5 Clause 116 page 64, line 3, at end insert—
(3) Each relevant authority which is a charging authority in relation to the Personal Community charge shall, in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State, make arrangements for—
6 Schedule 13, page 125. line 45, at end insert—
(5AA) Where a disabled person is entitled to community charge benefit in respect of a day, and section 20(8E)(a) or (b) above applies, the amount to which he is entitled shall be the sum of the community charge additional element and the amount which is the appropriate maximum community charge benefit in his case.".
7 Page 126, line 5, at end insert—
(5BA) Where a disabled person is entitled to community charge benefit in respect of a day, and section 20(8E)(c) above applies, the amount to which he is entitled shall be found by deducting amount B from amount A, where—
8 Page 126, line 5, at end insert—
(5BB) For the purposes of (5AA) and (5BA) above, a person is a disabled person if he is in receipt of:
§ 9 The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason:
§ Because the amendments involve charges on public funds and affect local taxation, and the Commons do not offer any further reason trusting that this reason may he deemed sufficient.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their amendments numbered 5 to 8 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 9. With the leave of the House I should also like to speak to the amendments and reasons numbered 10, 11, 11A, 11B, 14, 15, 15A and 15B which are all related to the same point.
When we debated that the Local Government Finance Bill should pass from this House, virtually all those who spoke remarked on the good spirit in which our debates on the Bill had been conducted. Your Lordships will recall that there were also many references to the concessions that the Government had made as a result of the arguments that were put forward in your Lordships' House. I believe that the consideration of this Bill has shown the value of your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber. There is no doubt in my mind that the Bill was greatly improved as it left this House compared with when it arrived.
Those who attended our debates will recall the many important changes that the Government made as a result of the arguments put forward by noble Lords from all sides. Your Lordships will recall how noticeable it is that so many of them concerned the most disadvantaged members of our society; the homeless, the handicapped, those on very low incomes and the organisations that are dedicated to caring for them. That is a testament to the concern of your Lordships' House, but it is also a clear indication of the Government's willingness to listen 170 and, on issues such as these, to be guided by the wisdom and expertise of your Lordships' House.
I prefaced my remarks in the way that I have because I think it is important to set in context the issue now before us. Your Lordships will recall that at the Committee stage, an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, providing for 100 per cent. rebates for the disabled, was defeated by 20 votes. However, at the Report stage, a somewhat revised series of amendments was approved. It was contended that one of the purposes of your Lordships' House might be to invite the other place to look again at certain aspects of the Bill. The noble Lord gave the other place that opportunity with his amendments. The other place has looked at the matter again and has disagreed with the amendments because they would strike so fundamentally at the basic purpose of the Bill.
I must emphasise that the reasons the Government asked the other place to disagree to the amendments were reasons which were entirely concerned with the policy underlying the Bill. I should also like to stress that the Government's attitude to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, is not borne of any lack of concern for the disabled. That much, I hope, is evident from the concessions for the disabled that we have made in the Bill. I would also remind noble Lords that as a result of the social security changes which took effect from April of this year disabled people are on average£4.50 a week better off than they were before. The Government's aim has been to target help where it is needed. Among the main beneficiaries of that policy have been the disabled. The same is true of the community charge rebate system. It too will be specifically designed to give extra help in three important respects to those who are disabled. First, disabled people who have far higher net incomes than their able-bodied counterparts will be eligible for rebates, whether the maximum or any other level of rebate. In 1988–89, for example, that differential is £13.05 a week.
Secondly, for those disabled people who have earnings, the first £15 a week of those earnings are disregarded in calculating their entitlements to rebates. For individuals who are not disabled, the disregard is only £5 a week.
Thirdly, the whole of any mobility allowance and attendance allowance will be disregarded in calculating entitlement to community charge rebate as well as the first £5 a week of any more pension.
Among the amendments which were made to the Bill in your Lordships' House are those which ensure that those who are severely mentally impaired as a result of accidents in adulthood are exempt as well as those handicapped from birth or in childhood. That was another major government concession.
I must also say at this point that I suspect that there may be some misunderstanding about the extent of the exemption for the severely mentally impaired. A number of individual cases have featured in the press and on the radio recently in discussions on this topic. All the cases of which I am aware concern mentally handicapped young people living with their parents. On the facts as I have heard and seen them described, all the young people concerned would he exempt from the community charge. Under no circumstances 171 would they therefore be required to pay anything and no question of a rebate would arise. To them the noble Lord's amendments are superfluous.
