HL Deb 16 June 1988 vol 498 cc379-435

3.35 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hesketh.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 185A: After Clause 132, insert the following new clause:

("Duty to consult ratepayers.

.—(1) A relevant authority shall consult under this section persons or bodies appearing to it to be representative of persons subject to non-domestic rates under sections 39 and 41 above as regards hereditaments situated in the authority's area.

(2) Consultations must be made as to each chargeable financial year, and must be about the authority's proposals for expenditure (including capital expenditure) in that financial year; and the Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe matters which are to be treated as expenditure for this purpose.

(3) Each of the following is a relevant authority—

  1. (a) a charging authority;
  2. (b) a precepting authority which falls within section 142(2)(a) to (f) below.

(4) The duty to consult as to a financial year shall be performed—

  1. (a) where the authority is a charging authority, before it makes calculations (otherwise than by way of substitute) in relation to the financial year under section 99 above:
  2. (b) where the authority is a precepting authority, before it issues the first precept to be issued by it for the financial year.

(5) In performing the duty to consult, an authority shall have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State concerning—

  1. (a) persons or bodies to be regarded for the purposes of this section as representative of persons subject to non-domestic rates under section 39 and 41 above as regards hereditaments situated in the authority's area, and
  2. (b) the timing and manner of consultations under this section.

(6) An authority shall make available to persons or bodies it proposes to consult under this section such information as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State and is in its possession or control; and it shall do so in such form and manner, and at such time, as the regulations may prescribe.").

The noble Lord said: The Rates Act of 1984 introduced a duty on local authorities to consult representatives of business in their areas about their spending plans and the proposed level of rates. This duty was designed mainly to provide local authorities with an opportunity to influence the setting of the level of rate poundage, but also to provide a forum for the discussion of the level of services to business and other matters of joint interest to business and local government. The Government initially took the view that with the introduction of the national non-domestic rate which will remove the question of the level of the rate from the local arena, the duty to consult will no longer be required. This view was set out in the yellow paper, Amendments to the Rating Legislation in England and Wales which was published in July 1987. We have however been persuaded by the argument that various business organisations have put to us that retaining a formal consultative procedure would be both of value generally in ensuring that local authorities listen to business concerns and specifically in ensuring discussion of issues such as the level of services that authorities provide to business in an area.

Our conversion to this view was announced together with our other conclusions on the yellow paper in the letter of my honourable friend the Minister for Local Government of 29th March to the Member for Copeland, a copy of which was placed in the Library of this House. That letter also undertook to bring forward a government amendment to amend the Bill accordingly.

Government Amendment No. 185A fulfils that commitment. It places a duty on charging authorities and precepting authorities to consult with bodies representing non-domestic ratepayers about their plans for expenditure in a financial year. In the case of a charging authority, the requirement will be for the consultation to be performed before the authority makes calculations in respect of the financial year in question. For a precepting authority, consultation must be carried out before it issues its first precept for the year in question.

The consultation will be principally on the level of services provided to business. But it will also cover the local authority's planned capital expenditure which the Government recognise is in many cases even more important to local business than revenue expenditure. This is a point which the CBI and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce have made very strongly to us.

The amendment would empower the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the matters which are to be treated as expenditure for the purpose of consultation. It would also require local authorities to have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State concerning the bodies to be regarded as representative of business and the timing and manner of consultations.

I accept entirely the point that all good local authorities already maintain close links with local business. This amendment will not make a great deal of difference to those authorities. But, as I am sure we are all aware, there are some local authorities who take a very different attitude to business. The point of the statutory duty to consult which this amendment retains is to ensure that all local authorities follow the practices which the good ones follow anyway.

We believe that the amendment will lead to a broader and more constructive relationship between local government and local business. By moving the focus of discussions away from the level of the rate which, in too many cases in the past, became a source of confrontation and on to the quantity and quality of services provided, discussions will turn to questions which are of mutual benefit to the authority, its residents and local businesses which provide employment and other opportunities. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We are not opposed to this amendment and the local authority associations are not opposed to it. So far as I know, no local authorities are opposed to the amendment. I regret however that it was necessary for the noble Lord, in introducing the amendment, to make the customary boring attacks on a minority of local authorities.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 133 [Social security]:

Baroness Stedman moved Amendment No. 185AB: Page 74, line 10, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection 2 below,").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment, together with Amendment No. 186ZA, seeks to take out of the Bill the proposal to make people on income support pay at least 20 per cent. of the community charge from the extra money which is to be given to them by the DHSS for that purpose. I have replaced my original amendment with one which has the same purpose but where the drafting, I am advised, is more effective. However, I am sure the Committee will recognise that we are dealing here with a major point of dispute in the way the poll tax is to be raised from some 4 .5 million people on income support. If the Minister is now prepared to see the force of our argument and to remove this widely criticised feature from the Bill, I am happy to leave the final drafting to the Government, because I know that we in Opposition are always accused of technically incorrect drafting.

The poll tax, as we all know, is the flagship of the Government's programme. The flag which they are flying they call accountability. Many of us believe that unless the Bill is revised in this Chamber that flag will very soon be seen to be in tatters. This is a clear case in point. The basic argument of the Government is that if everyone pays the same amount for the services of his or her local council, he or she will vote for low-spending policies rather than high-spending policies. Low spending on public services, especially those which come under local authority control, is regarded by this Government as by definition a good thing. In taking that logic a stage further, they insist that even people on income support receiving all their money from the public purse must pay at least 20 per cent. or one-fifth of their local poll tax.

The Government have been arguing throughout this Bill that by doing so people will somehow make their elected representatives more accountable to them than they were before. Indeed the assumption seems to be that these 4.5 million people who will be given the cash by central government to hand over to local government will start to demand low-spending policies, even though many of the services provided by the local authorities are more important to them as users than for the people with the larger incomes. It is also noticeable in passing that the Government do not pursue the logic of that argument in the other direction. They do not suggest that the better off people, whose local taxation will be substantially reduced by the poll tax, will begin to look favourably on high spending policies as they will be paying much less towards them.

When we look at the practicalities of the proposal for the 80 per cent. rebate instead of 100 per cent. rebate, the Government scheme is almost worthy of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera. I spoke at Second Reading about the convoluted way of moving public money around and back into the public purse. First, the local council remits 80 per cent. of the community charge, then the Government refund the cost to the council. Finally, the DHSS pays an extra sum to the claimant to make up the remaining 20 per cent. This is essential because otherwise the claimant would have no money to pay the charge. But the 20 per cent. community charge contribution is a once-for-all jump in the scale rates for income support. It is not to be recalculated annually, so it will very soon lose any relationship to the actual community charge bills paid.

The Government propose a maximum rebate of 80 per cent., leaving even the very poorest people to find one-fifth of their poll tax bill. These voluntary organisations which are concerned with social security believe that this principle is quite indefensible. There are some 456 district councils, each of which will make their own separate poll tax decisions. But, instead of a true 20 per cent. subsidy matching the actual sum due in each district, there is to be a national average figure. Thus some claimants will receive more than they owe to the council and others less. Some will profit, others will lose.

This is not good enough. On 1987/1988 figures, 112 of those 456 districts would be above the national average. Those tend to be the districts that are concentrated in areas of high unemployment and inner city deprivation. Many of those people could be as much as £2 a week worse off under this system. Ministers may still believe that they are engaged in an exercise in accountability, but I see no equity in it. This amazing money-go-round is created for the sole purpose of pretending that it improves accountability when manifestly it does not.

The argument that paying social security benefits only to have them paid back under the present community charge proposals in some way increases local accountability is a complete red herring. Inevitably there will be some leakage of money while it travels on this roundabout—the journey from the DHSS to the claimant, through the poll tax and back to the local authorities.

The officers of the local authorities who will have to collect this tax have advised me through their professional body—the Rating and Valuation Association—that the collection of relatively small amounts from people on income support will be wholly uneconomic. They point to the high level of mobility among social security claimants, especially in the bigger cities. They will have to collect one-fifth of the charge in 10 equal instalments, so the actual sum to be billed and then chased up each month will be only 2 per cent. of the total poll tax per head for that district. To take the national average figure quoted at £236, that means that local government officers, armed with all the enforcement powers which have been provided in this Bill, will be trying to pick up £4 .72p a time from people such as single parent families and others.

One does not have to be much of a businessman or an administrator to see the financial nonsense of that kind of regulation. The cost of billing, of collection and sometimes even of taking action to recover these small accounts may well he out of all proportion to the amount due. Where the cost of collection outweighs the potential income to be received, I believe that the sum will in many cases be written off.

We are not out to damage the Bill by this amendment and it is not a wrecking amendment. We are trying to save Ministers from themselves. We dislike the waste of public money that they are cheerfully contemplating. We object to the excessive bureaucracy that they seem happy to have created. We should much prefer a simple rebate scheme up to 100 per cent. of the community charge.

Will the Minister tell the Committee how the Government will make the calculations when the system is introduced in Scotland next year, in England and Wales in 1990. and in at the moment 10 London areas between 1990 and 1994, when both rates and community charges will be paid? We do not expect the claimants to vote any differently at future local elections whether they are fully rebated from the poll tax or whether they are given extra money to pay the 20 per cent. of it. But, however one looks at it, the claimants' poll tax is paid from public funds and we may as well recognise that fact and organise this scheme accordingly. In the real world there will be no loss of accountability, but there will be seen to be some common sense in our dealings. I beg to move.

Lord Hayter

If and when this amendment comes to be voted on and you are asked by Members of the Committee in whatever part of the Chamber you happen to be what it is all about, I beg you to say that it has nothing whatever to do with banding. Banding was dismissed by the Committee in the first major amendment proposed to this Bill. We are not talking about banding between one section of the community and another. We are talking about the very lowest band, the poorest in the land.

Again, if you are asked whether this is a wrecking amendment attacking the principle of the Bill, you will have to say, "No". The amendment which the noble Baroness has just proposed speaks of the charge for which an individual "is liable". Those words are contained in the amendment. We recognise that everybody is liable to pay the tax. It is simply a question of how that is best done.

The Committee has spent a great deal of time discussing the relative inequalities of the flat rate tax. "The duke paying as much as the dustman" was a phrase which was much used. This amendment does not claim to address such points of high principle as equality. Instead, it seeks to highlight the plight of the poorest sections of our society. It is concerned with the position of people who are so poor that under the Government's proposals they will receive an 80 per cent. rebate. We are discussing the very poor, as opposed to the near poor or the plain wealthy who, as we all know, are doing quite nicely.

The amendment is concerned with people who are living on income support or equivalent levels of income. It is worth repeating what those levels are because they are sums that many of us can quite happily spend without a great deal of thought. For a single person under the age of 25 who is unemployed and perhaps homeless, the state provides £26.05 per week; at the other end of the life spectrum, retired couples get £33.85 per person. Those are sums which you and I think nothing of. However, they are the essence of life to such people.

We maintain that the Government's provisions to help the poor are inadequate. It is this which is the major spur behind this amendment to allow 100 per cent. rebates for the poorest. Stated simply, the Government promise that, while everyone will have to pay 20 per cent. of their local community charge, there will be an addition to national income support levels based on the national average 20 per cent. contribution. I emphasise the word "national". That approach seems to me to be riddled with imprecision and uncertainty, which for the poor is a recipe for further impoverishment.

It is a commonplace worth restating that contributions to income support levels are based on the national average community charge and will provide little comfort for people living in areas of above average community charge. It would be far better, in terms of precision, simplicity and compassion, to offer 100 per cent. rebates on the local charge. The Government accept that even under their scheme some people will pay nothing, receiving an addition to income support to cover their full 20 per cent. local contribution. Our amendment would harmonise the position right across the country.

Furthermore, we must tackle the Government once and for all on the vagueness of their proposals. Contrary to popular myth, income support is not a rationally calculated sum reflecting the minimum income necessary for people to live at subsistence levels. It is an arbitrary figure, built up over the years through a series of piecemeal changes and adjustments.

The Government now propose to add a notional element of compensation for community charge payments to an already arbitrary figure. It would be quite wrong to see this compensation as an identifiable component of state support. In fact, any addition to income support which the Government claim to make will be swallowed up in the general income support figures, which are hidden from the public eye by the refusal of the DHSS to publish a breakdown of the income support payment.

These measures cannot be seen in isolation for they form part of a network of regulations, sometimes petty in themselves, that make for the growing marginalisation of large sections of our community. Those are the forgotten people: the single parents, the homeless and the destitute. Today I came up in the train with a man from Scotland Yard. I was telling him about our debate. He laughed at the idea that local authorities would go into a place such as Brixton, where the police cannot control the drug problem or the rioting problem, and attempt to register such people and obtain money from them. He said, "I know exactly what they will say". He then said the two words which I would not dare use in this Chamber. However, I am sure that he was right.

The Government repeat as often as anyone asks that everyone must pay in order to give them a stake in the fight to keep down local government spending. However, it seems to me particularly unfortunate as a moral premise to believe that the pockets of the poor should be used as a tool of central government. It is almost obscene. The principle that everyone should pay 20 per cent. before claiming any compensation is an unnecessary risk with the wellbeing of many families. It is here that I locate the nub of the amendment; it substitutes certainty for doubt, precision for rough calculation and compassion for disdain. As such, its passing would show that, in the Committee at least, we are able to take a broad view and see that judicious review can improve both legislation and the lives of many people.

A considerable number of Members of the Committee have received complaints about various aspects of the Bill. I have every hope that the Minister will heed the words of the poet John Milton: That the bounds of civil liberty are enlarged by ensuring that complaints are freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed".

4 p.m.

Lord Grimond

I rise briefly to support the amendment. It seems quite incredible that the Government intend to charge the poorest people in the land—the people who probably need the services of local authorities most—in the way in which the Bill proposes. I shall not reiterate what has been said about the illogicality of the Bill and the unfairness of the average community charge. However, perhaps I may say that in Scotland we are beginning to suffer the first impact of these measures. We have received our assessments or notices. It is apparent, as we all suspected, that there will be appalling anomalies. The Government have not thought out the logic of the measures.

According to the speeches that have been made, the logic is that everybody should pay something for local government services. It is believed that if they do so they will then look more carefully at proposals for local government expenditure. Presumably that also applies to the people who sleep under the arches on the Embankment. Are the Government saying that those people will be deeply moved about local elections by the fact that they have to pay something towards services? The proposition is ludicrous.

Furthermore, when it comes to the pinch, a great deal of the information for which we are asked in Scotland clearly presupposes that the tax, like the old rates, will be largely a matter for householders. As was pointed out at Question Time, we have been asked for details about when we acquired our houses, how many people are living in them, when they moved in and so forth. On the arguments put forward by the Government, that has nothing to do with the Bill. It should not matter whether or not one owns a house. The purpose which the Government now have in mind is that everyone who uses local services should pay for them. Ministers who come to their offices in Whitehall should pay their contribution towards Westminster services, wherever they live.

