HL Deb 31 March 1987 vol 486 cc535-62

House again in Committee on Clause 5.

[Amendment No. 89 not moved.]

Lord Wilson of Langside moved Amendment No. 90:

Page 5, line 33, leave out ("such property as is mentioned in subsection (3)(b) above") and insert ("domestic subjects which do not come into existence or occupancy as domestic subjects until after 1st April 1989").

The noble and learned Lord said: I shall endeavour not to delay the Committee unduly at this late hour but the matter is somewhat technical and it has the backing of the Law Society of Scotland. I at least hope that the Minister will be prepared to take the matter away and give it further consideration.

As the Committee fully appreciates, Clause 5 adopts the references to gross or net annual value or rateable value in certain deeds relating to heritable property as mentioned in subsection (1), and other documents relating to domestic subjects under subsection (2), in legislation which makes use of those values for purposes other than rating in terms of subsection (3), in particular where use is made of rateable values to apportion liabilities in certain contexts which can arise in various ways; for example, in common repairs to tenement buildings.

It is perhaps unclear whether subsection (4) requires the asessor to issue certificates of gross or net annual value or rateable value for new subjects under subsection (4) (a) or altered subjects under subsection (4) (b), where such a certificate is requested in connection with the deed or document as opposed to an enactment, as it may be. This is due to the fact that subsection (4) ties the obligation to issue a certificate to: such property as is mentioned in subsection (3) (b)". It is felt that the assessor should be required to issue such certificates where property is referred to in any deed or document. We think this could be achieved by Amendment No. 90 with Amendment No. 91 and I think the two amendments should be considered together, as indeed they are grouped together in the list.

The provisions of this clause could give rise to a change of incidence in the financial burden borne by the proprietors or occupiers of domestic or non-domestic subjects, and subsection (1) provides that for the purposes of deeds relating to heritage, the value of any property, whether domestic or non-domestic, would be frozen as at 1st April 1989. Subsections (2) and (3) provide only for the freezing of values of domestic property. Non-domestic subjects or domestic subjects which have been converted to non-domestic use for the purposes of any reference in a document or an enactment require to be valued at current values; that is to say, values which have been subject to revaluation.

In those circumstances, it is felt that Amendments Nos. 90 and 91 are worthy of consideration and might effect a clarification of the provisions in Clause 5. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I have considered carefully over the period since the noble and learned Lord put down these amendments what I thought would be the reasoning that lies behind them. I am grateful to him for his further explanation and I am satisfied, so far as I can tell, with the wording of the paragraphs. But in the light of what the noble and learned Lord has said, perhaps the best thing I can do is to say that I am willing to take the matter away and look at it again. I hope that that will satisfy him.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 91 and 92 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 93:

Page 5, line 41, after ("issued") insert ("or refused")

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting suggestion which may shorten the wording without destroying the meaning of the line, and it ends after "issued". This is because, if the assessor makes the decision, he does either one thing or the other. If he does not do one, then he does the other. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I am not sure that this amendment would have quite the effect which the noble Lord thinks it would. It may in fact give subsection (5) of Clause 5 an inherently illogical quality. It would make no sense for the subsection to open an appeal shall lie against any certificate issued or refused by the assessor". because there is no certificate to appeal against in cases of refusal.

I certainly appreciate the helpful spirit in which the amendment is tabled, but I hope that the noble Lord understands my point and will agree to withdraw it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I do. I have noticed this. I shall take the amendment back and look at it again to see whether I can reword it. I beg to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 94 and 95 not moved.]

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 96:

Page 6, line 7, at end insert— ("(7) Where the net annual value of any property does not appear, or would not have appeared, in the valuation roll in force immediately before 1st April 1989, references in this section to the appearance in that roll of the net annual value of that property shall he taken as references to the appearance of its rateable value.")

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 98 and 266. The purpose of the first amendment in this group is to remove a possible difficulty in the operation of Clause 5. Subsections (1), (2) and (3) of Clause 5 refer specifically to the appearance of net annual values in the valuation roll. Although the valuation roll must have a column for net annual value, it is not necessary to put a figure in that column where the net annual value of a property is the same as its rateable value. This is expressly provided for in the Valuation Roll and Valuation Notice (Scotland) Order 1984.

In most cases, net annual value is the same as rateable value and in practice a number of assessors have taken advantage of the 1984 order by leaving the net annual value column in the valuation roll blank where they are able to do so. In such cases, there would be difficulty in operating the provisions of Clause 5 in so far as they relate to the appearance of net annual values in the roll. The amendment accordingly introduces a new subsection (7) into Clause 5, which has the effect of requiring that in cases where the net annual value does not appear, or would not have appeared, in the valuation roll in force immediately before 1st April 1989, references in the clause to the appearance of net annual value should be taken as references to the appearance of rateable value.

The amendments to Clause 6, No. 98, and Clause 26, No. 266, will have the effect of removing the definition of the term "net annual value" from each of these two clauses. The definitions are inappropriate in relation to Clause 5 because the net annual value of dwelling houses is ascertained by reference to Section 6(6) of the 1956 Act and not Section 6(8). In any event, a definition of the term seems unnecessary for the purposes of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Ross of Marnock

May it be made clear that we are not defining "net annual value", but we are using the term "net annual value" in this clause? So we still have to define it, if we are using it.

Lord Glenarthur

If the noble Lord looks at Part VI, Clause 26, of the Bill he will see that, 'net annual value' has the meaning assigned to it in Section 6(8) of the 1956 Act".

Lord Ross of Marnock

So what?

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord is asking: so what? He was asking me whether or not it was defined. I am saying—and I hope he follows me—that it is given in the interpretation clause, Clause 26, of the Bill, which refers to the 1956 Act. So the meanings are identical.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 [Interpretation of Part I and minor and consequential amendments]:

[Amendment No. 97 not moved.]

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 98:

Page 6, leave out lines 15 and 16.

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this with Amendment No. 96. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 99:

Page 6, line 20, leave out ("occupied") and insert ("used").

The noble Lord said: This was considered a very suitable amendment for me to move. It is simply to leave out "occupied" and insert "used". I think that this amendment is simpler and better. We get away from a French flavour to a sort of Anglo-Saxon one. I am sure that the Minister will accept it. The amendment seems to be logical. The Law Society of Scotland, which is an extremely learned and erudite body, seems to think so, too. So I am sure that the Minister will accept this amendment, along with its counterpart, Amendment No. 267. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I cannot say that I would always agree that everything the Law Society of Scotland recommends is suitable for incorporation in every piece of legislation. But in this case I am perfectly happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 100:

Page 6, line 35, at end insert— ("( ) In this Act and in any other enactment, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, and unless the context otherwise requires—

  1. (a) the word "rate" shall mean—
    1. (i)the non-domestic rate,
    2. (ii)the non-domestic water rate, and
    3. (iii)the non-domestic sewerage rate;
  2. (b) the expression "non-domestic rate" shall be construed in accordance with the provisions of section 3 of this Act;
  3. (c) the expression "non-domestic water rate" shall be construed in accordance with the provisions of section 40 (non-domestic water rates) of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 (as substituted by paragraph 31 of Schedule 5 of this Act); and
  4. (d) the expression "non-domestic sewerage rate" shall be construed in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 21 of the said Schedule 5,
and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this with Amendments Nos. 30, 33 and 34. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 6, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

8.45 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna

This clause demonstrates the rush that the Government made in bringing this Bill forward, and the lack of thought and cohesion. We have in Clause 6 a definition clause that deals with Part I, and we have in Clause 26 a definition clause that deals with the Bill altogether. There is no difference between the two sets of definitions. There is no purpose in having Clause 6. It is just shoddy draftsmanship to have this at all. Where we have definitions that reappear in Clause 26, they are identical to those in Clause 6. Clause 6 includes definitions that are not in Clause 26 and the converse applies.