So far as concerns those on low incomes who are not exempt, those living in low-spending areas will be slightly in pocket as a result of our proposals. Those living where spending is higher will find that they will have to pay slightly more. That will be true of all those who are community charge payers in any area. In the case of those on low incomes including the low-income disabled, the amounts involved are small. In only five local authority areas would the amount be more than 50p a week even on present spending. But the Government believe that those amounts are crucial to ensuring that local councils are fully accountable to the adults in their area.
Before I sit down I should like to give two further assurances which I hope will underline the Government's concern in these matters. The first involves the level of uprating to be included in income support to reflect the 20 per cent. community charge payments that will be made. That uprating will be carried out this autumn in time for the start of the community charge system in Scotland in 1989. In deciding the amounts to be included within income support, the Government will of course take account of the best estimate available at that time of likely community charges.
The second point on which I wish to reassure your Lordships is this. Much of the concern that has been expressed in your Lordships' House and outside relates in practice to the total amount that needs to be provided for disabled people to live on. I believe that the Government have an excellent record in this respect. I have already referred to the more generous treatment that disabled people receive in the social security and rebate systems. Let me assure your Lordships that the Government have no intention of resting on their laurels. We keep, and will continue to keep, these matters under constant review. That approach of reflecting the needs of disabled people in the social security system is, it seems to me, the appropriate one.
On the basis that the Government are committed to it, I invite your Lordships to agree that we should not pursue the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for altogether laudable motives. I beg to move.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, in view of what he said, I think that I should point out that there is a material misprint on the Marshalled List against the reason numbered 9. Instead of reading that,the Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason",it should read "these amendments" because my noble friend has pointed out that they disagreed with amendments numbered 5, 6, 7 and 8.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct. I apologise for the spelling mistake in amendment numbered 9. Of course "this" should read "these" and "amendment" should read "amendments".
§ Moved, That the House do not insist on their amendments numbered 5 to 8 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 9, as amended.—(The Earl of Caithness.)
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, on the previous group of amendments, I refrained from commenting on the constitutional aspects of the matter not least because of my manifest incapacity to do so. On this group of amendments I have raised two amendments which might be thought to have constitutional significance. I think that it is right that I should introduce them properly. First, I wish to point out what a short way they go. Amendments numbered 11B and 15B do not in any way question the judgment of Mr. Speaker, or the right of another place to oppose any amendment on privileged grounds. Nor do they in any way delay the progress of this Bill. They accept the amendments which have already been spoken to by the noble Earl that the House do not insist on their amendments to which the Commons have disagreed. So if these two amendments are passed the Bill can go through without a single second's delay.
However, we believe that it is necessary to make not a constitutional but a political protest against what has happened as a result of the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House and another place. According to Erskine May, it has been recognised in the past that, although the Commons has a privilege over local rates:The Commons now generally waive their claim regarding amendments made to bills that they have sent to the Lords, dealing with municipal, county and local rates and assessments".That is stated at page 850. The change that has taken place as a result of the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House is that a greater part of local government finance is now paid from central resources, and the claim can now be made—in fact is being made by the Commons—that any view that your Lordships take about any part, of local government finance, whether it is the community charge or the other parts, can be subject to the privilege of the House of Commons. That is a major change. I have no idea whether it is a constitutional change, but it is a practical change, because for decades now your Lordships have felt it proper to debate and vote on issues relating to local government finance. We are now under threat that if we do so in a way which does not please another place, privilege can be invoked and your Lordships can be denied the right to do this. The right is not absolute; it is always by agreement of another place. But it is a valuable right because it affects so much of our public life, so much of the business that proceeds through Parliament, and demands and deserves the full consideration of your Lordships.
It is for that reason that I have put down these two amendments which do not seek to contest the right of another place, but regret that Her Majesty's Government are seeking to oppose the amendments not on their merits but on the grounds of Commons financial privilege, notwithstanding, as Erskine May has confirmed, that the Commons has in the past generally waived its privilege on issues relating to local government finance. Indeed—and this has 173 already been referred to in the House this afternoon—it has done so in relation to other amendments made by this House to the Local Government Finance Bill.
On the substance of the issue I yield to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. I say from these Benches formally that we are deeply disappointed that the Government have felt it necessary to overturn the view which the noble Lord, Lord Allen, persuaded your Lordships was the right view and, as a result, have put the disabled poor at an unnecessary risk and have raised the possibility of unnecessary financial suffering for this very deserving group of people.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, I was under the impression that we were discussing amendments numbered 5 to 8 and that we had not yet reached amendment numbered 11B. I for my part am not proposing to make any comment at this stage on the constitutional aspect, except to say that I recognise that, in view of the reason given by the House of Commons for rejecting our amendments, there can be no question of our challenging the decision taken by the elected Chamber. However, I was interested and very grateful to the Minister for not limiting himself to that reason but for giving an explanation, if I may say so, in rather more convincing terms than has previously been forthcoming for the reasons taken by the House of Commons on my amendments.