It is clear that that logic is being abandoned. In place of it, we are going to have confusion, out of which, as is so often the case, the poorest will come off worst. They will be required to pay their whack, even though they may get it back to some extent. In the process, as has been said, there will be great expenditure and great ill-feeling and there will be an increase in bureaucracy.

As has also been said, to accept the amendment is not to wreck the Bill; it is simply to take on board common sense. It tells one that it is ludicrous to try to charge the very poor in the country for services which it is accepted they cannot pay for. To do so is not only expensive and ludicrous; it wrecks the whole consensus on which the country has been built up and the respect for government or local government.

It would not in the least wreck the principles of the Bill—which are being abandoned in any case to a large extent—to exempt the people it is proposed should be exempted by this amendment. I very much hope that Ministers, if they will not yield to common sense, will at least yield in another place to the very serious natural consequences which this type of enactment will have for the Conservative Party.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, in what, if I may say so, was an excellent speech, said he thought that the view he had taken and which the proposers of the amendment and the others who have so far spoken have taken was the broad view. That implies that the view that is taken by those who agree with the notion that everybody, with very few exceptions, should contribute to local government services is a narrower view.

It seems to me (and I believe it deeply) that the situation in local government is such that we need a radical change in the way it is operated. We talked about that at Second Reading and earlier in Committee. Perhaps the nub of the radical nature of the proposed change is the idea that the least well off should contribute something.

Thinking about how people approach life nowadays, how the poorest people are aware of the mainstream of society more than they have ever been and want to join in, thinking indeed of the problems of the people who sleep on the Embankment, I believe that the government proposal represents one of the ways in which we can treat our fellow men with proper modern respect appropriate to the 1980s. The Bill tries to make it possible for them to contribute on equal terms with everybody else to the services which they use.

It is true that that contribution will be in very small sums based on the average community charge as we understand it at the moment. It will be something of the order of 50p a week which is due, plus or minus a few pence according to the level at which the local authority sets the community charge. That is the figure which it is assumed the 20 per cent. of the charge payable will amount to. The total may, I suppose, be up to £1.

If one is one of those people receiving income support one will know that that average community charge is an element of one's cost of living which is provided for in income support. It will be like receiving money for buying the basic food—the bread, eggs, butter and so on. One of the items for which one will receive money is the community charge. The problem one will have to face is how to ensure that one has that money in one's hand when the community charge has to be paid.

The policeman whom the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, met laughed at the notion. I can understand that. He knows exactly how people carry on and what the problems will be. But the way that we deal with these things at the moment is not working too well and the police know that best of all. It seems to me that the Bill represents a serious attempt—which incidentally should help the police—to treat people with modern respect and help them to feel themselves required to contribute like everyone else.

The issue concerns one's attitude to one's fellow man nowadays and what one perceives to be the right way to try to move along into modern times. I am absolutely convinced that it is right. I do not believe that this is a wrecking amendment but I think that a basic element of the concept of the community charge is that everyone should contribute, except those very few who we all agree should be exempted for reasons other than income.

I hope that the Committee will not accept the amendment. I know that it is moved with the most compassionate of intentions and that those noble Lords who have spoken in favour of it believe that that is the right approach. I believe that the approach set out in the Bill is a new approach, a more modern approach; and it is an approach which I think will work. I very much hope that the Committee will leave the Bill as it stands.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, has turned to the only answer that the Government could possibly give to the arguments that have been put forward by noble Lords who have already spoken. It has been made clear—as if it needed to be made clear —that the complexity and the administrative extravagance of the system which is proposed cannot be defended in its own right. The noble Baroness did not attempt to defend it on those grounds. The differences between one local authority and another have been made clear. One may hate local authorities but it does not mean that one has to hate the poor who live in the areas with local authorities which have high spending.

I noticed that the noble Baroness did not attempt to answer that point. She concentrated on what is becoming almost a point of theology in the Government's thinking. I am interested that she agrees with it. It is the kind of theology which is concerned with the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin rather than serious philosophical thinking.

I do not think that the noble Baroness lives in the real world or that she meets many poor people. If she did she would know that when you are so poor that you have to rely on income support you pay money all the time from the very small amount that you have. You pay for your food, lodging and all the other essentials. You pay taxes because you pay value added tax on the things that you buy. It does not give anyone a feeling of great pleasure or social responsibility to do so, but they do pay taxes.

The reality of being very poor is that you save and scrimp for things that you know are essential but for which you do not have enough money. You save for shoes, for clothes, for something to give the children a decent life. What is proposed here is that on top of that you should pay something to a local authority on the basis of a theological argument that it makes you more accountable for local authority services. I do not believe that many noble Lords, when they think about it, will believe that that is a realistic or humane way to behave to our fellow citizens who have less money than we have.

I appreciate the sincerity of the position of the noble Baroness and I know that she feels it deeply. But I believe profoundly that she is wrong and that the Government are wrong in putting forward that argument.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before the noble Lord sits down, I must ask him not to assume that I do not know any poor people or that I have not discussed this subject with extremely poor people. The Bill concerns England. I do not know Haringey and I do not know London, but there are a lot of poor people in Scotland. Not all of them agree at all with the noble Lord. I ask him to respect the integrity of what noble Lords say and not assume that if they disagree with him they do not know what they are talking about.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I paid specific tribute to the noble Baroness's integrity. I think that she is wrong.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

As the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said, this amendment seeks to allow for 100 per cent. rebates of the community charge. Therefore, in effect, it is an amendment which asks for a blanket exemption from the community charge to be made for people who have low incomes. I believe that this point was considered earlier in our proceedings when the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, moved Amendment No. 34 and subsequently withdrew it.

One of the Government's fundamental aims is to increase local accountability. That is the point which has just been the subject of a discussion across the Chamber between my noble friend Lady Carnegy and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. The Government have already begun that process in our reform of the housing benefit system. Since last April people in receipt of benefit have been expected to make a 20 per cent. contribution toward their rates. That minimum contribution will continue with the introduction of the community charge.

Perhaps I may briefly say a few words on what the Government propose in relation to that. It is fairly obvious from the discussions that we have had that the Government's proposals fall into two parts. There is the notion of an 80 per cent. maximum rebate and a provision by which people on low incomes will be further helped to pay the remaining 20 per cent. As I have said, the 80 per cent. maximum rebate is a concept that already applies to rates. It was approved by this Chamber when it agreed to the housing benefit general regulations of 1987. There are three crucial points. The first is that the rebate will be 80 per cent. of the actual community charge in the area. Thus, for example, in an area with a charge of £200 a year, the maximum rebate will be £160, leaving the individual to pay £40. If the community charge is £250, the maximum rebate will be £200, leaving the person concerned to pay £50. Secondly, each individual will be assessed for a rebate in his own right. This raises an issue which I know has very much worried people in the past. I should like to make it absolutely clear that, for example, an elderly parent who relies on the state pension and is living with relatives, or an unemployed son or daughter who is living with parents, will be entitled to the maximum rebate, irrespective of the income of the other people in the household. Thirdly, we intend that those who are entitled to rebates should receive help in the form of a reduction in their bills. There will normally be no question of paying, say, £200 and getting back £160. The bill will be for the net amount, which in this example is £40.

That brings me to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, who spoke about the very poorest in the land. I emphasise that yes, indeed, those people who are wholly dependent on income support (that is the former supplementary benefit) and those single people who earn up to £5 a week, or couples who earn up to £10 a week, above the income support levels will be eligible straightaway for the 80 per cent. rebate. Single pensioners and pensioner couples who are reliant on the state retirement pension and single people over 25 who are reliant on unemployment benefit will be absolutely without question entitled to the 80 per cent. maximum rebate. However, in addition, there will be the arrangements for helping those on low incomes to pay the remaining 20 per cent.

We believe that the 20 per cent. minimum payment will help to promote local accountability —I join my noble friend Lady Carnegy in stressing that point—and will ensure that everyone has a direct interest in the spending policies of their local authorities. I have to say to the Committee that in view of the low numbers of people who turn out to vote in local elections these days, I wonder whether it can be said that the electorate at this moment has the direct interest that it ought to have in how its local authorities are representing it.

Lord Tordoff

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Is he suggesting that this legislation will actually increase the turnout in local elections?

4.15 p.m.

Lord Belstead

I am suggesting that it will increase the direct interest of people who will be paying the community charge. I do not know whether they will then go and cast a vote as a result, but I am suggesting that at the present time that direct interest is not to be found, as perhaps it ought to be, and that there is not that spur which I think desirable.

However, I am not saying that local electors receiving maximum rebates will have to pay the last 20 per cent. out of their own pockets. Their income support will be uprated to reflect 20 per cent. of the average community charge across the country and that uprating will be carried out next year when the community charge is introduced in Scotland. It is not the case, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, suggested, that in some way there will be that uprating and then everybody will forget about it.

As I have said the income support levels will be adjusted from April next year when the community charge is introduced in Scotland, and that adjustment will reflect the average minimum contribution across Great Britain as a whole; but thereafter it will be absorbed in the general level of income support which is uprated every year. That means that although the amount will not be separately identified, in effect it will be increased year by year. So if the person who is receiving the maximum rebate together with the help given towards the 20 per cent. lives in an area in which local authority spending and therefore the community charge are low, the 20 per cent. uprating will be more than he needs and in fact there will be some money in his pocket. Conversely, if the 20 per cent. uprating is in a high spending area there will be a little to pay. If that person lives in an average spending area, the 20 per cent. uprating will fully meet his bill.

I said just now that there would be a little to pay. Perhaps I may now reply to one other point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, when she argued that some individuals in very high spending areas would find that the uprating of their income support fell some way short of their community charges. She mentioned a figure of £2 a week. I should like to point out to the noble Baroness that those figures would apply only in the case of those London boroughs which at the moment have the very highest spending to be found. However, it must not be assumed—and we on this side of the Committee certainly do not assume it— that when the community charge is introduced it will be at the figures produced on the basis of present spending; also, because of the provisions in Part IV of the Bill, the community charge in those high spending areas will be phased in and rates will be phased out over a period of four years.

Baroness Stedman

The noble Lord said that I was probably only talking about those people who live in areas where there are very high spending councils and who may have to pay an extra £2 a week over and above what they receive from the Government towards their community charge. Those are the people in the deprived inner city areas. There are a great many of those people and we are just as concerned about them and the effect that these regulations will have on them as we are about the few people at the other end of the scale who may well get back a little more from the DHSS than they need for their social services.

Lord Belstead

The noble Baroness is habitually very fair in her remarks; so let me put it straight to her. She is not right in saying that we are speaking of the very poorest people who live in the inner city areas. The example which the noble Baroness gave me related only to people who live in the very highest spending (inner London) boroughs to be found in this country. If I may say so to the noble Baroness, for the reasons I have just given it is not an accurate reflection of what will happen to assume that those very high spending policies will continue—because there will be local accountability.

Perhaps the noble Baroness has forgotten the speech that was made by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford when we started our discussions of this Bill many weeks ago. It was a remarkable speech in which my noble friend, with his great experience of both local and central government, pointed out that whatever one may think of this Bill the one thing that it will do is bring home to local authorities that the people of their areas really do care about how those authorities spend their money. So fair is fair! The noble Baroness put a point to me. It was not a point of general application but of specific application. I do not believe that it will work out in the way that the noble Baroness put to me for the reasons that I have given.

Perhaps I may put one other point to Members of the Committee opposite. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said that the Government had no heart for those who sleep rough under the arches or in the countryside. If the noble Lord will forgive me for saying so, this was precisely the point brought up in proceedings some weeks ago. My noble friend Lord Caithness agreed to consider whether this was a valid point and promised that he would come back to the Committee with an answer on it.

Lord Grimond

In saying that the Government had no heart, I may perhaps have exaggerated. However, it is surely odd that the noble Earl at this stage should have to consider the matter. Is he not aware of the number of homeless people in London? When they drafted the Bill, did the Government not consider that there are many people who sleep out? They matter a great deal. Is it a shock to the Government to find this factor late in the proceedings?

Lord Belstead

My noble friend Lord Caithness agreed to take the point away and to come back on it. My noble friend who has been in charge of the Bill was very ready to do that. Let me finally ask Members of the Committee opposite to take on board this point. My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour was realistic and I think had a point when she said that our proposals will mean that, whatever area people live in, those who are on low incomes will have a direct interest in their local authority spending policies, as will everyone else.

That would not be the position under the amendment which has been put to the Committee today. Indeed, the weakness of the case—put so strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman—is that it would encourage no interest in local authority spending by those who are on maximum rebates. That attitude would be held to be dismissive of the very proper concerns for what goes on in a locality by people, whether they are poor or rich. That is not an attitude that Parliament should encourage. For that reason, more than any other, I ask Members of the Committee not to agree with this amendment.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

Since the provisions of this Bill will be applicable a year earlier in Scotland, it is therefore an immediate prospect. The highest spending areas, such as the city of Glasgow, are high spending not because they are irresponsible but because the need is greater. The people who live in Glasgow will be compensated to the extent of a national average which takes into account areas of less need. In these circumstances will the people in greatest poverty in Glasgow suffer even more as a result of the application of the principle which the noble Lord has just enunciated?

Lord Belstead

I quite understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I entirely accept what the noble Lord says: that the needs of Glasgow are greater than the needs of other areas. The Government say that this will be the criterion under which the 50 per cent. of the contribution towards the spending on local services will be based—in other words, in deciding what the government rate support grant of the future will be. Therefore when the noble Lord says to me that there will be problems—for instance, in Glasgow because of need, my answer is that the noble Lord may well be right, and this will be taken into account specifically by the government subvention system in the future. It has been said again and again on this Bill.

Baroness Stedman

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply although I cannot agree with very much of it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, referred to giving them back their self-respect and that they may have to pay plus or minus a few pence out of their own pocket if the 20 per cent. rebate they receive is not enough. A few pence is a very great amount to people who are almost on the poverty line or who are destitute. It matters to them that they have to find this money.

I am concerned also about the leakage that there will be from this money. It is paid by the DHSS in very small amounts, I know. But if a Member of the Committee opposite were a single parent with three children who never had any luxuries, never had anything, and who suddenly had £3 or £4 extra in his pocket, would such a parent not be tempted perhaps to buy the child a few sweets, or to buy a new pair of shoes, or, if it were an elderly couple, to buy a warm jersey? Those are the kinds of items on which the leakage will be used.

Are noble Lords saying that it is worth the while of local authorities and their officers to bill the amounts that are needed, to send someone round to chase these sums up, to go through all the processes which this Bill provides, to issue distress warrants, and eventually to try to get them into prison for paltry amounts such as this? In another place if a Member of Parliament puts down a Question and it costs too much to find the answer, he does not have the answer on the grounds that it is a waste of government money and would cost too much to provide it. These people are surely worth as much respect as a parliamentary question. If it costs so much to chase them up, is it really worth the bother of trying to get the money from them?

