HL Deb 13 July 1988 vol 499 cc846-920

4.13 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 Local Government Finance Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests so far as they are affected by the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

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

Moved, That the Bill he now read a third time.—(The Earl of Caithness.)

On Question, Bill read a third time.

Clause 1 [The charges]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1. line 12. at end insert— ("(2) The rights and duties of the charging authority under this Part shall he exercised having regard to any guidance issued under section (Guidance on Data Proleclion) below.'').

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 5 to 10. 1 hope it will be for the convenience of the House if we deal with what are not exactly the same matters but closely related ones which cover civil liberties and the release of personal data. In introducing the amendments I shall explain why I think it is appropriate for the three groups to be taken together.

The general purpose of the amendments is to enable the Government to think again about the implications of the poll tax for civil liberties, data protection and privacy. The position now that the Bill has passed its Committee and Report stages is that the Department of the Environment is to issue a practice note on data protection and privacy and that this practice note will be discussed with—and I hope agreed with—the local authority associations and the data protection registrar.

We seek in the amendments to ensure that certain of the most important principles of the Data Protection Act and certain of the most important elements in personal privacy in the compilation of the community charge register are taken fully on board in the preparation of' the practice note. If we have assurances from the Government this afternoon that they are prepared to take these into account and that these will be the basis of consultations with the local authority associations and with the data protection registrar, we shall not take the matter any further. We thought that we would try to put everything together in one go and consider the issue which faces the Government in the compilation of the register and the problems there will he in securing that the conditions of the Data Protection Act are fully adhered to.

I have a few questions for the Minister about the mechanics of the practice note and the decisions that are to be taken. We should like to know when the practice note is likely to be published. We should like to know the exact status of the data protection registrar. Will he not only be consulted but also have a veto over the practice note's contents? Does he have to be assured that the practice note is in accordance with the Data Protection Act? Finally, when the document is first issued for consultation purposes will it be available to the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament?

For our part we think that the community charge registration officers should have a statutory code to which they must adhere. We said that in an amendment at Report stage. I shall not rehearse those arguments again as that would be an improper use of the Third Reading procedures. However, it is important to know whether the community charge registrar will he able to use the practice note as a defence if anything he does is challenged by the district auditor, by judicial review or by the Secretary of State when exercising his default powers under Clause 27.

If the practice note is to be of any real value it must he a useful adjunct to the powers of the community charge registrar so that he can show that he is acting in accordance with the practice note. It must be a useful constraint on the activities of the community charge registrar that if he is not acting in accordance with the practice note, this may be brought out into the open.

Amendments Nos. 1, 7 and 9 refer specifically to the data protection regulations. Amendment No. 9, which is the critical one in this group, says that: The Secretary of State shall. within three months of Royal Assent. issue guidance to charging authorities and registration officers on Data Protection matters".

It goes on to state that he shall consult the data protection registrar. It says that any guidance issued will be without prejudice to the generality of guidance to be issued to local authorities or registration officers. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 deal with a matter which was rehearsed both in Committee and at Report stage. They deal with the problem of even names and addresses being vulnerable and sensitive material if they relate to persons who are under threat of violence.

We understand and appreciate the Government's agreement that the names and addresses of those who are under threat of violence will not be published and will not be made available in the community charges register in any way. But that agreement has not resulted in amendments on the face of the Bill and we should have preferred them to be on the face of the legislation. That is why we have put down this amendment.

Amendments Nos. 8 and 10 refer to the equally sensitive matter of social services information; that is, information from social services departments or local authorities carrying out their social services functions. Here again the issue is very similar. The Association of Directors of Social Services and the British Association of Social Workers have no doubt circulated many of your Lordships on the matter. They, and we, feel that the mere availability of the name and address of those who are the clients of the social services departments is a dangerous breach of privacy and could lead to unfortunate consequences for individuals who find themselves on a published list, their relatives, their neighbours or other people who may be involved.

I hope that the Government will be able to give better assurances, preferably in the form of acceptance of this amendment, that the privacy of such people, who because they are clients of the social services department are among the most vulnerable members of our community, will be protected.

The ideal solution from all of this would be that the Government recognised the force of these amendments and accepted them as they are drafted. If they cannot do that, I hope that they will indicate that the principle of the amendments is acceptable and that suitable amendments can be introduced when the matter goes hack to another place. The clauses have already been significantly amended and there is an opportunity to do this. With those words I beg to move Amendment No. 1.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 10 and to seek the Minister's statements on how it is to be interpreted. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, the work of the social services is very sensitive and most vulnerable. The social services deal with mental health, the elderly, the physically impaired. children, young persons with their families and the homeless.

Included in dealing with children and young persons is adoption. Under Section 14 of the Adoption Agency (1983 Regulations) it is laid down that: Any information or recommendation or decisions made by virtue of these regulations should be treated by adoption agencies as confidential". So we have a division of opinion here. In one Act of Parliament it is laid down specifically that confidentiality, in all its forms, should be maintained; yet if this Bill goes through as it is, it will be contrary to the adoption regulations. Indeed. it is contrary to the ethos, the background and the training of all social workers.

There is a second point I should like to make. In time gone by social workers and the medical profession had disagreements with one another as to how they would use each other's information. Quite rightly, the doctors laid down that they could not give social workers medical information unless they were assured that it would be strictly confidential. Any information which was given to the social services was given with the permission of the patient, so that the doctor did not break the patient's confidence. But social workers must he very careful not to divulge information as regards their clients which they have received from the medical profession in the course of their work.

Therefore this is a most difficult area. When we discussed the matter on the last occasion, my noble friend the Minister said that sensitive information would not be available but that names and addresses would be. That brings me to another difficult point. At present the social services departments are trying to break down large office areas into small areas. It is known that if you go to the social services department, especially in a small area, you are in some kind of trouble. Further, the Cleveland situation illustrates the fact that this is a deeply sensitive area. If you are going backwards and forwards to the local social services, or people from there are visiting you, there is the supposition that you are in some kind of difficulty, which indeed you are.

So we are in great difficulty if Amendment No. 10 is not accepted. partly because it is in opposition to other laws. But my noble friend the Minister may have discussed the matter with his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. Further, the Association of Directors of Social Services and the British Association of Social Workers ask that they might have consultation with my noble friend because it is such a sensitive and difficult area.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful'. The information she talks about is highly confidential. Therefore the smallest leak could have quite dire effects in some instances. I thought she put the case very well indeed. I should like to back up the final point she made; namely, that the British Association of Social Workers should have the opportunity, perhaps when the regulations are being drawn up, to make sure that in the regulations the points of view which have been expressed by her are well understood.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I think that this whole group of amendments is of considerable importance. However, I should like to say something concerning Amendment No. 6, which deals with people living under threat of violence. That might be thought to be rather a general expression, but I should like to spell it out a little further.

I can easily think of people who have suffered intimidation from terrorists in Northern Ireland and who come to England, or Wales maybe, in order to escape from the situation and to live a normal, peaceful life. I speak especially of people who have broken with para-military organisations. There are also refugees who have been granted asylum in Britain but who may well fear persecution or counter measures being taken against them by the country from which they have fled. One thinks especially of people coming from Israel and South Africa.

It is not necessary to be a refugee to be in fear of or threatened by violence. For instance, there have been Libyan students who have spoken out against their government and who have got into trouble while studying bona fide in Britain. Again, in a more domestic line, there are people in this country who have given evidence against ordinary criminals, especially in drug cases or in cases of major thefts and frauds, and who may well be in fear of revenge from those against whom they have testified.

What I like about this amendment is that it puts the onus on the person who is under threat to make clear to the registering or charging authority that that is his situation and that he wishes to be protected. Therefore I hope that the Government will at least be able to accept this amendment and also the spirit behind the others.

4.30 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey said, there are three sets of amendments within this group. One is concerned with data protection; one with social services records; and one with arrangements for omitting names from the public extract from the register. It maybe helpful to your Lordships if I respond in turn to each of the three sets of amendments just as the noble Lord set out in very clear terms the reasons behind the three sets.

First of all, I should like to speak about data protection, Amendments Nos. 1, 7 and 9. The amendments on that subject are similar to a number of amendments we discussed at Report stage, which were in turn similar to amendments we discussed in Committee. Of course I do not object at all to having to state the Government's position for a third time; but I think I should make clear to your Lordships that that is what I am doing. There is nothing new of substance in what I have to say in reply. In the Government's view the arguments against the amendments are as compelling as ever.

I said at earlier stages that the Government take concerns about civil liberties and data protection very seriously. I repeat that now. As I have said before, my honourable friend the Minister for Local Government has met the data protection registrar and has agreed to co-operate with him in drawing up guidance for registratrion officers and charging authorities on operating the community charge system in the light of the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

I can update your Lordships on the situation. I know that your Lordships will be pleased to know that discussions are now under way between my officials and the data protection registrar's staff about the form and content of this guidance. That answers one point of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Perhaps I may at this point answer the other two. Our aim is that the guidance should be agreed with the registrar, and we are confident that it can be. As I have already said, the draft is being discussed with his office. Let me give your Lordships this assurance: all the practice notes will be placed in the Library of the House.

The amendments before your Lordships would give the guidance some sort of statutory basis, by requiring the Secretary of State to issue it and by requiring registration officers to have regard to it. I explained at Report stage why I do not believe statutory guidance would be appropriate. We shall be issuing a whole series of non-statutory guidance and practice notes, of which this will be only one. They will be non-statutory because we do not wish to offer an authoritative interpretation of the law, and because we wish to be able to offer guidance of a more mundane, practical nature than would be appropriate in a statutory document.

I acknowledge that in drafting these amendments the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has taken account of what I said at Report stage. He has altered the terminology from code of practice to guidance, and he has provided that the guidance should be without prejudice to the generality of other guidance that may be issued. But I fear, if I may be so bold as to suggest it, that he has missed the fundamental point. Whatever we call the guidance which the noble Lord wishes us to issue, the fact remains that it will be given some undefined statutory force by his amendments, and the Government do not believe that would be helpful or appropriate.

It is relevant in this context to remind the House, as I did at Report, that your Lordships deleted a requirement, in what became the Local Government Act 1986, for local authorities to have regard to a code of practice. I missed having behind me my noble friends, Lord Renton and Lord Campbell of Alloway who took an active part in those discussions. It is my firmly held view that if we were to accept the noble Lord's amendments we would achieve nothing of substance and we would risk causing confusion about the force of the data protection guidance and about its relationship to other guidance that is issued.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister would be able to help the House before he moves on from that point. On the status of the practice note, I asked him specifically whether the community charge registration officer would be able to use that as a defence if he was challenged by the district auditor or by judicial review or by the Secretary of State suggesting that he had not compiled the register with sufficient vigour. It is important in understanding the status of the practice notes to know whether that is the case.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, of course I shall be able to answer the noble Lord before I finish. I must stress, however, that in practice the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, will get precisely what he wants. Guidance will be issued by the Secretary of State and I have absolutely no doubt that it will be borne in mind by all registration officers and charging authorities. I cannot however agree to these particular amendments, for the reasons I have given. I shall of course come back to the point of which the noble Lord has just reminded me. I apologise for not answering it sooner.

I turn next to Amendments Nos. 8 and 10 concerning social services records. This set of amendments is rather similar to the groups with which I have just dealt on data protection. The proposal is that the Secretary of State should be required to issue guidance which possesses some ill-defined statutory force. Your Lordships will, I am sure, appreciate that the amendments are unacceptable to the Government for precisely the same reasons as I have just given in respect of the data protection amendments. Therefore with the permission of noble Lords I shall not repeat those arguments.

I should however like to offer some additional comments about the precise terms of the amendments, rather than on the principle of issuing statutory guidance. The amendments seek to provide that, generally, registration officers should only be able to request names and addresses for social services records, and they should not be able to request even names and addresses, if some alternative source of information is available. The proposals are largely otiose.

The Government have already made it clear on several occasions—indeed I stressed the point at Report—that the information which a registration officer may demand will be restricted to that which he requires in order to carry out his functions. That is, the names and addresses of adults and, where relevant, the length of time the person has spent at that address. In other words, the first part of the proposed guidance is unnecessary. Registration officers will simply have no power to require social services departments to supply any sensitive or personal data. The basic information will be names and addresses, not an individual's personal history or even the reason why he is known to the social services department.

The second part of the proposed guidance is also otiose. The suggestion is that even names and addresses should not be accessed if some alternative source of information is available. In practice, registration officers will simply not need to refer to social service records if they already have the name and address of an individual. If, for example, a person's name is included in a canvass form in the normal way, he will be included on the register, and there will be no need for any cross-checking with other sources of data. If a registration officer asks for information from the social services department it will be the names and addresses he does not have which he will be seeking; not those he already has in his possession. We shall make these points clearly in the guidance we intend to issue concerning the community charge and data protection—that is the guidance which we discussed earlier.

I should like at this point to respond to the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Faithfull. She suggested that it would in some way infringe the privacy and confidentiality of an individual if even his name and address were passed from the social services department to the registration officer. I respect my noble friend's motives in making this point. We have all been moved by what we have learnt in recent weeks about the Cleveland affair. I think we all appreciate that we are dealing here with a very sensitive issue. But we must not allow our judgment to be clouded. So that it is absolutely clear, I must repeat that the registration officer will not have access to an individual's case history, nor even will he know the reason why the individual is known to the social services department. It is simply not the case that contact with the social services department is indicative of problems in one's family, as my noble friend suggests. Most people are known to the social services department for much more mundane reasons. They may be receiving meals-on-wheels or they may have an elderly relative of whom they are the next of kin.

Moreover, as I have said, if a person complies with the statutory duty and makes sure that the registration officer knows his name and address, then there will be absolutely no need for the registration officer to cross-check with the social services department.

However, I very much take my noble friend's point that there should be adequate consultation before regulations on these issues are laid. I can give her and the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, who raised the same matter an absolute assurance on that point. I hope I have said enough to quell at least some of the concerns of my noble friend. I simply do not believe that there will be any infringement of privacy if names and addresses are in some cases passed to the registration officers. Nor for the reasons I have given can I accept that these amendments are appropriate or desirable.

Perhaps I should just say one more word on preservation of confidentiality. I am advised that the provisions in this Bill will take precedence over the confidentiality rules mentioned by my noble friend. I say this for two reasons. First, because this Bill places a statutory duty on local authorities to comply with the registration officer's requests; secondly, because the information requested will only consist of names and addresses, not of any confidential material.

Finally, I come to Amendments Nos. 5 and 6. They are concerned with the public extract from the register. Once again, this is an issue of considerable importance to which we have rightly returned more than once during our discussions on the Bill. As I have said on those occasions, the Government accept that some individuals should have the right to ensure that their names (and, where appropriate, addresses) do not appear on the published extract of the community charges registrar.

I have also given an undertaking that the necessary provision will he included in regulations made under what is now paragraph 17 of Schedule 2. That paragraph and those regulations will deal with matters concerning the extract from the register. The proposed amendment to Clause 6, I believe, therefore risks causing confusion. That is because Clause 6 deals entirely with the full register which will not, of course, be publicly available.

It may also be of interest to your Lordships to know that, as evidence of the Government's commitment on the matter, an initial discussion has already been held between officials of my department and representatives of the local authority associations to consider a preliminary draft of the community charge regulations. Among the issues discussed was the question of the names and addresses to be excluded from the publicly available extract of the register. The local authority representatives made a number of helpful points that we shall certainly consider. In the same way I can of course give an undertaking that the views expressed by your Lordships' House will also be taken into account.

I know that this is a matter of genuine concern to all sides of the House. I do not think there is anything between the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Hylton, and myself. We all wish to ensure that, wherever an individual would be at increased risk of violence if his or her name and appropriate address were to appear on the register extract, then those details should not appear. I can give an absolute assurance that the matter will be dealt with in the regulations made under paragraph 17 of Schedule 2. In framing the regulations we are already discussing these matters with local authority representatives. On that basis I hope that the noble Lord will accept the arguments that I have put forward.

Before concluding, perhaps I may answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that I omitted to answer earlier with regard to the relevance of the practice note. It will he a relevant consideration in any proceedings that might be brought on this issue.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I listened with great care to what the Minister said. I am grateful to him for his clear explanation.

I think it was worthwhile debating the three issues together. They are related although they are not the same. The result is that I am led to different conclusions about what steps I should now take with my amendments on the three different issues.

As to the first issue raised by Amendments Nos. 1, 7 and 9, on consideration I accept that the matter should not be pressed to a vote. I believe that what the Minister said about the status of the practice note and the collaboration already taking place voluntarily involving the data protection register goes some way to giving the assurances I sought. I believe that it would be right for me to beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 1.

I ought first, however, to refer to the other two groups of amendments, Amendments Nos. 5 and 6, concerned with the threat of violence; and Amendments Nos. 8 and 10, concerned with social services matters. On the threat of violence, we have had a clear assurance from the Minister that the regulations that will protect those under threat of violence from publication of their names and addresses will have sufficient force for us to be satisfied that the protection will be real. On that basis, I give notice of my intention not to move Amendments Nos. 5 and 6.

When it comes to social services matters, I am afraid that I am far less satisfied with what the Minister said. In answer to a questin from the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, he confirmed that the regulations will now take precedence over those that caused her most concern—the adoption regulations —and that this brings with it a threat to the absolute confidentiality that has until now obtained with the adoption regulations and brings into threat the whole confidentiality basis on which social workers and social service departments deal with their clients. I think that the issue here is very different from that in regard to the data protection register. The Association of Directors of Social Services and the British Association of Social Workers are profoundly dissatisfied with the Minister's answers at previous stages of the Bill. As he himself has fairly made clear, he has no further proposals to make.

I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 1. I think that it is as well to give notice that I shall move Amendment No. 8 formally and seek the opinion of the House on that matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Underhill had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 2: Page 1. line 12, at end insert— ("(2) The rights and duties of a charging authority under this Part shall apply whether any community charge, or any part thereof, is collected for the purposes of financing the expenditure of the authority or of meeting a precept of any authority referred to in section 70 below.'').

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a brief statement on Amendment No. 2 and the full group of 10 amendments in my name dealing with the public transport authorities.

After the amendments were deposited, the view was advanced by the Clerks that the issue of levying had been determined by the House and therefore the amendments were not in compliance. I advanced various arguments, particularly that the important principle in the main Amendment No. 59 had never been before the House. However, following further deliberations, I recognised that the amendments must be considered in view of the decision of the House that normally the advice of the Clerks on matters of this kind should be accepted by the Peer in question. In the light of that advice and its approval by the Leader of the House, whose opinion I respect, I do not intend to press the amendments although I take this course with the deepest regret.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 5 [Persons subject to collective community charge]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 3: Page 4, line 16, leave out ("and").

The noble Earl said: My Lord, in moving Amendment No. 3, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 4, 11, 13, 18, 19, 20, 64, 69, 72 and 73, which are government amendments. I shall inevitably touch on Amendments Nos. 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey.

