HL Deb 11 May 1987 vol 487 cc423-82

3.5 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest so far as they are affected by the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Glenarthur))

On Question, Bill read a third time.

Clause 1 [Abolition of Domestic Rates]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 7, after ("1989") insert ("or such other year as the Secretary of State may determine"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was not with surprise that we heard the announcement from the noble Lord the Chief Whip today, but it was with some disappointment, certainly to Scots, when he further announced that today's business would go on unchanged. It probably shows the importance that the Government place on this measure and the low regard that I have for it. But here we are, almost on the last lap, and I beg to move the first amendment.

The first amendment deals with the date from which domestic rates will be abolished. It is laid down in the Bill at the moment that it will be 1989. It was not always 1989, it started out as late as 1990. There was at one time a transitional period of three years. The Government changed their mind in another place and at Report stage they wiped out the transitional period.

My suggestion is in Clause 1: Page 1, line 7, after ("1989") insert ("or such other year as the Secretary of State may determine")".

This cannot be called a wrecking amendment because it is entirely within the power of the Secretary of State to change that by maybe a year, maybe two years, or maybe three years. The reason why I so move is to be fair to the Secretary of State. I do not know who the Secretary of State is going to be in a short time.

A noble Lord


Lord Ross of Marnock

Well, my Lords, all sorts of things can happen, but that is most unlikely. However, there may be a change of Government; there may not be a change of Government. If there is a change of Government there will be a change of Secretary of State. Very difficult things can happen.

An important event is going to take place in Scotland next Saturday at the meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The Lord High Commissioner usually invites on the first night certain people, including the Secretary of State. I remember on one occasion when we were in a difficult position as to who would be the Secretary of State. Would it be Mr. Bruce Milian or the shadow Secretary of State, Mr. Teddy Taylor? We decided we would invite them both. Then we discovered that we were wrong because Mr. Teddy Taylor was defeated in the election and suddenly there appeared on the scene a Mr. George Younger.

It is the same with this Bill. Is it fair to tie a Secretary of State to this particular date, and then he discovers that, for the best reasons, it is not desirable to introduce this abolition on 1st April 1989? We who have been following this Bill, all know the administrative difficulties that there will be. It may well be that the authorities will not be ready for it on 1st April 1989. You are not dealing with property, you are dealing with people. People move about, and it may be difficult to get a complete register and to make all the calculations that have to be made in respect of the poll tax when it is introduced. It is supposed to start from that particular date, and it might be impossible.

Therefore, my suggestion is that we give to the Secretary of State, whoever he is, the opportunity of changing that date and having a more practical date. A lot could be said about it, but I think it is a desirable amendment. It does not wreck the Bill or change the powers that the Government seem to wish to put in the hands of the Secretary of State. It gives him that flexibility that might be desirable in the event of what might take place fairly soon. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I do not expect my noble friend to accept this amendment. It would introduce a large element of uncertainty to a matter in respect of which we should be giving the clearest indication of the intentions of Parliament. In order to prepare for the end of the present system and the introduction of a new one, people will have a good deal to do. They should know precisely the moment when their arrangements must reach a climax; in other words, when the Bill is to come into force and the changes made.

The only argument put forward by the noble Lord in favour of his amendment—it is a twofold argument—is first, that the present Government may be returned but that there may be another Secretary of State. I presume that this was a government decision and that if there were another Secretary of State—and I am not hoping for that—it would be most improbable that he could get away with postponement of the Bill. I am sure that he would not try to do so. If he were appointed on the understanding that he could introduce a postponement, I should have thought that his appointment would be very much in doubt. Therefore I suggest that that part of the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has fallen.

I should be entering too much into the arena of political controversy if I dealt with the other argument; namely, that there might be a change of government. We must all make a certain confident assumption that what is proposed in the Bill is likely to take place.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has fallen short of his normal logic. This amendment is the most helpful to the Government that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has ever proposed. There is no shadow of doubt that this is an appalling Bill. Even the Prime Minister has taken to calling it a "poll tax". That must on her part represent a certain retreat from the glorious community charge which we have been assured is a splendid thing; which the people of Scotland are awaiting with bated breath, especially in Perth on Friday.

The fact that the majority of people in Scotland are totally against this Bill, as is everyone with experience of local government in Scotland, makes this an extraordinarily sensible amendment to be included. After all, the Government are confident. They know their own minds. In their view, this is a marvellous Bill. What harm could possibly be done by allowing the Secretary of State, that monument of wisdom in all cases, to delay the measure? Certainly the register will provide appalling difficulties, and many other questions will arise. This is a most sensible amendment. It is quite extraordinary that, even in what we in Scotland call the "mou" of an election, the Minister will not consider accepting it.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, the amendment may be intended to be helpful to the Government. But in this respect surely the Government need no help at all. As a matter of policy, it is decided that with effect from 1st April 1989—there it is, as clear as a bell—domestic rates should be abolished. What on earth is the object, when one's government have decided on policy, of introducing a form of spurious uncertainty?

3.15 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, there is an extraordinary lack of logic in this amendment, which is most unusual for the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. He argues that if there were to be a change of government, that new government would wish to defer the operation of the Bill. We have been told day after day that the Bill, in the view of the noble Lord, is utterly wrong. One must assume that if there were to be a government of his party, they would hastily introduce legislation, not deferring the Bill but cancelling it altogether and replacing it with something else.

I should like to think of the reaction of the Scottish voter to the idea of continuing the enormous increase in rates which is occurring in Scotland at the moment. But that would be straying from the immediate issue. It is utterly illogical, if one is against the Bill root and branch as the noble Lord has made clear, to suggest that under a changed government all that needs to be done is to defer it for a year or so. There is no logic in that.

On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Renton is absolutely right. If officials are working to a timetable, they generally deliver the goods according to the timetable. However, if they are given the slightest reason to believe that they can gain more time by pointing out to their masters that an issue is difficult and complicated, and that the result would be better if they waited, then they will take more time. There is a Parkinson's law in that all such operations take as much time as officials can obtain. I hope that, with his usual courtesy and brevity, my noble friend will say no to the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I shall not speculate as to whether there will be a change of government or a change of Secretary of State. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, and noble Lords on these Benches have given a fair indication of how they would behave if power were in their hands.

I believe that the proposal in the amendment has some merit. Since we have been discussing the Bill in this House a number of organisations have carried out detailed research on how it will be applied and on the complications that will arise in attempting to administer its provisions. I have before me Paying for Local Government, The Community Charge. It is a report to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Consumer Council. It is not their report; they are opposed to the Bill. It is an independent assessment of the complications of applying the provisions of the Bill. It will not be easy. There will be difficulty over collection. Those who commissioned the report found that the collection of debt, the maintenance of a register, and the mobility of young people will make it extremely difficult to administer a poll tax of this kind. Consequently, it might be to the advantage of the Secretary of State, whoever he may be and whatever party he may represent, to have this escape provision.

I should like to say to noble Lords who have spoken in this regard that not only is CoSLA concerned but so are the professionals, the people being asked to adminster the Bill. Local authority officials, who are quite independent and objective, point out that they are extremely nervous about the operation of the Bill and their ability to set it up. Under these circumstances, I believe that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, should commend itself to the Minister because it provides an escape clause. Otherwise, we shall face immense difficulties in putting the Bill in to operation within the timetable.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I recall that when your Lordships considered a similar proposition at Report stage, the House took a clear decision that it did not wish to see the Bill amended in the way suggested. To that extent I am a little surprised to see the amendment tabled. I must tell your Lordships quite firmly that in the period since the matter was last debated, the Government have not changed their minds. We remain firmly of the view that there is no need to give the Secretary of State the power to change the year of abolition of domestic rates from that which is already specifically provided for in the Bill. We also consider that there would be real disadvantage in accepting the measure of flexibility over the timing, which the noble Lords, Lord Ross and Lord Mackie, are offering to the Government with so much apparent enthusiasm.

Let me deal first with this latter point—the practical disadvantages of the approach implied by these amendments. There would be no disagreement that the reforms embodied in the Bill are radical. Nor would there be any dispute that the reforms will have a significant effect on local authorities, who will be responsible for administering the new system, and also on the adult community in Scotland who will become liable to pay the new community charge. Nor is it possible to deny the need for both local authorities and individuals to plan ahead for the introduction of the new system.

But against that background it seems to me entirely sensible that the Bill should provide for a specific and definite starting date for bringing the new system into operation. Otherwise there would be real risk of confusion and uncertainty. If these amendments were made, Parliament would in effect be saying "The abolition of domestic rates in Scotland, and the introduction of the community charge, will take place on 1st April 1989 or on 1st April in whatever year the Secretary of State so decides"—and that could be one, two, three or indeed however many years later the Secretary of State thought fit. I cannot believe that that is a sensible basis on which to proceed. It seems to me of the utmost importance for all concerned that it should be made absolutely clear on the face of the Bill when the new system will come into operation. Otherwise, planning is at risk of being thrown completely into disarray, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said. Like my noble friend Lord Renton, I am firmly of the view that the best course is to set a realistic target date, and then commit ourselves to it so that everyone knows where they are.

This brings me to my second argument against the amendments, which is that they are unnecessary. In the Government's view, the date of 1st April 1989 for the abolition of domestic rates in Scotland and the introduction of the community charges is quite realistic. There is simply no need for the element of flexibility which the amendments seek to introduce. We have never tried to conceal the fact that the timetable envisaged in the Bill as it stands will require a considerable effort on the part of all concerned between now and 1989.

But I must emphasise to your Lordships that at no point has it been suggested that the timetable simply cannot be met. I recall that at Report stage it was the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who affirmed on 28th April that CoSLA would be able to achieve what was required of them. He said at col. 1383 of the Official Report: Of course, CoSLA will be able to achieve this. Local government officials are much maligned, but I have found them to be very efficient and hard working people. They will do almost anything that is given to them". I am happy to put on the record the fact that I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, as to the high calibre of officials in local authorities. Given continued co-operation and a common desire to see the new system work, there is no reason to suppose that the target date of 1st April 1989 is in any way unrealistic or impracticable.

We have now debated the timetable envisaged in the Bill on a number of occasions. I acknowledge that the matter is one of considerable importance and of great principle for the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Mackie of Benshie, but I maintain that these amendments are both undesirable and unnecessary. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that explanation and will feel able to withdraw his amendments.

Lord Galpern

My Lords, I rise only because of the remark made by the noble Lord as to what the decision was when the amendment was discussed at Report stage. Since then we have had the declaration of a general election and four very valuable weeks will have to be set aside from considering all the implications—and there are many of them—regarding this Bill which the general election will create, because all the activities will now be directed towards running the election. Has the noble Lord given any thought to that delay of at least a month in respect of the work that has to be done?

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, arising out of the Minister's reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, can he inform the House whether in view of, as I understand it, the continuing flow of information, reports and suggestions about the administrative difficulties in bringing the provisions of this Bill into operation, the Government have kept the situation under continuing review during the progress of the Bill, having regard to the very serious reservations which have been expressed not only from this side of the House but from many independent sources?

For example, in the report to CoSLA—a report which came from a research group in Aberdeen University—it is stated at page 4: Secondly, there is serious concern among officials about the time available to set up the relevant administrative systems by the start date of 1st April 1989. They go on to say that of course officials will attempt to comply with their duties, but the resultant system may be seriously defective. There is particular concern about the compilation of an accurate register, the basis of establishing liability to make a payment. I appreciate all that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has said about the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in this situation. I am myself a little surprised that he should wish to give any assistance at all to a government responsible for this appalling Bill. But there it is. We are a revising Chamber and what I am asking the Minister, in view of the way in which he dealt with the matter, is: have the Government given serious and necessarily profound consideration since the start of the Bill to all these suggestions that the administrative difficulties may be overwhelming? If they have not done so, have they simply, having decided that this will be the target date, set themselves stubbornly to resist a careful reflection on the whole situation, which is perhaps more serious than they came to appreciate?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, that of course I recognise that since the amendment was tabled there has been the announcement of a general election; but that does not mean for one minute that it will be impossible to hold the kinds of consultations which are necessary to bring everything into effect under the timetable set out in the Bill: they will not be prevented from going ahead. Officials continue and the work of government continues up to the point of the general election. I regret that it has not been possible so far for CoSLA and others to carry on or resume the kinds of consultations with the department on matters affecting the implementation of the Bill which we should have liked them to do. I had rather hoped that CoSLA would decide to come forward and discuss this matter. I was disappointed by the reports that they are not prepared to do so. However, I remain entirely confident—and I think this answers the point put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, as well—that once the Bill has been enacted, CoSLA and all the other bodies which will need to play a part to ensure that the timetable can be met will come to realise (as we certainly do) the importance of consultation between the department and the local authority interests over the whole realm of implementation.

So I really do not believe that the concerns which have been set out by the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, are valid. I very much hope that we can start talking to all those concerned who have got to implement the measures contained in the Bill over the timetable as set out, and that should be as soon and as fully as possible.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I am interested to hear of the confidence of the Minister of State. He will remember that there was to be a transition period of three years because, it was said, this proposal could not possibly be implemented overnight and it had to be worked in gently.

The Minister in another place, Mr. Ancram, said at Committee stage: We chose these dates which are challenged by the amendment"— believe it or not, that is the amendment that is now in the Bill because we believe that this is the earliest time at which we can get a workable system off the ground. As a responsible party in a responsible government we believe that we should not introduce legislation on a timescale that would not allow us to have the proper mechanisms in place". I am concerned, and I do not want to see a practical system of collecting rates that is cost-effective (to quote the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy) replaced by one that the Government themselves in the 1983 White Paper warned was untried, costly and unfair. I am concerned about the practicability of carrying through this measure. It is a matter of common sense to put in the proposal in this amendment which will allow the Secretary of State to have more time if he sees that things are going wrong.

There will be trouble with this Bill. Its suddenness will create much turbulence. The unemployed, young people and old people who at the moment pay no rates will now be liable and a couple may suddenly discover that they are liable to pay out £600. The Government think that there will not be any turbulence and that all will be well. However, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, is a good one: who will be the person responsible for the register? According to the Bill, it will be the electoral registration officer. The local authorities will have to meet and appoint assistants to this person. Right now his office will have dropped everything and be doing registration work in respect of the general election. The registration officer also has to deal with valuation for non-domestic rates as well.

There are 78 items in this Bill which are unclear. For instance, what is domestic property or what are sole and main residences? These are questions that must be decided by the courts. Regulations will have to be drawn up by the Scottish Office in respect of any number of matters. They occur on page after page.

The Government were not confident in December but today suddenly they are confident that this measure will be on the statute book by Monday—probably by the end of this week. That is one thing of which I am perfectly sure. In a letter regarding rebates, the Prime Minister wrote that she could not tell us anything more than we know now about the rebate system and who will or will not be included. There are very many matters to be settled. It is surely common sense and wisdom to approve this simple amendment which gives power to the Secretary of State (of whichever party) to take an extra year if he considers that things are going wrong.