Surely, from the point of view of clarity and ease of reference—these may be abstruse points for the Government—one definition clause would do. We are not using words in Part I and making them mean something different from Part II onwards. One definition clause would be easier and everybody would know where to find it.

Secondly, there is a difficulty on part residential subjects, and Clause 6 reads: 'part residential subjects' means lands and heritages which are occupied partly as the sole or main residence of any person". That causes difficulties, too, because one may have part residential subjects such as a hotel where there is a flat for the proprietor. He occupies that flat and it is a part residential subject. But, if you do not have a proprietor's flat but have rooms for members of staff who do not live anywhere else at the time, are they part residential subjects?

It would seem quite extraordinary that, if the fact of the matter is that, say, a quarter of the floor space of the hotel is used up for the residence of the proprietor, it is separated, and, if a quarter is used up for accommodating staff who live there and nowhere else, they pay the personal community charge but there is no difference in the valuation. Those are two points that I suggest require looking at, and for that reason I suggest that Clause 6 should not stand part of the Bill.

Lord Gray

I must confess that I was surprised to find two separate definition clauses in the Bill and 10 of the items in Clause 6 duplicated in Clause 26. So far as I can see, apart from matters referred to in lines 25 to 29, all are duplicated except for one problem which is left over. I refer to the definition of "year" at Clause 6(1), which states 'year' means the financial year of a local authority". We find in other parts of the Bill the financial year referred to. I should like to ask a question on that point. Are we referring in any wise to different financial years?

Lord Glenarthur

I wonder whether my noble friend could just repeat that question.

Lord Gray

In Clause 6, line 35, we have a definition which reads: year' means the financial year of a local authority. In other words, the word "year" is defined as the financial year of a local authority. But when we come to the remainder of the Bill—for example, Clause 8 —there are several references in the text to "financial year". If one goes on, there are more. I wondered whether there was any reason why in one place the use of "year" is to be taken as a financial year of the local authority and if there is any significance in the use of the words "financial year" in the remainder of the Bill.

Lord Glenarthur

If I may deal with that point first, "year" is defined under interpretation in Clause 6. There appears to be no similar provision under Clause 26 which applies to other parts of the Act. As I understand it, there is no difference, and the same should apply. I shall take that point on board. If it is necessary to define it—and I am not clear that it is—I shall table the appropriate amendment. However, I do not believe that that is necessarily the case.

If I may touch upon the substance of the clause, both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, on the general question of whether it is necessary to have the separate interpretation, are labouring under something of a misapprehension. The reason that Part I of the Bill has its own interpretation provisions is perfectly straightforward.

The definition of the term "the Valuation Acts" in Clause 6 brings within the scope of the valuation Acts Part I of the Bill but not the other parts of the Bill. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the Valuation Acts contain the appropriate interpretation provision. The neatest way to do this—albeit I dare say not the only way—is by means of a separate clause. At a more technical level still, perhaps I should point out that if we were simply to decide that Clause 6 should not stand part of the Bill, we would lose not only the definition of the Valuation Acts but also the new definition of "rates" and the amendment by the Alliance, which I have just accepted. We would also lose the application in Clause 6(2) of Part III of Schedule I, which contains a series of important amendments that are necessary as a result of the abolition of domestic rates.

As to "part residential subjects"—very much the theme of the amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, spoke yesterday with the group of Amendments Nos. I1, 14, 15 and 42—perhaps the noble Lord will accept from me that I undertake to look at the points that he raises in that connection.

I hope that for the reasons I have given the noble Lord will agree that a separate interpretation clause for Part I of the Bill is sensible and worthwhile and that the clause, because of those merits, should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Morton of Shuna

It depends on for whom it is sensible. It is perhaps very sensible for parliamentary draftsmen; it is perhaps very sensible for government departments. But surely the purpose of Bills which become Acts is that they should be sensible and easily understood by the public. It is much easier for anyone who is trying to find out what a Bill is talking about if there is one interpretation clause. There is nothing difficult about saying that the Valuation Acts in Part I mean such-and-such and putting that into Clause 26. It is ludicrous to have two interpretation clauses. As the noble Lord, Lord Gray, pointed out, in Part I "year" means the financial year of a local authority. As the noble Lord the Minister will no doubt appreciate, any court will therefore assume that "year" means something different in Part II onwards. Clause 8(1) says: Subject to the following provisions of this section, any person aged 18 or over who is solely or mainly resident in the area of a local authority in any financial year". The normal interpretation of that would be that it is a different financial year from the definition in Part I because it does not appear in Clause 26.

Lord Glenarthur

I agree. With respect to the noble Lord, I have already said to my noble friend that I would be happy to look at that point.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The point that I am trying to get over is this. One is legislating not for the sake of government departments or parliamentary draftsmen but so that the public can understand what one is doing. For that reason, the language should be simple and easily understood. This is the factor that parliamentary draftsmen seem to forget. Secondly, if possible there should be one definition clause, not a sort of concatination of different definition clauses. There is no reason why the definition clause should not be totally in Clause 26.

Lord Glenarthur

I hear what the noble Lord says. If in the morning he studies what I have said—which I am sure he will—he will realise that it is necessary to do it in a simple and neat way, and that what is required for Part I of the Bill in regard to the definition of the term "Valuation Acts" in Clause 6 is peculiar to Part I but not to other parts of the Bill.

The noble Lord is very happy to have a go at the parliamentary draftsmen, but I am not prepared to let him get away with that entirely. As a lawyer, the noble Lord will understand that it is important that what can be put beyond doubt in legislation is put beyond doubt. I believe that what we are trying to achieve here—and I think that we have largely succeeded—is to set out interpretations that apply to particular parts of the Bill in a particular way.

I shall take away my noble friend Lord Gray's point about the definition of "year". At face value, it seems illogical that it appears in one part of the Bill but not in another. I cannot say any more on that. I hope that the noble Lord will study why it has been necessary to have a separate interpretation clause and that, with the caveat that I shall look after the question of "year", he will after all agree that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I do not wish to prolong the argument. However, I cannot see why one could not say in Clause 26 that, 'the Valuation Acts' means the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854, the Acts amending that Act and any other Act relating to valuation, and includes Part I of this Act". That would seem simple and easy, and it could be done.

