HL Deb 24 May 1988 vol 497 cc778-843

3.11 p.m.

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

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. —(The Earl of Caithness.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

I should like to make a short statement about yesterday's Division. The number of noble Lords voting Content was announced as 183. However, the Tellers concerned have since agreed that the number should be 184. The mistake arose because the name of one noble Lord who voted was not recorded. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to remind Members of the Committee of the importance of giving your name distinctly to the Clerk and making sure that it is marked on the Clerk's list.

Schedule 1 [Personal community charge: exemption]:

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Lord Allen of Abbeydale moved Amendment No. 25: Page 80, line 27, leave out paragraph 4.

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 25 standing in my name and the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hayter and Lord Banks, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby. I also speak to Amendments Nos. 188 and 189. Amendment No. 189 is the important one.

These amendments could not possibly be described as wrecking amendments, but they are of great importance to some of the less fortunate members of society. When we were discussing the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill on Report on 30th April of last year, three issues arose that are directly relevant to today's discussion. First, the Government introduced an amendment exempting the severely mentally handicapped on the ground that they did not have the mental capacity to take part in the local democratic process. The amendment did not say how severe mental handicap was to be determined. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, accepted that guidance to the registration officer would have to be worked out in consultation with the professional bodies.

Secondly, in response to the questions about the physically disabled, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, said (at col. 1655 of the Official Report) that the Government recognised that there was a category of severely disabled people who at present enjoyed full rates relief, and that the Government proposed that additional help which could extend up to 100 per cent. of the community charge should be available for a group of disabled persons to be defined in the regulation. Although that undertaking has in the event not been honoured, we start today with the fact that the Government are on record as having contemplated 100 per cent. rebates for certain disabled people.

Thirdly, some of us urged on the Government that it was illogical to go down the road of exemption for the mentally handicapped, and down the road of rebates for the physically disabled. Perhaps there is a fourth point that no scintilla of doubt was raised about the competence of this Chamber to amend the legislation.

Despite the representations made then, paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the present Bill follows the Scottish precedent of exempting the severely mentally handicapped but, unlike the Scottish Bill, states how it is to be decided that an individual is to be defined as severely mentally handicapped. There are two tests: entitlement to the severe disablement allowance; and certification by a doctor. However, in the nature of things, most ordinary GPs can have very little experience and knowledge of mental handicaps and correlating it with levels of understanding. It is a very difficult matter, and the formula in the Bill is a recipe for inconsistent decisions up and down the country. Nor do I see anything about any right of appeal. I should have thought it very much better to have a test which avoids altogether going through a second and rather obtrusive process of judgment.

This is apart from the objection in principle to categorising a group of mentally handicapped people as set aside from the rest of the community—and the feelings on this point are very much more strongly felt than I had realised at the time that the Scottish legislation was going through. As we therefore argued on the Scottish Bill, I am now suggesting that the preferable route is one of rebates, and (again as was contemplated at one stage in Scotland) of rebates of up to 100 per cent. in appropriate cases. This amendment tries to define the appropriate cases. It extends the 80 per cent. community charge benefit to 100 per cent. where a claimant's income is low enough to warrant it, with the consequence too that the scope of the tapered element of the rebate would be enlarged, starting, as it were, at 100 per cent. instead of 80 per cent. It seems to me that the proposal would fit into the government's rebate scheme and conform to the same means-tested rules.

To qualify, the individual must not only be poor, he or she must also be in receipt of one of the special benefits listed in the later amendment to which I have referred, or be registered as blind or partially sighted. I expect the Government will argue that those in receipt of income support will be entitled to the reduction of 80 per cent., and that income support levels will include an amount to help with the remaining 20 per cent. I understand that the formula currently in use refers to the extra as being intended to help with the 20 per cent. rather than to claim that it will necessarily cover the 20 per cent.

The Government may also point out that the threshold at which a disabled person remains entitled to the maximum 80 per cent. reduction is higher than for the non-disabled. But it is central to the Government's case that since in high spending areas the uprated amount will not cover the 20 per cent., those living there who are in receipt of the maximum rebate will still have to find money themselves and will therefore have an interest in the spending policies of their local council.

However, it seems to me that this is an approach which simply treats those concerned as voting units. It may look very well on paper; but when one considers who the people are, the picture changes. We are talking about the poor who are blind, mentally handicapped, so disabled as to need attendance, or those who are immobile without special help. Many of them already have the greatest difficulty in making ends meet. Is it really the mark of a compassionate society to look to people like this to struggle, or to be wheeled to the polling booths, or to wrestle with the forms which they might receive, all in the name of local accountability? Those of us who have dealings with these fellow human beings with all their handicaps find it quite difficult to accept that that is right.

I should like to make one other important point. The Bill exempts those living in a residential care home, but not those who try to live an independent life in the community, although until this Bill appeared one rather thought that it was government policy to encourage just that. It is no good anyone arguing that there are differences between them now, since there is no getting away from the fact that the Bill's provisions would in future tend to act as a disincentive for disabled people to live in or to go back to the community and thereby incur expense which, by staying in residential care, they could avoid. After all, when a family now takes in a disabled relative, under the present rating system there is no increase in the contribution which that family makes towards the costs of local services.

I fear that the provisions in the Bill, as they affect the physically and mentally disabled poor, have rather too many elements of illogicality for comfort. I am not naive enough to think that we necessarily have the drafting right with our amendments, but the principle involved is clear enough and I invite the Committee to give the other place the possibility of thinking again. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I have often argued the case for the disabled in this Chamber, but now—if I may say so very briefly and give my reasons—I find myself in some difficulty with this amendment. On the Scottish Bill I argued for the exemption of the severely mentally handicapped on the basis that it was totally absurd to apply the principles of accountability to severely mentally handicapped people. The Government accepted the argument—I see my noble friend Lord Glenarthur in his place. The amendment was carried into the Bill. It was agreed in another place and it is now in the Scottish Act.

There is no question whatever of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and the amendments linked with it, being wrecking amendments, but surely it is of cardinal importance that there should be parity of principle both north and south of the Border. To carry the mentally handicapped from exemption to rebate would be to import a disparity of principle as regards treatment either side of the Border. Amendment No. 25 is the paving amendment to Amendment No. 189, the important amendment. I suggest that the amendments are open to objection on that ground.

However, there is another aspect. The fourth paragraph of Schedule 1, which Amendment No. 25 seeks to excise in favour of Amendment No. 189, may well require considering again. There I agree with the noble Lord. There are difficulties about it. I do not see an amendment down to that effect, but the Committee may agree that we should have more than one medical practitioner to certify. The Committee may think that there should be some form of appeal procedure. There are all sorts of other issues which the Committee may wish to consider, such as the suggestion that in its present form paragraph 4 is not quite right, but that is a totally different matter.

The other problem of principle that arises which worries me is that the complex structure of rebate, as proposed in Amendment No. 189 related to income support plus various premiums and various allowances to secure the 100 per cent. rebate—which, as I understand it, would include this category of exemption of the severely mentally handicapped—is another departure in principle from the rebate system, complex as that is, which is incorporated in the Scottish Act.

Although I hope that noble Lords or my noble friend the Minister may improve on paragraph 4 of Schedule 1, it is for those reasons that as a matter of principle, I have difficulty in importing a disparate regime north and south of the Border.

Lord Irlayter

Having congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, on his birthday—I shall forbear from saying which one it is—I want to make the point that this corner of the Committee has no monopoly on charitable organisations and charitable amendments. What happens is that governments come and go, although they often forget that they do go, but charitable organisations on the whole go on forever. Therefore it ill behoves a charitable organisation to become too political. That is why more often than not they come to independent Peers for support for their problems.

This amendment and the accompanying amendments raise some complicated issues. The difficulty is one of definition, particularly that of the severely disabled. I shall point out some of the main problems and I have no doubt that some will emerge in the discussion on the amendment. Dealing with the first point that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, made, I thought it had been understood—maybe I heard it wrongly—that if there were any major principles in the Bill which altered the Bill as it came to this House, efforts would be made to alter the position in Scotland. Perhaps the noble Earl will correct me on that, but I believe that that was said by someone.

The main point behind our amendments is that we want to see whether it is possible for the severely disabled and severely handicapped to live in the community. That is not only a question for this Bill, but it is also for the Government to make up their minds about the level that the social services should reach to enable that to be carried out. It is vital—and this is what we are trying to do in the Bill—to straighten out the money aspect.

I cannot forbear from saying that I am as conscious as the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, of the Glenarthur promise, if I may put it that way. I understand that that has not materialised and that even if it does, it will be compensation on the average going right across the country. Although it is true that some will gain and some will lose, the people who lose will never be able to forget that they should be able to stand by that original promise and be given compensation, which would make their life bearable.

As I said, the difficulty which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, also pointed out is this problem of trying to define the severely disabled, particularly as the severely disabled, as I understand from their organisations, do not feel that they are asking for any special favours. As much as possible they want to be put in the same position as the average citizen, but disablement brings extra costs. Nobody can argue about that. So we hope that we shall be given from the other side of the Committee today the same charitable thoughts as were exemplified so well yesterday.

We were delighted by the concessions that were made by the Government yesterday. We hope that they will think seriously about the propositions that we have put in front of them. If we have this or that wrong, for heaven's sake let us get it right. We are not too proud to be told that we have made a mistake. I believe that it was Emerson who said that to say that one has made a mistake is to say to the world one is a wiser man today than one was yesterday. It is with that thought that I commend the amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I remember being very much involved in the amendment on the Scottish Bill which exempted the severely mentally handicapped, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, and referred to in the Glenarthur promise. It is important that the Committee should first think what is right about this issue. We should consider how different people are treated in relation to the community charge. Secondly, the Committee should consider how the mechanics and money can best be organised.

I believe that a thread should run through all our considerations on this issue. It is the way to bring into society those who are disadvantaged, handicapped and difficult to trace, such as the people of whom we spoke last night, and make them feel that they are a part. It is exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, said. People want to be made to feel the same as others. I believe that there should be an absolute minimum number of exemptions. They should apply to people who cannot be made to feel that they can play a part in the democratic process. Last night the Committee discussed prisoners on remand who are not able to take part in the system because, although they are not convicted, they are in prison on remand. That also applies to the severely mentally handicapped.

However, when dealing with severely handicapped people, is it not much better that they and their families know that they can contribute to the services which we have, as does everyone else? It can be explained in a simple way so that they can understand. If we then make the conditions, we must make quite sure that they have the money to fulfil them. That is the point. I believe that the same proposition will apply when we debate the amendment about volunteers. That is how I see the matter.

The question that the Government must address is: how can we be sure that such people have the money and ability to fulfil the conditions? It must be arranged in a way which would enable them to do so and if they cannot read and understand, it must be explained to them. I hope that that does not sound condescending because it is meant to be the opposite. Last night I thought that we were on the verge of treating certain people in our society as being incapable of playing their part. I believe that to be quite wrong and I believe it from the depths of my being.

Very few people cannot play their part and it is they who should be exempted; the others should be rebated. I do not believe that a 100 per cent. rebate will give the feeling of taking part. I believe that their contribution should be at the level of 20 per cent., and we must make sure that they have the money to pay. That is how I see the issue. It is the moral basis of the benefit system. One produces money to help people to meet the difference between the needs that they must meet and the income that they have. I believe that we should do that in this case. I still draw a distinction between the severely mentally handicapped and those who can understand and would like to contribute. We must make sure that they can.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I should like to deal with the Scottish Act in short measure. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that the Scottish definition is different. I understand that the Government have given an undertaking that if this Bill produces a different situation from that in the Scottish Act, the Scottish Act will be amended in this Bill in order to bring the two together.

The Scottish definition of excluding people who are severely mentally handicapped puts an impossible burden on the relatives with whom the mentally handicapped person lives, whether they are children or parents. The carer must decide whether the person's mental handicap is severe. In Edinburgh it is estimated that the community charge will be between £400 and £500, which is a lot of money. One may have a child whom one is trying to educate to be as self-sufficient as possible considering his mental handicap. If the parents say, "I am sorry, we must go to the registrar and say that you are severely mentally handicapped because we will save £500 a year", what will that do to the relationship between the child and the parents? How does one do that if one's mother or father is living at home and is beginning to show signs of mental frailty? At what stage does one say to one's parents, "I shall now apply to have you registered as being severely mentally handicapped"? It does not work and it is not an example of a caring society. The Scottish Act is wrong and we should again try to achieve the correct result.

Lord Banks

I should like to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and the two amendments associated with it, to all of which my name is added. As the noble Lord has clearly explained, the amendments would eliminate the exemption from community charge for those people with severe mental handicap. It would replace the exemption with a maximum 100 per cent. rebate for certain categories of very old and disabled people receiving certain benefits, and for those registered blind or partially sighted.

Members of the Committee who support the amendments consider the exemption of those with a severe mental handicap to be very unsatisfactory. First, there is the problem of definition, to which the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, referred most tellingly. Secondly, the proccess of certification is likely to be very distasteful for both patients and carers. Thirdly, there is the problem of those who have acquired a mental handicap during their lifetime, because it appears that they are not covered by the Bill. I believe that the condition must be congenital. However, there are over 1,000 people with functional limitations as a result of strokes and over 1 million people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It appears that those people are not included.

The Minister, the right honourable Michael Howard, said at the Report stage in another place that he would look again at the definition. That statement appeared in the House of Commons Hansard, at col. 702, on 19th April 1988. I am wondering what has happened about that undertaking and whether the Minister is contemplating introducing an amendment at a later stage.

All the major disability organisations agree that it is undesirable to hand out exemptions from the poll tax to certain categories of disabled people on the grounds that they cannot fully understand what is going on. People should be treated according to their ability to pay and not according to the degree of comprehension which they may be thought to have. Hence, the provision in Amendment No. 189 for certain categories of the very old and disabled who are in receipt of certain benefits indicating their condition and not requiring any additional certification to receive a maximum 100 per cent. rebate.

In other words, instead of beginning at 80 per cent., the table would begin at 100 per cent. The poorest in those categories would be relieved altogether of the poll tax while those not so poor would have greater help than they have at the moment. The 20 per cent. which they would have to pay as a minimum, as things stand, is not, in my view, adequately compensated for in income support. In addition, the amendment would make sure that some extra contribution was made towards offsetting the additional cost of disability for the low-income disabled.

Amendment No. 189 also provides for the registered blind and partially sighted to receive the maximum 100 per cent. rebate. The majority of blind people are in the poorest sector of society. Some 75 per cent. of them are pensioners, and yet they receive virtually nothing to compensate them for the added cost of their disability. They find it very hard to qualify for attendance or mobility allowance. The amendment would make them eligible for a 100 per cent. rebate if their income was such as to warrant this. I repeat that: if their income was such as to warrant this.

The amendment would prevent the tendency referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for people to be taken out of the care in the community and put in residential care in order to secure exemption, which is the opposite of the Government's proclaimed policy.

Some time ago in relation to this matter, I asked in this Chamber why the Government were so keen to take people on low incomes out of taxation and equally keen to ensure that they are all brought into paying towards local government. I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, reminded me that the people who would be taken out of income tax would be paying indirect tax, and that indirect tax helps, as does income tax, to meet the national expenditure. However, it is equally true that through the support grant indirect taxation helps towards paying for local government. The only argument against what seems to me a very sensible arrangement set out in the amendments can be that everyone must contribute something to the costs of local government by means of direct payment, except for certain categories of the mentally handicapped. They must do that however old, disabled or poor they may be. It seems to me that the Government are in danger of making a fetish of this diktat, and I hope that they will not allow it to prevent their acceptance of this amendment.

Viscount Ingleby

I should like to support this amendment and I shall confine my remarks to the physically disabled. I should like to ask the Minister what is the justification for adding an extra burden to those whose handicap already makes life much more difficult and expensive bearing in mind that the Government will be saving £61 million in the form of rebates? The Government say that the income support will be increased to compensate for the 20 per cent. community charge, but if that is only at the national average, that will mean that certain severely disabled people in places such as Camden will be paying an extra £2 a week.

Perhaps I may also ask whether the extra support will be geared to inflation because otherwise it will simply slip away as the years go by. Also, will it not save a lot of work to grant 100 per cent. exemptions in this case? Otherwise, severely disabled people may be paying only £1 a week and someone will have to keep records of that. That seems to me a very time consuming exercise. Will it be worthwhile to collect these very small amounts of money?

3.45 p.m.

Lord Renton

I was one of those who joined with other Members of this Chamber in persuading the Government in the last Session to do something about the mentally handicapped. Although I was glad that they dealt with those who were described as severely mentally handicapped, and that the definition was inserted, I did not think it went quite far enough at the time. Therefore, I have some sympathy with the motives of those moving these amendments. However, I am puzzled by the method of doing so. Speaking for myself, I would not leave out paragraph 4 of the first schedule and would not replace it with something more specifically related to that at which the paragraph is aimed.

