HL Deb 07 June 1988 vol 497 cc1272-307

5.18 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 16.

[Amendments Nos. 74A and 75 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 76 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No 76A: Leave out Clause 16 and insert the following new clause:

("Joint and several liability.

16.—(1) This section applies where—

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

(2) They shall be jointly and severally liable to pay an amount (the chargeable amount) to an authority in respect of a community charge as it has effect for a chargeable financial year in respect of the liability arising for either or both of them under section 12 above (read with section 13 above, where it is appropriate) or section 14 above.").

The noble Earl said: We have had a very useful discussion on Clause 16 this afternoon. Many of the points on marriages which have gone through stormy waters, some of them even ending up on the rocks, have been covered. However, I should like to ask one or two questions on a problem that may arise in the first year of marriage.

I am grateful for having received a letter from my noble friend. Although I tried to draft a very much simpler clause than Clause 16, the proposed new clause is clearly defective in its drafting. We need a longer clause. However, these questions deserve an answer. Perhaps the easiest way that I can ask them is to give an illustration.

Let me assume that the year is 2000. Mr. Sydney living in Kent, marries on 1st July a girl Susan from Durham, where there are a lot of pretty girls. They are both over 18. My first question is this. Mr. Sydney has paid his community charge for the year 2000 to Kent. Susan will have paid her community charge to Durham. Can Susan immediately have her name deleted from the register in Durham and reclaim her community charge from Durham for the remainder of the year? My second question is: Can Susan have her name registered in Kent as Mrs. Sydney as from 1st July, the date of the marriage? There does not appear to be any provision in the Bill compelling the Durham registrar to communicate with the Kent registrar, so that Susan can change her residence and avoid paying the community charge to both Durham and Kent.

Clause 16(4) as written seems to make Sydney responsible for an amount represented by A/B for the period from 1st July to 1st April. In other words, to put that into figures, 275 divided by 366 (because I have chosen a leap year) will be Susan's community charge for Kent for that year, although she may not yet have cleared her name with Durham.

I believe that part of this may be covered by the amendment which I have now had a chance to study, Amendment No. 81A, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, but Clause 16 as drafted is very hard for young married couples to understand. That is my reason for asking these questions. I beg to move.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I believe that the noble Earl was referring to the year 2000 in his example. He said that it was a leap year. I believe he will find that the century is never a leap year.

The Earl of Balfour

Actually that one is, but I shall leave that to my noble friend.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour for so clearly explaining the reasoning behind his amendment. It follows very closely, almost identically, the letter he wrote to me. Now that the noble Earl has spelt out the contents of his letter, I have put a copy of my reply that he has admitted he has received in the Library. Rather than repeating the whole contents of my reply to my noble friend I shall repeat just the key point which my noble friend may not have taken fully into account. Under Clauses 3 and 12 an individual's liability for the personal community charge accrues on a daily basis during the course of the financial year. This makes it necessary to provide that joint and several liability should also be assessed on a daily basis. That is why it is necessary to follow the rather more involved course adopted in Clause 16 rather than the simpler course advocated by my noble friend.

An example may help to illustrate the point. If a couple marry on 1st June during the course of a financial year, they will be jointly and severally liable in the financial year in question from 2nd June until the end of the year. But they will not have been jointly and severally liable between 1st April and 1st June. Clause 16 as it stands spells that out in detail. By contrast my noble friend's amendment does not make clear whether the couple is jointly and severally liable for the whole year—which I think the Committee would agree would be unfair—or for only that part of the year during which they were married. In short, this is one matter where a little complexity in the form of the formulaic approach of Clause 16 is absolutely necessary. But as regards some of the detailed points, I believe that the Committee will find that I have answered those to my noble friend's satisfaction and I shall ensure that a copy of my letter is in the Library as soon as possible.

The Earl of Balfour

With that assurance I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 16, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Monson

As the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, has just said, We have had a useful and fairly full debate on the clause. The Minister has been extremely helpful in explaining Clause 16 at length and I believe that to some extent he has reassured the Committee. But I doubt that he has succeeded in calming all the fears expressed from many quarters of the Committee. In other words the clause is certainly not yet right. Whether it is better to ask the Government to take the clause away and think again, or whether it is better to come back ourselves at the next stage with amendments of our own is a difficult choice.

I do not intend to divide the Committee, but should other Members decide to do so I shall support them.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I realise that Clause 16, for the reasons the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has explained, has to be fairly complicated. At line 38 I find subsection (7). It reads: For the purposes of this section people are married to each other if they arc a man and woman— (a) who are married to each other and are members of the same household". I should have thought that was fairly obvious. Or— (b) who are not married to each other but are living together as husband and wife". As far as I am concerned if you are not married, you are not married, whether you are living together, sharing a house or whatever you may be doing.

Subsection (8) says: For the purposes of this section people are not married to each other on a particular day unless they are married to each other throughout the day". I just wonder whether the drafting of the clause could be reconsidered.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

As a general rule we take the view that if we have had a debate on what we have chosen to be the most significant item in a clause and the Committee has decided not to accept our opinions, it would be inappropriate for us to vote against the Motion, That the clause stand part of the Bill. As inevitably one has had to be selective in putting down amendments to the clause, it is appropriate to repeat the view that has already been expressed by my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs and by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. I am referring to the fact that we find the whole concept of joint and several liability as expressed in the clause to be profoundly unsatisfactory, to be reactionary in social terms and to be in conflict with some of the small measures of progress which have been made in social security and other legislation by this Government. We very much regret that the complexity of the community charge system which the Government have wished upon themselves, and are now proposing to foist upon the nation, involves us in this reactionary piece of social legislation.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that it was his belief that I had not calmed all the fears of those concerned with this part of the Bill. Nevertheless I do not believe that I shall calm all the fears however much I continue to try to persuade the Committee. There will always be some noble Lords who are concerned about the Bill. What I hope I have achieved is to get rid of some of the misconceptions that have been aroused.

I was interested in the point raised by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, in respect of Clause 16. As I am sure she is aware, it was originally our intention that the joint and several liability applied only to spouses; in other words, to married couples. It was in our willingness to be helpful to the Opposition that we accepted an amendment from the Labour Party which included those people who were living together but were not married.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

Will the noble Earl explain what subsection (8) means? It seems to me to be meaningless.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I should like to ask why we have the complicated subsection (7) to which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred when a style was agreed during the passage of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act which, I suggest, puts the matter more clearly. It states: persons who are married to each other and live together or, being a man and a woman, live together as if they were husband and wife". That puts over the idea in much clearer language than is contained in this Bill.

The Earl of Caithness

We come back to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has never ceased to make throughout the passage of the Bill. I look forward to the numerous occasions on which he will make it in the future. It is that there are some drafting differences between this Bill and the Scottish Bill. The intentions are exactly the same, as the noble Lord will be aware.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I was not saying anything about the intention. I was saying that the language is easier to understand. Why, when there is clear language which this Government introduced last year, can we not stick with it? Why make it difficult?

The Earl of Caithness

As a lawyer the noble Lord will understand that lawyers differ. A different parliamentary counsel is involved on this occasion.

Noble Lords


The Earl of Caithness

That is right. As regards the point raised in respect of subsection (8), my answer is slightly covered by the point I made to my noble friend Lord Balfour earlier. They will not be jointly or severally liable on the day they get married but on a subsequent day.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

It is a small point but I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, is right and that the phraseology used in the Scottish Bill is more appropriate. I believe that it is clearer and that, in this particular context, it is more decent. Will my noble friend look at the matter again? If it is due simply to a variation of parliamentary counsel, it may be possible to swap them?

The Earl of Caithness

I take careful note of what my noble friend has said. Perhaps I may refrain from making the last suggestion to parliamentary counsel; but I shall make the first suggestion.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Glenarthur) moved Amendment No. 76B: After Clause 18, insert the following new clause:


.—(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations as regards any prescribed case where (apart from the regulations) co-owners would be subject to different standard or collective community charges by virtue of the same property.

(2) The regulations may contain—

  1. (a) provision that as regards the period for which the co-ownership subsists there shall be one charge only, that the co-owners shall be jointly subject to it, and that the registration officer for the charging authority concerned shall enter an item in the register accordingly;
  2. 1276
  3. (b) provision that the amount payable in respect of the charge concerned as it has effect for a chargeable financial year shall be calculated in a prescribed manner, and that the co-owners shall be jointly and severally liable to pay the amount;
  4. (c) provision that, notwithstanding that the co-owners are jointly and severally liable, section 16 or 17 above shall have effect to make a spouse or manager of any of the co-owners jointly and severally liable as well;
  5. (d) where the charge concerned is collective, provision as to the person or persons to whom any amount payable under section 9 above is to be paid.

(3) The regulations may provide that there shall be different charges as regards each of the following—

  1. (a) the period for which the co-ownership subsists (that is, for which the co-owners concerned are co-owners);
  2. (b) any period for which one only of the co-owners has an interest in the building, part of a building or dwelling concerned, or is owner of the caravan concerned;
  3. (c) any period for which there is a co-ownership as regards the property concerned but the participants of it do not correspond with those of the co-ownership mentioned in paragraph (a) above (whether because the number of members differs or because any of the personnel differs).

(4) The regulations may include provision conferring rights of recovery as between parties (whether co-owners, spouses or managers).