A large number of other definitions are duplicated and are in Clause 6 and Clause 26. It would seem the simplest operation to put the two together and make this clear and simple.

I shall study what the noble Lord the Minister has said. I hope that he will study what I have said, and perhaps he will come back with a more rational explanation of these definition clauses.

9 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Before we leave this matter, I shall ask once again for elucidation. We have complained time and again that many aspects of this Bill are unexplained. So far, the most repeated phrase in this Bill is "as may be prescribed". Presumably that means prescribed by the Secretary of State. Now we have the phrase even in the definition. I can understand its use elsewhere. However, I cannot understand its use in a definition.

'part residential subjects' means lands and heritages which are occupied partly as the sole or main residence of any person other than—(a) domestic subjects which I thought that people might have lived in. However, there we are. I am a simple person.

In paragraph (b) we see the definition, such other class or classes of lands and heritages as may be prescribed". What on earth is that all about? I am sure that there are few who are as blind as I am and that this may be perfectly easy to understand. I asked a question the other night and I still do not have an answer. It may well be that this matter will have to be decided at law and taken to the sheriff.

I should like to know what the advisers to the Minister of State would have said about this particular case. The sheriff of Kilmarnock was the late Reggie Levitt. Where did he live? He lived in the Marine Hotel in Troon. It is a very posh hotel. We treat our sheriffs reasonably well. Of course he had a problem as to where to put his treasures—paintings, mobiles and the rest of it. So they were kept in the sheriffs court. Therefore, I do not know which was his main or sole residence. If it was where some of his treasured object d'art were, it was probably the sheriffs court, which was not exactly a residential subject. I may also say that it was broken into on occasion. But he did not remove the treasures to the Marine Hotel in Troon, where he lived.

I can think of another good friend of mine who happened to be the leading light of the Conservative Party in the Kilmarnock and the Loudoun area. She moved to the Marine Hotel in Troon and she died there. I wish to know whether those people, under this definition, would be construed as paying a personal charge or a collective charge. I do not get any clue from this definition of part-residential subjects. A definition is supposed to define and that goes out of its way not to define, simply because of the way the Government have decided to push over difficulties and to say, "We shall leave it to the Secretary of State or somebody else to define later". We therefore define part-residential subjects as, "Not defined at the moment but later on you may find out".

With due respect, that is not good enough. It is the kind of mess we get into because there is no definition at all. That is why I object to this sort of definition of part-residential subjects. It may well be that it has given me the opportunity to ask a question which I have asked before and to which I have not had an answer. It may well be that the noble Lord does not have an answer, because the answer has to be prescribed and that must be left to the Secretary of State on the advice of I know not whom.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I did not initiate any discussion on this mater. However, I was disturbed when I read the two definition clauses. I hope that the Minister, apart from having regard to what his noble friend Lord Gray said on the matter, will seriously consider what the noble Lords, Lord Morton and Lord Ross, have said in that context.

Lord Glenarthur

I am not sure that I shall be able to help the noble Lord on the particular case he mentioned or on anything quite along the lines of the late sheriff of Kilmarnock. I should have thought that if we were talking about residence in the sheriffs court and the danger of breaking into it, probably the safest place would have been beneath the court and not in it. That is not meant to trivialise the remarks of the noble Lord.

Perhaps I can give an example of the sort of case which this is designed to meet so far as part-residential subjects are concerned. It may be necessary to exclude certain classes of property from part-residential treatment so that the whole property remains in rating. That would exempt the residents from community charge liability. It would be used to give exemptions, for example, to long-term patients who, whether as a result of an accident or whatever, are in a private hospital providing treatment or in national health hospitals. I think that that is the burden of the noble Lord's concern and the need to have this particular interpretation clause. However, I shall study the concerns which have been expressed and see whether there is any way of simplifying the matter. I do not believe that there is. But I shall certainly look to see what can be done.

Lord Morton of Shuna

There are a number of people apart from the late sheriff of Kilmarnock who live in boarding-houses and clubs all the time. They and the boarding-houses and clubs will no doubt wish to know whether they will have that particular bedroom or whatever it happens to be removed from valuation as a part-residential subject. If someone has lived in such accommodation for 10 or 15 years, one would think that that was their main and only residence.

What is the position? Do they pay the community charge or do the subjects pay non-domestic rate? It seems to be totally unclear and it does not really help to refer just to long-term patients in hospital. I can think of various people who live in this kind of situation who would not regard themselves as longterm patients in hospital. Certainly in one establishment in Princes Street in Edinburgh they would not regard themselves as such.

Lord Glenarthur

I do not know how long we can usefully prolong this discussion. I believe that the noble Lord has a copy of the Notes on Clauses which I hope will go some way towards satisfying him. If he cares to look at another document; a commentary on the Bill which I believe we let him have—he should have it; if he does not I apologise—and refers to page 2 and domestic subjects under paragraph 2(2), he will see that it would not be appropriate to exclude property used only partly for residential purposes, and Schedule 1 to the Bill therefore provides a mechanism for apportioning the value between the residential and non-residential uses.

I am not sure how much further I can go on this point. Members of the Committee opposite have made the point that they feel it is not necessary to have an interpretation clause for this part of the Bill. I have given my reasons for saying why I feel it is necessary. Nothing I can say, whether it be to do with the late sheriff from Kilmarnock, anybody in a hospital as a result of an accident or anything else, appears to be likely to convince Members that it is necessary to have this clause. I can do only what I said I would originally do—study what has been said and hope that Members opposite will study what I have said. Beyond that I do not think I can go. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, looks far from convinced all the same. Nevertheless I hope that he will study what has been said.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am far from convinced. I cannot construe as an adequate definition of any two words, even though linked by a hyphen—they are not even linked by a hyphen; "part residential subjects"—a reference to a regulation that I have not even seen. I have never seen anything defined in that way and this does not take us any further forward.

Even as I sat and listened to my noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna something I had to decide as Secretary of State came into my mind. It concerned a club in Edinburgh. I did not find it all that easy to get a group of people who were entirely without an interest in it. I discovered how many of my top civil servants were members of the New Club in Edinburgh. They were slightly embarrassed when I asked them to declare an interest, because a good deal of money was involved in it. I do not refer necessarily to them but I gather that quite a number of top brass actually live there. Will they pay the personal charge or will they be subject to some collective charge?

One matter has fascinated me lately. Hotels did not have a very good season last year in Scotland, and certainly not in Ayr. I have been amazed at the number of hotels that have now become boarding houses. There is probably a residence for an owner there as well. How will they be treated? Will they be refugees from the community charge system or will they be subject in the same way as down-and-outs in hostels? Should we not get some information when we are defining "part residential subjects"?