In Committee and on Report we had two very interesting and constuctive debates on the subject of the community charge and those who stay in short-stay hostels. On Report, I put forward a scheme under which those staying in such hostels and night shelters would automatically have had to pay only 20 per cent. of the community charge without the need to apply for a rebate. However, concerns were still expressed from a number of those who took part in that debate, and I said that I would convey the views of your Lordships' House to my right Honourable friend the Secretary of State and give the matter still further thought. The government amendments in this group reflect the outcome of that further consideration. Amendment No. 64 provides a power in Schedule 1 to specify in regulations an exemption from the community charge. This links to Amendment No. 4, which in turn gives a regulation-making power under which a category of property will not he subject to the collective community charge. In other words, we shall define a category of domestic property that will be entirely exempt from the collective community charge and the personal community charge.

The main amendments in the group take the form of a regulation making power. I am afraid that the Government had no alternative but to proceed in this way in view of the shortness of time between Report and Third Reading and the desirability of carrying out consultation on the criteria to be used in determining the exemption.

As I say, we shall be consulting on the exemption, but I wish to place on the record the Government's undertaking as to the types of property to be covered by this exemption. Your Lordships will recall that at the end of the debate on this subject on Report I said that I would reconsider the position of hostels and similar establishments that did not levy a charge on those who stayed there. However, in considering this matter further since then, the Govenment have concluded that it would be appropriate to extend the exemption not just to short-stay hostels that are free but to those that do levy an accommodation charge on some or all those who stay there. In other words, we shall exempt not only those who stay in night shelters but those who stay in short-stay hostels such as are provided by the Salvation Army.

That brings me to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. His amendments relate only to hostels that do not levy an accommodation charge, and to organisations such as Crisis at Christmas, which we have discussed at earlier stages. As regards the former category, I am sure the noble Lord will welcome the undertaking I have just given—that our regulations will exempt not just night shelters that do not charge but short-stay hostels which do levy an accommodation charge.

As regards Crisis at Christmas and similar organisations, there has been some uncertainty at earlier stages as to whether the collective charge would he a possibility, given that some of those staying there, we understand, are resident elsewhere. I undertook at an earlier stage that there would be consultation with those concerned. I repeat that undertaking. 1 can also confirm that we shall ensure that those staying in accommodation provided by Crisis at Christmas and similar organisations do not have to pay the community charge there. If necessary we shall use these new regulation-making powers to ensure just that.

I hope that what I have said today will he welcome to your Lordships' House. It will mean that those staying in short-stay hostels, such as those run by the Salvation Army, and night shelters will not have to pay any charge, and that the churches and charitable bodies providing the accommodation will not have to make arrangements to collect a charge on behalf of the local authority.

We shall be debating in a little while the non-domestic rate bills that charities should pay. I should point out that most hostels at the moment pay rates. After 1990 they will pay neither the community charge nor rates on the domestic parts of those hostels. The churches and charities concerned stand to make a significant saving as a result.

During the Report stage of the Bill my noble friend Lord Sandford asked me to go to the Salvation Army hostel close to the Palace of Westminster and near my offices in the Department of the Environment. I understand that that one hostel alone is expected to save nearly £6,000 a year as a result of this further concession that the Government have made today. I beg to move.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I mentioned at earlier stages of the Bill two charities which I know very well in the Birmingham area. The observations that the Minister has just made are very welcome and will be of fundamental importance to the charities that are doing such good work for such a very deprived group of people—men in the main—in the community. On behalf of the two charities that I have mentioned and those that other noble Lords have mentioned, I say thank you to the Minister.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I believe that this is "thank you" number 28, but I should like to make it "thank you" number 28, star, or even number 28, two stars! When we come to them I shall withdraw my Amendments Nos. 12, 14, 16 and 17 not only with alacrity but with enthusiasm, because as the Minister pointed out the amendments which the Government have now put down go further than we were seeking to go at this stage.

I am very pleased indeed that the Minister recognised the argument that there are certain hostels which in no way differ in their charitable purpose from those which do not make any charges, but which make a charge, sometimes a token charge, as a matter of discipline and as a way of encouraging the self-respect of those who have to stay in those hostels. The Government have listened with care and understanding to the arguments which have been put forward by noble Lords from all parts of the House on this matter over the weeks in which we have been considering this Bill.

The Minister is right in saying that charities which run this kind of hostel will now benefit very substantially, not just over and above the proposals which the Government had put forward in this Bill but above the present situation where they pay non-domestic rates. I hope that I speak for all noble Lords who have taken part in these discussions when I say that we are grateful for the concessions that the Government have made and we are content with the amendments.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I am happy for once to be able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and to say how much I too welcome the concession which my noble friend has announced in respect of hostels. I am sure it is a sensible decision and will do much good. We shall come to the general matter of charities later, but 1 am sure that my noble friend has done the right thing as regards hostels. I am sure, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. said, that noble Lords in all parts of the House will welcome the concession a great deal.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 4: Page 4. line 20. at end insert (". and (d) the building does not fall within a description prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph by regulations made by the Secretary of State.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6 [Community charges register]:

[Amendments Nos. 5 to 7 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 8: Page 5. line 27, at end insert— (SA) A registration officer shall, in carrying out his functions under this Part, have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State under section (Guidance on Social Services Matters) below, without prejudice to the generality of any other advice issued").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the reasons that I gave in the discussion on Amendment No. I, and because these amendments refer to the confidentiality of records from social services departments and because the answer given by the Minister in this respect, but only in this respect, was quite unsatisfactory, I beg to move Amendment No. 8.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, to be absolutely clear, I should say that we are only talking in these amendments about names and addresses.

4.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 104; Not-Contents, 152.

Addington, L. Blackstone, B.
Airedale, L. Blease, L.
Ardwick, L. Bonham-Carter, L.
Attlee, E. Briginshaw, L.
Auckland. L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Aylestone, L. Carter, L.
Banks, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Birk, B. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Molloy, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Monson, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Morris of Kenwood,L.
Diamond, L. Morton of Shuna, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Mountevans, L.
Dormand of Eastington, L. Mulley, L.
Ennals, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Nicol, B. [Teller.]
Faithfull, B. Oram, L.
Falkender, B. Parry, L.
Falkland, V. Perry of Walton, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Peston, L.
Fitt, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Gallacher, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller]
Galpern, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Gregson, L. Raglan, L.
Grey, E. Rathcreedan, L.
Hampton, L. Rochester, L.
Hanworth, V. Seear, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Seebohm, L.
Henniker, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hughes. L. Serota, B.
Hunt, L. Simon, V.
Hylton, L. Stedman, B.
Jacques, L Stewart of Fulham, L.
Jay, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Jegar, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L
Jenkins of Putney, L. Thurlow, L.
John-Mackie, L. Tordoff, L
Kilbracken, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Lawrence, L Underhill, L.
Leatherland, L. Vernon, L.
Listowel, E. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe B. Walston, L.
Lockwood, B. White, B.
Lovell-Davies, L. Williams of Elvel,L.
Mclntosh of Haringey, L. Willis, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
McNair, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Marsh, L.
Masham of Llton, B. Winstanley, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Winterbottom, L.
Milford, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Aldington, L. Davidson, V. [Teller]
Ampthhill, L. Denham, L. [Teller]
Bathurst, E. Dilhorne, V.
Bauer, L. Donegall, M.
Beaverbrook, L. Dormer, L.
Belhaven and stenton, L. Dulverton, L.
Beloff, L. Dundee, E.
Belstead, L. Effingham, E.
Bessborough, E. Elibank, L.
Blatch, B. Ellenborough, L.
Blyth, L. Elliot of Harwod, B.
Borthwick, L. Elliot of Morpeth, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Fanshawe of Richwood, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Ferrier, L.
Broadbridge, L. Forbes, L.
Caccia, L. Fraser of Kilomorack, L.
Caithness, E. Gainford, L.
Camden, M. Gibson-Watt, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Gisborough, L.
Camphell of Alloway, L. Glenathur, L.
Camphell of Croy, L. Goold, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Gray of Contin, L.
Carnock, L. Gridley, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Cathcart, E. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Chelmer, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Cornwallis, L. Harvey of Prestbury, L.
Cox, B. Hemphill, L.
Craigton, L. Henley, L.
Cranbrook, E. Hesketh, L.
Croham, L. Hives, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Holderness, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Reigate, L.
Hood, V. Renton, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Renwick, L.
Llchester, E. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Rochdale, V.
Joseph, L. Romney, E.
Keyes, L. St. Davids, V.
Killearn, L. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Kimball, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Kinnoull, E. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Knutsford, V. Sandys, L.
Layton, L. Selkirk, E.
Lindsay, E. Sempill, Ly.
Long, V. Shannon, E.
Lurgan, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Lyell, L. Skelmersdale, L.
McAlpine of Moffatt, L. Somers, L.
McFadzean, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Stange, B.
Margadale, L. Strathcarron, L.
Marley, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Merrivale, L.
Mersey, V. Strathspey, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Swansea, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Swinton, E.
Moyne, L. Terrington, L.
Munster, E. Teviot, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Nelson, E. Trafford, L.
Newall, L. Trefgarne, L.
Norrie, L. Trumpington, B.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Vaux fo Harrowden, L.
Orkney, E. Westbury, L
Orr-Ewing, L. Wigram, L.
Oxfurid, V. Windlesham, L.
Pender, L. Wise, L.
Pennock, l. Wolfson, L.
Porritt, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Portland, D. Yarborough, E.
Pym, L. Young, B.
Rankeillour, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Rawlinson of Ewell, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.5 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

Clause 9[Liability to contribute]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 11:

page 7, line 12, leave out:"Subject to subsection (5) below,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 11: page 7, line 17, leave out subsections (5) and (6).

On Question, amendment agreed to

[Amendments Nos. 14 to 17 moved.]

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 18: page 7, line 28, leave out subsection (8).

Clause 10 [Contributions: interpretation of formula]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 19: page 8, line 1, leave out subsection (5).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 20: Page 8, line 14. leave our subsection (8).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 11[Contributions: further provisions]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 21: Page 8, line 32, leave out ("8 or 9") and insert ("7, 8, 9 or 10").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor amendment which is consequential upon the decision at Report stage to exempt monks, nuns and careworkers from the personal community charge. I beg to move.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, this helpful amendment carries out the decision which we reached at Report stage. We welcome it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16[Joint and several liability: spouses]:

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 22: Page 11, line 28, leave out subsections (1) to (9) and insert—

("(1) Persons aged over 18 who—

  1. (a) are married to each other and live together; or
  2. (b) being a man and a woman. live together as if they were husband and wife
shall be jointly and severally liable for any community charge, relating to any day in the period during which they live together. for which each of them is liable.

(2) In a case where—

  1. (a) both persons are jointly and severally liable to pay an amount by virtue of this section;
  2. (b)one person fails to pay all or part of it because of wilful refusal or culpable neglect; and
  3. (c) the other person accordingly pays an amount to the authority

that other person may recover from the first person an amount equal to the amount paid to the authority.

(3) Subject to subsection (2) above. one person to which this section refers may not recover from the other such person anything by way of contribution to any amount paid by them to the authority by virtue of this section.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 22 is designed to clear up drafting points and also to make the subsection shorter. At Committee stage various noble Lords raised questions concerning subsection (9) of the clause and suggested that the drafting might be better. That section states: For the purposes of this section people are married to each other if they are a man and a woman—

  1. (a) who are married to each other and are members of the same household, or
  2. (b) who are not married to each other but are living together as husband and wife".

It seems odd to have a provision which states that people are married to each other if they are not married to each other.

I suggest that the drafting of the provision in the Scottish legislation is preferable. It provides that persons who are married to each other and who live together or, being a man and a woman, live together as if they were husband and wife are liable. On an earlier occasion I had the pleasure of receiving some support from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. In an effort to better the wording of Clause 16, I have suggested wording which leaves the sense and structure of the Act as it is. The subsection would state: Persons aged over 18 who—

  1. (a) are married to each other and live together; or
  2. (b) being a man and a woman, live together as if they were husband and wife
shall be jointly and severally liable for any community charge", and so on. Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 are consequential on Amendment No. 22.

This is purely a drafting amendment. I believe that it entails no change whatever in the sense of the clause. It puts into rather less than half the number of lines what is at present a clause of over 30 lines, if that is an advantage—and I certainly think that it is an advantage. I think that it reads better. I shall be interested to know for what reason, if at all, the Minister opposes it. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, at earlier stages of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has criticised the drafting of Clause 16. At Report stage he put down some drafting amendments but then withdrew them. On this occasion he has adopted a much more radical approach and sought to redraft the whole of the clause.

As the noble Lord would expect, I have taken very full and careful advice about his amendment. The result of that advice is, alas, that I cannot accept the amendment because there are respects in which it produces a different result from the clause as it stands, and in one crucial respect it is incompatible with the basis of liability as set out in this Bill for England and Wales.

Perhaps I may start with three of the drafting problems we see with the amendment. First, in subsection (1)(a) the amendment refers to "persons aged over 18", whereas in fact it needs to apply to all individuals aged 18 or over.

Secondly, there is concern that the drafting of subsection (3) of the amendment is unclear in its reference to, one person to which this section refers". It is not apparent whether this means the person mentioned in subsection (2)(b) or to one person only. I fear that, in trying to modify subsection (8), the noble Lord has succeeded in casting doubt on the indemnity provided by the clause for an individual who has paid an amount on behalf of his spouse.

Thirdly, and most significantly so far, the noble Lord's amendment extends joint and several liability to the collective community charge. It was at the request of the Labour Party in another place that the Government previously restricted the clause so that it applied only to the personal and standard charges. However, I shall not he tempted into commenting further on the differences between the noble Lord's amendment and the attitude of the Labour Party in another place.

There is one more point that I must make on the amendment. The noble Lord's provision is considerably shorter than the version that presently exists in the Bill. Unfortunately, he has achieved that reduction at the cost of not relating Clause 16 to the way in which liability is built up elsewhere in the Bill. This is different from the approach taken in the Scottish Act and, as I said at Report, that is the main reason why these joint and several liability provisions are different in appearance from those in the Scottish legislation.

It may help if I explain matters in this way. Clause 16, as drafted, refers to the chargeable amount in respect of a chargeable financial year. That is the basic liability provision in Clause 12 (for the personal charge), Clause 14 (for the standard charge), and indeed Clause 15 (for the collective charge).

Subsection (2) of the amendment is unclear in its reference to an amount. It seems to assume that there is liability to pay on a daily basis. But in fact the Bill provides for individuals to be subject to a charge on a daily basis but liable to pay an amount in respect of the charge for a financial year. I must stress this important distinction between being subject to the charge and being liable for an amount. The noble Lord's compression of the drafting has caused that distinction to be lost.

I must admit that it has been fascinating and enjoyable to debate these matters with the noble Lord. As the noble Lord knows, my knowledge of law is not very great but I know that it has improved as a result of this debate. I very much appreciate his motives in trying to simplify the drafting of Clause 16, and I am sure that all your Lordships also appreciate his intentions. I hope that the noble Lord will accept from me that some of the parts which he has left out are crucial and that his amendment would not achieve the same purpose as the existing provision.

Lord Morton of Shuna

My Lords, I have done my best. If I had had any suggestion from the Minister that the drafting could have been improved I should have been happy for him to put forward an amendment taking out "over 18" and replacing it with "18 or over". That could easily have been done. Similarly I should have been quite happy if he had produced an amendment saying, "for any personal community charge". I fail to agree with him, but that is a matter on which no doubt we shall remain in disagreement.

The Government insist on what I must regard as the total ugliness of the concept of subsection (9), which is the basic mischief in the clause, that people are married to each other if they are a man and a woman (all right so far) who are married to each other and live together—so that by definition people who are married to each other but not living together are not married—or if they are a man or a woman who are not married to each other. That is really a most odd concept. However, if the Government insist on it going through, who am I to stop the confusion that I believe will inevitably result from the Bill?

I have done my best to aid the Government on a matter of pure drafting. This is not a matter of law but of common sense and straightforward English. If the Government will not accept the amendment, on their heads be the difficulties that will undoubtedly arise. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved]:

5.15 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 25: Page 12, line 31, at end insert— ("(10A) In seeking to recover any amount through liability under this section, a local authority shall have regard to the contents of any guidance issued under the section (Guidance on Joint (Ind Several Liability) below.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Bill raises a problem in connection with joint and several liability. It basically offends against the whole concept which is apparently the Government's basic premise in the Bill, that each person should be liable for their own contribution. If there is to be joint and several liability it should at least be clear what that amounts to. The purpose of Amendment No. 25—and I think that I should speak to Amendment No. 26 at the same time—is to clarify that. It suggests that guidance will be issued by the Secretary of State as to the attitude the charging authorities are to take in dealing with joint and several liability where it arises.

As I understand the position—and no doubt the Minister will tell me that I am wrong— joint and several liability is only invoked when someone does not pay his or her own personal poll tax. I am glad to see that 1 am right so far. The charging authority then goes to the magistrates' court and seeks to obtain a liability order, either against the person who has not paid or against the person's partner if the authority thinks that the conditions of Clause 16 are satisfied, or against both. Having obtained the liability order, the charging authority can then seek to deduct the liability from earnings, to deduct the liability from income support, or to go into the business of distress and sale of the person's goods.

One can visualise what may happen in the case of deserted spouses. It will obviously be very much easier for the charging authority to take action against the deserted spouse still living in the matrimonial home, who will have furniture, than to track down the elusive husband and try to attach liability to his earnings, which may well be much higher than the income of the wife he has deserted, to obtain payment from income support.

At earlier stages Ministers have said that charging authorities could be relied on to act responsibly. The question is, responsible to whom? Are they to be responsible to other charge payers by expending money and staff on tracking down a husband who has run off when, for minimal administrative effort, action can be taken against the deserted wife? Or are they to be socially responsible and chase after the high-earning husband, leaving the wife, whose whereabouts they know, to continue to exist on income support?

The Bill as drafted does not provide for charging authorities to be socially responsible in exercising their discretion. It does not tell them in what way they are to be responsible. The amendment at least leaves open the possibility of charging authorities being guided towards social responsibility.

It may be that the Minister will say that the amendments that were made on Report which enable recovery from the other partner alleviate the situation. I must say that that provision does not seem to relate to the real world. It seems to me that the idea that a wife who has been deserted will be able to pay the poll tax for her husband and then obtain recovery from him shows that those who are advising the Government—or indeed the Ministers themselves—do not have an appreciation of the situation as it exists. It does not seem to me that they appreciate what happens when there is a marital breakdown or separation of two people who are married but not married but living together. 1 beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, this is another occasion on which the noble Lord, Lord Morton, is seeking to write into the Bill amendments concerning matters on which I have previously given assurances to your Lordships' House. I do not entirely blame him for that, but 1 do believe it is unnecessary; and, indeed, that legislation would become even longer and more cumbersome if we attempted to write in provisos of this sort at every turn.