(5) Without prejudice to section 141(2) below, the regulations may include provision amending or adapting provisions of this Part; and in particular the regulations—

  1. (a) may provide that section 11(4) above shall apply where different charges arise because of the operation of the regulations;
  2. (b) may amend or adopt provisions of this Part which themselves confer power to make regulations (such as Schedules 2 and 4).

(6) References to co-owners include references to persons who together have an interest under a lease or underlease, and references to co-ownership shall be construed accordingly.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is necessary in order to remove an anomaly which arose unintentionally in the drafting of the Bill. Clauses 3 and 5 provide for the owners and tenants of properties to be subject in appropriate circumstances to the standard or collective community charge. It has always been our policy that there should be only one standard or collective community charge liability in respect of a single property. If, for example, a second home is jointly owned by two people it has always been our policy that there should be only one standard charge liability.

It has been pointed out that, as drafted, Clauses 3 and 5 may not conform to that policy. They may make each joint owner or joint tenant liable for a separate charge. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton—who, unfortunately, is not in his place—raised the point during the discussion on 24th May. I was not then able to respond but I can now say that he had indeed spotted an anomaly in the drafting. This amendment will put that anomaly right by making it clear that there should be only one charge per property. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Nugent of Guildford)

I apologise to the Committee but before putting the amendment I should put the Question that Clauses 17 and 18 stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 17 and 18 agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sure that the intention of the amendment is to be helpful and we are not opposed to it in principle. However, I am bound to say that it contains many detailed provisions about what regulations may contain in order to achieve the kind of flexibility in the situation of co-ownership which the Government envisage and which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, pointed out. It does not say what the circumstances will be when co-owners are subject to different standard or collective community charges. In other words, there are plenty of frills around the plate but there is no meat in the amendment.

It would be enormously helpful if the Minister would indicate the kind of circumstances he envisages in which the regulations may become necessary. Secondly, having set out those circumstances, how does he propose to ensure that Parliament has a chance to take a view on them?

I should like to raise one particular drafting point in relation to the amendment. It appears in subsection (3)(a), which reads: the period for which the co-ownership subsists (that is, for which the co-owners concerned are co-owners);". That is the first time that I have come across an attempt in legislation at a definition of a phrase within the same and a subsequent line. Either the phrase, the period for which the co-ownership subsists is the same as the phrase, for which the co-owners concerned are co-owners", in which case the words in brackets are unnecessary, or they are different, in which case the gloss on the first phrase is misleading. Perhaps the Minister will tell us which is the case.

Lord Havers

I make a simple plea for those who must read the Bill when it becomes law. I ask the Government to find a new Clause 18, which is spread over more than a page of the Marshalled List and which raises complications which I find difficult. I should like to ask my noble friend to consider whether he can shorten the clause into a more readable and easily understood form before the Report stage.

Lord Glenarthur

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for his understanding that there is nothing sinister in the amendment and that it is designed to be helpful and to remove the existing anomaly.

He asked about the circumstances which may arise to cause that to be necessary. The kind of circumstance we envisage is one where perhaps a property is in the names of two, three, four or more people. Were it not for the amendment there would be three, four or more standard or collective community charges instead of one. It might be a second home in the Lake District, for example, which gives rise to the kind of circumstance that we envisage arising.

As regards the view that Parliament may take of the regulation-making power, I understand that it would be subject to the negative procedure and not the affirmative procedure. That is because there would be many cases which would be required to be debated in Parliament if it were to be by the affirmative procedure.

In answer to my noble and learned friend Lord Havers I should like to say that, while I understand the point that he makes, it may be helpful if I run through the terms of the amendment which I did not do in the interests of time. It gives the Secretary of State a regulation-making power, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has pointed out.

In cases where co-owners would otherwise be liable to more than one charge by virtue of the same property, the regulations will provide, in accordance with subsection (2)(a), that there should be only one charge and that the co-owners should be jointly subject to it. Under subsection (2)(b) the regulations will also provide that the co-owners should be jointly and severally liable for the amount payable in respect of the charge. Under subsection (2)(c) the regulations will further provide that joint and several liability of spouses and managing agents will continue to apply. Under subsection (2)(d) the regulations will make provision for the payment of collective charge contributions to co-owners.

Under subsection (3) the regulations will make provision for what happens if co-ownership is established or ceases or changes during the course of a chargeable financial year. Under subsection (4) provision may be made for recovery between those who are jointly and severally liable.

I appreciate that this seems a fairly large amendment to move. The necessity to insert it as a separate clause comes from its complexity. However, I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord will feel at least partially satisfied.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have not had an answer to my second question. Is there a difference between, the period for which the co-ownership subsists and (that is, for which the co-owners concerned are co-owners)"? If there is no difference, why are they both in the Bill; and if there is a difference why is it claimed that they are both the same?

Lord Glenarthur

I am sorry, but I missed that point. Perhaps I can assure the noble Lord that subsection (3)(a) is simply intended to deal with the period during which the co-ownership subsists. The words in brackets simply make it absolutely clear beyond doubt what is meant by the period of co-ownership. The noble Lord may find those words rather confusing and may not find them in other statutes, as he was unable to give examples, but I assure him that those words would be absolutely clear before a court and that is what we are keen to ensure.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not find the words confusing. I find the drafting to be defective. If it is made clearer by the use of the second phrase then why use the first phrase at all? If the second phrase is better, it should be used by itself. I do not believe that the noble Lord has got himself off that hook.

In regard to the questions which have been raised both by myself and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Havers, I do not find at all satisfactory the Government's explanation of the complexity of this clause. I believe it is partly the result of the political pit into which the Government have been digging themselves by proposing the community charge as a whole. They are now finding that the pit is full of mud. I wish them joy of it.

Lord Glenarthur

Before the noble Lord sits down, I am afraid that I shall rise to that bait. The noble Lord has sought to challenge various aspects of this Bill. Wherever possible, the Government have done all they can to improve it. That is the purpose of this Committee stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 19 [Contributions in aid]:

On Question, Whether Clause 19 shall stand part of the Bill?

5.45 p.m.

Lord Diamond

I rise merely to seek clarification of the position with regard to United States servicemen, many of whom live off base with their families and now pay rates but in future will not pay the community charge. For example, in the case of the United States air base at Alconbury, I am told that some 1,500 personnel plus their wives and families live off base and Huntingdon District Council estimates that it could lose up to £600,000, which would mean an increase of between £6 and £7 for all other Huntingdon district charge payers.

In another place it was said that foreign governments would pay. I seek to clarify whether that payment will be sufficient and whether it will be paid to the district concerned. I am told that a Department of the Environment representative informed the National Association of Local Councils at a conference in April that the Government were aware of the problem and would be making appropriate arrangements. I ask the noble Lord to be good enough to tell the Committee what those appropriate arrangements will be, what will they cover and to whom the payment will be made.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for raising this important matter. I was fully expecting the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, to raise it because she tabled amendments to cover this point and has withdrawn them. Therefore I suspected that that matter would be raised at this stage. I am grateful that the National Association of Local Councils wrote to my honourable friend the Minister for Local Government in advance of this debate to explain its concern about the issue of visiting servicemen.

The first thing I should do in response to the noble Lord's remarks is to reassure him that it is the Government's firm intention to provide compensation to charging authorities for the loss of revenue arising from community charge exemptions. That applies not only in respect of visiting servicemen but in respect of all exemptions and also the student discount arrangements. It is our intention that compensation should be payable through the grant system. The precise mechanics of the compensation arrangements remain to be resolved but I confirm that the principles are clear. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, will be pleased to hear that we have been consulting with the local authority associations before finalising the precise procedures.

Lord Diamond

I am most grateful to the Minister for what he has said. Perhaps I may explain that my noble friend Lady Stedman would have been here making the same comments were it not for the fact that unfortunately she is engaged on other parliamentary business at present. I am very grateful to the Minister and I will take careful note of how the matter proceeds.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clauses 20 and 21 agreed to.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 79: After Clause 21, insert the following new clause:

("Factors to be considered by charging Authority.

A charging Authority shall not take into account the payment or nonpayment of any community charge by a person in the exercise of any of its functions not related to the collection of the community charge.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment. I apologise for standing on my noble friend's foot in doing so, but it was quite a feat trying to avoid it! That is not bad for a Tuesday night, is it?

The amendment is one which I hope the Minister will at least understand. We appreciate that in another place the Minister and his colleagues have made it clear that they would certainly frown upon any charging authority which acted in what one would call a punitive way by withdrawing services or, by virtue of the fact that a payer was not paying, was in some way or other visiting retribution upon him or her. The purpose of this amendment is that any authority which exercises its wide range of functions—and the Minister will know what they are—shall in no way take into account, in discharging its responsibilities to the ratepayer and the taxpayer and the resident in its area, the fact that for one reason or another there is some dispute or some nonpayment. If the Minister accepts that, we ask why he does not have it written on the face of the Bill. However, if the Minister can say that he has other means of consultation, advice and guidance for local authorities that will meet the point, we certainly will not press this amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

I have listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton moving his amendment and I can assure the Committee that I do not dissent from the principle that charging authorities should not discriminate, in providing services, against people who fail to register for or pay the community charge. This is no different from saying that authorities should not discriminate, in providing services, against people who fail to pay their rates, or people who have been convicted of a criminal offence—or, for that matter, people with fair hair! I accept the principle without reservation. Local authorities are service providers and they must carry out that role in accordance with the statutes which empower them to provide the services, without favour or discrimination.