In my days as a county councillor I met very many poor people. I tried to help a lot of people who were on social security in those days. I do not wish to become too reminiscent, but I was brought up in a working class family during the miners' strike and during the hungry 'thirties. I know the problems that existed then, and I know the problems that many of the people about whom we are talking face now. The electorate will not take a greater interest in what the Conservative Party or Conservative councils are doing. My guess is that when this measure comes into being the blame for these people and many others having to pay anything will not lie at the door of their local councils. It will be the Government who take the can back for what is happening to these people.

I am sure that the Committee has some compassion. We have not seen a great deal of it from the other side this afternoon. However, I ask Members of the Committee opposite to consider whether it is worth all the effort to get these small sums back from people who are in such desperate need. One noble Lord has told me that while this debate has been going on he began to think we were back in the days of the Victorian value of pauperism. He reminded me that his grandfather once remonstrated with him because he gave a beggar sixpence. He was told that he was not respecting the man to give him charity like that. We are not asking for charity. We are asking for compassion. We are asking for fairness. I must ask the House to take a decision on this.

4.28 p.m.

On Question, whether the said amendment (No. 185AB) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 113; Not-Contents, 134.

Addington, L. Gallacher, L.
Airedale, L. Galpern, L.
Amherst, E. Gladwyn, L.
Ardwick, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Aylestone, L. Greenhill of Harrow, L.
Barnett, L. Greenway, L.
Bernstein, L. Gregson, L.
Birk, B. Grey, E.
Blease, L. Grimond, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Hampton, L.
Boston of Faversham, L Hanworth, V.
Bottomley, L. Hart of South Lanark, B.
Briginshaw, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hayter, L.
Buckmaster, V. Hooson, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Carter, L. Hunt, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Hutchinson of Lullington, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Jay, L.
Cromartie, E. Jeger, B.
David, B. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. John-Mackie, L.
Donoughue, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Kirkhill, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Leatherland, L.
Ennals, L. Listowel, E.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Ezra, L. Longford, E.
Falkender, B. Lovell-Davis, L.
Falkland, V. McCarthy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Ryder of Warsaw, B.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Sainsbury, L.
McNair, L. Scanlon, L.
Marsh, L. Seear, B.
Mayhew, L. Seebohm, L.
Milford, L. Serota, B.
Milverton, L. Shackleton, L.
Mishcon, L. Shepherd, L.
Morris of Kenwood, L. Stallard, L.
Morton of Shuna, L. Stedman, B.
Mulley, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Nathan, L. Strabolgi, L.
Nicol, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Northfield, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L. [Teller.]
Oram, L. Tordoff, L.
Peston, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. Underhill, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.] Wallace of Coslany, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Porritt, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Rathcreeden, L. Willis, L.
Richardson, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Rochester, L. Winterbottom, L.
Rugby, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Fortescue, E.
Aldington, L. Glenarthur, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Goold, L.
Alport, L. Gormanston, V.
Arran, E. Grantchester, L.
Auckland, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Barber, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Beaverbrook, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Harvington, L.
Bellwin, L. Hemphill, L.
Beloff, L. Hertford, M.
Belstead, L. Hesketh, L.
Bessborough, E. Hives, L.
Birdwood, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Blatch, B. Hood, V.
Blyth, L. Hooper, B.
Borthwick, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Ilchester, E.
Broadbridge, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Broxbourne, L. Joseph, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Butterworth, L. Killearn, L.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Kimball, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Kitchener, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Lauderdale, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Layton, L.
Carnock, L. Long, V.
Coleraine, L. Luke, L.
Colville of Culross, V. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Cornwallis, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Cottesloe, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cox, B. Malmesbury, E.
Craigmyle, L. Margadale, L.
Cranbrook, E. Marley, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mersey, V.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Mountgarret, V.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Munster, E.
De Freyne, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Napier and Ettrick, L.
Dundee, E. Nelson, E.
Eden of Winton, L. Nelson of Stafford, L.
Effingham, E. Newall, L.
Elibank, L. Norfolk, D.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Norrie, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Elton, L. Oxfuird, L.
Erne, E. Pender, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Penrhyn, L.
Ferrers, E. Quinton, L.
Ferrier, L. Rankeillour, L.
Foley, L. Reay, L.
Reigate, L. Strange, B.
Renton, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Rippon of Hexham, L.
Rodney, L. Strathspey, L.
St. Davids, V. Terrington, L.
St. Germans, E. Teviot, L.
St. John of Fawsley, L. Trafford, L.
Saint Levan, L. Trefgarne, L.
Saint Oswald, L. Trumpington, B.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Whitelaw, V.
Selborne, E. Wise, L.
Shannon, E. Wolfson, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Wynford, L.
Somers, L. Young of Graffham, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.36 p.m.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 186:

Page 74, line 12, at end insert— ("For the purposes of calculating the rebate payable to any person he shall be deemed to be 25 years of age or over.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Banks. Unfortunately he is indisposed and cannot be here but he has asked me to move the amendment for him. I am pleased to do so because it deals with the problem of young people under 25 and in one of my strange manifestations I am a vice president of the British Youth Council.

Young people have been taking a considerable amount of stick from the Government in one way or another. When debating the winners and losers in the poll tax young people come down firmly on the side of the loser, particularly those under 25. Over the past few years they have been subjected to the board and lodgings regulations. Those regulations deny young people the right to play an active role in their community by forcing them to move from one place to another in order to claim benefit entitlement. The Wages Act 1986 removed the under-21s from the protection of the wages councils. More recently the implementation of the Social Security Act 1986 introduced a lower level of benefit for the under-25s for, as far as we understand, no logical or rational reason. It is the relationship with the Social Security Act 1986 which impels the amendment.

The proposed rebate is based on the housing benefit rules within the Social Security Act 1986 and therefore the 25-year age barrier within the Act will apply also to rebate entitlement. The result is that young people with a lower level of income than those over 25 will lose all help with poll tax payments. Based on the English average, the threshold level for the under-25s is £57.70 and for the over-25s it is £58.10. Young people living outside London will lose all help with poll tax payments once their income exceeds £50.70. On the other hand, their counterparts over 25 will be able to earn up to £58.10 before the rebate disappears.

One could find two people living in identical circumstances aged 24 and 26, with identical jobs, earning the same amount, perhaps sharing the same flat and with identical outgoings. Under the Government's proposal the older person will receive some poll tax rebate whereas the younger person may not.

When this subject was raised in another place the Secretary of State said that the main reason for the distinction between the under and over-25s was that most of the under-25s live at home and do not have household expenses. However, is not the whole point about a poll tax that it is a tax on the individual for his use of local services and has nothing to do with the type or location of property in which he is living. Indeed we have heard today about cardboard boxes.

The Government amended their own Bill in the Commons to include Clause 3(2) which states that in deciding where a person has his sole or main residence in the area, the fact that he does not live in a building is irrelevant. Therefore, when it comes to assessing liability for tax the Secretary of State does not care where one lives, but when it comes to assessing rebate entitlement, the Secretary of State then cares whether or not you are a householder so that he can give you less.

I believe that this age barrier of 25 has no logical basis whatever. Amendment No. 186, which we propose, only ends some of the unfairness in the way in which it applies to young people. However, it would be the very least that we could do to reduce the unfair discrimination for that particular age group.

I could go on about how young people are our future and so on, but I do not think that that sort of emotional approach is likely to commend itself to the Committee. However, I believe that there is a very simple point here: there is this odd cut-off point at the age of 25 where, because of the operation of the 1986 Act, people under 25 will be discriminated against. I beg to move.

Baroness Jeger

We support this amendment. We have never understood why the arbitrary age of 25 was picked on to make such a different social security provision. I have often asked this question and I can recall being afraid that I was boring the Chamber with it during the social security legislation which introduced this proposal. We never received a satisfactory reply.

Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has said, one answer is that people under 25 are supposed to be living with mother. The Prime Minister said only the other day that homeless young people sleeping rough should go back home to mother. Members of the Committee opposite do not seem to understand that not everybody under the age of 25 has a mother. Sometimes the mother is dead or sometimes there is a wicked stepmother. There are all sorts of reasons which make it essential for people up to the age of 25 to be able to lead their own lives. They want to be independent, and many are homeless because they are trying to find work. Some leave home because of frictions, especially where there are broken marriages.

I did not feel young when I was 24½. I felt very old at that time. Many of those young people are married. Many are perhaps trying to set up in business, of which I am sure the Government would approve. Some may be performing jobs in the daytime and paying for further education courses in the evening. I know several who are spending more than they can afford on fees for something like the Open University. The idea that anyone under 25 is a different sort of human being living in a different world from when one is 25 plus one day is absolutely mad.

This Government seem to hate young people. There have been these stringent bed and breakfast and lodgings rules which push them around. They must not stay in one place for more than a certain time and, if they go elsewhere and they find a nice landlady, they must not stay with her for too long. The whole emphasis seems to be on making it very difficult for young people to have a start in life and to deal with their own problems in an independent way. Up to the age of 24 years and 364 days they should not have to go and ask their parents for money. If their parents do not give them money it seems that under this Bill they will be penalised.

We believe that it is absolutely essential that this age should be changed. As I say, these people might be married or supporting elderly parents and are fully adult in every sense of the word. That is why we are moving this amendment so that in this wretched Bill, they will at least be treated on a par with other people whatever their age.

I was interested in the last debate when the Minister referred to making people feel responsible for their local authorities and for rushing off to vote. I wonder when he last asked anyone sleeping rough under which local authority's hedge he was sleeping. I do not think that many of the people at Charing Cross know the name of the borough, let alone are on the electoral register. When there is a mobile population it is very difficult for people to relate in the way in which the Government seem to think that they should to that big town hall which is very often to them just a building opposite the railway station.

For those reasons we are waiting to know what is holy about being 25. I ask Members of the Committee to look back and think what they were doing at the age of 25. How many children did they have? Were they living with mother? What sort of lifestyle did they want? Did they want to be independent and adult? The age of majority is 18 and I should have thought that to choose that age would have made some sense. However, I support this amendment, as do my noble friends, because we believe that there is no reality in having this extraordinary break-off at the age of 25.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Renton

This amendment introduces what will become a statutory legal fiction with regard to an age limit. All age limits are, to an extent, arbitrary. They are necessarily based upon the most usual cases likely to occur. We have them in the statute book, in definitions of children and young persons. There is the age of voting at 18. The age limit is still 21 for certain purposes. For the purpose under discussion it happens to be 25. Later in life we find that there is an age limit when we have our retirement pensions—60 and 65. All these are arbitrary age limits.

The noble Baroness asked: what is holy about 25? One may well ask: what is holy about any other age limit? However, I should like to suggest to the Committee that legal fictions should be avoided in legislation, however good the motive for them. I am not suggesting that there is a good motive in this case because we have to have age limits for certain purposes. This age limit was fixed by Parliament after very mature consideration. However, I must say that I hope that my noble friend would not fall for the temptation of agreeing to this legal fiction. It would make a nonsense of the age limit in this case.

Lord Bellwin

I wonder what evidence there is to show that people under the age of 25, the people to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, referred, are in any way worse off today than they were in previous years under administrations which she supported. Where is the evidence to show that that is so when she says, "This Government seem to hate young people"? I do not believe that she should be allowed to get away with that as a statement and it then be assumed that that is a fact. Many of us on this side of the Committee would vigorously deny that that is so.

Perhaps I may turn to her question: what were we doing when we were 25? I lived at home when I was 25 and I did not consider in any way that that made me feel that I was not dependent. I felt very dependent. The fact is that I loved living with my parents because of the regard that I had for them.

Baroness Jeger

You were lucky.

Lord Bellwin

It may be that I was lucky. I suggest that there are many others who are lucky, too. While it is true that there are those in the categories to which the noble Baroness referred, nevertheless there are many who choose to live away from home. There is nothing at all wrong in doing that. Indeed, that is to be encouraged if it is so wished. However, that does not detract from the fact that in so doing such persons actually add to the burden of the housing problem. This is not to say that one should not always try to better the situation. I am sure that Members on all sides of the Committee subscribe to that. Nevertheless, it is a fact that those who could stay at home, but choose not to do so, add to the problem. I do not believe that it helps the discussion at all to say that that is not so.

Baroness Jeger

Before the noble Lord sits down, is he saying that he is abandoning the advice of a friend of his who said that they should get on their bikes and look for work? That is the main reason for people leaving home. When the noble Lord said that people under 25 may have been worse off under a previous government, surely it was a Conservative government that brought in the 25 years-of-age rule.

Lord Bellwin

I do not say anything of the kind. There will always be people who wish to find work in other places if it is not available locally. Surely, that is not to suggest that that is the basis of the whole problem. It is clearly not so. It does not add to the debate to distort the facts as they are, and that is the point I am taking up with the noble Baroness.

Lord Underhill

I generally respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, but he will not deny the official figures of homelessness, particularly in London. The official figures show a staggering increase. These are not people who have just, willy- nilly, left home; they are people who are homeless because of all kinds of circumstances. I was fortunate because I was married at the age of 23 and had my first child at the age of 24. I was living on a very low income. Many of these people have practically no income at all. Most of us know people who have come to London in order to find work, do not find it and then, for various reasons, are homeless. These are the reasons why some of the inner London authorities have such high expenditure.

Lord Belstead

In listening to my noble friend Lord Bellwin, my feeling was that he had very much in mind that this amendment runs directly contrary to the way in which income-related benefits work. My other noble friend who spoke in this short debate, Lord Renton, pointed out that age limits are something of a legal fiction—

Lord Renton

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am saying that this amendment introduces a legal fiction as regards an age limit. I do not consider that other age limits are legal fiction, but they are arbitrary.

Lord Belstead

I apologise to my noble friend for interpreting him in a way which would not have redounded to my own case. I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me in his last words that when one has age limits they tend to be arbitrary. In his earlier remarks I remember him saying that presumably the ages of 60 and 65 are arbitrary as regards retirement benefits. There are reasons, and some age has to be fixed. Is it unreasonable to have this particular age in the social security system? In passing the Social Security Act 1986, the intention of Parliament was that in calculating income-related benefits, account ought to be taken of a claimant's personal circumstances. This is because the financial needs of a single 18-year old are likely to be different from the needs of a married couple with children. In turn, they are likely to be different to the needs of a physically handicapped pensioner.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that, whatever the argument, it very much seemed that the whole question depended upon whether one lived in a house. It is not quite like that. The assessed financial needs of a particular claimant are known as his or her applicable amount and, in calculating applicable amounts, 25 is held in the regulations made under the 1986 Act to be a significant age for single people because most of the older age group are becoming householders and their living expenses are becoming greater. As payments of rebates or benefits for the community charge are to be income-related, the calculation of entitlement should be based upon the same general rules for income-related benefits, such as income support or housing benefit.