On reading the debates in the other place on these amendments I noticed that they did not centre on the powers of the House of Lords but that they centred on the merits of what we decided here. It seemed to me that the Government lost the argument by roughly the same margin as they won it on the vote.
I confess that I was a shade surprised to find that some words of mine were read out, somewhat out of context, and that they were accompanied by references to me which I might be forgiven for thinking could have been more felicitously phrased. But, in accordance with what I understand to be the traditions of this House, I propose to say no more about it.
On the merits though I may perhaps in the circumstances be permitted to say just a few words. I am still puzzled. There is the argument about accountability on which the Government have laid so much stress and to which the noble Earl referred today. The Government say time and again that it is essential that every citizen should have a financial interest in the affairs of his local council. But I find that extraordinarily difficult to reconcile with the fact that a person on maximum rebate who lives in an area with a less than average community charge receives not only the 100 per cent. relief for which I have been asking, but an additional financial bonus as well. It may be small, but it will be very welcome to those who receive it. Exactly what "accountability" means to an individual in that position does not exactly leap to the eye.
174 There are other anomalies, notwithstanding the improvements that we made in the Bill in this House, which have been accepted by another place. However, this provision seems to me to be the oddest of them all. Although I listened carefully to what the noble Earl said about mental handicap, what Ministers have said both in another place and in the media gives the impression that they think that the fact that the severely mentally impaired are exempt means that all the points which some of us have been making on behalf of the mentally handicapped have nothing in them. Alas, my Lords, it means nothing of the kind. It is true that the totally unsatisfactory provisions remaining in the Bill about certifying those suffering from severe mental impairment leave much too much scope for uncertainty. But whatever the numbers of those who in the end are so certified, there will be many mentally handicapped people who will not qualify for exemption but who will still be living at home with their parents, who may themselves be disabled on the borderline of poverty, as in the example I ventured to give to your Lordships at an earlier stage.
Some of the cases to which the BBC has given publicity may in the end be certified as severely mentally impaired. I just do not know. But to generalise from these few cases and to dismiss the many mentally impaired and mentally handicapped people falling short of the definition of "severe mental handicap" seems to me simply to be a refusal to face what amounts to a very serious problem.
We have no answer to the question: where do the Government think the money is coming from year by year for many of those on income support and faced with all the additional problems of disability? Nor have we had any answer to the point that the effect of the Bill is bound to be that more people will go into residential care (if they can find it); in fact, that is a contradiction of the Government's policy of care in the community. It is easy to understand why we have not had an answer to that point: there simply is not one.
I think that I have said enough. I wanted to put those few points on the record because I am sure that the day will come when it will be found how grave are the problems to which today's decision will give rise. I believe that the Government are likely to come to regret the decision for the reasons which some of their supporters have stated with great clarity. Unfortunately, so will numbers of the poorest, most struggling and deprived of our fellow citizens. When this hits them they may well be tempted to feel that common sense, compassion and any real understanding of what it means to be poor and mentally or physically disabled have had to give way to party dogma.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, I eschew any attempt to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Allen. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, disclaimed any desire to speak on a constitutional issue, so I do not wish to cross swords with an acknowledged expert on the merits. My position has always rested with my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding when he spoke on this subject on Second Reading.
175 I want to add a footnote to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, accused me of being intoxicated by my own omniscience. I do not claim to be omniscient but I claim to be a student of Erskine May. The difficulty about what was said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is that he quoted only one of the references to Erskine May which I believe to be relevant. I do not have them immediatley in my head. Noble Lords will have seen that I have been sitting in my place since the debate began and have not had an opportunity to revert to my bible on these subjects. If the noble Lord will refer to my speech in Committee he will see that I made two references and not one. The first is at page 800 and something—the one to which he referred. I believe that there was an earlier reference which I think is at page 321, though I may be wrong.
The point is this. I believe that his proposed amendment contains a serious misapprehension. It is common ground that the Commons has a right to waive any of its privileges and it has not done so in the present case. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, went wrong, both in his speech and in the text which he was about to propose in respect of Amendment No. 11B, because he looked at only one of the two references and therefore he did not understand what the true practice has been in relation to local taxation.
