount. That falls into almost the same position as the last schedule. The schedule deals with what can be left in and what cannot. I am not happy about it. It states: 'relevant expenditure', in relation to a financial year, means the total expenditure … in respect of that year as estimated by the Secretary of State but, in making that estimate, he may leave out of account such categories of expenditure in respect of that year as he may determine". The Secretary of State may determine what will be left out. It is wrong that he should have the power to decide what items will be contained in it. It should be the local authority's understanding of what is total expenditure and what of that total expenditure should be considered relevant. Relevant means for grant purposes. Grant purposes will be considerably different under the new system. It will still be called RSG, but instead of that meaning rate support grant, it will mean revenue support grant. I do not know whether the Minister wants to make a point on that.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord seeks with this amendment to specify matters that the Secretary of State should take into account in determining the estimated aggregate amount of revenue support grant payable to local authorities for any financial year. As drafted at present, the Bill makes no prescription on this matter. In this respect, it does not follow the earlier legislation governing rate support grant—the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966. That Act sets out in some detail what matters the Secretary of State shall take into consideration before determining the amount of rate support grant, and the list includes such matters as fluctuation in the demand for services, the need to develop services, and expected increases in prices and in pay. In a more modest way the noble Lord is seeking to reinstate some of those obligations on the Secretary of State.

The main reason for not covering this ground in the Bill as published has been quite simply our desire for simplification. Clearly, in determing the estimated aggregate amount of revenue support grant for any year, the Secretary of State must recognise that he is operating in the real world. Of course, his real world considerations will include the requirements of national economic policy and affordability to the taxpayer. But they will also include a realistic assessment of the pressures on local authorities, the price and wage increases they are likely to experience in the course of the financial year in question, new demands likely to be placed upon them, and so on. There will be many considerations to be taken into account. If that is the concern—which it seems to me it is—which lies behind the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, I can give him a ready assurance that all of these matters will be taken into account.

But we cannot necessarily predict now, as we legislate, all the matters that may be relevant in respect of future financial years, and it seems unnecessary and probably unhelpful to specify only some of them. Indeed, on a strict interpretation, it might be presumed in the future that if such matters arc specified on the face of the legislation, then the Secretary of State would not be permitted to take into account other considerations which may be highly relevant in future years, but which are not mentioned in legislation. I think that it is better not to attempt such a specification. I hope that that provides the reasoning which the noble Lord is seeking.

Lord Ross of Marnock

This specification is already there in statute. Admittedly it was not in the schedule but in the Bill. Why is there the departure here? It makes it far easier for the Secretary of State; he has all the flexibility in the world. If government place the responsibility on him, he is the person who will determine it. Local government will say, "He will fix it." There is already sufficient criticism of the way these matters work but if the power is to be taken entirely without restriction by the Secretary of State, people will say more and more that government are laying down the law and that there might as well not be a local authority.

However, I see that the Government are not going to move. I see that many Members would like to move, but they are getting too comfortable on this Thursday afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 255K not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 255L: Page 38, line 9, at end insert ("which will be the subject of subsequent primary legislation")

The noble Lord said: This amendment refers again to the words "as he determines". There should be some indication in statute for the Secretary of State to use whatever consideration he thinks appropriate and to give authorities advance notice of the factors that will be taken into account in determining RSG. It is sad that I should have to say this because there is so much prescription already in the Bill. But we are giving the Secretary of State the power so to prescribe. At least when he does so the local authorities will know exactly what is intended. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

The transition to the new grant arrangements could give rise to significant changes in grant entitlement for individual authorities. This is particularly likely to be so in the case of district councils. The purpose of paragraph 2(4) is therefore to provide what has been referred to as a "safety net". Thus, the Secretary of State will look at the grant entitlement as calculated under the earlier provisions of paragraph 2. If it appears that the changes are unacceptable, then the provisions of paragraph 2(4) will come into play. I understand that this kind of transitional arrangement is well understood by local authorities and their finance officials, under the present rate support grant arrangements. For example, the changeover several years ago to the calculation of public expenditure guidelines and of grant entitlement through the method of "client group assessment" has also produced significant changes in entitlement to grant, by comparison with the earlier methods of assessment, based on historical patterns of spend. Various devices have therefore been used to dampen the effects of change and to make the changes more gradual.

It seems inappropriate that such matters of detailed distribution of revenue support grant should be the subject of prescription and order. There could also be practical difficulties, as the factors to be taken into account could change from year to year, and will not be apparent until the main calculations of grant apportionment, under the earlier sub-paragraphs of paragraph 2 of the Schedule have been undertaken. The interpolation at this stage of the need to prepare, table and debate an order could be very disruptive.

It may be worth pointing out to the noble Lord, that all the Secretary of State's functions under paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 4 are to be performed only after consultation with associations of local authorities—in effect CoSLA. This is provided for in paragraph 3 of the Schedule. I would expect that the safety netting arrangements, and particular safety netting proposals in respect of any financial year, will be an important matter to be covered in consultation with CoSLA. It would certainly be the Government's intention that this should be so.

With that assurance, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 256: Before Clause 24, insert the following new clause:

("Reduced charge for crofters.

The Secretary of State shall, by regulations, modify the provisions of this Act so that persons aged 18 or over who are solely or mainly resident within dwellinghouses occupied—

  1. (a) by a crofter or cottar within the meaning of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1955, or by a person to whom subsection (6) of section 22 of the said Act applies, or
  2. (b) in connection with any agricultural lands and heritages situated within the counties of which that Act applies, being lands and heritages the area of which does not exceed one hundred acres or the rent of which does not exceed £100 per annum, and which are occupied by the owner or tenant thereof,
shall be liable to pay 50 per cent. (or such lesser percentage as may be determined) of the amount of the personal community charge to be imposed by each local authority under the terms of section 9 of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move this amendment which deals with the Highlands area. Long before my grandfather's and father's time, and during my lifetime, people have been trying to alleviate the plight of the Highlands. In the crofting counties we have the Crofters (Scotland) Act which went a long way towards preserving the population in the Highlands, and enabling them to follow the traditional way of life.

In 1956 the crofting counties had a certain amount of alleviation when they had a reduction of 50 per cent. on the calculation of the rateable value of their croft houses, which was a considerable concession. This concession is now swept away by the new Bill. I do not believe that the Government desire to punish the poor of the Highlands in this way.

On a basis of two persons per house it will cost the Highlands an extra £1.3 million. In one area a calculation shows that there are 2.78 persons per house, which would make it considerably more. That is an enormous amount of money over the Highlands crofting area. The original concession was given because of the high cost of transport, the high level of unemployment, the low level of wages and the high cost of food. All these factors apply today.

A Scotsman knows that whether in London, a small city or a big city, the highest cost of a basket of food is always in a Highlands village. Without this amendment we would be taking a very retrograde step especially as we have had considerable success with the Highlands Board and many government measures in keeping population in the Highlands. The amendment asks for a liability of: 50 per cent. (or such lesser percentage as may be determined)". of the charge. It seems to be against all policy to put up the cost of living in the Highlands. That is all I have to say at the moment. However, I should very much like to hear what the Minister has to say and I am certain that he must be sympathetic.

Lord Grimond

I confirm what my noble friend says about the cost of living in the Highlands. Certainly in respect of transport and especially food it is higher than in the South. It could also be said that in parts of the Highlands people do not enjoy many of the services which exist in the South.

However, I wish to remark upon some comments that were made in an earlier debate on this matter. I can only speak of the crofters in Shetland and in Orkney. There are very few in Orkney, so what I shall say chiefly affects those in Shetland. Earlier it was suggested that nowadays crofters often have other occupations as well as crofting and that therefore they may not be so very different from other people and may be rather richer than they used to appear. I agree that they often have other occupations. Indeed, if they did not they could hardly live entirely off the crofts. However, I wish to emphasise that in the area that I know, which is Shetland—there may be rich people who have taken crofts further south in the Highlands—many if not most of the crofters look to the croft as the principal mainstay of their family. If they have other jobs they are not usually very well paid and they sometimes incur considerable costs in reaching them. Very often they are employed on the roads or in the case of girls, in shops.

The amount of income that crofters obtain outside crofting is often exaggerated. The point is that if rich crofters exist there is no reason why they should not pay the charge. If there are such people I accept that they should pay. However, the general run of crofter is not rich and it would be rather unfair suddenly to impose a large increase in local taxation on him. Therefore, I hope that the Government will give consideration to that and that they will not entirely accept that most crofters—at any rate those whom I know—are no longer really crofters and are comparatively well off and look to other sources of income entirely. That would not be true.