So it is that, in calculating rebates for the community charge for people under 25, the way in which their entitlement tapers off will mean that single people under 25 will cease to be eligible for rebate at a lower level of income than single people of 25 years of age or over. This reflects the assumption upon which the social security system is based.

The first point I am making is that this amendment is not really aimed so much at the rebate system for the community charge, but at the social security system—

Baroness Jeger

Hear, hear.

Lord Belstead

—which makes different assumptions about the needs of people according to their circumstances. There is a second and a very important point. The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, is saying "Hear, hear"; in other words, I believe she is suggesting that I am saying something which is hardhearted. Perhaps I may show a little compassion. Let us be absolutely clear: a person who is under 25, out of work, or wholly dependent upon income support, will receive exactly the same benefit as someone over 25. In other words, he will receive the 80 per cent. rebate.

I emphasise that couples and lone parents under the age of 25 will also have the same benefit entitlement as people who are over 25. Those under 25, or out of work, married, or having children, will receive the full rebate if their income entitles them to do so. It is the social security system which assumes that the needs of the single person under 25 are less than those of people who are older. It is that which this amendment seeks to change and it is that which I ask the Committee not to agree to.

Lord Tordoff

I am grateful to the Members of the Committee who have joined in this short debate. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, says and I have considerable sympathy for it. One would not necessarily wish to introduce a legal fiction if one can find a better way. If the noble Lord has a few spare moments between now and Report stage, I shall be grateful if he can indicate how it can be done in a way which does not create a legal fiction.

As regards the people concerned, it is not a fiction. Because of the effect of the 1986 Act, it is having a knock-on effect into this Bill which is grossly unfair. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, allowed himself to be seduced into somewhat peripheral issues. They may have been introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, who rightly feels extremely strongly about these matters. However, those points have nothing whatever to do with the burden of housing. The question of housing came in because of a reply in another place which suggested that the reason there should be a cut-off was because the majority of those over 25 are householders and have householders' expenses.

I sought to indicate that that is not the philosophy upon which this Bill is based. The owning or otherwise of property has nothing to do with this system of taxation. I do not see how I could have put the case more clearly, but the Government are seeing it as an attack on the whole of their social security system. It seems that the boot is totally on the other foot. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, mentioned in his response to the Minister, it is because of the arbitrary nature of the Social Security Act that we are faced with this situation. I believe that it is having a knock-on effect into this Bill which I do not think was intended by the original draftsman. I do not think, particularly in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, that I should pursue this amendment today. But I do not believe that the problem will go away. It is wrong that people under 25 should be dealt with more harshly when, in many cases they may well be living in exactly the same circumstances, as people over 25. If the age were 18 or something like that, there might be more of a case. However, with all the philosophy behind the Bill, it seems to me that 25 is an arbitrary age which should certainly not be introduced into this Bill. Nevertheless I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 186ZA not moved.]

Clause 133 agreed to.

Schedule 13 [Social security]:

5 p.m.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 186A: Page 124, line 30, leave out ("on") and insert ("for").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 102D. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 187 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 187ZA: Page 126, line 3, leave out ("a prescribed percentage") and insert ("ten per cent. or less").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment we come to another element of the rebate system for the poor which is proposed by the Government. The first debate that we had this afternoon was on the subject of the threshold, and on that the Committee has made its decision, which I very much regret. But that is not the whole of the story. In addition to the provision that even the very poorest shall pay 20 per cent. of their personal community charge, subject to the provisions which we know about for changes in income support, there is a complex system of tapers to allow a reducing amount of rebate of the personal community charge as income increases over the minimum level. In Schedule 13 this percentage—the proportion by which the rebate decreases as income rises—is called the prescribed percentage.

I am somewhat surprised that the Government still think that they can get away with calling it the prescribed percentage and leaving it to regulation by the Secretary of State, because this was a matter of considerable political uproar in another place in April this year when the housing benefit regulations were debated and when the Government were forced by pressure from their own back-benchers to change the taper from 20 per cent. to 15 per cent.

Noble Lords will remember that this change took place a few days before the debate on housing benefits was due to take place, and it was intended to buy off the opposition of a number of Conservative backbenchers in another place. The effect of that politically was somewhat weakened by the fact that it became clear from leaked documents that the Government did not intend that there should be any real further expense to the public purse from that. They intended these changes to be self-financing, and that did not do the Government's reputation any good either.

However, the Government still apparently think it proper to ignore the very strong political and public feeling about the percentage points of the taper by allowing it to be dealt with by secondary legislation in this Bill. We are proposing that the taper should not be the 20 per cent. originally planned, nor the 15 per cent. to which the Government agreed for housing benefits in April this year, but a figure of 10 per cent.

I think I should explain what that means in money terms to a couple facing the average community charge bill of £8 .62 a week. Under the 20 per cent. taper as originally proposed, it would mean that they would get no rebate whatever if their net income, including any earnings disregard, exceeded £93 .45 a week. Under the 15 per cent. taper which was accepted for the housing benefit regulations, they would get no rebate whatever if their earnings were above £104 .12.

Under this amendment, which would put the figure straight on the face of the Bill and mean that the Government are prepared to stand up and be counted about it, it is still not a very high figure. We are still saying that there would be no rebate at all for net earnings above £125 .45. When I remind the Committee that average net earnings based on average gross income of £213 are £166.66, noble Lords will realise that we are not exactly throwing money around to the lower paid. These people are still well below average earnings and are still receiving no rebate of any kind.

Let us accept that the Committee has agreed that the threshold for the very poorest shall not be changed. There is no logical reason why the Committee, even if it has taken that decision, should not recognise that those who are not our very poorest, but who are still substantially below average earnings, and therefore in very difficult financial circumstances, working in lowly paid jobs, perhaps only being able to work part-time or to work on a seasonal basis—there are many circumstances in which this happens—still deserve to some extent to have the wind tempered to them.

I put it to the Committee that it would be an act of conciliation, an act of recognition of the hard circumstances in which many of our fellow citizens live, if the Government were to agree to this amendment or to indicate that, even if they do not agree to it being put on the face of the Bill, this is the basis on which the taper will be calculated by the Secretary of State when he is determining the prescribed percentage. I do not want to make two issues— one of which is whether the percentage should be on the face of the Bill—confuse the basic humanitarian purpose behind this amendment, which is to increase the rebate system for those who are still very poor but not the very poorest.

I hope the Committee will feel that this is not in any way a threat to the principles behind the Bill. It is perhaps a very modest movement in favour of the Government's original intention of having a replacement for the rates which took account of ability to pay. But it would not be a political defeat for the Government if the Committee agreed to this amendment. It would be, as I said, a humanitarian gesture and I hope that the Committee will feel able to agree to it. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

As this is the first amendment that we have discussed in relation to this schedule, except the earlier minor one, Amendment No. 186A, I wonder whether I may be forgiven for pointing out that this is the longest and most complex schedule in the Bill. It is necessary in order to amend the Social Security Act 1986, in order that the Government's policy of tempering the wind to the shorn lamb, which is part of the policy under this Bill, can be implemented.

Having said that, I must point out that it, first, makes massive amendments to existing legislation by a system of cross-reference. Admittedly it is done by the admirable method of textual amendment, but one cannot possibly follow these massive amendments with a copy of this Bill in front of one.

The schedule also gives wide powers to the Secretary of State to make regulations, some of which may amend not only this Bill but previous legislation. But for the good purpose of this schedule I should have said that from the point of view of legislative drafting it really goes over the top. However, it has a good purpose and one should acknowledge that.

Having got that off my chest—and I hope I may be forgiven for doing so I now come to the amendment. When we are legislating, especially if we are legislating in ways which affect people's pockets—and of course this amendment does affect people's pockets—it is desirable that we should, if feasible and possible, be certain about what we are doing. There is no doubt that, by leaving the matter to be "a prescribed percentage", we are leaving it to the Secretary of State's good intentions. To that extent there is uncertainty.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, with I think a justifiable motive, is trying to remove the uncertainty by suggesting that the percentage should be 10 per cent. Frankly I do not know whether or not it should be. But if it is not to be, I am sure that we shall get a good explanation from my noble friend, to which I look forward.

Lord Somers

I am not a great mathematician but at least I can see that "a prescribed percentage" is much too vague to have in a Bill of this sort. "A prescribed percentage" may mean anything from .001 per cent. to 99.9 per cent. We should have something more definite in the Bill as a protective measure.

Incidentally, the Bill says, "a prescribed percentage". Who will do the prescribing? We are not told that. This ought to be amended. Whether or not the percentage suggested by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is the right one, I am not prepared to say, but I feel that something should be put there instead of what is there already.

Lord Renton

If the noble Lord were to turn to the Social Security Act 1986 he would find that the percentage was to be prescribed by the Secretary of State.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Belstead

The Government announced in April that the taper for community charge benefit would be 15 per cent., which means of course a reduction of 15p in benefit for every £1 of extra income above the relevant limit. Previous examples of rebates and estimates of the number of people who would benefit from rebates had assumed a taper of 20 per cent., which is the figure which now applies to rate rebates. In bringing forward that proposal the Government were making an improvement on the rate rebates that people get at the moment, if their income so allows.

The decision to set the taper at 15 per cent. rather than 20 per cent. will ensure that a great many people who would otherwise have been just outside the rebate system will now benefit from it. With a 20 per cent. taper we estimate that about 8 million people would have been eligible for a rebate of their community charge. The 15 per cent. taper will bring in a further 1 million people, as well as benefiting the 4 million people whose rebate entitlement is less than the maximum 80 per cent. by giving them larger rebates than they would otherwise have received. Put another way, the introduction of the 15 per cent. taper proposal will mean that we get about 9 million people who will be able to qualify for a rebate.

But is the proposal for a 15 per cent. taper enough—because of course this amendment does two things? It says that the taper ought to be 10 per cent., but it also says that it ought to be written on the face of the Bill. Therefore I have to answer the question whether the 15 per cent. is enough. We have to set our social security budget taking into account people's needs and what the country can afford, and one has to decide how widely the available money can be spread. A 15 per cent. taper will provide for rebates a significant way up the income scale. For instance, a couple with two children paying the average community charge at current levels would qualify for a rebate if they had earnings of up to three-quarters of the national average. I believe that this is a reasonable range within which the rebate system should operate.

I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Renton when he says that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in trying to put the rebate on the face of the Bill, is endeavouring to remove uncertainty. I quite understand why he wants to be sure. But before I come to that point finally may I say that the noble Lord gave, if he will forgive me saying so, a somewhat distorted account of the announcement of the 15p taper by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The announcement did not actually follow a row, as the noble Lord alleged, on the housing benefit regulations, but if followed, as my right honourable friend made clear, lengthy deliberations as to the level of the target that it would be right to use for the community charge. Well, Members of the Committee laugh, but as I have already explained, the introduction of a 15 per cent. taper is going to mean a lot of extra money to a lot of extra people.

I come to an important point which I must put on record. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to an assumption that the increased cost of this better rebate system as a result of having the lower taper target would be met by other community charge payers. I am sure the noble Lord is aware, because it is a point which has been made explicitly by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, that no decision has been taken as to how the cost is to be met. That will be decided in the usual way when the level of grant to local authorities is settled for 1990–91.

I come finally to the other point in the amendment, which is that whatever the level of the taper—and I am arguing that 15 per cent. is right—should it be put on the face of the Bill? This is a matter that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and my noble friend Lord Renton have mentioned, and I quite recognise that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has a perfectly justifiable concern here.

The proposal in the Bill is that it would be specified in the regulations, which as my noble friend Lord Renton rightly said, will be laid before Parliament by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, because the reference in the schedule is back to the 1986 Act, and all that will be after consultation with the local authority associations. Not only is it proper for it to be in regulations but it would be inconsistent with normal procedures to enshrine the level of the taper in primary legislation.

The regulations on rebates would come before your Lordships' House in due course and your Lordships would be able to debate the appropriate level of the taper. If at a later stage any adjustment to the figure is proposed, both Houses do not then have to go through the whole business of having to have a new Bill, but the matter can be done in primary legislation. There is nothing sinister in saying that, because one can always talk about figures going down as well as going up. It is for that final reason that I believe that this amendment is not well conceived. At any rate I am sorry, because the noble Lord is a good debater and we enjoy debating with him, but I cannot accept the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I think that the examiner's judgment on that response would be, since the noble Lord himself used the word "improvement", that it was a courteous speech but there is still room for improvement in the conclusions that he reached. The amendment in one part is a probing amendment and in one part a determined amendment. The probing part is the attempt to put the provision on to the face of the Bill.

In moving the amendment, I said that if the Minister was able to indicate that the Government looked favourably on the 10 per cent. taper—the 10p loss of rebate for every pound of income, as he rightly specified—we should certainly withdraw it. However, having the figure on the face of the Bill is not the most important issue to us; the most important issue is trying to improve the financial lot of many people who are much worse off than we are. That is why the noble Lord was right in referring again to the responsibility that the Government have for ensuring that there is a determined and proper figure for total social security benefits. The amendment would undoubtedly increase the cost of this element of social security benefits. We do not deny that.

Since we are being political about it, this is in the context of a budget that forwent vast amounts of income that government had had in the past by reducing taxation for the better off. The Government clearly thought therefore that to reduce taxation for the better off was a higher priority than to improve the lot of those who find themselves on well below average earnings and in need of the support of the rebate system. To that extent the Minister and I are in political opposition. There is no way of getting round that point.

I can seek to persuade the Committee that the 10 per cent. figure is right only by repeating what I said before: even at a figure very much below average earnings, even at a figure which makes keeping body and soul together very difficult, there will be no rebate of the personal community charge. Without seeking to pursue the matter of the drafting of the Bill, on which I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I think it right that I should seek the opinion of the Committee on the issue of the 10 per cent.

5.23 p.m.

On Question, whether the said amendment (No. 187ZA) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 82; Not-Contents, 130.

