HL Deb 27 April 1988 vol 496 cc208-10

2.52 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proposals they have to amend the proposed Scottish community charge arrangements to take account of the amendments agreed to during the passage through Parliament of the Local Government Finance Bill.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, we have always made clear that, if refinements were made to the community charge proposals for England and Wales, we should consider whether any parallel changes need to be made to the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987. A number of Scottish amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill were agreed to at Report stage of the Bill in the other place on Monday 25th April. These match provisions which are already in the Bill for England and Wales, or are otherwise of a minor or technical nature.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his assurance with regard to the changes in the community charge. Perhaps I may press him on the impact of the amendments, which have been agreed in the other place, on the business community in Scotland. He will be aware that his right honourable friend has decided that the uniform business rate will now be phased over five years. The present business rate places Scottish business at a great disadvantage. The Minister will be aware that close to his home is the Exxon Corporation which pays £9 million per annum in rates. If that plant were situated in England it would pay around £1.5 million per annum in rates. The uniform business rate—

Noble Lords


Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, will the Minister look at an earlier implementation of the uniform business rate within the terms of this Bill?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Of course I am aware of the problems to which he alludes and, as the noble Lord himself will know, we intend to bring forward the harmonisation of business rates between England, Wales and Scotland after 1990. I point out to the noble Lord that as from April 1989 the effect of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act is to give non-domestic ratepayers in Scotland the benefit of indexation of their rates. This benefit, which comes a year before the changes in England, will give the non-domestic ratepayers a degree of protection which they have previously lacked and a degree of certainty as to the likely level of their obligations.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what powers there are? We know that the Secretary of State for Scotland has said—and the Minister has repeated it here—that if there are changes in the Bill for England they will be considered for Scotland. Are there any powers that will enable the Secretary of State to do this? Will a separate Bill be needed? I sincerely hope that the Government will not include amendments to Scottish legislation on the poll tax in an English poll tax Bill.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I appreciate the point which the noble Lord makes. The Scottish amendments will be commenced by order, thereby enabling the timing of their introduction to be a subject for consultation and to allow flexibility in the work which goes on in that regard on the ground.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, if I heard the Minister aright, he said that it was the intention to introduce the uniform business rate by 1990, thereby avoiding the anomalies to which I have referred. Is it the case that the Minister's right honourable friend has now said that the uniform business rate will not be applied in 1990–91 but will be phased in over a further five-year period? Will that mean that these serious disadvantages in the case of Scottish industry will be maintained for another seven years?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, no. It is to be hoped that the differences between north and south of the Border will come to an end much sooner than that. However, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State obviously cannot give an assurance at present as to exactly when we shall have precise harmonisation north and south of the Border.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister referred to the Local Government Finance Bill as the flagship of the Government's programme? Can he recall the last time the flagship sailed with only two-thirds of the crew on board?

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, that may be so, but I think that all our flagship Bills this Session have very powerful sails and perhaps one or two have outboard engines!

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