The Earl of Selkirk

I should like to support in general terms what the noble Lords, Lord Mackie and Lord Grimond, have said. I recognise that the position of the crofter is difficult. As my noble friend said, crofters do all kinds of jobs. Indeed one was even Speaker of the House of Commons not so long ago. It is difficult to outline them but the special position of crofters stands very differently from that of other people. However, it is a form of life which is very well worth preserving.

This is a delicate situation and I hesitate to say how it should be handled, but I respectfully ask the Government to look at it carefully and ensure that this Bill, devised for a totally different purpose, does not destroy the crofting traditions. I am talking mostly of the Outer Hebrides as I do not know much about Orkney and Shetland. In the Outer Hebrides there is a very strong tradition and it is quite distinct from the tradition elsewhere. It needs careful handling and we must trust the Government to ensure the continuation of this worthwhile form of life.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Gray

While I am sympathetic to the spirit of the amendment, I find the words as they are printed on the Marshalled List unacceptable. I shall direct my remarks to paragraph (a) in particular, but in passing I mention that as paragraph (b) is worded, I would receive a 50 per cent. rebate of my community charge.

As has already been pointed out, crofting is a valuable part of the fabric of the Highland way of life, As such, as my noble friend Lord Selkirk said, its essentials are as worth sustaining as they were 30 years ago when the 1956 Rating and Valuation Act was passed. Parliament decided that support for crofting should include a 50 per cent. rebate of local authority rates. The 1976 Crofting Reform Act extended that relief to a croft house purchased after 10th June 1976. Special cases can always be pleaded and the governments are always wary of a knock-on effect. But surely crofters have a unique case. What is more, they are currently receiving partial relief from local taxation, but they are paying it.

It would be competent for one Act to repeal another, but surely it does not follow that, because the name and nature of a tax which raises particular funds for particular services are altered, an existing rebate applying to the predecessor tax should be automatically and entirely forfeited. I urge my noble friend Lord Glenarthur to recognise that the facts and precedent establish a clear case for at least some selective rebate.

I should like to turn to the reasons for my disagreement with the amendment as drafted. Paragraph (a) would catch up in its embrace many who by no stretch of the imagination deserve a rebate. My patch of ground in Argyll is completely surrounded by crofting land. I have crofting tenants, among them several valued friends. However, that does not mean that I survey the crofting scene through rose-tinted glasses. I am aware of the anomalies and abuses.

My noble friend Lord Glenarthur pointed out the other day that some registered crofters follow lucrative trades and professions. On the other hand, I know that he will be the first to acknowledge that there are crofters who, even though they work hard on their land, could not survive unless they had alternative employment.

I could detail many other differences, but the point is made. However, germane to this discussion are the differences enjoyed in terms of local authority services. As we all know, some crofting communities enjoy hardly any yet others have mains water, sewerage and even street lighting.

I hope that my noble friend may be interested in another difference and anomaly within the system. I think it best if I explain by taking an example from real life. Three registered crofters live within a stone's throw of each other in their croft houses. One, who incidentally paid rates of 7s 6d in 1955, enjoys a 50 per cent. rebate and will this year pay £444. The two neighbours will pay rates of £971 and £712 respectively. They receive no rebate. That is because Strathclyde regional council uses a power which my noble friend is about to repeal. It is contained in Section 7(4)(b) of the 1956 Act. It denies a right to rebate in the case of a crofter who derives the majority of his income from some trade or employment other than crofting. I do not imagine that such a system would exactly fit, and I doubt whether it would go far enough or wide enough to meet all the cases that will be posed in respect of the community charge. However, perhaps my noble friend could take it as a starting point for exploration.

I know that he recognises that there are parts of the Highlands and Islands where crofting is the way of life. Elsewhere we know crofting townships are important as the core of wider communities which have formed around them. Much is at stake. I hope my noble friend may be able to respond to this debate in a similar spirit to that displayed in the approach to the help for the Gaelic language recently announced by his and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I hope my noble friend the Minister will not be able to accept this amendment for the point of principle and the tailpiece. There is neither a fixed percentage rebate nor is there a graduated rebate according to ability to pay, but a maximum 50 per cent. arbitrary percentage fixed, subject to a graduation under 50 per cent. This is a complex principle and a good deal of justification would be needed for it to be carried into the Bill.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before my noble friend's last intervention we had a very romantic kind of run round the Highlands. I am sure noble Lords who visit the Highlands from time to time were feeling quite homesick for the experience. It sounded as we spoke as though the Highlands were very different from any other part of Scotland and that crofting in 1987 was totally different from farming a small farm in another part of Scotland. There was a massive bit of special pleading.

I know the history of the reduction in rates for crofters. When it happened it was fully justified, but in the last few years the whole position has changed enormously. The European Community pours money into less favoured areas compared with what it does in other parts of Britain. Large sums of money go to the Hebrides. A certain amount—although the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, will tell me it is less—goes to Shetland, a lot to the Highland counties. Farmers in the Highlands, crofters, have been recipients of many grants and that will continue. In addition, the Highlands and Islands Development Board provisions, in all sorts of ways, as the Committee well knows, favour that part of Scotland. The Manpower Services Commission has had many schemes and continues to have them on small farms in the Highlands and particularly in the Outer Hebrides.

The position has changed. I have said in a previous debate on the Bill that I am very surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, considers that small farmers in Perthshire and the Borders—very much so in the Borders, in Dumfries and Galloway; farmers to whom the criteria that apply here apply, who make farming their way of life and who are having a very difficult time—should be treated differently from the crofters. Crofting is a magnificent way of life. Of course it is, and we want to keep the crofters there. It will be difficult for a number of people to make adjustments to the new arrangements but I cannot see why the crofters should not be able to adjust in the way that other farmers will adjust.

I hope that this amendment will not be accepted. I hope we shall not consider that crofters in 1987 arc less advantaged than many other farmers, some of whom live near where I do. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and I know some of them well, and there are others I am sure we both know in other parts of Scotland. It seems to me that this amendment should not be accepted by the Committee.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I mentioned crofters on the Second Reading of this Bill. I feel I must say something at this stage. I may say that I find great difficulty with this particular amendment, coming from the Borders, as my noble friend Lady Carnegy has said. I should find it very difficult to go up into the Border glens and say to those who are not very well off, "You are not being treated as the crofters are going to be treated in the Highlands in the crofting communities". When we talk about Shetland, the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, knows much more about the area than I do. However, my experience is that the Shetland fund has come in extremely useful for those who are less advantaged in that area, thanks to the discovery of North Sea oil.

I would advise my noble friend the Minister to be very cautious in this area. Quite honestly, I feel that the way to deal with the poor—I think the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, was, "punishing the poor"—in such areas as the Highlands and Islands, the Borders and indeed other places in Scotland, is by rebate and not by special concessions.

Lord Glenarthur

I have of course considered carefully, as indeed have all of us who have been involved in the discussions on this Bill, the arguments put forward in support of some form of specific relief for crofters and other smallholders from the personal community charge liability. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Gray and others when, as my noble friend Lord Sanderson has just now, they refer to the special place which, historically, crofters have enjoyed and to the way they contribute to the value of the Highlands and Islands.

I must say that I am not convinced that any general relief of the type proposed by the new clause is appropriate. I must remind your Lordships that we are reducing the personal community charge in order to spread the burden of payment for local authority services more widely and to achieve the accountability which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is so keen to come back to so often. We also want to achieve the fairness which the present domestic rating system so conspicuously lacks. In principle therefore it is quite right that all adults over the age of 18 should be liable for the full personal community charge. The position of crofters and others in their households under the new arrangements will naturally depend on the individual circumstances of each of the households involved.

The amendment implies, as my noble friend Lady Carnegy said, that one particular group of people should enjoy a sizeable reduction in their personal community charge liability simply because they form a distinct economic and social category. I very much understand the point of view of my noble friend Lord Sanderson when he refers to others who may live in comparatively less favoured parts of the Scottish Lowlands, or wherever, but who are not crofters and who may have their own difficulties to contend with.

If we went down that road I am sure we would receive representations from them and from many other groups of people that they should be granted similar relief. That would make a serious breach in the principle that the community charge should be a universal obligation. That in its turn would lead to unfairness to others who, though no less deserving than those in favoured groups, were not able to argue that their social or economic status justified relief from personal community charge liability.