I did not wish the Bill on the House. I wish that the Government would take it away and lose it. But we are entitled to get as much information as possible to satisfy the curiosity of people who may even want to know how they will be placed. I am not arguing this on the point that we should not have the interpretation clause here dealing with Part I. Things like that have been done before. What I am concerned about is the adequacy of the explanations and the interpretations that are given which I do not interpret at all but just repeat the questions.

Lord Glenarthur

This ought to be the last time that I come back to the point because I have agreed to look at what has been said. Perhaps the noble Lord will refer to the Notes on Clauses, of which I know he has a copy because I see it beside his noble friend Lord Morton, who was concerned about the fact that there was an extra need to have an interpretation clause for Part I of the Bill. The noble Lord shakes his head but that is what he said—

Lord Morton of Shuna


Lord Glenarthur

He suggested that it was not necessary—

Lord Morton of Shuna

I never suggested that there was a need to have it. I suggested that there was no need to have it.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord says "no need"—I apologise. That is the trouble when debating these tortuous subjects at this time of the night.

I can only refer the noble Lord to the element of the Notes on Clauses which refers to Clause 6. The explanation, in a note to the subsection, refers to part residential subjects, which are lands and heritages occupied partly as a person's sole or main place of residence (eg rooms in a hotel used by its manager as his living quarters) provided that they are not domestic subjects … or do not belong to a class or classes of lands and heritages prescribed by the Secretary of State". I know that the point that the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, is about to make is on the definition of the use of the word "prescribed".

Lord Morton of Shuna


9.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord is going to make a different point, but let me continue for a moment and simply say that the power could, for example, be used to exclude old people's homes from definition. I do not know whether the noble Lord is suggesting that the New Club in Edinburgh is an old people's home—

Lord Ross of Marnock

I did not say that. I did not even suggest that this place is an old people's home.

Lord Glenarthur

At any rate. the purpose behind the definition of part residential subjects is to take account of that sort of case. There is nothing more I can add.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The definition that has just been quoted—which does not appear in the Bill but in the Notes on Clauses, which only certain of us possess—refers only to the persons's sole or main place of residence; that is, rooms in a hotel used by a manager as his living quarters. That is fine in regard to the manager but what about the guest who uses the hotel and has done so for 10 or 15 years as his living quarters? Is that to be a part residential subject? No one seems to know the answer. Certainly the Minister has avoided giving an answer for the past few minutes. No doubt he is waiting for assistance—and here it comes.

Lord Glenarthur

I believe that it is included, but I should like to verify that. Perhaps it would be best if I correspond with the noble Lord. That might bring this discussion to a close. However, I believe it includes them.

Lord Morton of Shuna

That is acceptable provided it is not just correspondence with me but with others who are interested and that it is made available in the Library.

The problem is raised, however, that if you have six semi-permanent or permanent guests in a boarding house and one dies, leaves or retires, you must have a new valuation of the subjects each time. The division between the residential and the non-residential will be different. Do you have revaluation when someone who resides in the New Club goes on holiday for three months? Do you have revaluation because the part residential is smaller than it used to be? Those questions do not appear to have been considered.

Lord Glenarthur

Returning once more to the Dispatch Box, those are all questions which I shall have to look at. Of course, I shall make any letter that I send to the noble Lord available to others who have taken part in the debate. A copy will also be put in the Library.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 [Creation and purpose of community charges]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)

Before I call Amendment No. 101 I have to inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 102 to 106. I call Amendment No. 101.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 101:

Page 6, line 44, leave out from ("Act") to end of line 46 and insert ("a community charge to be known as the personal community charge").

The noble Lord said: This is a simple change which I think is much more in keeping. I do not want three community charges; one is enough. One community charge is the indication that has been given to the country. The Government have spoken about the community charge but now we suddenly discover three community charges. Therefore, let us stick to the idea that has been given and drop two of them, calling them by some other name but certainly not community charge. It is a simple amendment and I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I do not know whether the noble Lord is speaking also to Amendments Nos. 102, 103, 105 and 106, which I had understood were grouped with Amendment No. 101. I had understood that we had agreed that that grouping would apply to these amendments. It seems to me that one could usefully encompass them all. To some extent, the first amendment is a paving amendment. I take the point made by the noble Lord about the definition of "community charge" and refining what is said in the Bill. Am I right to understand that the other amendments are connected?

Lord Ross of Marnock

Yes, they are connected. I shall speak on them later. I do not want to speak to them now. I want an initial response from the Minister.

Lord Glenarthur

If Amendment No. 101 is essentially a paving amendment for the debates on the clauses that relate to it, it might be a sensible way to take the matter. I hope that the noble Lord will not press this amendment on its own. The other amendments, with the exception of the proposal to call the collective community charge a collective contribution tax, which is a new invention, merely show that the terminology which has been used and discussed elsewhere has not been taken on board.

It is no wish of mine to detain the Committee long on these points, which to some extent will delay substantive discussion on the proposals, but I think that I should say a few words about each of the proposed changes. The first change which the noble Lord has suggested is to call a personal community charge a poll tax in Clause 7, page 6, line 45. Since the introduction of the Bill, we have heard a great deal about poll taxes, but we have heard little detail about what in precise terms is so objectionable about that notion. That is because the parties opposite find it convenient, more than anything else, to use the term "poll tax" as a slogan with which to criticise the community charge system without producing any precise evidence for why the criticisms are made.

I shall try to make the position clear. If the words "poll tax" are used in their proper sense; that is, of a flat rate tax on each resident in a local authority's area, the personal community charge is a poll tax, and I make no apology for saying that. The words "poll tax" have another separate meaning: that of a tax on the right to vote. Much of the force of the arguments that we have heard from the party opposite here or in another place, and the use of that term, depends on something of a confusion between the two different methods—the one which they use and the one which we use—to describe the new charge.

That in itself demonstrates the correctness, I feel, of the Government's decision to avoid possible ambiguity by the use, as we do, of the new term "community charge". We have no objection to the words "poll tax" when properly used, but much of the play made by Opposition noble Lords and those on the Alliance Benches merely demonstrates that these terms are susceptible to just that type of improper use.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Surely the Minister must admit that it will be a poll tax, because a number of people will prefer not to register to avoid the community tax. That would turn it into a poll tax. I have no doubt that a number of people will infinitely prefer to remain anonymous, outwith the system and off the electoral register, which would make the charge a poll tax.

Lord Glenarthur

They may choose to do that but if they do they will be defying the purpose of the Bill. They will be avoiding the clutches of the person who is responsible for the register and furthermore the responsible person in the places where they live. I cannot see that by doing that they necessarily can convert themselves into people who would otherwise be paying a poll tax. That seems a total illogicality.

As for the question of the standard property tax which is suggested, the proposal to replace the term "standard community charge" by the term "standard property tax"—which is in page 6, line 45, Amendment No. 106—is no doubt connected with the various amendments which have been put down to Clause 10. At this stage perhaps I can restrict myself to saying quite clearly that the standard community charge is not a property tax in any real sense of that term. Like the personal community charge, it is a payment for the local authority services that a person receives in relation to his ownership of and periodical residence in a second home.