The Government have made their position clear on this issue. When, in December 1986, we published a policy document on the community charge after the consultation period on the Green Paper had ended we included several paragraphs about the checks which registration officers would be able to run on the use of local services in order to maintain the community charges register. We used the following unequivocal form of words in explaining that those checks would not affect the availability of local services: In no circumstances would people be prevented from obtaining services that they were entitled to". So, for once, not only can I understand but I can agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, on a matter of principle.

Where I must part company with him is over the need for this amendment. The amendment itself is otiose and would achieve nothing. The reason is that nothing whatever in this Bill would authorise any local authority to behave in the discriminatory way that the noble Lord suggests. Local authorities carry out functions and provide services under a very wide range of statutes, and nothing in this Bill will override the provisions of those statutes governing the terms and conditions on which services may be provided.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister has made a fair statement. Those outside the Committee who have sought our assistance in obtaining assurances are entitled not only to take what the Minister said at its face value but to read into it, as I do, that if an authority acts in the way that we fear, without authorisation, or there are suspicions that it is doing so, the Minister and his colleagues will consider what steps are open to them.

I accept that the amendment is unnecessary in the light of what the Minister said, and in those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Schedule 2 [Community charges: administration]:

[Amendment No. 79A not moved.]

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No.79B: Page 82, line 38, at end insert— ("A regulation under this schedule shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I take the Committee through the precise consequences of the amendment. In Schedule 2, on page 82, the Bill deals with the administration of the charges. The Committee will appreciate that this schedule gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations concerning such provisions as he sees fit.

There are some very important matters that the schedule empowers the Secretary of State to act upon, such as, the collection of amounts persons are liable to pay … the collection of amounts individuals are liable to pay … [and] other aspects of administration". Our amendment seeks to add a further paragraph: A regulation under this schedule shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament". The Minister who is to reply is well aware of the general anxiety of Oppositions who are denied precise words written into a Bill and who wants a further opportunity—another bite of the cherry—to approve the Secretary of State's proposals. This amendment is along those lines.

We do not remotely consider that the intentions of the Minister are other than to carry out what he is empowered to do. However, because this Bill is a revolution in the payment for local services and because, without over-larding the pudding, there will be anxiety for a period, we suggest that, when the Minister and his colleagues have precise details of the instrument that will give effect to the words on the face of the Bill, instead of simply acting upon it, in a negative way, they should come before both Houses to have the matter debated and approved.

We are not thinking in terms of delay but of bona fide accountability and scrutiny, which is one of the functions of this Chamber as well as another place. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I certainly accept that the affirmative procedure can be a useful check on the exercise of the power of the executive. However, I do not believe that its use would be as appropriate as the noble Lord suggests it might be in the case of Schedule 2.

The noble Lord would not, by any stretch of the imagination, describe Schedule 2 as a wide and general power. It prescribes in great detail what the Secretary of State may include in regulations dealing with the administration of the community charge. It is no exaggeration to say that anyone reading the schedule will have a clear idea of what the regulations will look like. So great is the level of detail that the Committee could, if it wished, by amending the schedule virtually rewrite the regulations.

In those circumstances, I suggest that it would be completely superfluous for the Committee, having examined the schedule both in Committee and on Report, to have a debate and vote on the regulations. It is important that Parliament should be able to exercise control over secondary legislation, but the regulations under this schedule are exactly the kind for which the negative resolution procedure was designed. I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I appreciate that the Minister's answer is in the negative. However, we are looking for further opportunities for the Chamber to exercise its function. The Minister is absolutely right that the schedule is tightly drawn on precisely what it seeks to do. However, one must consider exactly what it will do. We are debating regulations that make provision for the collection of amounts that persons are liable to pay for community charges. Although that is precise, it is enormous in its impact. We are referring to the collection of amounts that individuals will have to pay in contribution to amounts which other persons are liable to pay in respect of collective community charges. Those regulations will have an enormous impact on many people.

The Minister is entitled to say that we have debated the nuances and other aspects in various parts of the Bill, but we are also debating regulations on the administration of the community charges and contributions. That is the catch-all, belt and braces subsection that one would accept and to which one takes no exception.

However, this is a significant era in respect of raising local taxes. The Minister, because he is the Minister and this is his Government, may well know a great deal more than we, as an Opposition, about how the system will work and its impact on communities and individuals. The Minister will understand, however, that from this side of the Chamber we are not privy to the details of the regulations. We are disturbed that the Minister is not prepared to give Parliament a further opportunity to debate those measures.

The Minister can be assured that it is not a time-wasting exercise either tonight or in the future. I should have thought that the Government, in order to get this matter accepted more cleanly by the public as regards their intentions, would not have baulked at giving Parliament as a sovereign responsible body an opportunity to make this provision. I see that there is not even a flicker from the Minister than I can latch onto. I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 79C: Page 82, line 40, leave out ("this paragraph") and insert ("subparagraph (2) below").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 81A and 86A. This group of amendments deals with the question of a person's liability to pay the community charge or a penalty where he or she has appealed against registration or against the imposition of that penalty.

The first amendment—that is to say, Amendment No. 79C—is simply a drafting amendment. Generally, if a person has appealed against being entered on the register, he or she will have to pay the community charge pending the resolution of that appeal. I am sure the Committee will agree that is only reasonable. Without the provision, it would be all too tempting for people to lodge an appeal simply in order to defer paying what they should rightfully pay.

However, there may be occasions when people are registered in two different places at the same time. For instance, this may happen if a person worked away from home and had been registered by the registration officer at his main home or at the home from which he worked. Obviously, such a person would wish to appeal against registration in the place where he or she did not think he should pay. It would be very hard on him if, pending the outcome of the appeal, he had to pay the community charge in both places.

Amendment No. 81A provides that in such cases the person has only to pay one of the charges. In order to avoid complications about which he should pay, the regulations will provide that he should pay only in the area in which he was first registered. The regulations will also contain rules for deciding whether an appeal is outstanding and which of the register entries came first.

The last amendment deals with penalties imposed under the provisions of Schedule 3. Clause 22 provides a right of appeal against the imposition of a penalty. People will normally appeal because they believe that the penalty was not justified and has been improperly imposed. In these circumstances it would be hard to justify requiring a person to pay the penalty in the expectation that he will be repaid if he is proved to be right. I am sure that the Committee will agree that this would be contrary to natural justice. If the penalty is subsequently confirmed by the valuation community charge tribunal, it will then become payable. The person would still be required to pay his community charge if he were subject to the charge.

I hope the Committee will agree that these amendments provide the most equitable way of dealing with the liability of people to pay pending an appeal. I beg to move.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Perhaps I may deal with this matter in the form of questions as regards Amendment No. 81A, because I have no questions on Amendment No. 79C. In Amendment No. 81A we read: The regulations may include provision that where— (a) a person is entered in the registers of two"— and it continues, (b) he has sole liability to pay". Does that mean that it excludes all married people because they have joint and several liability? That is what this amendment seems to say. I hope that it is not the intention of the Government that this should not apply to people who are married or who are even living together. "Sole liability" seems odd in that phraseology. Is it necessarily the best choice to say that when this difficulty arises—it will undoubtedly do so—it is the entry which is first in the register? I believe that the most obvious case for this to happen is where someone moves from house A to house B and therefore is put on two registers at the same time without the necessary steps having been taken. Surely it would be fairer that a person should pay the community charge where he actually is rather than as regards the first entry. Subject to those comments, it will be interesting to know if I am making life too complicated for the Minister.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps what the noble Lord has missed when he refers to sole liability is that everyone has sole liability in their own right. Therefore, it does not exclude married couples. As far as I remember this was a feature of the Scottish Bill. As regards Amendment No. 81A and the reason the regulations provide that they should pay only in the area in which they were first registered—which I believe to be the noble Lord's second point—that was an arbitrary decision for simplification and no other reason.

Lord Renton

Perhaps I may first declare an interest which no doubt is similar to that of many Members of the Committee, and then ask my noble friend a question about my position in this matter. Like most of the Members of the Committee, my home is at some distance from London. My noble friend knows because he has been there. It is in East Anglia. Owing to my work as a parliamentarian and at the Bar, I have always had a pillow in London. I have a flat in Lincoln's Inn, but, alas, it is in that part of Lincoln's Inn which lies in Camden rather than in that part of it which is 20 yards away and lies in Westminster. At present I believe I am a rather substantial ratepayer in Camden as well as a moderate ratepayer in Cambridgeshire.

As I understand the position, when this Bill comes into force I shall be liable for the community charge in Huntingdonshire and in Camden. Therefore, I shall be paying two community charges. I shall not complain at having to do so because, quite frankly, it will be to my advantage. Perhaps my noble friend can confirm and clarify the position that I am in, which, as I say, must be similar to that of many Members of the Committee; namely, that nothing here will prevent me from paying two community charges.

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord might be very well advised to complain. The fact is that his situation is not dissimilar from that of many of us, including me. It will be up to the noble Lord and the registration authorities to decide which is the noble Lord's main residence. For example, if he decides that his home in East Anglia is his main residence, then upon his flat in London, wherever that might be, he would be subject to the standard community charge. It will be for him to resolve with his local authority which is the main residence. The other would be liable for the standard charge. I hope that clarifies the position.

