HL Deb 05 April 1990 vol 517 cc1516-9

11.29 a.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

What costs will be incurred by extending to Scotland retrospectively the new limits for community charge liability in England and Wales announced by the Chancellor in his Budget Statement.

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

My Lords, none. The Government are not extending to Scotland retrospectively the new limits for community charge liability in England and Wales announced by the Chancellor. My right honourable friend intends to set up a temporary scheme outside the social security system to provide for special payments to those in Scotland who came into entitlement to community charge benefit as a result of the change in the rules. Such a scheme will require financial provision of up to £ 4 million to cover the cost of payments and administration costs.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in his statement which dealt with this matter the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he had forgotten all about Scotland? This has caused considerable resentment in Scotland. The Government's rating in the latest opinion poll has now dropped to 15 per cent.— not 50 per cent.— in Scotland. Can the Minister give an assurance that any further refinements or concessions on poll tax legislation in England and Wales will automatically apply to Scotland? That part of the country has suffered the imposition of the poll tax for more than a year.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, the Government have taken account of the perceived injustice resulting from the fact that the community charge was introduced in Scotland a year earlier than in England and Wales. They have produced a generous scheme which should be widely welcomed. Incidentally, I recall the noble Lord saying that he disliked domestic rates as much as I did. As to local income tax which he wished to bring in, his friends on the Labour Benches do not seem to like that either.

Lord Renton

My Lords, bearing in mind the large sums of money that have to be found for the Scottish Office and the various ways in which Scottish agriculture and the economy of Scotland benefit indirectly through the policy of the Government, is my noble friend aware that it is impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to forget Scotland?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am glad to hear what my noble friend says about the affairs of Scotland. I too realise that £ 9–5billion is being spent in Scotland by the Government and the Scottish Office this year.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, we welcome the scheme for rebates to Scottish poll tax payers. However, does it not create an injustice to English ratepayers who were in receipt of rate rebates last year? Ought they not now also to receive a payment to put them in the same position as Scottish poll tax payers for the past year?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I understand the feelings in Scotland about arrangements for the community charge there. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will take note of what the noble Lord has said.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, does the noble Lord—

Lord Gridley

My Lords, is the high increase in spending seen in the first year of the community charge in Scotland reflected in charges for the second year?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, local authorities plan to increase budget expenditure in 1991 by 9–6 per cent. The increase last year was of the order of 12–3 per cent. It is gratifying to know, however, that the high increase in spending in the first year of the community charge is planned to slacken off in 1991. This suggests at least that some authorities are responding to the discipline of the community charge to restrain their expenditure. Perhaps I may add that I emphasise "some authorities". The Lord Provost of Edinburgh refuses to pay the community charge. The city district of Edinburgh has an increase this year of 24 per cent. in its contribution to the community charge. That is where accountability ought to be recognised.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the Minister gave an interesting reply to my noble friend Lord Glenamara. He said that the matter should be referred to his right honourable friend on behalf of English ratepayers. When that is done, will the Minister come back and tell the House what views and what action his right honourable friend intends to take on the question submitted by my noble friend?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, that is entirely another Question. If the noble Lord wishes to put down a Question on the subject he is perfectly free to do so.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I assume that I am in order at last! Can the noble Lord send a copy of the latest Scottish NFU report to his noble friend Lord Renton? I imagine it would give a different idea of how satisfied Scottish farmers are with what the Government spend on them.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, the noble Lord has hit on an area which is my responsibility in Scotland. I can tell him that I attended a meeting of the Scottish NFU at Oban. After one-and-a-quarter hours of questioning, I got the impression that the Scottish farmers are realistic about how the future lies. I am glad to see that they are now opening up good markets in Europe for the products which the noble Lord knows only too well come best from Scotland.

The Earl of Balfour

My Lords, as the community charge has been in operation in Scotland for just over a year, will my noble friend the Minister comment on the incidence of non-payment of the charge?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, regarding non-payment the figures we have to 1st March this year indicate that in some areas a high proportion of people have paid. In my own area of the Borders, 98 per cent. of charge payers have made some contribution. I should add that above 50 per cent. of those who have received summary warrants have taken action to cover their debts.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, do I understand from the answers given by the Minister that he considers that a great benefit was conferred on Scotland by the introduction of the charge a year earlier than in England?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, when we debated the matter in your Lordships' House under the Scottish Bill, the whole question was whether accountability would come through. As I instanced in regard to the Edinburgh city district, perhaps one of these days people will wake up to the fact that the 24 per cent. increase in that district this year is way above what it should be. Surely the councillors concerned should be accountable for that.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland spoke recently of the Prime Minister falling into line "with his better judgment" on the poll tax. Can the noble Lord advise the House on any further improvements the Secretary of State for Scotland will suggest to the Prime Minister? For instance, can the Minister confirm whether his right honourable friend will advise her to introduce 100 per cent. rebates for the 75, 000 people in Scotland who live on income support and suffer real hardship?

Can the Minister also remind his right honourable friend that when the Bill was introduced in the House there was great euphoria on his side of the Chamber and the feeling that it would be a vote winner? As my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe suggested, the Conservatives stand in the Scottish opinion poll at 15 per cent. Is there not something wrong? Is it not time now to rethink the tax?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am always grateful for the advice that the noble Lord might give to the Government on these matters. Of course I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend. As to how he advises my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that is a matter for him. I say to the noble Lord that it is well known now in Scotland that local income tax has been rejected by his own party. All I can find in the roof tax which the noble Lord's own party suggests as the alternative is a glorified version of the discredited and disliked rates system.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, in replying to such questions in future will the Minister be less selective in the statistics he gives on non-payment? He referred to 98 per cent. payment in the Borders. There are more sheep in the Borders than people. Will he give the figures for the Strathclyde region? Does he accept that 20 per cent. of the population of Glasgow have so far not paid and that 400, 000 people in Scotland have either not paid or are at least six months in arrears?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, the noble Lord is usually very selective in the figures that he gives. Of course I realise that in Strathclyde many people have not paid the community charge. That is understood. Perhaps it has something to do with the level of the charge which is far too high.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I am a little confused. Can my noble friend the Minister inform me whether sheep have to pay a community charge?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said there were more sheep than people in the Borders. However, I can assure him that the people in the Borders are not sheep.