These services will often relate to the property—for instance, police or fire services—but they will also relate to the personal services provided for those resident in the property while it is occupied. Nor will the standard community charge relate to the value of the property in respect of which it is payable any more than the personal community charge will relate to the value of the property in which the person who is liable for it lives. The standard community charge is therefore in no sense a property tax. It is part of the community charge system and is a personal liability on the owner or long-term tenant of the premises to which it relates.

We then have "collective contribution tax" again in that same amendment. I note that this suggestion to change "collective community charge" to "collective contribution tax" will depend on the survival of Clause 11 in the Bill. We can discuss that in due course. However, I have to say that I see little real point in changing the title unless the other titles were changed, which for the reasons I have set out are not propositions that would either be sensible or that I would find acceptable.

On that basis—starting with the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has moved—I find that what is suggested in this and the connected amendments is unacceptable.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It does not surprise me that the Government find them unacceptable. What surprises me are the arguments used by the Minister to justify the personal community contribution, and the objection to its being called a poll tax. I know that the Minister is new at this business, but if he had been here in 1981 he would have seen a White Paper published by the Government in which they listed the alternatives to the present rating system. What they suggested then and later was that one of the alternatives was a poll tax. Therefore I am taking the words "poll tax" from an official Government paper.

Everybody knows that this is a poll tax. It is "per head" tax. No number of suggestions that it is being used by somebody in respect of voting—that is a poll—will get away from that fact. When the Government used this word they used it in the same sense as we use it here, in the correct sense of poll tax—that is, per head, per skull, p-o-l-l. If the Minister likes to look the word up in the dictionary he will find that it means "per head". That is the original meaning of the word. It was used in the Government's Green Paper (although it was actually coloured purple, if I remember rightly). It was one issue covering the whole of Britain, entitled Alternatives to Domestic Rates.

The Government later produced a White Paper giving the results. Again, poll tax was mentioned. The Minister had better go back and find out from other Ministers what was meant by poll tax then. It was certainly nothing to do with the brief that he gave here. I do not know who drew the brief up for him, or whether or not he read it before he submitted it to words. We want to call something what it really is—the business of calling a spade a spade. This is a poll tax, per head, rich or poor: it does not matter what age you are so long as you are over 18. Whether you are 92 or 19, you will all pay the same.

It is a very primitive tax and one that bears no relation to the ability to pay. We say that people know it is a poll tax. They can see through the hope of the Government that people will forget it is a poll tax and call it a personal community contribution. Do you think that people will have these words tripping from their mouths "Your personal contribution" or "Your personal community contribution"? Will they call it lovingly "your PCC"? Of course they will not.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am a little confused because in Amendment No. 101 the noble Lord seeks to have a personal community contribution charge, and then in Amendment No. 105 he is talking in terms of having a personal poll tax. Which one are we actually talking about? Which one does the noble Lord prefer?

Lord Ross of Marnock

We are talking about a group of amendments because I thought that that is what the Minister was talking about. He must not listen to me but to his leader. If possible, the noble Lord should get a copy of the list that is provided—though it is not provided very freely because it is never available in any number—on which the groupings are suggested. We are now taking amendments together. We wish to call things what they are, so that the personal community charge will become a poll tax

Lord Glenarthur

Although I am not suggesting this should be the case, I should like to ask the noble Lord this question. If the personal community charge was know as a poll tax, which is a matter very dear to his heart, would that affect his general view upon the Bill?

Lord Ross of Marnock

Of course it would not, and the Minister should know. What is in a name? A community charge by any other name is a tax. I want to get right down to the matter and if it is a tax to call it a tax. It is as simple as that. We want people to accept the fact that it is a tax. I hope that we will accept that taxes are far more appropriate so that we should have standard property tax, and a collective contribution tax. When one considers the standard tax and the collective tax, they depart entirely from the main thrust of the Bill. This is a tax which everyone has to pay themselves. They are not going to pay themselves if it is a standard charge. It is going to be people who are using the property in question. It may well be paid to someone who is the owner of the property, and the owner of the property is the person under the obligation. It is really a property tax.

A holiday home is not always used by the person who owns it. It is a second home to them, but they allow other people to use it and they may charge them for that use. But the person who pays it is the owner. The collective contribution tax is a tax on individuals who are sharing a property together. They are not paying it personally; they are paying it to the owner of a hotel, a club, a hostel or a Salvation Army home, and they must estimate how many people will use it per week per year. Then the assessor will supply a multiplier and thereafter the person who owns that place will have to recoup from the individuals and pay that assessment to the levying authority.

The whole question of personality goes out of it. Whatever else it is, it is not a personal charge of any kind. It is related purely to an estimate made by the assessor, regained in some way by the people who use the place. To suggest that this is in keeping with the original idea of the Bill is absolute and fantastic nonsense.

The standard charge is not standard. To what is it standard? The collective charge has nothing to do with the original aims of the Bill. I suggest that the Goverment should forget about that and get down to what it is. Is it the PPC? It is purely and simply a poll tax and the other matters can be dealt with as taxes on property and on the use of property, and are not paid for by the individuals who do the using. I beg to move.

Lord Wilson of Langside

We have been perfectly honest from the very beginning that this was quite simply a poll tax. I do not understand why we should have these prolonged arguments about whether or not it is. Any dictionary that I have looked at—and I have looked at several—makes this quite clear. One does not need to consult Government White Papers.

I should not have joined in this particular argument if the Minister had not appeared to be slightly critical of those of us on this side of the Committee, including in particular those Members of the Committee on the Alliance Benches, for objecting to this designation.

That prompts me to say that I do not mind the Minister saying: "We prefer this", but he has no grounds for being critical of this side of the Committee for raising the question, because it is an attempt to deceive people and to take the edge off reality. That is why the Members of the Committee on these Benches object to its use. It is cosmetic. Most of us have always joined in opposition to anything cosmetic in our modern democracy. I believe that people know this. The whole of Scotland knows that it is a poll tax. Intelligent people are laughing their heads off at the Government who think that they will be impressed by it being called a community charge, which has the connotation of being something honourable and respectable and something that everyone should be proud to pay, whereas it is a blooming poll tax!

As I say, I would not have joined in this private fight between the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, if the Minister had not had the temerity to suggest that, at least in the initial stages, we were wrong to tell the people of Scotland that what was being visited upon them was a poll tax.

Lord Glenarthur

I briefly return to what I said a little earlier. I fully accept, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, that I prayed in aid in my arguments when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, at earlier stages of the Bill referred to this charge as a poll tax, that if those words "poll tax" were used in their proper sense—that is, of a flat rate tax on each resident in a local authority's area in very much the way that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, described when he referred to the dictionary definition of what "poll" meant—it was quite clearly a poll tax. I said that and I made no apology for saying so.