I am sorry that the Government see the matter in the way that they do. I think we should test the feeling of the House as to whether this power should be given to the Secretary of State to draw back from chaos and take more time in respect of administration.

3.34 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 77; Not-Contents, 124.

Amherst, E. Leatherland, L.
Ardwick, L. Listowel, E.
Aylestone, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Banks, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Birk, B. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Blackstone, B. McNair, L.
Blyton, L. Manchester, D.
Bonham-Carter, L. Molloy, L.
Bottomley, L. Oram, L.
Brockway, L. Peston, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Phillips, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Carter, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.[Teller.]
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Rea, L.
Denington, B. Rochester, L.
Diamond, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Rugby, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Sainsbury, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Seear, B.
Fletcher, L. Seebohm, L.
Gallacher, L. [Teller.] Sefton of Garston, L.
Galpern, L. Serota, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stallard, L.
Gregson, L. Stedman, B.
Grey, E. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hampton, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hanworth, V. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Tordoff, L.
Hirshfield, L. Underhill, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Hunt, L. Walston, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Wigoder, L.
Jacques, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jeger, B. Wilson of Langside, L.
John-Mackie, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Kilbracken, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Kilmarnock, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Bauer, L.
Allerton, L. Beaverbrook, L.
Alport, L. Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Ampthill, L. Beloff, L.
Auckland, L. Belstead, L.
Bethell, L. Kitchener, E.
Blyth, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Layton, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Long, V.
Broxbourne, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Butterworth, L. Lurgan, L.
Caithness, E. MacFadzean, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Manton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Margadale, L.
Carnock, L. Marley, L.
Cathcart, E. Merrivale, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Milverton, L.
Cottesloe, L. Molson, L.
Cowley, E. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cox, B. Morris, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Moyne, L.
De Freyne, L. Munster, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Denning, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Dilhorne, V. Orr-Ewing, L.
Dundee, E. Pender, L.
Elibank, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Porritt, L.
Elton, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Rankeillour, L.
Faithfull, B. Reigate, L.
Forbes, L. Renton, L.
Fortescue, E. Rodney, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. St. Davids, V.
Gainford, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Gibson-Watt, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Glanusk, L. Sandford, L.
Glenarthur, L. Selkirk, E.
Goold, L. Sempill, Ly.
Gray, L. Shannon, E.
Greenway, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gridley, L. Somers, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Strathcarron, L.
Strathspey, L.
Halsbury, E. Sudeley, L.
Hanson, L. Terrington, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Hesketh, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Hives, L. Torrington, V.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Trafford, L.
Hood, V. Trefgarne, L.
Hooper, B. Trumpington, B.
Hylton-Foster, B. Ullswater, V.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Westbury, L.
Killearn, L. Whitelaw, V.
Kimberley, E. Wolfson, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Kinnaird, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.43 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.]

Clause 3 [Non-domestic rates]:]:

Lord Gray moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 17, leave out ("determine") and insert (", in respect of the financial year 1989–90 and each subsequent financial year, determine, before such date as may be prescribed in relation to each of those years,"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4 standing in my name, and with the leave of the House I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 5. The two are directly linked and they interact.

At Report stage I queried the drafting of subsection (1) of Clause 3. I suggested that the wording was open to misinterpretation—the misinterpretation that a rate determined for 1989–90 was to be the rate levied not only in that financial year but also in subsequent years. That was patently not the intention. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur said in reply that he doubted that such misinterpretation lay in the words. While I accept that the position is made clear later in Clause 3, I think it is worth removing the slight dubiety in the trigger clause.

More importantly, the two amendments taken together will deal with an omission which further study of subsection (1), prompted by my inquiry, has disclosed. As now drafted, the subsection makes no provision for the Secretary of State to prescribe a date by which the non-domestic rate is to be determined in each year. Under the present rating system such provision is made in Section 108 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, but that section will be repealed by Schedule 6 of the Bill which we are considering.

The setting of a non-domestic rate each year must precede the determination of the community charge. Therefore it is surely desirable that we should make specific provision for the Secretary of State to set a timetable. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5, taken together, will do just that. While I regret that as a consequence of these amendments subsection (1) will become more wordy and unwieldy, which is not something that normally appeals to me, I commend the proposed change to the House. I beg to move Amendment No. 4.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am very happy to accept these amendments in the name of my noble friend. They make useful improvements to subsection (1) of Clause 3.

On Question, amendment agreed to. Lord Gray moved Amendment No. 5: Page 2, line 17, leave out (", in respect of the financial year 1989–90 and each subsequent financial year,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 6, line 39, leave out ("Community charges, to be known respectively as") and insert ("poll taxes, hereinafter called respectively").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I want to get a little element of truth into the Bill. When this was first mooted it was called a poll tax. Then the Government decided that that was not good enough, that we should have some more mellifluous term, one that seemed more respectable and new; so they decided to call it a community charge.

The words "poll tax" appeared in government White Papers, various of which have been produced, particularly those in 1981 and 1983. That was when the Government were dismissing the tax as unfair and costly. There were many terms of abuse hurled at the words "poll tax" when the Government were turning it down. They said that the rating system was sound basically and that all it needed was a little change here and there.

Ministers told us that from the Dispatch Box, and Back-Benchers told us that, but then they suddenly decided—not over a problem of rates but over a problem of valuation, after the revaluation in Scotland which took effect from 1985—that something had to be done. As the then Secretary of State said at the time, "Something has to be done. We don't know what, but to do nothing is to court political disaster in Scotland". We never had a White Paper on the subject—only a Green Paper—and hurriedly they decided to legislate. But this was not to be called a poll tax; it was to be called a community charge, which sounds nice and respectable. They then discovered that there had to be three community charges—a personal one, a standard one and a collective one.

The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has insisted with a straight face that it could not be called a poll tax. He said that it is a community charge. Then just last Wednesday, in answering a question in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister referred to the poll tax. If she wants it to be called a poll tax, who are we to argue with her and who are noble Lords on the other side to argue with her? They would not do so.

I have taken it upon myself to say that that moment of candid truth from the Prime Minister should be enshrined in legislation. Why wrap it up in decorative paper, calling it a community charge and all the rest of it? Let us call it what everybody knows it is—a poll tax. For legislative purposes, if the Government want to have their kindly words, we shall leave them in there, too. However, it is a poll tax and it is the purpose of the amendment to call it that. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, again we return to a fairly familiar theme. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has made clear that his fundamental objection to the community charge is that it is a flat-rate tax to be imposed on all adult residents in a local authority area. As I said in Committee, I am happy to accept that as a matter of terminology the community charge is a poll tax in that sense, and indeed to defend its fairness as such. So my right honourable frriend the Prime Minister was quite right in that.

The reason we prefer the term community charge to poll tax was well demonstrated at Committee stage when the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, argued that the community charge is a poll tax in the sense that it is a tax on the right to vote, and that it will discourage people from registering themselves on the electoral roll. We do not accept that contention. The term "poll tax" is therefore plainly ambiguous and its use would only cause confusion in the minds of the public where there should be none.

Even if it is true that the community charge is a poll tax in the sense of being a flat-rate charge, then it is true only in a qualified sense. It is of course simply not the case that all adults are to be required to pay the full charge irrespective of their circumstances. There will be rebates for those who because of their low incomes would have difficulty in meeting their full community charge liability. Your Lordships have also agreed that students should be liable for only 20 per cent. of the community charge. It is not true that the community charge is to be imposed rigidly and without exception.

However, the fact that the community charge is basically a flat-rate tax is not in dispute, and it is highly unlikely that despite the extensive media exposure given to the Government's proposals the people of Scotland would somehow remain in a state of ignorance of that essential fact. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, at an earlier stage expressed the fear in debating this matter that we had reached the stage where, there being no agreement between this side of the House and another, we were simply exchanging unsupported assertions. There are good reasons for using the term community charge; but I fully agree with the view that this question of terminology is not one of the most crucial issues, although I recognise that it has a certain significance for the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, as indeed it obviously has for the Alliance as well.

We have thought this matter through carefully. That is why, to avoid the ambiguity that would occur if we were to use the term which the noble Lord suggests, it would be much better to stick with the term community charge. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that his real objection to the term poll tax is that it would be very unpopular at the polls?

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, agree that this could perhaps be a bit of a tease? If "poll tax" is substituted for "community charge", we shall have: three poll taxes, hereinafter called respectively personal community charge, the standard community charge and the collective community charge. Then in Clause 26 there appears, 'community charge' means a community charge imposed under section 7 of this Act". Is the noble Lord's amendment really constructive or necessary in any ordinary drafting sense?

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I think it is desirable from the point of view of truth and just to keep the Government right at it. I have with me their rates paper by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office, as well as the Scottish one. In paragraph 2.9 they do not even mention the community charge. It reads: A poll tax is a flat rate levy on all individuals liable to pay … the tax would be hard to enforce. If the electoral register were used as the basis for liability it could be seen as a tax on the right to vote. It would not be seen as a tax on the right to vote, but it would have an effect. The White Paper goes on: A new register would therefore probably be needed. But this would make the tax expensive to run and complicated, particularly if it incorporated a rebate scheme. There the Government—not the wicked Opposition—are condemning it and then referring thereafter to a kind of rebate scheme. There would have to be one.

It goes on: Without a rebate scheme a poll tax would bear harshly on people with low incomes. Of course it will bear harshly on people with low incomes now that the rebates are limited to 80 per cent. and the poorest of the poor have to pay 20 per cent. of this poll tax. When you have no money at all 20 per cent. is a lot. It probably amounts to £60 or, in the case of an old-age pensioner couple, £120. There are many old-age pensioner couples who tend to live in the older houses among the poor. They will not be able to get a full rebate and will be paying £10 a month. The Government were right at that stage when they said that the rating system was basically sound and, The Government agree … that this option should be rejected. That was the conclusion to which they came in August 1983. If it is a poll tax, then it is a poll tax. It is a poll tax and let us call it what it is.

Of course it will be unpopular. I noticed a letter in, I think, the Independent today referring to a poll tax in Scotland in the year 1690, to pay the wages of the forces that had not been kept up-to-date. But even with that poll tax there was a graduated element and it was reduced for the poor. There was another poll tax in Scotland in the year 1300 and its unpopularity was such that it had to be withdrawn. The same thing applied in England and it led to revolution. It is a poll tax. Everyone pays the same and the liability is the same for everyone.

We do not yet know what kind of rebate there will be. That is something else that has to be worked out. I hope it will be worked out before 1988 when the new income support comes into operation over the whole country. That will then be changed again in 1989 in respect of Scotland. But a poll tax it will be, and unpopular it will be.

It will be popular with the people whom the Prime Minister is to address in Perth. But those are not the ordinary people in Scotland. The Government's standing in Scotland is not 48 or 49 per cent.; it is about 20 per cent. It was suggested by one MP that the Government will have four MPs in Scotland out of 72, instead of the 22 that they have. Poll tax it is and poll tax it should be, there. I shall not insist on the amendment. I am just hoping to irk a few consciences. That is what the people proposing this measure in Scotland are voting for. It does not apply to England and probably never will because of the dangers and difficulties that would arise if it was tried out on urban populations. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 p.m.

Clause 8 [Liability for personal community charge]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 7: Page 8, line 6, leave out from ("from") to ("severe") in line 7. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment as printed on the Marshalled List contains the word "seven" in line 7. The amendment should read: "severe" in line 7. It is a printer's error.

The Government have come some way towards meeting many suggestions made in the House at earlier stages of the Bill. This was particularly so during the second day on Report as regards the importance of people with a severe mental handicap being given consideration under the Bill. However, the feeling is that the Government did not go quite far enough. It appears from a strict reading of the wording of the amendment that its provisions could apply only to the congenitally mentally handicapped. The Minister will see that the actual wording of the amendment on Report was: 'persons who are severely mentally handicapped' has the following meaning, that is to say, persons suffering from a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind which includes severe impairment of intelligence".

The implication is that the handicap must be one that the sufferer is born with and that there should be no—or very slight—possibility of an improvement. Any improvement should not be sufficient to allow the person to develop intelligence to a large extent.

Many noble Lords on all sides of the House argued that the definition was rather tight. The Minister may be able to say that there is no ambiguity implied in the words: a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind".

But that does not include the possibility of physical accident which could lead to the same result as a congenital mental handicap. There is also the possibility of a chemical accident which could have the same result. I am thinking in terms of the inhalation of gas. It is quite common for someone working with town gas, or nowadays North Sea gas, to find that, as a result of a restriction in the flow of oxygen to the brain, he is left with a permanent impairment. That could also happen as the result of an accident while under anaesthetic. It is not beyond possibility; it has happened before. By omitting words from the amendment we wish to make it much clearer that the condition of severe mental impairment is what is important and not how that condition arose.

The Minister has a power to prescribe in regulations the definition of mental impairment. However, I have been advised that if the words that I and my noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna wish to be left out were included on the face of the Bill, they could restrict the Minister's freedom in that prescribing. I should like an explanation of that from the Minister. We are trying to be helpful. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am sure that we all share with the noble Lord a desire to ensure that the mentally handicapped are given the more favourable treatment included in the Bill on Report as a result of the Government amendment. However, looking at the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, I wonder whether he has appreciated that it would narrow the group of people who could be helped under the terms of the Bill. The group of people is stated in general terms as those with: a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind". The amendment goes on to give an example. It states: which includes severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning". If the noble Lord's amendment were accepted, we would be left only with the example of the more difficult cases and we would not cover those cases which fell short of "severe impairment".

I have had a great deal of experience of working in MENCAP. I find some difficulty with the noble Lord's amendment. I hope that I have not misconceived the position, but I fear that he may have done so.

I know that the matter of definitions is not easy because the last mental health Act changed what the earlier one of 1959 stated. One can never be absolutely certain, without reference to all of them, that one has the definitions right. However, my understanding is that if the amendment were accepted, fewer people would benefit from the Government's amendments moved on Report, and that would be a pity.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, having taken up this point in Committee on behalf of what I called the mentally handicapped—unlike my noble friend Lord Renton, I do not have expertise or knowledge in these matters—I was merely contending for what appeared to be a broad, fair principle on behalf of people who could not be said to be within a principle of accountability in the Bill. However, realising that there might be problems about definition (because there always are) I kept it simple and wide.

I may be wrong but I think, with respect, that my noble friend Lord Renton is entirely right. The Government have taken the widest possible definition in the clause as it stands. Although it was not the intention of the movers of the amendment to narrow that definition, it could have that effect. I support what my noble friend Lord Renton has said about that.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this matter. During the earlier stages of the Bill, I was concerned with the special provisions for the mentally handicapped and also for the physically handicapped, both in this clause and in Clause 24.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for not having been present when he started to move the amendment. I sympathise however with some of the remarks that he made towards the end of his speech. What we have heard so far indicates how very difficult it is to draw the correct definition which in effect exempts those who are so mentally handicapped that they are unaccountable in so far as they cannot understand the processes of local government.