Lord Renton

I am much obliged to my noble friend. I believe it is relevant for me to say that for income tax purposes and for other purposes such as the allowances made in your Lordships' House, my home in East Anglia is my principal residence.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

The information which has come from the Government expresses a point of view on that matter. That is the information contained in the document from the Department of the Environment, Welsh Office. A few people have two or more homes or spend part of the year abroad. It will be necessary to decide which is the main residence. Though such people may well wish to express a view, they will be unable simply to choose which it should be. The decision will be made by the community charge registration officer and there will be no right of appeal. If for some reason the registration officer decides that it will be Camden, according to the information in the document Community Charge: Paying for Local Government, published by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office, there will be no right of appeal.

Lord Glenarthur

I am sure the noble Baroness would expect the community charge registration officers to be reasonable people. It would be up to an individual to take up a case with the registration officer to establish at which of his two residences he spent more time. One can move into the realms of hypothesis with these matters, but it is the registration officer who decides, subject to the right of appeal. However, the individual can make his case to the registration officer in the way I have described. This will be a fairly common feature for many noble Lords who, like my noble friend, Lord Renton, will have a house in one part of the country and a flat in London. It is up to the individual to sort this out with the registration officer. The circumstances will vary from one person to another, but I do not think that it need be as complex as the noble Baroness fears.

Lord Trafford

Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask for clarification of that point. In the case of my noble friend Lord Renton, what if both registration officers decide that his main residence is in their respective areas?

Lord Glenarthur

I believe that to be impossible.

Lord Morton of Shuna

To take the position of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the registration officer for Camden may say that the noble Lord's main and principal residence is in Camden. The registration officer in Huntingdonshire may come to a different decision and say that his main residence is in Huntingdonshire. The noble Lord will have to sort that out with two registration officers. As I understand it, that is where the appeal procedure comes in. In that procedure, how will it be decided which is the first? One pays for the one that is first made, but in the example we are discussing they may be made simultaneously.

Lord Glenarthur

I take the noble Lord's point. This was picked on arbitrarily because it seemed sensible. I should like to look at that point. I imagine that in the case of two authorities which claimed that one place was to be the sole or main residence, the two registration officers would be able to get together with the aid of the individual concerned. However, if making this arbitrary choice has compounded the problem, I should like to look at those words. I do not believe that it has, but, without commitment, I shall certainly look at the matter.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

Is it really a question for the election of the individual who says, "This is my main residence", and then both or either registration officers accepting it? Is the election of the individual binding on the registration officer? Is that election open to question by either or both of the registration officers? If it is, there will be administrative turmoil and muddle with these wretched registration officers, one saying one thing and the other saying another thing. Would it not be far simpler to make the election of the individual—for example, my noble friend Lord Renton, who says, "This is my main residence"—binding? That would be conclusive.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

Part of the problem might be that from time to time the pattern of people's lives will change. For example, I spend most of my time in London and can legitimately claim, I suppose, that my sole or main residence is a small flat in London. What I regard to be my home is very much my second home because I am hardly ever there. However, things may change and I may find myself spending more time in Scotland than I do in London.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Glenarthur

Noble Lords opposite may wish that to be the case, as I rather anticipated they might. At any rate, it has not happened yet.

Circumstances will change, and there will need to be a dialogue in every individual case between the person concerned and the authority in each place. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Morton, will agree to the amendment. The actual technicality in the second of the three amendments I shall happily look at to make sure that we have it right. The principle is certainly correct, and I hope that he will accept it.

Lord Trafford

Before my noble friend sits down, why is it not possible for him to take this back? As in other elections for tax, it is for the individual to decide. In terms of capital gains tax on primary or secondary residences the individual makes the election to the tax authorities. Why is it not possible to follow the same practice? My noble friend has suggested that times change. In that case the election would have to change as well. This is already the common practice, and has been for years, for all other matters of taxation. If the practice were to follow exactly the same way, I can see no reason why the matter could not be resolved and then the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Morton, and I have raised would not, and could not, arise.

Lord Morton of Shuna

There is a great difficulty in that. There may be great financial choices to be made. A single person who lives in an area with a high community charge may well decide that it is better to have that as his main residence than his country cottage. However, the position would be entirely reversed if it were a household with three or four people. Therefore, I suggest that it must be a question of fact to be resolved by the registration officer or by the courts in the event of a dispute.

Lord Trafford

With due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Morton, this applies now in respect of capital gains tax and one's decision of residence. In the case of my noble friend Lord Renton, whose domestic affairs are being aired around the Committee, it is probably the case, although I do not know his actual residence, that for capital gains tax purposes he would elect to say that he lives in London rather than in Huntingdon, but the other way round if he were trying to carry out the procedures which the noble Lord, Lord Morton, has just pointed out in regard to community charge. If one made that election for both purposes one could not have different elections. The election would have to be the same.

Lord Glenarthur

Everyone will be subject to the charge and the charge will be very different from capital gains tax or anything like that. The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, put his finger on the point. There could be a large financial advantage in any claim. We think it is best to let the community charge registration officer decide, subject to appeal, but the individual concerned will be able to make representations to him.

There is another point. We have taken a power to make rules as to which registration is first if they took place simultaneously. That is spelt out in subsection (4) of Amendment No. 81A. There is money at stake here. There are those who will claim that they spend most of their time in one place when in fact they might well spend it in another. That is why it is important to have a judge, to to speak. That is what the community charge registration officer will do.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 80: Page 83, line 6, after ("year") insert ("to coincide with the receipt by the chargeable person, where apropriate, of payments to him of income support").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 80 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 81 as they hang together, so to speak. The purpose of the amendments is to ask the Government to take into account the special needs, in certain circumstances, of those people who by any yardstick are wretchedly poor. It is not, however, a case of seeking to avoid payment. Indeed, the Minister has already indicated that all those who should be legitimately charged will be charged; and those who can seek exemption will be able to do so.

The amendments relate to individuals who are faced with having to meet a charge. We are talking about circumstances where individuals need to rely for their income on income support of one type or another. The income of such individuals is not only small but it also needs to be tightly budgeted. If we are talking in terms of a community charge which is comparable to the present payment of rates—even though we are talking in terms of those who do not pay rates but who will now have to pay down to the 20 per cent., after having received the 80 per cent. abatement—we are still talking about people for whom finding 10 instalments or even less or having to find £4 or £5 at a time will be an onerous task.

We are also talking about people whose income comes regularly but at short intervals. Such people often receive their income at fortnightly intervals. Indeed, that is how allowances are paid. Therefore the purpose of the amendments is to take account of people in that category.

The first amendment applies to paragraph (2) of Schedule 2, which provides that: Regulations under this Schedule may include provision— (a) that the chargeable person is to make payments on account of the chargeable amount, including payments during the course of the financial year". The amendment seeks to insert thereafter the words: to coincide with the receipt by the chargeable person, where appropriate, of payments to him of income support".

Therefore, whether or not we have the words right, the meaning is that the actual payment by the individual—who is not seeking to evade payment—shall be made in an appropriate way so that out of that person's income he or she will be able to pay the charge directly. The Minister will perhaps say that surely this will mean additional bureaucracy and administration. Of course the answer is yes, it will. However, we are talking about people who need income support. Such people are at the lowest level of income and resources.

That is the case in respect of Amendment No. 80. Briefly, we want the Government to understand that even if it means further fine-tuning and further tailor-making in respect of such individuals who, I repeat have wretchedly small incomes, we should like their agreement to the amendment.

I turn now to Amendment No. 81. This relates to sub-paragraph 2(b) of Schedule 2. At line 7 it says: that payments on account must be made in accordance with an agreement between the chargeable person and the authority or in accordance with a prescribed scheme for payment by instalments". However, we require the insertion thereafter of the words: but any prescribed scheme shall not contain provision for a minimum payment in any one instalment".

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that where the amount of the community charge to be paid is especially small— for example, where people receive the maximum rebate, or during the period of transition from rates to the community charge— there will be circumstances where individuals are entitled to fewer than 10 instalments. The provision is merely to avoid the amount due each month being uneconomic to collect. Such rules will apply only where bills are below a set amount a year and the size of the maximum instalment in such cases will be limited.

I think that the Minister can understand what we are asking of him. We are not asking for a special provision but we are asking the Government to take note that there are individuals whose resources are, I say, a thousand times—if not a million times—worse than those of any Member of this Committee. Such individuals are law-abiding and will wish to meet the sums which they are obliged to pay, but in their special circumstances they need special provisions to be made. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

I have listened with great care to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Both amendments seem to give the impression—to me at any rate—that the noble Lord has an unnecessary fear of allowing local authorities to have discretion in their arrangements for collecting the community charge. Under sub-paragraph (2)(b) the Government will make regulations giving every charge payer a right to pay in no fewer than 10 monthly instalments. However, the crucial point is that that will be subject to any agreement that may be reached between the authority and the individual charge payer, just as is the case with the present rates system. The agreement may be to pay in only two instalments, in a single lump sum, or weekly or fortnightly.

Charging authorities themselves are beyond any doubt best placed to decide what agreement should be reached in each case. In any agreement reached—let us say, for example, it is for weekly payments—there will be no question of the Government setting a minimum level of instalments. Of course if the charge payer wishes to pay 50 pence per week and the charging authority agrees to that proposal, then no one will object. It must be clear from what I have just said that the amendments are unnecesary. Charging authorities will be able to accept payments on a fortnightly basis to coincide with income support payments and they will be able to accept small instalments—indeed, as small as they wish—as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, would wish them to do.