However, I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, will accept that another colloquial interpretation is placed on the word "poll". It is that in the eyes of most people it clearly refers to the right to vote. This charge is in no sense a tax upon the right of people to vote. The noble Lord shakes his head but it is in no sense a tax upon the right to vote. If the noble Lord was shaking his head in agreement with what I was saying, that is something I have not seen him do before.

I am trying to explain to both noble Lords that this is not a tax on any right to vote; it is merely a charge. If it was written in such a way that would make it possible to take the wrong meaning because of the colloquial use of the term "poll", then the people of Scotland would be in a terrible tangle because they would not understand precisely the nature of the charge.

Those are the facts of the issue before us and that is why the term "personal community charge" has been used. It leaves one in no doubt that this is in no sense an attempt to tax people for the right to vote. That is the colloquial use outside this Chamber, where the definitive terms as appear in the dictionary would appear confusing to those concerned. That is why we have chosen to use the term which we have given to it.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I must defend myself against the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, who may have been co-operating happily up till now, when he inferred that I did not understand that a poll meant a headage. Everyone knows that a black poll cow is an Aberdeen Angus cow, and that "poll" means without horns. That is another interpretation. It is perfectly true that the way in which the Government are going about it, and the way in which it will operate, makes it perfectly possible for people to think that it is a poll tax in this respect: that if one does not want to pay, one cannot get a vote. There is no doubt about that. Therefore people will be quite right to misunderstand the meaning of the word because if one does not wish to pay the tax, one can avoid it by not being on the electoral register.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I would never infer that from my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie. I was concerned about the Minister. When he thinks that I am shaking my head because I am agreeing with him, I am merely shaking my head in incredulity at the simplicity of the Minister.

Anyone with any knowledge of history knows what a poll tax means. It has caused revolution. It has caused great concern not only here but elsewhere. It is the most primitive and crude form of tax. To seriously translate this into people thinking that it refers to paying for votes is not true. There will be a check of the registers against the voters' registers and therefore people may decide not to check that their names are on the register, because it will be a measure of guidance to the registrar that they live in a certain place and are eligible to pay the poll tax—the personal community charge, or whatever. Everyone knows that that is true. People will not be paying it in England and unmarried youngsters of 18 or 19 will disappear. Their parents will not know where they are, At least, that is what they will say. If they find somebody responsible in that household, they will hear that the person has disappeared to England.

There is no link up with any organisation in England that the registrar can get in touch with to check where this person is. This is one of the aspects which concerns us. It is no good having a law which can be evaded, which may virtually become voluntary in payment. It is not a question of going abroad; you just cross the border and that is it. They are being advised to do it by a Minister of the Government. They will get on their bikes.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

I am suggesting no such thing. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, was quite wrong—and I must correct him—to suggest that by this means or any other it would be possible to claim that the electoral registration system was in some way leading to being disassociated, and that it would be possible for a person who did not pay this tax not to be on the electoral register. That is quite wrong, and I must correct him on that.

The register for electoral registration will be quite separate from the community charge register. If the noble Lord has not understood that point he will find that it is clearly set out that way. The canvasses for the two will take place at different times for a start.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Surely as the same man is to run both registers he will tell himself that some 18 year-old is on the voters' roll and therefore may be liable to pay the personal community charge, and the 18 year-old will just disappear and therefore will not be on the voters' roll.

Lord Glenarthur

I wonder whether he will. The noble Lord is saying, on the one hand, that he may not be able to afford to pay the community charge, but that he will be able to afford to go down south, or whatever, to avoid paying it. There seems to be a certain illogicality in that.

Lord Morton of Shuna

It costs rather less to go from Edinburgh to Newcastle, or even to Berwick, than it does to pay the community charge, estimated at £240.

Lord Glenarthur

He is going to have to do it several times, which seems to me to be the point. He is no doubt going to want to go down temporarily under the noble Lord's hypothesis and then come back again. He is going to be doing several journeys north and south.

Lord Hylton

Perhaps I may put a question to the Minister. I do not expect him necessarily to answer it tonight but perhaps he will take it away and consider it. Let us take the case of a student who is over 18. He has a family home in one place and he goes away for half the year, or perhaps slightly more, to study in some institution somewhere else and perhaps even in the same jurisdiction. In which of those places is he supposed to pay his personal community charge? Is it both? Is it either one or the other? It would be interesting to know.

Lord Polwarth

I wonder whether we are not getting rather far away from the subject of this amendment, which is to do with terminology. I find it difficult to see why so much heat is being generated. I began suddenly to see light when the noble Lord, Lord Ross, talked about a poll tax having been known, I think, to cause revolution.

Far be it for me to suggest that he is trying by changing the terminology to cause a revolution. I am quite certain that that is something he would not wish to do. I should have thought that it was perfectly straightforward. This is a charge for services to be provided by the local authority, and therefore I cannot see what is wrong with the terminology.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

It is probably inadvisable, improper and impertinent to take part in a debate at which one has just arrived. But when I entered the Chamber there was some confusion about what was meant by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, shaking his head. I may help my noble friend if I say, with possibly more experience of the noble Lord than anyone else in the Chamber at the moment—it ran to over 15 years of nostalgic and, on the whole, pleasant antagonism —that I recall on many occasions his shaking his head at what he realised was his own argument being lost.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It was shaken in despair at the answers I got from the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Stodart, is not the only one with experience of me. I see one or two good friends of mine with whom I debated in another place. I think they will appreciate that generally speaking I am fair in my arguments and usually mean what I say.

I regard this euphemism of "community charge" as unworthy. The Government in the Green Paper in 1981 and the White Paper in 1983 used the phrase "poll tax" and meant it. Why did they change it? They changed it because it has a meaning which is more than slighltly derogatory. It is recognised as the crudest and most unfair form of tax. That is why I seek in this amendment to change "community charge" to "poll tax".

Concerning the discussion about "standard", I do not know what the standard charge is standard to, relating to second homes and those who are allowed to use the second homes. The word "standard" has no meaning at all. I suggest that, if one wants to call it anything, one calls it a standard tax. That is not a very good phrase but if anyone comes up with a better one I shall be delighted to look upon it with favour. Certainly "collective community charge" bears no relation to the principal idea of this being attached to an individual. The Government are departing from what they laid down at the start as a charge on individuals. Both the standard charge and the collective tax are related to properties and not to individuals.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)

Is the noble Lord pressing his amendment or is he withdrawing it?

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am sorely tempted, but at this hour of the night it would be unfair to defeat the Government, so I reluctantly seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 not moved.]

Lord Taylor of Gryfe had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 104:

Page 6, line 44, after ("charges") insert ("graduated according to ability to pay").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is an amendment to the clause which defines the charges to be imposed by the local authorities. We have in the last two hours wrestled with the definition of these charges, but we are not entirely clear. Not only were we discussing what we should call these charges—whether we call them personal community charges or poll taxes—but there was even difficulty in the definition of "standard community charge", which was raised on an earlier amendment. This amendment would take care of all the problems of definition and also of the problem of collection raised by my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie. That problem of how the Bill will be implemented and how the community charge or poll tax (or whatever we call it) will be collected has also been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Morton of Shuna and Lord Ross of Marnock.