I must therefore say that if some crofters and their families have difficulty in meeting the full personal community charge payment, the remedy really must lie, as my noble friend Lord Sanderson said, where it lies with all the others; and that is in the rebate system which we propose. This will allow full account to be taken, on an individual basis, of the financial circumstances of people in that position without invidious distinctions being made between particular groups of people. I am convinced that that is a fairer and a more equitable approach than what is proposed in the noble Lord's amendment. I hope he will accept that and will be able to withdraw his amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

What the noble Lord is saying is that a fairer approach would be the invidious one of assessing personal income and allowing people a rebate, which entails the dreaded means test. A means test can be useful, but that was not the case I was putting. I must say to the noble Baroness from the lands of Angus that the crofts of the Shetlands, the crofts of the Western Isles and the crofts of Argyll—a county of some importance to the Conservative Party—are very different from the size of the farms in the glens of Angus and, certainly, from those in the Borders of Scotland, where the holdings in the hills are infinitely bigger than the crofts in the Highlands crofting counties. They are a special category and have been so considered for many years.

I am not being sentimental about the Highlands. I have done business in the Highlands, I have started businesses in the Highlands and I have owned land in the Highlands. I do not think that one needs to be sentimental about them to want to see the population stay there. There are many other disadvantages. They are a special community. They may well have profitable jobs. I would not mind the noble Lord, Lord Gray, having a concession of 50 per cent. on his rates. He is, after all, well worth preserving in his native habitat and well worth preserving in his habitat here.

The case I was making was that, if you take £170 a year off the average household, you will shake the progress being made in the Highlands. If you have a good job and a good deal of money coming into a house in the Highlands and you also have a croft, you still have to pay far more to get your children home or to go to see them if they are away, as well as more for your food and everything else. Successive governments have thought that a special concession was necessary. I think that the case has really been proven over the years and that the success that we have had in the Highlands will be put at risk if we start saying, "We are going to have this even principle all over, and hit the communities with a reduction in income".

I am very displeased with the noble Lord's attitude. I shall not push the amendment at this stage, but I shall certainly be back with an amendment at Report stage. I beg leave, with great regret, to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 [Rebates from rates and community charges]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 257: Page 19, line 32, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: It is no one's fault, because this was all rather rushed, but I think it better if the grouping includes Amendment No. 257 with Nos. 257A, 258, 259 and 261. Noble Lords on the other side—

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I asked the noble Lord, Lord Ross, whether he would take in Amendment No. 260 in the name of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, in order to save time. It raises the same point.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I was about to say that there are one or two other amendments that Members will find very close to this group. It may save time if they are discussed together and moved when we reach them.

The purpose of these amendments is to give the Secretary of State power to give full 100 per cent. rebates. In the City of Glasgow alone, there are 56,000 council houses which are at present fully rebated out of a total of 165,000.

The way in which the Bill is introduced without these provisions may make it very punitive indeed in relation to Scotland. Everyone over 18 years of age will be required to pay the community charge, with a few limited exceptions. The new income support scales are vital in the assessment of rebates. Those will include the personal allowances plus the appropriate premiums for illness, injury, special diet and similar things, and will form the basis of the new housing benefit assessments.

It is noticeable that despite the fact that all adults over the age of 18 will be liable for the same amount of community charge in an area, the level of housing benefit which they receive will be markedly different. That is so because the Department of Health and Social Security proposes to limit the income support personal allowance to £24 per week for those aged between 18 and 24. Those aged 25 and over will receive an allowance of £30.60. That is a difference of £6.60. It is a big difference when we are speaking of those who arc at the bottom of the scale. Such figures are critical in the assessment of housing benefit entitlement. Any person with an income at or below the level of the personal allowance will receive maximum housing benefit, which is a 100 per cent. rent rebate and an 80 per cent. rebate. For every £1 of net income above that figure, the maximum rent and rebate will be reduced by 60p and 20p respectively.

The Government have never given an adequate justification of why they feel it is necessary to give a reduced level of income support personal allowance to a person who happens to be under the age of 25. Day to day living is no cheaper for such people. Food, clothing, heating and other expenses are fairly standard, regardless of age. If the Government stand by the particularly weak and totally unjustified logic that a person under the age of 25 needs less or cheaper food, less heat or less and cheaper clothing then that logic should also be carried forward to the level of community charge which they are liable to pay. A lower charge should be levied against them since they are under the age of 25. That seems perfectly logical to me.

If the Government are not prepared to revise the social security regulations to provide the same level of income support for all adults up to pension age, the result will be that young adults will be paying the same level of unrebated community charge as persons aged 25 and over from a lower income. They will have an income which is £6.60 lower than that which they will have when they are over the age of 25.

If we assume that the community charge is £300 a year, 20 per cent. of that would be required to be paid, which would result in the figure of £1.15 per week. That is 4.8 per cent. of the weekly income of a person who is between the ages of 18 and 25. It is only 3.75 per cent. of the income of someone over the age of 25. I believe that the social security amendments should be revised to give the same level of income support personal allowance to all adults aged 18 or over; or that the level of community charge to be levied on persons aged between 18 and 24 should be set at a lower level than that charged to anyone over the age of 25.

That completes my introduction to this whole group of amendments. I am aware that other noble Lords may wish to comment on particular aspects of the way in which rebates are likely to work—or not work—unless the Government are more flexible. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

None of these grouped amendments goes wide enough. None of them as such is suitable for inclusion in the Bill as it stands. But a crucial and important point of principle is involved and the thread that binds the amendments for grouping is our common concern to ease the shoe where it pinches.

I support the spirit of Amendment No. 257, the mandatory "shall". I support the spirit of Amendments Nos. 257A, 258 and 259—graduated rebates up to 100 per cent., not the minimum charge of 20 per cent. But I support them subject to the extension of the categories of exemption under Clause 8(7) to include three new categories. The first is the mentally handicapped. For these the principle of accountability is not apposite. It makes no sense. The second is persons in receipt of income support under the Social Security Act. Again, what is the object of a mere money merry-go-round? The third category is persons in receipt of state benefit or allowances who either have no other source of income or whose level of income or capital resources is such as to give them entitlement to the 100 per cent. rebate. At this stage I do not want to go into whether it should be £100, £150 or £200. That is for a subsequent stage. I am concerned only with points of principle.

This level of income or capital resources which gives rise to the 100 per cent. rebate must be built in to Clause 24 as a governing principle of the Bill, the crucial point made by my noble friend on the previous amendment. Another governing principle of the regulations to be made under Clause 24 is that the categories of persons to whom the 100 per cent. rebate applies, if not exempted under Clause 8(7), must be set out in Clause 24. If exempted under Clause 8(7) the remaining categories of persons to whom graduated rebate applies again must be set out in the Bill as a governing principle of the regulations.

In context with graduated rebates there is no means of implementation proposed in the Bill; nor indeed is any means of implementation proposed by any amendment on the Marshalled List. There is no way in which any conduct of the inquiry as to the determination of the percentage rebate according to ability to pay can be assessed above the qualifying level, whatever that may be, for the 100 per cent. rebate. In this regard, again as a governing principle of the regulations Clause 24 requires amendment.

Furthermore, and lastly, Clause 24 must state on the face of it any special arbitrary fixed rate rebate—say, 50 per cent. applicable to students, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, or to a manse. That should be clearly stated as a special arbitrary fixed rate.

The question is whether Her Majesty's Government will extend the categories of exemption under Clause 8(1) in the three ways that have been suggested or whether the equivalent effect will be achieved indirectly by the merry-go-round of 100 per cent. rebates. As I understand it, the Bill as drafted makes no provision for graduated rebates according to ability to pay; but on Amendment No. 104 I believe my noble friend the Minister expressly recognised that there is a problem. This is where it arises, under Clause 24.

It is a problem that must be dealt with. I say that without derogation from my support of the principle of the Bill. However, if one supports the principle of a Bill it must work fairly for those unable to pay. Irrespective of whether the Government pursue exemption or 100 per cent. rebates for certain categories, it is wholly apparent that Clause 24 requires wholesale redrafting to take into account primary legislation, all the relevant governing principles to which I have referred and any question of those fixed percentage rebates for the manse or for students. Such matters may not be left to the administrative discretion of the Secretary of State under secondary legislation, even with the affirmative resolution procedure as regards regulations under Clause 24 as proposed in Amendment No. 269.