However, I must part company with the noble Lord on the issue of compulsion which lies behind these amendments. The amendments would create a statutory scheme in which all, or almost all, income support recipients would pay fortnightly on a different basis from everyone else. It would compel charging authorities to accept very small payments as low as a few pence at a time. I am not sure that that is a sensible approach to the problem. We intend to set up a prescribed scheme of 10 instalments, as I have said, subject to a limit on the minimum size of instalment which the authority would be obliged to accept—for example, £5. Of course this will act only as a framework and a guideline for instalments. As I have stressed, charging authorities and charge payers will retain a discretion to enter into whatever agreement best suits both parties.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister would certainly find a friend in me in commending local authorities and their sense of fair play, justice and equity. I shall say nothing which opposes that view. However, the noble Lord is saying he believes that every local authority in whose area there are individuals of the type I have described will, by virtue of the regulations which enable them to do so, make such arrangements. The noble Lord is well aware that by virtue of measures undertaken by the Government, each council— despite the fact that there will be claims upon its time and its hierarchy of responsibilities— will be driven every day of its life to consider just how it can avoid the expense and how it can legitimately pass on some of its responsibilities to others.

I fear that the scheme will cost money, because the treasurer and the charging officer will be involved. There will be a need for administration officers. However low the cost, there will be authorities which, though sympathetic, will be able to say, "We do not have to do it. We hear what you say, wretched income support people. We know that we have the power to ease your burden, but in pursuit of the greatest good for the greatest number"—the ratepayer—"we will try to keep down the cost".

The Minister has as much faith as I have in the good sense of local authorities, but I fear that he is not prepared to take into account the circumstances under which they have to operate. In those circumstances, I intend to press the matter to a Division and to ask for the Committee's view.

6.30 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 80) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-Contents, 131.

Airedale, L. Flowers, L.
Ardwick, L. Foot, L.
Aylestone, L. Gallacher, L.
Banks, L. Galpern, L.
Basnett, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Blackstone, B. Grey, E.
Blease, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Hayter, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hooson, L.
Buckmaster, V. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Carter, L. Hughes, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Hylton, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
David, B. Jay, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Jeger, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. [Teller.] Jenkins of Putney, L.
Diamond, L. John-Mackie, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Kennel, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B
Elwyn-Jones, L. Lovell-Davis, L,
Ewart-Biggs, B. McGregor of Durris, L.
Falkender, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. McNair, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Shepherd, L.
Milford, L. Stedman, B.
Morton of Shuna, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Mountevans, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Nicol, B. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Oram, L. Thurlow, L.
Parry, L. Tordoff, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.] Underhill, L.
Vernon, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Raglan, L. Walston, L.
Ritchie of Dundee, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Robson of Kiddington, B. Whaddon, L.
Ross of Newport, L. White, B.
Seear, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Seebohm, L. Winstanley, L.
Sefton of Garston, L. Winterbottom, L.
Serota, B. Young of Dartington, L.
Shackleton, L.
Ailesbury, M. Hives, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Hooper, B.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hylton-Foster, B.
Arran, E. Ingrow, L.
Ashbourne, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Balfour, E. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Bauer, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Killearn, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Kimball, L.
Beloff, L. Layton, L.
Belstead, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Blatch, B. Long, V. [Teller.]
Blyth, L. McFadzean, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Brain, L. Malmesbury, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Margadale, L.
Butterworth, L. Marley, L.
Caccia, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Caithness, E. Merrivale, L.
Camden, M. Milverton, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Mottistone, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Munster, E.
Carnock, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Norrie, L.
Clinton, L. Northesk, E.
Coleraine, L. Onslow, E.
Colnbrook, L. Orkney, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Orr-Ewing, L.
Colwyn, L. Oxfuird, V.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Pender, L.
Cottesloe, L. Penrhyn, L.
Craigmyle, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Cranbrook, E. Portsmouth, E.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Prior, L.
Denham, L. Pym, L.
Dilhorne, V. Radnor, E.
Dundee, E. Rankeillour, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Renton, L.
Erroll, E. Renwick, L.
Ferrers, E. Rochdale, V.
Fortescue, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Gainsborough, E. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Gibson-Watt, L. Sandford, L.
Gisborough, L. Shannon, E.
Glenarthur, L. Sharples, B.
Gray of Contin, L. Southborough, L.
Gridley, L. Strathclyde, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Swinfen, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Swinton, E.
Teviot, L.
Halsbury, E. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Torphichen, L.
Harvington, L. Trafford, L.
Havers, L. Tranmire, L.
Hemphill, L. Trefgarne, L.
Henley, L. Trumpington, B.
Hesketh, L. Ullswater, V.
Vaux of Harrowden, L. Windlesham, L.
Vinson, L. Wise, L.
Waldegrave, E. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Weir, V. Wynford, L.
Whitelaw, V. Young of Graffham, L

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.40 p.m.

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 81A: Page 83, line 53, at end insert— ("(3) The regulations may include provision that where—

  1. (a) a person is entered in the registers of two or more authorities as subject on the same day or days in a chargeable financial year to personal community charges of the authorities,
  2. (b) he has sole liability to pay an amount to each authority in respect of its charge as it has effect for the year, and
  3. (c) one or more of the entries is subject to an appeal or arbitration,
while any such appeal or arbitration is outstanding no amount shall be payable by virtue of any of the entries other than the entry which was made first.

(4) The regulations may include rules for ascertaining whether an entry is subject to an appeal or arbitration, whether an appeal or arbitration is outstanding, and which of a number of entries was made first; and the regulations may treat an appeal or arbitration as outstanding unless it is finally disposed of or abandoned or fails for non-prosecution.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 79C. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 82: Page 84, line 8, at end insert— ("4) Regulations under this schedule may include provision that any payment or part payment due to an authority under any provision included under paragraphs 2 or 3 above may be remitted by a Magistrate's Court on the grounds of poverty.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey. The primary purpose of the amendment is to seek some clarification. We are asking that the magistrate and the magistrates' court should have the power, when they consider evidence in respect of non-payment, to remit payment on grounds of poverty. Perhaps I may remind the Minister, although I know that, as always, he will be well briefed, that his honourable friend said in another place on 18th February (at col. 840 of Hansard) that he would bring forward on Report an amendment which was to enshrine the principle which I have just enunciated. He added that the option should remain that the debt could be remitted by the courts on grounds of poverty. Will the Minister confirm that what his honourable friend in another place said would happen is contained in the amendment which was moved on Report stage to Schedule 4 on the community charge enforcement? It contained a provision in paragraph 6(3)(c) on page 94 of the Bill before us for regulations which will allow the remission of payment where no warrant is issued or term of imprisonment fixed.

I should be glad if the Minister would confirm the words of his honourable friend in another place that the paragraph would enable a debt to be remitted by the courts on the ground of poverty, if the case were made and if the court so decided. Are those provisions contained in paragraph 6(3)(c) or some other paragraph?

Will the Minister assure those outside the Chamber that the words of his honourable friend have been given effect and therefore this amendment is not needed? Otherwise, if the position is that the amendment is needed to give effect to the words of his honourable friend, this amendment might well be helpful to the Minister. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

Before my noble friend replies, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, could say whether there is a definition of poverty which would enable this amendment to be interpreted by the magistrates.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The noble Lord certainly has a point; I have not sought to define poverty. He may very well argue that different magistrates' courts will, according to the varying levels of circumstances, interpret "poverty" as meaning one thing in one area and another elsewhere. Therefore, the Minister may very well tell us that the words in the schedule provide for that taking place and that my amendment is not necessary. All I am asking the Minister to do is to assure us that when his honourable friend said that the debt—that is the nonpayment, the refusal to pay or the plea that someone is unable to pay because they are in poverty—is such that it would be possible to plead in that manner, that could be acted upon by a court remitting the charge on the grounds of poverty. Perhaps the Minister could assure us that the intention of his honourable friend is given effect in the Bill, either in paragraph 6(3)(c) or in some other way. If that is done, I shall be perfectly satisfied.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, has mentioned one of the difficulties in moving any amendment as to the precision of the terms and their interpretation. But in this instance I agree that poverty is relative. At the moment it is my ideas that are suffering from poverty!

Lord Glenarthur

The noble Lord has tabled an amendment to give magistrates the power to remit payment of the community charge on the grounds of poverty. He has proposed this in an amendment to Schedule 2 to the Bill. Enforcement of payment is dealt with in Schedule 4, which sets out the role of the magistrates' courts. Paragraph 7(3)(c) of Schedule 4 already allows magistrates to remit payment in certain circumstances. I hope that in the light of this the noble Lord will take it as confirmation from me that the commitment which was given in another place has been carried out in that sub-paragraph. I hope that that is the reassurance which he seeks.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am most grateful to the Minister and I confess I have confused the Committee by referring to paragraph 6(3)(c). The Minister was kind enough not to draw that to the attention of the Committee, as I am now doing. When I read again paragraph 7(3)(c) and the provision allowing remission of payment where no warrant is issued or term of imprisonment fixed, the Minister has confirmed that that covers the circumstances both of what his honourable friend said in another place and the intent of this amendment. I am most grateful to the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 82A: Page 85, line 17, leave out sub-paragraph (5).