However, having said that, I believe that the principle has been well aired and I have great confidence that my noble friends on the Front Bench will give some kind of positive response although I do not see how they could easily accept the amendments as they stand.

On the broad principle of the Bill, it is true that there are some mentally handicapped people who are able to work and can contribute to and take part in the life of society. That is especially so in the spheres of horticulture and farming. At MENCAP we have special facilities for training such people and many obtain good jobs on farms. Therefore, there is a real difficulty about definition. We do not want that definition to go too far in either direction.

The same applies regarding the physically disabled. There are some physically disabled people who are quite incapable of doing any kind of work and they require special consideration. However, this country can be proud of the fact that the vast majority of disabled people are able to do some work according to their capacities, and that also needs to be acknowledged in the wording of this Bill.

Lord Carter

I am glad to support the amendments from these Benches. They seem to have a number of advantages. First, they have identified disabled people on low incomes. The 100 per cent. rebate is both targeted and tapered and I should have thought that that would appeal to the Government. It relates the rebate to the actual community charge in each area and not a national average figure. I hope when the Minister replies he does not refer to gainers or losers because if one is a disabled loser it is of no consolation to be told that there are some disabled gainers.

Disabled people have a complicated life pattern. They have stays in hospital, in respite care, in residential and short stay homes, and live at home with assistance and so on. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, was arguing for a comprehensive disability income. We all agree with that, but we do not have it. We are talking about very poor people. It is estimated that 40 per cent. of disabled people are in the low income group compared with 23 per cent. in the population as a whole in the non-disabled group, and that 2 million of the 3 million disabled in this country are living on or near the margins of poverty. The level of allowance for disabled people, especially under the new Social Security Act, goes nowhere near meeting the extra cost of the disability.

The advantages of these amendments are that the means of defining disability are automatic and unobtrusive. As I said, they identify and target those who are on low incomes, thus reflecting the fact that disabled people have a financial disadvantage. To that extent the phrase of which we heard a lot yesterday—namely, "the ability to pay"—is the central criterion rather than the disability as an inherent characteristic. The measure marches with the principles of good community care and it seeks to ensure that there are no financial penalties for people who seek to move into the community nor a financial disincentive for staying in the community. Eligibility for the rebate proposed is defined by a particular person's entitlement to certain income-related and other benefits. The intention is to ensure that the ability to pay and the particular needs of disabled people are taken fully into account.

As I said, yesterday we heard a great deal about the ability to pay. The Government have argued throughout the passage of this Bill that the ability to pay is enshrined in the legislation either directly or indirectly. These amendments make that factor crystal clear in the case of people with disabilities. I support the amendments.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has put the plight of the disabled very well indeed. I know that my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and I agree that disabled people want to be the same as other people as far as possible, and they also want to pay their taxes if they can. However, there are some who cannot and it is those people I hope my noble kinsman will consider.

Disability is so complicated. I believe that the Government should now look very seriously at the whole problem of severe disability, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, said. The Disablement Income Group (DIG) tried to sort out this problem with Parliament over many years but nothing has been achieved. Perhaps now is the time to look at this problem and to do something concrete in order to compensate and then to allow disabled people to pay their taxes in the same way as everyone else.

Lady Kinloss

I too wish to support these amendments. Many disabled people want to take their full place in the community with everyone else. However, for a disabled person on a low income it becomes more and more difficult to play a full role if one is struggling to make ends meet. Surely it is far better to ensure that a disabled person has sufficient resources to play a full and active role in the community; otherwise we may see some disabled people applying for residential care or returning to it as they feel that they no longer have the resources to stay in the community. Surely that is a situation that the Government would not wish to see happen.

Lord Parry

Until fairly recently, for 10 years I was chairman of the Spastics Society in Wales. For much longer my wife was in charge of a unit for the mentally and physically handicapped. Our daughter has just now left the school in which she teaches, which is dedicated to the severely mentally and physically handicapped. It is therefore a pleasure for me to support this amendment and to appeal to the Government in an area where I know they care. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, is known to me as a caring family man and I am sure that he is as moved as the rest of us by the plight of the people who, whatever the niceties of judgment, will never make any contribution to the economy of this country because they are prevented from doing so by the bodies in which they live and the minds that motivate them.

If we all begin from that position—I am sure we do—then we can perhaps approach this amendment not in the mechanistic sense (though we have to get the wording right) but in the caring sense in which it has been put by all noble Lords who have spoken to it. The Spastics Society is extremely concerned that the poll tax will adversely affect disabled people in the low income groups, about whom my noble friend Lord Carter spoke. It applies especially, as he said, to those on income support levels and those whose incomes, when even small losses occur, are devastated.

Given those factors, it is important that any rebate system aiming to protect the people of whom we speak should really do so. The Spastics Society and I feel that the present government proposals fall short of giving the protection that was promised and intended. Perhaps I may quote the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, though this has already been referred to twice. However, the passage is worth reading back into the record: There will be a category of severely disabled people living in the community who at present enjoy full rates relief and should maintain that position under the community charge system. We therefore propose that extra help should be made available for a clearly defined group of severely disabled people which could extend up to 100 per cent. of the community charge". Unfortunately that is not what the Government have so far achieved, whatever their intentions may be. At the moment we are faced with a system where many disabled people on low incomes will not receive adequate rebates. The Government's system is the most complicated and, in our opinion, the most discriminatory way of constructing a rebate system. Compensation will come from community charge benefits and through the income support system; yet because that compensation was set at an average of the community charge many disabled people will pay more, not less. It is true that some may gain—at least in theory—but surely we want a system where everyone receives a rebate for the actual obligation rather than a system of winners and losers, as my noble friend said.

Further, those with a mental handicap have to submit themselves to a humiliating certification procedure, and that hurts most where the level of mental ability is highest even though impaired. Many more who have acquired a mental handicap will not be entitled to exemptions at all—the noble Lord, Lord Banks, made that point—even though they are in the same situation. Other disabled people on very low incomes but not actually claiming income support will also miss out. Such consequences of a rebate system designed by the Government and by those who have effected the legislation to protect disabled people cannot be acceptable.

The amendment introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, will on the contrary be more consistent than the Government's system by ensuring that disabled people receive proper rebates and in encouraging good community care by ensuring that there are no financial disincentives to stay in the community. The amendment identifies disabled people on low incomes and it stipulates that they are rebated properly for the actual community charge that they have to pay in their area. That is consistent with the best principles of community care. The Government are already committed to those best principles.

The amendment ensures that there is no disincentive for disabled people in moving into the community. If the Bill remains unamended there will be another incentive added to the powerful ones already identified by the Audit Commission in its report on community care for disabled people to stay in residential care. That is even more true if one considers that the Government rightly exempted people living in residential homes from the community charge as they would not have the income to pay the charge.

I ask Members of the Committee to put out of their minds any suggestion that the majority of the people who are mentally and physically handicapped can make a positive earning contribution to their own care. Those who can will do so, and they have been rightly identified in low-level earning jobs. However, more and more mentally handicapped people, because of all kinds of circumstances, are taking their places in society unable to contribute to its earnings. It is those people—a great body of them—whom this amendment seeks to support.

Lord Renton

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say that I have listened carefully to his last remarks. Frankly, I believe that he does an injustice to those people all over the country who, for many years, have been striving to train both the physically and the mentally handicapped so that they can work according to their capacities.

Lord Parry

Surely the noble Lord does me an injustice. I carefully explained my association and my own experience. There is no way in which I would detract from the massive effort that is being made at every level; nor indeed would I detract from the efforts that those people are making themselves to take their place in the community. Please do not attribute to me any suggestion that I am criticising them. I am asking the Government to follow their own best intentions.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before the Minister replies, I should like to clarify what I said. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, thought that I was arguing for a general disability allowance. I was not doing that at all. I was suggesting that everybody, except the very few who are exempt, should pay something and that we should ensure that they have the money to do it, which is precisely what will happen in respect of people who are on the highest amount of benefit. It is the same argument.

Lord Carter

I understood the noble Baroness to say that the disabled and handicapped should have enough income to meet the requirements of society. The case for comprehensive income support for all disabled people irrespective of their income has been discussed for many years and rejected by the present Government and by previous Labour governments. If it were accepted, the disabled and handicapped would pay their rates and taxes in the same way as everybody else. That is all.

4 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Virtually every speaker who has taken part in the debate has better experience than I of the problems of disablement. There are those who are involved with voluntary organisations for the disabled and the mentally handicapped, those who are concerned themselves and within their families and those who have professional responsibility in this area. I venture to make only three points about public policy which I hope will be taken into account by the Minister when he replies to the debate.

My noble friends and I support the amendments. We are not certain about the drafting but I do not think anybody is entirely happy with that. However, the principles behind them seem to us to be humane and sound. My first point relates to care in the community. It has been the intention of governments over a number of years, not only for motives of economy but for motives of equality of care and quality of life, that those suffering from physical and mental handicaps should be cared for in the community rather than in institutions. This Bill already provides exemption from the personal community charge for those staying in hospitals and yet it proposes an extraordinarily complex series of hoops through which those with the same mental or physical handicaps will have to jump if they are to avoid the personal community charge when they are being cared for in the community. Surely the principle must be that the community charge is neutral as between hospital care and community care and that the decision must be made on clinical, medical, mental or social grounds rather than on grounds of taxation. Taxation should seek to be neutral in this respect.

The second matter was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. It concerns the incapacity to take part in public affairs as the criterion for exemption. She said this with deep sincerity and I know she believes that the freedom to pay 20 per cent. of the personal community charge is a meaningful step towards social responsibility. Candidly, I cannot see how that can be the case, especially when the people concerned do not have the money to pay the 20 per cent. One has to jump through all these hoops afterwards in order to make up the money to them so that they are not financially worse off. Surely in this respect the criterion should be recognition of need rather than some theoretical idea of participation in the community as exemplified by the requirement to pay tax. If we want to involve people in the community there are many positive ways of doing that. However, making them pay a tax and then subjecting them to a means test as to whether it is made up to them is not the way.

The third issue, which has been raised by a number of Members of the Committee, is the identification and definition of those who qualify for rebates. The system that is proposed—and attempts are being made to operate it in Scotland—requires that there shall be separate application for registration as severely mentally handicapped. If that is changed, the situation will probably become worse. There will be more definitions which doctors will find difficult to apply.

My noble friend Lord Morton asked about the position of those who have elderly parents living with them. They will have to say, "I shall make application to the authorities"—who knows how it will be done—"to exempt you from the personal community charge on the grounds of severe mental handicap". That is an impossible position. The only humane way of identifying those who should qualify for rebates must be that they are identified already by the fact that they are receiving income support.

That is what Amendment No. 189 does. It uses the existing mechanism for identifying those in receipt of income support with disablement premium, income support with higher pensioners' premium, attendance allowance, mobility allowance, or the severe disablement allowance and those registered as blind or partially sighted. No new criterion is required. There is no imposition on hospital authorities, general practitioners or families. It is something which follows from the existing system of identifying those who are disabled and who are in need.

I suggest to the Government that that is far more humane and is a more economic and efficient way of dealing with this problem. Whatever defects there may be in drafting, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, deals with those three points in a way that the Government's present proposals do not. I hope that the Government will move a considerable way to agreeing with it.

The Earl of Caithness

This has been a most useful debate and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for initiating it and to noble Lords who have taken part in it. I should like to differ from the noble Lord and divide my answer into two parts. I shall deal first with the position of the severely mentally handicapped.

Their position in respect of the personal community charge was, as I am sure the Committee will recall, discussed at some length during the passage of the Scottish legislation through this Chamber. It was argued then, in particular by my noble friends Lord Renton, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lady Carnegy of Lour—and they have all spoken today—that people suffering from a severe mental handicap should be exempt from the community charge on the grounds that such persons do not have the mental capacity to take part in the local democratic process. In other words, accountability, which is at the centre of our proposals, cannot reasonably be expected to operate properly for people in this unfortunate position. The Government found these arguments persuasive and accordingly brought forward a suitable amendment to the Scottish Bill which was subsequently accepted by this Chamber. The current exemption in the Local Government Finance Bill mirrors the one in the Scottish legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, has argued that the best way of protecting those at the lower end of the income scale is through rebate rather than exemption. I entirely agree with him. However, with respect, the argument here is not about income but about mental competence. It is true that the great majority of those with a severe mental handicap are not able to work and are therefore dependent on income support and social security benefits, but the exemption is in recognition of the fact that severely mentally handicapped people cannot be expected to understand the link between the provision of local services and changes in the community charge level. That argument applies equally whether the severely mentally handicapped person is rich or poor. Exemption, not rebate, is therefore the most appropriate remedy.

Perhaps I may answer the noble Lord, Lord Banks, by taking this opportunity to inform the Committee of the decision we have reached in respect of the undertaking given in another place to consider, in consultation with the other departments concerned, widening the definition of severely mentally handicapped. I am sure that the Committee will welcome what I have to say. Our current proposals already exempt those who are severely mentally handicapped from birth or in childhood. We have now agreed that the exemption should be extended to those who suffer severe intellectual impairment as a result of an accident in adulthood. This will include individuals who suffer from accidental injury, medical accident, criminal injury, brain surgery, infection affecting brain tissue and the effect of toxic or nutritional conditions.

We consider this further exemption justified because of the concept of accountability that is at the heart of the Bill. Those who are severely mentally handicapped through injury would be unable to participate in local democracy and councils would not be accountable to them. It therefore seems right that they should not have to pay the charge and we shall bring forward a suitable amendment at Report stage—

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

Before the noble Earl leaves the topic, perhaps I may say that he did not mention senility or Alzheimer's disease. That is something of which we are all now aware. Is it included in his opinion? If not, I think it should be.

The Earl of Caithness

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, raises an important point. We have indeed considered the possibility that he has raised concerning extending the exemption of the severely mentally handicapped to those suffering from degenerative conditions. We believe that there are two main difficulties. The main consideration must be that of the patient. There is, regrettably, still a stigma attached to mental handicap. Many of those suffering from a degenerative disease may not consider themselves as having reached the stage where they should be classified as severely mentally handicapped. They may not want to incur the stigma that is attached to that, and many of them will have periods of remission when such a classification would be inappropriate. But classification is what will have to happen. The Bill specifies that a doctor has to certify someone as severely mentally handicapped if that person is to be exempt.

The second point is linked to the first. It concerns the role of the doctor and the medical and professional difficulties that he would face. I suggest that doctors would be concerned to have a definition that would be capable of consistent application of what constitutes a severe mental handicap. If we were to extend the exemption to those suffering from degenerative diseases, such a definition would be almost impossible to arrive at. Degenerative diseases are by their very nature gradual. Their progress is often most imperceptible in the short term. In many cases it would be unreasonable to expect a doctor to certify that at a particular moment his or her patient had passed from being mentally capable to being mentally incapable. The diseases we are talking about do not work with such precision.

Perhaps I may say a word on the definition of "severely mentally handicapped" because it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. The noble Lord suggested that it would be very difficult for registration officers to judge whether a person was severely mentally handicapped. I agree with the noble Lord. It is precisely for that reason that we have proposed that, in order to qualify for the exemption, the mentally handicapped should have a certificate from a medical practitioner. In this way we would ensure that registration officers do not have to make judgments about people's mental condition without having a clear medical opinion in front of them.

A number of noble Lords said that it would be difficult—in some sense degrading—for the relatives of handicapped people to claim exemption on their behalf. I think that this concern rests on a misapprehension, since relatives already have to claim benefits on behalf of handicapped people, including the severe disablement allowance. The community charge exemption process will be little different—

Lord Campbell of Alloway

May I ask my noble friend whether it is possible that two doctors would be taken on board?

The Earl of Caithness

As I understand, it is one. However, I will look at the point which my noble friend has raised.

The Countess of Mar

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl again. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, mentioned the fact that a great many doctors do not have much experience in mental handicap, and the judgment must be a subjective one. There is no objective judgment of mental handicap. Would it be possible to put into the Bill something to the effect that the doctors who will provide the certificate must be specifically trained in dealing with mental handicap?

4.15 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

The noble Countess raises an important point that I should like to look at. It seems to confirm what I was saying earlier about degenerative diseases, and how it would be more difficult for even a qualified doctor to assess at what point a person moves into severe mental handicap. But perhaps I may look at that point which the noble Countess has raised.

Amendments Nos. 188 and 189 seek to provide 100 per cent. rebates for elderly and disabled people. As the noble Lord, Lord Parry, said, the Government accept that disabled and elderly people have special needs, and that many of them will require assistance in paying the community charge. However, I do not accept that it would be right to provide that they should not pay anything towards the community charge. Physically handicapped and elderly people—unlike severely mentally handicapped people—can play a part in the local democratic process. It would not be right to isolate them as a group from able-bodied members of the community. I agree with my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, in that I do not believe that the majority of disabled and elderly people would welcome being categorised in that way.