I deplore—though applauding the Government's intention to help both the mentally and the physically handicapped—the differentiation drawn in the Bill between the mentally and the physically handicapped. I consider that it is invidious both for the mentally handicapped and for those who assess them, that they have to submit to this test. Every test that has been included or has been proposed is defective in one way or another. The only thing that I really welcome is that the test may be altered by other tests in substitution as may be prescribed. To that extent, I am happier than if the test stood without prospect of being altered in the light of further consideration.

However, it is late to suggest an amendment. I should simply like to ask that the Government will consider not operating subsection (8) of Clause 8 if this proves too difficult a test to administer or if they find it to be invidious in practice. Instead of excluding the severely mentally handicapped, they should be treated in the same way as the Government have promised to treat the severely physically disabled under Clause 24: by means of rebate. If the Government would consider that course, using that mechanism which they have promised will be available for the severely physically disabled and extending it to include the severely mentally disabled, and not use subsection (8) of Clause 8, then I and a number of other people should be grateful. The invidious distinction between the physically and the mentally handicapped would thereby be diminished or indeed excluded from the Bill. I think that by now some people find that rather offensive, for more than one reason.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to deal briefly with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. Having contended for the exclusion of the mentally handicapped—

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I am extremely sorry to interrupt, but I believe that the noble Lord has already spoken on this amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I asked for the leave of the House.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I believe that only the Minister may ask leave and that leave may not be given to anybody other than the Minister.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has said and indeed to my noble friend Lord Campbell and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. The amendment would make it very much more difficult to establish who would fall within the definition. It would in fact extend the definition of the severely mentally handicapped in a quite unacceptable and most unsuitable way.

I listened with care to what my noble friend Lord Renton suggested when he said that it might narrow the definition or the class of those who might be included within the definition. I do not think that my noble friend is right, unless I misunderstood him. If the reference to: arrested or incomplete development of mind is taken out, the definition must be widened to cover more rather than fewer of the congenital conditions which are covered by that phrase. I shall certainly look at the point which the noble Lord has made, although I believe that, as my noble friend recognises if it did in any sense narrow the definition, that would be doing a disservice to people in that particular situation.

I think that I should remind the House that the intention of the exemption of the severely mentally handicapped was to remove from liability for the personal community charge a group of people who could not be argued to have any perception of the local authority accountability which would be ensured in the Bill. That essentially is the answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I appreciate the view which he has expressed. However, that is why there is a distinct difference between rebate for some categories, such as the severely disabled, and exemption of the severely mentally handicapped, to which this particular subsection refers.

That is all I can say on that point, other than that the latter part of subsection (8) refers to the point of prescribing other meanings, if that should be necessary. I think that the definition is well— understood and can readily be operated. It can therefore be expected to be capable of satisfactory application in relation to the group of people whom we are concerned to exempt. I think that the proposed amendment is less precise. It is unlikely to be operated consistently throughout Scotland and it would therefore result in inequity and confusion.

4.15 p.m.

The amendment would extend the definition to include all persons suffering from severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning. It would thus include people whose minds had developed normally but who had subsequently become mentally impaired due to some medical condition which they had contracted later in life. The definition suggested in the amendment would cover the large numbers of people who suffer from dementia—not only the elderly but also many people who suffer from various kinds and degrees of pre-senile dementia. It is a characteristic of those very distressing conditions that episodes during which the patient is severely affected are interspersed with episodes of relatively complete lucidity. It would therefore be difficult to make a considered judgment of individual cases against the definition proposed by the amendment.

The definition could also, in certain cases, blur the distinction between the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill. As I said at the Report stage, it is not our intention that the mentally ill should be exempt from the personal community charge. I should point out that many of the worst cases who would be caught by the proposed definition, but not by the definition now in the Bill, will already be resident in hospitals, nursing homes or residential care homes. By virtue of their residence, they will in any case be exempt from the personal community charge.

We do not consider it to be either possible or desirable to extend the definition now included in Clause 8(5) to attempt to exempt from the personal community charge liability all those living in the community who suffer from those perhaps temporary conditions. For the reason which I have explained, I can give no commitment to go wider than the definition now contained in the Bill. I should point out, as I think I did earlier, and as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has said, that if at some future date the Government wish to extend the definition in the way suggested, the mechanism is already there through the power to set out in regulations an alternative definition. From that point of view, the amendment is, strictly speaking, unnecessary.

I take note of the remarks which have been made. I think that anyone who has had any dealing, as have many of your Lordships, with this particularly difficult area of the mentally handicapped, the mentally ill and those who are mentally ill but who have remissions, will realise the very difficult points that arise when we come to a strict definition. I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord will not find it necessary to press the amendment.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend have a look at the numbering of the subsections? That seems to have gone very much astray. The subsection to which the amendment is proposed appears in the Bill as subsection (8). I think that it should be subsection (9) and that the opening words of subsection (7)(b) should undoubtedly be in subsection (8)(b). It is difficult enough to follow this part of the Bill at any tme, but if the numbering is haywire, as I think is the case, it becomes impossible.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I very much agree with my noble friend. Both those matters are printing errors. Why they should have arisen, I am not sure. I shall certainly ensure that when the Bill is being printed, it will be corrected.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, if I may say so, the amendments were worked off the Bill as it was amended at Committee stage and not on Report.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, there has been a great deal of difficulty. The printers and the Clerks of the House have worked hard trying to keep up with the rapidity with which the Bill has been pushed through the House.

However, to return to my amendment, it appears from the remarks made by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Henderson of Brompton, that there is undoubtedly an ambiguity concerning the meaning of the phrase which my amendment is endeavouring to exclude from the Bill. The Minister appeared to favour my attitude to the amendment more than that of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, because he suggested that my amendment would widen the definition too much; whereas the noble Lord, Lord Renton, felt that it would make the definition far too narrow. I should be interested to know who will be advising the Minister on any prescribed legislation which he, or any future Minister, will be putting forward. Will there be any provision as to who will make the definitions?

As regards impairment to intelligence, it is possible as a result of a physical accident, or a gassing accident (of which I have considerable secondhand knowledge) for a person to be left in the same condition as someone who is born with a congenital defect. Can the Minister tell the House whether someone who has had an accident or been born with such a defect will be entitled to consideration under the clause in the same way? I hope that the Minister will look at the matter again.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, with great respect, I understood—though perhaps I have not listened properly and perhaps I am very stupid—that the noble Lords, Lord Renton, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Glenarthur all said that the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, would narrow the definition.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister suggested that my amendment would widen the definition too much, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, believed it would narrow it—unless I have the minuses and pluses the wrong way round. However, I feel that the answer given was not as satisfactory as it could have been, particularly when we all want to try to make this part of the Bill workable, understandable and as helpful as possible to people who are in a very difficult situation. The Minister may wish to speak again before I finish my remarks completely.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, and while recognising that this is an area which concerns your Lordships, I shall not go into the matter of whether or not the proposed amendment will widen or narrow the definition. I accept that there could be an interpretation that, on the one hand, it narrows the definition, and, on the other hand, it most definitely widens it. There can be no doubt about that. No one wants to see people who may come within the provisions of the Bill in the way that my noble friend Lord Renton suggested when we are dealing with mentally handicapped people not being able to be fitted in.

However, the noble Lord raised one matter which it may be helpful for me to address; namely, the question of medical input when assessing whether or not somebody has the required degree of mental handicap to allow them to be exempt in this way. The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, suggested that the simplest approach would be to require that the person should have to have produced for them a medical certificate, which the registration officer would accept as evidence that they met the criteria for exemption.

As I have explained, there is no ready-made certificate for the severely mentally handicapped, but of course the overwhelming majority of them will have been subject to various forms of assessment at various times in their lives and in most cases the nature of their condition will be well known to their general practitioner as well as to doctors providing more specialised care. There should therefore, in practice, be no difficulty about the provision by a suitable doctor of a simple certificate to the effect that the individual in question meets the criteria. The steps in the process will be simple and straightforward. Where a responsible person has indicated on a canvass form or in response to other inquiries made by the registration officer that someone resident at the address in question is severely mentally handicapped, the registration officer will follow up the matter by asking the responsible person for a certificate by an appropriate doctor and its return to the registration officer.

We will in due course be consulting the professional bodies involved in this process, and in the light of those consultations will prepare guidance for registration officers on the handling of these cases. I am confident that the procedure I have explained, which I think is broadly similar to that which the noble Lord, Lord Morton, had in mind, will ensure that all or virtually all cases of exemption on the grounds of severe mental handicap are handled swiftly and with the minimum of fuss.

On consideration, we therefore see no reason to make detailed provisions for the handling of appeals as I suggested on 30th April. Nor do we think that it is necessary to provide that the registration officer should have power to require a medical assessment to be made of an appellant. Such an element of compulsion appears unnecessary when it is surely to the appellant's interest to provide medical evidence, in the form of a certificate or otherwise, to support the appeal. I think that the arrangements which I have outlined respond positively to the suggestions made at the last stage by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, in a practical and commonsense approach to taking decisions in this sensitive area, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to set them out.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that long explanation, which I think will be well worth reading. As the debate proceeded it appeared that the ambiguity became more obvious. However, having heard the Minister's explanation, and in the belief that the Bill and the sub-paragraphs as they stand to not circumscribe his powers to define in the way he later developed, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Liability for and calculation of standard community charge]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 9, line 16, leave out ("being neither smaller than 1 nor greater than 2").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment refers to the standard community charge applying to second homes. With this amendment we take Amendment No. 9 because at the moment that amendment concerns the multiplier which is to be neither less than one nor greater than two; namely, between one and two. This will be unfair as regards equity, bearing in mind the nature of second homes. Amendment No. 9 states: and the multiplier may vary with the premises according to size, condition and facilities available with occupancy.

Figures have been quoted in respect of this matter and in respect of certain extremes where the rates paid are over £3,000. Such a figure will now be reduced at the maximum to somewhere in the region of £400, or probably less. The same principle applies in relation to a person who has a small cottage, perhaps in Argyllshire, in the Newton Stewart area, or in the Borders. The rates on that property may be almost nominal at the present time. They will have to pay exactly the same. There is no fairness in that.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, who was surprised to discover that the size of the house did not matter, but that the same principle in relation to the poll tax on individuals will apply to premises. Remember that this point does not concern individuals; it concerns premises. The important matter is the premises, not the individual or the number of individuals. The house can be used by 20 people as guests having a holiday, at one time or at various times.

The noble Lord expressed surprise that it should be so, and so do I. In fact, it would be far better to leave this within rating. It would be more sensible and much more fair. I suggest that we leave the actual multiplier in the first instance to the local authority and that the determination should be based on the quality of the house, the size of the house and factors in relation to what value one can get out of the house, perhaps renting it for a year or two. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, we have discussed the standard charge at some length at previous stages and there is little more that I can say about it. The standard charge is not a property tax and I am wholly opposed to the proposition that it should be made one by virtue of these amendments, because that is surely what they would do.

In case I have failed in two attempts to communicate the purpose of the standard charge, let me repeat that it is intended to recognise the fact that, with the abolition of domestic rates, the owners of second homes or other domestic property which does not have a registered resident, would have a substantial windfall. The intention of the standard charge is therefore broadly to replace the income which local authorities would othewise lose. The proposal originally contained in the Green Paper was that the standard charge should be set at two units of the personal community charge, but on consideration the Government decided that local authorities should have discretion to set the multiplier in the range from one to two units, allowing a measure of local flexibility.

The standard charge is a contribution towards the cost of the local services enjoyed by the owner of the property in question or by those whom he permits to reside there. Some of these will undoubtedly be what might be described as property-based services, such as the fire service, but others will not. When a second home owner is in residence there, he uses local services such as roads, street lighting, cleansing or sewerage, and has access to the local library and the protection of the local police, for example—all of which are services which are not related to his property, be it large or small. Clearly, the contribution he makes towards such services is not a property tax. Nor is there any justification for varying that contribution according to the size or value of the property, as is the clear intention of these amendments.

The prospects introduced by the amendments will dismay many second home owners. Even the discredited domestic rating system is preferable to what is proposed—indeed, the noble Lord suggested so himself—for at least valuation is currently in the hands of a neutral, independent official, the assessor. The amendments would effectively give carte blanche to local authorities to decide the amount of local taxation which each individual owner of a second home in their area should pay, based on very ill-defined concepts.

I have to say I find these amendments quite unacceptable, as I found them, in principle, unacceptable in the past. With that further explanation I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he deal with the specific point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, about the equity of this? A very expensive and highly rated house on which appropriate rates are paid now comes down to a fairly standard charge which will be imposed also on someone who lives in a very modest house which is a second home.

With all due respect to the services being used in the second home, I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Goold, will tell the Minister about Arran. While he will be rightly paying his community charge to the community for his main residence in Newton Burn, he will not be using the services of his second home. When he moves to the second home for the week-end, he will not be using the services at Newton Burn. He has already made his commitment to the community charge and that strikes me as being anomalous and unfair, particularly to the people who enjoy the prospect of going briefly for a breath of fresh air every now and again to a modest home. Therefore, can the Minister deal with the major equity aspect which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, introduced?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, when the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, puts forward this amendment and connects it with the question of size or value, we head straight towards the question of property and, hence, to property tax. It is a feature of suggestions made by some Members of the Opposition that we ought to retain some sort of tax based on the capital value. Although it has not been discussed at length in your Lordship's House, certain papers I have seen suggest that this is how the Opposition would prefer to see local rates being replaced. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, suggests that there is a difficulty with equity here. I am not quite sure how he would justify the fact that rates hills at present have little connection with services that are actually used and whether he suggests there is any equity in that.

I believe that the Bill sets out the fairest and the correct way to proceed. We have allowed for a measure of local flexibility in changing the range from one to two units. If the intention lying behind the amendment is to try to come up with some sort of concept of a property tax, that would be much better tackled directly rather than in a way that is far from direct.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe—I hope he will correct me if I am wrong—said that when you are in your second home, your holiday house, you are not using the local authority services at your principal place of residence. I query that because, after all, when you are on holiday your principal home can be burgled and the police may have to be called. It can catch fire and the fire brigade may have to attend. A neighbour may come in to feed the cat and to clean, using water. There are a whole lot of things. You are still using the local authority services when you are away from home.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, yes, I take that point and I entirely agree with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. It is seldom that premises are not requiring local government services, but I suggest that a small caravan site is less in need of services compared with a mansion. Here we have, whether the Government like it or not, a property tax. The Bill says: The standard community charge shall be payable in respect of premises". That is property; so it is a property tax. It is a break away from everyone paying the same thing. It is a matter of the standard itself which is obscure, because it is only standard to a levying area or to a region. It varies from region to region. Arran will probably be much more expensive. It is a favourite holiday place of mine, too. That will be subject to Strathclyde's demands, and that will probably be over £300 by 1989. Of course, it is the premises and not husband and wife paying twice. It does not matter whether it is a chalet or whether it is a castle; they will be paying the same. It cannot be varied within the area. It can be varied between the areas and is limited to between one and two personal community charge rates. There is no justification for it.