Addington, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
Airedale, L. Jay, L.
Amherst, E. Jeger, B.
Ardwick, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Aylestone, L. Kilbracken, L.
Basnett, L. Kirkhill, L.
Birk, B. Listowel, E.
Blackstone, B. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Bonham-Carter, L. Longford, E.
Boston of Faversham, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Bottomley, L. McCarthy, L.
Briginshaw, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Buckmaster, V. Mayhew, L.
Carter, L. Milford, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Morris of Kenwood, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Morton of Shuna, L.
David, B. Mulley, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Donoughue, L. Nicol, B.
Dormand of Easington, L. Northfield, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Oram, L.
Ennals, L. Peston, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Gallacher, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Galpern, L.
Gladwyn, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Rochester, L.
Grimond, L. Seear, B.
Hart of South Lanark, B. Shackleton, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Shepherd, L.
Hayter, L. Stallard, L.
Hooson, L. Stedman, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hunt, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Strabolgi, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Tordoff, L. Willis, L.
Turner of Camden, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Underhill, L.
Wallace of Coslany, L. Winterbottom, L.
Wells-Pestell, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hylton-Foster, B.
Aldington, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Arran, E. Joseph, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Kimball, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Kitchener, E.
Bellwin, L. Lauderdale, E.
Beloff, L. Layton, L.
Belstead, L. Leathers, V.
Bessborough, E. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Blatch, B. Long, V.
Blyth, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Borthwick, L. Luke, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lyell, L.
Brightman, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Broxbourne, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Butterworth, L. Malmesbury, E.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Margadale, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Marley, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mersey, V.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mottistone, L.
Carnock, L. Munster, E.
Clitheroe, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Coleraine, L. Nelson, E.
Colwyn, L. Norfolk, D.
Cork and Orrery, E. Norrie, L.
Cornwallis, L. Orkney, E.
Cottesloe, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Cowley, E. Oxfuird, L.
Craigmyle, L. Pender, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Penrhyn, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Porritt, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Quinton, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rankeillour, L.
Dilhorne, V. Reay, L.
Dundee, E. Reigate, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Renton, L.
Effingham, E. Rodney, L.
Elibank, L. St. Davids, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. St. Germans, E.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Erne, E. Saint Oswald, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Ferrers, E. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Ferrier, L. Sandford, L.
Foley, L. Selborne, E.
Fortescue, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Strange, B.
Glenarthur, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Goold, L.
Gormanston, V. Strathspey, L.
Haddington, E. Swansea, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Trafford, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Halsbury, E. Trumpington, B.
Harvington, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hemphill, L. Whitelaw, V.
Hereford, Bp. Windlesham, L.
Hertford, M. Wise, L.
Hesketh, L. Wolfson, L.
Hives, L. Wynford, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Young, B.
Hood, V. Young of Graffham, L.
Hooper, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 187A: Page 126, line 9, leave out ("on") and insert ("for").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

[Amendments Nos. 188 and 189 not moved.]

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 189A: Page 129, line 41, after ("war") insert ("disablement pension or war").

The noble Lord said: This amendment removes a discrepancy between the provisions for community charge benefit and those for housing benefit in the Social Security Act 1986. Under that Act local authorities may disregard a war disablement pension or war widow's pension in calculating housing benefit. We want them to have exactly the same power in relation to community charge benefit, but as drafted the Bill would allow them to disregard only war widows' pensions. This amendment remedies the position. I hope the Committee will welcome the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

As no other noble Lord on either side of the Committee is going to welcome the amendment, I should very much like to do so. It is right and proper that we should bear in mind those who have suffered in war and now receive war disablement pensions. I congratulate my noble friend.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I hope it will be recognised that our silence on this matter does not indicate dissent but an anxiety to see the business of the Committee efficiently conducted.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 190: Page 132, line 11, leave out from ("benefits") to end of line 18.

The noble Lord said: In moving amendment No. 190 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 191 and 192. These are probing amendments. We want to know that the Government plan to reimburse to local authorities the costs of the administration of the poll tax and of the rebates which will take revenue away from local authorities. If the Government are willing to indicate that that is the case—and there is reason to believe from what the Government have said earlier that that is so—we will not pursue the amendments.

It is important that we should be clear whether the rates of subsidy under the current housing benefit system will be carried through into the poll tax rebates system. At the moment the Exchequer subsidy is paid at a rate of 97 per cent. of the actual gross costs on most expenditure and at a rate of 60 per cent. on administration costs. It is common ground among all the local authority associations, regardless of their political affiliation, that 100 per cent. of the administration costs—let us compromise on 97 per cent.—should also be reimbursed. I do not think it would be good enough for the Government to say in reply that this is dealt with in needs assessment. If the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will forgive me, there is a danger in using needs assessment to cover the costs of administration or the cost of rebates. Needs assessment is supposed to be about needs and not about the cost of administration or the costs of rebates which are imposed on local authorities by central government.

For those reasons I hope that the Government will be able to give sufficient indications, first, as to the carry-through to this Bill of the method under the housing benefit system, and, secondly, as to the uprating of the compensation for administration from the present 60 per cent. level which applies under housing benefits. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

Amendment No. 190 would remove the power of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services in the annual subsidy order to make adjustments to community charge benefit subsidy to allow for circumstances which the normal rules do not fit. It also removes the power to make deductions from subsidy so as to exclude items which it would be unreasonable to meet out of money provided by Parliament for subsidy purposes. What it would not do is to require subsidy to cover 100 per cent. of benefit paid. The noble Lord made it clear that he was aware of the high percentage in benefit at the moment and wanted to know whether that would be carried through to the new arrangements. The provisions which the amendment seeks to remove are not those that will be used to determine the rate of subsidy. Their purpose is very specific, and they are essential to ensure that authorities in special circumstances do not receive either too much or too little subsidy, and to prevent abuse of the system.

The noble Lord has made it clear that he is driving at a rather different point, the one which I have just mentioned. Yes, as my information is the same as his, the percentage which he recorded is the right one. As to what the percentage for the benefit in the future will be, that must he for future decision. All I can say today is that we are talking about a very high percentage. I simply cannot go further than that in answer to the noble Lord.

Amendment No. 191 would require my right honourable friend to support the costs incurred by local authorities in administering the community charge benefit scheme by direct subsidy. We envisage that the arrangements for subsidising administrative costs will follow a similar approach to those for the housing benefit scheme. The provision in the Bill is therefore similar to that in Section 34 of the Social Security Act 1986, which covers subsidy in relation to housing benefit.

Amendment No. 192 would require subsidy to be paid in respect of the whole of a local authority's administrative costs. This would be an open-ended commitment to meet all costs incurred by local authorities and would conflict with the Government's aim of increasing authorities' accountability and cost control. We will need to consider carefully the arrangements for subsidising the community charge benefit scheme when we are looking at the detailed provisions of the scheme itself. There is no question, however, of the Government accepting a commitment to meet all costs in full. I am sorry to be unhelpful on each of the three amendments. I hope nonetheless that the exchange of information which the noble Lord and I are having on the three amendments will be of some assistance.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I well understand that the gap between us on administration costs will not readily be bridged. I should like to pursue for a moment the question of the percentage of the gross costs of the revenue loss from the rebate system. It seems to us that the principles which apply for housing benefit are so close to the principles which should apply for the rebate system that "a very high percentage", as the noble Lord has said, is not quite precise enough. However, if he would indicate without giving an actual figure—that the principles upon which the Government will be calculating the benefit to the local authorities are comparable to those for the housing benefit scheme, it would go a very long way to removing our disquiet.

By the nature of their social mix, the local authorities which have the highest level of rebates, and therefore would suffer most if their rebate loss was not made up, are those with the greatest number of social problems causing them the greatest expenditure. I recognise that some of the problems will be dealt with by the needs grant. Nevertheless, it would not be unreasonable or out of keeping with the Government's existing practice under the housing benefit scheme if they agreed to apply the same principles to this as to housing benefits. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us some assistance on the matter.

Lord Belstead

I can give the noble Lord an assurance that the principles will indeed be comparable to those which are now used for housing benefit. I hope that what I have said is helpful to the noble Lord.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Indeed, it is most helpful. It will be well received by those local authorities which are most concerned about the matter. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 191 and 192 not moved.]

Schedule 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 134 agreed to.

Schedule 14 [Tribunals]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 192A: Page 134, line 24, at end insert—


3A.—(1) This paragraph applies as regards any matter which falls within the jurisdiction conferred on tribunals by—

  1. (a) section 22 above,
  2. (b) regulations under section 47 above, or
  3. (c) regulations under paragraph 3 above.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that, where the persons mentioned in sub-paragraph (3) below agree in writing that the matter is to be referred to arbitration, the matter shall be so referred.

(3) The persons are the persons who, if the matter were to be the subject of an appeal to a tribunal, would be the parties to the appeal.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 192A, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to speak also to Amendments Nos. 192F and 192G. This group of amendments covers a number of tidying-up measures to the provisions relating to valuation and community charge tribunals. It might be helpful therefore if I explain briefly the purpose of each of them.

Amendment No. 192A makes provision similar to that in Section 78 of the General Rate Act which is designed to permit a rating appeal to go direct to the Lands Tribunal rather than being heard by a local valuation court, provided all parties agree. Although this provision is rarely used, it is useful to have such a provision so that an appeal which raises major issues—and is likely to be taken to the Lands Tribunal in any event—may be taken there direct. The amendment similarly provides that an appeal against a decision relating to the community charge may be taken direct to the High Court, if all parties agree, where it raises a point of law.

Amendment No. 192F makes provision for further appeals against decisions of the valuation and community charge tribunal. As is now the case, there will be a right of appeal to the Lands Tribunal from a decision of the tribunal on a rating appeal. There will also be a right of appeal to the High Court on a community charge appeal, but only on a point of law. There is a reason for that distinction. Rating apeals involve questions of valuation and judgment and it is only right that there should be a second forum to which a person may appeal if he feels that the first decision is wrong. In the case of community charge appeals, these are essentially questions of fact.

Moreover, the tribunal is the second tier of the system: a person who is aggrieved will already have had the opportunity to take his case to the community charge registration officer or the local-authority. If they disagree, the person may appeal further—to the tribunal. That should give everyone the opportunity to have his case adequately considered. Where, of course, he considers that a point of law is involved, regulations made under Schedule 14 will provide for him to take his case to the High Court.

Amendment No. 192G contains a number of general provisions. Paragraph 12 of Schedule 14 provides for the local valuation courts to be wound up and reconstituted as valuation and community charge tribunals and for the VCCTs to assume jurisdiction in relation to any appeal made to a local valuation court before they were wound up. Paragraph 12A makes provision for regulations dealing with appeals that go to arbitration. Paragraph 12B provides that the procedures for dealing with rating appeals may differ from those relating to community charge appeals. Paragraph 12C deals with the case where a person has appealed against his register entry on the grounds that he has ceased to be liable. It is possible that the appeal may be heard some time after the person ceased to be liable. In such a case, paragraph 12C provides that the court or tribunal may in such cases order that the date on which he is shown on the register as ceasing to be liable may be earlier than the two year limitation imposed by Clause 8(3) of the Bill which provides that such an entry may only be backdated two years from the date on which the register is amended to record that liability has ceased. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Lord is so lucid that even I can understand him. Indeed, I am most grateful that we do not have too many of our professional surveyors in the Chamber this afternoon. The issues are so clear, and the need for the changes in the valuation tribunals so clear, that one cannot resist asking why the Government did not think about this when first drafting the Bill—or certainly at a much earlier stage than now.

Lord Renton

I have a rather different point to make. I should like to save the Secretary of State some trouble. If Members of the Committee will look at the first of this group of amendments—namely, Amendment No. 192A—they will see that the first paragraph is a mere recital, or reference back, to previous powers. Further, paragraph (2) reads: The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that". It then goes on to say what we that is, Parliament—are intending to do. Surely there is no need to have a regulation to repeat what is already written down. The same applies to paragraph (3) which says, The persons are the persons who, if the matter were to be the subject of an appeal to a tribunal, would be the parties to the appeal". Again, there is no point in repeating that in regulations. Goodness knows there are quite enough regulations which must be made under the Bill. Therefore, if we can save the Secretary of State a little trouble it might also save Parliament some time, because the regulations will either be laid before Parliament (before they can be approved) or there will be an opportunity to pray against them. So may I suggest that in paragraph (2) the words, The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that should be omitted?

As regards the other two amendments—namely, Amendments Nos. 192F and 192G—I support the principles behind them. I think that one cannot avoid having either regulations made by the Secretary of State, or rules of court which are made in the way that rules of court are normally made. I wonder whether my noble friend would be able to obtain some advice as to whether such rules will be rules of court, or ordinary regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Lord Hesketh

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for the remarks he has made. I think it is only fair to say that I wish in some ways I had had the opportunity to become a parliamentary counsel so that I would be able to answer adequately the points he has made. However, I shall of course draw his remarks to the attention of those who are involved in this matter. It must be said that the Government are always grateful for any suggestions as to how they may improve the drafting of legislation.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 192AA: Page 134, line 36, leave out paragraph (e) and insert— ("(e) that some of the members (who may include the president) are to be appointed to the position of chairman, that the number to be appointed is to be stated by a prescribed person or persons, and that the appointments are to be made by the members themselves by a prescribed method or (if they default) by a prescribed person or persons;").

The noble Lord said: The amendment fulfils a commitment in relation to the method of appointment of the chairmen of valuation and community charge tribunals. At present, the chairman and deputy chairman of local valuation panels are elected by the members. When we were considering the formation of the new valuation and community charge tribunals, which will replace the local valuation panels and courts, we considered the possibility of appointing the president of the tribunal and the deputy chairmen (who will chair hearings) by a different method. The consultation document, Appeals and Valuation and Community Charge Tribunals, proposed that the president should be appointed by the Secretary of State and the chairmen should be appointed by the president.

The responses to the consultation document clearly demonstrated that both the members of the valuation panel service and other professional bodies considered this a retrograde step. We have accepted that view. In Committee in another place my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State announced the Government's intention to retain the existing system of election by the membership. Schedule 14, paragraph 4, provides that the president is to be appointed by the members by the prescribed method. Regulations made under Schedule 14 will set out that method, which will be by election. We had hoped to make a similar provision by regulations for the election of the chairman, but it is not certain that the Bill, as drafted, gives us power to do that. Amendment No. 192AA makes it certain. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

One and a half cheers for democracy.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendments Nos. 192B to 192E:

Page 137, line 21, leave out ("or reduced").

Page 138, line 14, leave out ("or reduce").

Page 138, line 17, leave out ("or reduce").

Page 138, line 22, leave out ("or reduce").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 192B, 192C, 192D and 192E have already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 192F: Page 138, line 26, at end insert —


9A.—(1) Regulations under paragraph I above may include provision that—

  1. (a) an appeal shall lie to the High Court on a question of law arising out of a decision or order which is given or made by a tribunal on an appeal under section 22 above;
  2. 414
  3. (b) an appeal shall lie to the Lands Tribunal in respect of a decision or order which is given or made by a tribunal on an appeal under regulations under section 47 or 68 above.