With the leave of the Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, is unable to be here, let me say that in general he appreciates that I have taken account of all the categories in his Amendment No. 130 in everything that I have said and he supports what I say. However, the noble Lord says that he cannot support the graduated rebates which propose a means test. That is not because he disagrees with them but because it is impossible politically for any party to accept a means test. It is therefore fruitless to propose one.

I have not had the opportunity to talk to my noble friend, if I may call him that, but I received his note. I wholly disagree with him. I think it is not only politically possible but politically requisite, because how else can you graduate without a means test on ability to pay? If you cannot do that the Bill would work an inhuman unjustice. On that, therefore I wholly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and I wholly support the spirit of the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Ross and Lord Kirkhill.

4 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill

As my name stands to Amendment No. 259 it is self-evident that I support the tenor of the remarks made from both sides of the Committee. It was my intention to speak, if not at length at least in some detail, in support of my amendment and, indeed, those amendments associated with it. However, I recognise that it is now after four o'clock and I am aware that a number of those of us who have Scottish bases wish to catch shuttles to them within the next two hours or so. To that extent the Minister should be thankful for small mercies because I do not intend to speak other than briefly.

I want to make just one or two remarks. It seems queer to me that if those who are on the lowest incomes are to pay their proportion—and it is currently being suggested as possibly 20 per cent.—it will have to come from an amount of benefit which is already overcommitted. At present people often have to make a choice between essentials such as food and fuel. In my view these proposals represent yet another charge on people's benefits. Enforcing the principle of universality will mean that many more poor people will find themselves caught up in the battle between local authorities and central government over spending levels.

Whatever view one takes on that issue, it does not seem to me to be acceptable that poor people should be made poorer as a result of this part of the Bill. I am told by the Scottish Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux that its experience of dealing with inquiries from those on or near supplementary benefit—that is, the income support level—leads it to conclude that many such people will simply not be able to pay any proportion of the community charge. Indeed, I am told that the Bath Street Citizens Advice Bureau in Glasgow, for example, in January and February this year dealt with inquiries relating to over £600,000 worth of debt. It follows that in that type of area in Scotland many people will default.

Clearly local authorities will be faced with insurmountable problems in enforcing diligence against people with a very low income and few personal possessions of any worth. It seems to me that the administrative costs to the local authorities of pursuing such small sums of money are likely to be disproportionate and certainly will be very high.

The provisions of the Bill which relate to the recovery of arrears will exacerbate the problem as the arrears due will be increased by substantial sums in relation to the original debt. That is clear from Schedule 2, paragraph 7(2); for example, the sheriff officer's fees and the surcharge of 10 per cent. which can be levied.

I do not wish to go on. I could continue but it would only dot the i's and cross the t's of my argument. I support the tenor of the remarks that have been made thus far this afternoon on this particular major aspect of the Bill and I ask the Government at this stage to reconsider its provisions.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I think it may now be appropriate if I say a few words about Amendment No. 260, which is a probing amendment. As must be quite obvious to the Government, there is great concern on all sides of the Committee about certain categories of people, be they couples or single persons, who at present are receiving a 100 per cent. rates rebate and who, when the Social Security Act 1986 comes into force next April, will be receiving an 80 per cent. rebate.

On 23rd June last year during the Committee stage of the Social Security Bill the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, moved an amendment which increased to 100 per cent. the rates rebate for people receiving income support and housing benefit. Many Members of the Committee feared that the Government's insistence that such people should have to pay 20 per cent. of their rates would lead to hardship.

Replying on behalf of the Government, the Minister, Lord Trefgarne, said: A number of speakers … were concerned that this might lead to some particular hardships—people going without homes or without food. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, pointed out, the rates of income support have not yet been decided and will be settled nearer the time, taking into account all these considerations. "—[Official Report, 23/6/86; cols. 70–1.] I fully accept that assurance in the situation to which it applied. It applied to people on low incomes faced with paying 20 per cent. of one rates bill. I cannot accept it in the context of people who, under this Bill, will be faced with paying 20 per cent. of two community charges, because the assurance was not given in that context.

A low-income couple—possibly pensioners or a young couple with small children—will have to pay 20 per cent. of two community charges. That may amount to considerably more than 20 per cent. of one rates bill; for example, at present the rates on a two-bedroomed house in Fraserburgh are £260 a year, and 20 per cent. of £260 is £52. The community charge in that district, which is Banff and Buchan, is expected to be somewhere between £155 and £180 per head. That would mean about £340 for a couple, and 20 per cent. of that is £68. For a couple on a low income, £68 is not nothing. In many areas the increase will be far greater because Grampian region and Banff and Buchan are not notably high-spending authorities. In Lothian or Strathclyde, the situation may be far worse.

We will, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said, have the opportunity later to debate the regulations setting the levels of income support, family credit, housing benefit and so forth. I understand that that will be by affirmative instrument. I think that this place would be unhappy to be obliged to reject regulations which had already been passed in another place should they not make adequate provision for people on low incomes with community charges to pay in Scotland. That could mean a different level of income support in Scotland from that in England and Wales until such time as the community charge is introduced in England and Wales. Doing it that way would keep accountability, but it would be complicated.

The Government must find some way of dealing with this problem, be it through income support, exemptions, or higher, even 100 per cent., rebates. Whichever method they use may be permanent, or temporary until similar legislation is passed for England and Wales.

We must have some assurance that the Government will at least reconsider this whole difficult question. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, cannot today say, "Yes, we should do this, that or the next" but I hope that he will agree to look at the whole matter again with his right honourable friend and his colleagues to try to find some way of allaying the grave concerns felt by many noble Lords for some of the poorest people in our society.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My name appears against Amendment No. 261. In that amendment we seek to introduce the principle of 95 per cent. rebates. I do not propose to press that because all these amendments are being taken together. I support the persuasive arguments that have been adduced by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Kirkhill, and by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has his eye on the shuttle later this evening.

The case has been made out persuasively. I welcome the conversion of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to the ability-to-pay principle. If that principle were introduced into this Bill, the Bill would collapse. It has nothing to do with the ability to pay. With regard to the special circumstances of the rebate, there is great wisdom and strength in his argument.

What a pity that we are discussing this matter at 4.15 p.m. on the day that this place rises. It is an important principle. I hope that the Minister will show us the courtesy and give us the opportunity to look at this important matter in greater depth because it is of great concern to all parts of this place. Perhaps he will be generous and say that he will look again at the application of this principle.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that this has been an important debate upon an important aspect of the Bill. But through the various sets of amendments which we have very sensibly been discussing together there has run the conflicting theme as to whether all this—as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway would like—shall be spelt out in detail in the Bill or whether these are considerations which the Minister should be asked to take into account in the making of regulations. That seems to be the conflict that arises between the two points of view expressed in the Chamber this afternoon.

It is very natural that my noble friend, as a distinguished lawyer, has a preference for spelling it out in the precise language of a statute. Indeed, on many issues I would wholly agree with him. My own bias, modestly, on most legislation is that way. But I must confess to being influenced also by some experience of social security administration. I am only too well aware of the difficulty which excessive rigidity in primary legislation can cause for those responsible for social security administration. That is surely very relevant to the rebates under this Bill.

I do not believe that until the new system is in operation it will be wholly and completely apparent where the shoe is pinching the worst. There have been various gloomy forecasts made in the course of this debate. Many of them may have quite a lot of force in them but until the system is working it will not be apparent exactly where are the causes of real hardship and difficulty which urgently require remedy. From that point of view I am bound to say that in contrast to my noble friend who sits behind me I very much prefer to leave this to regulations which can be made and easily altered and amended by a Minister who will be held responsible to Parliament.

In my own experience with social security administration I have known times when it has been impossible to do what was clearly needed to be done and was right to do. However, one could not do it because some legislative provision inhibited one from so doing. I shall quote one example. As Minister of Pensions and National Insurance I had to deal with the case of an ex-airman who was very properly drawing the then unemployability supplement on the grounds that he was quite incapable of working having lost both his arms.

However, I discovered that he was earning quite a respectable living—enormously to his credit—by painting pictures with a paint brush held in his teeth or his toes. I was bound under the law to withdraw the allowance. I am glad to tell Members of the Committee that I refused to do so and risked, if necessary, being hauled before the Committee of Public Accounts. I was not prepared to withdraw the allowance in such meritorious case. This is the kind of situation that one has if one ties matters up too tightly in legislation.