I repeat the assurance that I have given on previous occasions that my department, as part of its series of guidance notes to local authorities, will indeed be issuing guidance about the use of joint and several liability powers. That will set out the circumstances in which the Government believe that joint and several liability should he used. The Government do not believe that those powers should be used against a partner with no income; or, indeed, in any circumstances when the partner to whom the bill was originally sent had a sufficiently substantial income.

The guidance will also deal with the question of what should happen when a couple separate. That is an issue which we have also discussed during proceedings on this Bill but which is not raised specifically in the noble Lord's amendment. We shall give strong encouragement to local authorities to pursue the husband who leaves the marital home, rather than simply using joint and several liabilty against the wife who remains.

We shall he discussing that guidance with representatives of the local authority associations, as we do on all these matters. We shall issue the guidance as soon as we can. But, because questions of joint and several liability will not arise for some time, it may be that guidance on other topics—registration, for example—is issued first.

That brings me on to my final point about these amendments: a concern that they may actually cause uncertainty. I appreciate that the noble Lord has carefully said that the matters he lists are without prejudice to the generality of guidance issued to local authorities. But what would happen if, for example, the guidance were not given within three months of Royal Assent because of other priorities and the need to consult?

1 also refer back to the arguments that I put forward earlier, when we discussed data protection guidance, for resisting the suggestion that guidance should have statutory force. 1 am delighted to see that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway is now in his place since this is a matter of concern to him. I shall not repeat those arguments but I assure your Lordships that they apply just as much to joint and several liability as to data protection.

We are conscious of the importance of this topic and the need to provide guidance to local authorities. I hope the noble Lord will accept that there is nothing between us on this matter.

Lord Morton of Shuna

My Lords, it is very encouraging to have that information. Although the noble Earl said that it had been given at a previous stage of the Bill, I do not remember that it was all given. I think that we have received certain assurances now that we did not have before from the Minister. I am grateful for those assurances. However, what he has had to say about the timing of guidance brings us to the point that this Bill is being rushed through without having been properly thought out and, if I may return to the previous amendment, without being properly drafted either.

The Scottish Act was rushed through last year and we are now seeing a morass of amendments coming through which will cause chaos to those having to administer the Act in Scotland. No doubt the same thing will happen in England when next year the Government bring forward a Local Government Finance (Amendment) Bill. However, at this stage I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Clause 35 [Duty to set substituted amounts]:

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Clause 43 [Occupied hereditaments:

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)

My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 28 1 should point out to the House that, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 29.

Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 28: Page 25. line 27. leave out from ("be-) to end of line 29 and insert ("nil").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 28 I should like to start by reiterating my welcome for the radical changes made in this Bill, which has put local government finance into a far better situation. I should also like to express my admiration of my noble friend on the Front Bench for his grasp of the daunting amount of detail in the Bill, his courtesy and patience in dealing with us, his diligence, and not least his endurance. When I was in his shoes I dealt with a number of major Bills passing through your Lordships' House concerning the reorganisation of the water industry, housing finance and indeed the whole of local government, but I do not believe that I ever handled two major Bills simultaneously, as he is doing at the moment.

I have to couple those compliments with two notes of disappointment. The first is that 27 years on from what I think was called the Pritchard Committee the Government did not seize the opportunity when it appeared for making a change as radical in the field of relief for charities as they have elsewhere in the Bill and in doing so found new and additional ways of channelling the new-found personal wealth (of which there is now, thank goodness, more about) into worthwhile channels of care and concern. I hope that this opportunity will not be totally missed, but it is sad that it should come at the very last stage of this Bill.

My second disappointment is the relative failure of my noble friend and his colleagues in the department to act on the compelling arguments that were adduced at report stage and supported from all around the Chamber when this matter was last discussed. At that point the House let off my noble friend lightly upon his undertaking to look into the matter. However, at this stage we have no further opportunities for any further discussion and must come to a decision.

I do not want to rehearse at any length the arguments that I have put forward before, but briefly they centre on the fact that this local discretion about a rate which is decided locally, raised locally, spent locally and of which the cost of relief is felt locally, does not have any logical part in the new national scheme for the non-domestic rate. Nevertheless, there would have been a case for transferring into the new system if the track record for the exercise of that local discretion had been a good one. That cannot be said. The provision is uncertain and damaging in its effect on the national charities. My noble friend Lord Renton and other noble Lords explained how it affects budgeting and makes it very difficult. My noble friend has now come forward with a promise to make sure by regulation that 12 months' notice that the removal of relief has been granted will be given, and that is certainly a help.

It also falls in a very arbitrary way. When he was last discussing this matter with us my noble friend ventured the view that local authority discretion is exercised case by case. If I may say so, that remark betrays the unreal kind of world in which Ministers find themselves trapped from time to time. They are kept so busy by their departments that they cease to be able to use their own eyes and ears and they make remarks of that sort.

I have many papers which indicate the way in which the exercise of this local authority discretion over rate relief affects various categories of charity. I shall not go into them all but I shall give your Lordships an example of how the discretion exercised falls on village halls. They are a more or less homogeneous category of charities. I take examples from two counties. In Shropshire all the district councils grant full relief to all their village halls after a so-called careful case-by-case study. In Lancashire this case-by-case study leads to the village halls in Blackpool, Chorley, Fylde, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston, Ribble Valley and South Ribble all being thought worthy of 100 per cent. relief. However, in the districts of Blackburn, Burnley, Rossendale, West Lancashire and Wyre all the village halls are thought unworthy of 50 per cent. relief. Noble Lords can stretch imagination as much as they like, but these cannot be examples of a case-by-case discretion. The system simply does not work that way. Furthermore, it is inconsistent.

This rate relief is governed by the state of the local authority's finances or change of political control. Any thought that it reflects the nature and quality of the individual charities is so much eye-wash. However, even that would not prevail if the local authorities wished to keep this discretion. As I explained at the last stage, they do not wish to do so. Since then my noble friend has moved the goal posts a little. He said that he would introduce a requirement that a 12-month notice should be given before the withdrawal of relief. He has adjusted matters so that the cost of meeting this rate relief would be removed to some extent from the shoulders of the community charge payers towards the shoulders of business at large across the nation. He has promised effectively 75 per cent. relief on empty properties. None of that has persuaded the local authority associations that this is a discretion that they still want.

The further argument—and it is one on which I have received more information since Report stage—is that not all charities at present registered deserve relief. Certainly that, as a statement, is perfectly true; one could not disagree with it. But it is not an argument for continuing local discretionary rate relief. I have had no evidence—but perhaps there is some—that this discretion has been used to make life difficult for the less reputable charities. Noble Lords have only to cast their minds back to some of our debates about the more disreputable sects. It is absolutely clear that the exercise of discretion by the local authorities would have no discernible effect on its own on the huge finances of the Moonies or the Scientologists.

The disreputable and fringe charities need to be debarred not only from the relief from rates but from all their tax privileges, and not just from half the national non-domestic rate. That is a matter for the arm of the law, and the vigilance of the Charity Commission. It is not a matter for the discretion of 400 or so local authorities.

I shall have again to consider briefly the way in which the cost of this relief should fall. The figure to which my noble friend referred, with which I do not disagree, is that it could be up to £80 million, minus the amount of such discretion that is being exercised already and minus any further discretion that might be exercised in the future. My suggestion is that the cost of this relief from the national non-domestic rate should be met from the central national non-domestic rate pool. This would add less than 1 per cent. to the bills of all the payers of that rate. I have ascertained that the CBI would not have objected to that suggestion. However, if Her Majesty's Government wish that cost to fall in a different way, they can make provision either by adjusting the poundage of the national non-domestic rate or the rate support grant, or both—that is entirely in their hands—through the regulations which will be attached to this legislation.

My noble friend Lord Renton has figures which bear more precisely on my final point than do my remarks. The possibility is now being presented of making amends through this Bill for the effect of the EC court ruling on the loss to the charities that is occasioned by it.

We therefore come to the question of what should be done. When we were last debating this issue, there was very wide support in the House for similar amendments to those that I am moving today. My noble friends the Leader and the Minister listened to the debate and promised to consider the matter. With a rather heavy heart I withdrew the amendment to see what they could do, although I warned the noble Lord of his position if he failed to deliver. He has delivered to the extent that he will make clear when we reach Amendment No. 29, which is an amendment providing 80 per cent. rate relief for charities. The arguments for that amendment are nowhere near as compelling or respectable as those that I have adduced to your Lordships. It is in the nature of a deal, and sometimes deals are the best that one can get and sometimes they are not. Amendment No. 31, after Clause 43, follows with a regulation-making power to jack up the rate relief from 80 per cent. to 90 per cent., 95 per cent. and 100 per cent. The Secretary of State would not have to come back to the House in order to do so.

In the circumstances in which we find ourselves—by which I mean not only the parliamentary stage of this Bill but the fact that the new system of local government finance is coming into force and we can only speculate on how it will all work out— there is something to be said for this power. In the light of the circumstances then prevailing and a wish to do better by the charities than is suggested in Amendment No. 29, the Government could have a change of mind. I hope that they will. In the course of debating this set of amendments, if my noble friend gives us the undertaking that he accepts Amendments Nos. 29 and 31, I shall be prepared not to press Amendment No. 28 to a Division. I beg to move.

Lord Hayster

My Lords, I forget how many people have been involved in this issue or how many are in the House today. However, as has been indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, we are talking about three different percentages. The present percentage is 50; I am proposing 80 per cent; and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is proposing 100 per cent. The amendments in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, seek to give a mandatory 80 per cent. instead of 50 per cent. for charities. Associated with them, Amendment No. 34 halves that concession for unoccupied premises. But we can put that to one side.

This debate on charity rate relief has come a long way since I first raised it at Second Reading on 9th May. We are now all aware— partly I hope through help from myself and my noble friends and also from the noble Lord, Lord Sandford—of the fears in the charitable sector about the scale of rate increases that will occur under the Bill. Many noble Lords will remember my noble friend Lady Ryder of Warsaw (who would love to be here today but she is in Poland as she so often has to be in connection with her charitable work) starkly stating in her speech at Committee stage the kind of service provision that was at stake. From the Sue Ryder Foundation to MENCAP and Dr. Barnado's, there is a united plea for action from this House. I hope, like the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that we can all agree that something has to be done.

One of my favourite political autobiographies is Lord Butler's The Art of the Possible. Your Lordships will understand why later. The other thing that I have very much in my heart is my favourite television programme, called "Tales of the Unexpected". One never knows whether the Government will support one or not. The charities are not only united in their belief that something must be done; they naturally hope for the maximum help possible. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, would have given them the maximum possible rate relief. As I explained at Report stage the ideal of zero rating for charities is one that I support.

I believe that 100 per cent. rate relief would give charities financial security. It would offset the effects of VAT, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred, and it would provide uniformity across the country, which is a very good point. But it has one major defect: its inability to appeal to the Government. That is where my phrase about the art of the possible comes in, because this is the effect of my amendment. We are therefore left to advise the charities about what is possible. At this late stage of the Bill I am trying to honour my commitment and determination to help the charitable sector.

At Report stage I pointed out the three major reasons for increasing the level of mandatory relief; the limits of the local authorities to grant discretionary relief; the new burden of VAT and, finally, the need to spread uniformity of treatment of charities in a system of national non-domestic taxation.

Now I come to the tales of the unexpected. Local authorities are obviously short of funds. Even now they do not give three-quarters of the discretionary relief available. Under the Bill's original proposals half the cost of 50 per cent. discretionary relief would be borne directly by the community charge payers—an imposition few local authorities will he willing to make. But the move to 80 per cent. mandatory relief would save charities a major part of the new costs arising from revaluation. At the same time it offers local authorities the chance to increase relief to 100 per cent. with limited new burdens on their community charge payers. Secondly, the VAT charges will hurt charities, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has already pointed out, to the tune of some £80 million. This 80 per cent. relief would be worth a considerable sum and would cover at least part of this cost. Therefore, to my mind, it is an honourable compromise.

Although not offering total uniformity, which only 100 per cent. relief would, 80 per cent. relief would go a long way towards achieving the much sought-after equality of treatment for different premises. I do not know whether noble Lords remember my example of the two charity shops on different sides of the high street. They could not be guaranteed absolute equality of costs under 80 per cent. relief, but we can safely assume that the wild divergences that are possible under the 50 per cent. relief in the present scheme would not occur.

In all 80 per cent. does not offer the simplicity or the certainty of 100 per cent. relief. I feel rather like that Vicar of Bray. It does not compensate for the failure of local authorities to afford discretion and so on. But the charitable organisations with whom we all have links cannot afford a failure on our part to deliver help. So, in the last hours of this Bill's passage through the House, I have laid all my cards on the table. I offer the Government an honourable compromise in the interests of the charitable sector. If the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has it in mind to press his amendment, I must point out that without government support here he probably would not win, and if he did he would probably almost certainly lose in another place.

Secondly, my motives, and, I hope, his and those of other Members of the House, are entirely to do the best for our many charities. For their sakes I beg the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to withdraw his amendment to allow the charities to benefit.

5.45 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, with the leave of the House I believe it might be for the convenience of all your Lordships if I stated the Government's position.

Lord Renton

My Lords, the only difficulty about that is that if my noble friend replies now, under our rules of procedure and our very proper practice those of us who have anything to say now would not have the chance to say it later—

Lord Denham


The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)


Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, there is a precedent for this, if noble Lords will permit me to explain. On several occasions at Report stage when we had a group of amendments which included government amendments and where it was important for the proper consideration of that group to know what the Government's thinking was, we agreed that the Minister could speak at the outset of the debate without prejudice to the right of other noble Lords to join in afterwards. I hope that the House will agree that that is appropriate on this occasion.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am most grateful for the correction. I welcome the prospect of hearing my noble friend now.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for allowing me to speak now. Although there is no government amendment I believe it would be helpful, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, indicated, for me to put the Government's position clearly to your Lordships. I believe that it would help the discussion.

We are on familiar territory here. At Report stage my noble friend Lord Sandford moved amendments identical to those that he has moved now. At Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, moved an amendment identical to that which stands in his name and to which he has just spoken. At Report stage, in inviting my noble friend to withdraw his amendment I said that the Government would be looking at the whole issue afresh. We have done so. Therefore, it would help if I respond in detail to my noble friend's arguments.

My noble friend's amendment would give all charities total exemption from non-domestic rates on the properties they occupy. The Government remain of the view that that would be going too far. As I explained at the Report stage, the rating position of charities has been on the same basis since the recommendations of the Pritchard Committee were given effect in the Rating and Valuation Act 1961. In my view that puts the onus on those who want the change to justify it and also any increase in the amount of relief.

There have been few complaints since 1961 even though there have been two revaluations since then. Even during the past two and a half years since we announced our proposals for a national non-domestic rate and a further revaluation, my department has received very little correspondence on the subject. Much of the recent concern expressed in your Lordships' House has been in response to two particular issues: first, a selective report by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations about the effect of revaluation on charity shops and, secondly, the recent European Court decisions on value added tax.

In focusing narrowly on charity shops there is a danger of forgetting that these form a small proportion of premises occupied by charities. It is true that rateable values for prime shops can be expected to increase on revaluation, though increases for other categories of shops may be more modest. But rate bills for many other classes of property occupied by charities may well decline, particularly workshops, and also offices outside some of the prime centres. Even more significantly all domestic property used for charitable purposes will be entirely free of domestic rates. In many cases the bulk of the property occupied, as with Barnado's or the Salvation Army, will be domestic property, and now that we have accepted that all those staying in short-stay hostels are to be exempt from the community charge there will he no community charge liability to take their place.

I ask the House to take a balanced view of the impact of the Bill. In focusing concerns on shops your Lordships have touched on an area of great concern to others besides charities. As my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley and the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, put forcefully at earlier stages, small shopkeepers in our high streets are most concerned not only about revaluation but also about the problems that they face competing for space there with banks, building societies and estate agents.

Space on our high streets is limited. Only a limited number of shops can be within 100 yards of Sainsburys or Marks and Spencers. The number of charity shops has increased greatly in recent years and they have also tended to move out of the back streets and onto the high streets. No doubt that is a hard-headed commercial decision taken by the charities concerned, but I must say that it is hard on the small shopkeepers to find themselves in competition for space with charity shops which can pay high rents because they pay less rates. particularly if they have to subsidise charity shops out of their own rates which may also have increased substantially.

There is also concern about the recent European Court decision about VAT on building works and rents, though neither they nor we know how much the decision will cost charities. The Government have announced proposals to restrict its impact to the economy as a whole to £160 million and to phase it in, and they are consulting about the details.

But it is not logical to ask for a large rate reduction in compensation for an unknown VAT increase. It is not our policy that if one tax rises another must fall, especially when, as in this case, one is a central and another a local tax. In this particular case VAT is a central government tax. Local authorities will not sec it as fair that part of the tax revenue available to local government should be reduced to compensate for a change in national taxation. The impact of the change in VAT is a matter to be pursued with the Treasury. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has demonstrated, he has the capacity to adjust the national tax system to assist charities, as he has done repeatedly in recent years.

I argued in Committee and at Report stage that not all charities fall in the same unquestionably deserving category as Oxfam, the Sue Ryder Homes or Barnado's. Many others are thoroughly worthy bodies, such as the public schools and private hospitals, which perhaps do not need extra help from public funds. A few, such as some of the more unusual religious cults, do not merit the support that they now receive. Frankly, very few have much to do with charity as we understand it.

Of course there is a case for the reform of charity law. However, it is not as simple as that to superimpose a statutory definition on one which has grown from nearly four centuries of case law. The Goodman Committee, established by the NCVO in 1978, tried very hard and recommended minor modifications but it came up with no general solution. We must remember that the concept of a charity does not exist primarily as a qualification for tax concessions. Its original and main legal purpose is to determine that trusts will be upheld by law, even though their beneficiaries are uncertain and their duration unlimited. It may well be that the present definition is right for this purpose and necessarily considerably wider than the range of bodies we commonly regard as charities and deserving of special advantageous tax treatment.

It is in large part because of the difficulty of establishing a definition that would accord with what most noble Lords have in mind when we think of a charity that the Government think that it is right to maintain a significant element of local discretion. It is also a further argument against acting in haste.

My noble friend Lord Sandford has argued that local authorities should not have discretion as to the operation of national non-domestic rate. That approach appears to me to rest on two misconceptions. First, rates are not becoming a national tax any more than they are already because for many years there has been an equalisation of rates through the grant system. But in another and important sense rates will remain a local tax, albeit with a uniform poundage, because the proceeds will be statutorily dedicated to local government. Secondly, there will in many cases be a strong local input into the decision whether to give relief. Many charities—for example, charities for children and the homeless—will not only he raising money locally but also providing services locally, very often in cooperation with and in support of the council's own services.