We must all be glad that the physically handicapped and the elderly have much better opportunities than of late to take part in everyday life and play as full a part as possible. Is it not right that every adult, whether able-bodied or disabled, should have a direct financial stake in the decisions of his or her local authority, for indeed not all—I admit a great many—physically disabled are poor. Would it be right to exempt those, or give 100 per cent. rebate to those, who could afford to pay the community charge?

I agree with my noble kinswoman. I warned her that I might raise this point of her concern. I wonder whether she would be happy to be exempt from the charge. But I come back to the point that was raised by your Lordships: that many physically disabled and elderly people have low incomes—I agree on that point with my noble kinswoman—and the Government accept without reservation that they should have help in paying their community charge. Disabled and elderly people will benefit, along with others on low income, from reductions in their community charge up to a maximum of 80 per cent. for people receiving income support—

Baroness Masham of Ilton

Before my noble kinsman carries on with another point, I should like to make it clear to him that I am not receiving income support.

The Earl of Caithness

My noble kinswoman does not surprise me. The system of community charge reduction provided for in this Bill will in fact direct help particularly towards the elderly and disabled people, since they benefit from special premiums in addition to their personal allowances. In addition to the 80 per cent. maximum reduction, income support will contain an amount reflecting the average 20 per cent. minimum contribution which everyone will have to make to the community charge. Whether this amount is sufficient to cover the actual 20 per cent. contribution is in the hands of local authorities. People in low-spending authorities will be better off, while those in areas with high spending authorities will be a little worse off. Local authority spending decisions will make them directly accountable to all charge payers, and I do not believe it is right to exclude elderly and disabled people from this process of accountability.

Perhaps I may turn—and I apologise for going on at length but I think it is important—to answer some of the points raised by your Lordships during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Parry, said that the rebates should relate to the actual community charge and not to the average. I can assure him that rebates will in all cases relate to the actual charge in each area up to the maximum of 80 per cent. It is only the increase in income support to cover the 20 per cent. contribution which will be set on the basis of the average charge. It is this 20 per cent. element which will ensure that local accountability continues to operate even for those on the lowest incomes because even they will have an interest in the costs as well as the benefits of above-average spending by their local councils.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, referred to proceedings at Report stage of the Scottish legislation, and to a statement by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur that rebates for the severely physically handicapped could extend up to 100 per cent. The noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and Lord Parry, suggested that the commitment had not been fulfilled. I have to say to the noble Lords that their assertion is not correct.

The reason is that the Government's undertaking to increase the income support entitlement of all income support recipients by 20 per cent. of the average charge post-dated that commitment by my noble friend. Therefore the undertaking given by my noble friend was carried out, not just for the physically handicapped but for all income support recipients. Surely 80 per cent. rebate plus 20 per cent. uprating is, in any language, a scheme that extends up to 100 per cent.—as my noble friend provided.

Mention was made in regard to disabled people and the existing rates system. Disabled people living in their own homes pay domestic rates like everyone else. The maximum rebate they can receive, as from April this year, is 80 per cent. The existing rates system allows for reductions in rateable value for disabled households, but only to the extent that their rate bill would otherwise be higher as a result of their disability; for example, as a result of having to have a downstairs bathroom. Therefore in asking for 100 per cent. community charge rebates the noble Lord was effectively asking for a more favourable treatment than disabled people receive at present.

Finally, I turn to a most important point raised by many Members of the Committee: the disincentive to care in the community. I cannot agree with those who raised the point that there will be any significant disincentive to care in the community. If a person has a low income he or she will be entitled to a rebate of up to 80 per cent.; if that person is living in the community the income support will be uprated by 20 per cent. of the average charge. Elderly or disabled people living with their grown-up children will be entitled to rebates and income support in their own right, regardless of the income of their adult children. Therefore it will make little difference whether a person is in a home and exempt, or living in the community and receiving an 80 per cent. rebate plus increased income support.

An elderly or disabled person with a high income might, in theory, notice a bigger difference between living in a nursing home and living in the community. However, in practice, living in a nursing home would be the more expensive operation because a reasonably well-off person has to contribute a large part of his or her income towards the cost of care in a home. Therefore it is wrong to believe that there will be any significant disincentive to care in the community.

As I said at the beginning, this has been a most useful debate and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, will welcome the commitment that I have given to bring forward an amendment in relation to severely mentally handicapped people at a later stage of the Bill's proceedings. However, I think that this unfortunate group of people can be distinguished from the equally unfortunate group of people who are the physically handicapped.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The amendment was tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and his friends; therefore it must be his decision as to whether it should be pursued. I am sure that he will welcome the extension which the Government have made to the definition of "severely mentally handicapped", as I do. It is clearly right that handicaps acquired in adulthood should be treated in the same way as those which existed from birth or which have been suffered during childhood. However, I do not think that the answer he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was adequate in dealing with Alzheimer's disease and other related disabilities.

When the noble Lord, Lord Allen, considers what to do I hope that he will consider the three issues of public policy which I raised. It does not seem to me that the Government's concession goes any way towards meeting them. The first one is care in the community. The noble Earl simply repeated the same tired old formulae about there being no significant difference. If you have those disabilities and you are in hospital there is no question: you do not pay the community charge. On the other hand, if you have such disabilities and wish to come out of hospital and be cared for in the community, or your family or neighbours or the charitable organisations will look after you, then you must go through the whole rigmarole of obtaining an 80 per cent. rebate, getting your income benefit uprated, and then dealing with the problem of whether it is enough or too much to meet the charge that exists in a local authority. If that is not a significant burden on the disabled person and on the carers for such people, I do not know what is. It is a nonsense and it should not be repeated in this automatic way on every occasion.

The second issue concerns making a separate application. The noble Earl made no progress at all in understanding the issue that income support, attendance allowances, and so on are recognisable and are used. The recent exchange between the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and the noble Earl revealed that he did not understand the issue, because the noble Baroness does not receive income support, does not expect to receive income support, and does not expect to be exempt from the community charge. We are talking about people in need and they will not be helped in the way that the noble Earl suggested.

The final issue is that there has been no answer to the charge that this incapacity to take part by those in need and disabled is a meaningless nonsense. What should be the criterion for income support?—because in relation to expenditure, it is all part of income support. The criterion should be a recognition of need, and not this pseudo-political mumbo-jumbo which the noble Earl has repeated.

Lord Renton

Before the noble Lord, Lord Allen, makes up his mind on how to advise the Committee, I should like to say something which I hope will assist. I greatly welcome the undertakings given by my noble friend to bring forward amendments which refer to paragraph 4 of Schedule 1. If Amendment No. 25 were carried, we should be moving that paragraph out of the schedule altogether and that would frustrate the Government's intentions which are to assist in the matter. Therefore, whatever other amendment the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, feels should be moved, I hope that he will not move to leave out that paragraph.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

I agree with the noble Earl that we have had a most useful debate and I learnt with interest of the amendments that it is proposed to introduce to the definition of "severely mentally handicapped", especially no longer limiting it to congenital mental handicap. However, I am afraid that I must have been even more muddled than I usually am when the noble Earl referred to my reference to the registration officer. I was merely quoting what we said in the Scottish debate. When we came to England I was saying that it was nearly beyond the capacity and the experience of the ordinary GP to perform what is a most difficult function—that of defining severe mental handicap. I think that the provision of two doctors would be an improvement, but it is not a solution to the problem—

The Earl of Caithness

I apologise to the noble Lord for mishearing what he said.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

I also did not hear anything about a possible right of appeal.

Regarding a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I have been most impressed by the degree of feeling that there is in many circles in the societies, and among the individuals concerned, about the stigmatisation involved in defining one category of disabled people as set aside from the rest of the community. Paragraph 4, as it stands, gives rise to a great deal of disquiet.

Having said that, I must test the feeling of the Committee; and, in the unlikely event of our amendment failing, I hope that the Government will not be discouraged from pursuing improvements to paragraph 4 for us to consider at a later stage.

However, on the main issues I am extremely puzzled by the reply which I received. The sole reason for discussing the matter is that in certain circumstances, in the high-spending areas, the 80 per cent. plus the average 20 per cent. will not add up to 100 per cent. That is what we are talking about. How can the noble Earl say that that honours the undertaking given by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur? And, further, how can he argue that there is no discouragement for people to go and live in the community, thereby incurring this extra charge in the expensive areas? That is something that I find most difficult to follow.

I return to the basic principle. Here we have very poor people who, in addition to being poor, have qualified for some special form of assistance—attendance allowance, special disablement allowance or mobility allowance—and they have passed the tests for those special allowances. This is a method of ensuring that they are able to meet their commitments without putting them through some further bureaucratic process.

I think that the amendment stands and the arguments that I have heard used against it do not prevail. If Members of the Committee think that these elderly, disabled and mentally handicapped people will have an effective voice in dictating who shall represent the council and what their activities are to be, I do not think that we are living in the real world. I must end, I think, by asking the Committee to decide.

4.31 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 126; Not-Contents, 146.

Airedale, L. Listowel, E.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. [Teller.] Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Amherst, E. Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.
Annan, L. Lockwood, B.
Ardwick, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Attlee, E. Lytton, E.
Banks, L. McCarthy, L.
Basnett, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Blackstone, B. McNair, L.
Blease, L. Mar, C.
Blyth, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Boston of Faversham, L. Milford, L.
Bottomley, L. Mishcon, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Molloy, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Morton of Shuna, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Mulley, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Carter, L. Nicol, B.
Chitnis, L. Northfield, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Oram, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Parry, L.
Cromartie, E. Peston, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
David, B. Porritt, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Diamond, L. Raglan, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Ennals, L. Rochester, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Ross of Newport, L.
Falkender, B. Rugby, L.
Falkland, V. Russell, E.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Sainsbury, L.
Foot, L. Seear, B.
Gallacher, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Galpern, L. Serota, B.
Gifford, L. Shackleton, L.
Gladwyn, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Glenamara, L. Shepherd, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Somers, L.
Grey, E. Southwark, Bp.
Grimond, L. Stallard, L.
Hampton, L. Stedman, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hart of South Lanark, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hayter, L. [Teller.] Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hughes, L. Thurlow, L.
Hunt, L. Tordoff, L.
Hunter of Newington, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Ingleby, V. Underhill, L.
Jacques, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Jay, L. Walston, L.
Jeger, B. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
John-Mackie, L. Whaddon, L.
Kilbracken, L. White, B.
Kilmarnock, L. Wigoder, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Williams of Elvel, L.
Leatherland, L. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Leicester, Bp.
Abinger, L. Balfour, E.
Ailsa, M. Bathurst, E.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Beaverbrook, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Allerton, L. Beloff, L.
Arran, E. Belstead, L.
Astor, V. Bessborough, E.
Atholl, D. Birdwood, L.
Blatch, B. McFadzean, L.
Bolton, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mancroft, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mansfield, E.
Burton, L. Manton, L.
Butterworth, L. Margadale, L.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Merrivale, L.
Caithness, E. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Morris, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mottistone, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Carnock, L. Munster, E.
Cathcart, E. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Clitheroe, L. Nelson, E.
Coleraine, L. Nelson of Stafford, L.
Colnbrook, L. Newall, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Norrie. L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Northesk, E.
Cottesloe, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cowley, E. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Daventry, V. Onslow, E.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Orkney, E.
De Freyne, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Deedes, L. Oxfuird, V.
Donegall, M. Pender, L.
Dundee, E. Platt of Writtle, B.
Eden of Winton, L. Portman, V.
Elibank, L. Portsmouth, E.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Prior, L.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Pym, L.
Ferrers, E. Rankeillour, L.
Ferrier, L. Reay, L.
Fortescue, E. Renton, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Renwick, L.
Geddes, L. Rochdale, V.
Gibson-Watt, L. Romney, E.
Gisborough, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Glenarthur, L. St. Davids, V.
Goold, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Grimthorpe, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Haig, E. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Sandford, L.
Sempill, Ly.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Sharples, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Harvington, L. Southborough, L.
Hastings, L. Strange, B.
Havers, L. Suffield, L.
Henley, L. Terrington, L.
Hertford, M. Teviot, L.
Hesketh, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Hives, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Hood, V. Thorneycroft, L.
Hooper, B. Torphichen, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Trafford, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Tranmire, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Trefgarne, L.
Joseph, L. Trumpington, B.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Killearn, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Kimball, L. Whitelaw, V.
King of Wartnaby, L. Wise, L.
Lauderdale, E. Yarborough, E.
Layton, L. Young of Graffham, L.
Long, V. [Teller.] Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.40 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs moved Amendment No. 26: Page 80, line 38, at end insert—

("Residential community volunteers.

.—(1) A person is an exempt individual on a particular day if at any time on the day he is a residential community volunteer.

(2) A residential community volunteer is a person—

  1. (a) who is performing full-time duties on a volunteer basis.
  2. (b) who is required as a condition of their duties to reside away from their normal home during that period.
  3. (c) who receives board, lodging and pocket money only.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 26, standing in my name and the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and the noble Lord, Lord Banks. The purpose of this amendment is to exempt residential community volunteers from paying the community charge.

The organisation called Community Services Volunteers was founded in 1962. It involves young people working alongside professionals as full-time residential volunteers with people in need. In return, these young people receive board and lodging and £16 pocket money per week.

Each year approximately 2,000 young people become community service volunteers. They work with handicapped children, children in care, young offenders, homeless people in the inner cities, and the elderly. The most demanding work is carried out by about one-third of them through the independent living scheme. Here they literally act as arms, legs and eyes for people with severe disabilities. In this way they enable those people to lead full lives in their own homes or in educational establishments or in hostels. This scheme was initially funded by central government and is a model of the care in the community strategy which the Government so keenly advocate.

I have been lucky enough to have a personal insight into the work of these young people as last year my own son worked for the Carr-Gomm residential homes scheme, where people who for one reason or another cannot care for themselves and cannot cope are cared for. There are people there with mental illnesses, including many schizophrenics. Through living with these unfortunate people and helping them in their everyday lives and trying to bring some light, happiness and laughter into their lives, the young volunteers really do give them the opportunity to approach a real life in the community and they give them something to live for.

As the Bill stands at present, full-time residential volunteers will be subject to the community charge. Under the rebate scheme they will first have to pay in full and probably be eligible for rebate up to 80 per cent. So one wonders what the effect of this provision will be. Financially it will mean that these young volunteers will have to find perhaps £1 or £2 out of their tiny subsistence allowance of £16. Clearly there is very little doubt that this will prevent many young people coming forward to perform this work because, as I say, their budget is already so intolerably tight that it could not possibly stand up to even the smallest additional strain. So in the first place the community at large in many cases may easily be denied the important contribution that many selfless young people give. As regards the young people themselves, they will be denied the opportunity to help others and to benefit from this very enrichening experience.

From the point of view of those who benefit—I mean the handicapped, the elderly, the homeless and others—the consequences could be very serious indeed. If the CSV no longer succeeds in attracting so many of these young volunteers to its ranks, many of those handicapped will have no choice but to return to institutional life. So the tragedy will be twofold: first, for the handicapped and elderly who have temporarily seen their lives transformed; and, secondly, for the public purse, which will have to foot the bill for their return to residential homes. That may be very large indeed in some cases.

At this point I should like as an example to describe the case of the volunteers working within charitable organisations such as the Sue Ryder Homes. The noble Baroness, Lady Ryder of Warsaw, is so very sad that she is unable to be here today to give the example herself, but she told me that there are as many as 230 residential volunteers working each year at her headquarters and principal home in Suffolk. If these young people are subjected to the tax or even a proportion of it and decide they cannot afford to continue with the work, what will happen to that remarkable and world-famed home for the sick and the incurable?

I have a letter from the chairman of the Harrogate health authority, who describes how in the department of computer studies at Leeds University a number of volunteers are used to help severely handicapped undergraduates taking a data processing scheme of study. He says that one particular undergraduate is now in her final year and preparing for her final examinations. As a consequence of Stills' disease the girl in question is blind, confined to a wheelchair and requires 24-hour support. Without the CSV support, the chairman of the health authority says, it would not be possible for her to undertake a degree scheme at all. There is already considerable difficulty in locating suitable volunteers and it is believed that the imposition of a community charge, even at a reduced rate, on these volunteers would make it increasingly difficult to recruit them and would mean that students as heavily disabled as this student would be unable to go in for higher education.

It seems inconceivable that the Government really could wish to bring about this very serious result that I have described, for after all they have upheld the concept of care in the community. I know that that has been mentioned many times already in this debate but I think that this is an example of how care in the community has been seen to work. There is general agreement on the need for handicapped people to leave institutional care and to be looked after in the community. The only problem has been that sometimes there has not been the support mechanism available. So the handicapped end up either back in the institutions or in the case of the mentally handicapped sometimes in police cells or indeed prison.