I believe that if he studies Erskine May a little more fully he will discover that something similar to the following has been the practice. A large number of Acts go through Parliament which in one way or another affect local taxation and local imposts of various kinds, from drainage rates to general rates. Where they occur in local and private Acts of Parliament it is the custom of the House of Commons expressly to waive its privilege. I believe that it has usually done so—that it has done so universally but always expressly. However, where the tax in question is a general impost it has always insisted on its privilege, contrary to what is implied in the noble Lord's amendment.
I think that his proposed amendment is an objectionable one, notwithstanding the fact that it does not seek to challenge the supremacy of the Commons on this basis, because it contains a false statement of the constitutional practice. The fact is that where a general impost is imposed the Commons has always insisted on its amendments, except where it found it convenient expressly to waive them. The general practice to which he referred from the pages of Erskine May was related to private and local taxation where the Commons habitually waives its amendments. That is all I have to say.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this matter but it goes a little further than the subject in front of the House. With respect, perhaps I may refer to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. It deals not only with private Acts of Parliament but also Bills sponsored by Private Members.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, that is where local government expenditure has been permitted. As the House well knows, all Supply not only needs to be supported by a financial resolution but it must have the Queen's consent by Privy Counsellor. In the same way, any increases in taxation can be moved only on behalf of the Crown; namely, by a Privy Counsellor on behalf of the Government.
Many Bills have been passed affecting both local government revenue and expenditure without a financial resolution. I can call to mind an example which is very much in the context of that which we are discussing. The Bill imposed more charges and affected the disabled to a greater extent. It was put forward in 1970 by the right honourable Alfred Morris and the whole basis of the local authorities' responsibility for the disabled rests on it. There was no question of privilege being claimed in that case.
Noble Lords will remember that recently the House inserted an amendment into a Bill to replace dog licences. That was not objected to by the other place, though I believe that, because it rests on statutory instrument, statutory instrument is unlikely to be made. That is a different point.
I should be the last person to say that the House of Commons does not have the right to object on grounds with which I may or may not agree. I should be the last person to wish to challenge in a conflict the right of the elected Chamber against ourselves. Nevertheless, I believe that it would be wrong if it were thought that Private Members, whether in this House or in another place, should be inhibited because they do not have a financial resolution, which is strictly the privilege of the House of Commons. That may be thought to be so if the interpretation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, was strictly adhered to.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I should like to point out that the right honourable Alfred Morris was, and still is, a Member of the other place and not of your Lordships' House. What can be done in the other place is of course open to a Private Member. However, it is not within the rights of this House, whether by the Government or a Private Member, to deal with matters of Supply or expenditure, as my noble and learned friend on the Cross-Benches said a few moments ago.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I should like to comment on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. The amendment is curious because it seeks to censure Her Majesty's Government for seeking to oppose the amendment not on its merits but on the grounds of Commons financial privilege. That is a curious reason for seeking to blame the Government. During the course of the debate there has been little dispute or argument that Commons financial privilege covers the matter. Therefore it seems odd that the Government should be blamed if, in those circumstances, they invite your Lordships not to seek to violate it. What else could any government do? What could the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, do if he were on that Bench? Would he seriously invite your Lordships' House to 177 disregard Commons privilege? Of course he would not.
Therefore it is a quite extraordinary procedure to table an amendment censuring Her Majesty's Government for doing what any government plainly have the right, and I suggest the duty, to do in the circumstances. I invite your Lordships' attention to the fact that, whatever the merits, this is clearly a matter within Commons privilege and the other place has indicated that for those reasons it is not prepared to agree to it.
I very much sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, because he worked so hard on this issue: he has had the cup, as it were, dashed from his lips. I shall not seek to argue the merits of the matter, which he put so well and so movingly. I confine myself to the issue of your Lordships' House being asked to approve this quite extraordinary amendment.
In suggesting that your Lordships' House reject this amendment—and reject it firmly because, as I have already said, your Lordships' House knows that no government could make any other recommendation—I make just one further comment. I t is rather ironic that it should be from the Labour Front Bench that proposals are made for this House to exercise powers against the Commons. Your Lordships will recall that at the general elections of 1979 and 1983, so far from recommending such an attitude, the Labour Party came out for the abolition of your Lordships' House. It is a rather startling reversal of that destructive attitude that on this occasion it not only likes to see your Lordships' House in full vigour but also suggests that your Lordships' House should take on another place.