Surely it is perfectly reasonable that local people should play a part in deciding whether to make a collective donation (for that is what it is) to such charities. Therefore, for the reasons that I have just given the Government remain firmly of the view that it would be wrong to respond to charities' temporary concerns about revaluation and VAT by way of a permanent 100 per cent. exemption from rates. I therefore again invite my noble friend Lord Sandford to withdraw his amendment in due course.

As I said earlier, in response to the concerns expressed in this House we have been looking again at whether the present 50–50 rule strikes the right balance between mandatory and discretionary relief. We have listened to the arguments and have taken note in particular of the fact that some charities—and 1 stress the word "some"—will face increases in rate bills as a result of revaluation. We have also taken into account the fact that discretionary relief costs some authorities more than others simply because of the concentration of charities in their area. They may find this hard to justify to residents once local businesses cease to bear a direct part of the cost.

I was grateful for what was said by my noble friend at the beginning of his speech. However, with respect, I believe that he was a little unfair on one point. Contrary to what my noble friend Lord Sandford said, we have already made a major concession on this matter but we promised to consider the matter further. I can now tell your Lordships of a further major government concession. We have concluded that an increase in the percentage of mandatory relief would be justified. I do not believe that, left to ourselves, we would have gone as far as the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, in his amendment. On objective grounds I should have found it possible to justify moving from half to two-thirds, or possibly even three-quarters, mandatory relief. Even at those levels one could be confident that the total rates paid by charities would be less than at present, even taking account of revaluation.

However, those amendments are not on the table. The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, providing for 80 per cent. relief, are on the table. After very serious and long consideration we have decided that it would he right for the Government to support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord. That is a major step and a considerable further movement from the concession that I was able to give your Lordships on Report. I hope that on consideration the House will be able to support the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Hayter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I think that it would be appropriate if I gave the view of the Opposition on this matter as early as possible. We have listened carefully to what the noble Earl has said. We have no hesitation in saying that the concession that he has made is not only generous but also the more appropriate of the two options open to the House at this stage of the Bill. We never fully agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that the exercise of local authority discretion was in itself bad. I believe that he is somewhat wrong in saying that all local authority associations agree with him on that matter. The Association of District Councils may well agree but some other local authority associations do not hold that view.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, it was the other way round.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the other way round in the sense that the Association of District Councils wishes to exercise discretion?

Lord Sandford

My Lords, in the sense that I had a categorical letter from the AMA and a rather ambiguous telephone message from the ADC.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful for that further intelligence. We on these Benches believe that there is scope for local authority discretion to be exercised.

The second reason we believe that the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, are more appropriate is the point so well made by the Minister: the categories of charities. As he said, some are totally deserving and we should like to give them as much support as possible. There are others—he mentioned private hospitals and public schools—to which he felt more neutral but we felt less neutral and which we should not wish to support in amendments to the Bill.

I believe we both agree that there are categories beyond that to which none of us would wish to give any particular support. Therefore, in waiting for the long overdue reform of charity laws, the option offered by the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and approved by the Government appear to us to be the better of the alternatives on offer. Perhaps I may say that it did not come entirely as a surprise to us. As soon as we saw the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, we knew that she does not exactly set herself up in opposition to the Government and that there must have been some indication of movement on the Benches opposite and in Whitehall.

We welcome the concession that has been made and I believe that that makes thank you No. 29. We hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will withdraw his amendment in favour of Amendment No. 29.

6 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, as my name has been mentioned, perhaps I may come in briefly. I should like to say to the Government that they are making a big mistake. I do set myself up in opposition to them. I was not able to speak at Report because my 'plane was late and I came in half-way through the debate. However, in Committee I explained why I thought 50–50 and local authority discretion was right even in the new circumstances.

There are many ways in which local government can help the sort of people, for example, who meet in village halls, as my noble friend Lord Sandford knows. They can grant aid to organisations which meet in village halls in order to help them pay for the use of the hall rather than give them the 100 per cent. relief—and some councils do that. There are many sorts of voluntary organisation. Private schools should pay half the cost of the services which are due through the local business rate. I do not believe that private hospitals should get away with that either. I do not believe that voluntary organisations, which raise a lot of money through, for example, bars or fruit machines, should get away with it. That would he quite wrong and I am very sorry to see it.

At the same time, perhaps I may respond to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said. I have tabled later a fail-safe amendment which, should the Government get away with what they are accepting or should my noble friend Lord Sandford get away with what I believe is a somewhat disastrous amendment, would ensure that suitable changes are made to match the Scottish Act. In spite of the views I expressed in the passing of the Scottish Act, I do not believe it is right in any way for charities in Scotland to be at a disadvantage against those in England and Wales. Therefore, I should like to tick my noble friend off on this matter. I am a bit disappointed in him.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches arc very glad to welcome the Government's acceptance of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may say, not surprisingly, that we have had most carefully considered speeches from your Lordships and from the noble Baroness with very strong reasons expressed so clearly in each speech. I have no wish to repeat anything that my noble friend Lord Sandford said or that I said on Report. However, perhaps I may just remind your Lordships that on Report I said that I was influenced by the cost. I then said that I would not support an amendment which cost £80 million but I would support one which cost £20 million. We are in a rather similar position now.

I should like to acknowledge the generosity and the immense amount of care which have so far been displayed not only by my noble friend Lord Belstead but also by my noble friend Lord Caithness in thinking about these matters and in presenting them to your Lordships. I do not believe that anyone, whether in agreement or disagreement with the Government, could have hoped for better service to the House.

This question of cost is rather interesting. I received a copy of the letter which my noble friend Lord Caithness sent to my noble friend Lord Sandford which said that the cost of the 50 per cent. mandatory relief would be £90 million. To make that 80 per cent. adds another £54 million, so that it would cost £144 million altogether. Of course that includes the present 50 per cent. mandatory relief. To go the one step further in the way in which my noble friend Lord Sandford wishes would cost another £36 million gross.

Of course from that has to be deducted a figure of probably 20 per cent. covering those cases where charitable relief was refused, reducing it to £29 million. This is a question of judgment and responsibility. My noble friend Lord Sandford, if I may say so, made a very sensible offer to the Government. If they would accept the 80 per cent. as in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, plus Amendment No. 31 which I propose, he would not press his amendment.

I am rather disappointed that so far my noble friend Lord Caithness has not mentioned the opportunity which some of us would like to give the Government to increase the amount by order to 100 per cent. if at some future unspecified date the circumstances were to change. Let us suppose we find that local authorities become browned-off with this business of having to use their discretion and that they grant relief in nearly all cases or refuse it in nearly all cases. If they granted it in nearly all cases, it would make nonsense of the 80 per cent. We might just as well go to the 100 per cent.

Without pressing the Government to do that today, we believe that it is right to keep the position open. Therefore, I look forward to hearing what they have to say about this. There could he other unsatisfactory features which exist at the moment in the way in which the discretionary relief is administered. It varies considerably from authority to authority. There are some kinds of charities which some local authorities will support with relief and others which they will not support, and so on. That may become rather a nuisance. However, the Government can do nothing about that except to introduce major legislation to correct it unless they accept the opportunity put forward in Amendment No. 31.

I claim no credit for the drafting of the amendment although I did draft it. I am sure that a draftsman would do better. If the Government believe that the drafting is in any way not quite perfect, they have the opportunity to put that right in another place. Therefore, I say to the Government that I hope in the spirit of reasonable give and take which has governed the solution to these problems, they will accept the offer of my noble friend Lord Sandford. Having accepted the 80 per cent., I hope that they will go that one stage further, which does not commit them financially to the extent of a single penny, and say that they will accept Amendment No. 31 and correct it if necessary.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, as a supporter of the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hayter perhaps I may be permitted to say how much I appreciate the decision to which the Government have come.

I believe I can claim consistency because I remember that in 1974 I persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, when 1 was Chairman of the National Council of Social Services, as it then was, to chair a committee on charity law which came up with the recommendation that the amount should be 75 per cent. I was also a signatory to an amendment in Committee for a figure of 80 per cent., which seems to be the figure we have come to now.

I have one question which perhaps the noble Earl can deal with. There is a consequential amendment to Clause 45 about unoccupied premises to which my noble friend Lord Hayter and I have tabled an amendment which we believe is consistent with the amendment that the Government are prepared to accept on Clause 43. It would be of assistance to have that confirmed. Incidentally, on the amendment of' the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. we seem to be in the rather strange position that the payment for occupied premises would he nil and for unoccupied premises 50 per cent.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it has already been said in this debate that one man's charge is a cost on someone else. It is important before we take a final decision to say a few words about the effect on business, particularly small business. I have to say that the Government are being exceptionally generous on this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will not be surprised by my remarks. I believe that considerable tensions will be set up across the country. Some have already been referred to. If local shopkeepers in our villages and towns—one-man businesses, man and wife businesses—see that their local school is to be exempt or is to receive 80 per cent. across-the-board mandatory relief with the possibility of even more relief from the local authority, and if they see that it applies too to their local social club, ostensibly a charity but actually running a club with bar facilities in direct competition with local hostelries that are also struggling to make a living, the tensions will be considerable.

I am disturbed that we have gone for such a high proportion of mandatory across-the-board relief. The local authorities cannot have it both ways. I suspect that if we had suggested that we take a power away from them we might well be receiving different kinds of letters. They may say that they do not want this discretion because having to make judgments as to whether local charities are needy is disturbing and uncomfortable. But that is one of the responsibilities of being in local government. It is not a position where one can feel absolutely comfortable all the time. According to the amendment the local authorities will be dealing with someone else's money, and so the largesse and the kudos can go to the local authorities which will be much more generous in granting discretion because the cost to them will be small.

I am concerned about the increase in the number of charitable shops, and this has been touched upon in the debate. Not all of them are selling jumble and bric-à-brac. Many are running tea shops and other shops which are competing favourably and will he competing even more favourably if this amendment is approved. Of course, we have already mentioned private hospitals and public schools. I am all in favour of public schools and private hospitals but there are some serious questions to be asked about the extent to which they will benefit from the 80 per cent. mandatory across-the-board relief.

I should like also to mention Amendment No. 31, as it has been spoken to. I am probably even more disturbed about this amendment, for these reasons. If we approve the amendment we will do two things. We will raise expectations that there is likely to be, at some time, an increase exceeding the 80 per cent. mandatory grant. If we raise expectations we are into the difficulty not of saying whether it is to happen but when the rise will happen. For all the reasons I have argued about the 80 per cent. I am concerned about the possibility of going beyond 80 per cent. It is possible for the Government to take a different view and use an entirely different mechanism to offset the difficulties that may arise as a result of the EC decision on VAT and what impact that will have on charities. That will be a real issue and we should look to other mechanisms for dealing with it.

As regards cost, we are now about to levy a bill of £150 million on business and commerce. It is all very well for the CBI to say that this is a cost it can bear. It is not the CBI which will have to worry but small businesses right across the country which will have to bear the £150 million cost. Some noble Lords may argue that at least half of that amount is already being levied because there is a 50 per cent. mandatory grant at the moment. Nevertheless, there is a difference of £55 million. And it is that £55 million which is the difference between 50 per cent. and 80 per cent. that we are about to levy on small businesses. It is inconsistent that we in this House, only a few days ago, should have been concerned about the impact of the Bill's proposals on small businesses which will face revaluation before their rate bills arrive.

In passing, I should say that the concern for small businesses was considerably greater in the other place. I sat in on some of the debates. I believe that the other place might be disturbed about this amendment if it is approved and goes there.

The offer from my noble friend the Minister is now on the table. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, who said that we are talking about the art of the possible. I suspect that the amendment will be approved. But it should not be approved without saying that the cost will fall on a large number of people throughout the country who simply will not be able to afford it.

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I can reply to this most useful debate. My mind goes back to Lord Avon summing up the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. He stood at the Dispatch Box and said that he wished he had wing mirrors in order to see his Back-Benchers more clearly. I was one of the Back-Benchers; I now know how truly he meant those words. 1 have in one wing mirror my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Sandford urging the Government to go forward. I look in my other wing mirror and see my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lady Carnegy of Lour saying that the Government have gone too far, that the Government have been very generous, and that that it is enough.

I am now looking straight ahead at the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I think he hit the nail on the head in making the point about the necessity of retaining some local discretion. That is important. There are serious worries in taking the matter beyond 80 per cent. or, if I may say so with respect to my noble friend Lord Sandford, giving the Government the power to amend the 80 per cent., because very real fears were expressed by my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lady Carnegy of Lour.

It is worth recalling the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter. It is the art of the possible to accept the 80 per cent. It will be uncomfortable for some and it will not be enough for others, but that is as far as the Government can go today.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, I have to say that I am almost as totally unconvinced by my noble friend's arguments as I was at the previous stage. I shall have to see my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lady Carnegy of Lour afterwards; I leave that argument until then. The fact is that the Government have come a considerable way and have agreed to the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Hayter and Lord Allen. My chief regret and disappointment over this whole affair is that when I had the votes of no less than 15 right reverend Prelates available, mobilised by the opposite Benches, I failed to use them. However, in the light of all the circumstances and the debate we have had I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hayter moved Amendment No 29: Page 28. line 29, leave out ("2") and insert ("5").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish to couple with it a word of thanks to the Minister, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said earlier, has been most assiduous and courteous as regards all the charitable problems that we have brought to his attention. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 30: Page 28. line 31. leave out ("or trustees for a charity").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very small point which has not been discussed. It is purely a drafting amendment. It seems to me that the words, or trustees for a charity do not add anything to the meaning of the word "charity" in these circumstances. Every charity either has expressly appointed trustees or people who are impliedly trustees. These words are unnecessary and could cause confusion. I shall be grateful if my noble friend can say why they are in the Bill and perhaps also that he is prepared to have them deleted. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the words are necessary because if they were to be deleted it would narrow quite considerably the scope of relief. I know that is something my noble friend does not wish to do. I am advised that many charities have no legal personality of their own and any property they occupy is vested in the trustees. It is important that relief should apply in such cases. There is no danger of it going too wide and extending to other property occupied by the trustees since besides being occupied by a charity of charitable trustees the property must also, as Clause 43(6) makes clear, be occupied for charitable purposes. On the basis of that explanation I hope that my noble friend will see the necessity for the words.

Lord Renton

My Lords, though I do not accept the explanation that my noble friend has been advised to give, this is but a small drafting amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 31 not moved.]

Clause 45 [Unoccupied hereditaments: liability]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 32: Page 29, line 32, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (4A) below,").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 33 and 39. As your Lordships will recall, these amendments were originally tabled at the Report stage. They have a straightforward purpose, which is to extend to empty property rating the benefit of mandatory charitable relief for unoccupied property. If charities pay half rates and empty property attracts half rates, then empty property occupied by charities should pay quarter rates.

I move on to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord Lord Hayter, which is Amendment No. 34. It follows the same principles, but adapts its application to accord with his main Amendment No. 29 increasing mandatory charitable relief to 80 per cent. which we have just accepted. The noble Lord will argue that if charities pay one-fifth rates on occupied property they should pay one-tenth on empty property. I know that my noble friend Lady Blatch does not like this, but the logic of the noble Lord is sound.

We have had our doubts about whether it will be worth while for local authorities to collect one-tenth of the rates from an empty charitable shop and whether it might not be better to stick at 80 per cent. throughout. I would not wish to argue about 10 per cent. of the rates bill for a small category of property. In addition to moving the Government's amendments which are a further help to charities, in due course the Government will accept the noble Lord's amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 33: Page 29, line 35, at end insert— ("(4A) Where subsection (4B) below applies the chargeable amount for a chargeable day shall be calculated in accordance with the formula— AxB/Cx4 (4B) This subsection applies where on the day concerned the ratepayer is a charity or trustees for a charity and it appears that when next in use the hereditament will he wholly or mainly used for charitable purposes (whether of that charity or of that and other charities).").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 33, Amendment No. 34: Line 5, leave out ("4") and insert ("10").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has already been explained and I beg to move.

On Question, amendment to Amendment No. 33 agreed to.

Amendment No. 33, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 47 [Discretionary relief]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 35: Page 30, line 7, leave out ("(1) and (2)") and insert ("(2) and (3)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely drafting amendment to replace an incorrect cross-reference. It cannot be dealt with as a printer's error and formal amendment is required. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments No. 36 and 37 not moved.]

Clause 48 [Discretionary relief supplementary]:

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Clause 67 [Interpretation: other provisions]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 39: Page 40, line 46, after ("43(6)") insert (", 45(4B)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 70 [General and special expenses]:

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

Clause 74 [Levies]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 41: Page 44, line 39, leave out from beginning to first ("to") in line 40 and insert ("apart from section 131 below would have in respect of the financial year beginning in 1990 power (conferred by or under an Act passed before, or in the same session as, this Act)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments modify the definition of a levying body so that the regulations which we intend to make under these provisions can cover the levies which the London Residuary Body needs to raise to both meet the liabilities it inherits on the abolition of ILEA, to be met from inner London authorities; and its general expenses, which are met from all London boroughs. The expenses for both levies will be apportioned by reference to relevant population as defined in this Bill. These amendments are quite straightforward. They seek to ensure that the London Residuary Body will be able to meet effectively its liabilities following the abolition of ILEA, within the terms of the new community charge system. I should have said at the beginning that in moving Amendment No. 41, for the convenience of the House I speak also to Amendment No. 50. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Elliott of Morpeth)

My Lords, 1 should point out that there is a printing error in the Marshalled List. In line 2 the reference to "section 131" should read "section 117".

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the Minister is perfectly correct. These amendments are innocuous in the sense that they are simply giving effect to that which we already well understand. In view of the enormous impact of what will be done to individual London boroughs, can the Minister give any guidance about the kind of consultation that will take place either formally or informally? I am not arguing about the powers. I believe that the boroughs that are to feel the impact of these measures are entitled to some consultation. I am not raising the issue of time or amounts. It would demonstrate a good spirit on the part of the Minister and his colleagues if the opportunity was there for the councils to have an input into these discussions.

The extent to which the matter can be the subject of consultation or amendment has not been raised. We are in a very difficult position as regards the relationship between central and local government. I appreciate that though it is not central government, the London Residuary Body is the body that will affect local councils a great deal. The Minister can be helpful to those outside if he can say something about the extent to which he hopes that the London Residuary Body will use its best endeavours to try to take the boroughs along with it.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that the consultations will be wide and extensive and that the provisions that already exist for the LRB will continue.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, in other words, the Minister is saying that he has every confidence that consultation will take place. Can the Minister be more specific as regards this amendment; namely, the codification of a new levying body and authority? Does the Minister hope that consultation will take place on this subject? I realise that the Minister cannot dictate to the London Residuary Body, but that organisation is comprised of wise men and women and they will read what is said in this House. With ordinary sense and fairness, can he say whether he hopes that this particular issue will be the subject of some form of consultation? If that is so, I shall rest assured.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, will understand when I say that I cannot go any further than I have already gone.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Lord has not gone anywhere yet.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.30 p.m.