However, in the cases where help has been enlisted from these very altruistic young people care in the community has become a reality. There is little doubt that the argument used by the Minister and indeed on many occasions by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, who I see is no longer in her place, that the payment of the community charge in exchange for local services is a means of drawing people into the community to make them fully part of it and to make them feel as if they are more a part of it would fall on pretty stony ground with these young volunteers. They might feel, and rightly so, that they are themselves providing a very important local service.

After all, every day they give unequivocal proof that they are totally involved in the community and are contributing to the well-being of the local community in a greater way than are, say, those who collect dustbins or who provide some other kind of service. There can be no doubt at all that these young volunteers might well feel that the boot was on the other foot and that the community which they are so selflessly and loyally serving is in their debt.

There is no point in the Minister arguing that the sum of money at issue may be very negligible, because everything is relative. Whatever one sets beside £16 a week will take on enormous proportions. Besides the money aspect, I feel very strongly about the principle of this particular case; namely, that those performing this all-important task of enabling the weaker members of a community to lead fuller and more constructive lives are doing more than their duty to the community and any attempt to extract a financial payment for them is inappropriate and absolutely wrong.

I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I think that there is a very strong case to be made for volunteers. They are a growing category of people and some thinking must be done on how to encourage them and how to fill the gap which exists in helping people within the community who are disabled, disadvantaged and badly in need of help. I beg to move.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

I support the amendment. I know the CSV organisation very well. I have been concerned in one way and another for the past 60 years with people who work full-time for very little money to help others. One of the few things that I have ever liked about the Conservative Party is that it has always favoured such activities. I hope that it will go on doing so. It is extremely important to encourage that sort of work, quite apart from the importance of getting the work done. Without the volunteers, that would not happen. I support the amendment.

Lord Gisborough

I also support the amendment. I was glad to be able to meet yesterday with some of the youngsters we are discussing. I was interested to learn that one of the disabled people needed two volunteers to look after her at all times. The youngsters are dedicated and have service to the community at heart.

As has been explained, they receive £16 a week as pocket money. That will be insufficient to fund the community charge for the period before they receive a rebate. They are extremely cheap labour and the cost of the alternative—a professional person either in the home or in hospital—will be much higher. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter seriously, consult with the CSV and perhaps come back with another suggestion.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

I have had many letters from concerned disabled people who survive in the community only because they have the help of community volunteers. They say that they will be unable to pay the community charge of volunteers. As the volunteers only receive pocket money, they will not be able to afford the charge either. The volunteers will be forced to take up another employment.

That sad situation may mean that a disabled person is forced into a dreaded institution. We heard yesterday from the noble Baroness, Lady Ryder of Warsaw, that many places, such as her homes, will be in financial difficulty over the collective community charge.

I have also received letters from York University, which takes some severely disabled students. They are looked after by community volunteers. Again, the community charge may be the deciding factor which stops a disabled student from being able to attend university. At the moment, one of the brightest students at Cambridge University is a young man who broke his neck and who has no use of his body. However, he has a brilliant brain and he manages his university life with the help of community service volunteers.

I hope that my noble kinsman the Minister will look seriously at the amendment. At the time of the French Revolution, on being told that the people had no bread, Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake". Are the Government going to tell community volunteers and hard-pressed disabled people to do likewise? The Government are high on the crest of the wave following their big win yesterday. Does not the amendment prick the conscience of the Government? I shall be very surprised if my noble kinsman is unable to help with this very important amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

I support the amendment standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and in my own name. I wish to look carefully at one or two of the more general arguments which I think may be used to defend the proposed arrangements in the Bill for application to this category of people.

We heard quite a lot both yesterday and today about the belief that in some way the payment of the community charge will ensure that people feel they are really contributing to the community. Looked at carefully, the implication of the argument is that you are not fully contributing to the community unless you are paying money by that means. If it is put like that, I suspect that many people will back away and say, "No, that isn't what we mean". However, that is how it comes across. That seems to be a very strange argument, especially in relation to a group such as community service volunteers. It can hardly be said that those people are not contributing fully to the community when in fact they are contributing a great deal more than most of us.

There are many different ways in which we contribute to the life of our communities. It is easy to fall into the trap of supposing that people with money contribute more or are in some way better placed to contribute than those without money. I have spent much of my professional life resisting that kind of insidious claim. If we accept that argument, we shall find ourselves wrestling with all sorts of complicated arrangements to enable people to pay what they need to pay in order to feel that they are contributing to the community. I do not believe that we should go as far down that road as we are sometimes encouraged to. It is not a good general argument.

Within that argument, there is another argument which I have heard many times in the past few hours. That argument is that it is not so much that you are contributing to the community but rather that you are going to ensure that you have stable and responsible local government. The belief is that by contributing to a community charge you will exercise some sort of influence over local government, and if you have the misfortune to find yourself in an area with a high community charge you will do something to ensure that it comes down.

As regards the group of people with which the amendment is concerned, that cannot be a strong argument. By the very nature of the way they are working, they are temporary residents. They are not part of a community. It is even on the cards that they may not vote in local elections if those elections take place only every three, four or five years. It cannot be argued that they have a significant impact or that that will be a matter of great importance to them or anyone else in the community.

Furthermore, the actual cost of collection which will be involved is great and out of proportion to the amount we are discussing. That applies in the present case as well as in other cases. I believe that the cost of collection will be greater than the amount recovered. We are discussing a group of people who are not receiving income support and are giving an enormous amount to the community. We shall be saying to them, "You have to pay the full amount and we shall then set in train a cumbersome process by which you will eventually get a rebate of 80 per cent.". That may take a long time. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, admitted as much in one of his replies last night. Many of us who have experienced how such systems are working presently will have little confidence that they will work faster in the future.

We are either asking people who are mainly students or ex-students to find the full amount of the community charge out of £16 a week or asking the charity concerned to find that amount. They will then have to wait for goodness knows how long until somebody in some office eventually decides that they can have an 80 per cent. rebate. That will almost certainly cost as much as or more than the tiny amount that will come from a relatively small number of people who are making a tremendous contribution to disabled people. The disabled are benefiting from their wonderful service, and they are the first to say that they are benefiting from it.

I plead with the Committee to look rather carefully at the arguments which may be deployed in this particular case because I think that they are irrelevant and would do a very great disservice to a wonderful cause.

5 p.m.

Lord Parry

The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, is not in his place because he has to be in Wales. It may be appropriate if I contribute one word or two. As a Welshman, it will probably be more than one. I rise to support the amendment. What is not often mentioned is the fact that volunteers who work in this field of help for the mentally and physically handicapped grow themselves. It is one of the great surprises of working with the handicapped and underprivileged that the individual who seeks to help is himself or herself helped by the process. I should like to add the typical Tonypandy suggestion that in terms of this amendment we should be as concerned with the growth of the personalities of those who help the handicapped as with the help that they give to the handicapped, which is so greatly appreciated. Yesterday morning in the Lobby, the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and I talked with both the handicapped and their volunteer helpers and the message that they gave was one of support for the amendment.

Lord Hastings

I think it is time that more support came from this side of the Chamber for the amendment. I have had letters from young people telling me about their work. It is quite clear that it is invaluable to the elderly or disabled people with whom they are working. As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, pointed out, and as has been repeated in the letters, in many cases those young people are a lifeline. Withdraw them and the disabled and elderly will suffer direly, if indeed they can remain in their own homes at all.

It seems to me that the Government are proving quite inflexible about the principle of accountability. I should like to put the case to them in a rather different manner. Those young people will probably be living at home before taking up their voluntary work and they will be assessable and paying the community charge. After they leave their voluntary work they will be in the same position, perhaps in a job and paying the community charge. We are therefore talking about one year in the lives of a shifting volunteer population. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark has pointed out, the trouble and cost of tracing those young people will be considerable. The burden will presumably be placed on the residences where they live. That will make for an unpleasant and difficult atmosphere between the young and the people who run the places.

I think that that is impractical. Apart from being impractical I do not think it is worth it. I understand that there are usually about 1,000 and never more than 2,000 of the CSV volunteers at any one time. It is peanuts and I do not think that it is worth the candle, apart from the fact that I think that it is probably morally wrong in this particular case.

That is only one category of temporary volunteer worker. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to volunteers in the Sue Ryder Homes. I happen to be concerned with and participate in the Camphill Villages for the adult mentally handicapped. In those villages, which range from quite small hostels to large villages of over 300 people, there will be several hundred co-workers, all of them volunteers—not temporary but permanent workers. Some of those people are young, some are middle-aged and some are old. They have been in the movement all their lives. They have no money because they are not paid. They are volunteers who live from the communal purse of DHSS and MSC grants and donations. They have no money to pay, so the charity will have to pay.

I am not sure whether that situation is covered in the Bill. I cannot find it because it is a very long and complicated Bill. Are charities of that nature to be exempted or will they have to pay a collective community charge? The individuals certainly cannot pay. If they have to pay as a community the total will run to many thousands of pounds.

I think that that also is something which needs to be looked at very carefully. We are not talking about vast sums of money or thousands of people. They are probably numbered in hundreds or a few thousand at most. They are all doing absolutely vital work serving their fellow human beings in a Christian manner. I think that we need to approach the matter with a thoroughly Christian attitude and to treat those people with the greatest respect and gratitude.

I hope that in this case the Government will be able to move a little away from the argument of accountability. I hope that they will do as I think they ought for these very humane people who are serving their fellow men in a way which I can only describe as following the second great Commandment: Love they neighbour as thyself. I support the amendment wholeheartedly.

Lord Banks

I should like to support the amendment moved so effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and to which my name is attached. It seems to me that the issue is very simple. People who give their services to help the disadvantaged in return for pocket money should not have to pay the community charge. As we have heard, residential community service volunteers work away from home. They work full-time, they receive board and lodging and a small subsistence allowance, which may amount to £15 or £16 per week. They are not eligible for benefit. It is true that they will be eligible for the 80 per cent. rebate of the poll tax but in certain areas—for example, inner London—even after receiving the rebate they will still be paying some £2 to £3 per week of their community charge.

There has in the past been some doubt as to whether Ministers fully appreciate the value which those volunteers offer in helping people to live independently in the community. There is also doubt as to whether Ministers appreciate the disincentive to recruitment which the community charge may well create. Therefore one hopes very much that Ministers will consider this matter very carefully and feel that they can withdraw the opposition which they have expressed to the exemption of residential voluntary workers. If they do so they will help to prevent people being sent back into residential care, which would in the long run cost the Government much more money.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I am sorry that I did not hear the noble Baroness introduce the amendment because I was called out of the Chamber. I should like to make one point and I should particularly like to make it in the presence of the right reverend Prelate, who spoke so well on the subject and issued a note of warning about going too far in the direction which he sees the Government following on this point.

There are many volunteers other than CSVs, which is a marvellous organisation for marshalling volunteers. But there are also many others. What we must remember when discussing how this matter should be dealt with is that we shall be living in a country in which everybody, but everybody, is involved in the community charge except for the very few people whom we have been discussing. The community charge will be part of life and part of the basic expenditure of virtually everybody. I believe that it would be most natural for a volunteer to get the amount needed through pocket money.

How that situation is to be reached is another matter. Some people have spoken about benefit coming in the direction of such people, or money from MSC schemes, and so on. My view is that our discussions have not yet moved into the sphere where the community charge will be part of everybody's cost of living on the same basis as buying one's food and so on. Everyone will be paying that little bit of community charge.

The estimate of what is needed for pocket-money is based on what young people are likely to require for basic necessities. The volunteers freely accept that. They enjoy their work tremendously; it is wonderful work, but this charge should be part of it. To speak otherwise would simply confuse them and other people about the whole issue. It is a great way to oppose the community charge, although that is not what the right reverend Prelate was doing when he talked about whether this was the right way to treat volunteers. I respect his views enormously and always listen carefully to him, but I wonder whether he has pictured to himself the scene that will exist when the whole scheme has become accepted and part of everyone's life. We must project our minds forward to that time.

I do not know what the Government will say about this matter. They may have some ingenious proposals about which neither I nor anybody else has heard anything. I hope that it will be possible for them to do something along the lines that I have suggested should be done in respect of disabled people.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

Before the noble Baroness sits down I should like to say one thing to her. The Government have thought again about student nurses paying the community charge. Student nurses now receive quite a large wage compared with the £16 of a community volunteer.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

That is why I look forward to hearing how these groups are to be related. I do not know. There are various categories of people who are paid allowances to cover costs, and pocket-money is meant to cover costs. I meant to say so. It is a related point. However, I still believe that we should not say that, because their work is so marvellous and they do not receive a salary, they should be exempt from paying the community charge. That is my argument.

Lord Hastings

I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether she is suggesting that if they pay the charge out of their pocket-money the Government should increase that pocket-money.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

The Government do not pay the pocket-money.

Lord Hastings

Who does pay the pocket-money?

Noble Lords

The charities.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I should like to thank my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for giving the Committee a full and rounded picture of the work of the community service volunteers. She explained their work quite clearly. I emphasise that I am well aware of the work of the CSVs at the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind. A number of the volunteers help not only in the college but also in the residential block where blind and mentally handicapped people live.

I see the work of those young people on the ground. They are very keen. They enter into the work with gusto and enthusiasm. It is not simply a chore for them; it is part of the enjoyment of life. As my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs said, they possess an enthusiasm which they radiate towards the people they are trying to help. And they do this on a mere pittance.

I should like to follow up what I thought were the most commendable comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, who likened their involvement to a Christian approach. I believe that the noble Lord was not present during our debates on the Education Reform Bill—and if I am wrong I beg his pardon—when we had three long debates about Christian ethics and Christian teaching in schools. That was given great support by the noble Baroness who raised the issue and other noble Lords. They should be here today to support the approach suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings; that is to say a Christian approach. I appeal to noble Lords on the Benches opposite to think seriously about that suggestion should my noble friend decide to take this amendment to a vote.

It should also be remembered that if such volunteers are not given exemption, they will become a cost to the charities. The charities will have to find more money to pay the community charge of the volunteers. That also takes away accountability, because the charity will be paying the charge and there will be no impact or sense of accountability for the person on whose behalf it is paid. Moreover, if such people do not have to pay, perhaps the way that they use their votes will not be taken into consideration.

Lord Ross of Newport

Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Baroness to say that it is not just the charities that are concerned; in some cases it is the local authorities themselves. I have a letter from a community service volunteer who is working in a home for the mentally retarded located in my former constituency. That home is run by the county council. So this matter also concerns the local councils and it is a ridiculous situation.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I appreciate the intervention of the noble Lord. The Government are becoming terribly muddled with the various pieces of legislation that they are bringing forward. They are not considering the overlap between one department and another. The noble Lord's intervention bears that out. I hope that when the Minister replies he will give us some good news on this important matter so that at last these Benches will obtain some concession on this Bill.

Lord Hunt

I should like to say a few brief words because I believe that this issue goes rather further than the community service volunteers themselves. I had very close contacts with Alec Dickson when he started the movement over 30 years ago. One must remember to what extent the community service volunteers from the beginning have been and still are the supreme example of service by young people. They are the exemplars and the standard bearers. We badly need people who are prepared to do the ultimate in volunteering. They encourage untold numbers of other young people to serve in some lesser way.

I am concerned lest there is a shrinkage in the numbers coming forward and working in the splendid way that has been described in such difficult situations. I fear that those numbers may be diminished by the legislation as it stands at the moment, and if the numbers are reduced it will have an impoverishing effect on young people who wish to follow the shining example given by the community service volunteers.

Baroness Faithfull

I should like to speak from the point of view of local authorities, which have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport. Under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act local authorities have a statutory duty toward the disabled. At the moment it is very difficult to carry out those statutory duties because of the cutback in resources to local authorities. A number of local authority social services departments are trying to carry out their statutory duties by way of volunteers. The CSVs are helping local authorities to carry out their statutory duties without extra cost to the local authorities. If the charities think that they will have to subsidise the volunteers, the local authorities will feel the same, and the resources will not allow for that. The noble Lord may agree. I therefore hope that the Minister will take this into account.

The Countess of Mar

On the same theme that has been taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, perhaps I may give some examples of what is happening in Hereford and Worcester, which is an area that I know quite well. At the moment it has 11 independent living schemes. Nine of them are financed by the county council and two by the disabled persons, having special transitional protection under income support because they had a higher rate of domestic assistance allowance. On a number of occasions the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and I have raised the question of special transitional protection. As this charge will probably mean an increased cost to the disabled persons themselves—and Ministers for the Government have said on a number of occasions that there will be no provision for increasing the transitional protection because of increased costs—this will mean either that the disabled persons will be more impoverished than they already are, or that they will have to go into an institution. At the moment, nine of the volunteers' expenses are met by the county council through the social services department. They will probably meet the increased charge and perhaps they would top up the other two. If the alternative were to take them into local authority care, at the moment in Hereford and Worcester there is no provision. There are no beds. It would be extremely costly. I believe that it costs about £30,000 a year to keep someone in a hospital or an institution, whereas when they are in the community it is very much cheaper.