The measure means that the smaller places will pay more and the bigger places less. I am perfectly sure that many noble Lords who have holiday or second homes in Scotland are on to something good here. That applies to the wealthy within Scotland in respect of the community charges. Fairness does not enter into it. It is a property tax, the form of which bears no relation to the ability to pay or the desirability to pay more because of the nature of the premises. Such considerations do not enter into it.

I shall not press this to a vote. However, I hope that the Governmemt appreciate the powers that they still have. I do not know to whom this measure will apply because there will be exceptions. But it will not apply, to such class of classes of those premises as may be prescribed". The premises themselves have to be prescribed. I may be wrong and the Government may have a magic formula and prescription that will sort this out. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, that there ought to be variations between the types of premises, and that many should be paying far more than the maximum of two personal community charges. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord Gray moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 9, line 44, leave out ("to (10)") and insert ("and (9)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a drafting amendment. It is consequential upon changes made to the clause at Report stage.

Noble Lords may have difficulty in reconciling the reference in the amendment with what now lies on the face of the Bill. A previous subsection, numbered (10), was erased at Report stage. That erasure was incorporated into a group of government amendments made to meet cross-party concern about the degree of flexibility in relation to the determination of the standard community charge liability. The government amendments made then covered a point raised in an amendment at that stage by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, and overtook an amendment which had been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond.

I hope that my explanation is sufficient. Any noble Lord who was here at that time may perhaps recognise an evening when, in addition to the amendments we had discussions about the American cavalry, crocodiles and serpents. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, again, I am very grateful to my noble friend for this amendment. I do not think that it requires further explanation from me. I am happy to accept it.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may add my congratulations on my noble friend's vigilance. It is the kind of small point that few of us detect.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 11 [Liability for and calculation of collective community charge]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 11: Leave out Clause 11. The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 11 deals with the collective community charge. In this clause where the Government cannot have the names and addresses of people living in a certain type of premises and where they cannot charge them the personal community charge directly, they leave it to the owner of those premises to assess how many people there are likely to be in any one day or week. They then apply so many personal community charges to him and the owner has to pay that number—it may be ten.

The difficulty arises for the person who owns the premises. In the case of, say, the Salvation Army hostel in Glasgow, how does the person in charge know from day to day how many people will come in? If people are there only for two or three days—as was the Government's suggestion—how will they get the money if a man disappears after two days? How will they obtain the money from him? It is a very difficult problem.

If one considers applying this measure in England to the waifs and strays one sees around London, it will be almost impossible. The council for the single homeless and other people has been concerned about the impossibility of this being worked out fairly. Remember, my Lords, that if anyone does not pay the personal community charge it means that others have to do so because the cost of the personal community charge is calculated to meet a certain rate burden. If there is a fall in the number of those who pay the charge it means that a smaller number of people will meet the same burden. In other words, it would increase. This will be one of the difficulties that will arise with this Bill from year to year.

It is suggested that there will be evasion of 10 per cent. or even 15 per cent. The figures quoted recently on the community charge in Glasgow, the Borders or the Highlands may be quite wrong. The more evasion there is or the greater the failure of the registrar to get everyone on to the register the more it will mean that the community charge will be higher than was ever expected; and I think that this will happen. That is why there should have been a transitional period where the Government could get the mechanism absolutely right.

I quote what Michael Ancram said on 29th January this year: In the light of consultation on the Green Paper, we have accepted that the scope of the collective community charge should be strictly limited … The Secretary of State will make it clear that there must be a strong presumption in favour of individual registration and that premises should be subject to the Collective Community Charge only when it is clear that individual registration is not practicable.". Since this Bill began I have been trying to find out to whom all these factors will apply. I find it very difficult to tell anyone with certainty that they will have to pay personal community charge, or that it will be a collective or standard charge. I was at an old people's home run by the Church of Scotland on Saturday. There are 35 people there. The Church has 41 such homes. The average age of the residents is about 85. These people are not ill but need care and attention. Will they be subject to the exceptions about which we were told? All I had heard so far until today, when someone mentioned nursing homes, was about longterm hospital patients. These residents are not patients. Do they have to pay a collective charge or a personal community charge? It is easy to know who they are, that they are residents, and how long they will be there. Or will they be exceptions?

The worst feature is the collective community charge. The onus then is not upon the individual but on the owner or the manager of the premises to collect the personal community charge from the individuals. It has to be paid when people are there for only a short time, and it is then up to the person who may or may not have collected the money to pay it over to the levying authority, and then to pursue the person. By then he may be in England or Aberdeen.

What people owe is calculated per night in a case such as that. It is hardly worth pursuing for that sum of money, but from the point of view of the owner time and time again he is very much out of pocket, even if everyone pays up. He has to give a receipt, but the collecting will be onerous. The Government would be far better to forget this clause. It should be up to the registrar and the levying authority to collect the personal community charge and not leave it to somebody else.

I spotted something in this clause which does not make a great deal of sense. There are so many mistakes in the Bill that I hope somebody will look it over and put them right. There is a reference in Clause 11 at line 19 to, premises which are not subject to non-domestic rates and … are designated by the registration officer under subsection (2A) below". For the life of me I cannot find a subsection (2A) in Clause 11. It is yet another mistake. We had one last time which was to be put right, but this is not good enough.

I know the Government want to get this Bill through before the election, but it should not be to the detriment of the legislators who are trying to understand what they are doing. This Bill was not printed on Friday. I am sure noble Lords did not see it until they came in today. I have not had time to go over the clauses other than those that have been mentioned in amendments. It really is not good enough.

Those are the reasons I feel it would be far better to forget all about this collective community charge. It will be unfair on most of the people who will have to collect it. Some of the voluntary organisations who run homes are terribly worried about this and the amount of work it will mean. They will become unpaid tax collectors. If they are to meet their own liabilities they will have to pursue people when they move from one place to another.

Some of the debts may be so slight that it will not be profitable to pursue them at law. If they wait until the people return, all sorts of problems will arise such as "I paid somebody" and there is no question of proof. The whole thing is a terrible muddle and will lead to tremendous difficulties. The Government would be far better to leave out the clause and to make that home subject to non-domestic charges; in other words, allow them to pay rates on a commercial basis. That would not be bursting the whole thing, but it makes sense. 1 beg to move.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, drew attention to line 19 on page 10 where it states "subsection (2A)". I think it should read "(3)(a)" and that it is a misprint.

Lord Gray

My Lords, I think that as I was probably responsible for the problem which has arisen with the drafting in having caused the Government to make amendments to this part of Clause 11, perhaps I should join the list and suggest that "(2A)" should read "(3)".

However—this will not be looked on as so helpful by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur—there is a genuine area of concern here with regard to the responsibility and the duty to charge in circumstances where there can be considerable fluctuation of occupancy for seasonal or other reasons. One can only hope that the registration officer will have such discretion as will enable him to be able to reach a reasonable agreement with the proprietor of any premises affected.

Lord Renton

My Lords, it surprises me that we could seriously be discussing the omission of this clause at Third Reading. As I understand the rules of the House, on Third Reading they are that we may consider amendments which arise out of government undertakings given at an earlier stage and we may consider drafting amendments. But if this clause, which has been in the Bill since the beginning (or something like it has) were now simply to be left out, a great part of the purpose of the Bill would go to the other place unfulfilled. I do not know what the other place would say about that. It would be a most extraordinary position.

If the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, merely wanted to draw attention to the wrong or obscure numbering in line 19 on page 10 he is fully entitled to do so. But at this late stage, for us to attempt to omit this vital part of the Bill is to me unthinkable.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I do not consider the possible deletion of this clause at this late stage as being unthinkable. Indeed, I support the amendment and I consider that were it carried it would achieve a considerable improvement, though I agree it would be at the cost of the deletion of one of the thrusts of the Bill.

I consider that the clause raises enormous problems. These points were made before at Committee stage, but I think they are capable of repetition now. For example, voluntary organisations offering accommodation in the short-stay hostel type of accommodation will have a greatly increased administrative burden in having to keep extensive and precise records, as they obviously must in the circumstances. Many such organisations rely on a particular relationship developing between their officers and the residents, especially when the residents are young people. Clearly these officers are concerned that the responsibility which will be placed upon them to collect the collective contribution will adversely affect these very important social relationships which they attempt to develop.

There is particular concern about those on low incomes who may wish to apply for a rebate on their contributions. In my view the procedures will be so complex, and delays in calculation of any rebate due so lengthy, that the availability of a rebate on the collective charge contribution will become an empty promise for residents of premises designated for the collective charge.

In a recent consultation document issued by the DHSS entitled Help with Board and Lodging Charges for People on Low Incomes, the department quoted from a survey by the Social Security Policy Inspectorate of boarder claimants of supplementary benefits. This survey found that over half the sample lived in various types of boarding-houses and a twelfth in a variety of hostels.

The same study showed that most of these claimants were relatively stable in their accommodation; less than 10 per cent. had moved more than four times in the past three years and most had either been at the same address for more than three years or had moved only once or twice in that time. Bearing in mind these comments and others like them, can it really be said that the numbers of people involved in any way justifies the creation of these complex procedures? In my view they do not and the amendment deserves the wholehearted support of your Lordships' House.

5 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, it would surely be unthinkable. I have listened with great care to everything the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has said, but he himself concedes that this raises serious problems. One can only make one's speech at this stage; one cannot debate, one cannot examine, one cannot discuss. Indeed I rose a moment ago to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, in his approach that it was offensive and invidious to put the mentally handicapped in a category different from the physically handicapped. These are matters one would wish to discuss if it is necessary to discuss them. At this stage of the Bill, having listened to what has been said, it surely would not be appropriate without further examination of these matters to delete a clause of the Bill which is part and parcel of its essential machinery. It would be unthinkable.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, I respectfully concur with what my noble friend Lord Renton said as to the oddity of an amendment to delete the clause appearing at this stage of the proceedings. As to the substance of the noble Lord's main onslaught on the clause, I say nothing, because I am quite certain that it is not necessary to say anything. I am certain that everything that needs to be said on the broad aspect will be more than capably said by my noble friend the Minister when he comes to reply.

However, on the ancillary point of the noble Lord opposite about drafting, there is a case to answer. His intervention will have served some useful purpose if it leads to an improvement in the drafting and a clarification of what in Sherlock Holmes's idiom would be called the Strange Case of Line 19, the reference to a subsection (2A) in a subsection (2a), with the added difficulty that (2A) purports to come below (2)(a). It does not, and your Lordships well know the importance that parliamentary draftsmen and subsequently judicial interpreters of statutes pay to the question of capital letters in this context. I am not wholly inexperienced in another capacity in seeking to interpret and elucidate the oddities of statutory language. If the Minister is able to identify—

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, perhaps I can help my noble friend and save us from getting into a laborious argument on this point. It is in fact a simple printing error, as other noble Lords may have realised. I apologise that there are one or two printing errors. This arose largely from the problem of computer typesetting this print of the Bill. It is simply a printing error. It should refer to subsection (3) and not subsection (2A) and I shall ensure that when the Bill is reprinted the error is corrected.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, should it refer to (3) simpliciter, (3A), (3)(a), or what?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, (3) simpliciter.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for that answer. It is good of him to confess error and I am sure that the House is ready to forgive and proceed with the clause.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Kirkhill, referred to the question of those in nursing homes. I made it quite clear at col. 1654 of the Official Report that nursing homes and residential care homes will be left in rating, with their residents thereby exempt from the personal community charge. This was discussed at Report stage and there is no question of the collective community charge arising for them. I explained how this will be achieved. It will be achieved by the use of the various powers of prescription in Part I of the Bill to ensure that these homes are not treated as domestic subjects or part residential subjects and therefore remain in rating. I hope that that removes the concerns on that point in the minds of the noble Lords, Lord Ross and Lord Kirkhill.

The amendment would remove from the Bill all the provisions applying for the collective community charge to certain premises on the grounds that their residents are too mobile to allow for individual registration for the personal community charge. Over the past weeks we have had a fair amount of criticism of the alleged complexity and difficulty of these provisions. I cannot deny that Clause 11 is long or that its operation may in some cases be complex.

The next point I should make is that the clause addresses a problem which presents intrinsic and intractable difficulties. The personal community charge system will cope and will cope well with the vast majority of the population who have a settled mode of existence and who therefore can be registered for the personal community charge. The system, with its division of duties and responsibilities between responsible persons at each address and individual residents, strikes the right balance and will be able to operate efficiently. We have recognised from the time of the Green Paper onwards that there would be a problem of fitting into the community charge system the minority of people who do not have a settled mode of life and who move frequently from one address to another, so frequently that it would not be reasonable to expect registration officers to record every change of their address or for local authorities to collect the personal community charge from them.

The collective community charge provides a mechanism for integrating people in this category into the community charge system. I make no apology for saying once again that we hope it will have to be used only in a small number of cases. For that small number, however, it represents the only practicable means of allowing individuals to discharge their community charge responsibilities. No one has seriously challenged the proposition that some special arrangement will have to be made for that small minority of people. The arrangements for determining the collective community charge and for recovering collective community charge contributions from the residents in the premises to which it applies allow an appropriate degree of flexibility in the system while ensuring, first, that residents in premises in respect of whom the collective community charge is payable have no greater and no less a liability for community charge payment than people who are individually registered to the personal community charge; and, secondly, that landlords of collective community charge premises do not find themselves either making an unreasonable profit from their position or suffering an unreasonable loss. The key to this provision is the calculation and periodic recalculation of the collective community charge multiplier.

I have listened with great interest to the views of your Lordships on these points at all stages of our discussions and we shall shortly be formulating proposals for consultation with those who will have responsibility for running the system and who will be affected by it on the factors to be taken into account by the registration officer when he determines the collective community charge multiplier. I accept that this is a point of crucial importance and we shall consider it with great care and take full account of all the views expressed both in your Lordships' House and on subsequent consultation with interested bodies.

So far as seasonal variations are concerned, and the point which concerns my noble friend Lord Gray, I accept that the occupancy level of collective community charge premises may vary from time to time in the way that he suggests. We cannot expect the registration officer to keep up with every change, which is why changes need be made no more frequently than at three-monthly intervals. That is in clause 15(1)(b). But we are satisfied that looked at over a period of perhaps a year the multiplier will average out satisfactorily and thereby avoid unfairness on either side.

I think that this is a fair and reasonable way to approach what we all accept to be a potentially difficult part of the community charge system as a whole, and therefore I could not agree to this amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lord, it is a pity about that, because every organisation that has written to us about this has been opposed to it from the point of view of the complexity of organisation and the fairness of it. I was glad that at least the noble Lord said that this would not apply to nursing homes or residential homes. I hope that he is right, because this has to be determined not by the Government but by the registration officers.