Clause 75 [Special levies]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 42: Page 46, line 26, leave out ("(5)")and insert ("(6)")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple drafting amendment to correct an erroneous reference. It applies the provisions of Clause 75(7)(b) to Clause 75(6) and brings the drafting of Clause 75 dealing with special levies into line with similar levying provisions in Clause 74. This does not affect the power in Clause 76(5) to require a charging authority to treat a special levy issued to it as special expenses which stands in its own right and it is not influenced by any other provisions in the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 76 [Interpretation]:

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Clause 88 [Transport grants: supplementary]:

Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 44: Page 53, line 12, at end insert ("(bb) a metropolitan county passenger transport authority,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 45 and 46. The purpose of the amendments is to remedy an anomaly in the present arrangements for grant-aiding public transport investment. When the House discussed the issue at Report stage I was not satisfied with the reply of my noble friend Lord Brabazon to a related amendment, and I regret that I am forced to raise the issue again now.

My noble friend stated in col. 124 of the Official Report for 4th July 1988 that a satisfactory mechanism for grant-aid already exists in the form of grants under Section 56 of the Transport Act 1968. I do not dispute the fact that the grants exist, and I was delighted to learn that some grant is to be given towards the Greater Manchester light rapid transit scheme. However, these grants are for projects of more than regional significance and the Government have chosen to impose a limit of £5 million below which projects are ineligible for Section 56 grant. This is currently the only capital grant available for public transport in England. My amendment seeks to ensure that transport supplementary grant which is payable on highway schemes is extended to small public transport projects below the Section 56 threshold.

My main concern in proposing the amendment is that there is a wide range of public transport projects which can relieve urban congestion in a cost-effective manner. Building laybys and bus stops and investing in bus stations or turning circles at the end of routes can help speed the general flow of traffic. Small bus priority schemes can have a similar effect. Opening new railway stations and developing interchanges can attract people from their cars on to public transport, something with which I am sure all your Lordships would agree. Rarely do these schemes cost more than £5 million. They are not eligible for grants unless they are highway schemes funded by the highway authority.

This is clearly anomalous. It will lead to a greater temptation to go for a large-scale scheme eligible for grant, instead of a smaller, cost-effective scheme which is not eligible for grant. It will also lead to a bias towards highway oriented schemes which often tackle the symptoms of traffic congestion rather than its ultimate cause. Misallocation of resources is a real danger with the present arrangements. By making all schemes eligible we will be stopping these nonsenses as well as encouraging passenger transport authorities and all local authorities to implement public transport schemes. This will reduce the ever-growing problem of urban traffic congestion, which we discussed at length during the excellent debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on 20th April. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, in his three amendments. There seems to be no reason why grants for public transport should be available to authorities in Wales but not to authorities in England. I am certain that my Welsh colleagues will not mind my drawing attention to that provision, which is to he found in Clause 88.

The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, would ensure that grants for public transport would apply to authorities in England and in Wales. When we debated somewhat similar amendments at Report stage it was emphasised that we must not overlook the fact that public transport authorities are single purpose authorities. They exist solely for public transport. Nobody has questioned the fact that they were deliberately set up for that purpose and for county-wide services. Therefore any grants made to PTAs for public transport would be spent on public transport.

I looked carefully at what the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said at Report stage. He said that it was a matter solely for district councils to make up their minds as to what they spend their money on. However, it must not be overlooked that revenue support grant has been curtailed over the years. This means that district councils must make a decision between money spent on public transport and money spent on other essential services. One of the problems in this respect is that we try to look at matters in separate compartments. We look at education, social services and transport. However, district councils must look at everything and then decide on what to spend their money. If a grant is made to a public transport authority it will he spent on transport and nothing else. That would appear to be the important part of the noble Lord's amendments.

There is also the question of how to determine the grant-related expenditure assessment on needs for the district council in determining its revenue support grant. That will not apply if a grant is made to the passenger transport authorities. I hope the Minister will understand that under the amendments we would he directing money essentially for transport purposes to the bodies which exist only for transport.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, when my noble friend moved amendments with similar purposes to these at Report stage, I assured him then that there are satisfactory arrangements for supporting public transport projects which are independent of, and unaffected by, this Bill. Perhaps it will assist the House if I now set out briefly the background and why we believe amendments to extend the scope of Clauses 87 and 88 are inappropriate.

Clauses 87 and 88 are necessary to provide a continuing basis for the grants which the Government pay in support of improvements to roads of more than local importance. The grants represent a partnership relationship in giving assistance to assist with work on those local authority roads which serve a wider area than that of the highway authority responsible for them. This grant support is not given to road improvements on the very much larger numbers of local roads that meet mainly local needs, which are supported with capital allocations.

The parallel to this for public transport is that substantial projects which serve a wider area such as the Greater Manchester light rapid transit scheme are eligible for specific grants under Section 56 of the Transport Act 1968, to which my noble friend has referred. Indeed, initial grant funding for land and preparatory costs on the Greater Manchester scheme was only recently agreed. However, smaller local developments are similarly supported through capital allocations, a point which may help my noble friend. The debt service costs, for example, of borrowing for the renovation of bus and rail stations are then supported through block grant.

My noble friend asked why £5 million was the grant under Section 56, or whether it was only available for schemes costing more than £5 million. The figure of £5 million is intended as a guide and is not a rigid minimum. It has been contrasted with the smaller road schemes which are accepted for TSG. It is the Government's view that, as road schemes produce none of the revenue income or subsidy savings which will be available for most public transport infrastructure schemes, some extra incentive will he necessary to encourage highway authorities to undertake works which will substantially benefit areas other than their own.

However, there is a significant difference between local authorities' road programmes and schemes like that for the light rail in Manchester. The large number of local roads with a wider role means that improvements can he effectively supported by an annual supplementary grant. It is not an appropriate form of support for single projects or small networks which require the individual support of a specific grant.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to the position in Wales and asked why it was different. The position in Wales is that any major public transport projects which might occur—and to date none has—would be undertaken by highway authorities. Therefore those could be handled together with roads in the annual grant settlements for the authorities in question. That would not be the case in England, which is the reason for the difference.

The clauses as proposed do not alter the present framework of grants for transport capital projects. I have explained this and why I think that it is adequate. Therefore I hope that on reflection my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I am afraid that I must tell my noble friend that I thought he was totally aware of the fact that I was not satisfied with the response that he gave on Report.' In fact, I was going to write him a letter but when I read it the following morning I felt that the letter was not very suitable. There is a fundamental and elementary difference about these schemes, the figure of £5 million and those other matters. My noble friend may get up now and interrupt me—he can have that pleasure—and say that there is rather a difference between £5 million and below. The assurance I wanted from him was that the amounts allocated to particular schemes could not be spent on other things relating to transport. I did not get that assurance at that moment.

I really do not think that I have very much option unless my noble friend wants to go ahead with this, because these are most important amendments, especially in respect of passenger transport authorities. They are now to be levying bodies and any capital expenditure, however worthwhile, will be entirely financed by the levy and there will be no government grant towards it. That will put public transport investment at a serious disadvantage, compared with spending on road schemes. I can only conclude, if that is my noble friend's intention and unless I receive any roaring support or anything else, that I must test the opinion of the House.

Oh dear! I am receiving all sorts of indications. Apparently this will waste time. I suppose I must withdraw. In any event. I see that the House is rather thin so, very reluctantly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 not moved.]

Clause 100 [Power to designate authorities]:

[Amendments Nos. 47 to 49 not moved.]

Clause 117 [Rates and precepts: abolition]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 50: Page 71, line 39. leave out from beginning to first ("to") in line 40 and insert ("apart from subsection (6) below would have in respect of the financial year beginning in 1990 power (conferred by or under an Act passed before. or in the same session as, this Act)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 118 [Rates: potter to abolish or modify]:

[Amendment No. 51 not moved.]

Clause 137 [Amendments]:

[Amendments Nos. 52 to 54 not moved.]

Clause 143 [Orders and regulations]:

6.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 55: Page 84, line 43, after ("from") insert ("second").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 55, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 57. These are intended to be drafting amendments rather than being in any way critical of the Bill. There appears to be an ambiguity contained in lines 43 and 47 of Clause 143 on the operation of subsections (5) and (6). The clause deals with orders and regulations, and subsection (5) seeks to apply subsection (3) without the words: from subject to the end".

The problem is that the word "subject" occurs twice. The amendment inserts the word "second" to make it clear by applying subsection (5) to subsection (3) it is only the later words which are to be omitted. I hope that the Government will feel that this is a help rather than a hindrance and will therefore accept the amendment.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I do not wish to subject your Lordships to a lengthy debate on the matter but subject to which "subject" is taken to be the right "subject", subsections (5) and (6), which require subsection (3) to be read subject to qualification in appropriate cases, could make sense or no sense. We believe that the matter is quite clear. If the words after the first occurrence of the word "subject" in Clause 143(3) were to be disregarded then that would make a nonsense of that subsection, since it would be required to have effect as if it contained no words at all, and that would quite clearly not be the intention of Parliament. Only if the words after the second occurrence are disregarded does the subsection retain any sense. I am advised that if the courts have a choice between an interpretation that makes sense and one that makes no sense, they will choose the former. That may not accord with the popular view of the legal profession, but it is so.

There is therefore no need to qualify the word "subject" in Clause 143(5) and (6) in the manner proposed by the amendments. We believe that the insertion of the word "second" is superfluous.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I thought that my speech might have come out of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark but 1 know that the Minister's speech came from there. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 56 and 57 not moved.]

Clause 144 [Interpretation: authorities]:

[Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [Personal community charge: exemption]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 60: Page 88. line 24, leave out from ("below") to end of line 25.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor amendment consequential upon the decision to dispense with the residual domestic rates in certain London authorities and to move directly to the community charge in all areas. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale moved Amendment No. 61 Page 89, line 17, at end insert ("with experience, as defined by regulations, of mental health").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we seem to be moving at a great rate but, in moving this amendment, I should like to take just a few moments of your Lordships' time. The amendment relates to a point which I raised at earlier stages of the Bill's proceedings. Originally I suggested that the mentally handicapped should be dealt with in an entirely different way. Then, at a later stage, I suggested that they should be assessed by a panel like the community mental handicap teams.

However, having realised that there is no chance of persuading the Government on either of those solutions, I have come down to my irreducible minimum; that is, providing that the doctor who certifies a person as being severely mentally handicapped, and therefore exempt from the poll tax, should have some appropriate experience or qualification.

This was raised at the Committee stage and was supported by a number of noble Lords and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Hunter. On that occasion the Minister said in effect that he was impressed by this point and would like to go away and think about it. He may have thought about it, but I know from a letter he has very kindly written to me that he has come down against putting down any government amendment. I felt that the only way to make sure that the point was looked at again was to put down the amendment on the Marshalled List. I do not know that I am particularly proud of the drafting. One of the problems is that there is no specific qualification in mental handicap experience. This was the best formula that I could think of.

The reasons why I am persisting with this proposal are as follows. The letter which the noble Earl sent to me suggested in effect that this certificate could be issued on a routine visit to a medical practitioner. I wish to emphasise the point that for the individual and his family this is certainly not a routine matter. It is an extremely important development, in that for the first time he or she would be certified as being someone set aside from the rest of the community in a category incapable of paying attention to and understanding what was going on in local government. This is a most important experience for the individual. To regard it as something which can he dealt with in a routine way, rather like a vaccination certificate, seems to me to display some misconception of what is involved.

As I said before, the average medical practitioner—through no fault of his—has very little training or experience in mental handicap. The problem of defining severe mental handicap as distinct from other forms of mental handicap with only the guidance offered him in this schedule will be considerable. The Minister argued that the fact that each doctor would have very few severely mentally handicapped people on his list suggested that he would know them very well. But there is no reason why he should see more of them than of other patients on his list. Anyway, at the relevant time it might well he a different doctor who would be seen. I think there is no doubt that if it is left as it is there will be inconsistent decisions. Doctors in Littlehampton may very well come to different decisions from doctors in Durham.

I think it would he better. in the interests of the Government themselves, if something like the amendment I am proposing were adopted. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I should like briefly to express our support for this amendment, which we supported when the noble Lord brought it forward at Committee stage. The more one thinks about it the more it seems that not to have the qualification that the doctor should have experience of mental health would not only weaken the definition that is to be found in the Bill but would also be out of line with many other mental health provisions in our legislation. I hope that the Government will sec their way to supporting or agreeing to this amendment.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, it is a fairly technical point but it surely must be right that where a doctor is going to do something which can have serious implications such as registering a person as severely mentally disabled, it should he done by someone fully qualified in the area in question. Medical training being what it is, that cannot be said of all general practitioners. I support the amendment.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not believe that there is much between the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and the Government on this issue. At Report stage the noble Lord moved an amendment which would have required each applicant for this exemption to go before a formal panel of adjudicators who would have determined whether or not he was severely mentally impaired. My objection to that proposal was that. however good the intentions, it would involve an over-formal. over-bureaucratic procedure which would be costly to administer and—worse than that—could actually deter some people from applying for an exemption to which they are entitled.

I am not sure to what extent the noble Lord accepted what I said at Report, but he has now put forward a revised proposal. Instead of a panel of experts, he now suggests that one doctor is acceptable, provided that he has experience of mental health. This seems on the face of it, to be a moderate and sensible approach. Nevertheless, I do not believe it is the best way forward. With your Lordships' permission I should like to explain, I am afraid at some length, why the Government take this view.

At Report stage the noble Lord acknowledged that no one GP would have more than a tiny number of severely mentally impaired people on his list. He suggested that that was a reason for not allowing GPs to issue certificates, but in my opinion it is an important reason for allowing just that. If a GP has only one or two such people on his list, he will certainly be familiar with all the circumstances of their case and condition, and he will be well acquainted with the expert opinions which are likely already to have been obtained on that person's mental state. He will therefore be well placed to issue a certificate. Moreover, he will be able to issue the certificate without the need for a special new examination, which could he distressing both to the patient and to his family. All that will be necessary will be for the applicant to pay a routine visit to his own GP. We are fully convinced that, from the patient's point of view, this is the least upsetting approach that can be devised. That, I believe, is the most important consideration.

Moreover, the administrative cost will be low, because each GP will be able to incorporate the issuing of one or two certificates quite easily within his normal workload. Any procedure involving a mental health expert would inevitably he rather more cumbersome in administrative terms, because each expert would have to see a relatively large number of applicants. The chances of incorporating this within the existing workload would be slim.

I must stress the point that general practitioners will not be expected to issue certificates from a position of ignorance. First of all, as I have already said, they will have knowledge of and access to existing expert opinions on their patients. I think that is of particular concern to the noble Baroness and meets her point. Secondly, it is important to remember that we have built in a filter mechanism to help medical practitioners in making their assessments. Before a person can apply for a certificate, he must already be of pensionable age or be eligible for either a severe disablement allowance or an invalidity pension. This means that a great many potential applications for exemption will be filtered out, ensuring that the medical practitioner does not have to deal with frivolous or inappropriate applications.

I think it is relevant in this context to consider the experience gained north of the Border, where the Government have already consulted the medical profession about the practical operation of this exemption. It is illuminating that the BMA in Scotland were not convinced that there was any need in all cases for certificates to be issued by doctors—let alone mental health experts. It took the view that in many cases the decision could be taken by the registration officer. The Government cannot go along with that approach. We believe that the procedure must involve a registered medical practitioner in all cases. But I think it is not going too far to say that the Scottish BMA have endorsed our proposition that certification by an expert in mental health is not necessary.

I should like to pick up two points which were made during the debate on this issue at Report stage. In response to remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, I agreed to look at the possibility of putting the word "qualified" in front of "registered medical practitioner". I took the noble Lord to mean that we should ensure that certificates could he issued only by people with the proper medical qualification. I am advised that this point is already fully catered for by the Interpretation Act 1978 which provides that the term "registered medical practitioner" means a fully registered person within the meaning of the Medical Act 1956 In other words, he must have one or more registered professional qualifications.

On looking again at what the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, said at Report, I feel that he may not have been concerned with whether a doctor is properly qualified but whether he has a qualification in mental health. If that was indeed the noble Lord's point, then I hope I have dealt with it satisfactorily in the remarks I have addressed to this amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, also asked at Report stage about consultation on the exemption. I can tell him that I have checked on this matter and, as I expected, we have corresponded with a wide range of organisations representing the mentally impaired and the mentally ill, including MENCAP. I understand that the matter with which the noble Lord is particularly concerned was not raised by those organisations. Our correspondence with the organisations has been valuable in at least one respect. It was in the light of their representations that we agreed to extend the exemption to those suffering brain injury in adulthood as well as to those handicapped congenitally or in childhood.

In conclusion, perhaps I may say that I respect the sincerity of the arguments of the noble Lord in moving the amendment. At the same time I hope that he will accept the Government's sincerely held view that the process of issuing certificates can be done satisfactorily and with a minimum of formality and distress to the applicant by a registered medical practitioner rather than by a doctor experienced in mental health.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, the Minister said that he was not aware of how I reacted to his arguments on Report. I can tell him now that there was nothing in what he said to persuade me. If he later asks whether his arguments at this stage have persuaded me, the answer is the same. MENCAP was not consulted about the proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, as I well know, was concerned with qualifications and experience in mental health.

That said, I remain very dissatisfied with the Minister's explanation. At this late stage I cannot pursue it further. I can only express the hope that my fears of disaster prove to be unfounded. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 62: Page 90, line 30. after ("person") insert ("whose income is not subject to higher rates of income tax").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the outset let me anticipate part of the noble Earl's reply by acknowledging that the amendment is technically defective, as I realised about half an hour ago. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, may also have spotted this, although I have not had time to communicate with him. This has come about because of the re-jigging on report of paragraph 9 of Schedule I, which brought mental patients into the paragraph for the first time. Mental patients are not meant to be among those covered by the amendment. A manuscript amendment would have rectified the problem but of course such an amendment is not allowed on Third Reading. It is therefore unlikely that we shall be pursuing the amendment. Nevertheless, I should like to explain it in detail as the principle involved is an important one and the Government have not so far satisfactorily defended their position. Unless they can do so, it may be that Parliament will want to introduce amending legislation at a later stage.

The intention of the amendment is to ensure that most wealthy individuals in nursing homes and residential care homes make their due contributions as citizens to the community charge. By "most wealthy individuals" I mean those who are of sound mind and therefore frequently willing and certainly able to contribute to local democracy by casting their votes in local elections.

Your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, moved an amendment to this end in Committee which effectively defined a wealthy resident as having an income of more than £10,000 a year. The Committee felt that this was too low a threshold, especially given the cost of residential care. The amendment was withdrawn. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, reintroduced the amendment on Report, this time with a threshold of £15,000 annual income. I think it fair to say that the general feeling of the House was that this sum was still on the low side and, moreover, that it took no account of future inflation. Once again therefore the amendment was withdrawn.