On the whole, I like the form in which the Bill now stands. After all, if the Bill stands in its present form, the Minister will not only have the flexibility to deal with difficult cases, but he will remain completely answerable to this Chamber and to another place for any of the difficulties that go wrong. He will not be able to say, "I cannot do this because of the legislation". He will have the power to do it by regulations and will therefore have no alibi if there is some hardship caused with which he does not deal.

Subject to what my noble friend may say, and to what may be said in the rest of the debate, I am inclined to side with the present general structure of the Bill. I shall be intensely interested to hear how my noble friend would propose to deal with some of the very difficult cases which have been so clearly set out by Members of the Committee this afternoon as the Bill stands.

Lord Kilmarnock

As a social security spokesman I cannot allow this debate to pass without briefly drawing attention to the importance of the interaction between this Bill and the Social Security Act 1986, which is mentioned in Clause 24 of the Bill. When the Social Security Act was a Bill before your Lordships' House, in his response to criticisms at the proposal that everyone should pay 20 per cent. of their rates, regardless of their circumstances, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, argued at col. 70 of Hansard for 23rd June 1986: Equally, as we keep stressing, we will not be taking decisions about the level of income support rates until much nearer the date of implementation of the reforms. It is therefore rather premature to he talking in terms of hardship for pensioners or others". Perhaps it is no longer premature. At the same column, the noble Lord stated: But I am not trying to duck this issue, which will also arise when rates are phased out to be replaced by the community charge". This is the situation we are facing today. The noble Lord continued: We shall be happy to discuss with local authority representatives any ideas they may have for keeping this problem under control. It is one of those areas where we may have to do some more detailed thinking, particularly as our ideas begin to firm up on the wider question on the reform of rates themselves". I would submit to the Committee that we have now reached that stage, particularly as the case for proper compensation through the income support scheme was put by the Social Security Advisory Committee in its response to the original Green Paper on the social security reforms when it said: Present supplementary benefit scale rates do not envisage a responsibility for these costs, and if the Green Paper proposal is proceeded with, there will be a real cut of substantial proportions in the value of the safety net … Protection for claimants reliant on the safety net and for all others at equivalent levels of income, seems to us essential if the proposal goes ahead". In its more recent report, published on 1st April this year, the advisory committee went on to say that payment of the 20 per cent. if demanded, will result in a real cut in the value of the safety net for the poorest people in society, with increased hardship or increased debt or both". Similarly, the House of Commons Social Services Select Committee argued that, unless income support levels include a realistic element to cover this contribution to rates, the net effect of this proposal will be to make more people on low incomes worse off". Surely that situation is not consistent with the Government's stated aim of targeting help on those in greatest need. Without adequate compensation this will mean an across-the-board cut targeted on those who are in greatest need.

The decisions on the benefit levels for next year will be under consideration very soon. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said, they have not yet been decided. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, spoke of these individual rebates as being the fairest method of settling this sort of problem. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, told the Committee that the regulations under the Social Security Act are the proper place for these matters to be dealt with. However, I remind the Committee that we in your Lordships' House cannot change those regulations—we can comment upon them but we cannot change them—when they come before us. We may have an interesting debate on whether we consider adequate protection is afforded to the people we are talking about, but in all conscience that is all we are likely to do.

As I think it is essential at this stage for the Government to give some indication of their thinking on the question of the rebating of the 20 per cent., which on present plans is to be charged to everybody, I should like the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, to say what groups or individuals are likely to be rebated and what the mechanisms will be. If we do not know that at this stage, then the Bill will go from this House and we shall have no idea whatever how these people will ultimately be affected. Therefore, I look forward to hearing the noble Lord's reply on these matters.

Baroness Faithfull

I rise briefly to support the amendments but I shall not go into them in detail at this late hour because the points have been very well made. However, I shall just make two points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, read out a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, in which he said that it was not politically possible for a means-tested system to be used. While I do not like means-tested systems, nevertheless in the social fund of the Social Security Act such a system is used. Therefore, it is politically possible.

Secondly, I point out to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that while it is possible for those at a higher level to be liberal in interpreting regulations to meet the case, for those at a lower level—that is, at the working level of people behind the counter—it is not possible to change the regulations; they must subscribe to them as they are. Therefore, without further elaboration I merely say that I support the amendments.

The Earl of Selkirk

The noble Lord said that this was a very stern Bill. Perhaps he is right, but the only justification for that is that it contains proper and adequate principles in respect of rebate. Otherwise I say with great respect that none of us could support the Bill. Is my noble friend satisfied that he has adequate principles and powers to do that? To my mind that is essential for any kind of ultimate welcome which I hope this Bill may receive in the course of time. I should like to have that assurance.

Lord Ross of Marnock

We have certainly discovered today the complexity of the Bill, the difficulties of the register and the difficulties of collection. In the past, rates were easy to collect and there was no trouble about that. Now we are looking at something through a glass darkly in respect of the poorest section of the population—people who have more claim on our help in this respect than any other section of the community. Right away we come up against the simple fact—it is not an argument but a fact, and I said so on Second Reading—that there is not a single Member of the Committee who will be worse off as a result of the Bill. Every noble Lord will be better off. When we were discussing rebates I wish that we had all made clear our personal interest in the Bill.

At an earlier stage I declared my interest. I shall save £600 and the highest in the land will save £2,500. However, we are not dealing with the people who will lose money. There is no argument about that because if they are so poor that at present they pay no rates or rent, after 1988 they will have to pay—in respect of their relief under the new Social Security Act—at least 20 per cent. If they are Scots and rates are abolished in 1989, they will have to pay an additional 20 per cent. of what now counts as rates but which will then become a charge.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will realise how angry I was about this, and that people in Scotland such as nurses who start their training at the age of 18 and have to pay for their accommodation and who are not excepted by the Bill will have to pay a charge that is not paid in England. Even the unemployed in Scotland will pay an additional 20 per cent. which is not paid in England. This is very unfair, especially as compared with the gap between Scotland and England. I am sure that this Bill will not come into force in England. There is no guarantee whatever, but it will be quite a long time.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer: that is what this is about. All we need do is accept an amendment which says that in his modifications in respect of the Social Security Act in relation to housing benefit the Minister will make a change allowing the 100 per cent. rebate. It is not an awful lot but it is worth while. I take the point that was made by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy.

It may well be that someone who is living alone and is just above the level may be a little better off, but if two people are living in a house the disadvantage must be doubled. It may be in the Highlands or the Lowlands. It does not matter who they are or where they are, whether they are the noble Lord, Lord Burton, or anybody else; they will all pay the same. The noble Lord and his wife will pay maybe £500 in rates. I will pay £500. At the moment I am paying over £1,100 in rates. However, the cotter, the crofter, the fisherman, no matter in what kind of house they live, will pay exactly the same. There is no fairness in that. The only fairness would be in relation to ability to pay and that is completly ignored in this Bill. I hope that the Committee will take this point and at least bring some fairness into the Bill as far as concerns the poorest people and allow 100 per cent. rebate.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

We have had a long debate on this issue. If I am to embark upon a reply to encompass the detail of the scheme and the amendments that have been suggested, it would be only right for me to begin with an explanation of the general shape of the scheme of rebates as we see it. Doing so will set the debate in context. I shall then turn to the specific points which have been raised in relation to the various amendments.

The starting point will be a system of income thresholds which will take account of personal and family circumstances such as age, number of children and any permanent disability. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, was not present when we debated this matter, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway raised a similar point. When we dealt with an earlier amendment a number of categories were mentioned regarding people who may be mentally handicapped or disabled. They might be considered for either rebate or exemption. I agreed to take this away. We did not go into the mechanics but we discussed the merits of each case. That of course stands.

The income thresholds that I have mentioned will be closely linked to the incomes support levels which include personal allowances designed to give special help to vulnerable groups such as single parents and the disabled. Illustrative figures have been given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for what those thresholds would have been in 1985–86. That is the basis of the figures which have been published by way of press releases. If those have not been drawn to the attention of Members of the Committee, I shall ensure that that is done for clarification.

Having established the income threshold, the operation of a rebate scheme means that someone whose income is equal to or below the threshold for his own circumstances will be entitled to the maximum rebate. As I said at Second Reading, the Government have set illustratively this figure at 80 per cent. for the maximum rebate.

A formal decision on that absolute amount, that percentage, will not be taken until the regulations are made. It is likely that 80 per cent. will be the figure. For those whose income exceeds the threshold for their own personal circumstances there will be a downward taper. The proposed figure in the scheme of housing benefit for rates will be 20 per cent. and that is therefore the figure we envisage including in the community charge rebate scheme. As I said, these arrangements represent a clear framework for the rebate scheme. I think they show that any suggestion that it has not been adequately considered is not the case. I could go into the details of the actual figures that have been given, but I feel at this stage it is probably better to move on to the specific amendments.