(2) The regulations may include—

  1. (a) provision as to the persons who may appeal to the High Court or the Lands Tribunal;
  2. (b) provision authorising or requiring an appeal to the High Court or the Lands Tribunal to be dismissed if it is not initiated within a prescribed time;
  3. (c) provision as to the powers of the High Court or the Lands Tribunal on an appeal to it (which may include provision allowing the tribunal's decision or order to be confirmed, varied, set aside, revoked or remitted, and provision allowing the making of any order the tribunal could have made);
  4. (d) provision requiring a charging authority, the community charges registration officer or valuation officer for a charging authority, or the central valuation officer, to act in accordance with any order made by the High Court or the Lands Tribunal, and provision that paragraph 8 or 9 above is to have effect subject to such a requirement.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 192G: Page 138, line 46, leave out paragraph 12 and insert— ("12. Regulations under paragraph 3 above may include—

  1. (a) provision for the winding up of local valuation courts or for their reconstitution as valuation and community charge tribunals;
  2. (b) provision as to orders, which may include provision requiring the carrying out of an order made by a valuation and community charge tribunal in exercising jurisdiction conferred by the regulations;
  3. (c) provision that an appeal shall lie to the Lands Tribunal in respect of a decision or order which is given or made by a valuation and community charge tribunal in exercising jurisdiction conferred by the regulations;
  4. (d) provision as to the persons who may appeal to the Lands Tribunal, as to the time within which an appeal may be initiated, and as to the powers of the Lands Tribunal on an appeal to it;
  5. (e) provision requiring the carrying out of an order made by the Lands Tribunal on an appeal to it.

12A. Regulations under paragraph 3A above may include—

  1. (a) provision applying enactments relating to arbitration:
  2. (b) provision that an award in an arbitration may include any order a valuation and community charge tribunal could have made in the matter concerned;
  3. (c) provision requiring the carrying out of an order so included.

12B.—(1) Without prejudice to section 141(1) above, regulations under this Schedule may make different provision for cases where valuation and community charge tribunals exercise jurisdiction conferred on them by or under different provisions of this Act.

(2) Without prejudice to section 141(2) above, regulations under this Schedule may include provision amending, adapting, repealing or revoking any provision of or made under the 1967 Act or any other Act.

12C.—(1) Where a tribunal, arbitrator, umpire or court deals with a matter falling within the jurisdiction conferred on tribunals by section 22 above, section 8(3) above shall not apply as regards the matter if the tribunal, arbitrator, umpire or court so orders.

(2) But sub-paragraph (1) above shall not have effect if the order is set aside on appeal.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 14, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 135 agreed to.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 192H: After Clause 135, insert the following new clause:

("Land occupied by private generator or supplier.

.No land occupied by a private generator or supplier shall be liable to be rated or included in any valuation list or in any rate where that land is occupied or intended to be occupied solely or mainly for the purpose of extracting therefrom landfill gas as a source of energy for the generation of electricity.").

The noble Baroness said: The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, is sorry that he is inadvertently unable to be here, so I beg leave to move Amendment No. 192H.

The purpose of the amendment is to exempt from rating landfill gas which is used to generate electricity. Landfill gas, a mixture of methane and other gases, is produced by bacterial decay of putrescible waste, such as household refuse, at waste disposal sites. There are over 1,000 of those sites in the United Kingdom. The gas is smelly. It kills vegetation and it can also be explosive. In one incident in Derbyshire, a house was totally destroyed and the occupants seriously injured.

Furthermore, gas may be given off for many years after the site has been closed. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution recently estimated that over 60 per cent. of currently active sites, and 75 per cent. of those closed in the past 10 years, are generating gas in sufficient quantities to require proper management to avoid their becoming a problem. There are various schemes for the removal and beneficial use of landfill gas. That trend has been encouraged by the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment. Public funds have been made available for research and demonstration projects.

One way to put landfill gas to good use is to produce electricity, using the gas to drive an alternator. At present, there is a handful of such projects in the United Kingdom. More are planned but are being delayed by various obstacles. Two of the problems faced by private generators are, first, that the price paid for their electricity by local boards is nearly 30 per cent. less than that paid to the CEGB: and, secondly, they have to pay 20 or 40 times more in rates than does the CEGB per unit of power sold. Those anomalies have been recognised by the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment and are not the target of the amendment, although they are severe disincentives.

The amendment seeks to remove, as I said, the additional hurdle faced by anyone who makes commercial use of landfill gas. He has to pay rates on land from which gas is extracted, on the principle that he is in beneficial occupation of that land. Most land and buildings are assessed in that way, with the interesting exception of agricultural land. There is a case for making a similar exception for landfill gas used for electricity production. No rates are being charged on land from which landfill gas is allowed to escape into the atmosphere or to surrounding land. Rates are being charged only on gas being put to a useful purpose. Many landfill gas sites are intended to be returned to agricultural land, and then, again, no rates will be charged.

I wish to make it clear that the amendment seeks to exempt from rating only the land from which the gas is being pumped, not the land under the buildings and the buildings which comprise the power station.

I hope an amendment whose appeal is so broad that it sports the names of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and myself will be irresistible to the Minister! I hope he will agree that the extraction and proper disposal of landfill gas should be encouraged. It improves the land, helps to deal safely with a serious problem and contributes to the nation's energy requirements. The amendment would remove one of the disincentives to the development of worthwhile project. I beg to move.

Lord Carter

I should like to come in by a side wind and refer to the extraction of methane gas used for the generation of electricity from agricultural sources. I am referring to manure. There is increasing interest from farmers in that process, although in some cases their enthusiasm has been a little diluted because there is a tendency for methane and other digestors to explode. However, as I said, there is interest among farmers for this alternative source of energy.

When the Minister responds to the amendment will he say how that response would relate to the production by farmers of methane gas from livestock waste products? Will he ensure that the way the Government intend to deal under the Bill with the extraction of methane gas from land, which was referred to when the amendment was moved, will not affect its extraction for agricultural purposes?

Lord Hesketh

The effect of Amendment No. 192H would be to exempt from rates any land from which landfill gas is extracted and used as a source of energy for electricity generation. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, was sadly unable to be here, but the case was well put by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). Private electricity generators who extract and use landfill gas are penalised because the operation of extracting the gas is rated. There is no intrinsic difference between extracting landfill gas a source of energy and extracting coal or any other mineral. Those operations are all rateable.

The benefits derived from the extraction and use of landfill gas contribute to the rent which a tenant would be prepared to pay to occupy the site for the purpose of the business, whether that be to generate electricity or manufacture goods, and to that extent should add to rateable value. That is a fundamental principle of rating which we have no intention of changing. I accept that the extraction and use of landfill gas contributes to a cleaner environment and to the safeguarding of human life and buildings. The Government are also keen to encourage, and indeed actively support, the development of new sources of energy; but the rating system is not the vehicle for achieving those aims.

Private electricity generators are looking for comparable treatment in the payment of rates with the Central Electricity Generating Board, as the noble Baroness brought to the Committee's attention. The effect of the amendment would be to introduce considerable disparity between the rating of private generators using landfill gas and other private and public generators. It would discriminate against other industries which also use landfill gas either directly or indirectly in a manufacturing process or for heating.

The comparable treatment of private generators is being dealt with by a working group set up to review the rating of the electricity supply industry. The Government have already agreed in principle that all private generators exporting electricity to the supply distribution network should be rated on a comparable basis to the rest of the electricity supply industry, but it is essential that that is also considered in the light of the proposed privatisation of the industry.

There is one small feature of the rating which the noble Baroness did not bring to the Committee's attention. It is that there is a depletion allowance against the rates which equates to some 50 per cent. That allowance goes some way towards alleviating the problem. With regard to the position of agriculture, I shall have to get in touch with the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I should like to thank the Minister for his reply. I am glad that he is in favour of a cleaner environment and also safeguarding life. I shall read with interest what he said about the amendment discriminating between those generating from landfill gas and others. I feel that perhaps there is a case for a little positive discrimination. I accept what the Minister said about the sliding scale and I shall read carefully what he said. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for his support. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6 p.m.

Schedule 15 [Amendments]:

Baroness Stedman moved Amendment No. 193: Page 139, line 44, at end insert—

("Local Government Act 1972 c. 70

. In section 147(3) of the Local Government Act 1972 (expenses of principal councils) at the end there shall be inserted "and in a district in which there are one or more parish or community councils the district council shall, after consultation with the parish or community councils, declare by resolution such part as is appropriate of any expenses incurred by it for the benefit of part only of the district in the exercise of any function, (which is also being exercised by one or more of the parish or community councils) to be special expenses chargeable only on such part of its area as benefits from the expenditure and is specified in the resolution".").

The noble Baroness said: There has been an ongoing problem for many years between the district councils and their parish and community councils over the financing of the expenditure by districts on functions which are also functions of the parish councils. The greatest difficulty has always been in those districts where not all the district is covered by parishes. Perhaps the best example I can give is the one of street lighting. If the parish council provides the lighting, as many of them do, the cost falls on the ratepayers within the parish. If the district council provides the lighting for the major town within the area, then the cost is borne by all the district ratepayers, including those parish ratepayers who are paying for their own street lights.

Under Section 147 of the Local Government Act 1972, a district may charge the cost of street lighting on part only of its district. It need not charge the parish areas, which are paying for their own lights, the additional cost of providing the street lighting over the rest of the district. But very few of the districts have actually done this. The Government have always argued that it is a matter for local decision because there are so many local variations that it is impossible to legislate in general terms.

In the discussion on the Local Government and Planning (Amendment) Act 1981—I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, is not in his place now—I raised some of these problems on behalf of some of the Yorkshire parish councils. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was extremely sympathetic. He went to a lot of trouble and I believe that he tried very hard to come to a satisfactory conclusion. However, if it is left as a matter for local decision and negotiation, the districts are under no real pressure to be fair to the parishes. They can allege that it is difficult to decide who should pay and who should not. They will end by failing to make any arrangements at all. I believe that if we could adopt something like the amendment that I am suggesting it would preserve the local decision-making, accepting that there are many local variations from parish to parish. It would supply the necessary pressure on districts by requiring them at least to consult with their parishes and to make some arrangements whereby the district and parish councils have concurrent powers.

I believe that the requirement to make some arrangement will lead to many more satisfactorily negotiated arrangements and local schemes. It will make it possible for the parish councils to exercise their powers locally, free from the pressure to avoid double rating which they often have to face at the moment, by surrendering their powers to the districts.

It has often been said in this Chamber that decisions ought to be taken at the lowest possible level. I know that if the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, were here this afternoon—unfortunately he is not—as president of the National Association of Local Councils he would be supporting me in this amendment. I urge the Minister to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I should like to offer our support for this amendment, but I bet that the noble Baroness could not read it all without drawing breath. It is one sentence ten lines long, which cannot be the most desirable precedent for legislation.

I am sure that the National Association of Local Councils has been well advised on this matter. Certainly the objective of the amendment, which is to provide financial justice as between different parts of a district council area without taking away the local responsibility for its own actions, is entirely laudable. I hope that the Government will find it possible to agree at least to the spirit of the amendment.

Lord Hesketh

Under the provisions of Clause 30 it is open to a district in either England or Wales to reduce its own charges in those areas where a parish or community council provides services which elsewhere the district itself provides. Thus if both the parish and the district provide the service in question to the same level and with equal efficiency, and the district makes such a reduction, the charge payer in the parish and the charge payers in the other parts of the district's area would have the same charge. If the parish provides a higher level of service than the district, then the parish charge payers would face higher charges.

However, we have some sympathy with the concerns of parishes. I accept that, should a district decide not to reduce its charges in this way, those in parished areas may pay higher charges than those in non-parished areas. As my noble friend said on Monday evening, in order to protect those in parished areas from being unfairly treated, the Government propose to take this matter up with the Association of District Councils and will seek to agree with the association guidelines for councils to give some specific recognition to parish services when setting the community charge.

In view of what my noble friend and the noble Baroness said on this matter on Monday night, I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Stedman

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I said thank you to his colleague on Monday night and I say thank you to him this afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

Amendments No. 193A, 193B and 193C have already been debated. Is it the Committee's wish that they should be moved en bloc?

Lord Hesketh moved Amendments No. 193A, 193B and 193C:

Page 140, leave out lines 6 and 7 and insert— ("6.—(1) The Local Government Finance Act 1982 shall be amended as follows: (1A) The following shall be substituted for section 12(3) (accounts subject to audit)—").

Page 140, line 18, at end insert— ("(1B) The following shall be inserted after section 25A (power of auditor to issue prohibition order)—

"Restriction on power to issue prohibition order.

25AA.—(1) In a case where—

  1. (a) report is made under section 118(2) of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (the 1988 Act), and
  2. (b) copies of the report are sent in accordance with section 118(4) of the 1988 Act,
during the relevant period no prohibition order may be issued as regards any decision, course of action or item of account which led to the report being made.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) above the relevant period is the period—

  1. (a) beginning with the day on which copies of the report are sent, and
  2. (b) ending with the day (if any) on which the body's consideration of the report under section 119(2) of the 1988 Act begins.

(3) If section 119(3) of the 1988 Act is not complied with, it is immaterial for the purposes of subsection (2)(b) above."

(1C) In section 29 (miscellaneous functions of Audit Commission for Local Authorities in England and Wales) at the end of subsection (1) there shall be inserted "or (c) for certifying the body's calculation under paragraph 5(6)(b) of Schedule 8 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988 of the amount of its non-domestic rating contribution for a financial year, and for certifying the amount calculated."").

Page 140, line 19, leave out ("This paragraph") and insert ("Subparagraphs (1A) and (1C) above").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

If Amendment No. 193ZCA is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 193CA or 194.

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 193ZCA: Page 141, leave out lines 3 to 17.

The noble Lord said: While I am moving this amendment it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendments Nos. 193ZCA, 193CA, 194, 194ZD, 194ZH to 194ZK, 206A and 206B. I hope I have got that right.

The amendment proposes to take out lines 3 to 17 in Schedule 15, page 141. This is one of the general powers which the Government are very keen on inserting. So far as one can see, more or less, if the Government decided that they wanted to get rid of mice they would take power to abolish all animals of any sort, subject to a power for the Secretary of State to prescribe. That is our complaint about the very wide-ranging nature of the powers.

The Secretary of State may by regulation prescribe the principles and: Regulations made under subsection (8A) … may be made so as to apply differently to different areas or in relation to different cases of classes of case; may include such supplementary, incidental, consequential or transitional provisions", and so on. What might as well be said is that the Secretary of State shall take over all valuation of all lands and heritages, which will be an interesting set of principles.

As the Minister no doubt knows, the Scottish Assessors' Association has expressed great concern about the wide powers being taken in this clause. It is understood that this is intended to deal with the difficulties of the contractor's principle and the decapitalisation rate. But if that is the intended mischief to be attacked why not say so and confine it to that'? Why give the Secretary of State these wide-ranging powers? The purpose of harmonisation of decapitalisation rates is all very well and we should support the Government if that is their intention. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe—one of whose amendments is in this small list—is also concerned with the same principle. But again, if that is what is aimed at why not say so? Why allow anything to be done which the Secretary of State may in any way consider at that particular moment for that particular case to be suitable? The Secretary of State under these powers, as far as I can see, could say that the BP plant at Grangemouth will be assessed on principle A and that the Esso plant at Mossmorran will be assessed on principle B. It is as extraordinary as that.