Registration officers in different parts of the country may have different ideas about this. There is nothing to ensure that the Government will be able to see to that. You cannot blame them if they take different points of view when you cannot find Ministers agreeing with one another in this respect. I quoted what Mr. Michael Ancram, who was in charge of the Bill in the other place, had to say about it—that it would be strictly limited in its scope. He said: The Secretary of State will make it clear that there must a strong presumption in favour of the individual registration and that premises should be subject to Collective Community Charge only when it is clear that individual registration is not practicable. Mr. Ian Lang, on the other hand, said—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is listening There may be occasions where it may be sensible to provide for certain cases of certain types of property being classed as liable to the collective community charge; for example, property of an institutional nature such as that housing the mentally handicapped."— That is entirely contrary to what the Minister said here. But neither will decide. It has to be prescribed, and who is going to make the decisions? It will be the registration officer. This is what I complained about all along in this Bill. Things look all right, and then the Government say, "They will be prescribed". We cannot say yes or no to people who ask us questions because we do not know as it is not in the Bill.

Ministers are known to make mistakes as well as printers, but the printers' mistakes are much more readily and easily put right. We are left with Bills as they are. It is suggested that we cannot have this clause out. If it applies to only a very few people it can be left out. As a matter of fact, it has to be left in in the first instance because by prescription certain things are left out of rating and some things are put in, so they will not be missed out altogether. Power of exemption is there in respect of people and in respect of premises. In view of the difficulties that there have been about this clause I suggest that we take it out, and I cannot withdraw this amendment.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask whether it has occurred to him that if the clause is left out a number of consequential amendments to the Bill which are not before us would be necessary?

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord was in the House—yes, he was there—when we dealt with Lords amendments to the reorganisation of local government in Scotland. The Government found it possible to put in a considerable number of other amendments particularly in relation to the time when we left out Strathclyde in this House. There were plenty of consequential amendments to that. The Government put Strathclyde back in in another place with amendments to Lords amendments in such a way that they covered the consequences as well.

5.15 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 77; Not-Contents, 134.

Ardwick, L. Kilbracken, L.
Aylestone, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Banks, L. Kirkhill, L.
Birk, B. Leatherland, L.
Blackstone, B. Listowel, E.
Blyton, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Bonham-Carter, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Longford, E.
Bottomley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Brockway, L. McNair, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mishcon, L.
Carter, L. Molloy, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Gram, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Phillips, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Denington, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Diamond, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Rochester, L.
Falkender, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Gallacher, L. Seear, B.
Galpern, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Gladwyn, L. Serota, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.] Shackleton, L.
Silkin of Dulwich, L.
Grey, E. Stallard, L.
Grimond, L. Stedman, B.
Hampton, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hanworth, V. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Henniker, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hooson, L. Tordoff, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Underhill, L.
Hunt, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Walston, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Wigoder, L.
Jacques, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jeger, B. Wilson of Langside, L.
John-Mackie, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Kennet, L.
Abinger, L. Caithness, E.
Ailesbury, M. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Campbell of Croy, L.
Allerton, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Ampthill, L. Camock, L.
Auckland, L. Cathcart, E.
Bauer, L. Coleraine, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Colwyn, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Constantine of Stanmore, L.
Beloff, L. Cowley, E.
Bessborough, E. Cox, B.
Blyth, L. Craigavon, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Craigmyle, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Broadbridge, L. Davidson, V. [Teller.]
Brougham and Vaux, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Broxbourne, L. Dilhorne, V.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Dundee, E.
Butterworth, L. Eden of Winton, L.
Elibank, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mersey, V.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Milverton, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Molson, L.
Faithfull, B. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Forbes, L. Moyne, L.
Fortescue, E. Munster, E.
Gainford, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Glanusk, L. Pender, L.
Glenarthur, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Goold, L. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Granville of Eye, L.
Gray, L. Porritt, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Portland, D.
Gridley, L. Rankeillour, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Reigate, L.
Halsbury, E. Renton, L.
Hanson, L. Rodney, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Rugby, L.
Hayter, L. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Hesketh, L. St. Davids, V.
Hives, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Hood, V. Sandford, L.
Hooper, B. Seebohm, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Selkirk, E.
Ironside, L. Sempill, Ly.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Shannon, E.
Killearn, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Kimberley, E. Slim, V.
King of Wartnaby, L. Stockton, E.
Kinloss, Ly. Strathspey, L.
Kinnaird, L. Sudeley, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Terrington, L.
Lauderdale, E. Teynham, L.
Layton, L. Torphichen, L
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Trafford, L.
Long, V. Trefgarne, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Trumpington, B.
Lurgan, L. Tryon, L.
Lyell, L. Ullswater, V.
MacFadzean, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Manton, L. Margadale, L. Westbury, L.
Manton, L. Whitelaw, V.
Margadale, L. Wolfson, L.
Marley, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.23 p.m.

Clause 22 [Reduction of community charges]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 12: Page 20, line 12, at end insert ("for the purpose of making provision as to the reduction of community charges where the Secretary of State is satisfied, in accordance with that Schedule, that the total estimated expenses mentioned in section 9(2) of this Act of a local authority are excessive and unreasonable, and for related purposes"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will remember the discussion that took place in connection with this clause. It came from all parts of the House. It was on the basis of not commenting on the merits or otherwise of the powers given within the Bill to whichever government are in power—but that such an important power should at least be explained on the face of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna suggests that Amendment No. 12, as appears on the Marshalled List, will fulfil the purpose that was generally agreed in most parts of the House. That was that there should be something on the face of the Bill outlining the powers available. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord opposite for tabling this amendment in the short period that has elapsed since our discussion at the previous stage. If I may be allowed to say so without impertinence, given the time factor, he and his noble friend have done a very good job of drafting. It does not go so far as some of us who criticised the original clause would wish. It certainly does not meet the full requirements of an important clause of this kind in that proposed major elements in changes to the law should be set out in the clause and not in the schedule. However, as an emergency job, as a rush job for patching, it seems to make considerable progress. Your Lordships are indebted to the noble Lord and I hope that my noble friend will be prepared to accept the amendment.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I should like to say straight away that I am more than happy to accept the amendment. Its wording has been the subject of many ideas and counter-ideas. I believe that the wording goes a long way towards reflecting the concern expressed from all quarters of your Lordships' House. That is not only from the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove and Lord Morton of Shuna, but also my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Lord Selkirk and Lord Renton. I take their concern most seriously.

I think that the amendment places on the face of the Bill the principle of the purpose of Schedule 3. Perhaps it does not go quite so far as my noble friends would have wished. However, it achieves the essential purpose without the need for further complicated amendments to Schedule 3. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, for his remarks.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, 1 first raised this matter at the Committee stage. We are grateful to my noble friend for agreeing to the amendment. It is precisely the kind of thing that this House must do. There is a gross error in drafting. I say "gross error" because it is in the Bill that principles are laid down, and the details which are sometimes laid down by the administration are included in the schedules. In this case it was omitted completely and I think that that was a case of bad drafting. I believe that my noble friend has saved the face of the Scottish Office to a very high degree.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I rise to thank the Minister for correcting something which, as an ordinary lawyer, I considered to be very unsatisfactory. I hope that my noble friend will take this on board.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am sure that when my noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna reads Hansard he will blush at all the compliments that have been paid to him today. I think a very important point has been made, particularly as regards the statement made by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, when he said that it would save the face of the Scottish Office from embarrassment. If nothing else, it is perhaps a lesson for future draftsmen. I am pleased that the Minister has accepted the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 24 [Rebates from rates and community charges]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 13: Page 20, line 34, leave out from ("subsidy") to end of line 35 and insert ("equal to the aggregate sum granted by way of rebate under this section and such sums as will compensate each local authority in respect of the difference between the percentage of community charge payable by full time students under section 8(5) and 100 per cent. of such community charge."). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I return to a point that has been raised many times, and I make no apology. We have never been given a satisfactory answer to the question: who pays the difference between the students' contribution and the total community charge? In recent sittings of the Committee the Minister dealt with the change in the method of payment by students, and I believe that the House was to some extent slightly perplexed by that. Instead of students being given 100 per cent. nominal grant of the average for students in Scotland, and then paying back 20 per cent., we now have the reverse situation, in that they will be charged the percentage that was due from the community charge.

However, this still did not explain what happened in respect of the local authority within whose area the students were studying. There are considerable problems here. There are large numbers of students in Glasgow and Strathclyde. On the other hand Strathclyde has a fairly large population. It could be argued that the effect would not be as great as it would be in St. Andrews where there are perhaps fewer students but of course Fife has a much smaller population.

Without repayment by the Government in respect of this figure, there will be strain on local authorities. There are two objections. One is that students will be an additional charge on the local community, particularly in areas with a very obvious student population. I am thinking, for instance, of the West End of Glasgow. This will have a considerable effect on the additional community charge to be levied on local people. Resentment might be developed on the part of local people because of too many students in the area. Sometimes students are not very popular. I know from the area that I represented for a long time that students could have bouts of unpopularity. If, added to that, local people believed they were very directly paying an additional sum in order to compensate for the students' reduced community charge, the problems could be made much greater. The suggestion is made in the amendment that for full-time students there should be a repayment to local authorities, making up whatever the students themselves pay, so that local authorities receive 100 per cent. in total between the two elements for students within their communities.

We have raised this before, as I say, and have tried to find out exactly what the Government's intentions are. Up to now we have not been successful. I think this is an important amendment, and I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, I hope that the Minister will be able to accept my noble friend's amendment, if only because the Minister will recall that I raised this point with him at the Report stage. Although I think it is fair to say that he made a response to the points I then raised, he might now agree—perhaps he might not but I hope that he will—that at the very best his remarks could be construed as having been somewhat ambiguous. The Minister now has the opportunity to be much more specific.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am not sure how this arises. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, puts this forward as a probing amendment to ascertain the intentions of the Government. It is now suggested that the Government should accept it. The position of students has been dealt with by taking a median line between exemption and rebate in Clause 8, by a government amendment which was accepted. It is not understood quite why, having listened to noble Lords, this amendment should be necessary other than perhaps to seek some further explanation.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, this amendment touches on two quite different issues. The first is the terms of the reimbursement arrangements between the Secretary of State and local authorities in respect of the costs of the community charge rebate scheme. I should remind your Lordships that the present housing benefit scheme is to be revised with effect from 1988/89 and that the terms of the reimbursement arrangements for that scheme between the Secretary of State and the local authorities are currently under discussion. The outcome of these discussions will obviously have a considerable influence on the arrangements to apply in 1989/90 when the community charge rebate scheme will be in place. The point is that the community charge rebate scheme will not be created in a vacuum, but will follow on from the housing benefit scheme which is currently being revised, as I have said. There is therefore no reason for providing a different statutory basis for the reimbursement arrangements to apply to the community charge rebate scheme, as would be provided for by this amendment.

Secondly, however, the amendment raises the question of reimbursement by the Secretary of State for the fact that local authorities' community charge income will be less than it would otherwise have been because of the proposal that students should only pay a prescribed percentage of the personal community charge. In that sense, the limitation on the liability of students resembles the various rating reliefs which are at present taken into account in the distribution of rate support grant. Under the proposed future arrangements for revenue support grant it will be possible similarly to take account of the effect of the concession for students which your Lordships agreed to at Report stage.

It appeared to me that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was suggesting that on the Government's original proposal, students would have received 100 per cent. average reimbursement through grant. That was never the case. The proposal was 80 per cent. of the average. The amendment made at Report stage leaves students paying the net amount of 20 per cent., which represents no change on average although it avoids the element of rough justice in the original proposal. Therefore I think that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway is quite right to make that point as well, but the mechanism will have to be the subject of consultation in due course with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

I believe that what I have said has made it plain yet again what is proposed in this clause so far as it relates to reimbursement, and so on. I hope the noble Lord is more content and also that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, accepts what I have said. In the light of these further explanations, I hope the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I, for one, am extremely grateful to my noble friend for reiterating that explanation. I found it rather difficult to follow on the last occasion and I still was not absolutely clear after reading his explanation in Hansard. There has been some anxiety in the area where I live—there are a large number of students in Dundee, too—that the local authority might be disadvantaged because of the rebate for students. It is now clear, as I understand it, that the rebate for students is dealt with in the same way as other rebates; and the local authority (by a mechanism which has yet to be worked out) will be reimbursed for that which they do not receive from the students. I am sure that it will be a very great comfort to local authorities to be absolutely clear about that, and I am very grateful.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, suggested that in some way I had wanted this amendment to be a probing one: yet, on the other hand, I wanted to have it accepted. From the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, there was obviously a great deal of doubt as to what the actual intentions of the Government were, and therefore an explanation was required. If the explanation was not satisfactory, the purpose of the amendment was to try and safeguard the local authority at the end of the day so that it would not be in a worse position than it is now.

The two things are perfectly logical. I am not totally convinced that the Minister's answer is entirely satisfactory from the local authority point of view because he said that discussions are still going on—I assume that they will last for some time—between the local authorities and the Government on the question of the revenue support grant.

In view of the Statement made today by the Minister, we can only hope that it is the Government's intention—as indeed it is the intention of the amendment—that the local authorities will be no worse off because of the number of students in their areas and that they will not be discouraged from having students. In fact we generally consider that to be a benefit. There will therefore be no discouragement to local authorities about having students in their areas because of this Bill. In view of the Minister's explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 20, line 35, at end insert— ("() In calculating rebate entitlement in respect of personal community charge there shall be no discrimination to the detriment of young persons between the ages of 18 and 24 years.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now deal with the question of rebates, which we have not discussed before although I have mentioned it, particularly during the last day of the Rtport stage. This amendment concerns the position of youngsters between the ages of 18 and 24 who are unemployed after the community charges are introduced. They are subject to the new income allowance and housing benefit. They are still liable for rates in England, although non-householders in England pay nothing for rates. There will therefore be no liability in respect of reductions of their income from their point of view.

However, in Scotland the difference in the amounts paid by those between the ages of 18 and 24 and those aged 25 and over amounts to over £5. It is indeed 7 per cent. of their disposable income.

There is no justification for a rebate scheme to operate in that particular way in respect of people who are paying exactly the same community charge. There is no doubt that they will be dealt with detrimentally. With the introduction of the community charge for Scotland the scales must be equalised in respect of the benefit after 1989.

This measure will apply to the young unemployed who may be young householders and even be married. If they are bearing the same burden they should receive the same relief, but as things stand at the moment they will not do so. We do not know how the final scheme will operate. That is another matter about which we are left in the dark. That information will not be produced until much later, probably nearer 1988. We can work on it then and on the position in relation to young people when the community charge is levied on them.