The present amendment, one trusts, fully takes into account the objections raised earlier. It links the starting point for the obligation to pay the community charge with the point at which higher rate income tax becomes payable. This means that, for the year ended 5th April 1989, only those with a gross income of at least £21,905—equivalent to £17,080 net of tax—would be liable for the charge. The starting point would of course be higher for a married person. Let it be noted that a starting point of £21,905 a year is at least three times higher than the starting point at which other individuals become liable for the full community charge, on the assumption that those earning more than £140 a week will not normally he eligible for any rebate.

It cannot seriously be claimed that the individuals covered by the amendment are incapable of paying what on average would be 2 per cent. of their net income by way of community charge when so many people of modest means will have to pay up to 10 per cent. of their net income. This remains valid even when nursing home or residential care home charges are taken into account. We should not forget that it takes a capital sum of between £250,000 and £1 million to produce a gross income of £22,000, depending on whether the capital is invested for maximum income or maximum growth.

This brings me to an additional safety net implicit in the amendment. If the person concerned is living partly on his or her capital by virtue of having purchased an annuity, the starting point for liability to the community charge could be as high as £44,000 a year, assuming that the Inland Revenue treated 50 per cent. of the annuity payable as a return of capital. It well he seen that the amendment leans over backwards to be generous to the wealthy individuals concerned.

The Minister claimed on Report, at column 1651 of Hansard of 29th June: The ability of people in homes to participate in the process of local accountability would in many cases he severely limited".

That may be so. Equally, there are many sick and elderly people living at home or in residential homes to whom precisely the same applies. These people are nonetheless liable to pay the community charge. Conversely, many people in residential care homes and nursing homes are not particularly ill or incapacitated and are well able to participate in the process of local accountability. Despite rebates and exemption, the community charge will bear harshly upon families of modest means. There seems little reason to exclude wealthy people of sound mind from paying their fair share. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, is to he congratulated on bringing forward another formula to deal with the principle that there are those in the community who are better able than others to pay across the board. With regard to the community charge, in our view it is a simple device to adopt this or some other formula. We ask the Minister whether he is prepared to consider equity in the application of the community charge to, among others, those residents in the kind of establishment covered by the amendment. We believe that this is reasonable; we hope that the Minister can be helpful.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we believe that there should be some relationship to capacity to pay. Although we have not been able to have this included in the Bill in general, to the extent that the amendment involves a relationship to capacity to pay, we support it.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Graham of Edmonton, have collaborated to produce an amendment which, in their view, overcomes the defects of the amendments discussed at earlier stages. I have to say however that that view is not shared by the Government. Indeed, I fear that this amendment is worse than its predecessors.

Let me repeat the Government's general objection to any amendment of this kind. The reason for exempting patients in homes is, as your Lordships know, that local accountability could not reasonably be said to operate for many of the people concerned. The extent to which people in homes can participate in the process of local accountability would, in many cases, be severely limited.

I must also return to the point I made on Report—that this exemption was granted following strong representations in this House during the passage of the Scottish Bill. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that their parties were perhaps more than just a little involved in that decision. The inevitable result was that some relatively well-off people, albeit a small number, would benefit from the exemption. That does not in the Government's view invalidate the good reasons for granting the exemption. But if your Lordships had felt that the exemption was unacceptable because it benefits a small number of relatively well-off patients, then the alternative would have been to remove the exemption altogether. To try to limit the scope of the exemption, as proposed, is simply not a practical proposition.

If an income threshold is to be imposed, the only way it can be implemented is to require registration officers to carry out an investigation into the financial circumstances of every patient in every nursing home and in every residential care home. The result of this bureaucratic and time-consuming operation would be that a small minority of old, sick and disabled people would have their exemption withdrawn. If the Government had made such a proposal, I think there is little doubt that we would have been criticised on three counts: for creating needless work for registration officers, thus increasing their costs; for prying into the financial affairs of people who, for the most part, would be exempt; and for singling out a minority of old and disabled people for unfavourable treatment.

It may be worth pointing out that although some of the people who will be exempt from the personal community charge will be poor, there will also be some rich who benefit from the exemptions. A severely mentally handicapped person who has received a large sum in compensation for his injury would he exempt, for example, as would a millionaire pop singer who was spending time in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation clinic. In the same way a wealthy person in a nursing home would be exempt. That is because those exemptions which have been granted on the basis of accountability cannot operate in those cases. Income is not a relevant factor. For all those reasons I have no hesitation in repeating the request I made on Report—that the amendment should be withdrawn.

But before I conclude I wish to explain why this amendment is even more unacceptable than the one tabled on Report. I appreciate of course that the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Graham of Edmonton, have clarified their proposals by dealing with the confusion which arose previously as to whether the sum of £15,000 in the amendment tabled on Report was gross or net. But they have done that at the expense of requiring registration officers to check in every single case whether or not people in homes are paying income tax at the higher rate. I presume this is to be achieved by making checks in every case with the Inland Revenue. That would be a time-consuming and bureaucratic procedure but, more important, it would breach the fundamental principle that the Inland Revenue does not disclose to others information about taxpayers' affairs.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the Minister began by repeating his assertion that the ability of many people in homes to participate in a process of local accountability is limited. As 1 explained, the same applies to many elderly and ill people living at home or with their relatives. If I may say so, that really is not a very good argument.

The Minister went on to say that the amendment would mean extra work for registration officers and that its effect would be time-consuming and bureaucratic. But, as I understand it, rebates under the Bill will be given to people on low earnings. Therefore, someone will have to find out how much they are earning, and their earnings will fluctuate no doubt from year to year. So how will rebates be given without a time-consuming bureaucracy being operated? There is no other way in which it can be done.

In his objections to the amendment, the Minister appears to be effectively criticising the principle of the means test. That would be all very well if this Government were opposed to means tests in general; but as far as I know that is very far from being the case: rather the opposite. However, the amendment is technically defective for the reasons I described at the beginning and, for that reason, I can only beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 63: Page 91. line 22, leave out sub-paragraph (f).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 89 which has the same effect. The reason for putting down this amendment is that the Minister on Report said that he would bear in mind the points that were made about an age limit for Community Service Volunteers, or rather not that specific organisation but community volunteers in general. He said that he would consider whether, as I have urged and as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, urged, there should be no age limit at all.

The point that we made was that adults who carry out this voluntary work, and for whom a very welcome concession has already been made by the Government as regards the community charge, should not be restricted to being of any particular age. Clearly, they must be over 18 or the concession is not worth anything. But beyond that, is there any reason why those in middle age who feel themselves prompted to become volunteers and to accept only pocket money for their labours should not benefit from the exemption just as much as young adults who, undoubtedly, form the majority of such volunteers? I hope that having borne in mind the comments that 1 and other noble Lords have made, the Minister will at least be willing to say that he appreciates the strength of those arguments and that he is minded that they should be included in regulations. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, when I moved the exemption for care workers at Report stage, I was asked whether the Government intended to use an age criterion as part of the definition. I said that we had not yet decided. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned on Report a rumour that there would be an age restriction and that the exemption would be limited to those aged 16 to 35. I do not know where that rumour came from, but as the noble Lord knows, it would be from somebody who probably does not know very much about the community charge because all those aged under 18 would, of course, be exempt under paragraph 5 of Schedule 1.

As I said earlier, the Government will be consulting on the criteria to be adopted in defining this exemption. Regrettably, there has been no opportunity yet to carry out that consultation. When we do, we shall be better able to judge which criteria are the appropriate ones to use. We have genuinely not yet decided whether or not age should be among these. I understand that there may be some organisations who employ older people as volunteers. On the other hand, that was not my understanding as regards the majority of these organisations. And, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, in moving her original amendment in Committee referred on no fewer than eight occasions to "young people" and on a further four occasions to "young volunteers". So she clearly did seem to think that the people for whom she was seeking an exemption were the younger generation.

I would make one further point. It is simply that the amendments proposed would have no effect whatever in terms of what the regulations can contain. That is because the items in paragraph 10(2) are only examples of the criteria the Secretary of State might use. They are specifically stated to be without prejudice to the generality of the regulation-making power. So the Secretary of State could, if he thought it appropriate, use criteria other than those listed; and he could use age as a criterion even if paragraph 10(2)(f) were deleted.

I can only say again that no decision has yet been taken about the criteria. We will consult, and in due course my right honourable friend will lay the appropriate regulation. I have taken on board the fact that, despite the terms in which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, moved her amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, now believes that an age criterion would not be appropriate. We shall, of course, take his views into account.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not think that I can ask for much more than that. It is certainly true that the amendments that we originally proposed, which the Government ultimately accepted, were moved on behalf of a particular body—Community Service Volunteers. But as the Minister has acknowledged in his reply, there are other bodies some of which have as volunteers older people who presumably would be very much on the same footing as the young volunteers to whom my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs referred. I am content to leave it to his good sense to take the points which have been made in our debate fully into account when the regulations are prepared. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 64: Page 92, line 12, at end insert— ("12A. A person is an exempt individual on a particular day if at any time on the day he has his sole or main residence in a building falling within a description prescribed under section 5(3)(d) above.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Community charges: administration]:

[Amendment No. 65 not moved.]

Schedule 4 [Community charges: enforcement]:

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 66: Page 107, line 21, at end insert—

("Penalties other than commitment to prison, and suspension or deferral of sentences.

8A. Regulations under this Schedule may provide that where—

  1. (a) a magistrates' court has made a liability order against a person (the debtor) and the debtor is an individual; and
  2. (b) the authority has sought to levy an amount by distress, and the circumstances in paragraph 8(1)(a) below apply.

the authority concerned may seek the imposition by the Court, and the Court may impose, the following remedies as alternatives to commitment to prison—

  1. (a) a Probation Order; or
  2. (b) a Community Service Order, or, the Court may defer or suspend any sentence.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 66 stands in my name and in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones, who is not able to be present. It is another attempt to tackle the question of imprisonment for debt—an oddity which the English and Welsh seem determined to retain for certain types of debt which creditors are most able to meet if there is a refusal to pay.

We are attempting to give magistrates' courts the power to use other remedies if they find that there is a wilful refusal to pay, and the power to defer or suspend sentences. The power to defer or suspend sentence is useful in that the threat of incarceration may produce the money more swiftly than actual incarceration. We also wish to provide the power to impose probation or a community service order.

The matter was discussed at length previously. It is a total anachronism which remains in English and Welsh law. We hope that England and Wales will follow the good example of Scotland very quickly. I beg to move.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I have not broken silence on the Bill so far. However, this amendment forces me to my feet. I strongly support it. Perhaps the noble Earl will give us an adequate reply. I know that his heart cannot be in the status quo. We know what an enlightened Minister he was in his Home Office days. He must know that the present situation is wrong.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister one question. There is an impression that under the Bill more people will be sent to prison for debt than are sent now. Can he give me an assurance that, so far as he is able to judge, that will not be the case? Is he able to hold out the hope that even fewer people will be incarcerated under the Bill?

Baroness Seear

My Lords, with very little hope that the noble Earl will agree, I shall make one last attempt at shifting him. Considering the present state of our prisons, it is ridiculous to continue and even extend the out-of-date practice of sending people to prison for debt. Surely we can find a better way of collecting this obnoxious tax than by sending people to prison.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, as a magistrate, I feel that not many people will be sent to prison by the magistrates' courts in Birmingham. We are constantly told to use every measure short of sending people to prison. We are told that the Home Office does not want any more people in prison. Additionally, when people come before a court for not paying for all kinds of things, we ask what they can pay and take the least amount. They may say, "We can pay 50p a week", and to avoid sending them to prison we accept that. It saves money in the long run. Building societies do not attempt to put people in prison for not paying their mortgages, and credit card companies do not attempt it either. It seems strange that the Government, who maintain that prisons are overcrowded, should make such regulations under the Bill.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, this amendment is very similar to the one which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, tabled at Report stage and withdrew before the debate took place. It would have been helpful had we discussed these issues at Report stage when we considered all the amendments about methods of enforcement.

The amendment seeks to give magistrates' courts a number of alternatives to commitment to prison. Those alternatives are the imposition of a probation order or community service order and the option of deferring or suspending the prison sentence.

I should like to deal first with the proposal that magistrates should be able to defer or suspend a sentence. The first point to make is that it is inappropriate to talk of deferring or suspending a sentence. Commitment to prison in these circumstances does not confer a criminal record and formally there is no sentence of imprisonment. I do, however, take the sense of what is proposed, and I am able to say in response that we are already providing for much of what the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, is seeking. I draw his attention to subparagraph (1)(c) of paragraph 8 of Schedule 4, which gives the magistrates' court the discretion to fix a term of imprisonment and postpone the issue of the warrant until such time and on such conditions as the court sees fit. In other words, the magistrates' court already has the power to defer commitment, which the noble Lord wishes to introduce. We are going a long way therefore to meeting the purpose of the amendment before the House.

I turn next to the proposed use of probation and community service orders. These are undoubtedly very useful remedies in the appropriate circumstances. But I do not believe that we are dealing with such circumstances here. I have consulted my right honourable friend the Home Secretary about the use of probation and community service orders. I am told that a very careful assessment is necessary before people are recommended for probation or community service. It cannot be assumed that all those who have failed to pay the community charge could be relied upon to turn up for community service, particularly since we are talking about only the most persistent defaulters. It could not be guaranteed that suitable placements would be available.

Probation is particularly unsuitable as a means of recovering a debt. It should not be used as a threat to make a person pay. It is only to be used instead of a sentence where a person is convicted of a criminal offence. It involves supervision of the offender by the probation service for at least six months and up to three years. The average cost of a probation order is over £1,000. That must be compared with the cost of committing a person to prison for a few days, since that is the length of time most rate defaulters serve in practice.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt and I suspect that I am out of order. However, it must be apparent to the noble Earl's Scottish soul that it is more sensible to get someone to do some work in the community in exchange for not paying the poll tax than to send him to prison, which places a heavy burden on the community. Presumably he is thinking about money. In that case, his argument seems most extraordinary.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I was pointing out that there is a heavy cost involved in a probation order. I am sure that the noble Baroness will wish to take that into account. More importantly, the proposal would divert the probation service from its work with offenders who may risk custody for several months or longer for various criminal offences.

I remind your Lordships that commitment to prison differs from those approaches. It is not proposed as a sanction which will be used frequently. Indeed, as your Lordships know from previous debates, fewer than 400 warrants of commission were issued for non-payment of rates in 1986. We expect that there will be even fewer cases under the new system, given the wider range of recovery powers we are giving to local authorities and the greater emphasis that will be placed on payment by instalment.

Commitment is not to be used as a routine measure in the way that probation orders or community service orders might be used. It is expressly intended to be a weighty sanction of last resort, used only after other recovery methods have been tried and failed. It is a deterrent and it is in the nature of deterrents that they lose their value if they become watered down or routinely used.

Perhaps I may say a word of welcome to the noble Earl who has joined our debate. We are convinced that commitment to prison will be used even less frequently under the new system than under the existing system. I say that with very good reason. We have given authorities new enforcement powers—attachment of earnings and reduction from benefits—which will greatly reduce the need to resort to the ultimate sanction. We have also provided that payment by instalment will become the norm unless poeple opt out rather than it being the choice for which people must opt in, as at present. Greater use of instalments will mean that fewer people fall into debt.

There has to be a clear and effective final sanction so that the persistent defaulter knows that there is no point in attempting to avoid paying for the charge. As the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, knows, it took 15 years for a recent Bill dealing with debtors in Scotland to become an Act. We hope that one day England and Wales may get somewhat similar treatment.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna

My Lords, I have listened with some interest and growing amazement to what the noble Earl has said. I do not think that he can really believe that. As the noble Lord. Lord Renton, told us at an earlier stage, the 1970 Act provided for attachment of earnings and restricted imprisonment to recovery of rates and certain types of tax only. 1 have never seen why that was necessarily a good way to incur state expenditure to try to obtain money for the state. It seems to me illogical, and Parliament also thought that it was illogical for Scotland.

I repeat what I have said on many occasions: the scope of the Debtors (Scotland) Act of last year is far wider than taking away imprisonment for debt or non-payment of rates or taxes. That is all that is left in England. It is a total anachronism and could be got rid of very quickly. It is a ludicrous situation. All we sought to do by these amendments was to give further choices to the Government. They decline to accept them.

I find it surprising to hear the argument. which seems to be on a false premise, that the number of defaulters will reduce. If one doubles the number of payers of a tax—and the numbers paying community charge will be at least double compared with the numbers paying rates—there will inevitably be an increase in the number of people who will obdurately refuse to pay. They will come from areas in which one cannot attach their earnings or their property. Therefore, I forecast that if imprisonment remains a penalty, the numbers imprisoned will undoubtedly increase.

However. I have no wish to hold up the proceedings on the Bill. With regret, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 67: Page 111, line 37, after ("15") insert (", 19").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a straightforward drafting amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Non-domestic rating: exemption]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 68: Page 115, line 7, at end insert—

("(2) A hereditament is exempt to the extent that it consists of a right of fishing exercisable in a fishery—

  1. (a) which is regulated by the council constituted under section 6 of the Tweed Fisheries Act 1969, and
  2. (b) as regards which a rate or assessment is levied under section 79 of the Tweed Fisheries Act 1857 or section 5 of the Tweed Fisheries Amendment Act 1859.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 68 I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 76 in the name of my noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden. When my noble friend brought forward the amendments at Report stage which exempted fishing rights from non-domestic rates when payments are made to the authority responsible for the maintenance of fisheries, he gave notice that we would need to return to the matter at Third Reading in order to deal with the River Esk and the River Tweed.

As your Lordships will recall, that part of the River Esk which runs in Scotland is dealt with under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, which is an Act otherwise applying only to England and Wales. The River Tweed, on the other hand, is dealt with by various local Acts, and salmon fisheries on that river in both England and Scotland are subject to a rate levied by the River Tweed Council. As a result, without specific provision this Bill would not apply to the length of the River Tweed in England, and the relevant Scottish provision would not apply to the lengths of the Rivers Esk and Tweed in Scotland.

This group of amendments deals with those anomalies and ensures that the owners of fishing rights on the River Esk in Scotland and on the River Tweed on both sides of the Border are exempt from non-domestic rates in similar circumstances to those that apply to the owners of fishing rights on other rivers in England or Scotland. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as one who was brought up, in part, on the banks of the Jed, I hope that the waters in which 1 bathed as a child, which then flowed into the Teviot and subsequently into the Tweed, will not become an anomaly as they reach the sea.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 10 (Social security);

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 69: Page 133, line 4, leave out from ("contributions)") to end of line 5.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 70: Page 133, line 10, after ("education") insert ("or nursing education").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 70 I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 78, 79, 85 and 90. These amendments simply supplement the amendment relating to student nurses put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, at Report stage which was accepted by your Lordships' House. They will allow my right honourable friend, should he wish so to do, to prescribe in regulations the definition of a full-time course of nursing education and similar expressions and to provide that certificates should be issued to student nurses falling within those definitions as evidence of their entitlement to a reduced level of personal community charge liability.