The amendment before the Committee would take care of this because it would impose on the Bill an entirely different standard for its operation. People would pay in accordance with ability to pay. The amendment strikes at the very heart of the Bill. We discussed it at some length yesterday when I moved an amendment proposing a local income tax, because that is what a local income tax does. It charges one in accordance with one's ability to pay. The Committee having expressed itself, somewhat unwisely, I thought, on that rather fundamental point, and having done so with a rather larger attendance than we have at the moment, I would not propose to press the amendment although I believe strongly that this is a very desirable measure. I shall be glad to hear what the Minister has to say. I shall not move the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

If the noble Lord wishes this amendment to be replied to by the Minister, he must move it and then, after the debate, withdraw it.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I beg to move the amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I support this amendment wholeheartedly. It occurs to me that there is a reason why perhaps the Minister would consider accepting it at this late hour. It would take it out of the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, to describe this as a poll tax—something which I am sure between now and the end of our debates on this Bill he will hear a great deal if he does not accept this amendment, as I hope he will.

Lord Glenarthur

It seems to me as if we might end up with a graduated poll tax, which would be one degree worse than that which the noble Lord envisages. We have already discussed in some detail the various alternatives to a community charge system in relation to the last amendment. I have already made it clear that the principle of a flat rate personal community charge is correct and is fair, and that rebates will be available to those on low incomes who might otherwise have difficulty in meeting the full cost of the charge.

Those rebates will be set out in a scheme to be made by virtue of the provisions of Clause 24 of the Bill and I have no doubt whatever that we shall discuss the rebate proposals in greater detail when we get to that particular clause. I have already made it clear that the community charge system and the scheme of rebates proposed will strike a correct balance between a system based entirely on payment for the actual level of local authority services delivered and a system of payments graduated entirely in accordance with the ability to pay.

I have to say that we cannot expect to satisfy all our critics. I do not suppose anybody could, even on the proposals for local income tax or that which is generally proposed so far as concerns capital value of properties under the existing or a similar rating system, which is proposed by the party opposite. However, I believe that the community charge system represents an eminently sensible balance and I am afraid I cannot accept the amendment which the noble Lord has tabled. I hope that he will see the force of my arguments and that we can return to rebates when we reach Clause 24.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 105 to 107 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

10 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe moved Amendment No. 108: After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:

("Compensation for excessive expenses.

.—(1) The Secretary of State shall compensate local authorities for expenses incurred in the abolition of domestic rates and the introduction of community charges.

(2) If the costs of levy, collection and recovery of arrears of communities charges are excessive, the Secretary of State shall compensate the local authorities.").

The noble Lord said: This clause provides that the Secretary of State shall compensate local authorities for expenses incurred in the abolition of domestic rates and the introduction of community charges. It also has the provision that if the costs of levy, collection and recovery of arrears of community charges are excessive, the Secretary of State shall compensate local authorities. There are some calculations in the Bill, in one of the schedules, about the additional costs involved in applying this Bill and imposing the new provisions for community charges.

I would be very interested to find out the bases of these interesting calculations. I seem to recall that the last reorganisation of local government in Scotland was rather more expensive than was originally visualised when changes took place. There is the problem of the transition from the imposition of the abolition of domestic rates and the setting up of community charges—although there will be some savings in the setting up of the valuation roll, which is provided for in the schedule—under the new provisions. I suspect that the costs of implementing this will be very substantial.

This is a Bill which is being imposed on the local authorities against their wishes as expressed by CoSLA. Practically every local authority in Scotland has opposed this Bill. It is being imposed on them and therefore I think that the Government have some obligation to meet the costs involved in that imposition and that unwanted piece of legislation. That is what the amendment provides. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

May I clarify with the noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Gryfe and Lord Ross of Marnock, whether, as I expected, we shall be taking Amendment No. 111 at the same time, purely because the two are connected? Shall we be speaking to Amendment No. 111 with this one?

Lord Morton of Shuna


Lord Glenarthur

If not, I shall deal purely with Amendment No. 108. The new clause which it is proposed should be inserted after Clause 7, which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, seeks compensation for two aspects of the cost of introducing the new system, subsection (1) relates to costs incurred in the abolition of domestic rates and the introduction of the community charge system and subsection (2) relates to the cost of operating that system—the levying, collection and debt recovery procedures.

It may be helpful if I explain first of all the Government's views on the likely scale of these additional costs because it seems to me that that lies very much at the heart of the noble Lord's amendment. At no stage have we made any secret of the fact that we expect there to be additional costs. Estimates were put forward in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill when it was published last November and they are repeated in this print of the Bill.

The cost of rate collection is not simply and clearly identified in local authority financial statistics at present; but on the basis of the information available for 1985–86 we reckon that the cost of collecting domestic rates is somewhat in excess of £15 million per annum. The community charge will be payable by roughly twice as many people so we have assumed that the cost of collection will be about double. The precise amount will depend on the procedures adopted by local authorities. For example, though each individual will receive a separate bill, there will be the possibility of joint payment arrangements for spouses and that could keep costs down. For others, there may be more work associated with the payment procedures than arises under rates.

Our figures acknowledge that there is some uncertainty in all this and we have not sought to understate the costs in any way. The total additional cost quoted in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, £17 to £22 million, also takes account of the registration system which we have assumed will be substantially more expensive than the present electoral registration system, offset however by some savings on the ending of domestic valuation for rating. We believe that these increases are an essential price which has to be paid for the improvements in accountability and the strengthening of local democracy which will result from the introduction of the new system.

The Financial Memorandum also gave an estimate of up to £9 million for the expenditure which might be expected in 1988–89 for the establishment of the register and the preparation of new billing and collection systems. This will involve the purchase of equipment to the acquisition of premises, the hiring and training of staff and so on. It will also cover the cost of the initial canvass to set up the register, which we envisage will be ready by autumn 1988. The amendment which the noble Lord has proposed seeks compensation in respect of these additional costs. But I can assure the Committee that these costs will be among the factors to be taken into account by the Secretary of State in the rate support grant settlement for 1988–89 and in the revenue support grant settlement in 1989–90 and subsequent years. This will therefore be no different from the procedures which apply at present, under which account is taken of a whole range of local authority expenditures in determining the total amount of grant available; and that very much is repeating what I said in relation to an amendment earlier this evening. I do not believe that a specific grant would be appropriate for the support of matters which, albeit increased as a result of this legislation, are still part of the mainstream of local authority administrative expenditure.

That is why I am afraid that I cannot accept that this amendment is in our interests to pursue any further. I believe that what is taken account of now by the Secretary of State in, as I have said, the rate support grant settlement now and in future years, is of sufficient account to meet the needs and concerns which the noble Lord expressed, and I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The answer seems to be wholly unsatisfactory. So far as I can follow the arithmetic, the total extra cost of putting this into operation is supposed to be about £31 million. There is no estimate of the additional cost for collection and recovery, which is in the second part of the amendment. There is, I should have thought, no doubt that there must be considerably increased costs of trying to recover this from people, if you doubled the number of people. It seems logical that your costs of trying to recover it will be higher. No estimate has been given and it would be very interesting to hear what the estimate is.

