HL Deb 06 December 1989 vol 513 cc857-9

3.7 p.m.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the ruling by the police pay tribunal that police officers should be reimbursed that portion of their rent allowance attributable to the present rating system, they will reconsider their decision to set aside that ruling and will apply it to the community charge when this is introduced.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, final decisions on the police arbitration tribunal's award on rent allowance have not yet been taken.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he not aware, however, that the Police Federation is extremely concerned about this matter? Does he not agree that police confidence in this Government's obligation to honour recommendations in the Edmund-Davies Report, which was undertaken in 1979, is being seriously undermined? Does he not further agree that the change-over from a domestic rate system to the community charge is being used as an excuse to stand down from that obligation?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea. In fact, the Police Negotiating Board gave to the tribunal a problem. The tribunal made a recommendation and referred a number of points back to the Police Negotiating Board. When the Police Negotiating Board reaches a conclusion, those recommendations will be given to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. My right honourable friend took the opportunity of making it clear that he had certain reservations over the rent allowance and that it should not be assumed that the Home Secretary would always give effect to all the tribunal's decisions. That is to do with rent allowance and not the community charge.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, I wish to ask my noble friend this. If an employee—whether policeman, agricultural worker or charitable housing superintendent—has his community charge and the income tax upon it refunded, will 'there then be a further income tax on that income tax and further income tax on that income tax? Does he see any end to this inequitable spiral?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I tried to follow my noble friend in the spiral, but I got lost. I can only tell him that the community charge is based on different principles from rates. It is a personal commitment and it is not a property tax. As such, therefore, it has different effects in different places.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the Minister informing the House that the Home Secretary is keeping an open mind on this matter—the subject matter of the Question—and that it will not only be an open mind but a generous mind in regard to the police force?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has not yet made up his mind as to what should be done. The reason he has not yet made up his mind is that he has not received any recommendations from the Police Negotiating Board.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Moyne as to the number of times income tax will be levied on these refunds and on the refunds on them?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the rent allowance is tax free, effectively.

Earl Nelson

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the police accommodation allowance is in fact an allowance which is part of the conditions of service and for years now has been trumpeted in all recruitment advertisements and literature as being such? If the Government are minded to tamper—I use the word advisedly—with the rent allowance, does he not agree that there could in time be a recruiting problem? Equally—if I may continue—does he not agree that it could present local authorities with quite a problem since, if a number of officers who are presently buying their own accommodation were unable to do so because of the scrapping of the rent allowance, they would then have to offer them police accommodation? However, many local authorities have already sold off excess police housing stock.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Government are always conscious of the need to recruit policemen and do not wish to see anything happening which will adversely affect recruitment. My noble friend refers to the scrapping of the rent allowance. This is in fact replacement of the rent allowance with a housing allowance. In 1988-89 that rent allowance alone was worth £340 million. My right honourable friend has said that Her Majesty's Government do not wish to see any officer receiving less by way of housing allowance after 31st March 1990 than he or she was receiving by way of rent allowance and compensatory grant on that date.