What about the independence of these people? For a long time we have said they must be allowed their independence. They would lose it completely if they had to move back into an institution. The only thing that enables them to live in the community is the assistance that they receive from the community service volunteers.

Lord Jay

I should like briefly to emphasise one point. As I understand the law, until now the charities which organise these services have been charities exempt from tax. If they own property, by dint of that exemption they are not liable to make any payment by way of rates to local authorities. The volunteers giving these services will in many cases be unable to pay. They will either have to abandon the service altogether, which will be a great loss, or, alternatively, the charity will have to provide them with the money in order to pay the community charge. In that case, the Government will, in effect, be taxing charities, which has been contrary to all practice and law, and to the policy of all governments until now. We shall reach the point when, as a result of this community charge, the Government will be introducing the principle of taxing charities by the back door. Surely they do not wish to do that.

Lord Gisborough

It is not a question of the charity now paying rates when it had not done so before, but more a matter of timing. These community charges will be recoverable. It is more a question of timing than whether they are out of pocket at the end of the day.

Lord Torphichen

In view of the obvious good intentions of this amendment, I do not like to be the one Member of the Committee to express an opposite view. However, there is one point that worries me. I cannot see that there is here a definition of a volunteer which will stand the test of time. Can one of the movers of the amendment, or perhaps the Government spokesman afterwards, attempt to tell us whether some organisation which would not fit the popular view of a charity or a voluntary organisation—such as Scientologists—could simply claim that they were volunteers under this form of words and misuse the effect of the amendment as it stands?

Lord Craigmyle

The definition is extremely important. I am entirely behind the principle of the amendment but I cannot pretend to like the wording. The definition is at once both too narrow and too loose. It does not describe sufficiently clearly the people who are to be covered by it. It seems based on the assumption that community service volunteers are the only such people. In practice I do not think that that will be found to be so. In a few minutes, when we consider Amendment No. 28, we shall be considering religious communities, many of whom will have working with them just such volunteers who are not members of the religious community and will therefore not come within the definition in Amendment No. 28, but who are very definitely the kind of people whom the noble Baroness and her co-signatories to this amendment have in mind.

On the financial matter, surely it is quite clear that if someone who could earn in almost any job £8,000 or more a year is working for pocket money amounting to £800 or so, he is giving 90 per cent. of his earning capacity to the community. It is quite monstrous to expect him to pay a community charge as well.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

One of the problems when one changes one set of taxes for another is that one changes one set of anomalies for another. It seems to me that that is precisely what we are doing in changing from rates to the community charge. We can see by the amendments that the system will be riddled with anomalies. This amendment seeks to correct only one of them. It is almost inconceivable that the Minister will not go to that Dispatch Box and say that he accepts this amendment. If he does not accept it, then he will look very mean indeed.

Furthermore, when we come to Amendment No. 28 he will ask the Committee to support an amendment which asks for the relief of people in a closed religious community who work for the relief of suffering. This is precisely what the volunteers about whom we are talking this afternoon are doing. Why is the Minister asking us to exempt those who live in a closed community, and therefore need no money to deal with worldly things, but not to exempt those people who need their £16 a week because they are out in the world? They need that £16 merely to deal with the day-to-day matters of life. The Minister needs to answer that question.

We know that the Minister is a compassionate man. How on earth a man of his calibre, who thinks so much of his fellow people, can contemplate refusing acceptance of this amendment I do not know. I hope that he will not disappoint us.

Lord Carter

I shall be extremely brief, but we have heard from noble Lords that yesterday we had a visit from a number of severely disabled and wheelchair-bound young people accompanied by the young volunteers who do this magnificent job of looking after them. I was given one example of a young man who is severely disabled. He has been told that he needs a spinal operation. He depends for his income on benefit. He will not go into hospital to have the operation because if he is in hospital for more than six weeks—it is a change of circumstances under the new Act—the level of his transitionally protected benefit will go down severely. One can multiply examples of people in these situations. Surely it is essential that people with these problems, with the agony of the day-to-day living that they have, should not have the added concern of the possibility of some proportion of the poll tax being levied on the volunteers who enable them to live at home.

As has already been pointed out, in many cases the need is for two volunteers who are required to give assistance. It would be an insupportable burden if the poll tax were levied on these volunteers. As my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs said, we cannot believe that this is the Government's intention. From what the Minister has heard from all the speeches on the amendment, he will realise that we all have this view. We urge him to accept the amendment.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, gave the Committee a graphic account of the work of residential voluntary workers. As so often, direct personal experience of a situation enhances our debate. Indeed it has enhanced our debate, as many noble Lords have had experience with these workers in various fields.

I take the Committee back and remind it that our aim in introducing the community charge is to improve accountability in local government by spreading far more fairly the burden of paying for local services. To achieve this aim we wish to ensure that as many people as possible pay the community charge so that a far greater number of local electors have an incentive to consider the costs as well as the benefits of extra local spending. Residential voluntary workers, like other adults, use and benefit from local services; it is only fair therefore that they should also contribute towards the cost of those services.

I accept that voluntary workers who have no means other than their subsistence would have difficulty in paying the full community charge. However, they will not have to pay the full charge. All those on low incomes, including voluntary workers, will be able to apply for reductions of up to 80 per cent. of the community charge. Voluntary workers relying solely on pocket-money would qualify for the maximum reductions. This means on average that they would have to find about 85p a week as a contribution towards the community charge.

I must also point out that residential voluntary workers receive free accommodation and food. So I understand that the £16 a week they receive is effectively pocket-money. I certainly do not claim that £16 a week, over and above accommodation costs, represents affluence. The question is whether it is right to ask volunteers to pay on average 12p a day out of their £16 a week towards the cost of the local services they can use and vote for. Some Members of the Committee have said that it is wrong because it would be asking too much and, perhaps more importantly, it would be a disincentive to recruitment.

I turn now to a point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark about the complications of the collection of a charge. Like other individuals who are eligible for 80 per cent. rebates, we want community volunteers wherever possible to receive net bills of only 20 per cent. of the charge. We accept that hardship would be caused if they had to pay 100 per cent. and then reclaim the balance. Because volunteers will generally spend a considerable time at an address, they will be subject to the personal charge. That means that it would be relatively straightforward to send them a net bill.

It is not simply that we think it is fairer that more of those who use and benefit from local services should contribute something towards the cost of paying for them. But it is important for all adults, including voluntary workers, to be aware, through changes in the level of their community charge bill, of the spending decisions taken by their local authority; and to share financial responsibility for those decisions. That in our view is the best way to improve accountability, give value for money and revitalise local democracy. The more people are excluded from this process, the less chance there is of bringing about the lasting improvements to the operation of local government which the community charge aims to bring.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

Does the Minister not agree that in this kind of case most of the people will never actually vote because they are only resident for a year in a place which is not their home, so that argument hardly applies?

The Earl of Caithness

I certainly would hope that they would take the opportunity to vote if an election occurred during the period that they were there.

My noble kinswoman said that we were on a high and hoped that as a result we had not lost our compassion. I remind her that within hours of the vote yesterday not only my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, but I too, took away issues for further reflection as the Committee suggested. I assure her that our concern to get the details right has not diminished overnight. If anything it has probably increased. I have listened with great care and I should like to take away and consider with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government—who has listened to your Lordships' Committee today as he did yesterday—to see whether we can bring forward an amendment to target the benefit carefully on those who deserve it most, those to whom Members of the Committee have referred.

My noble friend Lord Torphichen raised an important point when he said that the definition must be looked at. Indeed that is one of the many matters that together with my right honourable friend I should like to consider.

Lord Parry

Will the Minister accept that his statement about docking 85p from the volunteer worker to give him a lesson in democracy sits very ill with the lesson that we are seeking to teach that we should encourage the people who are volunteers? They give of their lives in the service of others.

The Earl of Caithness

It is because they are to be encouraged that I referred specifically to some of the points that Members of the Committee made about the fact that it would be harder to recruit volunteers. That is one of the reasons why I wish to consider this amendment again.

Lord Hastings

Will the Minister apply his mind to the very important point that where volunteer workers are unable to pay, the charities will have to pay, and hitherto they have been exempted from the rates?

The Earl of Caithness

My noble friend is absolutely right. He tells us that charities could have been exempted from rates at the moment. They have a 50 per cent. rebate from central government and there can be a discretionary rebate from local government. Of course that will be transferred to the community charge.

The Countess of Mar

The noble Earl quoted averages, such as 12p a day and 85p a week. What is the maximum cost likely to be in a very highly rated area?

The Earl of Caithness

Without notice I cannot give the noble Countess either the maximum or the minimum; but if there is an average, there will be some who lose but there will be others who end up with cash in their pockets.

Baroness Faithfull

I am deeply grateful to my noble friend for saying that he will take this back.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I am a little confused because the Minister opened his remarks with all the same arguments that we have heard until now against the exemptions. He did not answer the point that was made by the right reverend Prelate and myself that volunteers were making a contribution to local services, even though it may not be in monetary terms. He did not answer the points that we made, but at the end, just when we had all given up hope, the Minister changed his tune altogether and said that he would look at it. I should be grateful if he would clarify this because it puts me in rather a difficult position.

The Earl of Caithness

I thought it was right, as I have done before to the Committee, to spell out what I thought the arguments were. I have heard exactly what the Committee has said. That is what I should like to consider. But I thought it would be wrong not to spell out the situation as I had seen it.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My co-sponsors are a long way away and therefore I am unable to consult them. Obviously I thank the noble Earl very much indeed for saying that he will take this amendment back and look at it. We reserve our position to put down our amendment again, perhaps in better terms. We have been asked for a definition of "volunteer" and that we can easily produce; if there is nothing satisfactory down at Report from the Minister that is what we shall do. I thank him for what he said and in the light of it I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 28: Page 81, line 5, at end insert—

("Members of religious communities.

6A.—(1) A person is an exempt individual on a particular day if at any time on the day—

  1. (a) he is a member of a relevant religious community, and
  2. (b) he has no income or capital of his own and is dependent on the community concerned for his material needs.

(2) A relevant religious community is a religious community whose principle occupation—

  1. (a) is prayer, contemplation, the relief of suffering, education, or any prescribed occupation, or
  2. (b) consists of two or more of the occupations mentioned in paragraph (a) above.

(3) A prescribed occupation is such occupation as may for the time being be prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

(4) In construing sub-paragraph (1)(b) above income by way of pension in respect of a former employment is to be ignored.").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 28. This amendment follows a commitment given earlier in the Bill's progress that we would exempt from the personal community charge members of religious communities (those devoted to prayer, contemplation, the relief of suffering or education) who have no income or capital of their own and are dependent on the community.

I hope that the amendment will be welcomed by the Committee. I should say that it has been drafted so as to ensure that any member of a religious community, where the relevant criteria were met, will secure an exemption. There has been consultation with representatives of a number of religious groups—including Buddhist communities—in the preparation of the amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister is right. Anything which, on careful analysis and reflection, has caused him and his fellow Ministers to exempt such groups is welcome. Those Members who follow the proceedings in another place will recognise that this kind of matter is raised and it corrects an anomaly. Will the Minister justify and explain the terms of the amendment? Will he also spell out exactly who is likely to benefit? For instance, the yardstick or measuring rod for the exemption of an individual is that he is a member of a relevant religious community. If I mention some religious communities, will the Minister say whether they fall within that definition? For instance, there is the Church of Scientology which would argue that it is a religious community. There are also the Moonies, Hare Krishna and the Rastafarians. I appreciate that the Minister may not have been involved directly, but will he say how wide were the discussions and who will benefit from the amendment?

As regards subsection 6A(2) we have the hoops through which the individual must jump. It states: A relevant religious community is a religious community whose principal occupation … is prayer, contemplation, the relief of suffering, education, or any prescribed occupation,". Will the Minister say what he considers to be prescribed occupations? Those words are not idly put into a statute and I appreciate that not everything can be spelled out in a statute. However, Parliament is entitled to understand what will be spelled out when the question of a prescribed occupation arises.

If the yardstick is membership of a religious community the exemption is inconsistent with the Government's desire not to exclude ministers and vicars. Am I right in that belief? If that is right, how is it reconciled with the amendment now before the Committee? Paragraph (4) states: In construing sub-paragraph (1)(b) above income by way of pension in respect of a former employment is to be ignored". Can the Minister give the Committee the rationale behind that provision? Such a disregard might be justified if the pension were being paid into the religious community. However, if the member of the religious community had not taken vows of proverty and was still in receipt of a pension, he or she should pay the poll tax.

I draw to the Minister's attention inconsistencies and requests for clarity. The Minister must understand that my questions are benign and not malignant in the sense that I am trying to be helpful to those outside. If I do not ask the questions here and receive acceptable answers, if the Bill is not clarified, and if Hansard does not record it, those people will be asking the questions and the Minister can be helpful in answering them here.

I am intrigued with subsection 6A(3) which states: A prescribed occupation is such occupation as may for the time being be prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph … ". That is the answer to the first question that I asked, and we now come to the second question. The Minister must have ideas of the type of people, occupation and work or calling capable of being defined in that way. I am asking the Minister to be helpful.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Somers

Is this not another case where the whole problem would be solved by the insertion of the word "Christian" of which we appear to fight so shy nowadays?

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Following on from the remarks made by the noble Lord opposite, I should like to ask what is in my noble friend's mind in respect of paragraph (4) of the amendment. It appears to say that however large a pension is now being paid to a member of a religious community, he shall still receive exemption from the community charge. It is not unknown for people who have had a successful career in the world, as a result of which they have retired with a substantial pension, to spend their declining years in a religious community. That is not an unusual phenomenon. However, it seems ridiculous that if a large pension were being paid to such a person he should be exempted from the charge. Will my noble friend consider putting a limit on this and excluding it only where the pension is of fairly modest dimension?

Baroness Faithfull

Members of the Committee will remember that a Question was asked about the position of Scientologists and Moonies. It was decided by the Charity Commission that they were registered charities. Would the term "relevant religious community" apply to organisations such as the Scientologists and the Moonies which are charitable institutions?

Lord Stallard

I am concerned with the Simon Community which is a mission for the caring of those on Skid Row. They are probably the most unfortunate people within the community. Those who no one else wants to help are helped by the Simon Community. I suppose that it is a quasi-religious organisation; it has the backing of many religious leaders and bodies. It practices voluntary poverty in the same way as do many religious organisations. Its workers receive £10 a week pocket-money. It is dependent on no public funds but relies wholly on charitable organisations and on collections to provide funds. Does the community come into that category?

It operates in four boroughs and moves from one to the other offering different levels of assistance in different places. Most of its clients do not qualify for DHSS benefits. One can see them in any main-line railway station, underneath many of the arches and in all kinds of places. They do not understand the DHSS let alone qualify for it. However, under the Bill they will all be liable to pay the community charge. Obviously the Simon Community are most concerned that the charge would cripple it in a borough such as Camden. I was surprised that in the previous debate the Minister could not give examples because I thought that everyone knew about Camden. He should have been able to say that, for whatever reason, its poll tax will be in the region of £760, £780, £800 or £880. One can take one's pick according to the paper one reads.

However, it will certainly be up to £3-plus a week, so that the community operating in those circumstances will be absolutely crippled unless it receives an exemption. I should like the Minister to consider whether, within the orbit of his amendment, he can grant the exemption that will be so necessary if the community can carry on the task which no one else wants to do but is nonetheless very important.

Lord Carter

There is an area which I believe is unclear and perhaps the noble Earl can help. In the Catholic Church there are examples of members of a religious community who are running a parish. They are not living in a community but are members of a community. I understand that the intention is not to exclude the minister or vicar who has an income and who has not taken a vow of poverty. Therefore one could have a situation where there are two parishes alongside each other; one is run by a member of the secular clergy who will be liable to the poll tax; and the one next door will be run by a member of a religious community who is not in his community but is detached to run the parish, who will be exempt from the poll tax. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether or not that is the case.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has appeared because yesterday we were discussing various communities, which may not have been religious communities, which were perhaps working with more difficult people, performing a more demanding job than some of the religious communities. I am a Catholic and a Christian, but why should a religious community which may be living in more comfort and with more money than some of the communities about which we were speaking last night which are dealing with AIDS and drug abuse and other problems, be exempt when the others are not? If the noble Lord, Lord Rodney, was here he would be quite horrified to hear that the Moonies might be exempt. I suggest that the two Ministers should get together and take away this amendment and look at it along with last night's amendments.

The Lord Bishop of Leicester

I am grateful to the Minister for bringing forward this amendment. I speak with particular interest as chairman of the Church of England's Advisory Council for Relations between Bishops and Religious Communities. Therefore, I was expecting some of the questions which have been posed about definitions and perhaps I may be able to offer some guidance on a few of those points, although further definition will be required.