If the estimate proves to be wildly wrong, are the Government prepared to compensate? The words "take into account" are rather similar to "we will consult" and we have heard of consultation which does not change the Government's mind at all. That has happened once or twice in the last few years and the same has happened with "take into account". If one has something like this written into the Bill, the Government have to compensate if the costs are excessive. The Government are well aware of what they understand to be excessive, so it does not need to be defined, because we have "excessive" used specifically in Schedule 3, as no doubt the Minister is well aware.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has put his finger on the point. But he has been a little unkind, since I think the Minister was giving a hostage to fortune when he said that it would be taken into account. I know that one can vary it very greatly, but I think that if it is to be taken into account it should be put into the Bill.

The point about the total uncertainty as regards how much is to be collected is valid. While I understand that the amount of rates collected is very small, in this case, with a moving object, there might be a considerable problem in the collection. The local authority might find itself having to put up the community charge considerably unless the Government take into account the full extra cost and do not load it on to the community charge or whatever one cares to call it.

Lord Glenarthur

I assure the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Morton of Shuna, that the £17 million to £22 million per annum additional cost includes recovery as well as billing and collection.

Lord Ross of Marnock

This is of course only an estimate that was given when the Bill was originally published towards the end of November last year. I wonder whether the figure is the same now. As I understand it, considerable expenditures have arisen since then. I wonder what the Government's own expenditure has been in putting the Bill through. I see a tremendous number of civil servants from Scotland sitting in the Chamber. I wonder what the travel expenses have been since the month of December and, indeed, earlier. They are not included in the Bill. The only central government expenditure mentioned is rate support grant, revenue support grant and increased central government expenditure in respect of the workload of sheriff courts. It is questionable whether £1 million will meet this. The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has considerable expertise in this regard.

What I question very much is the £17 million to £22 million. Given the panic which the Government are in at present, one wonders about asking local authorities to get more people on to the job to ensure that this and that are done when the regulations are in place—and they are not in force yet. The Committee should remember that not until between six and nine months after the Bill becomes law will they have the regulations. The regulations will be available for local authorities to get down to work by about the end of the year and into 1988. Then this has to start, and it will be difficult to get a start by 1st April.

In my view these estimates are way out now and will continue to be so. Before the Committee stage is completed, I wonder whether the Government will seek to revise the estimates and say whether they still stand. All that the Minister had to do was to stand up and say, "I refer you to page (vi), Financial Effects of the Bill"—because that is virtually what he read out to us

Lord Glenarthur

I do not think that it will be possible to provide a breakdown as between when the Bill started its passage in another place and when it will ultimately leave your Lordships' Chamber. I do not imagine that within the figure of £17 million to £22 million—a difference of £5 million—it will be possible to have incorporated, so far as one can estimate, the likely differences that will have emerged over that time. I shall examine whether this is possible, but I do not think that I shall be able to satisfy the noble Lord.

Lord Ross of Marnock

There is one other figure that I should like to have. It is not connected with the amendment, nor does it bear on local government, but it is a matter of interest for everyone.

Will the Minister let us know the cost of mounting the Bill, the preparation of the Bill, the money paid to consultants in respect of it, advice given by people in respect of the availability and efficiency of computers that will be in use, the extra cost of civil servants travelling between London and Edinburgh—all the costs of the Bill? It has not been that well done. We have had trouble with computers. However, it would be interesting to know the cost of putting a Scottish Bill of this nature through Parliament.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

I think that that point takes us full circle. It is the noble Lord's way of suggesting that the whole thing is a waste of time and money and that he would prefer that we stay with the already discredited rating system, albeit modified as the noble Lord's party suggests and based on capital value and not on relative value. I do not think that Bills such as these are costed in the way which the noble Lord wishes.

If we do not proceed with the Bill, we shall be stuck with a system which even the noble Lord believes to be unsatisfactory. The Bill and the speed with which we are progressing through it makes it just the sort of measure which many people in Scotland will find to their liking. That point has been forcefully made by many of my noble friends on many occasions over the last two or three days. I do not think it is possible to provide the figures which the noble Lord wants; nor do I suspect for a moment that many of the Bills with which he tangled in his time had been costed to that extent either.

Lord Ross of Marnock

If the Minister means "no", it can be said in one word.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

In his reply the Minister has tempted us to open up the general debate again. He has said that the questions asked almost suggest that the Opposition wish to stick with an already discredited system. We took a vote in this Committee yesterday which indicated that the official Opposition and the Alliance were totally against the present discredited system. However, we have no intention of replacing one discredited system with another one. The argument yesterday concerned an alternative form of local income tax.

The amendment now before the Committee is not challenging the fundamental argument which we had before. I shall not pursue that argument at this late hour. But it does raise a question of who will carry the burden for the introduction of the new system. On page vi, the explanatory memorandum states: It is estimated that the total additional cost of local authorities in a full year will be in the range of £17.22 million". The Minister said in reply that this would be taken into account in the rate support grant. Does he mean, therefore, that the Government are going to compensate the local authorities for this additional burden by increasing the rate support grant to take care of the burden? If that is so, that is precisely what the amendment says. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on that matter.

This Bill is a very expensive way of collecting money, unlike the present system. Whatever may be said about the anomalies of the existing system, the Layfield Report (and I do not propose to read it tonight) points out that collecting on the valuation of property is a very economical and cheap way of collecting rent. That is true for the simple reason that property does not move around. You know it is there and you cannot take it away. What this Bill is doing is to impose a poll tax, or whatever it may be called, on individuals who can move around. It is extremely expensive and extremely difficult to collect.

The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, and those who are familiar with the sheriff court have some experience of the cost of debt collection. It is very considerable and there will be a good deal of debt collection involved in collecting the community charge from a mobile population. To say that it will be £17 million to £22 million must be a very rough "guesstimate". Because I fear that it could be even greater, I suggest that we write into the Bill that local authorities will not be burdened by this and as a consequence have to increase their community charge in order to take care of this additional burden. If the Minister says that it will be taken care of in the rate support grant, I shall be delighted to withdraw the amendment. If not, I must return to it at a later stage.

Lord Glenarthur

The words that I used and which I repeat are that this will be among the factors to be taken into account by the Secretary of State in the rate support grant settlement for 1988–89 and in the revenue support grant settlement in 1989–90 and subsequently. Those are the words that I used and I stick by them.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I do not propose to press the amendment despite the fact that I feel strongly about it and that I suspect I might get some support from the opposite Benches because of the rational proposition I have just submitted. At this stage, at 10.21 p.m., I do not propose to press the amendment but I must say to the Minister that I may return to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Dundee

The Committee may feel that this is a convenient moment at which to break. Therefore I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.