I leave aside for the moment the first amendment upon which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, moved this whole block of amendments. I shall try to deal with that when I conclude. The whole question of the scope of the amendments, all of which in a slightly different way require the rebate scheme to provide for rebates of up to 100 per cent. of the community charge levels, is an issue which has been exhaustively debated, not only in relation to this Bill but also in relation to the Social Security Act 1986. The proposition that all those liable for the personal community charge be required to make some contribution towards it is already embodied in the housing benefit scheme for rates which will be introduced on 1st April 1988 under the provisions of the 1986 Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, quoted my noble friend Lord Trefgarne when my noble friend said that it would be premature to discuss this matter until the benefit rates were set. Like it or not, it is still premature, because the benefit rates to apply on 1st April 1988 (when the reformed system of social security benefit is introduced) will not be determined and announced for some time.

In view of the amount of discussion which we have already had on this point in the past, I think I should limit myself to a brief summary of the justification for that policy. There are two reasons for it. The first is that the primary purpose of rates, and in due course the community charge system, is to finance the provision of local authority services. Since all ratepayers and subsequently all community charge payers have access to local authority services, it seems right that all should make at least some contribution to the costs. The second justification is to increase the accountability of local authorities to their ratepayers or community charge payers for the costs of the services they provide.

As was clearly established during the passage of the Social Security Act 1986 there needs to be a relationship between the services that local authorities provide and the willingness of local taxpayers to meet the costs of those services. If a significant proportion of local taxpayers bear none of the burden of meeting the costs of local services, this relationship surely is broken. The provision for a minimum contribution therefore really must be an essential part of the improvements in accountability which the new system will bring. It will indeed already have been included in principle in the rating system before the community charge is introduced, but the carry-over of the principle into the community charge arrangements will reinforce the improvements in accountability that the broadening of the tax base will bring. The amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Kirkhill—Amendments Nos. 257A, 258 and 259—would strike at the very heart of one of the main principles of the policy.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway raised a number of points, and he quoted the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, in relation to the point raised just now by my noble friend Lady Faithfull: that is to say, the means-tested approach. I do not think that the idea which I understood my noble friend to suggest of a flat rate 100 per cent. rebate only for those on income support, with nothing for anyone else, would be acceptable. It would fail to provide support for a wide range of those who would need it, even if their incomes are some way above the income support level.

Nor can I accept that such a scheme would be unworkable, any more than any other means-tested scheme such as rent and rates rebate schemes are workable at present. I should certainly take issue with my noble friend's suggestion, if I have understood it aright, that the scheme should be operated by direct payments from the DHSS to the local authorities. It seems to me that if we were to do that we would again undermine the concept of accountability which is at the very heart of this Bill.

Another point that he raised concerned the governing principles for the rebate scheme being set out in the Act. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter suggested that to do that might produce more complexities, and he gave us a first-class example from his own long experience of what might happen. My noble friend suggested that Clause 24 should give more details of the governing principles on which the rebate scheme should be based. As I explained. I think on Second Reading—and indeed I went into it just now—the shape of the community charge rebate scheme is very clear. It will be based on the scheme of housing benefit rates to be introduced. The approaching of such a scheme by regulations, without any elaborate statement of governing principles, is already well precedented. Indeed, it was precedented in the Social Security Act to which I have referred.

I listened with interest to the arguments put forward by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, in support of her amendment. I should say first of all, to put it in a fairly straightforward and simple way, that it would be entirely impracticable to preserve the position of any group of people in relation to rates payments when the community charge system is brought in. The new system will be set up on a completely different basis and therefore we simply could not put into effect the provision which is suggested in the amendment. It would also be wrong in principle to provide that a particular group of people should not be fully subject to the provisions of the community charge system simply because of their position under the rating system.

I also say to the noble Lady that I do not believe it would be justified either. The financial effects of the introduction of the community charge system will of course depend very much on the interaction of a number of factors. If a couple are in receipt of income support with a maximum rates rebate, at the end of the financial year 1988–89, they will be paying a minimum contribution towards their rating bill. How that relates to the minimum contribution they are required to pay towards their community charge bill will depend largely on the size of their rates bill and the kind of property they occupy.

Perhaps I ought to point out to the Committee that the results of the reforms of the social security system—not just housing benefits—which will he brought into force on 1st April 1988, one year before the community charge is introduced, will mean that social security assistance will be better targeted. A large majority of the most needy groups in society will gain, or be no worse off. Among those are unemployed couples and other couples on income support who have no children. Ninety per cent. of people in this group will experience no reduction in income as a result of these reforms, taking account of changes in housing benefit, including the proposed minimum contribution. Since the community charge rebate scheme will be based upon the reformed scheme of housing benefit for rates, I do not think it is right to suggest that the introduction of the community charge calls for the sort of further refinement of the benefit system that the noble Lady proposes in her amendment.

I have endeavoured to cover a lot of ground in winding up this debate. I realise that there is concern about those people, as we discussed the other day, who fall into a particularly "particular" category. I do not think that it would be possible to encompass all those who are suggested in these amendments without blowing a hole right through the Bill. If we do that we shall be doing a very grave disservice, because the burden will tend to fall on others as well who would be required to pay the community charge.

What I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who moved his first amendment, and indeed to all those others who have spoken in this debate, is that I shall read with very great care the points that have been made. I cannot undertake to do anything more without that reading. I acknowledge the force with which the various amendments have been addressed. But as I have said, the whole principle is very closely wrapped up in the question of the benefit regulations to which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, referred.

Perhaps I may say in relation to Amendment No. 257, as a small crumb of comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, as we approach the end of this debate, that I think the question of "may" and "shall" is more a matter of drafting than anything else and I certainly would not die in a ditch over replacing "may" with "shall". But all those who have taken part in this debate, including myself, can read what has been said and it will be possible for the noble Lord when we come to Amendment No. 257A, which I imagine will be moved in due course, to withdraw it.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister having said what he has about Amendment No. 257, I shall be quite happy to withdraw it, but I shall certainly wish to move Amendment No. 257A formally.

Lord Glenarthur

If the noble Lord wishes to withdraw Amendment No. 257, then I am content for him to do so because I think the drafting is perfectly clear. But I was offering him something of an olive branch, though a fairly small one, on this point—

Lord Ross of Marnock

Why could the noble Lord not accept the amendment?

Lord Glenarthur

I thought I was doing precisely that. It is very difficult for me to respond when the noble Lord is making interventions from that Box. But I am happy to accept Amendment No. 257 and, no doubt, the noble Lord will then move Amendment No. 257A.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 257A: Page 19, line 35, after ("of) insert ("100 per cent.").

The noble Lord said: I have spoken to this amendment and I beg to move it formally.

4.50 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 257A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided; Contents, 38; Not-Contents, 74.

Attlee, E. Lovell-Davis, L.
Basnett, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Birk, B. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Blease, L. Molloy, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mountevans, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Parry, L.
Carter, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. [Teller.] Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L [Teller.]
Elwyn-Jones, L.
Fitt, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Gregson, L. Seear, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Simon, V.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Hughes, L. Tordoff, L.
Jeger, B. Underhill, L.
Kilbracken, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Kilmarnock, L. White, B.
Kirkhill, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Wilson of Langside, L.
Lockwood, B.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Auckland, L. Hesketh, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Beloff, L. Hooper, B.
Blake, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Blyth, L. Killearn, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Kimball, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Kitchener, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lauderdale, E.
Broxbourne, L. Layton, L.
Burton, L. Long, V.
Butterworth, L. Margadale, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Merrivale, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mersey, V.
Coleraine, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Craigavon, V. Nelson of Stafford, L.
Craigmyle, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Penrhyn, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rankeillour, L.
Derwent, L. Richardson, L.
Dundee, E. Rodney, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Romney, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Rugby, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Faithfull, B. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Ferrier, L. Sempill, Ly.
Fortescue, E. Shannon, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Stockton, E.
Gisborough, L. Strathspey, L.
Glenarthur, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Gray, L. Trafford, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Trumpington, B.
Greenway, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Gridley, L. Vickers, B.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Whitelaw, V.
Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.58 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 257B to 259 not moved.]

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 260: Page 20, line 3, at end insert— ("( ) Such regulations shall ensure that couples in receipt of maximum rates rebate shall not be put at any financial disadvantage by the passing of this Act.").