I believe that to insert the word "Christian" would be rather offensive to most Christians. The Minister said that there had been consultations with Buddhists. Christians are now very much aware that we are living in a multi-faith Britain and do not seek any privilege to be apportioned to them simply because they are Christians. In a related way, we do not see this as anything comparable to the community charge being paid by ministers of religion. Ministers of religion are supported and have money at their disposal in a way in which members of a religious community living under a vow of poverty do not.

The way in which a parish priest who is a member of a community is supported varies from community to diocese and to some extent between the Anglican and Roman communities. However, in justice, it should not be too difficult to find a solution whereby a man or woman who is in a job which has a stipend or source of payment attached to it should be liable for a charge.

There is the question of the sects. The fear that people who are much distrusted by the public at large might, by calling themselves religious, become exempt would not be solved by using the word "Christian", because the majority of them also call themselves Christians, and rather than defining the word "religion" one would have to define the word "Christian" which, in the end, might be more embarrassing. Therefore perhaps I may thank the Minister for the work which he has already put into this and encourage him to take a positive view of all the pertinent comments which have been made about the difficulties of definition.

Baroness Blatch

I want to support the amendment brought forward by the Minister but I am concerned about the possibility of a technical loophole, for example, for the Moonies. I believe that the word "and" at the end of paragraph 6A(1)(a) which states: he is a member of a relevant religious community, and (b) he has no income or capital", probably covers the point raised by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Technically, many of the Moonies and members of such sects operate as a communal entity and therefore, individually, may claim to have no money, but as a collective organisation it is possible that they have a great deal of money. Therefore, under these rules all the individual members may be exempt but the sect itself is very wealthy. I believe that we all want to support this amendment but we are really talking about monks and nuns, and would like to see a form of words in which they are included but which positively excludes sects such as the Moonies.

Lord Craigmyle

My noble friend has been bombarded with all sorts of questions about this, but they are all questions around the periphery of the matter. I am sure that Members of the Committee would not wish him to receive the impression that we are all carping at him. We are all grateful, as I am sure are all religious communities throughout the land, for the introduction of this amendment.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful for the opportunity to explain a little further the amendment which has been the subject of much discussion. As the right reverend Prelate reminded the Committee, the discussions were with the Church's main committee, which not only represents the Christian and Jewish religions but also Buddhist organisations.

The requirements of the amendment have deliberately been drawn tight because we believe that it is sufficient to exempt all those who are members of genuine religious communities. I am glad to say that the Churches believe that that is right and, indeed, agree with the definition in this amendment.

It may be helpful if I sum up the amendment as being one to cater for the situation of monks and nuns. That is why it has deliberately been drawn tight. There has been some talk of Moonies and the Church of Scientology. Simply because the Church of Scientology is a charity does not necessarily mean that it will qualify for this exemption, because the exemption is tightly drawn. For example, if a Moonie were to take a vow of poverty and devote himself to prayer or education and renounce all worldly goods—and I stress the word "all"—he would qualify for this exemption. I very much doubt whether many or indeed any Moonies would be prepared to go that far to claim exemption from the community charge. Indeed, if Moonies were to go that far, the Government could take credit for singlehandedly reforming that sect!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am delighted to hear the Minister's intentions, but the amendment does not say, "renouncing all worldly goods". It says: no income or capital of his own and is dependent on the community concerned for his material needs". Those parents who complain about their sons and daughters being taken away by the Church of Scientology, among other things, complain that they devote all their financial resources to that Church. I am not at all convinced that the Minister has shown how he can avoid them qualifying under this clause.

The Earl of Caithness

I am interested in what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said and it is a point at which I should like to look. We believed that we had covered the situation, as did the Church's main committee. However, the noble Lord has cast doubts. I cast doubts on one of his definitions yesterday and I believe he realised that there was another way to look at it. Perhaps he would allow me to look again at this point.

I should like to cover the point raised by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter on pensions when he spoke of the possibility of those very few monks or nuns who might have substantial pensions. Our proposed exemption assumes that all those monks or nuns in employment or with pensions will have taken vows of poverty and will therefore pass over the income they receive. That was the point that my noble friend Lady Blatch raised.

6 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

If that be so, why is it necessary to have sub-paragraph (4) disregarding the pension? Either there will be a pension, and in those circumstances I suggest that the exemption should be limited in respect of the amount of the pension, or, as my noble friend says, if it is not going to apply to anyone who has a pension why on earth is it necessary to put in sub-paragraph (4)?

Lord Renton

Before my noble friend answers, it would appear that the Government are legislating on the basis of an assumption which may not be universal.

Lord Sandford

Perhaps I may also add my voice to the misgivings of my noble friend. My noble friend intends to be generous, and his move is obviously welcome for genuine religious communities. However, it seems to me that, as worded at the moment, the amendment makes it quite possible now for me to wait until one retires on a good pension, finds a number of colleagues with whom one is ready to pool one's resources, devote oneself to prayer and contemplation and one is then exempt from the community charge. Is that really what is intended?

The Earl of Caithness

My noble friend is ingenious. That is certainly not what is intended. Indeed, I shall make sure that that intention is not fulfilled. I say to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that the reason we have sub-paragraph (4) is this. It is to prevent a situation where, for a period in his life, someone may have worked and received a pension before entering a proper and relevant religious community and then being told that because he had worked and received a pension, he was liable to the community charge even though he had taken the vow of poverty and said that he would not receive his pension or would pass it on to the religious organisation.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I do not follow my noble friend's argument. Either the person concerned has no pension (in which case the sub-paragraph is irrelevant) or the sub-paragraph must be taken as a modification—the point which my noble friend Lady Blatch did not understand—of sub-paragraph (1)(b). The noble Lord cannot have it both ways.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

There is one point which seems relevant in relation to any attempt to define what is a religious community of which people approve, and one of which they do not. It would be helpful if the Minister indicated that the Government have no intention of trying to redefine what is a religion or a charity as regards this schedule.

The Earl of Caithness

Having dealt a little with charities while I was at the Home Office, I know full well the difficulties that that would entail. That is a subject which is being looked at in the reports on charities which have been recently undertaken. Far be it for me today to interfere with that good work.

In reply to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I do not believe that I am trying to have it both ways, but I shall read with care what my noble friend said. I understand the concern of the Committee that we get this matter absolutely right. I hope that the Committee will accept this amendment because it has been agreed with the main committee of the Churches and between now and another stage we shall have further discussions with the right reverend Prelate and his committee to make sure that we cover the points of concern that the Committee has raised.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The final words of the Minister are very welcome because it is clear that with the very best of intentions he and his colleagues, and those whom he has consulted, genuinely thought that they had anticipated possible escape holes and routes. Despite that, from all sides of the Committee—genuinely from a non-partisan point of view and on a basis of curiosity—a number of points have emerged. It would have been a great pity if the Minister had stood by those words as being the definitive ones.

The Minister is without commitment inviting us to accept this amendment on the basis that at the next stage there will be some modifications to the amendment which will take into account the genuine points which have been raised. That is a very helpful attitude.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 29: Page 81, line 19, at end insert ("and (c) he is in receipt of income less than £15,000 per annum").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 29, I speak also to Amendment No. 30. Again, we require understanding and clarification from the Minister. The Committee is well aware that there are great disparities between those who either pay the poll tax or part of it and those who, in our view, ought to pay considerably more towards the financing of local government.

The amendment has two aims. Schedule 1 relates to exemptions from the personal community charge.

On page 81, under the sub-heading, "Patients in homes", we find: A person is an exempt individual on a particular day if at any time on the day—

  1. (a) he has his sole or main residence in a residential care home, nursing home or hostel, and
  2. (b) he is receiving care or treatment (or both) there".

We are puzzled that despite the financial wherewithal of that individual, in that place, he or she will be exempt from paying the poll tax, but that there will be others in different circumstances, perhaps in the same condition, who have to pay the poll tax.

For example, there may be a person who has the same malady, the same condition, the same need for treatment, but who is receiving it at home and in that case the poll tax would have to be paid. Someone has to minister to that person's needs. Therefore, the worker in the home will have to pay the poll tax. I use the phrase—it is not clumsy—that the rich person or the person with good means will not be paying but the ordinary worker will.

If, for a variety of reasons, a person declines to go into a residential home—perhaps he cannot afford it—and he is being treated at home, not only will he have to pay the poll tax but his relatives will have to pay the tax, too. We believe that there is an anomaly here. I am not arguing one way or the other, but for equity. In response to the amendment, the Minister may tell us that we have it right, that a person, whatever his means, provided he conforms with the words in the Bill (namely, that he is receiving treatment in one of the homes) will not pay the poll tax, but that another person in the same condition, receiving treatment at home, will have to pay the poll tax. In those circumstances, I believe that, in equity, the Minister must agree that there is an injustice.

The first part of our amendment says that there should be some limit, some level of income, below which the current part of the Bill will stand—an exemption—but above which there will not be an exemption. We suggest that the figure should be £15,000. Subparagraph (c) says: he is in receipt of income less than £15,000 per annum". It may be argued that £15,000 is the wrong figure but we believe that it takes into account a number of considerations. For example, besides making normal payments someone may have to keep up a home outside the residential home. We believe that such factors should be taken into account.

The Minister is an assiduous reader of what happens in another place. He will certainly have had his attention drawn to the words of his honourable friend Mr. John Butterfill, the Member for Bournemouth West. During the Committee stage on 28th January he said at col. 175 of the Official Report: There is considerable anxiety in my constituency about residential homes. The number of residential homes has increased, especially in south-coast resorts, and it is a matter of contention in my constituency that under the law as it stands they have been excluded from rates. That has had adverse effects. First, it has resulted in the diminution of the amount produced by rates for the local authority. Secondly, and more importantly for a resort, it has meant that properties that formerly were boarding houses or small hotels have become rest homes because they are not liable for rates and thus are more profitable". These are complex problems to resolve, but the Bill is not of our making. This aspect of the Bill does not have our approval. We are trying to make it more sensible and a little less inequitable, particularly in comparison with those who live outside. I hope that the Minister will say something helpful along those lines.

Our second amendment seeks to insert the words: The Secretary of State shall reimburse the owner of any residential care home, nursing home or hostel for all costs incurred by them in collecting any charges due under (c) above". That refers to administration, keeping books and so on in respect of the £15,000. We do not see why a business should bear the costs of administering this aspect of the clause. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

Paragraph 8 is fairly widely drawn. There is no doubt that it would cover residential care homes or nursing homes where the fees are fairly high. Presumably it is intended not to cover those places so much as places where people of slender means are cared for, especially in old age. That could happen to any of us one of these days. The amendment has at least served the purpose of enabling us to consider what is to apply to people of substantial means who are cared for in—I use two of the expressions—residential care homes and nursing homes.

The amendment refers to income of less than £15,000. We heard yesterday that the average industrial wage is £220 a week. My arithmetic shows me that that adds up to £11,440 a year. Whatever his intentions—and I appreciate the view that he has expressed—the noble Lord has inserted in his amendment a relatively high limit in terms of present money values. Therefore I do not think that I could expect my noble friend on the Front Bench to accept the amendment. On the other hand it gives an opportunity for the Government to declare their hand with regard to those people of substantial means who pay quite high fees to be cared for in these homes and still have some income left over. Within the philosophy of the Bill one would expect them to make some contribution to local government services even though they are not in the position of enjoying them quite to the full.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My noble friend Lord Renton has explained the very wide nature of paragraph 8. As I understand this provision—and no doubt my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to enlighten me—this is one of the points where a different method of meeting the charge is being adopted. The building will be rated. The charges to the patient, where there are charges, will include an amount towards running the building, including the non-domestic rate. This is a sensible arrangement whereby in some respects a collective charge will be paid through the non-domestic rate machinery.

In the case of a charitable home there will be an exemption. However, I would not expect to find people with incomes of £15,000 or more being taken into charitable homes. Therefore there is a perfectly clear and logical reason for what is in the Bill. Wealthy patients in nursing homes which are not charities but are run as businesses will be paying the national non-domestic rate and the amount will be reflected in the charges that patients have to pay to the home. It would be quite inappropriate if long-stay patients in these establishments find themselves paying the individual community charge.

In the case of a charitable home, if the exemption applies, there will be no non-domestic rate. The same applies to the patients. They will not be paying the community charge. The contribution will be from individuals in the appropriate form. I recognise that in those circumstances there will not be the direct payment which, as it were, closes the loop of accountability, but in terms of sheer practicality this is a sensible way of doing it. The noble Lord's point is misconceived. What is proposed is a sensible way of dealing with the matter. In a sense it is a derogation from the precise principle of the Bill, but it shows the flexibility of the Government in having regard to the practicalities of collecting the tax. In those circumstances, I hope that my noble friend will not feel it right to accept the amendment.

As to the question of cost, people have always had to pay their rates. Homes and hostels, unless they are charities, have had to reflect that in their management costs. That has been part of the cost of running a home. It does not seem to me appropriate that there should be a special case. This is an example of a sensible and pragmatic way of trying to make the Bill work.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, meant an income of less than £15,000 gross or net. If he meant £15,000 gross, that is not a very high income, especially as it is not unusual for the cost of living in one of the homes to be in the region of £250 a week. I have just done a little arithmetic and £250 multiplied by 52 comes to £13,000. So if it were gross, that person would not even have enough left to pay the cost of the home.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I moved the amendment and we had it in mind as a gross figure. We had experience of the £250. In Enfield where I live amounts in excess of £300 a week are being charged, which are not borne wholly by the social security department. Those are the charges being made. The figure of £15,000 is appropriate. I should be interested if the Minister could explain precisely the relativity of an individual who is exempt from paying the community charge and yet, according to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will be paying the community charge—that is, a portion of the global sum paid on the business. I should like the Minister to deal with that point.

Baroness Blatch

I am interested in the interpretation put on Clause 5 by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, because if that interpretation is right I should certainly wish to support it. However, I am minded to agree with at least the question mark raised by my noble friend Lord Renton because, as I understand it, an individual who has sole residence on a particular day and who is receiving care or treatment is exempt and the means of an individual are not at all taken into account. I believe that the whole thrust of this Bill is that if someone is able to meet the community charge, he should do so, and the cost should be ameliorated only if his means are such that they require to be ameliorated by the rules set down. So, having heard my noble friend Lord Jenkin, I am not clear about the precise meaning of this clause and I welcome elucidation by the Minister.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

On the general point of Clause 8, many people who are being cared for in the community are getting respite care. Two people whom I visit spend six weeks at home and then three weeks in respite care. I do not think the places where they go come under the definition of a nursing home, a hostel or a residential care home. Originally they were small hospitals in Birmingham which were closed down and then came under the social services department, so they are not the normal type of nursing home or residential home.

These people are spending a considerable time each year in a caring position, and not in a nursing home as defined in the Bill, and the rest of the time at their own home. The difficulties arise when they claim social security benefits, because as soon as they go into respite care their social security is stopped as they are not being looked after at home. Will the same apply in the case of the poll tax? They will have to pay it at home, whatever the amount, but can they have it stopped when they go in for respite care, because their social security money will have stopped in the process?

Lord Ross of Newport

I put my name to this amendment because in my part of the world there are over 90 homes and goodness knows how many nursing homes and we have planning restrictions on any further developments. It seems to me that there is a loophole here, where people with extreme wealth can dodge paying poll tax, and I do not think that they should be allowed to get away with it. I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that there will be an extra charge on them through the rates being paid by the home in which they are resident, but what is their main residence? We know that they 'can go in for a considerable amount of time, can then be looked after by the family and then go back in again.

I do not know whether the figure should be £15,000. I think that this amendment should be read with Amendment No. 34, where we put a figure below which people should not pay anything at all, which coincides with the Government's recent decision on social security benefits. But there is a loophole. We have been discussing community service volunteers receiving £16 a week paying poll tax, so let us look at the other side of the scale and make sure that these people who are able to pay, and should be paying, do not escape paying by going into a nursing home or a residential care home, for I know very well that many people are in those places at the present time.

Lord Monson

I understand the purpose of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and have qualified sympathy with it. But is it not dangerous to insert into an Act of Parliament a fixed monetary amount of annual income in an era when the long-term rate of inflation is still ranging between 4 and 5 per cent., even under this Government? Heaven knows what it might be under any other government. Would it not be preferable to refer instead to 1.5 times average annual earnings or possibly, as my noble friend Lady Saltoun has pointed out, 1.75 times average annual earnings?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to say that this is a probing amendment. This is an illustration. The alternative formula which has been proposed would certainly be acceptable to us.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

There is just one small point that I want to make in reply to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. He said that, because people in residential care homes are being charged the business rate in their fees, then this amendment should not apply. However I point out that there are also people who have a long-term stay in hotels. They wish to stay in a hotel and they pay high fees for staying in a hotel. Those high fees are reflected in the amount that they pay to the hotel for staying there, but they will still have to pay the community charge. It seems to me that on those grounds and under those circumstances the argument which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, used falls to the ground. Therefore there is merit in what my noble friend is suggesting.