I suppose that since the conversion of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, one should always welcome repentant sinners. In that sense I express a warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I congratulate him on his new-found enthusiasm for your Lordships' House but I suggest that he should not carry that too far because, as his own amendment indicates, it is just when your Lordships' House treads on the Commons' corns by pressing too many issues involving Commons privilege that it is inevitable and perhaps right that another place should react. Therefore, I suggest to the noble Lord—moderation even in virtue.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, like my noble friend on the Front Bench I should like to express deep and immense disappointment that this amendment should have been rejected. It was so ably moved on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who has spoken to it again today with impressive knowledge and sincerity.
In my view the amendment was rejected for illogical reasons. That rejection portrays an attitude of mind which is totally detached from the realities of the everyday living of disabled people. The Minister said that it offended the basic principles of the Act. The Minister then pointed out that in those areas where the poll tax is below the national average, the 178 disabled will make a small profit. It is also the case that the elderly and disabled who are in rest homes or residential care will be exempt from the poll tax. It seems that the local authority does not have to be accountable to those people but has to be fully accountable to the disabled poor.
The rejection of the amendment ignores the pattern of life of disabled people and the problems they have with the everyday business of living; namely, getting up, getting dressed and going to and from the shops. Added to all that there is now the further worry of the reduction in their income because of the rejection of this amendment. They do not have the time to sit down and decide on the finer points of the parties who are contending for power in the local authority. They often live where they do because that is where the relatives are who give them the necessary support.
I should like to repeat a proposition which I put to the Minister on Report. The rejection of this amendment creates an impossible dilemma for the disabled poor. They either have to pay more out of income support for the vital services which they need or they lose those services in order to have more money left from their income support. We have heard of Catch-22. I believe that there is now another device—Ridley-22.
The Government's intention seems to be that disabled people on income support will somehow be in the van of the campaign to force local authorities to reduce their expenditure on vital services—services which the Griffiths Report Care in the Community clearly said should be centred on and co-ordinated by the local authorities.
On television this weekend there was a practical example of what this will mean. A young man employed in the housing department of a local authority was pressing the authority to alter the access to the housing department, to make the doors wider and to put in ramps and so on so that disabled people could gain access. The local authority said that it would like to do it but could not afford to. If in future it finds that it has the money to do it, and spends the money and thereby increases the poll tax in that area over the national average, it is those disabled whom the improvements are intended to help who will be disadvantaged.
Perhaps I may deal with the obsession of the Secretary of State with accountability. If a disabled person is to be able to take account of the performance of a local authority, he has to be able to vote. I should like to quote briefly from an excellent report, Disabled People and the General Election, which was prepared by the Spastics Society:We spoke to disabled people living in the community who had not registered to vote both because of the physical difficulties of voting and because of other people's attitudes to their disability and resulting experiences.…Other disabled people who were registered to vote were prevented from actually voting by a range of physical problems and by difficulties the system presents for people with mental handicap.…We spoke to both physically disabled people and people with mental handicap who did vote but only by over-coming a series of obstacles. People had difficulties getting to the polling station, getting into the polling station, getting into the polling booth and marking the ballot paper.…Our own enquiries about access to polling stations revealed substantial access problems.".179 Sadly I have to say that this is all part of a pattern. We have had the indefensible delay in the implementation of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. An amendment was moved by my noble friend Lord Basnett and myself to a previous local government Bill which was intended to slightly improve the employment chances of disabled people with contractors to local authorities. That was rejected by the Government although it was first accepted by this House.
The Minister was careful to refer to the average increase for the disabled under the Social Security Act. He omitted to mention that there are hundreds of thousands of disabled people who are worse off as a result of the Social Security Act. We now have this measure, which will reduce the income of substantial numbers of the disabled poor.
Last autumn I introduced a debate on the needs and problems of people with disabilities. I referred to the fact that besides the North-South divide about which we hear so much there is another divide in society—the disabled divide. That is the gap in the quality of life, expectations and income of people with disabilities compared with the rest of society. The rejection of this amendment has made that gap just that much wider.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, I wish to make one very brief point on the merits of the amendment to which we are speaking. On the question of the constitutional proprieties, I find myself in very close agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. That is not altogether surprising because in the past we have both held the office of Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
There is one point on the merits where I feel that it is right to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. I shall not quote the passage from his speech at an earlier stage in this House which he suggested Mr. Ridley took out of context. I read both Mr. Ridley's speech and that of the Opposition spokesman who quoted rather more of it than did Mr. Ridley. To me it meant the same thing. The noble Lord suggested that the reason for this amendment was that the halt, the blind, the lame and the mentally handicapped could not be expected to take part in the democratic process. As one who fought quite a few elections over a number of years and perhaps saw them from a somewhat different perspective from that of the very, very high office held by the noble Lord in the Home Office, I find that an astonishing proposition. Indeed, it is one which goes contrary to what successive governments of all parties have sought to achieve in addressing themselves to the problems of disabled people.