I appreciate that the government Amendment No. 193CA does restrict this to a certain extent, but not by very much. My criticisms would remain in principle the same. The Minister may be relieved to know that I have no objection at all to his Amendments Nos. 194ZD and 194ZH to 194 ZK— they are in the same group—and Amendments Nos. 206A and 206B. If he is too shattered by my agreement on that, he can no doubt recover and agree with me that the amendment which I propose is very reasonable. He can also come back with something that restricts the amendment to what he really intends to do, which is to deal with the harmonisation of decapitalisation rates. I beg to move.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

For the first time in discussions in Committee on the Local Government Finance Bill I find myself at variance with the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna. The effect of his amendment would be to scrap what is achieved in the amendment which follows, standing in the name of the Government. As has been pointed out, if the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna—

Lord Morton of Shuna

If the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I wish to say that my amendment was a probing amendment which was down long before the Government managed to think up their amendment. It might have been different if the government amendment had been down first.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I have heard many apologies for amendments in this Chamber. That is the latest one. I accept it in the spirit in which it is given. It nevertheless remains true that, if this amendment is carried, the present totally unsatisfactory and anomalous position in the comparison of Scottish rating with English rating will not be solved. I wish to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, with whom I discussed my amendment—the amendment which gives greater powers to the Secretary of State not only to prescribe the principles but also to prescribe the principles and the rules in connection with the application of rating in arriving at the value of lands and heritages under this part of the Bill.

The Committee will observe that I put down an amendment suggesting that the word "rules" should be added, thereby strengthening the powers of the Secretary of State. I did so on the advice of counsel who examined the Bill and the latest appeals in connection with this matter. There was an appeal by ICI to the Lands Tribunal against the rating valuation of the Central region. ICI mentioned the comparison between the rating of its plant at Grangemouth and its plant carrying out the same process in Huddersfield.

The Lands Tribunal decided that because of the different basis of assessment in Scotland compared with that in England, the appeal was irrelevant and threw it out. So long as that basis continues—and that is what would happen if the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, were to be carried—there would be no change in the existing arrangements. The existing provisions are being changed by the government amendment which follows and which I strongly support. I am encouraged by representations I have received from the associations of chambers of commerce, the CBI in Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and the chemical associations which are affected. The national chambers of commerce which embrace England as well as Scotland also see the wisdom and fairness of my amendment and support it. There is no basis at the moment in law for cross-Border comparisons. The amendment to be moved by the Government that has my support at least gives the Secretary of State powers to prescribe the rules as well as the principles covering the assessment. Accordingly I very much support it; I hope that the Committee will agree to it.

Lord Renton

We find ourselves in an unavoidable position having passed the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act last year and being anxious, as I know the Government are, not to have unnecessary disparity between what we do for England and Wales and what we have done for Scotland. Nevertheless, owing to the immense complexity of some aspects of the matter, it does become necessary to make quite considerable amendments in the Scottish law, however much we may regret it.

When I first looked at paragraph 9 of Schedule 15 I was surprised that the 1956 Act practice under which has been well established for over 30 years—should be so drastically amended by the Secretary of State in regulations that could even introduce new principles. Normally when principles are involved we try to provide for them in the main legislation, and not by regulations.

However, in the nature of things, it may be necessary to do something on these lines. 1 naturally read Amendment No. 193CA standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden with hope to see if we could somehow mitigate the introduction of new principles in 30 year-old well established legislation in Scotland in order that there should be no disparity between what we are doing for Scotland and what we are doing for England and Wales.

I shall listen with great interest to what my noble friend Lord Sanderson says. Fortunately, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has been moved as a probing amendment. So it may well be that between now and Report some better and more conventional way of achieving the Government's intention might be found instead of this rather drastic proposal which, on the face of it, may be necessary because, as I say, in the nature of things and in the timing of things we cannot always have everything done perfectly and in the way that we should wish.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)

We are considering a large group of amendments dealing with a number of aspects of rating and valuation. As I shall explain in a moment, much of what the amendments contain is of an essentially technical nature. It is convenient that the first three amendments in the group deal with what I think we would all agree is the most important matter; namely, the power of the Secretary of State to prescribe principles of valuation.

Amendment No. 193ZCA in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Morton, probes the purpose of the provision contained in paragraph 9 of Schedule 15 to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has raised questions relating to the effectiveness of the wording. Perhaps it will be helpful if I first explain the purpose of the provision and outline the area in which the regulation-making power might be used. Basically it provides a means whereby the Secretary of State, if necessary, can introduce measures by regulations to further harmonisation of valuation practices north and south of the Border.

We do not envisage that wide use will be made of that power. However, there is one area of difference which requires to be brought into line before the 1990 revaluation and where the power might be used to achieve that. I refer to the decapitalisation rate used in the contractor's principle valuations in Scotland and the contractor's test valuations in England and Wales. The starting point to removing the differences in valuation practice between Scotland and England and Wales has been technical discussions between the Scottish Assessors' Association and the Inland Revenue Valuation Office. As I explained on Tuesday, their discussions have made significant progress.

I accept that in these classes of property for which there is little or no rental market the difference in valuation practice north and south of the Border is more fundamental. The properties, which include refineries and chemical works, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, are valued under the contractor's principle in Scotland and the contractor's test in England and Wales. Since 1973 the decapitalisation rates applied in determining the rateable value have diverged significantly north and south of the Border. We have undertaken to consider prescribing a common rate in order to bring valuations made on the contractor's basis north and south of the Border more into line.

It is clear that those affected would like the proposed power of prescription to be used. The Committee will have seen the briefing paper supplied by the Chemical Industries Association, for example, and we take those representations extremely seriously. We have now had the opportunity to consider the wording of paragraph 9 more closely. There may be doubt as to whether empowering the Secretary of State to prescribe the principles to be applied in arriving at a net annual value would in fact allow him to determine a decapitalisation rate.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has reached the same conclusion. His amendment, Amendment No. 194, would allow prescription of rules or principles. However, in case there may be similar doubts as to whether the decapitalisation rate is a rule, we consider it desirable to go further. The amendment has been drawn to the attention of assessors and others with an interest. We shall be taking into account before Report stage any comments we receive on whether the provisions now appear to be fully adequate for the purpose. Given that the wording of our amendment also includes rules and is designed for the same purpose, I shall invite the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to withdraw Amendment No. 194 in due course.

The amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, would delete the provision from the Bill. The effect of that would be to remove the power enabling the Secretary of State to introduce measures aimed at promoting harmonisation. The Committee will be aware of the considerable pressure on the Scottish business community to bring the rating system north and south of the Border into line. Yet the amendments would limit the steps which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State might take in order to achieve such harmonisation.

The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, mentioned representations from the Scottish Assessors' Association and its criticism that the power is too wide. I recognise the concerns of the association, which it has expressed directly to the Scottish Office. The power of prescription proposed in paragraph 9 of Schedule 15 is very wide, covering the whole range of valuation and not just the contractor's principle cases on which our discussion has tended to focus. The power is intended to be wide. If it is to be helpful in promoting harmonisation, it must be capable of use in relation to any part of the valuation system where differences emerge and where prescription of principles, rules and considerations could be helpful.

That does not mean that the power will necessarily be widely or frequently used. As I have repeatedly made clear, my understanding is that the technical discussions on harmonisation are making good progress. However, the representations from the assessors also imply that the basis of valuation would be for ever changing. It would be foolish to give a guarantee that the new power will never be used between revaluations since some glaring anomaly might emerge which could easily be put right. However, I am glad to have the opportunity to make it clear that our general approach is that when the power is used—I emphasise again that we do not envisage widespread use—it should be at times of revaluation so that assessors are able to operate on a consistent and clear basis through each five-year period.

Mention was made of the situation north and south of the Border. It must be recognised that harmonisation is a two-way street. Therefore, provision needs to be made for changes in the principles of valuation to be applied south of the Border as well as north of the Border under the power we are discussing. That is taken care of in Schedule 6 to the Bill which deals with valuation for rating in England and Wales. I confirm that to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.

Section 19 of the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1984 was intended to enable Scottish assessors to use valuations south of the Border as evidence and a basis on which to determine the valuation of certain subjects which would otherwise have been valued according to the contractor's principle. The assessors have not done so. A number of cases are currently subject to appeal. Until the appeals are settled, it is premature to say that Section 19 has failed. I cannot speculate as to the outcome of the appeals, which I understand are being considered in the Land Valuation Appeal Court this month. Obviously I cannot comment in detail on the substance of matters which are before the court. The outcome of the cases will be one of the matters which we shall be taking into account in considering what use it will be appropriate to make of the new powers proposed in paragraph 9 of Schedule 15.

I was pleased to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, was in agreement with Amendments Nos. 194ZD, 194ZH, 194ZJ, 194ZK and 206A. I should like to comment briefly on the government amendments. There are no changes of substance. As the Committee will be aware, there are considerable problems in applying conventional valuation methods to the lands and heritages of some public utilities. The problem is more acute where they consist of network undertakings crossing several valuation areas. Perhaps I have said enough at this stage on that subject.

Lord Renton

Before my noble friend sits down and the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, replies, let me say that I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend in this difficult mattter. Therefore I do not expect him to give an answer now to a point of substance which I feel I should make. He has spoken of harmonisation of the law north and south of the Border. That is obviously a good thing to try to achieve. However, if we look at line 10 on page 141, we see that: Regulations … may be made so as to apply differently to different areas or in relation to different cases or classes of case"; that is, the principles are applied differently. For all we know it means applying different principles to different areas and different cases. That seems to me to be the opposite of harmonisation. Differences and harmonisation are opposites. We are trying to achieve harmonisation.

Therefore although I do not expect an answer from my noble friend at the moment, as he has said that he wants harmonisation and will think about all of this between now and Report stage, I hope that he will bear that apparent incongruity in mind.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna

As is usually the case on this kind of point, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

If one looks at what is left after the Government's amendment to paragraph 9 on page 141, as the noble Lord has said, anything can be done to any principle in any particular case. I want to make it quite clear that we on this side of the House are all in favour of harmonisation and we want to achieve it. However, if one considers Schedule 6—as I am sure the Minister has considered it in great detail—it is apparent that it does not give the Secretary of State in England the same power as the Secretary of State is taking to himself in Scotland under Schedule 15. Paragraph 2(9) of Schedule 6 states that: The Secretary of State may make regulations providing that in arriving at an amount under sub-paragraph (1) above"— which is the notional rental— prescribed principles are to be applied; and the regulations may include provision for the preservation of such principles, privileges, and provisions for the making of valuations on exceptional principles, as apply or applied for the purposes of the 1967 Act". That is different from the Secretary of State's sweeping power to say that the principles will be what the Secretary of State for Scotland says the principles are to be in any particular case at any particular time, and for Tuesday it may be different from Wednesday and for one ICI works it may be different from another.

I think that this is another example of the Government taking power to do what they like when they like. This House or both Houses of Parliament should be very careful of this kind of thing. Principles should be set down in Acts of Parliament; they should not be suddenly narrated in regulations which are subject to the negative procedure. That is a very serious point.

There were valuation Acts in 1956 for Scotland and in 1967 for England and Wales. The principles in Schedule 6 are apparently to be upheld but the principles for Scotland are to be abolished at the whim of whoever may he Secretary of State for Scotland. That will not do if Parliament is to retain any power. That is the purpose behind the probing amendment—which I shall withdraw in a moment.

What is wrong with saying on the face of the Bill that we want harmonisation between England and Scotland on the contractor's principle and the contractor's test and on decapitalisation rates and the Secretary of State can make regulations to achieve that end? If that was what was proposed I should have no objection and nobody on this side of the Chamber would either. But that is not what is said. What is said is that anything anywhere in Scotland can be valued on any principle or non-principle that the Secretary of State wishes to put in a regulation. That cannot be right.

That is the reason why I moved this probing amendment. I very much hope that the Minister will come back with a more coherent answer to the problem which gives Parliament some power before the next stage of the Bill. I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

If Amendment No. 193CA is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 194.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 193CA: Page 141, line 8, leave out from ("prescribe") to end of line 9 and insert—

  1. ("(a) the manner in which and the principles, rules and considerations by reference to which the net annual value of lands and heritages is to be arrived at under subsection (8) above;
  2. (b) that the principles, rules and considerations referred to in paragraph (a) above or any of them shall be such as are determined in accordance with the regulations.").

The noble said: We have discussed this amendment at length. I should like to make one point clear which I do not think was made clear earlier. I am very glad—although I sometimes find it difficult to understand—that the other side of the Chamber in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, is in favour of harmonisation. That is good.

I should like to pick up one point which was made in the debate which referred to the provisions for England and Wales. I said that it had to be recognised that harmonisation is a two-way street. Provision therefore needs to be made for changes in the principles of valuation to be applied south of the Border as well as north, as I think we all understand. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has clearly pointed out, that is taken care of in Schedule 6 to the Bill which deals with valuation for rating in England and Wales. Paragraphs 2(8) and 2(9) provide that the Secretary of State may prescribe assumptions to be made and principles to be applied in the valuation process. If Ministers were to decide to prescribe uniform decapitalisation rates throughout Great Britain I understand that it is by means of those powers that the prescription would be made in relation to England and Wales.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Perhaps the Minister will allow me to intervene. If one wants to harmonise and have the same decapitalisation rate, why for heaven's sake not just say so instead of introducing this power which allows the Government to do anything at all from Land's End to John O'Groats?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

We well understand that major difficulties have appeared in trying to arrive at harmonisation. The Government for their part looked very carefully at the kind of amendment which would give the power required to assist in that harmonisation. I shall not withdraw Amendment No. 193CA. We have debated it. I beg to move.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

Since the passing of this amendment would exclude my Amendment No. 194 I should like to say that my amendment is entirely covered by the government amendment and the insertion of the words "rules or".

I should also like to say that the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, this afternoon in which he accepted the substance of my amendment will be widely welcomed by the business community in Scotland. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, to say that we should start again with a new Bill aimed at harmonisation and all its complications. That could take a great deal of time and would probably be impossible in the legislative programme before us.