I must confess that the more I look at this Bill, and the more I see the amendments that are made to it, the more my mind boggles and the more convinced I am that my original view and my original instincts about the Bill were right. As I have said previously this afternoon, this community charge will cause more anomalies than were ever evident in the rating system.

It occurs to me that if I went into a nursing home and left my wife at home, as presumably under this Bill I am responsible for paying her poll tax, by going into a nursing home and having less than £15,000 a year, I should not only not have to pay my own poll tax but should not have to pay my wife's poll tax either. I do not know whether I am right about that, but that is what has occurred to me during this debate. Therefore that is another anomaly to which we may need to come back at some later stage. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply.

The Earl of Caithness

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has seized on what he believes is an anomaly in the Bill, which is that a few relatively well-off people who are being cared for in nursing homes and similar institutions will nevertheless not be subject to the personal community charge. I must say that I was a little surprised by what some noble Lords have said, because I must remind the Committee that it was not originally the Government's plan to exempt those who are being cared for in nursing homes. All would have had to pay the personal community charge. That was the position when the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill reached your Lordships' House a year or so ago. Strong respresentations were then made by all sides of the Chamber, including the Benches opposite, that those people being cared for in this way should be exempt. The Government subsequently agreed to take the matter away and consider it. Having done so, we accepted that as it was already planned to exempt long-stay hospital patients, so it would be right to exempt those being cared for in nursing homes. Accountability could not reasonably be expected to operate for many—although by no means all—of those individuals. The decision was welcomed in this place when it was announced and it has now become law in Scotland. However, it seems that now Members of the Committee are not quite so sure about it.

I do not think that we can attempt to pick and choose between those people in nursing homes in the way the amendment seeks to do. I say that for two reasons. The first is that if the criterion is accountability—as we believe it should be—then the income of the individual is immaterial. Secondly, to operate the system suggested by the amendment would be an immensely complicated undertaking. In order to ascertain which individuals in nursing homes had annual incomes in excess of £15,000—a very small proportion, I suspect—the registration officer would have to investigate in detail the incomes of all those people being cared for in such homes. Of course that would lead us to the local income tax arguments that were discussed yesterday, which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, found so unattractive. It is possible that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, finds this amendment, and Amendment No. 34, so attractive because it is a back-door method to local income tax.

The amendment is not a realistic proposition: either there is an exemption or there is not. If the Labour Party, on reflection, do not believe that people being cared for in nursing homes should be exempt, then they must put forward an amendment to that effect at Report stage. Otherwise, they must accept that a handful of relatively wealthy individuals may benefit from exemption, as indeed they would if exemptions had been given to all those who are physically disabled.

I fear that my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding has on this one rare occasion misunderstood the position. He suggested that homes will be left in rating because their residents are being exempted from the community charge. In fact, we cannot leave such homes in rating because almost all of them (including those run commercially) receive a 100 per cent. rate relief at present. When we agreed to the exemption, we felt that we could not put such homes back into rating because of the considerable extra burden that would be placed on those who run them. Therefore, we come back to the dilemma that we either accept that there will be some, although relatively few, who will benefit from the exemption as it stands in the Bill (which Members of this place wanted and agreed that the Government should make to the Scottish Bill last year); or we must head down the road towards local income tax which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, would be the first to welcome but which Members of the Committee did not take kindly to last night.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Will the noble Earl give some intimation in regard to the point that I raised?

The Earl of Caithness

I apologise to the noble Baroness; I did indeed mean to reply to her. However, I cannot answer her in detail on this occasion because I should like to study the point carefully. However, as I understand the position, it would depend on where the sole main residence of the person was. Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness on the matter.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The Minister is inviting us to look at a situation where we have an establishment—a nursing home—inside of which there is a patient. The patient is a rich man but he pays no poll tax. He is being administered to by the workers in the nursing home who are poor people, but they must pay the poll tax. If the Minister believes that that situation is equitable and constitutes accountability, it is certainly not acceptable to those of us on this side of the Committee.

The Minister fairly points out that Members of the Committee on this side wanted those who are residents in nursing homes to be exempt. There is nothing wrong with that. However, what is wrong is that at the same time—we can argue about the figures, and I do not accept that there are only a few people—there will be rich people who will escape paying the poll tax, despite the premise of accountability. There are not only relatively and comparatively poor people, but really poor people who work in nursing homes and who will have to pay the poll tax. I think that that is wrong.

It is no good the Minister saying to us that we should come forward with an amendment to put the situation right. We are really saying to the Minister, "It is your Bill; it is the country over which you have the remit to rule equitably and fairly and you must take into account that if, in practice, that is what the situation turns out to be, then you must put it right."

The other matter that we consider to be absolutely wrong is this. There is nothing wrong with a person who needs to be nursed in a nursing home—rich or poor—being exempt; but what about the person who decides that they cannot afford to go into a nursing home—or perhaps does not wish to—and yet needs the same type of treatment in their own home? They pay the poll tax and their relatives, who will look after them, will also have to pay it; it is inequitable.

The Minister has given us no solace or comfort. However, it is not a matter upon which we are prepared to divide the Committee tonight. Nevertheless, I assure the Minister that it is something about which we feel most strongly. It is wrong.

The Earl of Caithness

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way on the matter. However, in view of the valid point that he made about accountability, I wonder whether he would like to return to the position that we were in when we introduced the Scottish Bill to this place?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

No. There is no justification for the Minister trying to draw my noble friend in that way. He is quite right in saying that we welcome the change; we are merely trying to refine and improve it. If that is not being helpful and trying to revise what is increasingly becoming clear to be a ludicrous way of flouncing local government, I do not know what is. We are trying to be helpful within the terms of the Bill as put forward by the Government. The Committee has accepted the principle of the Bill, so let us try and improve it.

If the Minister has an answer to the accusation made by my noble friend that we may land up with rich people in homes being exempt, whereas the poor people who serve them will have to pay the community charge, then let him give us that answer. It is the Government's responsibility, not ours.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I second the remarks made by my noble friend and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 30 not moved.]

Viscount Rochdale moved Amendment No. 31: Page 81, line 37, at end insert—

("Staff in Residential Care and other Homes

.A person is an exempt individual on a particular day if he has sole or main residence in—

  1. (a) a residential care home, nursing home or hostel, or
  2. (b) a hereditament which is exempt under paragraph 15 of schedule 5 to this Act
and he is employed in that home, hostel or hereditament.").

The noble Viscount said: Perhaps it would be helpful to the Committee if, when I move the amendment tabled in my name, I mention the main difference between my amendment and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, which was discussed a short time ago. The noble Baroness's amendment dealt entirely with volunteers; my amendment deals with staff who have some degree of salary and who are not volunteers.

The amendment I put forward to the Committee refers to staff who are resident in establishments owned and run by charities for the benefit of disabled people. As it stands, the Bill provides that such staff would be liable to pay the community charge. As I shall explain in a few moments, that would incur extra costs to the charity itself and would divert charitable funds which should be used for the main charitable purposes for which the whole organisation has been set up.

In my view, there are two types of institutions which would come within the broad picture that I am trying to illustrate. At one end of the scale would be residential homes, care homes and nursing homes, in which the full-time residents would be the disabled visitors themselves, with only a few of the staff actually living in as residents. At the other end of the scale there would be resident visitors who would only be in the institutions for short periods of time—say a week at a time—whereas the staff would be permanent residents within those homes. Both are now covered under the Rating (Disabled Persons) Act 1978 and receive 100 per cent. rebate.

The Bill seems to indicate that the Government are continuing relief on buildings so that they will not have to pay the new non-domestic rate charge. They are continuing the exemption on disabled residents but, according to my understanding, they are not continuing it on the staff.

Perhaps I may give an example of the kind of institution that I have particularly in mind in the last category. There is an institution in the North of England that describes itself as an adventure centre for the disabled. Nearly all the individuals who come there come in wheelchairs. They come from all over the country. Occasionally some even come from overseas. They come for one week; they come to get country interests and to learn country pursuits. They have to be instructed so that they can take part in the many activities open to them. These are activities such as canoeing, other kinds of boating, riding, swimming, bird watching and even—the Committee may be surprised to hear—a degree of mountaineering. The effect on disabled people who would otherwise be sitting in chairs in their homes, wherever they come from, is often remarkable. Here they are able to take part in what must have been to them undreamt of activities. They go home with added confidence and able to compete better in the world at large. They go home also often feeling that they can seek a job, and frequently obtain one.

For disabled people to be able to come for a week and take part in such activities, it is essential for them to have available to instruct and to look after them very experienced staff. That is why the staff must live full time in the home that I have in mind to gain the experience. It is obvious that the staff must win the confidence of the disabled people whom they instruct. They must be sympathetic. Above all, they must ensure that there is safety in all the things that they do, and hence the amendment.

The pay of these very experienced instructors, who stay for a long time, is moderate. Their lodging and board are free and their pay is therefore low. Under the Bill, they would have to pay the community charge. I know that the trustees in question have decided that, if this were so, the charity would have to make good to the staff the community charge that they had paid. The extra amount paid would therefore have to be grossed up to meet the additional tax of the staff concerned. The charge on such an institution has been calculated to be over £4,000 a year, which a modest sized charity can ill afford. The money must either be taken from other charitable purposes or be levied on the disabled people. It adds to the running costs of the charity if the visitors themselves are not charged.

Members of the Committee who know about such activities will realise how important it is to give confidence to disabled people. The amendment therefore extends what is already in the Bill for residential care homes to cover the kind of situation that I have described. I very much hope—I am full of hope—that my noble friend will give sympathetic responses to what I have said and will look with favour on the amendment.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I support the amendment. I have as much hope as the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, and indeed some experience of having that hope dashed in the past. We shall have to wait and see.

The burden of the amendment concerns the effect upon a charity. The tab will be picked up by the charity. The Government have been fair in retaining the exemptions that existed under the rating system so that they will apply to a building or institution under the new system. However, they have the fetish of requiring accountability by the individual. In the pursuance of that, if an individual pays, the charity will lose. The case referred to is one of considerable size and importance, and we know the relevance of this work. There are thousands of such places, but even if one aggregated them the amounts of money involved would not be enormous.

We want to get down to the nitty-gritty of the impact and consequences of the big decisions, and the big decisions were taken yesterday by Members of the Committee, who declined to ask another place to consider yet again the question of ability to pay. Here we are speaking of ability to pay. The big impact of the ability to pay is written small here: it is the ability of the charity to bear the consequences. I hope that the Minister will say something that is not only sympathetic but also meets the point. The point may be met in a way that differs from the precise words of the amendment, but the spirit is there. Perhaps the Minister will accept that the consequences of the Bill as drafted will be damage to a charity. I hope that he will say how that can be avoided so that, even if individuals have to pay, a mechanism can be established whereby a charity will not have to pay. If this cannot be done, a charity with much anguish will say that the standard of living of its employees, who are doing so well, must necessarily fall to maintain what I believe is a wrong premise.

The Earl of Caithness

I am sure that all Members of the Committee appreciate the good work that is being done by those who work in nursing homes and residential care homes, particularly perhaps live-in staff who may need to be on call even during their off-duty hours. Indeed my noble friend Lord Rochdale gave us a stirring example of such people just now.

But I think that it would not be appropriate to translate that appreciation into an exemption from the personal community charge. If we were to do so it would be doubtless rightly asked of us to grant similar exemptions for others—those on lower incomes and those also engaged in the caring professions who did not benefit from the exemption.

The exception for those being cared for in nursing homes and residential care homes was agreed to by the Government after pressure during the passage of the Scottish legislation through this Chamber. The Government agreed to an exemption because they accepted that accountability could operate to only a very limited extent for many of those being cared for in such circumstances. The same argument does not, I believe, apply to the staff of the nursing homes concerned. They play a full and active role in the community. They vote at local elections and they benefit from local services. Therefore I simply do not believe that an exemption could be justified.

I do of course accept that people on low incomes may need assistance in paying the community charge. However the correct way to give that assistance is through the rebate system, which I have explained in some detail to the Committee already.

Where I had difficulty in following my noble friend was when he said that the charity would suffer. I do not quite see how the charity would suffer, because this is a personal community charge for those who work at the charity. If the salary and the income of those who are working for the charity in looking after the disabled is below a certain level then the means of that person are taken into account and the necessary rebates can be granted. That is the right way of focusing the relief on the individual. Therefore there would be no extra cost for the charity.

Viscount Rochdale

I am a little disappointed at what my noble friend has said. I should like him to go a little further on the question of exemptions. When he was about to sit down he said that he was in some doubt as to what I meant when I said that the charity would suffer. The charity would suffer because it would have to increase the salaries of the individuals concerned by a certain amount. Those amounts would cause the individuals to pay increased tax. All that would have to be added up and made good to the individuals by the charity. Therefore the charity would suffer to that extent. The figure I gave in the particular case that I mentioned was something like £4,000.

That could be dealt with either by taking that amount of money out of charitable funds, which would reduce the service that the charity was giving to the inhabitants by that amount, or by adding it to the fees that the residents have to pay when they come for their week's course.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful to my noble friend for clarifying that matter. I think that I understand his point a little more clearly now. But again I would say that in our view that would be the wrong way of looking at the matter, because we believe that, as the basis of this charge is a personal community charge to the person, the income of that person will be taken into account and if it is below a certain level the rebate will be applicable to him or her.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I genuinely think that the Minister has not grasped the point. If the take-home pay of a worker in the home at the moment is, say, £100 a week, in future when the community charge has been dealt with and the rebates have been taken into account he will take home perhaps £98 or £95 a week.

We are arguing that the impost will diminish the income of the worker. We are saying that the Minister can say, as has been said before, that that is the worker's cost for participating in the new democracy. He has to pay and he has to be accountable. But, in the real world, when the workers say to their employers, "This has nothing to do with me but the impact of it is that I am £5 per week worse off", the good employer regardless of any other factor will say, "This lesson in democracy should not cost you £5 a week. I shall pick up the tab." If the employers do not do this there will be dissension, dissatisfaction and the possibility of a worker deciding to look for a job where he can earn a little more. In the real world, those are the real decisions that will be taken.

The Minister may say that that is wrong and that people should not bridge the gap, tiny as it may be. But I can tell the Minister that £1 or £2 to him or even to myself would not be missed. But there are people in the real world for whom the reduction of £1 or £2 is a real impost. There are employers who will say to those people that they will bear the cost rather than the workers concerned. That is the real world. It is not the world in which the Minister lives.

Viscount Rochdale

I do not intend to ask the Committee to divide on this issue. But I would ask my noble friend to give it further thought between now and Report to see whether something further can be done. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Lockwood moved Amendment No. 32: Page 82, line 26, at end insert— ("; and (c) the day does not fall within a period in which a person is temporarily residing, as a result of actual or threatened domestic violence, in a refuge established for that purpose, or in such other accommodation as prescribed by order made by the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment which I am moving seeks to exempt persons who are temporarily residing in homes or refuges established for the purpose of providing safety against actual or threatened domestic violence. In effect, the amendment will largely exempt women suffering from domestic violence who are residing in women's aid refuges.

However, I must say that the amendment is so worded that if it were ever felt that men were in need of such refuge and similar institutions were provided for men seeking refuge from domestic violence the amendment would cover them too. But in the course of my remarks I shall refer to women and to the women's aid refuges. At the present time there are about 200 such refuges in England and Wales providing accommodation for some 15,000 women and children a year.

These refuges are run by a voluntary organisation—Women's Aid England and Welsh Women's Aid—which provides a 24-hour crisis service. That is followed up by a high level of intensive care and support for the women in the refuges. Women in these circumstances are a very vulnerable group. They are living in temporary accommodation, having sought refuge from their own home in circumstances that are quite traumatic both for the women themselves and, where there are children, for the children too.

I am glad that the Minister has recognised some of the problems involved and I am grateful to him for having written to me setting out some of the arrangements that have already been made with the women's aid organisations. It has been decided, for example, as a result of the representation made, that battered wives will be allowed to register for the community charge without having their names made public. In that sense a certain amount of protection of anonimity is provided for them.

However, I must say to the Minister that the women's aid groups and Welsh Women's Aid in particular do feel that a much greater protection would be provided for the women if they were actually exempt from the community charge and not included on the register at all.

In his letter, the Minister also recognises that there are financial problems which such women will probably have to solve by relying on income support. Even if they come from homes which are not particularly poor—they might well come from homes which are reasonably well to do—it is probable that for a temporary period they will have no income in their own right. As I have said, the Minister recognises that and he has pointed out that, in such circumstances, women would be entitled to the 80 per cent. rebate. Income support would also reflect the additional 20 per cent. payment for the average community charge. That 20 per cent. may or may not cover the actual community charge. As we have already heard this afternoon, there will be areas where there will be gainers and also areas where the amount provided will not be sufficient to meet the actual community charge.