It is applicable only in Scotland. The difference between Scotland and England means that English youngsters will be in a more advantageous position because the community charge comprises a fixed sum and they will not be paying it in England. So this will be to the disadvantage of the people in Scotland. That is one point. The other point its that we must eliminate the unfair discrimination against the 18 to 24 year-olds who are carrying exactly the same burden as older people. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as I think I have said on previous occasions, the arrangements for rebating the community charge will be based on the rate rebate arrangements in the new housing benefit scheme to be introduced in April 1988. One of the features of that scheme is that for the first time the assessment of entitlement to housing benefit will be aligned with the assessment of entitlement to income support. The principle of alignment has been supported by all parties.

The effect of this amendment will be to undermine that principle. For that reason I hope that the noble Lord will not press it. The justification for different treatment for those aged 18 to 24 who do not have families is that such a distinction provides a reasonable measure of the lower financial commitment which people in that position have in comparison with people in other groups. If that sounds a sweeping statement, well and good, but of those on income support some 82 per cent. of people aged between 18 and 24 are either non-householders or, if householders, have families and will in any case be subject to the higher personal allowance. On the other hand, some 90 per cent. of income support recipients over the age of 25 are householders.

The age differential that we propose is a reasonable measure to the variation in living expenses incurred by the groups involved. I think that the statistics that I have just given make the case very plainly. Like it or not, resources are finite. The more that is spent on community charge rebates, the more others who are liable for the personal community charge will have to pay. In our view this differentiated treatment of younger single people is justified on the grounds that single people in the older age groups are more likely to he householders and generally to have higher living expenses. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, this matter concerns young persons between the ages of 18 and 24, who, if unemployed, will surely fall within that vulnerable group of persons who do not have the ability to pay. They will therefore come within the assurance given by my noble friend during the Report stage. Of course, if they are employed and they have a full ability to pay, they will not be vulnerable and will not fall within that group.

If that is right, surely the flexibility afforded by the assurance of my noble friend on the last occasion is a sufficient and adequate safeguard, and this amendment in its present form: … young persons between the ages of 18 and 14 years without further definition or further consideration as to which young persons it applies is far to rigid.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I am surprised that the Minister justifies the differential. He talks about the varying burdens of household expenses and so on but we are not discussing a varying burden; we are considering the community charge, which is exactly the same for the young non-earner as it is for the young earner. It places the unemployed in the same situation as the employed. They pay the same sum of £300.

The personal allowance after which the level of income support is calculated in respect of single claimants aged 18 to 24 years is £26. The single claimant aged 25 and over receives £30.60. There is a difference of £4-60. How can that be justified in relation not to expenses of a household and such but in relation to two people, both of whom may be unemployed—indeed, they have to be unemployed to be on the income supplement level—so that one of them receives greater support than the other? It cannot be justified simply by saying that one person is over 18 and under 25 and that as soon as that person reaches the age of 25 he will receive a little more. It is not fair and it is not right. They eat the same; they buy in the same shops; and the Government say they must pay the same in community charge. The younger ones will get less money in the end, based upon the scheme as we know it at present. The differentiation in age, which the Government justified, means that they are being badly treated compared with persons who may be just a year older in respect of something for which they both pay the same. This cannot be justified.

I thought that we might have heard from the Government that the scheme was not yet fully drawn up and that we shall only know later whether this will apply with respect to community charge. You can justify it in relation to everything else that is in the personal allowance range but not in respect of something for which they both pay the same. That means that other people will seek to evade payment. They will leave home and go to England where they do not need to pay it at all. Could we have assurance that the Government will look at this between now and the time of drawing up the regulations with respect to income support?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I do not think I can go any further. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway referred to the assurance that I gave about vulnerable groups. When I referred to this last time I said that I could not go into the detail because in any case it would not apply until the matter was finalised in the autumn. I hear what the noble Lord has said but I stand precisely by my answer to him when I spoke the first time. To go any further than that now would be wrong.

It appears that we shall return to the subject on the next amendment, which precisely addresses the point of the most vulnerable groups. I can speak again then, but I have nothing further to say in relation to this amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, the Minister will remember that he tried to justify the differentiation. That is what worries me. He justified the differentiation in treatment between the 18 to 24-year-olds and those over 24 although they are both paying the same. There should be no differentiation there. If that is the Minister's last word, I beg leave to have the House decide the matter.

5.53 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 14) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 126.

Ardwick, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Aylestone, L. Carter, L.
Banks, L Chitnis, L.
Blackstone, B. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Blyton, L. Davies of Penrhys, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Denington, B.
Bottomley, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Brockway, L. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Falkender, B. Phillips, B.
Falkland, V. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Gallacher, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Galpern, L.
Gladwyn, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.] Rochester, L.
Ross of Marnock, L.
Grey, E. Shackleton, L.
Grimond, L. Silkin of Dulwich, L.
Hampton, L. Stallard, L.
Hanworth, V. Stedman, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L
Irvine of Lairg, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Jacques, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Jeger, B. Tordoff, L.
Kilbracken, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Kilmarnock, L. Underhill, L.
Kirkhill, L. Walston, L.
Leatherland, L. Whaddon, L.
Listowel, E. Wigoder, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Longford, E. Wilson of Langside, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Oram, L.
Paget of Northampton, L.
Abinger, L. Hanson, L
Allerton, L. Hayter, L.
Ampthill, L. Hesketh, L.
Auckland, L Hives, L.
Bauer, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Hooper, B.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Beloff, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Bessborough, E. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Birdwood, L. Killearn, L.
Boardman, L. Kimberley, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. King of Wartnaby, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Lawrence, L.
Butterworth, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Caithness, E. Long, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Lurgan, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Lyell, L.
Carnock, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cathcart, E. Manton, L.
Coleraine, L. Margadale, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Marley, L.
Colwyn, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Maude of Stratford-upon Avon, L.
Cowley, E.
Cox, B. Mersey, V.
Craigavon, V. Milverton, L.
Craigmyle, L. Molson, L.
Crawshaw, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Moyne, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Munster, E.
Dilhorne, V. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Dundee, E. Napier of Ettrick, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Orr-Ewing, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Pender, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Faithfull, B. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Forbes, L.
Gainford, L. Portland, D.
Geddes, L. Rankeillour, L.
Glanusk, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Glenarthur, L. Reigate, L.
Goold, L. Renton, L.
Granville of Eye, L. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Gray, L. St. Davids, V.
Gray of Contin, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Gridley, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Sandford, L.
Selkirk, E.
Halsbury, E. Sempill, Ly.
Shannon, E. Torphichen, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Trafford, L.
Slim, V. Trefgarne, L.
Somers, L. Trumpington, B.
Stockton, E. Tryon, L.
Strathclyde, L. Ullswater, V.
Strathspey, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Sudeley, L. Whitelaw, V.
Swinfen, L. Windlesham, L.
Swinton, E. Wise, L.
Terrington, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Teynham, L.

Resolved in the negative and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 15: Page 20, line 35, at end insert— ("() The maximum rebate in respect of the most vulnerable groups in the community shall be 100 per cent. () The term "vulnerable groups" shall be prescribed by the Secretary of State in regulations following discussion with persons or associations (including COSLA—) whom he considers knowledgeable about the needs of those groups.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is prompted by the fact that a statement was made by the Minister of State about vulnerable groups and looking after them. I thought it would be desirable that the maximum rebates for the most vulnerable groups should go beyond 80 per cent., and be up to 100 per cent. Helpful as ever, I thought I had better define "vulnerable groups". This does not refer to anything that might happen on 1 1 th June, as to which group will be vulnerable and which will not.

I am referring to much more serious matters of people trying to get a living in one way or another when there are special difficulties, such as handicaps, whether mental or physical, unemployment or lowly-paid employment, those with children and maybe young or old people. But I leave the Secretary of State to define "vulnerable groups" in regulations after he has had discussions with persons knowledgeable about their needs, who will probably be called upon to collect from these vulnerable groups, about whom they know quite a lot because of the work they do.

So the explanation of this amendment is simple and clear. I leave it to the Minister of State to take us a little further than he did when he mentioned vulnerable groups and looking after them. The rebate surely cannot be just 80 per cent. and ought possibly to be even as high as 100 per cent. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, if my noble friend's undertaking—

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I have not felt that I quite heard all that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said in moving this amendment, because some other noble Lords were talking near me in rather loud voices.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, I am not unique in that.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, if I am right, the noble Lord is returning to his 100 per cent. like a dog to a juicy old bone, for a very similar amendment—at least, the spirit of it was very similar—was defeated in a Division on Committee stage on Thursday 9th April.

The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, said in col. 55 of Hansard for the Report stage on 5th May, in response to an amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and myself, that in setting the levels of income support the position of the most vulnerable groups in our society would be taken into account. If I am not very much mistaken, he has repeated that assurance several times already this afternoon. I accept the noble Lord's assurance.

When the levels of income support for the year 1989–90 come to be set by affirmative instrument, as I understand they will be, I shall scrutinise them very carefully to make sure that that has indeed been done, as I have no doubt will others of your Lordships. If I am not satisfied as to the ability of persons on low income support to pay their community charge—that part of it which is not rebated—without genuine hardship, I shall vote against the regulations as no doubt will many others of your Lordships, and that is the way that I think we should proceed. For those reasons I most certainly cannot support an amendment which is, as I say, in spirit the same as one which was defeated at Committee stage.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am delighted that I gave way to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and I am sorry that I did not give way earlier. I did not see her rise, and perhaps she will accept my apology. I should have wished to say everything that she said, and it was said very much better.

It now really comes down to this very short point. My noble friend the Minister has given an undertaking about vulnerable groups and those unable to pay. As your Lordships know, before he gave that undertaking I was contending for 100 per cent. rebate. But when I heard the undertaking I accepted it. I understood that my noble friend the Minister was then not in a position—he was totally frank with the House; I have read Hansard carefully, too—to go further than he did then. But for my part I accept his assurance and I would not be able to support this amendment.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, at an earlier stage of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, remarked—I paraphrase his words—that Clause 24 was the very heart of the Bill. He certainly used a phrase of that type. I wholeheartedly concur with that view. Of course the noble Lord has subsequently explained to us that he accepted the Minister's assurances as they relate to regulations about vulnerable groups. I really think that the Government have shown a marked lack of compassion and humanity at the very point of true social concern. They should be condemned for this and for weasel words.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has said, his amendment is intended to probe the effect of the statement I made on 5th May during Report stage, when at col. 55 of Hansard I said that the Government recognise that our proposals for a minimum contribution towards local taxation mean that many people will be for the first time making a contribution towards their rates. I gave the assurance that in setting income support levels—as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway has suggested—we shall take into account the impact of this on the most vulnerable groups.

Let me make clear at the outset that the Government remain committed to the essential philosophy of having a minimum contribution. Quite simply, far too many people make no contribution at all towards the cost of the local services that they enjoy and this leads to the question of accountability, or lack of it, which we have addressed on many occasions. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, suggested, it really is premature to press for a detailed definition of what vulnerable groups will ultimately be.

The setting of income support levels, which is what my assurances referred to, will not take place until the autumn and careful consideration will be required to enable us to decide those for whom this extra protection is appropriate. It is not the kind of thing that can be decided in the course of a day or two. Our decisions will be a feature of the regulations to be made under Part II of the Social Security Act 1986 in respect of income support. The first such regulations—those to be brought forward this year—will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

We have discussed the whole question of rebates on a number of occasions. The explanations I have given of the Government's original intentions, as set out in the detailed press handout which has been made available to your Lordships either personally or in the Library, coupled with the subsequent assurances and explanations that I have given, indicate the fundamental fairness of the Government's approach.

For the reasons that I have given, I believe that the amendment cannot be accepted. I hope that in the light of the explanation that I have given as to why it will take longer to assess precisely who will be encompassed within the "vulnerable groups", the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I wish that we had been advanced by that explanation but, as I understood it, the Minister said that there would be no 100 per cent. rebate. He held by the fact that everyone should make a contribution. That means that the poorest of the poor namely, the "vulnerable groups" will make a contribution.

The Minister cannot tell me that the poorest of the poor are not vulnerable. They are very vulnerable indeed to any additional expenses put upon them. I wish to make it clear that I, too, shall be scrutinising the regulations. If they do not go beyond the 80 per cent. rebate that has already been mentioned, the Minister will be in trouble.

Let us not forget that when we debated the then Social Security Bill in this House on 23rd June 1986, the House voted to accept an amendment which was designed to safeguard 100 per cent. rebates. At the present time there are about 56,000 old-age pensioners in Glasgow who receive 100 per cent. rebates on rent and rates. That 100 per cent. will disappear in 1988. The position of those pensioners will be even worse in 1989 as regards the liability of husband and wife for the personal community charge. Surely to goodness, if the words of the Minister in respect of "vulnerable groups" mean anything, they should mean an advance from the 80 per cent. rebate.

The Minister's words have been used and noted. I accept his word for the moment, but he may not be here in a month's time. He may have moved to pastures new, having gained promotion as a result of thrilling the House with his eloquence and carrying the Bill through, especially this particular part which has caused him a lot of trouble. There have been one or two important interventions in which noble Lords have suggested that he should reconsider the matter.

We accept the Minister's word, but the proof of the pudding will come when the regulations are introduced. I hope that a few other noble Lords, apart from the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, will say that they cannot support the regulations if the Minister has not kept his word in respect of the "vulnerable groups".

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I intervene to state that the regulations to which I referred are the regulations which set the levels of income support under the Social Security Act 1986.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, that is correct. I am glad that we have had it reconfirmed because the regulations will apply to the community charge in Scotland. They should be different to those in England because the burden is Scottish, not English. However, in view of what has been said and as I realise that the Minister appreciated the importance of what he said about rebates for the "vulnerable groups" in connection with the community charge, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.15 p.m.

Schedule 1 [Valuation and Rating]:

Lord Gray moved Amendment No. 16: Page 29, line 15, leave out from second ("rate") to ("and") in line 17, The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am almost embarrassed to drag the House away from debate on a point of principle in order to draw attention to another drafting amendment. In response to cross-party pressure, the two separate interpretation clauses which were in the Bill when we first saw it were merged on Report. At the same time Her Majesty's Government moved a number of amendments to tidy up generally the various definitions.

The group of amendments then moved by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur included several which concerned the definition of the word "rate". The particular piece of tidying-up which I now recommend was missed at that time. The words that the amendment features are now superfluous. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, again, I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling an amendment which certainly removes potential untidiness. I am happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment, agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Water and sewerage charges]:]:

Lord Grimond moved Amendment No. 17: Page 43, line 14, at end insert— ("11A. Notwithstanding the repeal of section 44 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 any regional council or islands council which has at any time before 1st April 1987 pursuant to that section defrayed any part of the expenditure referred to in that section out of the regional rate or the general rate (as the case may be) with the approval of the Secretary of State as provided in that section to an amount exceeding one-third of that said expenditure may make a contribution to that expenditure out of the general fund as if that section had not been repealed and it had authorised the defraying of such expenditure out of the community charges and non-domestic rates due to that council.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment returns to a point which I raised on Report, namely that should the Bill go through as at present drafted certain farmers and indeed other enterprises in Orkney—I am thinking of the Milk Marketing Board—will be faced with an extremely heavy increase in rates if the calculations of the local authority are correct. I am glad to see that the Minister nods his head and agrees.