The amendment we are dealing with now represents some progress towards abolishing or limiting an existing anomaly. That anomaly is a total disincentive to Scottish business and to inward investment and is punishing Scottish business. We are taking the opportunity in this Bill to do something about it. To that extent I very much welcome the government amendment.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, is very interesting on this subject. Of course he will appreciate that anything that is said in this Chamber cannot be founded on in any court. He will also appreciate that under the powers in either Schedule 6 or Schedule 15 the Secretary of State can make regulations which this House or the other place will have no opportunity to amend. We can either reject it or let it go. What we are dealing with here is a provision allowing the Secretary of State—the Government—to legislate on a very wide and important field and withdrawing from Parliament any opportunity to consider that seriously. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, may be very happy with that but I for one am not.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 194 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 194ZA had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 194ZB: Page 141, line 17, at end insert—

("Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 (c. 49)

. After section 28A of the Registration of Births. Deaths, and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 there shall be inserted the following new section—

"Intimation of death to Community Charges Registration Officer.

23B.—(1) The district registrar for each registration district shall furnish to the Community Charges Registration Officer of each region or islands area within which the registration district wholly or partly falls such particulars of such deaths as may be prescribed by regulations made under this section.

(2) Regulations under this section may provide that the duty imposed on a district registrar by subsection (1) above shall, instead, be a duty imposed on the Registrar General.

(3) Regulations under this section may make provision as to the time at which and manner in which particulars are to be furnished under this section, and may make different provision for different cases or classes of case.

(4) Regulations made under this section shall be made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament".").

The noble Lord said: We have already discussed this amendment briefly.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, says that we have already discussed this amendment. Unless I am totally wrong, I do not think that we have discussed it. The amendment concerns the registration of births, deaths and marriages. Before I try and say what is wrong with it, perhaps the noble Lord can say what is right with it.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I apologise to the Committee. I thought that the number mentioned was 194ZD. Amendment No. 194ZB is brought forward following an approach from the Scottish Assessors' Association on behalf of the community registration officers. It inserts into the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 a new section which imposes on registrars of births, deaths and marriages a duty to supply to community charges registration officers details of people whose deaths are registered in their district. District registrars will be required to supply prescribed details of such persons to each community charges registration officer whose area includes at least part of the registrar's district. Registration officers will therefore receive details of some deaths which have occurred in their areas but which are of persons resident elsewhere. It will be for registration officers to convey the details of such deaths to the appropriate community charges registration officer under the standard arrangements by which registration officers may exchange information.

The new section also empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations providing that the duty imposed on district registrars shall instead be imposed on the Registrar General if, at some future time, it were considered more convenient for the information to be processed centrally before distribution to registration officers. What we have in mind is that computerisation may continue to go forward at its present pace.

The new section, together with the provision in paragraph 22 of Schedule 15 to the Bill requiring executors to notify registration officers of deaths, will facilitate the process of keeping the community charges register up to date. And this in turn will ensure that notices issued by registration officers are not sent out bearing the names of persons who have died—a matter about which some concern was expressed at an earlier stage of the Bill in another place.

This is a useful amendment which has been discussed and agreed with the Registrar General for Scotland. I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 194ZB, Amendment No. 194ZBA: In section 28B(1), line 1, leave out ("district registrar for each registration district") and insert ("Registrar General").

The noble Lord said: In order to make sense of Amendment No. 194ZBA one must also look at Amendments Nos. 194ZB and 194ZBC which all run together, so to speak. Before I speak to my amendments, perhaps I may refer to the fact that the Minister mentioned the duty on executors to tell the community charges registration officer of deaths. The noble Lord said that the provision was to be found somewhere in Schedule 15. I cannot find it at the moment but no doubt he will be able to tell me precisely where it is.

Does the noble Lord appreciate that in many cases people may be appointed executors without ever knowing that it has been done? What penalties fall on executors if they fail in this dire duty? Are they sent to prison for life? What happens to them? Perhaps the Minister can explain. It seems a ridiculous burden to put on executors. Many people in Scotland die leaving no material estate and nobody takes any part in winding up whatever is left. It just happens without anybody being very much concerned.

I am not surprised that the assessors' association put forward this proposal to help the community charges registration officers, since the community charges registration officers are the assessors. It is not therefore surprising that they thought of this measure. Nor am I surprised to hear that the Registrar General is in favour of it, because it entails no action on his part. It has nothing to do with him. The duty falls on the district registrar. The Registrar General will not have to pay for it and as the Registrar General is part of central government, no doubt St. Andrew's House is wholly in favour of the proposal.

The one body which does not appear to have been consulted is the district council. The district councils are required to pay for the costs of the district registrars and the costs of sorting the deaths into the various community charge areas. To send out the information will amount to something. Will the Minister arrange for St. Andrew's House to pick up the bill or can he say who is to pay for that service? Why should it land on the districts? My amendments propose that the Registrar General should be responsible.

We have no objection in principle to the registrar sending out information to the assessors, poll tax register holders and all the other relevant bodies, but the cost should not be added to those costs which St. Andrew's House tells local authorities that they should not have incurred. If the Registrar General is happy with this arrangement—and no doubt he is told about every death eventually—he can sort the information and send it out. The Registrar General will no doubt be happy to do so and will perform the task even more efficiently once his department becomes more fully computerised. Having told the Committee the purpose of the amendments, I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Morton, has thought about the time element involved. I quite understand that once the whole procedure is computerised and the names of those who have died travel as fast as light to the centre, it will all happen with some speed. However, it is extremely important that people who become widows or widowers should not receive the community charge bill of their deceased husband or wife in a short space of time after they have died. I should have thought that speed is of the essence. Therefore, until the computer programme is organised and everything linked up, the notification has to be local. I do not know whether my noble friend the Minister has anything to say about that.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Perhaps I may say in answer to the noble Baroness that, of course, it has not been stated. We are told as usual that regulations may be made under subsection (3) of the amendment. We do not know what will happen. The regulations may say that the district registrar will inform the community charges registration officer within six months, but we do not know that. On the face of it there does not seem to be any anxiety that this should be done quickly but only that the information should be accurate.

The amendment says nothing about time. If the Minister will assure me that local authorities which incur extra expense from meeting the district registrar's duties under these regulations will have those costs met by central government, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I cannot imagine that this exercise would be very costly. It may be, but I should not have thought so. Surely it would not be possible for this to be done speedily at the moment if the procedure were centralised. Like the noble Lord, Lord Morton, I have a good deal of faith in Scottish local authorities. I am sure that they will perform the task in a sensible way. If it is done locally it can be done speedily; but if the procedure is centralised, as the noble Lord's amendment suggests, will it not slow the whole thing down? Or am I misunderstanding the point?

Lord Morton of Shuna

My understanding is that with computers it does not matter how far away from each other they are; they can be linked up. If it is not on computer it will take as long as it takes someone to gather the information together and put it into a letter. If it is sent from Edinburgh by first-class post, according to the Post Office it should reach anywhere in Scotland in much the same time as it will take from anywhere else.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, for explaining his amendments to my amendment. First, I should explain to the Committee why we consider it necessary to impose on district registrars the duty to provide information about deaths but to have a power to make regulations transferring that duty to the Registrar General. It is clearly important that details of deaths are notified to registration officers as soon as possible after they occur so that the register can be kept up to date, and so that early action can be taken to ensure that communications about community charge matters are not issued addressed to persons who have died.

Under the present arrangements, processing information about deaths centrally prior to its distribution to registration officers would involve a four-week to six-week delay—I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy, who raised this matter —between the death being registered and the information about it being passed to the registration officer. That is why our amendment provides for information to be passed directly from district registrars to registration officers.

As the registration service's computer systems are developed, however, the time may well come when it will be administratively simpler, and not involve any undue delay, for information to be collected, processed and disseminated to individual registration officers centrally rather than individual district registrars. That is why we propose that the Secretary of State should have a power to make regulations transferring the duty to provide information from district registrars to the Registrar General.

The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, asked about the duties of executors, and about paragraph 22 of Schedule 15. There are no specific penalties. The change was made simply in order to avoid notification being sent to dead persons. The sanction upon executors is that as long as a deceased's name remains on the register there will be a liability to pay the personal community charge, which will be required to be paid by the deceased's estate.

The noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, raised the question of costs. I am sure that this was at the root of these amendments. Community charge registration officers are employed by the same authorities as employ district registrars.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Is that right? Community charge registration officers are employed by the regions or the islands councils. The district registrars are employed by the district councils. Is that not right? Therefore you are putting a cost on the district councils to supply information to the regions.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

It seems as though the noble Lord is correct. I should like to check that point before I confirm that he is correct.

However, the provision of information about deaths direct to registration officers will greatly simplify the task of keeping the community charge register up to date. The new duty on district registrars is therefore, if anything, likely to result in net savings for authorities. The important point on which the noble Lord would like me to comment is this. Any cost which results will be taken into account through the revenue support grant mechanism. That is the crucial point.

Perhaps I may clear up one other point. District registrars are employed by regions and islands.

Lord Morton of Shuna

My information, which comes from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, is that they are employed by districts. However, no doubt that can be checked.

My understanding is that after I move house I have a certain period of time in which I can backdate my move, and receive a repayment of my community charge in respect of that residence. We discussed that some time last year. Is the Minister saying that if somebody dies, the executors may remain liable to pay that dead person's community charge until they notify the community charge registration officer? That cannot be right.

The Minister seemed to say that. I feel sure that he is wrong. Even this Government would not have tried that one on. The late and much lamented Lord Ross of Marnock would never have allowed them to get away with it if they had. There cannot be a liability after death. The Minister must be wrong. Perhaps he will look at what he appears to have said and consider that point again.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I shall look again at that point and see what the position is. Backdating, which is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, will be sorted out in due course. However, the ending of the liability would then be backdated.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment No. 194ZBA to Amendment No. 194ZB.

Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 194ZBB and 194ZBC not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 194ZB agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 194ZC: Page 141, line 17, at end insert—

("Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 (c. 52)

In section 181 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 (scope of provisions relating to interests of owner-occupiers affected by planning proposals) after subsection (4) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (4A) The Secretary of State may, by regulations made under this subsection, substitute for any reference in these provisions to "annual value" or "hereditament" such other reference as he may consider appropriate; and such regulations may make such supplemental or consequential amendments of this Act or of any other enactment whether passed before or after this Act as the Secretary of State thinks fit.".").

The noble Lord said: The first grouping of rating and valuation amendments that we discussed today included a number of provisions concerned with the replacement of various references to rating and valuation matters which are contained in other statutes. At that stage I explained the general background.

The present amendment before the Committee, which we are considering separately, deals with the same general area. The provision in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 to which reference is made deals with the scope of certain provisions relating to planning blight. They define the properties for which compensation is available by the use of an upper limit of annual value as shown in the valuation roll. The relevant definitions contain references to "annual value" and "hereditament" which are drafted in a form which makes them unsuitable either for the simple substitution of rateable values as at 1st April 1989 as would result from Section 5 of the 1987 Act in its original form or for the straightforward application of the provisions now contained in paragraph 13 which allow for other factors to be inserted. That is the only reason a separate amendment is made in relation to this provision.

I must emphasise that the move away from references which depend on the rating system in this, as in other enactments, does not necessarily imply any change of policy in relation to the operation of those enactments.

I think it would be premature to speculate in detail on the way in which references to annual value, for example, might be changed, but one obvious possibility would be capital value. I emphasise, however, that our objective in seeking replacements for the rating references will be to ensure that the provisions which in this case, I may say, appear to be little used operate to broadly the same effect as at present. There is certainly no intention to broaden or to limit their scope. I would also point out that the present provisions allow the Secretary of State to change the upper limits by order, so concern about changing the basis of the limit is, I have to say, somewhat academic. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna

This is one of the appalling amendments on which the Government seem to be keen. The amendment states: The Secretary of State may, by regulations made under this subsection, substitute for any reference in these provisions to 'annual value' or 'hereditament' such other reference as he may consider appropriate; and any such regulations may make such supplemental or consequential amendments of this Act or of any other enactment whether passed before or after this Act as the Secretary of State thinks fit In other words, it is another power which gives the Secretary of State power by regulation to rewrite the law and amend any Act which Parliament has passed.

It is quite bizarre to include it at this stage. It is even more bizarre when, as the Minister is aware, in the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act there exists a provision concerning the way the matter should be dealt with. The Minister is moving the Committee to approve an amendment providing that the people who are allowed to apply in respect of planning blight can be varied in any way the Secretary of State may at any time think fit.

It is a ridiculous proposal and it becomes even more ridiculous when the Minister suggests that the question of which properties apply for planning blight and which do not will be fixed by capital value. Who will fix the capital value? We abolished valuation of domestic rating, so why bring back capital value? Who will assess them and at what time? Are we in Scotland to have a register of capital values for domestic property and a register of rental values for non-domestic property? It seems to be absurd. The amendment is an appalling example of giving the Secretary of State a blank sheet and allowing him to do whatever he wishes.

The noble Lord appeared to say that planning blight provisions in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 were not used in Scotland; I can assure him that they were. The noble and learned Lord who sits on the same Bench as the Minister may be able to give him the same information. It will not do suddenly to change the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act and say that the Secretary of State will make regulations which vary those who may apply for planning blight without telling Parliament what the variation will be. On those grounds I oppose the amendment.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, to try to pick his legalistic way through what he believes to be unnecessary provisions. As I made clear, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State can change the limits now by way of regulations. Therefore I believe that the concern expressed by the noble Lord is quite unjustified—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

As a non-lawyer I should like to take exception to the words "legalistic" which the Minister applied to my noble friend. We are dealing with the law.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I hope that we are dealing with the law. Part of the liberty of a subject is to have the law clearly defined. We are not even told of the basis for this. At least Section 181 of the 1972 Act stated that it would be on the basis of annual values. As far as I am aware, the Secretary of State can make regulations, providing that it will depend on the political views of the occupant, on the number of windows or chimneys in the house or on anything else. This is the kind of power to which we are continually objecting. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is no longer in his place. However, I should like to remind the Minister of what he said about 20 minutes ago. Exactly the same point is arising again.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The amendment concerns a reference to incidental and consequential provisions. The purpose of that is quite simply to enable us to trace through other parts of the 1972 Act and certain consequential references in the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1973 to annual value and hereditament which are a consequence of the references which are the subject of the main amendment. Any other approach would involve a vast number of detailed amendments appearing in primary legislation. I am confident that what we are doing in the amendment is entirely justified.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The Minister has failed to say what effect the amendment will have on Section 5 of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act. That provides a basis for applying annual values where they are applied by other Acts. Why change it? We already have it in Section 5 of last year's Act. What is the point of the change?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

We could carry on for a long time with this matter but I shall read carefully what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna. I do not withdraw what I have said. However, if the Government ought to consider any factor that the noble Lord has raised, we shall do so. In the meantime I remain convinced that the Committee should agree to Amendment No. 194ZC.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I should like to make an announcement about a correction. The number of Peers voting in the last Division was incorrectly announced. The Tellers agree that the numbers voting Not-Content should have been 129 and not 130.

Lord Hesketh

I suggest that this is a suitable moment to break for dinner and that we return at five minutes past eight. I therefore beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.