However, the point at issue is that such women are in temporary residence. They have left their homes and possessions behind. They may even have already paid the community charge for the home which they have left. They are being sheltered from violence and they need to be rehabilitated back into the community. The Women's Aid refuges are safe places where women can remain while they decide what steps they should take about legal proceedings, housing options and their future financial situation, including their future work prospects.

At the time they go into such a refuge, it will not be appropriate for women to be thinking of transferring their community charge and thinking in terms of their local accountability. That kind of thought will follow when women are resettled. In any case, transferring the community charge from the original address to the temporary refuge address may not be appropriate. Women may remain in a refuge for a very short time. At most, the time spent in refuges is usually a few months, during which the women sort themselves out and then move elsewhere.

Moreover, at such a time women are likely to be in a highly emotional state. It is unfair to impose too many responsibilities upon them. With the help of the workers in the refuge such women will need to settle children in school and make contact with the DHSS to establish a claim to income support. In many cases, that will be the first time that such women have had to seek DHSS support because of the type of homes that they have come from. Women may be involved with visits to social workers, solicitors, or even the courts. They will be in constant need of advice and counselling.

All those matters require a high level of care and support from the refuge, which, although different from the type of care provided in a residential nursing home, is in some respects equivalent. I suggest that it deserves recognition by an exemption from the charge. An additional factor is that such women will be temporary residents.

It is interesting that the Minister, in acknowledging that fact in his letter to me, has made a very significant point. He pointed out that the women's refuges are not going to be designated for the purposes of the collective community charge. He went on to say: In order to be designated a building must be used as the sole or main residence of individuals, most or all of whom reside there for short periods. This means that in practice women's refuges will not be designated since"— and I underline this— women who stay in refuges have their sole or main residences elsewhere".

That surely takes account of the argument of accountability which we have heard all afternoon. If those women have their main residence elsewhere—a home that they have just left or one which they are planning to set up and move into—then that is where their accountability should be called into play. Therefore, I suggest that that argument does not apply in the case of women in refuges.

From an administrative point of view, rather than expecting such women to transfer their responsibility for community charge first to the refuge and then to wherever they are moving, it would be more sensible and kinder to the women, and also more sensible from the point of view of registration officers who will have their administrative work added to as a consequence, to make an exemption.

I hope that the Minister will look kindly on the amendment. Last night a series of amendments were moved which had some similarities with this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who regrets that she is unable to be here to speak in support of the amendment this evening, brought up the question of women's refuges. I hope that the Minister will either be able to accept the amendment or assure me that he will give careful thought to the implications of what I have said. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

As my name also appears on the amendment, perhaps I may say a few words in support of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, has given a very full picture and I also wish to thank the Minister for writing to me. However, I feel that making women pay the personal community charge while they are in refuges adds an unwarranted burden and hassle at a time of great distress. They have many problems to resolve and many decisions to take. Surely arguments about accountability are inappropriate at a time of crisis in their lives.

The Earl of Caithness

I have listened carefully to what the noble Baronesses have said about women's refuges. Let me say straightaway that the Government share their concern about domestic violence and applaud the good work done by women's refuges.

However, the Government see no reason to grant a community charge exemption to women in refuges. There is another and more appropriate way of providing assistance by means of the rebate system. It may be of interest to the Committee to know that officials from my department and the Welsh Office met representatives of the Women's Aid Federation of England and the Welsh Women's Aid last November. As a result of the representations made, as the noble Baroness has said, we decided to allow battered women and other people who live under threat of violence to register for the personal community charge without making their names public.

Anyone who demonstrates to the registration officer that she or he might suffer violence if their name and address were made public would have their name and where appropriate their address omitted from the register extract which will be made available for public inspection. That is clear evidence of the Government's willingness to consider sympathetically representations made by or on behalf of women's groups.

An exemption for people staying in women's refuges would not however be appropriate. Schedule I to the Bill confers limited exemptions on those groups for whom local accountability cannot be said to operate—the severely mentally handicapped, prisoners and people receiving long-term care in hospitals, homes and hostels. Women in refuges cannot be said to fall into that category.

Of course I accept that many women in refuges will need help in paying the community charge. It may be of assistance to the Committee if I explain how we see the system working. Where a woman decides to leave her husband as a result of domestic violence, she may go to stay with friends or relatives or she may go to a refuge. At that point she is unlikely to have decided where she will live in the long term. In some cases she may decide to go back to her husband; in others the breach may, alas, be irreparable and she may, for example, apply to the local authority to be housed. However, at that stage there is no need for her to change the address at which she is registered for the personal community charge. She does not know where she may be living in a couple of weeks' time and the registration officer will not in those circumstances require her to do anything until matters have sorted themselves out.

However, in most cases, even if she remains registered at the marital home for the time being, she cannot expect her husband to provide for her or to pay the community charge. So as soon as she leaves the marital home she will need to go to the DHSS office, which will pay income support for her and her children. Entitlement to income support will automatically also entitle her to an 80 per cent. rebate on her community charge. Of course the income support will also include an amount in recognition of the 20 per cent. charge she will still have to pay.

To complete the picture I should say that if in due course she finds permanent accommodation of her own she will at that stage need to re-register for the personal community charge at that address. Unless she has income of her own she will of course continue to receive income support and an 80 per cent. rebate. As I have already mentioned, if she is still under threat of violence her name and new address will be omitted from the published extract of the community charges register so that her estranged husband will not be able to trace her from that source.

I hope that the explanation I have given meets the concerns expressed by the noble Baronesses and makes clear why we think all the legitimate worries about battered wives can be met without the need for an exemption.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I should be grateful if the Minister could help me. I listened very carefully to the range of facilities to which battered wives will have access or recourse. I did not detect in any of them anything which takes account of their special circumstances. The Minister told us that consultations had taken place. I am grateful for the fact not only that he told us but also that they took place and that they were meaningful. Did I detect that the net product of those discussions and of the Government's sympathy was the decision by the Government to provide anonymity in the event of their registering for the community charge? Was the Minister invited to provide more practical assistance than just sympathy? Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, will be able to tell us.

As we go through the Bill increasingly we shall come across groups of people for whom I feel great compassion. Yet what the Government have offered in this case to women in refuges is wholly inadequate to meet their needs. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, has suggested in the amendment that they need special treatment. I did not detect from what the Minister said that they were to receive anything special other than sympathy and anonymity.

Lord Peston

Perhaps I may also intervene at this stage. I was puzzled by the Minister's reply. The problem of women in refuges is a very small one in national terms but it is a major problem for the women concerned. The Minister's solution seems to be extremely bureaucratic and I cannot imagine why he would want to approach the problem in that way.

I should have thought that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said, many of the women concerned would not want to get involved with social security officers even if they had little or no income but would prefer to manage on their own. Yet it appears from the Minister's response that he wishes to push them into social security offices. I cannot imagine why he would want to do that.

The other question that I wish to ask him, which is of general significance, is whether the Government are seriously saying that they would go through the whole business of penalties if one of those women did not pay her community charge for one reason or another. Can we assume that in this case that whole section of the Bill which refers to penalties—which ends up with going to prison—would apply to those women? It seems to me that the whole thing is preposterous.

Since we understand that the Government are trying to look sympathetically on what one might regard as minor amendments—and it is certainly minor and does not infringe any fundamental principle—I cannot imagine why the Minister does not say that he will go away and think about it. It would help the Government not to levy the community charge in this situation because it would remove a problem for them.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

I am disappointed at the Minister's response. As I indicated, the women's aid groups feel that it would be much more helpful if women in refuges could be exempted. I know that women's aid centres will not be responsible for a collective community charge. However, I think that we have to accept that most of the care and responsibility for taking the women to the DHSS, telling them what to say and helping them, throughout rests with the women's aid centres. The very fact that there is an additional burden on them in the form of the community charge is a burden both on the women and the women's aid centres.

In response to the question asked by my noble friend, I should like to say that the women's aid centres have been very modest in their request to the Government. They have asked for this exemption. I accept that, as the Minister said, in some cases more than the total amount will be provided for the community charge for those women living in a low rated area and rather less than the community charge will be provided for those living in a higher rated area. I accept all that he has said and that the Government are attempting as far as they can to meet the request financially. However, it is the emotional problem which is involved and which we are asking the Government to take into account.

The Minister says that a woman has no need to register until it has been decided what she will do and whether she will go back to the matrimonial home or set up a new home. Before I decide what to do about this amendment, I should like his views. Is he really saying that while the woman is residing in the refuge she does not need to do anything about registering or changing her registration for community charge?

The Earl of Caithness

On that last point the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, is absolutely right. That is what I said. Her sole or main place of residence is not determined, because she may very well go back to her husband and the home which was her main or sole place of residence. If she moves or is rehoused by the local authority, she will have a new sole or main place of residence.

Baroness Lockwood

Then surely the Minister is meeting the objective of the amendment. The amendment asks for exemption while the person is in that refuge. If the Minister is now telling me that while the woman is there she will not be required to register and meet the community charge, then the point is covered.

The Earl of Caithness

I think that the noble Baroness and I are on absolutely the same rails until we come to the unfortunate situation in which the woman goes into the refuge. She does not have to change her main place of residence from her home to the refuge and back either to her home or elsewhere. The main or sole place of residence will remain that place where she was until she decides to change it. Notwithstanding that, she will still be liable to a personal community charge and the assistance that she will be given will come through the rebate system.

I should like to answer the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Graham and Lord Peston. I should make clear that when officials met representatives of the women's refuge organisations they were concerned on two counts: first, the fear that women would be traced and, secondly, the possibility of them having to pay the collective community charge at the refuge. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, we have met the women's organisations on both those points.

Certainly it is not the case that we are pushing women toward the DHSS. We look at the matter realistically and understand that women who find themselves in such circumstances with no income will inevitably have to seek support from public funds. The point I seek to make is that immediately they have received income support they will receive an 80 per cent. rebate.

In reply to the point about penalties made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I envisage that we shall have a long and interesting debate when we reach that point and I hope that the noble Lord will then be in his place.

Baroness Lockwood

I thank the Minister for his remarks. I should like to have the opportunity to read very carefully everything that he has said in order to see just how much difference there may be between us.

The Earl of Caithness

If, when she has read the Official Report, the noble Baroness would like to see me, of course I shall make time for her.

Baroness Lockwood

On those grounds, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 34: Page 82, line 26, at end insert— (". A person is an exempt individual on a particular day if at any time on that day he is in receipt of no income other than State benefits but excluding any earnings related benefits and his capital resources of less than £8,000.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to add to the list of exemptions under Schedule 1 an individual whose only source of income is state benefits and who has very limited capital resources. The Minister mischievously said that he thought that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, by adding his name to this amendment and the previous one moved by my noble friend Lord Graham, was using a backstairs method to bring in local income tax. That was a rather mischievous remark from the Minister. There is no such purpose behind the amendment, as he knows full well.

This amendment follows up the principle on which the Government have already moved forward by stating quite clearly that regulations will be brought in to give some relief from the community charge to individuals who have very low incomes. It may be asked why we have indicated a figure of £8,000 in the amendment as the limit for capital resources. One must bear in mind that that is a maximum figure and it may well be that the capital resources fall below £8,000.

The Government, through the mouth of the Prime Minister and other Ministers, have repeatedly stated that individuals should stand on their own feet and if necessary provide toward their own retirement. I should like to ask the Committee to consider two possible cases. First there is the example of a couple who are pensioners. They decided that they would save money so as not to be a burden upon their sons and grandsons in later life and could have their house repaired and have other jobs done in their home. They are pensioners and state benefit is their only source of income. They may be living in an area in which the community charge is high and they may have to pay two community charges. Are we suggesting that those individuals should eat into their capital in order to meet the full amount of the community charge? The second case illustrates circumstances which are not dissimilar to those of a neighbour friend of mine. He was a man who took early retirement and had a limited amount of money. He died and his widow is now a pensioner. In order to meet the community charge does she have to eat into the limited amount of money that her husband received when he took early retirement?

This amendment seeks to ensure that a person whose only source of income is state benefits and who has very limited capital resources which do not exceed £8,000 is included in Schedule 1 under the list of exemptions. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

I have already made the point several times, both at Second Reading and during this Committee stage, that we believe that a great deal of this Bill is about restoring accountability. Exempting income support recipients from the community charge would, we believe, severely reduce the extent to which that aim can be achieved. Each year, every adult, with very few exceptions, should receive a community charge bill setting out how much the local authority spends compared with its assessed need to spend and how that will affect the amount that people in that area will have to pay. As a result, those who receive a bill will be better able to judge the performance of the authorities in whose area they live.

There is no reason why people who are in receipt of income support should not receive a community charge bill. They use local services and they will have a say in the decisions of the local authority through the ballot box. They should also be aware of the cost of local services. In that respect they are no different from other adults who will be subject to the personal community charge.

Of course those on income support cannot be expected to pay their bills without assistance, but the answer is not to exempt them. We have said that those who are in receipt of income support will receive a maximum benefit of 80 per cent. of the community charge. They will receive a net bill for 20 per cent. of the community charge levied in their area. However, we have also made clear that income support levels will include an amount to help pay that remaining 20 per cent. The result will be that those on income support will not only receive a bill but, commensurate with their limited financial resources, will have some moderate exposure to the effect of variations in local spending.

In an area of modest spending the individual concerned will be in pocket. The amount provided in income support will be more than the 20 per cent. bill that he needs to pay. As spending grows the bill will gradually rise. Those not receiving rebates will be exposed to the full marginal cost of increases in spending. A rise of £1 per adult in spending will increase the community charge by £1. Those who are on income support will pay only 20p towards each additional £1 of local spending. However that will still play an important part in strengthening accountability.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, cited the case of a single pensioner. I am delighted to be able to say to him that, although I should need to consider in detail the circumstances that he mentioned, as a general rule 80 per cent. of all single pensioners will be better off under our proposed community charge than they are under the existing rating system.

Earl Russell

I speak in support of Amendment No. 34 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ross of Newport, who is unable to be present. I have listened with some puzzlement to the reply that has just been given to the Committee. It seems to me that the Government have created an enormous and complicated apparatus in order to achieve a very small and somewhat theoretical gain. There are to be rebates of 80 per cent. and there is money to be paid out of public funds in order that it may come back into public funds. That is a long, circular, laborious and expensive process. I understand that the Government themselves estimate that the housing benefit caseloads will increase by 18 per cent. as a result of the rebate scheme.

We are led to understand that all this is done in the name of the principle of accountability. I understand that that is a real principle, but in the real world principles have to exist together. It seems to me that this principle is being elevated to a very lonely eminence where it is dominating all other principles including that of practicality. Furthermore, the principle of accountability is being invoked in only a very limited context. It is being invoked only in the context of the amount of money that a local authority spends.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, last night referred to a local council doing well. It was fairly clear that she was referring specifically to the amount of money that a local council spends. A lot of people would take the principle of accountability a great deal more seriously if it were made clearer that the council is accountable for the quality of its services as well as for the size of its spending.

We find this complicated apparatus built up at great expense by a government constantly saying that they are concerned to save public money simply in order to assert the theoretical principle. Some of us feel that we have wandered into the more complicated part of the Athanasian Creed.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I wonder whether the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has ever served in a local authority. I am a member of a local authority. I welcome the idea of being more accountable to the local electorate. The first port of call for that accountability is the cost of services. I suspect that where the cost of services impacts on an individual that becomes the first hurdle. If the cost is excessive, the individual moves on to the question: is it producing value for money? A further judgment is therefore made not simply on cost but on whether or not the cost is producing a service that an individual considers is worth paying for. I do not believe that accountability stops on the bottom line of cost. It moves on to making judgments about the quality of service.

The Earl of Caithness

Perhaps I may respond to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The noble Earl has made it perfectly clear that he disagrees with the proposals in the Bill, and the accountability in which we believe. I cannot remember whether the noble Earl was here for the discussion last night on his party's proposal for a local income tax. That is not a very accountable tax and would be a great deal more costly to administer and a great deal more costly for most people to pay.

Lord Underhill

I am grateful for what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has said. However, the Minister has not made any comment upon the point in the amendment regarding capital resources. In view of statements that have been made by Ministers in the other place, can the Minister repeat the position with regard to capital resources held by an individual in relation to liability for community charge so that it is on the record? Does the Minister consider that our figure of an £8,000 limit is reasonable?

The Earl of Caithness

As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, knows, the tailoring of the community charge and the rebate is linked to the social security legislation which I believe sets out the position quite clearly.

Lord Underhill

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hesketh

Perhaps I may suggest that this is a suitable time to break for dinner. I suggest that we do not return before 8.35. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.