I am grateful to the two noble Lords who showed some sympathy with the amendment on Report. However, I am in some difficulty because the Minister said that he doubted whether the local authorities' calculations were correct but that he would have further discussions with them. I understand that his officials have had those discussions, but I must confess that it is only this afternoon that I have heard anything about them. I have not heard very much except that I understand that no agreement was reached. I hope that the Minister will tell us more about that position.

The amendment before us today is a modified repetition of the amendment put down on Report. But it contains two important points. First, there is no intention to destroy the aim that water users should pay more. The amendment is simply to ensure that the payment should not be so abrupt and so steep in the case of farmers who have meters and of certain other water users.

My second point, which I wish to make strongly, is that the amendment lays down that the local authority—which is the water authority—will be allowed to assist meter users up to a limited amount from the general rate fund subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. That seems wholly reasonable. The Government need have no fear that their Bill is being seriously damaged because the local authority can assist meter users only with the authority of the Secretary of State and up to a limited amount. That seems a reasonable proposition, bearing in mind that we are now at the last stages of the Bill. Subject to what the Minister has to say, I understand that his officials and the local government officials are still at loggerheads as to the exact effect of the Bill. If the Bill goes through as it is, there is no hope, as I understand it, of any latitude being allowed to the local authority. It will have to carry out the provisions of the Bill and inflict the serious increases upon farmers and other users which, at this time, must be highly undesirable.

If the Bill is amended—if not exactly as I suggest, then along those lines—the ultimate decision rests with the Secretary of State. If it should prove, after further conversations, that the local authority is mistaken in its interpretation of the Bill, the provision will never come into effect. The Secretary of State will be able to veto any attempt to pay out of the general rate grant.

I should be grateful if the Minister would address his mind carefully to this matter. We are at the last gasp of the Bill and if it goes through as it is and if the local authority is right in its calculations, there may well be serious injury inflicted on a limited number of people whom I am sure the Government do not mean to harm. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I too spoke about this particular amendment at an earlier stage of the Bill. I was concerned about the figures which the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, produced at that time. I believe he said that there would be an increase of 270 per cent. for farmers in the islands in Orkney. I did not feel that my noble friend the Minister actually gave us much in the way of figures to justify the stand of his officials on this matter. I am a bit distressed to hear that they and the local authority in Orkney are still at loggerheads. If they are at loggerheads, I feel that the people on the ground probably know the scene rather well and I should like to hear some justification for why it is unecessary that an amendment of this sort should be presented at this stage. It is a matter which could affect the livelihoods of farmers in Orkney. I should like further assurances from the Minister before we let this amendment go.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, who has moved this amendment. In earlier discussions on this Bill we considered vulnerable groups. I am not pretending that the farmers of Orkney are in the same category as the vulnerable groups to which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has referred. But there is an obvious anomaly which is being created by the Bill. If I read the figures right, 60 per cent. of the water on Orkney is metered and under this Bill the local authority is bound to apportion the charges for water between the various users of water, which will mean a rise of some 270 per cent. for certain users of water on Orkney.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said that one farmer had estimated that his water bill would be increased by £1,400 per annum. Considering the state of agriculture in general on the island as well as on the mainland, it appears to me to be creating a vast anomaly. There ought to be some adjustment or consideration of a special situation. The Minister said, in replying to the discussion at Report stage, that the matter would be looked at. I hope that he will be able to tell us that some progress has been made in the discussions concerning special categories.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, would perpetuate the provisions of Section 44 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 in certain circumstances. This amendment is very similar, although not identical, to one which we considered at Report stage. It presents the same difficulties. Section 44 allows a regional or islands council to meet from the regional general rate up to one third of expenditure on water services not otherwise met by metered or special charges. The proportion of expenditure met in this way may be greater than one third, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. The effect of these provisions is that the true cost of the water services is hidden from consumers. Only that part of the cost met by the domestic water rate is separately identified on rates demand notices.

The amendment would allow any council to continue to meet part of the costs of water services from general funds if they have, at some time since 1975, met more than the normal one third of water expenditure under Section 44. That would apply to five councils, although only the Orkney Islands Council does so at present.

We have discussed this matter before and I must make it clear again that the Bill does not in any way increase the overall cost of water services in Orkney or, for that matter, in any other authority. Nor does it affect the level of support through the grant arrangements. What the Bill does propose is a clear and fair system for determining water costs and for apportioning those costs among the various classes of consumer. The Bill also brings the full cost of the service into the open by requiring publication of charges and the basis upon which they have been determined.

Before I come to the particular point which was raised about consultations, perhaps I may say that the amendment would defeat these aims which are intended to safeguard the interests of all consumers. Anything which might be done to benefit one class of consumer would only be done at the expense of others.

When we discussed this amendment earlier, I said that I and my department had insufficient information on which to base an assessment of the position for Orkney. My noble friend Lord Sanderson asked for certain figures. I do not have those figures in front of me. The figures which were produced by the Orkney Islands Council we have had to disagree as they may be an exaggeration of the case about which they are concerned. I offered further discussion which I felt sure would help to resolve to a large extent the difficulties to which the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, has pointed. The noble Lord withdrew his amendment on that basis.

My offer of discussions was intended to mean that there would be detailed and studied consideration between the council and my department. There has not been sufficient time for such consultation since I made that offer. But the chief executive of the council has been in touch with my officials. In the course of three lengthy telephone conversations last week, helpful views and information were exchanged. I do not claim that the difficulties have been overcome. Rather, these informal discussions strengthen my belief that detailed and considered consultations are required and that the difficulties can be resolved to a substantial degree.

There are other important points which I should again like to emphasise. First, it is our intention to ensure that the cost of water services is apportioned even-handedly and is made known to all consumers. Secondly, the provisions of the Bill will not raise the overall costs of water services in any way or, as I said earlier, affect the grant arrangements. Finally, while I understand the concern which lies behind the amendment, it cuts across important principles of the Bill and cannot sit alongside the other provisions of Schedule 5.

I hope that with the additional reassurance that, telephone conversations apart, we have to sit down and discuss this in a properly organised and detailed way so that the consultations can be taken further forward, the noble Lord will feel further reassured.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Candidly, I do not see a great deal of point in dividing the House at this stage on this type of matter. However, I should be grateful if he would give me a bit more assurance than he has done. I understand that he does not dispute the figures. He has not given any alternative figures to those produced by the local authority and indeed by the Milk Marketing Board, which has also produced figures showing that its rates will be greatly increased. I am grateful to him for saying that he is confident that the matter can be resolved. However, I should be grateful if he could explain what he means by that. Once the Bill becomes an Act there can be no further amendment, and no discretion, as I understand it, will then be left to the Secretary of State.

My amendment seeks to write in some discretion which the Secretary of State can exercise. However, when the Minister says that he is confident the matter can be resolved, I am not quite certain what he means. Does he mean that he is confident the local authorities can be shown that their figures are wrong; or, has he in mind some other way of compensating them, and the people who will face a very serious increase, if in the end it is proved that the local authorities' figures are right? At this stage, I know that we cannot have a great many speeches, but I should be grateful if the Minister could give the House more information about what he means by "resolved", and whether or not he has any doubt about the local authorities' figures. If so, what figures does he think are the true ones?

6.30 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I said that I believe the difficulties can be resolved to a substantial degree. The fact is that there are some figures which have been produced by Orkney Islands Council which we believe are not necessarily correct. We are in discussion with the Orkney Islands Council and we need to have a proper meeting with them to establish precisely where we stand and explain to them why we think that the figures they have produced are incorrect.

It is difficult for me to know what else I can say. Until such discussions have taken place neither my officials nor indeed the officials of the Orkney Islands Council will be able to reach a meeting of minds. However, I believe that what I said earlier holds good. Clearly there is a concern which we acknowledge, and that is why we have agreed to meet them in order to try to resolve the matter. I am quite certain it will be possible to provide the reassurance which the Orkney Islands Council clearly need, so that the difficulties can be resolved to the substantial degree which I believe is possible. Until those meetings have taken place, it is impossible for me to say more.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I find myself in the same difficulty as the Minister. I do not know what to say until these meetings have taken place. Of course by that time the Bill will be an Act. I find the situation very unsatisfactory and I am severely alarmed. However, if there is a procedure in this House as in the other place which allows the amendment to be negatived I will save your Lordships the trouble of traipsing through the Lobbies. I do not feel inclined to withdraw the amendment totally because I believe that it could lead to very serious personal hardships, and certain hardships on local industry and farmers which would be serious for the whole community. I therefore move the amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

We have almost reached the end of a lengthy and intensive piece of work on the Bill. We have debated its provisions for about 60 hours. I think that on all sides of the House your Lordships can take considerable credit for the care with which the Bill has been analysed and the depth in which its underlying policy and intentions have been probed.

We have not of course achieved a meeting of minds between all sides of the House on every aspect. However, I believe that we have found some quite substantial areas upon which we can agree. First, no one would dispute that the Bill which we are sending back to another place has undergone some important improvements in drafting and layout. Changes have been urged upon me from all sides of the House. I have made it my business to accept such changes where possible.

I am sure noble Lords will agree that I must make particular mention of the contribution to our deliberations which has been made by my noble friend Lord Gray. The care with which he has analysed the drafting of the Bill and the clarity with which he has presented his proposals for improvement have been marvellous. I am most grateful to him, as indeed I am to my noble friends Lord Selkirk, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton, to say nothing of noble Lords opposite for their comments on Clause 22 and the schedule with which we have just been dealing.

Secondly, we are sending back a Bill which will work better. For example, we have provided greater flexibility in the arrangements for billing and collection of the community charge in response to amendments moved by my noble friend Lady Carnegy. We have simplified the arrangements in Clause 18 for calculating the interest due on backdated periods as a result of amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. We have given local authorities flexibility in deciding the length of the period of grace under the standard community charge. We have also provided additional appeal procedures as regards the designation of responsible persons. These are only a few of the examples of the many technical changes, improvements and clarifications that we have made.

Our discussions have also led to some more substantial changes. We have greatly improved the position of students, meeting in particular the concern expressed on all sides of the House concerning the position of overseas students, as raised by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. We have provided exemption for the severely mentally handicapped, about whom considerable concern was expressed even today.

I should also remind your Lordships that I was able to indicate further concessions in the shape of our intention to provide exemption for those living in residential care accommodation, through the mechanism of leaving such premises in rating. I have given important assurances that account will be taken of the liability to meet the minimum contribution of 20 per cent. of rates, and in due course community charge, when we set income support levels for the most vulnerable groups in society.

These are all important changes which, as I have said, represent major improvements to the Bill. As a result we can be confident that the Bill will achieve its objectives even more effectively. When the Bill came to us it contained the essential mechanisms to achieve the Government's overall objective of abolishing once and for all the discredited system of domestic rates, and replacing it with a new system which would provide vastly greater accountability between local authorities and their electorates. The changes we have made will facilitate this process. The Bill will be easier to understand and simpler to administer and there will be added protection for certain groups with claim to special treatment.

Our discussions have also thrown into sharp relief the alternatives which have been canvassed by both the party opposite and the Alliance. I see no point in running over those once more. Suffice to say that while I have not felt able to agree with either of the main alternative suggestions or variations of them, both the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Mackie of Benshie (whom I am sorry to see is not in his place) have stuck to their guns in a powerful and good-humoured way. Indeed, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House for the constructive and good-humoured way in which it has been tackled.

With my grateful thanks to all concerned in your Lordships' House and to those behind the scenes who have done much., and also to my noble friend Lord Dundee for his energetic support, I commend the Bill to the House. The Bill represents the only practicable package which anyone has on offer to deliver the radical changes which are needed in the financing of local government in Scotland. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Glenarthur

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, now that we are at the end of the very long road we have travelled since Second Reading, this is an appropriate time to say a few words to the Minister and to the House generally. Although I knew the Minister would he armed with statistics, I had not realised that we had debated for fully 60 hours. Also, it did not sound to me, from the long catalogue the Minister gave us, that he had made so many concessions.

All joking aside, I still cannot say that the Bill is anything other than a harsh Bill which was, I am sure, uncharacteristic of the natural attitudes of the Minister. We have all learnt a great deal from the Bill. We have learnt of the thankless task of the parliamentary draftsman, who could have done with a great deal more time to improve the Bill. The Minister said that the Bill was improved when it came to this House. However, one feels that with another six stages it would go on being improved—not that noble Lords would wish to start at the beginning again.

The information which the Minister had from the Box was timely and usually, at least from his point of view, satisfactory. Throughout this marathon of a Bill the Minister has been extremely good-tempered and has tried to be helpful. I believe he tried to be helpful within what could only be called an ideological straitjacket. I think that the Bill took the time it did not just because of the verbosity of the Scots but because of the analytical nature of the Scottish character. The analysis given to the Bill from all sides of the House will scare the daylights out of the English should a similar prospect ever be raised in England, and they are never likely to have the scheme there. The opposition will be very long and very strong. However, I think we have all learned a great deal about each other and we have, I hope, learned a great deal about local government and the work which is done there. I congratulate everyone on the genuine work that was put in during the course of the passage of this Bill.

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, one or two intriguing features have emerged from the discussions which your Lordships have had over the past eight or nine days on this measure. One feature which strikes me—I hope I am right in saying this and that I do no injustice—is that in this House we have been more effective in achieving changes in the detailed provisions of the Bill than was the other place. I found that very intriguing, bearing in mind that this is an establishment which was once described by a little-known Labour Member of the other place as a somewhat quaint and archaic, ancient establishment. It was described by a rather better-known Liberal Member of Parliament and Minister as Mr. Balfour's poodle. Therefore I think we are advancing.

I do not know why the Minister screws up his face at me. I thought he was encouraging us to be good humoured in the exchanges and in fact he said it twice. I confess that I find it extremely difficult to be good humoured about this Bill. It is a very bad Bill, it is a rather pathetic Bill and very largely an irrelevant one.

The Government have been extremely lucky. I do not want to pursue these points because it would be ill-humoured, would it not? The Second Reading was on Budget day and, of course, no one took much notice. The media did not speak to the Bill about Scotland's rating system to any great extent when they had the Budget to think about. Here we are, having just completed the Third Reading, when we might have made significant attacks upon the principle of this, as I see it, wretched measure; but now I gather that there are other matters—I have not heard it myself on the radio or read it in the press—which will strike most people as having more significance than the abolition of the Scottish rating system; at least, that is what the Bill calls it—the abolition of the Scottish rating system.

I am certain of this: the Bill will be much discussed during the coming election campaign, certainly in Scotland. I imagine, from what I have heard, as awareness of its details become more and more known, that it will be widely discussed in England, too. I do not think the discussions will bring much encouragement to the Government because, as I say, I think it is a pathetic and irrelevant measure. It is pathetic not least because of the attempt to disguise this iniquitous poll tax under a respectable name. It is quite pathetic. The Minister can shake his head but we started out talking about this and we shall be talking about it a great deal in the constituencies throughout the country. It is pathetic, but pathetic above all in that it will contribute little to the solution of the many problems of local government finance.