In addition they make a number of consequential drafting amendments to ensure that it is possible for student nurses to be treated in the same way as students for community charge purposes. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna and myself, I should like to express my sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, for the amendments. They rationalise and put into order the amendment proposed by my noble friend.

I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that I appreciate that it has not been possible for the Government to put forward comparable amendments to correct as they think necessary the amendment which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington. I understand that there has been a great deal of correspondence between the Government and the noble Baroness and I am sure that the matter can be resolved in time for appropriate amendments to be introduced in another place to make sure that the provisions in England and in Scotland are the same. Meanwhile we gladly support the amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 71: Page 133. line 14, leave out from ("Act") to end of line 15.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 71, I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 74, 80 to 84, 86, 87, and 91 to 93. These amendments are simply the Scottish equivalent of the amendments relating to short stay hostels which we have already discussed and agreed for England and Wales. They give effect to the commitment given by my noble friend Lord Caithness at Report stage to reconsider the position of people living in very short stay hostels. They give the Secretary of State powers to exempt people living in such hostels from the personal community charge through a power of prescription. On that basis I commend the amendments to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 72: Page 134, leave Out lines 8 and 9.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 73: Page 134, lease out lines 13 and 14.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 74: Page 134, leave out lines 15 and 16.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 75: Page 134. line 21, after ("week"") insert (", in relation to community charge benefits,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment corrects a flaw in an earlier amendment that was introduced at Report stage. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Amendments]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 76: Page 153, line 12, leave out from ("which") to end of line 17 and insert ("fall within any of paragraphs (a) to (c) below—

  1. (a) lands and heritages which—
    1. (i) consist of rights of salmon fishing entered separately in the valuation roll; and
    2. (ii) are situated in a salmon fishery district for which there is, immediately before the beginning of the year, a district salmon fishery board.
  2. (b) lands and heritages which consist of rights of salmon fishing entered separately in the valuation roll, being rights which are exercisable in the River Tweed and as regards which an annual rate or assessment is levied under section 79 of the Tweed Fisheries Act 1857 or section 5 of the Tweed Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1859.
  3. In this paragraph, "River Tweed" means "the River" as defined by the Tweed Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1859 as amended by the byelaw made under section 4 of the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1863;
  4. (c) lands and heritages which consist of rights of fishing entered separately in the valuation roll, being rights which are exercisable in an area defined by an order which—
    1. (i) is made under section 28(3) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975; and
    2. (ii) contains such provision as is mentioned in paragraph 1(a) of Schedule 3 to that Act (contributions imposed by water authorities)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour moved Amendment No. 77: Page 153, line 29, at end insert

["Local Government (Financial Provisions etc.) (Scotland) Act 1962 c. 9

In subsection (2) of section 4 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions etc.,) (Scotland) Act 1962 (reduction and remission of rates payable by charitable and other organisations) in paragraph (i) for the words "one-half" there shall he substituted the words "one-fifth".").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as I mentioned earlier, the purpose of this amendment is to make it possible to bring Scotland into line with England and Wales in so far as the mandatory rate relief for charities is concerned as the Bill now stands. Earlier this evening the Government and the House were persuaded to accept the amendment to Clause 43 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter. That will raise the mandatory rate relief for charities from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. of the rates due, and it would seem quite wrong and unfair for charities in Scotland not to have similar relief.

This amendment to Section 4 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions etc.) (Scotland) Act 1962 looks slightly different from the corresponding amendment to Clause 43. It reduces the maximum proportion of rates payable by charities in Scotland from one half to one fifth. That is the same as increasing the mandatory relief from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent., and it does it in a way which means that there is no need for special provision for unoccupied property.

It seems that if it is right that no charity in England should pay more than 20 per cent. of its rates, whatever that charity may be, it is also right for charities in Scotland. I hope that your Lordships and the Government will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy for tabling this amendment, which enables the concession agreed to England and Wales to apply also to Scotland. I have no hesitation in accepting it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendments Nos. 78 to 87: Page 157. line 48, leave out from ("following") to ("shall") in line 50 and insert ("subsections— (6A) Subsections (4) and (5) above shall not apply to persons undertaking a full-time course of nursing education, but such a person"). Page 158, line 3, at end insert— ("(6B) The Secretary of State may, by regulations made under this subsection—

  1. (a) require such bodies as may be prescribed to supply, in such manner and at such time as may be prescribed, to every person undertaking or about to undertake a full time course of nursing education a certificate containing such particulars as may be prescribed; and
  2. (b) require such bodies as may be prescribed to supply to the registration officer within such period (being not less than 21 days) as may be prescribed such information as the registration officer may reasonably require for the purposes of the exercise of his functions under this Act, being information which is in the possession or control of the body.
(6C) References in subsections (6A) and (6B) above to a full-time course of nursing education, a person undertaking such a course and to ceasing to undertake such a course shall he construed in such manner as may be prescribed.".). Page 159. line 9, after ("premises") insert— ("(a) which are of a description prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph; or (b)"). Page 159, line 16, at end insert— ("(aa) if the premises become premises which are of a description prescribed for the purposes of paragraph (a) of subsection (3A) above."). Page 159. line 20. leave out sub-paragraph (5). Page 159, leave out lines 32 and 33. Page 159, line 38, leave out sub-paragraph (8). Page 159, line 44, at end insert— ("( ) In sub-paragraph (a) of subsection (10) for the words "section 8(8)(c) of" there shall be substituted the words "paragraph 12 of Schedule 1A to"."). Page 159, leave out lines 46 and 47. Page 160, line 4, leave out sub-paragraph (10).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 88: Page 166, line 51, at end insert— (". After section 24 there shall be inserted the following section— 24A. Each levying authority shall in relation to the personal community charge and in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State make arrangements for—

  1. (a) the administration of the Community Charge Additional Element as specified in paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 10 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988; and
  2. (b) the calculation in each year from 1 April 1989 of its personal community charge in relation to the national average charge for that year for the purposes of determining whether any person in its area may be eligible for the Community Charge Additional Element." ".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend 1 seek approval for Amendment No. 88, the intention of which is to bring into Scottish legislation the provisions that were moved on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, which related to the community charge additional element—a new piece of jargon which has crept into the Bill—and which were approved by the House on 5th July.

In the spirit of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that if something has been agreed for England and Wales it seems appropriate that it should also he agreed for Scotland, I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has explained, this amendment is designed to extend to Scotland the scheme of additional payments to disabled people on low incomes which is embodied in the amendments tabled at Report stage by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale.

The noble Lord's amendment is, however, defective, because although it is designed to allow the community charge additional element to be paid in Scotland as from 1st April 1989, it refers to the provisions of Schedule 10 which relate to the payment of community charge benefit on a GB basis with effect from 1st April 1990. Neither the amendment itself nor the existing provisions in Section 24 of the 1987 Act are sufficiently wide to enable such payments to be made as part of the community charge rebate scheme which will operate in Scotland in the financial year 1989–90.

However, I recognise that it is clearly the wish of the House that the amendment be made and I am therefore content to accept it without commitment on the understanding that, if we agree to accept the principle behind the amendment, considerable changes will have to be made to it in another place to ensure that it operates as intended.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 89 not moved.]

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendments Nos. 90 to 93: Page 171, line 31. after ("8(4)") insert ("or (6A"). Page 171, line 33, leave out ("or") and insert— ("(aa) which are premises of a description prescribed for the purposes of paragraph (a) of section 11(3A) of this Act: or"). Page 172, line 41, leave out from beginning to ("rebates") in line 42 and insert (" "(11) Where"). Page 173, leave out lines 1 and 2 and insert ("(12) Where").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

7.45 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk moved Amendment No. 94: Divide Schedule 12 into three Schedules, the first (Amendments. England and Wales) to consist of Part I, the second (Amendments: Scotland) to consist of Part II and the third (Amendments: England, Wales and Scotland) to consist of Part III.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I put down an amendment to Clause 137 which, as I was clearly informed, was not acceptable to the Government. I want to explain why I believe that this amendment is important. This is a revising Chamber and one of the major features of our work is to ensure that statutes are clear and understandable not simply to courts of law but to the citizens of this country. I do not think that we are doing enough in that direction at the present time.

The House is constantly being told that the presentation of statutes is being done under colossal pressure and that the Secretaries of State, with all their staffs, are so pressed that they cannot give adequate time to it. The production of statutes is one of the most important functions of Parliament. There is no excuse for not having enough adequately trained personnel to prepare them.

I have tried to resolve one of the major problems of this Bill. For the first time I have seen that the quantitites in terms of clauses and schedules are roughly the same; there are 87 pages of clauses and 72 pages of schedules. It is important that the clauses should be properly joined to the schedules and I am afraid that that has not been done.

I should like to explain the situation as regards Clause 137, where it is simply stated: Schedule 12 below (which contains amendments) shall have effect".

I wonder whether your Lordships realise that, quite apart from the inadequate explanation, that is bad grammar. The verb "effect" is a transitive verb and it should therefore have an object, but it has none. That has been put in by those who have prepared the Bill—and prepared it badly. I think that greater care should be taken in the formation of statutes so that they can be properly understood.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, speaking last year on a Bill dealing with drafting, said that he would not expect the citizen to find the answer to his case in terms of the Bill. I think that the citizen would expect to find the answer, and that he would find it much more cheaply if he understood the Bill rather than going to the expense of litigation. I believe that today statutes are becoming so complicated that in a very short time they may well come to be held in contempt. They require to have a much higher standard of presentation which may be understood by virtually everyone in this country. That is not happening at the present time. Indeed, this particular Bill is extremely complicated. My objective in drafting the previous amendment was to clarify certain issues, to make clearer what parts of the statute were dealt with by the schedules, so that people would know. Each one of those schedules had effects outside the statutes.

I shall not press this further. However, I should like to hear why the Government found it so unreasonable to put forward in Clause 137 something which would have made clearer to the public what this part of the Bill and the schedules stood for. It is for that reason that I beg formally to move the amendment.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the amendments in this group are similar to amendments we discussed at Report stage. At that time I said that I would have to run for legal advice. I have done so and I have to tell your Lordships that on the best possible advice available to me the Government cannot accept the amendments proposed by my noble friend.

I am in a better position now than I was at Report stage to argue the point that was so cogently put by my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Selkirk and is put forward again today by my noble friend Lord Selkirk. Perhaps I could summarise briefly three points which are of relevance. I presume that my noble friend would intend the three schedules to contain similar subheadings referring to the amended Act by name. If my presumption is correct, I can see no purpose in listing the statutes which are amended, first, in the clause, and, secondly, in the schedule which contains the amendment. This is merely repetitive, and, I am sure my noble friend will agree, is to be avoided.

A point that I believe important for my noble friend to bear in mind is this. His amendments achieve the distinction between Scotland, England and Wales, and England, Wales and Scotland, by using three clauses and three schedules. The Bill as drafted is more economic in achieving this by one clause and one schedule. It does this by use of the concept of part of a schedule, much as one uses a part of a Bill to show clauses which deal with different subject matters.

Another point of importance is this. My noble friend referred at Report stage (at col. 198 of the Official Report) to the halcyon days of Gladstone and Disraeli. I am reluctant to contradict him on this, but I feel that I must remind the House that the very reason for the establishment of the office of the parliamentary counsel in the middle of the last century was that the drafting of statutes was so chaotic and inconsistent in those early days. In fact it was Lord Thring, the first parliamentary counsel, who advised that a Bill should be separated into parts containing clauses and schedules to separate the most important from the less important.

What my noble friend is saying applies to every single Bill that comes before your Lordships' House. As it ranges so wide, it is a matter that I should like to discuss further with my noble friend the Leader of the House, because it is a constitutional point. Perhaps I may write to my noble friend in more detail.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend should refer to Disraeli as having been the first parliamentary counsel. He was a jolly good parliamentary counsel. I wish I could say exactly the same at the present time. Disraeli, as a parliamentary counsel, was a man of outstanding ability. I agree with my noble friend. However, the schedules were very brief and to the point then.

I shall not press this point. I am not in the least convinced by the way that my noble friend has spoken. There is a vast area of drafting which needs to be cleared up. In some ways it is a pretty dirty story and in this House we have to do a great deal more to ensure that statutes are properly drafted and understood by the general public of this country. We have to pay a lot more attention to this in the future than we do at present. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.55 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

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

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (The Earl of Caithness.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is with a feeling of some relief that we reach this stage of the Bill. It has been a long, tedious—sometimes less than tedious—process since Second Reading on 9th May. It will not be any surprise to your Lordships to know that we on these Benches still feel as strongly about the principle of a flat rate tax, a poll tax, in place of the present rating system with all its faults as we did at the beginning.

We supported the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, in his amendment which attempted to introduce the criterion of ability to pay into the replacement of the domestic rates, as indeed the Prime Minister originally intended in 1974 when she first raised this matter at the general election of that year. We were deeply disappointed that the amendment of the noble Lord was not successful. We were particularly frustrated by that defeat in view of the fact that so many noble Lords who came in to vote against the Chelwood amendment were so seldom seen in the House and had taken no part in our debates on either this Bill or any other Bill. I go further. They will themselves be beneficiaries of the Bill in the sense that they will do better out of the poll tax system than the domestic rates system.

We feel particularly strongly about all the Government's attempts to push the poll tax through this House because nearly all noble Lords in this House benefit from the legislation. We feel strongly about it also because all of the assertions that we made to the Government. with evidence to hack them, that this is a Bill which makes the poor poorer and the rich richer were simply denied without adequate evidence by government spokesmen at all stages from Second Reading until the Report stage.

This is a bad Bill. It is a Bill that is regressive in fiscal terms and socially. It widens the gap between rich and poor. It increases the danger of divisions in our society between those who are better off and those who are worse off. It will not redound to the credit of this Government that they have pushed it through despite the misgivings that have been felt on their own Benches both in another place and here. It will not do them any good electorally, because the people of this country will see through the arguments that have been put for the poll tax. They will see that these are arguments that have failed to address the case that we have been putting forward here and in another place that this is a reactionary and regressive Bill.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

Lords, the noble Lord accuses the Government of having pushed the Bill through this House. Does he not recollect that on perhaps the most crucial Division of all, the Division on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, a majority of independent Peers supported the Government? Does that suggest that the Government were using their majority to push the Bill through the House?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord was in his place when I referred to the Division on the Chelwood amendment. It was not part of my case that it was only Conservative Peers who supported the Government on that occasion. I did not say that.

Having made the basic point that this is a bad Bill which ought not to have been pushed through—and I insist on that—I must make two other observations about it. The first is on the detailed discussion that we have had and the detailed amendments that have taken place. As the House will be well aware. there have been only two Divisions on which the Government have been defeated. The first concerned the exemption of student nurses; and we have just agreed amendments which apply the student nurse exemption to Scotland as well as to England and Wales. I appreciate that these amendments have been made without commitment to any undertaking that they will be carried through in another place.

The second was the additional element of rebates for disabled people who are also poor and on income support. We believe that those are very important amendments. We are pleased that the House saw the arguments as they were put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and we believe that they are a significant improvement to the provisions of the Bill.

What must also be said is that without defeat in the Division Lobbies, the Government have also made a very large number of significant concessions in the detail of the Bill. I do not know that I can list them all. The principal concessions that come to mind are, first, short-stay hostels, an exception which has been extended this evening to general purpose hostels; the homeless; remand prisoners as well as those who have been convicted; voluntary care workers, and there appears to be room for further concessions there; the extension of the exemption of mental handicap to cover intellectual impairment since birth and in adulthood; the concession on vacant houses when the owner is in hospital; the agreement that there should no longer be provision for sale of the community charge register; the definition of "a day" in hostels. That amendment was perhaps a victory for common sense rather than victory for pressure from voluntary organisations. There have been concessions on discretionary business relief; the de minimis exemptions which have been brought in, for example, for bed and breakfast accommodation and for child minders; the abolition of a whole part of the Bill on residual rating in inner London; the provision that social services records shall be of names and addresses only, and, finally, this evening, the concession of 80 per cent. mandatory exemption from the business rate for charitable premises.

There have been many occasions when we have exerted pressure which has not resulted in amendments. I shall not weary the House with all those, but it is necessary and right and an honour to say that these concessions have been made with total probity and with total courtesy and with full consultation and consideration by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and his colleagues on the Government Front Bench. There has not been a single time in our consideration of the Bill when we have had occasion to doubt their sincerity or their willingness to listen to the arguments which were being put forward. We are grateful for all that. The Bill has been bitterly fought on many occasions and there have been many occasions when we have felt so strongly that we have not been able to smile or crack our faces at some of the things we have seen being done. None of that reflects in any way on the respect that we have for noble Lords on the Government Front Bench. We are grateful to them for the way in which they have conducted the business on the Bill. We hope that they will feel that we have approached the Bill in very much the same spirit as they have; a spirit which is in the best interests of this House.

The Bill leave this Chamber a better Bill than it was before but still a Bill which has grave defects in principle. We believe that it is one which the Government will regret having introduced, but that must he their responsibility. We hope that we have done our duty in seeing to it that it is no worse than it need to be.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, from these Benches I should like to echo what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said about the way in which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has handled the Bill from the Government Benches. There is no doubt that he is a listening Minister—a compliment that I do not always pay to government spokesmen, but he does listen. On a number of occasions he has heard what has been said by the Opposition, has taken back the suggestions and has come back—though not always of course agreeing, mostly not agreeing. The list of changes which have been made as a result of debate in this House is a tribute both to the way the noble Earl has handled the Bill and to the way in which your Lordships' House works.

The Bill shows once again how the House at its best can do an extremely good job in improving legislation. Too few votes have been won, but many changes have been made. I shall not weary the House by repeating the very comprehensive list given by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. The result must be seen as very satisfactory from that point of view.

Having said that, I can only say once again that we still believe that this is an extremely had Bill. We do not accept that it is proper at the latter end of the 20th century that any form of legislation should be as regressive as is this legislation. There can be no doubt that a great many of the poor will be poorer and the rich will be richer. I know that the noble Earl tried to argue that it was not so, but events will inevitably prove that, even though he will not accept the arithmetic which is pretty plain for all to see. This is not a principle that we on these Benches can for one moment accept.