There are key phrases which we have all used. Certainly when I was Secretary of State for Social Services presiding over the International Year for Disabled People we spoke of the concepts of participation, of maximising an individual's capabilities, of concentrating on abilities rather than disabilities and, in the realms of policy, of doing as much as possible to enable disabled people, no matter what their disability, to live as normal lives as possible in the community.
180 Those of us who have fought elections, both local government and parliamentary, have always been humbled—I certainly have been on many occasions—by the determination of people with very severe handicaps to play their part in the democratic process and to feel that they are citizens exercising their rights to vote. Like Mr. Ridley, I am bound to say that I find it a somewhat strange concept to believe that poor disabled people simply cannot grasp the niceties of the democratic process, that they cannot fill in postal ballot papers and that somehow they are to be regarded as non-citizens.
If I have been unfair to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, I shall gladly give way to let him explain what he meant, but I can read his words in no other sense. Of course there are some who are so seriously disabled that they have little option but to rely entirely on other people for support, but a great many of the poor disabled people, whether they be blind, deaf of physically handicapped in some other way, actually do take part. They want to take part, They want to be like other people.
I shall not repeat the figures which my noble friend from the Front Bench gave about the additional financial support which is available, but in relation to the concepts of accountability and of voting, I think it is entirely right that disabled people, subject to income—which is of course provided for throughout this Bill—should be able and encouraged to exercise their full rights under the democratic process.
I found this amendment a difficult one to accept as it seemed to fly in the face of everything towards which one has been working in a variety of different capacities: to allow disabled people to participate and to develop their potential as far as possible so that they should not be treated as a race apart but fully regarded as part of our community and encouraged to play their role. For that reason, on the merits, quite apart from the constitutional question, I believe that we are absolutely right in not insisting on the amendment which was passed earlier.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, I am not sure whether I am in order in speaking again, but may I say briefly that I stand by what I said at earlier stages of the Bill. Contrary to what the noble Lord seemed to imply, I have not been suggesting that these poor people should be deprived of the vote.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, we seem to have got on to Amendment No. 11B, and we even heard Amendment No. 15 being mentioned. Perhaps I may point out that Amendment No. 11B is not an amendment to the Bill. It is an amendment to a government Motion. An amendment to the government Motion can have no legislative effect whatsoever. From a legislative point of view it is merely a protest; it is not an amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringay
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for this confirmation of what I actually said in my speech on this matter.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, I very much regret that the Commons has rejected this amendment, and in such 181 a way as to make it impossible for us to challenge its decision. I say that because I believe that the case for the amendment is as strong as it is simple. The equivalent of 100 per cent. rebate would be available for those disabled poor living in an average spending local authority, but less than 100 per cent. recompense would be available to the disabled poor living in a high spending authority.
We know that the high spending authorities inevitably include the poorest areas of the country. 'We know also that very many of those both poor and disabled will be living in the above average spending areas. The Government say that they cannot agree the amendment because it would deprive the poor and disabled in high spending areas of accountability, but one is bound to ask whether those people are likely to determine policy in any event. Should they, the poorest and disabled, be blamed for local high spending policies and be penalised because of them?
The Government say that the disabled are treated better for thresholds for income support than the able-bodied. As far as I am aware, those reliefs do not take into account the amount which will have to be paid by those whose community charge is above average. The reliefs apply to all disabled people in high, average and low spending areas. Presumably they represent what the Government consider disabled people should have as a minimum without taking into account any extra spending which there may be because of the community charge.
The Government say that the income support needs allowance will be higher in depressed areas, but that will not take into account the extra cost incurred through having a rebate which is short of 100 per cent. Again, it presumably represents the Government's view of the minimum required without allowing for extra community charge expenditure.
The Government argument is an argument against any help with the community charge for disabled people, but that point has already been conceded by the Government. Under the amendment claimants will still have to pay their community charge first and then claim. They are not sheltered from that process.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, in this House is supported by all the major disablement charities and also by the Royal College of Nursing, which is concerned about the possibility of people being pushed into residential care because of additional expenditure. That would be exactly the opposite of the Government's stated policy and intention.
For all those reasons and for many more, I very much regret that the other place has decided to reject this important amendment.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, allow me to say very briefly that I agree with every word of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and with those of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who has just spoken about the merits of the amendments. I very much regret that the Government have not seen fit to advise the commons to accept them.