The noble Lady said: I shall not press this amendment. I shall study carefully what the noble Lord and everybody else have said.

[Amendments Nos. 260 and 261 not moved.]

Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 25 agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Water and sewerage charges]:

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 261A: Page 40, leave out from beginning of line 41 to end of line 4 on page 41 and insert— ("10A. Subject to paragraphs 7 and 8 above, the provisions of Part II of and Schedule 2 to this Act shall have effect, subject to such adaptations, exceptions and modifications as may be prescribed, in relation to the community water charges as they have effect in relation to the corresponding community charges.").

The noble Lord said: At this stage I shall not go into a long explanation of the main proposals in Schedule 5. I come to the first amendment, Amendment No. 261 A, of a group which includes Amendments Nos. 262, 263 and 264.

The provision in paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 that those liable to pay any of the community charges should also be liable to pay the community water charges, provided they are connected to a public supply, was intended to bring with it application of the relevant provisions of Part II: for example, that those enjoying the period of grace under the standard charge would similarly not be liable to pay the standard water charge and that the register should contain information about those who would be exempt from water charges because they were not connected to a public supply.

We now consider that to make this intention clear it is necessary to apply the whole of Part II and Schedule 2 to the community water charges with the provision for elements which are unnecessary—for example, separate notification, the maintenance of a separate register and separate rights of appeal—to be prescribed as not applying. This is achieved by the replacement of paragraphs 11, 12 and 13 of Schedule 5 with the new paragraph 10A in my amendment.

I hope that in the light of that brief explanation the Committee will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 262 to 264 not moved.]

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 [Interpretation]:

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 265: Page 20, line 25, at end insert— (" "housing body" means—

  1. (a) a district council;
  2. (b) the Scottish Special Housing Association;
  3. (c) a development corporation (within the meaning of the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968;").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to include a definition of "housing body" in Clause 26. This Committee will remember that we discussed earlier the fact that the term is at present introduced and defined for the purposes of paragraph 5 of Schedule 2, which deals with the collection of personal community charges by housing bodies. At that time it seemed to be the opinion that this is the wrong place to have it. I said then that I had this amendment down. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 266: Page 20, leave out lines 30 and 31.

The noble Lord said: This amendment was taken with Amendment No. 96 and others. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 267: Page 20, line 41, leave out ("occupied") and insert ("used")

The noble Lord said: Our moment of triumph. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 26, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 267A: After Clause 26, insert the following new clause: ("Grant for rate relief given to certain recreational clubs. .—The following paragraph shall be inserted after paragraph 2 of Part I of Schedule 1 to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966 2A. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 1 above, the Secretary of State may, as respects the year 1988–89, make provision for the apportionment of a prescribed part of the needs element to any local authority which, under paragraph (c) of subsection (5) of section 4 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1962, reduces or remits rates leviable for that year in respect of the lands and heritages mentioned in the said paragraph (c) or such class as he may determine of such lands and heritages and such an apportionment shall be by reference to the amount of the reduction or remission granted by the authority as estimated by the Secretary of State or so much of that amount as he may determine to be appropriate to be taken into account for the purposes of this paragraph." ").

The noble Lord said: At Report stage of this Bill in another place my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland announced his intention to provide help in relation to the problems that sports clubs face in Scotland as a result of high rates.

Local authorities have discretion to grant partial or full rates relief to sports clubs under the provison of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1962. My right honourable friend confirmed the Government's view that it is still right to leave such decisions to local discretion. He proposed to ensure, however, that local authorities are not deterred from due exercise of the discretion by the prospect of losing income, if they grant relief. The Government, therefore, propose that authorities should be reimbursed, within a fixed total of grant, for the income they lose through granting rate relief to sports clubs.

From financial year 1989–90—that is, from the introduction of the revenue support grant arrangements described in Clause 23 and Schedule 4 of this Bill—this reimbursement can be achieved in a straightforward way. Grant distribution under the new system will take into account differences between authorities in expenditure need and in the amounts of non-domestic rate income. It will be a simple matter to measure non-domestic rate income net of relief given to sports clubs and so the amount of grant which an authority gets will be increased correspondingly.

However, this leaves us with the financial year 1988–89 when the present rate support grant arrangements will still be operative. At present, only some authorities who grant relief receive reimbursement. This depends on them being eligible for the resources element of rate support grant.

The amendment that I am now proposing to the Local Government (Scotland) Act will allow the Secretary of State to reimburse all local authorities for the income that they lose through granting rating relief to sports clubs. It will achieve this by enabling the Secretary of State to apportion a prescribed part of the needs element of rate support grant to any local authority which provides rates relief for sports clubs. The apportionment will be by reference to the amount of relief that they have granted.

The point of changing the arrangement from the resources to the needs element of grant is simply that all authorities receive the needs element. This surprisingly roundabout approach is necessary because of the existing terms of the rate support grant legislation. Although the amendment appears lengthy and complex, I assure the Committee that its purpose is simple and straightforward. It will of course apply to the financial year 1988–89 only.

I should make it clear that the need for this concession arises from the anomalous high rateable values of sports clubs in Scotland. The Government intend to address this issue and in due course achieve harmonisation of rateable values in Scotland and England, and it is only fair to say that the concession arrangements will have to be looked at again in that context.

In the light of my right honourable friend's announcement in another place, which is one that has rightly been welcomed by those concerned, and in view of the detail of the amendment, I commend it to the Committee and beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I must thank the Minister for having tabled this new clause. I want to make only one point and it may be of help to him. I have been informed that Section 4(5) (c) of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1962, to which the new clause refers covers discretionary relief to non-profit-making sports and recreation clubs. Section 4(5) (a) covers educational and social welfare organisations.

As I understand it, village halls and old people's clubs come under Section 4(5) (b). That means that, because the new clause refers only to Section 4(5) (c), old-age pensioners clubs could be left out in the cold without any rate relief, while darts clubs and wealthy golf clubs would be included. I think that would be a new provision.

I do not expect to receive an answer now. I am trying to be helpful in the hope that the Minister will be able to look into the matter to see whether the reference is correct or whether the information I have been given is wrong. However, I welcome the general spirit of the new clause.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

This amendment to the Bill is extremely good news. There is a specific problem for sports clubs which village halls and pensioners clubs do not have and it is involved with the way in which they are valued. I am quite sure that the Government's listening ear on the matter is enormously appreciated right across Scotland. It is excellent that it can be done now for the coming year in this Bill. I should like to thank the Minister very much indeed.

Lord Glenarthur

I am grateful to my noble friend. I do not think that I can answer the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, now but I shall look into the matter and perhaps I may write to him.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Will the Minister clear up just one point? Is it correct that the new clause is only applicable from 1989?

Lord Glenarthur

I shall have to look into the detail of what I have just said to remind myself. I am not sure whether looking through my notes at this time of day I shall find it. My mind is reeling too. Perhaps I can let the noble Lord have the answer in writing to that question also.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It says that this is in respect of the year 1988–89, so it is not this year but next year.

The other point I should make is that the Chairman of Committees would look at me glaringly if I were not to say that this measure does not solve all the problems of sports grounds or sports clubs in Scotland. Their hope will be long deferred until we have an equalisation of valuations and so forth. I presume that that will come when we have a similar Bill for England. As I have already said, I do not think that we ever shall.

Lord Glenarthur

I hesitate to comment further on sports clubs in view of the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in certain sports clubs, let alone the interest in them of the noble Lord the Lord Chairman. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I hope that he will agree that what we are doing here, as my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour said, is a help. It has been asked for, and that is why we have done it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Does the Minister agree that it is next year? We are already into the 1987–88 year in local government, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 27 [Appeals]:

[Amendment No. 267B not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Crown application]:

[Amendment No. 268 not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Additional powers exercisable by, and procedure for, regulations]:

[Amendment No. 269 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 270: Page 22, line 7, at end insert ("; and all the regulations and directions shall be made before 1st January 1988.").

The noble Lord said: This is important, because we want to have these regulations fairly early. I have suggested that they should be made before 1st January 1988. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I am afraid that I cannot accept this amendment. It would require all regulations under the Bill to be made by 1st January 1988. That would be entirely impractical, if only because certain of the regulation-making powers can only be used once we have some experience of the working of the community charge system. For example, the provision in Clause 15(1)(b) that the collective community charge multiplier may be amended only once every three months, or such other period as may be prescribed", could not possibly be used, if it was ever necessary to use it, until some experience of the system had been gained.