The noble Lord said: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 82B and 82C at the same time. These are minor technical amendments which I trust the Committee will accept. Amendment No. 82A deletes the recovery provisions relating to overpayment or underpayment of the community charge in single lump sums. They are re-created in Schedule 4 with the other recovery procedures. Amendment No. 82B is a renumbering amendment consequential on that deletion. Amendment No. 82C is simply a renumbering amendment to correct a typing error. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We have no objection to these amendments.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Perhaps I may ask whether we are dealing with attachment of earnings. That is the paragraph which the noble Lord has just mentioned on page 85, line 20. I wondered whether I was on the right page.

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, the amendment which we are talking to is to Schedule 2, page 85, line 17. For Amendment No. 82B it is line 26 and for Amendment No. 82C it is line 30.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I wanted to speak on the attachment of earnings. As a magistrate one has to recognise that some fines and maintenance are very often covered by an attachment of earnings order. But in order to fix an attachment of earnings order through the courts one has to know the income of the person concerned and the wages of the people who will have the attachment order. That will have to be verified by a document from the employer.

The attachment of earnings orders through the courts have to leave an amount of money for the wage-earner to live on. Therefore there is a limit to the amount of money which can be obtained from the person who might very often be a low wage-earner. There is a limit. When the rules regarding an attachment of earnings order are put down in this manner one wonders whether the same regulations will apply to this as already apply in the magistrates' courts where there has to be protection of earnings. Otherwise one reduces the person to poverty.

The other point is that anybody who has an attachment of earnings order which goes through the court has to agree to it voluntarily. The employer also has to be willing to take the money out of the wages. There are people who do not want their employer to know that they have problems and therefore they will not have an attachment of earnings order. Very often there are employers who perhaps employ only 10 or 15 persons and they do not want to be bothered with going to the trouble of doing this each week and making sure that the courts receive the money. I am concerned about the attachment of earnings order and I hope that it will follow the same pattern as the one to which magistrates have to adhere at the moment.

Lord Hylton

I wish to follow on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, said about the attachment of earnings. She explained very clearly that there are some problems associated with this procedure, desirable as it undoubtedly is. I am sure that all Members of the Committee would agree that attachment of earnings is infinitely preferable to commitment to prison, which is dealt with in a later schedule, Schedule 4.

In connection with commitment to prison and the alternative for the magistrate of remitting payment, in Schedule 4, paragraph 7(3)(c)—which has already been mentioned in connection with Amendment No. 82—do the words: where no warrant is issued or term of imprisonment fixed", limit the discretion which would otherwise be available to the magistrate?

Lord Glenarthur

I should be grateful if in a moment the noble Lord would repeat the point that he wished me to look at and the actual place in the Bill. We have slightly jumped ahead of ourselves. We are now debating Schedule 4 to the Bill. The amendments put down are to Schedule 2. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, will agree that we can discuss the important point about the attachment of earnings that she made when we come on to the amendments which relate to that point.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I am quite willing to do that. I hesitated when I started speaking because that point came under a particular paragraph, but I am quite willing to agree to that procedure.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendments Nos. 82B and 82C: Page 85, line 26, leave out ("(5)") and insert ("(4)"). Page 85, line 30, leave out (", 3, 5 or 7") and insert ("or 3").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 82B and 82C en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 83 not moved.]

Lord Flowers moved Amendment No. 83A: Page 86, line 48, after ("resident") insert ("provided by the educational establishment").

The noble Lord said: I shall not detain the Committee long, but before I speak to Amendment No. 83A I wish very briefly to thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, even though he is not in his seat at the moment, for writing to me after my speech on Second Reading. I had spoken about the adverse effects of the poll tax upon students and the administrative complexity of what was being required of institutions of higher education under this Bill. The noble Earl sought to explain and to reassure—and in some measure he succeeded—for which I thank him. I was particularly pleased to learn from him that the full 80 per cent. rebate would apply to all full-time students, including postgraduates and those who are sponsored or come from overseas.

On one point, however, the noble Earl was silent, and that is the subject of my amendment. Schedule 2 requires an institution of higher education to reveal to each registration officer as appropriate the names and addresses of all its full-time students who live within the area of his charging authority. That is brought about by paragraph 9 of the schedule. That paragraph was added to the schedule by the Government on report in another place.

In the universities we are willing to certify by means of a simple document that each of our students is indeed a student. I speak for my university and for the others. That enables him to establish his bona fides with the registration officer. We are willing, like any other landlord, to provide names and addresses of students living in student residences which are administered by us.

What we find difficult is being expected to provide the addresses of students who do not live on our premises. In many cases we may not know their addresses. We certainly have no means of monitoring them, nor is there any reason for us to do so. A student is an adult person and he can live where he likes, changing his abode as and when he likes without any reference to us.

I notice that paragraph 9(1)(a) of Schedule 2 limits the information that can be demanded of the institution to that which is in its possession or under its control. That could perhaps be construed in practice to refer only to information about students living in accommodation provided by the institution. If that is the case, I shall withdraw my amendment while wondering why the schedule is not more explicit about it.

If, on the other hand, paragraph 9 is a device to force universities and colleges to require students to declare their term-time addresses, wherever they may live, in college accommodation or otherwise, then that puts us in a most invidious position, quite different, as I understand it, from that of any other institution. Would we be expected also to verify that addresses given us by students are correct and up to date? Are there to be penalties for errors in our administration? Are we in effect expected to compile and maintain the student portion of all the registers of the authorities in whose territories our students happen to live? I hope not. My amendment is intended to clarify the matter and, if need be, to rectify it. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

It may be helpful if in responding to this amendment I deal first with paragraph 9 of Schedule 2 as a whole. This is couched in the terms of a regulation-making power and the Government have made clear that before deciding to make such regulations they will discuss with the universities and colleges whether it is possible to reach agreement for information on students' names and addresses to be provided voluntarily.

I understand that the Department of the Environment officials have invited representatives of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and other interested bodies to a meeting at which that will be one of the topics under discussion. If the Secretary of State decides in due course that regulations should be made, I must emphasise that he will not expect the colleges concerned to obtain for this purpose any information other than that which he has already.

The crucial words in paragraph 9 are that the information must be: in the possession or control of the certification officer". I entirely accept that the information that colleges have will usually be far more up to date and complete about students living in halls of residence than it will be about students living in private accommodation. If it is not doing so for its own purposes, I must emphasise again that there is no intention of requiring colleges to keep track of students' addresses during the academic year. To answer specifically the point of the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, about whether colleges will be required to verify changes of address thereafter, that is certainly not the case, and nor would there by any penalty for not doing so.

This does not mean, however, that the power should be restricted in the way the amendment suggests so that it applies only to accommodation provided by colleges. Colleges undoubtedly have information about other students' addresses in many cases, especially at the beginning of the academic year. That may be reasonably comprehensive. I do not see any great problem in colleges passing on that information for what it is worth. If on investigation the registration officer finds that the student has already moved on, it will be his job to trace him, although of course he may contact the college to see whether it has obtained a new address.

We have recognised full-time students as a special group by providing that they should pay only 20 per cent. of the personal community charge and that they should pay only at their term-time addresses for the duration of the course. We have therefore eased the financial burden so that on average they will be paying only 85p a week, and we have made it easier for them to register.

It is only fair, in view of the special treatment, that we should have contingency powers which are aimed at minimising problems for registration officers and avoiding the possible abuse of the student concession. I hope that with those assurances about the intentions behind this paragraph the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Before the noble Lord decides what to do, and it must be entirely in his hands, I hope that he will sup with a very long spoon from the assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh. The very reasonable case put by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, that the universities cannot be expected to do anything other than provide information which is to hand to them, which is the information about residence controlled by the educational establishment, has not been answered. It is not good enough for the noble Lord to say that the information at the beginning of the academic year shall be supplied for what it is worth.

That is not an expression of intent by the Government. It does not make clear what the regulations will say. It certainly does not give the assurance which I should wish to secure if I were the noble Lord—that the universities are not put under an intolerable burden by seeking to find out things which are not otherwise their business.

7 p.m.

Baroness Seear

I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has just said and also to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, to which my name is added. I can only think that the people who drafted this schedule have not the faintest idea of how students behave. If the drafter had had any connection with London University and the way in which the students hop about like fleas in the first few weeks of coming to London, he or she might understand that what money you are expected to get from these students will be simply swallowed up in the administrative costs of chasing after them. It is completely mad. It is yet another example of the total lack of reality in the minds of the people who have drafted this Bill. These students move at a rate of knots.

Lord Beloff

May I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and the other noble Lords who have spoken? It seems to me quite extraordinary that universities or colleges should carry on their functions not knowing where their students can be reached. After all, they have to inform their students, one hopes, about many things connected with their studies. They are responsible for paying to them grants or other means of support.

I should have thought that one of the first duties of the head of an institution is to be able to say, "I know where my students live", whether they live on the premises or not. It seems to me that if the University of London has this floating population, although it may be difficult for the community charge it will be much more difficult for the university teachers who are trying to educate the students.

Baroness Seear

The noble Lord has led a very sheltered life. His students may have been under the same roof as himself but students in London University—certainly the School of Economics students—I assure him are all over the show. In dealing with the matters to which the noble Lord has referred, we give them what they need to have inside the college. They collect their grants inside the college; they receive notices sent to them inside the college. I may have slightly exaggerated their speed of movement, and the metaphor I used they might find unflattering. But the idea that the colleges know where everybody lives is totally unreal.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I apologise for rising to my feet again, but the significance of what the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, said about the beginning of the academic year has only just occurred to me. It seems to me that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is quite right, not only about the understanding by the drafters of this schedule of the way in which students live, but also, I cannot believe that they read the newspapers. At the beginning of every adademic year for many years now there has been a severe shortage of student accommodation. Horrific stories have appeared in the press about students sleeping on floors in classrooms and corridors. These reports may, or may not, be exaggerated. The fact remains that, particularly at the beginning of the academic year, there is a great deal of movement among students as regards where they live which cannot be controlled or even monitored by the educational establishment authorities. It is a particularly difficult time of year to expect them to embark on this exercise. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, says, the only way in which contact is maintained—and it is a perfectly adequate and satisfactory way—is when they turn up for classes and when they appear to collect their money, if money is due to them.