Of course we have been told over and over again that the reason for the Bill is that the local authority must be accountable and that paying a contribution, however small, will increase the degree of accountability. However, I point out to the House that the total amount of payment which will be handled locally and controlled by local authority decision will be very small. This is yet another measure which increases the centralising tendency of the Government and which undermines the strength, power and authority of local government. We have again and again urged, as we have done consistently now for a very long time (though we accept that rates was a bad tax as a way of raising local finance), for the whole issue of local income tax to be properly explored. It never has been, despite the support it was given by the Layfield Committee over 10 years ago. It was not necessary, as the Government have often repeated. But they have insisted that the measure they have brought forward is necessary because rates are a bad system. They have always argued as if there were only these two alternatives. We have never accepted that and we do not accept that there are only these two alternatives.

We supported the Chelwood amendment and were extremely sorry when it was defeated, and especially about the way in which it was defeated. I believe that decision did your Lordships' House no good whatsoever in the eyes of the public, which saw the way in which the vote was run in order to achieve such an overwhelming majority. It was clear to anybody how that was done and I sincerely hope that we shall never be told on occasions such as that that the Government "won the argument". How can the Government be said to have won an argument when so many of the people who voted had not even heard one word of the argument?

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, I too should like to express my appreciation to the Minister for the way in which he has handled the Bill. He has been very good tempered throughout these long days and nights. He has been very courteous to us all. He has been extremely helpful and meticulous about writing to those of us whose points he took away for consideration. For that we are grateful. A number of concessions have been made, but unfortunately the principle of the Bill still remains intact. Like other speakers this evening we still feel that this is a bad Bill, and people will realise just how bad it is as time goes by.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I regret the massive whipping that was introduced. It did nothing but bring this House into disrepute and I hope it is something that we shall not see regularly in the future. In conclusion, I express my personal admiration to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for the way he and his team have borne the brunt of the work of presenting the arguments against the Bill. A tribute to him is well deserved, as is a tribute to the noble Earl for the way in which he has handled the Bill in the House.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

My Lords, in the course of our debates I have indicated that I greatly admire the courage and the imagination, sometimes the ingenuity, with which the Government have introduced this measure. I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Caithness for the way in which he has skilfully and courteously piloted the measure through the House. As a new Member I am enormously impressed by the way in which in your Lordships' House it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. I also welcome the many concessions which have been made by the Government.

I welcome the firm assurances which the Minister gave to me. They were that the local authority associations and others concerned with the implementation of the Bill will continue to be consulted. I believe that such consultation is essential, bearing in mind that the Bill is in only skeletal form. It leaves the detail—often the vital detail—to be prescribed in secondary legislation. Therefore I do not feel quite so happy about the form in which the Bill will leave the House, as do some other noble Lords.

It is skeletal legislation in spite of the fact that the Bill consists of 179 pages—152 clauses and 13 schedules. I hope that I am not trespassing on what is supposed to be a convivial Third Reading by saying something controversial, but I should like to point out that the Bill draws attention to the damage that has been done by the quantity and quality of legislation now being brought before Parliament.

On 7th July the noble Earl made an important and complex statement about the rate support grant and the control of capital expenditure, which are linked to the way in which the Bill will work. I asked then about the period of consultation and whether it would be sufficient to avoid the recent experience of retrospective legislation being introduced to amend retrospective legislation which had been proved to be ineffective in law. The Minister said that the period of consultation would be three months, with a deadline of 7th October. Bearing in mind the two vacation months of August and September, I doubt whether that period will be sufficient. I certainly do not believe that it will be sufficient to give three months or so for consideration of the many statutory rules and orders which will be introduced before the Bill begins to have an impact.

I believe that everyone, including all those who are critical of the community charge or the new business rate, wish to make the Bill work effectively. I have referred to retrospective legislation following retrospective legislation, and it is right to clarify that cryptic reference. It means looking briefly at the history over recent years of local government legislation, particularly in the light of Clauses 126 and 147 of the Bill.

The Bill does not exceed in length the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, which was a source of most of the trouble. I remember saying that it was a monstrous morass of legislation which could not and would not work. It was said that I was an anti-Thatcherite rebel and a wet to boot. The trouble always faced by Government Back-Benchers was summarised by Disraeli. He pointed out that if you stand up and praise Ministers, you are sneered at for seeking a place. But if you stand up and criticise them, you are sneered at for having been denied a place. Therefore it is difficult to strike a balance between supporting the Government on their general objectives while drawing attention to matters which one believes to be of public importance.

The trouble with Bills of this kind is that they cannot be properly considered by your Lordships; they cannot even be properly considered by Ministers. I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Sandford, in referring to the burdens cast upon the Minister, say that the trouble is that departments are keeping Ministers too busy. I always believed that Ministers ran their departments. Perhaps if there were fewer Ministers for departments to keep busy, as there used to be, there would be less, shorter and better legislation. We have found continually that the Government believe they have it right; they find that they have not and then have to introduce new measures.

That happened in connection with the block grant legislation that they tried to introduce in 1985 after the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council. They had to make adjustments. They purported to make those adjustments in a rate support grant report. They found that, although they had been advised, they were wrong. Eleven days after it was passed through the House of Commons they had to introduce further legislation. They found, when that was referred to the courts for judicial review, that all that it had done was ultra vires. They then had to promise new legislation, which resulted in the Rate Support Grant Act 1986. The Minister said that it would be all right, and then found that that was ultra vires and had to make another promise to bring forward more legislation. That legislation is in Clause 126 of the Bill. That is a sorry story to illustrate what could go wrong with this legislation.

Presumably the Government again believe that they have it right and that there will be no more trouble. They have specifically introduced Clause 126 concerned with: Variations of multipliers in supplementary reports". Depending on the multiplier depends on whether the local authority receives more or less. That is a very important factor. I shall not attempt to define a multiplier and I shall certainly not show one to the House. They are awful to look at.

Clause 126 is concerned with the Secretary of State's powers to vary anything that he does after it was originally determined; that is, retrospectively. The clause is barely intelligible, even to an expert, much less to the man on the Clapham omnibus. It is worthy of a system which the Secretary of State has described as bizarre and complex. Moreover, in trying to get it right this time, the clause confers even wider powers to correct what was the Bromley error which begat the Greenwich error. It enables the Secretary of State to re-open local government grant arrangements going back over years. It even allows him to tailor the grant payable to particular authorities.

I doubt whether the Bill, even as drafted, will do all that the Government believe that it will. It may be that the Bromley error will be followed not only by the Greenwich error but next time by the Haringey error. That is because it departs from a fundamental principle of the legislation governing the payment of grants to local authorities; namely, that the amount payable shall be determined in accordance with principles applicable to all local authorities or local authorities of a particular type. We may well ask ourselves whether we wish it to be upheld in all the circumstances.

Clause 126 does not bear on the main purpose of the Bill. I am not trying to object to that. However, it is significant because it reveals what is happening to our legislation at the present time. What is happening is not limited to the case of Bromley or Greenwich. Bills of this nature increasingly include powers of quite extraordinary width, permitting governments to make a new law virtually as they go along.

I invite noble Lords to look at Clause 147. There can be no objection to it because it is skeletal legislation, which is being amended as it goes along by governments as much as by oppositions. One must have such a power if a Bill is ever to come into effect. Subsection (1) states: The Secretary of State may at any time by order make such supplementary, incidental, consequential or transitional provision as appears to him to he necessary or expedient for the general purposes or any particular purposes of this Act or in consequence of any of its provisions or for giving full effect to it". Subsection (2) states: An order under this section may in particular make provision for amending, repealing or revoking (with or without savings) any provision of an Act passed before or in the same Session as this Act, or of an instrument made under an Act before the passing of this Act, and for making savings or additional savings from the effect of any amendment or repeal made by this Act". Subsection (5) states: In this section 'Act' includes a private or local Act". Let us be in no doubt about what we have done. We do it with our eyes open. We give the Minister power even to repeal a local or a private Act by order. Of course, such orders are going to be subject to the negative resolution procedure so that we know they will all come back. We want them to come back, but I believe we know in practice what that procedure means.

I believe that the powers taken in this Bill are inherently dangerous and have to be carefully monitored. By all means let the Bill go through, but let us not forget that it must be very carefully monitored. Your Lordships' House will have a responsibility to look at those orders and regulations and, where necessary, apply the negative resolution procedure. Above all, it reinforces the argument that there must be a great deal of consultation as we go along. The fact that these clauses are necessary is a recognition that Parliament cannot and does not deal adequately with the legislation it is supposed to be scrutinising. The truth is that there are simply not enough expert draftsmen to go round. No matter how meritorious the objectives of a Bill, as we may accept are the objectives of this Bill, there does not exist the means for ensuring that they are properly prepared. As a result, too many of our statutes are drafted in such obscure and impenetrable prose that it is difficult to have a general idea of what is intended. Yet the consequences are often serious and sometimes disastrous, particularly in Common-wealth countries which take our legislation as a model for their own.

I hope I am not trespassing too much on your Lordships' patience or going beyond what is appropriate in discussion on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. I believe that these principles are important. It is difficult to find an opportunity to express one's anxieties which, in my case, are real and deep.

In 1977 Sir Geoffrey Howe produced an admirable book called Too Much Law the theme of which was the necessity to control the volume of law. I hope that Ministers will read and re-read it. Its theme was that we should look critically at those laws which are not, and for practical purposes cannot be, understood by the people whom they address, which is the case with this Bill. He added: Laws that multiply opportunities for the exercise of ministerial discretion increase the risks of confusion … Certainly those that must exist should be the subject of precise and intelligible rules and he susceptible to effective judicial control". I believe that we should ensure that regulations made under the Bill fall within that demand, because the Bill falls into that category.

I believe that the flow of Bills must somehow be stemmed if the whole process of legislation is not to be brought into disrepute and ultimately to undermine the sovereignty of Parliament. I trust that the Bill will achieve what we hope for it, but if any of your Lordships believes that it is the last time that you will be troubled or that there will not, as was suggested today, be a local government finance amendment Bill next year, you may he sadly mistaken.

Lord Hayter

My Lords, to use a phrase that is sometimes used in this House, from all on these Benches I should like to thank the Minister. I am sure he will not mind if I couple that thought with thanks to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, who have helped me from time to time. I have been very impressed with the noble Earl's constant thoughts on the propositions put to him from all sides of the House and, as somebody said, we thank him not only for his speeches and sometimes his concessions but also for his willingness to write to us on a variety of subjects. We are very grateful to him.

From these Benches one expects no politics because we can only speak as independents. Therefore, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, if the Minister is thinking that this is not a particularly convivial evening, perhaps we may say thank you and hope that that is the end of the politics.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I do not believe that anybody could have listened to my noble friend Lord Rippon without a good deal of sympathy for what he said about the pattern of our legislation. However, I believe that a dilemma faces any government anxious to make fundamental changes in the way in which we do things in this country.

The way that the legislative process has grown up, and the way in which the courts interpret the law and over the centuries our statute law, mean that unlike other countries we now have to spell out with great particularity in our statutes the details of what we wish to achieve. I am not quite sure whether the criticism that the Bill was too long, had too many sections and too many schedules was the one to which my noble friend gave greatest weight or the argument that certain matters had been left to subordinate legislation. It seems to me that there is a balance which always has to be struck.

One recognises—and I suppose I have to say this as an ex-lawyer, though once a lawyer always a lawyer—that Clause 147 from which he read, the Henry VIII clause, has inherent undesirabilities. Nevertheless, given the complexity of legislation of this sort, as a former Minister who tried to legislate in this field, I find it immensely complex and difficult.

That brings me to the only two points which I wish to make. First, I should like to echo—and I say this with sincerity—the words of praise and commendation which have been directed to my noble friend Lord Caithness. He has handled an immensely complex Bill with huge courtesy, great sympathy and clarity. I believe that the House is greatly indebted to him.

Secondly, this is for me—I hope I may be allowed to say this—a moment of some quiet satisfaction. I believe that my noble friend Lady Blatch was present at the conference when I announced that there would be studies leading to what we hoped would be a fundamental reform of a greatly outdated system of local government finance. I take some comfort that I am able to be present at one of the final stages of the achievement of that legislation—not quite four years later.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, because I know what a formidable task it is as an Opposition Front Bench spokesman to deal with complex legislation, and he did it brilliantly. He made the point that there are bound to be defects. It is difficult to get it right first time. Throughout this entire debate no one has sought to defend the system which this Bill replaces. In no way would I wish to repeat and bore the House with what I said at Second Reading, but I was driven to the conclusion less than a year after an election had been fought, on the assumption that the existing system would remain. that it simply could not remain and it had to be replaced. This Bill is the result.

1 believe that it is right to lay emphasis on accountability. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was perhaps a little unfair to my noble friend when he said that somehow that was the catch-all answer to everything. Accountability is what local government must be about. I believe that the Bill adheres to and establishes the principle of accountability, which will enormously strengthen local government in this country. The problem that we have faced is that, because of the lack of accountability, there has had to be more and more centralisation, and centralisation of the sort to which my noble friend Lord Rippon adverted in some of the latter parts of his speech. It is centralisation which I find myself having to grasp, and I find it extremely difficult to justify.

This Bill will put the responsibility back where it belongs—on local councillors answerable to their electorate and with the nexus once more established between how people vote. what people receive and what people pay. That is an enormously important principle, and, whatever one's complaints about the actual details—and many of the amendments referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, were details—there cannot he any argument that it is essential for the health of local government that we re-establish that nexus among those who vote, those who receive and those who pay. That is what this Bill achieves and I congratulate the Government on having brought it to this stage, where the prospects of it now reaching the statute book with virtually all of its provisions intact must now be extremely bright. I thank the Government very much for carrying this Bill through. It started with high hopes that are about to be realised.

8.30 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, on 9th May, when the Bill had its Second Reading in your Lordships' House, I said that its central objective was the enhancement of accountability of councils to their electors. I commended it to your Lordships as the best alternative to the unfair and increasingly unworkable present system of local government finance. I believe that the central objective of the Bill has stood up to the closest possible scrutiny during its passage through this House and that it has won the support of many of your Lordships in the process.

We have ended our consideration of this important Bill in the same constructive way in which we began at Second Reading. I explained then that the Government had brought forward their proposals after a great deal of careful thought and I outlined some of the changes to the Bill to be made in your Lordships' House as a result of discussions in another place. I also recognised that some of your Lordships might seek to propose further amendments to the Bill and I undertook to listen carefully to any positive proposals that were put forward. I am sure your Lordships will agree that we have done just that.

We have had almost 90 hours of debate over nine days since 9th May, with about 40 divisions. Most importantly, we have improved the Bill in more than 80 respects involving some 450 amendments to the Bill as received in this House. No one can say that we have not listened carefully at every stage, including today, to the views of your Lordships; nor that we have not been receptive to representations from outside this House made in parallel with arguments advanced within it. As a result, the Government have been able to move or support almost all those changes.

I think it is worth recounting not the changes that have been made as a result of commitments from another place but the changes that your Lordships have been involved with which did not come from another place. I highlight some of the most important. There were the exemptions from the community charge for homeless persons and the care workers; there was the prohibition on the sale of the register, of which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, reminded us; there were regulations concerning transitional arrangements to be subject to affirmative resolution; there were exemptions on fishing rights; there was the deletion of the residual rating from the Bill— the whole of Part IV. Today, there were two further major concessions—what I call House of Lords concessions. Charitable relief and residents of short-stay hostels are to be exempt from the community charge. Your Lordships can be very proud of the work you have done in the true, traditional and courteous manner in amending the legislation.

To the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I would say that I cannot agree with her on some of the points that she made. She was perhaps not her usual characteristically fair self. I refer your Lordships to the voting pattern on the major amendment we dealt with on day one of the Committee stage. I was able quickly to look up a major Division in your Lordships' House and I recall in particular the votes on the GLC and ILEA. It is the first time that over 50 per cent. of noble Lords on the Cross-Benches have voted with the Government. That goes a long way to supporting my view that we won the argument because we had a very full Committee on that day.

I express my gratitude to all noble Lords for the appreciation and courtesy extended to myself and to my noble friends Lord Belstead, the Lord Privy Seal, Lord Glenarthur, Lord Brabazon, Lord Sanderson of Bowden and Lord Hesketh during the very many hours of debate. We very much appreciate that. I thank my noble friends, particularly my noble friend Lord Hesketh, who has done a noble job in supporting me.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will permit me to correct an unpardonable omission from my own speech. I omitted to thank my noble friends on this Opposition Front Bench for the work which they did on the Bill. It was truly a team effort and I am extremely grateful to them, as I am grateful for the co-operation of those on the Benches to my right and a number of Cross-Benchers who worked with us on the amendments. I couple that appreciation with thanks to those advisers who assisted us in preparing amendments to the Bill.

I am sorry that I neglected to express those thanks earlier and it should not have been done through an interruption to the speech of the noble Earl.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I was delighted to give way to the noble Lord.

I should like to thank those on the Back Benches behind me who have helped me most of the time. When I looked in my wing mirrors I was perhaps a little surprised by some of the help that I did not get. I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, who I am glad is here tonight to see, so to speak, his baby mature into something more than a gleam in his eye four years ago. I also thank my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Lady Carnegy of Lour and Lady Blatch. They have done a splendid job not only in criticising me where it was due but also in assisting me.

I give special thanks to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who has led his party with very great distinction during our detailed discussions and thorough consideration of the proposals. He brought his great experience of local government to bear during our debates. I know that the Bill is very much improved as a result of that. I refer not only to his skill in matters of local government but to his skill in the handling and grouping of amendments. I think specifically of the way he handled on Report the grouping of the rate capping amendments. That taught me something I did not know. I join him in thanking his team of the noble Lords, Lord Underhill, Lord Graham of Edmonton and Lord Dean of Beswick, who have done such a courteous and splendid job.

Nor should I forget the contribution of the noble Baroness Lady Stedman, who proved, as ever, a formidable opponent. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, a fellow surveyor and a noble Lord from whom we can expect some equally skilled contributions in the future.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I apologise for the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, who is unable to be here tonight. I am standing in for him.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords. I thank all noble Lords for the kind words said to me. Those words apply, of course, to my whole team, my advisers and my officials.

There is one point I should like to stress because I think that at times some of your Lordships did not realise that this is very much a government Bill. All the concessions that we have been able to give have been as a result of full government consultation. I pay my tribute to my honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who have assisted in that process and been closely involved with what your Lordships have been considering. Without their support we should not have had the improvements to the Bill that were achieved.

In conclusion, I reiterate that this Bill marks a new beginning for the relationships between local authorities and their electors. The thoroughgoing reform of the outmoded and widely unpopular domestic rating system is long overdue. The basic principles of the proposed system have withstood the test of the most careful examination and your Lordships have made a magnificent contribution towards improving the detail of the proposals.

Naturally I take a different view from the rather gloomy outlook of some noble Lords opposite. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding reminded us, this is part of a comprehensive review of local government. I believe this to be an exciting challenge to all of us and very important to local government. As we look forward to the new era in local government finance, I am happy to say that this Bill leaves your Lordships' House a better Bill than when it arrived.

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

House adjourned at twenty minutes before nine o'clock.