182 So far I have not mentioned my views on the constitutional position because I have been disinclined to find myself enmeshed, if that is the right word, in a political storm. I should only say that I have grave reservations about everything that has been said on either side of the House. I slightly regret that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has sought to introduce amendments numbered 11 B and 15B into reason numbered 9. I honestly think that his amendments are separate and should be dealt with separately. What we should be dealing with are the merits of the amendments to which the Commons disagreed.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, while I do not wish to intervene, perhaps I may point out that in introducing the amendments the Minister said that he was speaking to the whole list of amendments, including my own. In courtesy to the House, therefore, I thought it right that I should speak to my own amendments.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, indeed, that is so. I wish that it were not so. However, I hope that the noble Lord will not move the amendments or, if he does move them, that he will not press them. I am sympathetic to his point of view, but I do not think that he gains anything by what he is trying to do.
Although we should respect Commons financial privilege with the greatest care, I think it is important that we should also respect our own privileges and freedoms and not allow them to be eroded or diminished in any way. I fear that to a certain extent some of the constitutional arguments have tended that way today. It is worth pointing out that the Bill is not a Supply Bill or a Finance Bill, and it has nothing to do with the Parliament Act in that respect.
Lord Henerson of Brompton
My Lords, I am afraid that some people have—not the noble and learned Lord, but other noble Lords who have spoken today and indeed hitherto have said so.
Where I part company with the noble and learned Lord is when he says he is advised that the Commons was bound to disagree to the amendments that the Lords had made. That, he said, is what he foresaw and advised the House would happen, and there is no possible alternative. In fact, there is a possible alternative. The House of Commons can be advised to waive that privilege and agree to Lords amendments. That is a perfectly valid possibility. Not only is it a possibility, but the Commons does it in countless cases. The House of Commons Journals are littered with the waiving of privilege whenever the Government advise the House of Commons to accept Lords amendments, so it is perfectly possible.
Indeed, in this very Bill now before the House the Government have accepted Lords amendments. One has only to look at Amendment No. 13:The Commons agree to this amendment and propose the following amendment to it".183 Of course the Commons can agree to amendments, even to Bills that affect local or indeed national taxation. However, on the whole we do not make amendments to Supply Bills and money Bills, and that is why we do not normally go into Committee on such Bills.
I wish to raise one other procedural matter. When these amendments were being discussed in another place, it was most unfortunate that the Secretary of State quoted the very words of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, in this House. What is more, he described them as patronising and offensive. In this House we have two very good rules whereby we protect Members of another place. One is that we do not quote from the verbatim report of another place, unless they be words of Ministers, for very good reason. I therefore deplore that the words of a non-ministerial Back-Bencher, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, should have been quoted in another place, not just by an ordinary Member of Parliament—if I may describe any Member of Parliament as ordinary —but by a Secretary of State. I think that that is deplorable, and it should not go without protest.
The second rule is that we do not refer to Members of another place by name by way of criticism. The Secretary of State has referred to a Member of this House by name by way of criticism. I think that that too is a matter for regret. I say that not because I wish to criticise any Member of another place but because I think that we ought to expect the same kind of protection from another place in regard to our Members as we give to Members of another place in this House. I thought that it was only right to make that point. Having done so, I shall sit down without any further comments on procedure or privilege.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. I think it is a pity that we have been discussing constitutional questions alongside the merits of the amendments. It was perhaps unavoidable. It happened also when I moved an amendment to Clause 1 of the Bill on a much larger scale. It resulted then, as I think that it results now, in the merits of the amendments not being fully debated, which is a pity.
I deplore the rejection of this amendment. The Government appear to be making a fetish of accountability. I think that as a result of the rejection of the amendment things will bear harshly and unfairly on some people who are both poor and disabled and living in highly rated areas. But, my Lords, what is, is; and although I think that the Government are making a mistake here I see no point in debating it at length.
Although I am quite unqualified to do so, I should like to make a comment on the constitutional question. It seems to me, with respect, that all through the discussions of constitutional questions, particularly today, there has been a failure to make a distinction between the two reasons given by the Commons for the rejection of Lords amendments. One reason is that amendments involve "charges upon public funds". A community charge is a charge upon the people and therefore upon public funds, which automatically attracts grants from central 184 government funds, over which the Commons claims privilege against the Lords. That is quite clear from the 1983 edition of Erskine May at pages 755 and 756. I am not a student of Erskine May like my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, but I find it very pleasant light reading in the evening!