Having said that, it would be ungenerous not to express respect and admiration of the Minister's advocacy. Some people, of course, are cynical about the art of advocacy and describe it as the art of misleading people without actually telling lies. Subject to that, we were all immensely impressed by the ability with which he struggled, often in the face of much adversity, in presenting to your Lordships' House a Bill the passing of which we on these Benches very greatly regret. However, in accordance with constitutional tradition, we shall not vote against the Motion.

6.45 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I pay a very warm tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, for his unfailing patience and good humour in sometimes very difficult circumstances throughout the 10 lengthy Sittings we have had on this Bill. The Bill has been pushed through this House with haste, with one Sitting day between the Committee stage and the Report stage and only three Sitting days between Report stage and Third Reading. The Bill as amended on Report was not available until, I believe I am right in saying, this morning. This has made it very difficult for some of us to get our amendments drafted in time to give the Minister and his office adequate time to consider them.

In spite of that he has managed to produce Government amendments to meet the very grave concerns of some Members of your Lordships' House. It is a pity that the very lengthy Committee stage in another place—over 100 hours—was not curtailed further to give us a chance to get our teeth into this Bill a little sooner and so to be able to consider it with less haste. Nevertheless, I think we have improved it greatly, as we do so many Bills. In fact, I am tolerably happy with it. All the same I think there may be teething troubles when the Bill is implemented and comes into force in 1989. I shall not be surprised if, in the future, we find ourselves debating the abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) (Amendment) Bill. However, that is as may be. If we do have such a Bill it will not be for the first time.

I should like to say a word to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I enormously admire his tenacity. Having listened to most of his arguments several times they now have such familiarity that I could repeat them almost without the help of notes. I felt that I had heard one of his arguments somewhere before. He said that people came and people went but houses stayed put forever. Suddenly I remembered where I had heard it. It was Tennyson's lovely poem, The Brook, in which the delightful refrain is, Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever". I am most grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me of it.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I join in the tribute which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has paid to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and I would add that he has shown great stamina and skill, because this is a very difficult Bill both in form and in substance. If ever an illustration were needed of the difficulty of legislation in itself in matters which appear to cover just the ordinary things of life, this Bill is a good example. As to the form of it, all I would say is that it is perhaps regrettable that we had to put into it so much which is largely of administrative direction. If we could leave those matters to Ministers to deal with instead of involving Parliament in the primary legislation, the legislation would be clearer and easier to follow.

On the substance of the Bill, I should like to acknowledge what the Government have done to help the severely mentally handicapped. Where to draw the line is a difficult decision. Those of us who work with and for the mentally handicapped are anxious that they should lead as normal lives as possible. Many of them are in employment and would therefore wish to be treated like other working people. However, I think that the Government may have got this right Time will show.

The other point of substance that I wish to make is on students. As I said at the Committee stage, I have grave doubts as to whether the enforceability of the provisions with regard to students will work. I am very glad that the Government have decided that students should pay only 20 per cent. of the charges. We shall have to watch the situation very carefully in order to see whether the difficulty of collection and enforcement is so great as to make it feasible to raise as little as 20 per cent. of the charge. In the long run we may find that it would be better to have a different arrangement.

I say no more at present. I certainly hope that the Bill will work in practice. The Government have shown great courage in having introduced it.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, having sat through this Bill, perhaps I may briefly thank the Minister for the ready and positive response on the four issues with which I was concerned. They were the extension of the scope of Clause 8(7) to include the mentally handicapped; the question of the vulnerable groups which lack ability to pay under Clause 24, on which we had my noble friend's assurance; the special position of the students to which reference has just been made; and, lastly, the amendment to Clause 22 which includes the principles governing the schedules.

As this Bill passes, no trite acknowledgement would suffice to thank the Minister not only for his industry and stamina but for his remarkable sense of patience and good humour.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I should also like to add my thanks to the Minister. I spent 29 years of my life in local government. I know how difficult these matters are to alter. The Minister has led a real revolution in local government on the abolition of rates. It is the Government's policy, but it is very difficult. I consider that he has put forward a wonderful case and has been extremely patient.

We in this House have done a great deal more than they did in the other place. We have discussed every detail. When they introduce the guillotine in the other place a lot of matters are never discussed. We must thank the Minister for the way in which he has handled the Bill. I hope that, although it is a very revolutionary measure, it will be a great success.

Lord Gray

My Lords, having been so generously mentioned by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, perhaps I should say a few words. I should like to associate myself with some of the remarks that have been made about the difficulties that will have to be faced in coping with the administrative tasks set by this Bill, as were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Renton. I am grateful for the concessions and the understanding that we have received from the Government, especially on rebates, to which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway referred.

The Government have grasped the nettle whose sting has long been feared and avoided. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has not infrequently reminded us of the history of the years that led to this Bill. It does not need me to remind him that this was perhaps presaged 280 years ago in Article 9 of the Act of Union.

Having said that, I have probably detained your Lordships long enough. However, I should like to comment on drafting. I have several times criticised it. It is only fair to acknowledge that it is easier to pick holes in fabric than to create it. On some occasions, although not all, the draftsman of this Bill has deserved some sympathy. While the Bill was in the Commons a chunk which dealt with the transitional phase was removed. I readily acknowledge the care and attention which the points that I have raised have received from the Scottish Office team. I hope that the most significant errors in the Bill have been spotted by noble Lords. Although one may grudge the time spent on drafting amendments, when people wish to talk about points of principle it has to be remembered that if the drafting is wrong the principle may well be lost.

Finally, I wish to compliment my noble friends on the Front Bench and in particular my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, on their remarkable stamina and to thank them for the courteous and helpful way in which they have dealt with the sometimes perhaps tiresome points that I have raised.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I should like to associate myself with all that has been said in complimenting the Minister on his handling of this difficult and tiresome Bill. At the same time I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and to Members of the Labour Party Front Bench in this House, how much the House is indebted to them for their contributions to the discussions that have taken place. Their experience in government—and in local government in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael—has been extremely helpful to all of us in making this to a limited extent a more acceptable Bill.

I must confess that when the announcement of the general election was made I hurried to listen to the television upstairs in the faint hope that this may be one of the Bills that would suffer as a result of the declaration of the election on 11th June. I regret to say that so far as I can gather—and I am not anticipating a Statement that will be made later—the news reader on television tonight indicated that this miserable Bill would survive the events of the next three weeks.

Noble Lords have been looking back on their experience of local government. As a city councillor in Glasgow 50 years ago, the first thing that I did was to move a motion for the abolition of the local rating system. I never thought that that would be accomplished in my lifetime in this House. I deeply regret that it has been accomplished and replaced by a measure that is equally iniquitous. It is a divisive Bill. It makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. It is a "yuppie's charter". It provides that people in the South-East in large, valuable properties will pay the same as a man and women in a single end property in the city of Glasgow. That is a totally unacceptable principle. I hope that we shall hear a good deal more about that in the weeks ahead.

The Bill is unfair, difficult to administer, expensive, centralised and divisive. On top of that, the people of Scotland do not want it; and it is being imposed on them. That will create its own tensions in relations between Scotland and the Westminster Government. We have made these speeches to no effect during the passage of the Bill. According to the conventions of the House, I shall not oppose it, but the Minister must not underestimate the depth of feeling in Scotland against this measure.

7 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I too should like to say how grateful the House must be to the Minister for the way he has conducted this very difficult legislation through the House. His patience and competence are an example to all of us. If I may say so, as somebody who has not been in your Lordships' House for very long, I too now know what the phrase "vintage Ross" means. We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, for pointing out in such an astringent way the difficulties of the Bill. When I go home, having listened to him, I begin to think "Am I right?" Then I looked back to 1981 and saw with some relief that he was as critical of the Bill for the sale of Scottish council houses as he has been over this measure, and my spirits then began to rise again.

I should also like to say that the humour of the noble Lord, Lord Morton, was much appreciated by me, even though he wept crocodile tears over this Bill from beginning to end.

There is just one thing I should like to say about the Bill which relates to the business community. I know, as does the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that the business community always likes a whole loaf, not half a loaf. The indications given to me by the business community in Scotland are that we are moving in the right direction. However, there is one area which the Government must not forget; that is, that harmonisation by the assessors in Scotland and the valuers in England of the law relating to the business rate must be tackled because if it is not we are certainly not doing what the electorate want us to do for the business community and industry north of the Border will certainly suffer.

I have a feeling that when the Bill that affects England and Wales is presented we shall perhaps lose sight of this very important area for Scotland. Because of the exigencies of the timetable, we must not forget that we have to consider harmonisation north and south of the Border; otherwise we shall have let down the business community in Scotland.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I too must briefly pay tribute to my noble friends on the Front Bench, especially my noble friend Lord Glenarthur who has been extremely patient and able in his handling of a most complicated and lengthy procedure. It is the duty of oppositions to oppose, and those of us who are comparative newcomers to this House have watched opposition of a high quality being undertaken. I am not sure that we have had many new ideas from the other side, but we have had very good, very strong opposition which has been interesting to watch and beneficial to the Bill.

The most important aspect about the Bill in my view is the effect it is likely to have on the public understanding of local government in Scotland. Having been a councillor for some years I very much regretted how many people did not really pay attention to what we were doing, did not advise us constructively about what we should be doing and very often opted out altogether from commenting either at meetings or at the ballot box on what we were doing. For many years I have longed for something to happen which would make it possible for people to play a greater part. Now with almost everybody contributing something—albeit those least able to do so having account taken of what they have to pay through the benefit system—I believe that there will be an eye kept more interestedly and more assiduously by far more people. I believe that will make it much more fun to be a councillor as well as much more enjoyable to take part in political debate in local government.

I add to what my noble friend Lord Sanderson said about the acute need for the business rate to be dealt with. There is not only an acute need for domestic rates to be dealt with—and we are all agreed about that—but there is also a great need for enhanced interest by the public, and that, once the system comes into action and settles down, will take place.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, we are getting a bit nearer the end of that road. We leave a problem for the other House with the considerable number of amendments that we have made. I should have liked to list all those that were of great advantage. Some of them are important, but on the whole the Bill is virtually the same as it was when it was sent to us such a short time ago.

I agree with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, that it has been a terribly rushed job. The fact that we had such a short time between Second Reading and Committee, a shorter time between Committee and Report and an even shorter time between Report and Third Reading placed a very considerable strain on Members, not all of whom were taking a full part in the House. In fact, I heard more Scots speakers on Third Reading than I heard in any other part of the proceedings. I do not blame them for that because they were under orders that the Bill was more important than their speeches and that we had to get this through before the election. There was never a question of a May election because this Bill had to get through.

The importance of the Bill has been lost by some people. I have heard people making great analyses of the election results last week in England and Wales. They came to certain conclusions about what majority the Government would have if the results were carried forward. However, there were no elections in Scotland. We already know that the Conservatives have only 22 out of 72 seats in Scotland. By the time you translated that majority for the other parties into what was given by these analysts, much of the majority had disappeared.

The reason for the Bill was the hysteria that followed revaluation in Scotland. But the Government have not dealt with revaluation in it. The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, is quite right. He hopes they will run the right way, but there is nothing here about commercial interests apart from the fact that after 1989 the increase will be limited to the retail price index. That may be high enough, but the anomalies that people spoke about on the commercial side in Scotland are still there and will remain there until such time as we have a Bill that deals with what the Government promised to do in this Session of Parliament—to harmonise the systems of valuation in Scotland and England. That was the only pledge that was given—not this Bill.

The one aspect that was derided in every White Paper was a poll tax. Now we have one. No wonder the noble Lord has had a hard time. I do not know how thirled he was to the idea but I know that quite a number of noble Lords on that side of the House would not have had a poll tax on anything but would have preferred to be given a free choice. But poll tax it is; so after 1989 everyone over the age of 18 in Scotland, young or old, employed or unemployed, man or woman, every single one, dustman or Duke, simple and gentle, will have a poll tax. It will be the same for every person no matter what his station and stance is. His liability will be the same.

We do not know about rebates. We cannot be told as it is not there. We were told in November that the Bill is the basic framework for the new community charge system. Before the community charge system is actually set up a great deal more work will need to be done. Regulations will have to be made completing the detail of the system"— we shall not know about it— and dealing with the issues of the scheme of rebates to be introduced. They will be brought forward after discussions with local authorities … six to nine months after enactment. Local authorities should then have rather more than a year to set up the new system". That is discounting the fact that for the next six weeks nothing will be done because the people in charge are in charge of drawing up registration, sending out ballot papers, postal voting papers and the rest of it for the election.

The Bill itself is monstrously unfair, and no one can say otherwise. The whole of history says that about a poll tax, the crudest and most primitive form of tax that could be devised. No wonder it is complicated. I read in the Guardian of 28th November 1986: I can't help being relieved that Scotland is to be the legislative pacemaker. The scheme will be much more complex and expensive to administer. Those who so much dislike the level of their current rates may find that a change could mean worse". Those are the words of Mr. Timothy Raison, an English Tory MP.

Sir George Young said: It may well make sense in Scotland where the party's vote hovers around 20 per cent. and where the new system will bring quick relief to the faithful. I am not so sure that politics in England are so clear cut". This is why I have said time and again that I doubt whether this will ever be introduced into England, and that we in Scotland will be left high and dry with this embittering system. It will become the subject of politics. It will not last, like the rating system, for 150 years. We have to do something about the rates, but not this. That is what the Government themselves said until 1985. It is what the Tory Reform Group says today. It is certainly not fair and it is certainly not compassionate, and when you ignore the whole question of ability to pay you run into trouble.

The Government may be satisfied for the moment. They may tell the faithful that the measure is on the statute book. But 80 per cent. of the people of Scotland do not want it and only 20 per cent. of the people of Scotland support the Tory Party. This will not save their necks in Scotland. It will be hanging around their necks.

The noble Lord did a good job and I congratulate him on that. He never lost his temper although he must have been sorely tempted at times. He is more likely to lose his place than lose his temper, judging by the help he occasionally received from the Scottish Office. But the cavalry was there and it came. The noble Lord did a first-class job. I am sorry that it was on such a terrible Bill. Anyone who has anything to do with the making and passing of this Bill will rue it. The Scottish people will not forget.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank your Lordships for your kind remarks. I have learnt much about the present, let alone future, methods of local authority financing. I can honestly say that for most of the time at any rate I have enjoyed handling the Bill from this Dispatch Box. I repeat my grateful thanks to all noble Lords for the many constructive comments and good debates that we have had on ways to improve the Bill and on others which have not led to change. I fully acknowledge the great experience of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, even though I could not agree with him at every stage.

Nevertheless, we have reached the end of our deliberations here and I am grateful to all your Lordships.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.