Lord Flowers

Of course I must support the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in what she says. I must confess I am amazed at the lack of contact which noble Lords seem to have with student life these days: perhaps it is a long time ago that they were in contact. I may also be somewhat tainted by my experience with London where, as the noble Baroness says, students tend to move around rather a lot, unlike some of the country villages where some of our universities reside.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that students come to us for their cheques: we do not send cheques to them, at any rate in London. So there is no need to know their addresses. Of course, in the majority of cases we know them, but that is not quite the point. The noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, said that the Government were in conversation with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, and so they are. We hope that some of the difficulties we foresee—the relevance of the Data Protection Act, the obligations of the universities, the administration involved and things of that sort—will be clarified by these discussions.

I accept the Minister's intentions and in the hope that the discusisons he referred to with the CVCP are fruitful and produce solutions to the problems I am bothered about, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 83B: Page 87, line 20, after first ("the") insert ("prescribed").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 83B, perhaps I might also address Amendment No. 83C. These two amendments have been designed to meet a concern raised in another place. Under paragraph 11 of Schedule 2, when a person ceases to be subject to the community charge the registration officer will send him a copy of his register entry, showing that the register has been amended as from the date of his ceasing to be subject to the charge. In the case of a person who ceases to be subject to the charge by virtue of his death, the notification, as the Bill stands, would be addressed to the dead person.

During the Committee stage in another place it was argued that it would be distressing for the relative of the dead person—perhaps his widow—to receive a letter addressed to the dead person. We accept that distress may be caused, and that is why we have tabled these amendments. As your Lordships will appreciate, it will be the dead person's relatives who will receive a copy of the register entry so that they can check whether it is correct and whether there is any dispute about over-payment or under-payment. But in order to avoid distress we accept that the copy of the register entry should not be actually addressed to the dead person.

These amendments will give the Secretary of State the power to prescribe the person to whom the register entry should be sent. We shall use that power to provide that where someone has died the copy should not be addressed to the deceased but instead to the deceased's personal representative. This may seem a minor change but I believe it is a desirable one. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 83C: Page 87, line 28, at end insert— (2) Regulations under sub-paragraph (1)(a) above may prescribe the person who has become or ceased to be subject to the charge concerned or any other person.").

The noble Lord said: I have just spoken to this amendment with the previous one. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 84: Page 88, line 15, at end insert— ("(2A) The Regulations may include provision that a person shown in a charging authority's register may have access to any supporting files or documentary evidence regarding themselves held by the Registration Officer for the purposes of determining that person's liability to a community charge of the authority.").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may move this amendment in place of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, as my name is also attached to it. The grouping of amendments list issued today claims that Amendment No. 84 has been already discussed. That is not the case. Yesterday we discussed Amendments Nos. 85 and 86, with which Amendment No. 84 is grouped today, Amendment No. 86 at considerable length. However, doubtless in the confusion of jumping between the 60s and 80s and with the countless letters of the alphabet appended to the various numerals, we seem accidentally to have missed out Amendment No. 84 altogether.

The point about this amendent is that it is very much less ambitious and controversial than Amendment No. 86, to which the Government objected. Indeed one might hope that Amendment No. 84 would be supported by the Committee, irrespective of party affiliation. Essentially, the amendment mirrors the access provisions of the Data Protection Act, which was after all introduced by this Government and which received almost unanimous support from your Lordships. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur

This is where I have to confess that I am placed in a rather awkward position. As I understood it, this amendment was debated yesterday, indeed I understood that it had been accepted. I find myself in difficulty because I did not deal with the amendment concerned. I dare say I should be as familiar with this part of the Bill as I have become with other parts of the Bill. At the same time, I hope that the noble Lord accepts that since my noble friend Lord Caithness is not here my attempts to answer the point may be rather amateurish.

Amendment No. 84 would give access to certain files. The Data Protection Act, as I understand it and from my memory of the Act which passed through your Lordships' House several years ago, already gives access to such files. Therefore, I believe that the amendment is otiose.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I appreciate the difficulty in which the Minister finds himself. I was prepared not to move the amendment. However, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has a perfect right to raise the matter. I believe that honour would be satisfied if the Minister were to read and draw to the attention of his honourable and his right honourable friends the points which the noble Lord has made. Perhaps I may say that I entirely agree with those points, not least because my name is on the amendment. Perhaps the Minister will write to us regarding the matter before the Bill reaches the next stage.

Lord Hylton

If my recollection of the Data Protection Act is correct, it only refers to information which is stored within a computer's memory system on tapes, discs and so on. It does not refer to files and to paper records. Therefore, the amendment goes a bit further. I hope that the Government will look at the amendment in that light.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps I may do as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has invited me to do, bearing in mind at the same time the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. He is right to say that the Data Protection Act on the whole deals with computer material rather than manuscript material, which might mean amendment of the Data Protection Act. However, perhaps I may follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and study what has been said in order to pass it on to my noble friend and to my right honourable friend in another place. We can then correspond on the issue.

Lord Monson

I appreciate the Minister's difficulties. I do not wish to make life more difficult. However, I assure the Minister that I have been through Hansard twice and I have not seen any reference to Amendment No. 84. I do not think that it was discussed, although Amendment No. 86 was discussed at length and Amendment No. 85 was discussed briefly. If the noble Lord will undertake, as he has said, to look at the matter between now and the next stage of the Bill, I shall withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 85 not moved.]

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 86 not moved.]

Schedule 3 [Community charges: penalties]:

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 86A: Page 91, line 39, at end insert— ("(2A) The regulations may include provision that, where the imposition of a penalty is subject to an appeal or arbitration, no amount shall be payable in respect of the penalty while the appeal or arbitration is outstanding. (2B) The regulations may include rules for ascertaining whether an imposition is subject to an appeal or arbitration, and whether an appeal or arbitration is outstanding; and the regulations may treat an appeal or arbitration as outstanding unless it is finally disposed of or abandoned or fails for non-prosecution.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to Amendment No. 86A in speaking to Amendment No. 79C. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Schedule 4 [Community charges: enforcement]:

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 86B: Page 92, line 15, at end insert— ("(cc) any sum which has become payable to an authority under any provision included in regulations under paragraph 5(2)(a) or (6) of that Schedule and has not been paid;").

The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 86B, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 86C, 86E, 93A, 93B, 122B and 128A. The amendments are essentially technical amendments aimed at clarifying the recovery procedures in Schedules 4, 9 and 12. However, it may be helpful if I explain briefly the purpose of each of the amendments.

Amendments Nos. 86B and 86C are consequential on two provisions in paragraph 5 of Schedule 2. Amendment No. 86B provides that, where a person fails to pay an additional amount which is due, the authority may recover that amount in the same way as other community charge arrears are recovered; that is, a liability order and then distress and so on. Amendment No. 86C provides conversely that, where the authority fails to make a repayment which is due to a person, that person may recover the amount in the same way as other unpaid repayments; that is, through the county court.

Paragraph 4 of Schedule 4 requires a person who is subject to a liability order to provide the charging authority with information about his employment and earnings. That is to help the authority to decide what recovery steps to take. Amendment No. 86E would require the person concerned to provide information about any income, whether or not he is in employment. That seems only sensible, since there are many people whose income is not derived from employment.

Under the Insolvency Act 1986 a company may be wound up if it is unable to pay its debts. Local authorities currently use winding up orders as a measure to help them recover unpaid rates from companies. It is mainly used as a threat. However, I understand that it is often an effective one. Amendments Nos. 93A, 122B and 128A simply make it clear for avoidance of doubt that community charges are non-domestic rates and residual domestic rates should be regarded as debts for the purpose of winding up orders under the insolvency Act. I beg to move.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I agree with the main purpose of the amendments. I am slightly astonished that the question of winding up did not occur to the Government until this stage of the proceedings. However, I agree that it must come in.

Amendment No. 86E takes out the provision concerning earnings and inserts: the debtor's employment (if any) or income (whether or not from employment)". In a sense, we were discussing Amendment No. 86E when we discussed earlier amendments. It is curious that no attempt is to be made to find out what the capital of such a person may be. Earlier today we discussed people who might have won the pools or who might have money in the bank. In the paragraph about information, nothing of that sort is mentioned. One may have a situation in which a person has a very large bank account and, for reasons of his or her own, does not put the money into an interest-bearing account and therefore has no income from it. However, that person may have very large sums of money available. It is strange that that information is irrelevant. I understand that there are people who either make money or allege that they make money out of betting, for example. If such people put their money in a bank when they have it, no information about it is to be made available and it is not considered relevant. That restriction seems odd.

Lord Monson

The noble Lord, Lord Morton, has a good point. I do not believe, as was said earlier this afternoon, that many people keep sitting in their ordinary current account huge sums of money which do not earn any interest. I believe that that is rare. However, there are many people who have holiday homes which may be extremely valuable, whether they are in this country, in Spain, in the South of France or wherever. It is odd that people who have holiday homes which are worth £100,000 or more do not have those taken into account.