The second reason given by another place for rejecting Lords amendments is quite different; namely, that they "affect local taxation". Where that is concerned, I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in everything that he said on the subject, and with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. From a very careful study of Erskine May—and I refreshed my mind today—I find that since 1838, based on a precedent in 1834, with rare exceptions—"generally" is the word in Erskine May—the Commons has waived the exercise of its sole financial privilege to discuss municipal, county and local rates. Since then, 150 years ago, the Commons has disagreed to Lords amendments based not upon the Commons claim for privilege but upon the merits of the amendments. It seems to me therefore, with respect, that this is a very grey area which it is all too easy to oversimplify.
§ 5 P.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, it may be helpful to your Lordships if I deal briefly with some of the points that have been made.
I did indeed widen the scope of the debate from the amendments that we are discussing to discuss all the amendments, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for the convenience of the House rightly spoke to Amendments Nos. 11B and 15B to the Motion. Those amendments express regret that the Government seek to oppose Lords Amendments Nos. 10 and 14 on the grounds of privilege. The noble Lord's amendment draws attention to the fact that on other occasions, including amendments to this Bill, the other place has waived privilege.
I have to say to the noble Lord that it is indeed possible for the other place to waive privilege and to agree to amendments passed in your Lordships' House. However, when the other place disagrees to amendments from this House that involve privilege then, even if there is a policy reason for that disagreement, the convention is that the reason and the only reason cited is privilege. Those are the circumstances on this occasion. The amendments inserted in the Bill in your Lordships' House were fully debated in the other place. Far from Mr. Speaker ruling privilege—which the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, explained, and said that he had used—there were in fact 12 speakers in the debate, some supporting the deletion of the amendments, others not.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State set out in detail why the Government have reached the view that the amendments were unacceptable. I too have set out the policy reasons for disagreeing with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. The debate in both Houses has been in terms of the policy. Privilege was mentioned only when the Deputy Speaker reminded the other place before the debate began that the amendments involved privilege. I hope that clarifies the position. 185 Had the other place decided to agree to the amendments privilege would certainly have been waived, but because the amendments were not agreed to, privilege was, by convention, the reason given.
The noble Lord, Lords Banks, said that under the amendment disabled people would have to pay the charge first and then claim the additional element. That is not provided for in the amendment. In fact the rebate system will provide in most cases that people entitled to rebates get them in the form of a reduction in their bill. The additional element provided for in the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, if they had been accepted, would fall to have been paid in the same way. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, read from the report. We all know of circumstances where is has been difficult for disabled people to get to polling booths. I take up a point made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding when he said that there are postal ballots. Of course one wants the physical situation to improve but where one knows it is difficult a postal ballot can be arranged.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, will forgive me if I do not respond in detail to every point that he made in his opening remarks. We have debated the substance of these amendments at length and I know that the ground has been covered in great detail more than once. If your Lordships will permit me, I should like to respond to one of his arguments; namely, his view that our proposals will provide a disincentive to care in the community. That was a point raised also by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. The Government simply cannot accept that contention.
It is perfectly true that an elderly or disabled person will be exempt from the community charge if he moves into a nursing home or a residential care home. If that same person were to remain resident in the community—if he stayed in his own home for example—and if his income were low, he would be eligible for a rebate of up to 80 per cent. and, if appropriate, to an extra amount of income support to reflect the average 20 per cent. liability. The supposed incentive to move into care would be minute and in many areas it would actually work the other way because, as the noble Lord knows, in an area with a below-average charge an 80 per cent. rebate plus a 20 per cent. uprating will be worth more than a complete exemption.
Morever, if there is any disincentive to care in the community it is one that exists at present. As your Lordships will recall from what I said at earlier stages of the Bill, nursing homes are exempt from rates but ordinary houses are not. I agree with my noble friend Lord Jenkin of' Roding that we must include the disabled as much as possible in everyday life and treat them as normally as we can. I believe my noble friend once again made a persuasive speech. I remind your Lordships however that during the passage of this Bill the Government have shown a willingness to listen and to modify their proposals in the light of concerns that have been advanced.
I emphasise again that the severely mentally handicapped will be entirely exempt from the 186 personal community charge. There was, as your Lordships know, a major improvement made to the Bill in respect of those citizens in this House. As regards other disabled persons, the Government continue to believe that the appropriate way of giving help is through the social security and rebate systems. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, will have heard what I said in opening the debate about what we have done for the disabled. As a result disabled people will be treated more favourably than others. But surely it is right that local councils should still be accountable to them as well as to others. We believe that is the correct and fair outcome.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, before the Minister sits down will he accept a correction? I believe he said that in the debate in the other place the Deputy Speaker, at the beginning of the debate, said that it was a matter of privilege. It was said halfway through the debate.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, if that is true, then of course I fully accept it and retract what I said earlier.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.