However, I recognise that behind the amendment lies a concern that the necessary regulations may not be made in time for the system to be brought into effect on 1st April 1989. I find that concern entirely constructive. I am happy to assure the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, that we shall work hard to bring forward the necessary regulations in good time. We expect that it will be possible to make the main sets of regulations for the setting up of the registration system in the summer of this year after further consultation with the assessors and other interested partes.

We aim to make the further sets of regulations which, though equally important, are not so crucial in terms of timing within a few months following that. They are the regulations which will deal with the timing and the manner of appeals to be made under Clause 16. I can assure the noble Lord that we are convinced that it will be possible to set up the community charge system in good time for it to come into effect on 1st April 1989. We shall make every possible effort to achieve that in good time and in consultation with local authorities and other interested parties.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Finance]:

[Amendment No. 270A not moved.]

Clause 30 agreed to.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom moved Amendment No. 271: After Clause 30, insert the following new clause: ("Amendments to Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987. The Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987 shall be amended as follows— (a) in section 1(5) (which relates to time to pay directions), after the word "rates" in paragraph (e) there shall be added— (e) in an action by or on behalf of a—

  1. (i) levying authority for the payment of any community charge or community water charge within the meaning of section 26 of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 (which defines terms used in that Act) or any amount payable under section 18(3) (payment of community charges in respect of backdated period, with surcharge and interest) of that Act; or
  2. (ii) regional or islands council for payment of any amount payable as a civil penalty under section 17(10) or (11) (failure to provide information to a registration officer) of that Act,"
(b) in section 5(4) (which relates to time pay orders), after the word "authority" in paragraph (e) there shall be added— (ee) in relation to a debt including any sum due to—
  1. (i) a levying authority in respect of any community charge or community water charge within the meaning of section 26 of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 (which defines terms used in that Act) or any amount payable under section 18(3) (payment of community charges in respect of backdated period, with surcharge and interest) of that Act; or
  2. 1202
  3. (ii) a regional or islands council in respect of any amount payable as a civil penalty under section 17(10) or (11) (failure to provide information to a registration officer) of that Act,"
(c) in section 106 (interpretation)—
  1. (i) after the definition of "employer" there shall be inserted—" "levying authority" has the meaning assigned to it in paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 and, in relation to community water charges, means the regional or islands council;" and
  2. (ii) in the definition of "summary warrant", after the word "of", where first occurring, there shall be inserted the words "paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 to the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 or"; and
(d) in paragraph 35 of Schedule 5, in the definition of "creditor" there shall be inserted at the end— (d) for the purposes of—
  1. (i) paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 to the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987, the levying authority;
  2. (ii) that paragraph as read with section 17(10) or (11) of that Act, the regional or islands council." ").

The noble and learned Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 248. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 31 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Repeals]:

5.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendments Nos. 272 and 273: Page 48, line 5, leave out ("definition") and insert ("definitions"). Page 48, line 6, at end insert ("and "rate" ").

The noble Lord said: It may be convenient if I move Amendments Nos. 272 and 273 together. They have the effect of removing the definition of rate from the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947. They are consequential upon Amendment No. 30 to Schedule 1 of the Bill and Amendment No. 100 to Clause 6 which the Committee has already accepted. Amendment No. 100 introduced a definition of rates for use in statutes generally. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 273A not moved.]

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 32 [Citation, commencement and extent]:

Lord Taylor of Gryfe moved Amendment No. 274: Page 22, line 21, at end insert ("provided that a simple majority of the people in Scotland have approved this Act in a referendum.").

The noble Lord said: Since this is the last amendment on the Marshalled List it enables me to pay a compliment to the Minister for his courtesy, his agility, and his application on this very complicated Bill. At the same time it enables me to pay a compliment to others on this side of the Committee who have pursued the intricacies of the Bill with such diligence.

I now propose to move the amendment in my name on the Marshalled List. We have had the principle of a referendum recently in Scottish history. It was not so long ago that we voted by referendum in Scotland on setting up a Scottish assembly. Members of the Committee will also remember that in the substantial constitutional change involved in our joining the Common Market the government of the day saw fit to arrange for a referendum.

I can well understand that there may be resistance to this democratic proposal. I spend a certain amount of my time in Switzerland where they are much given to holding referenda on issues of much less importance than this, and it is probably the healthiest democracy in Europe, although I would not push the Swiss example too far.

However, the Government should recognise that in the latest opinion poll in Scotland the Conservative Party polled 18 per cent. of the votes. We are imposing this piece of legislation on the people of Scotland from a Westminster Government. We are entitled to ask the people of Scotland these questions. Do they want this legislation? Do they like it? Would they support it? On the basis of that important democratic principle, which is important to the survival of the unity of the United Kingdom—because there will be great resentment at the imposition of this unfortunate Bill on a reluctant population in Scotland—we are entitled to test its acceptance. I challenge the Government so to do. I beg to move.

Lord Ross of Marnock

This would definitely bring out the whole genesis of this Bill, with its pandering to panic and to self-interest. I have already said that certain people will benefit from the Bill. The poorest of the poor will not. But I think that blinded by the storms of Perth the Government have given way.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, is quite right. Mind you—I do not know whether he should apply his Swiss comparison too far—

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

Not too far.

Lord Ross of Marnock

—because the women did not have a vote there, so one has to be very careful about that. However, we shall have an opportunity in Scotland before very long to let Parliament know exactly what we think of the Government, not only in respect of this Bill but also other legislation and policy items that have been passed to the detriment of Scotland. That will be the best and fairest way. Everyone who has a vote will be on their toes to ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, perhaps comes over to this side of the Chamber and people more suitably representative of Scotland go on the other side.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I have no doubt what my noble friend's response to this amendment will be. I am quite sure that of all the measures for which a referendum may be chosen, this is about the least suitable. Five days have been spent in Committee on this Bill. It is a matter of intense complexity. The idea of expecting the whole population of Scotland to take a snap decision on the simple issue of whether or not to have it is to bring the whole legislative process into a state of mockery.

I say to the noble Lord that there arc other issues on which a referendum may be appropriate, and on which the people would find it quite easy to make a decision. If the noble Lord wishes to propose a referendum, perhaps he could propose one on the restoration of capital punishment, in which case I think he might have a surprise.

Having said that, I would join with the noble Lord in the very proper tribute he paid to the Minister, not only for his courtesy, efficiency and knowledge of the Bill but, above all, for the sheer physical stamina that enabled him to deal with the Bill here on Tuesday, be in Edinburgh yesterday, and spend a long day in Committee today without appearing to be any the worse for it; nor indeed has he lost on a single amendment. I congratulate him warmly.

Lord Glenarthur

As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter forcasts, I certainly do not wish to detain the Committee for long in responding to this amendment; nor, I imagine, would the noble Lord expect me to accept it. I know that a similar provision was contained in the Scotland Act 1978 referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. Although there can be two views on this question, in that instance the ultimate result of the inclusion of the provision was entirely desirable. However, at a more serious level in this country it is generally considered that referenda are justifiable only when a very clear issue of constitutional principle is involved. I agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that a complex issue such as this would not be a suitable matter.

While this Bill would of course make radical, far reaching and desirable changes to the system of local government finance in Scotland, it does not come clearly into the constitutional category where we would normally consider a referendum justifiable. The reforms proposed in this Bill will set the system of local government finance on a sound footing, and, I would go so far as to say, a footing which is well needed. To embark upon a referendum would introduce the further delay and uncertainty which would inevitably flow from a decision to make the coming into force of the Bill subject to the referendum.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and to my noble friend for their kind remarks. We may have spent five days in Committee, but it is five days work that seems to have gone remarkably quickly. I am sure we shall all return refreshed after the Easter Recess.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

At this late hour and with a somewhat thin Committee, I would not propose to put this important principle to the vote. We will consider it at a later stage. I suspected that to consult the people of Scotland was an exercise of accountability. The people of Scotland would certainly be interested to understand what is happening to them. They do not always follow the proceedings of your Lordships' House. If this matter were debated publicly in Scotland, and a vote taken then the Government may be satisfied as to whether the people accept accountability and involvement which is the purpose of the entire exercise. However, at this late stage on this Easter Thursday I do not propose to detain the Committee.

While paying compliment to the stamina of the Minister, perhaps I may say that he has only won the first round. Recent boxing experience suggests that a comeback is possible. We shall return to this matter at the Report stage. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 32 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the amendments.