Lord Glenarthur

Perhaps that goes even more widely than the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has suggested. It may be the case that an individual has property in some form in the house in which he lives. That is where the question of distress will come in. That is one of the gradations of response to someone who may not be prepared to pay the community charge. As I understand it, we are interested in the matter of income from capital and not property, cash or anything that forms part of overall capital but does not provide income.

It would be rather strange (would it not?) to suggest that someone would have capital, as was pointed out in an answer to an amendment with which my noble friend Lord Caithness dealt, but no income from that capital, if that capital was in the form of cash. That is the first point. If you have a capital sum as opposed to property, you do not usually put it into a non-interest bearing account. People may on occasions put it into a non-interest bearing account, but if they possibly can they usually put it into an interest bearing account and gain income from it. As my noble friend said, there may be people who put money under the bed. I hope that there are not many, but there are some. But if you are talking about capital, in general terms there will be income from that capital and that should be taken into account.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Surely the Minister understands that there have been in this century quite a lot of people who were determined never to have an income but to have considerable capital appreciation. It was one of the methods by which you avoided paying income tax. The court is apparently not to be told anything about a person's financial position in general, but only about income. I confess to complete puzzlement as to why this restriction comes in.

Baroness Seear

What about the people who have a holiday home? That is of considerable value, but there is no income.

Lord Glenarthur

Then surely we get to the next point but one of the Bill. We first have the matter of information which has to be supplied, then we have attachment of earnings and then we have distress. Someone may hold property or something like that. He may, as the noble Lord, Lord Morton, suggests, be a gambler. He is a lucky man if he is able to make a living out of it. But if he does and he has property and is not declaring—which he may not have to do—the earnings from his gambling, he will nevertheless be liable ultimately for distress in the terms of paragraph 6.

Lord Morton of Shuna

In my understanding, gambling is not an income or earnings. It is a windfall, so to speak. Therefore you do not have to give any information about it under paragraph 4. If you have a house on which you are due to pay community charge and it is relatively empty, it does not mean to say that you do not have the money to pay.

I really think that the Minister should take this away and think about it. Why are we going to totally exclude people's capital position? Although we all, on both sides of the Committee, deprecate the fact that people keep money under the bed in a biscuit tin or whatever, they do that for various reasons, misguided or otherwise, and there are cases where people have a lot of money and a lot of assets but no income.

Lord Glenarthur

This may be the point at which we must have a disagreement. As I understand it, income from capital is the important feature here. I am not familiar enough with the laws on gambling, which the noble Lord raises, and on tax law—the noble Lord must listen and allow me to develop my argument a little before the looks in horror as if he wants to respond—and I am in no position to tell him whether or not any individual would be liable for tax on what he gets from gambling or anything else. The point is that we are only dealing with income obtained from capital and, as I have said, most people will have income from that capital. Nevertheless it seems to me that the best thing I can do is to study the noble Lord's remarks. I certainly cannot give a commitment that I shall be able to bring back an amendment, but I should like to study his remarks. Perhaps he will allow me to do that.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. Surely it is a very simple point. The magistrates' court, which is what paragraph 4 is dealing with, wants to know whether the person can pay. If the person cannot pay they will, I presume, restrict the order. If the person can pay, it does not matter to the magistrates whether it is being paid out of a bank account which bears interest, out of capital, out of income, or whether it comes from under the bed. It is the question of ability to pay which is of interest to the magistrates and nothing else. I do not see why the Government are so restrictive in their approach. The Minister says that he will take it away and think about it, and I am sure that he will.

Lord Glenarthur

With respect, I did not say that I would take it away.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The noble Lord will think about it.

Lord Glenarthur

We will certainly think about it. I will look at it and see what the noble Lord said in detail and whether there is a point there. I do not believe there is, because, as I have said, as the matter goes through its procedure we ultimately get to distress, which deals with the points that the noble Lord made. Paragraph 4 is about the local authority and not about the magistrates' court, and the court has already granted the necessary order. I shall read what the noble Lord said. I hope he will nevertheless agree that the amendment should be agreed to.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Glenarthur moved Amendment No. 86C: Page 92, line 18, leave out ("or 3") and insert (", 3 or 5(2)(b) or (6)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 86D: Page 92, line 27, at end insert— ("(3) Regulations under this schedule may provide that any such sum shall be recoverable in a court of competent jurisdiction which shall be the County Court or the Magistrates' Court at the discretion of the charging authority.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to clarify the courts and the methods of recovery. It provides that regulations may provide that any such sum shall be recoverable in a court of competent jurisdiction, either in the county court or in the magistrates' court, at the discretion of the charging authority. The intention of this amendment is to provide the most practicable and effective identification measures in the proceedings to recover the debt.

The recovery of payment of the community charges is covered by Clauses 18 and 21 and Schedules 2, 3 and 4, and regulations are to be made to cover distress and sale of goods and chattels, or attachment of earnings, or both of these methods. Payment is to be recovered in the same way as a rent or as a simple contract debt. But the difficulties that have arisen in other cases suggest that it is necessary that there should be more provision than is made here.

The Minister will be well aware of the recent case against Manchester city justices ex parte Davis, where the insufficiency of the justices' inquiry resulted in the liability in damages to the wronged ratepayer. It is necessary that the jurisdiction of the court should be brought fully into play, so that the court should be able to exercise discretion to remit the debt or a part of it where an issue of possible injustice may arise. The Bill appears to restrict enforcement of the community charge to distress, to attachment of earnings or to imprisonment. These are the three choices.

In the case of Regina v. Birmingham Magistrates, which was reported last month, the judgment found that the magistrates had erred in committing a ratepayer to prison for non-payment of his rates. Though he had no available income to meet his debt, he had sufficient capital tied up in the property which could be sold. This, in a sense, covers the same point as we were dealing with in the previous discussion. Lord Justice Woolf stated that where there was the remedy of bankruptcy proceedings to enforce the sale of property to meet the debt for the rates, it was not open to the court to commit the man to prison without inquiring whether or not the rating authority was prepared to explore the possibility of civil proceedings. The provision in the General Rate Act appears to be very similar to the provision in this Bill.

The Government have already stated that they intend to leave local authorities with discretion as to when precisely enforcement should take place and which method should be used, but as the schedules are framed they do not appear to have given themselves the power to do that by restricting the regulations. This amendment is put forward for the purpose of widening that power. In the hope that it will meet with approval, I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

I hope that I shall be able to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, not to press this amendment. There are two straightforward reasons. In the first place I doubt whether in practice it would be of much use to charging authorities. Secondly, if it were to prove of any use, it would undermine the detailed enforcement procedures in the rest of Schedule 4.

It may be helpful if I explain what would happen if a charging authority did have discretion to pursue arrears through the county court. It would have to claim before the court that the person concerned owed it the money and had not paid. If the court agreed, it would order that person to pay the arrears. If he still refused to pay, the court could order the bailiff to seize that person's goods or even attach his earnings. Although it sounds comparable to the recovery system already envisaged, I am advised that in practice civil debts are notoriously difficult to recover quickly through the county courts. That contrasts with the recovery of rates through the magistrates' courts, which, over the years, has proved very effective. I am therefore very doubtful whether in practice the authorities would find the county court option attractive.

However, my principal reason for resisting this amendment is that recovery through the county court would be inappropriate. The detailed recovery procedures set out in Schedule 4 are designed not only to ensure that authorities are able effectively to recover the arrears but also to provide safeguards for people who find themselves in arrears with the community charge. For example, Schedule 4 enables to be specified in detail how attachments of earnings should operate. It also sets out the very limited circumstances in which a person can be imprisoned and the circumstances in which a magistrates' court can remit payment.

We also intend to provide for appeals to the courts by anyone who feels aggrieved by distress or attachment of earnings. None of that guidance exists for the county courts dealing with community charge arrears. There is therefore no guarantee that the outcome would be satisfactory, nor that it would be consistent between courts.

Rate recovery has operated successfully for a number of years through magistrates' courts. The enforcement provisions in Schedule 4 reflect many of the existing procedures, although there have also been a number of improvements. Therefore it is unnecessary to involve the county courts. Moreover, in my view, it would be entirely unsatisfactory for all parties to require those courts to operate in a vacuum, as this amendment envisages. I hope that the noble Lord will see fit not to press it.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The Minister will be aware that the magistrates' court deals with all aspects of rating but at present has no power to attach earnings for rates arrears. It can only deal with distress or imprisonment. A new procedure is therefore being shackled to the magistrates' court. The difficulty in the county court is the shortage of county court bailiffs. That situation results in delays but it is a problem which it is open to the Government to solve, although no doubt it comes within the remit of another department. A shortage of staff in a town with a fair sized unemployment problem seems necessarily not insurmountable.

I shall read what the Minister has said but it does not seem that he has in any way dealt with the matter. What is not covered is how the magistrates' courts will deal with what for them is the new procedure of attachment of earnings. How will they deal with the kind of situation that will inevitably arise when someone has not paid his community charge and they wish to attach his earnings but discover that the earnings are already attached in order to pay maintenance or in respect of some other contractual debt, or both? I am not aware of any regulation which states in which order the various attachments are to come. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hesketh

I should like to suggest that this is a suitable time to adjourn your Lordships' Committee and that we do not return to it until 8.35 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.