Orders of the Day — Rating (Revaluation Rebates) (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 3rd June 1985.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 6:30 pm, 3rd June 1985

I do not know how much weight there is there. The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) has always struck me as being a slight figure in every sense of the word. 1 certainly welcome his help, for what it is worth. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he is right to say that it would be unacceptable to hon. Members if £20 million were returned to the Treasury as some sort of baksheesh for the mandarins there. It should be used for Scottish ratepayers, and on Wednesday we shall want the Secretary of State to deal with that issue.

Secondly, there is the question of the future of the assistance during the latter part of the quinquennium. Obviously, this is a rescue package designed for 1985–86, but what will happen in the second, third, fourth and fifth years when the revaluation is in operation? The right hon. Gentleman is a reluctant Samaritan in the first year, and there will be a great deal of disappointment and anger if he allows the victim to be sandbagged in the second year and leaves everyone to meet the full impact of revaluation. It is important that we move away from the present provisions which permit the continuation of the system in the latter part of the quinquennium, and that we receive guarantees from the Secretary of State.

I do not like raising unpleasant subjects, but recently there was an unpleasant incident in Scotland when the Chancellor of the Exchequer visited Perth. The Glasgow Herald of 11 May quoted the Chancellor as saying that he… had bailed out Mr. George Younger… in his crisis with… 'exceptional extra funds'.The Guardian of 11 May stated that the Chancellor said: '"No more money is likely for Scotland next year. I don't think he (Mr. Younger) will find me in the same compassionate, open-handed and generous mood next time'. From that, it appears that we must help the Secretary of State in his fight against the Chancellor over what will happen in future years. I hope that Conservative Back Bench Members will support us in that fight. I cannot think of anything that would put their marginal seats in more jeopardy than, having mounted the rescue bid for the coming financial year, abandoning it in future. They should join us in tabling amendments, which will buttress the Secretary of State's efforts by placing on him a statutory duty to continue this system at some level during the remaining years. That would help the right hon. Gentleman greatly in his fight against the Chancellor. I genuinely hope that there will be all-party support for the amendments, and that Conservative Members will join us in the Lobby on Wednesday.

The third question relates to administrative expenses. The financial memorandum suggests that they will amount to £1 million. I do not know whether that is accurate, but the figure will be substantial. It will be necessary to identify the people who will be entitled to some form of rebate. In many cases it will be necessary to call in and adjust or issue new payment books for those who pay on a 10-instalment basis. Despite the strictures of the Secretary of State, there will be a great volume of work dealing with inquiries from disappointed and enraged people, who find that they are entitled to nothing. As the Secretary of State said, at least by implication, there will inevitably be a considerable delay in collecting rating revenue compared with a normal year, and, as a result, interest charges for local authorities will rise.

By operating the formula we have the power to reimburse the money given to the ratepayers. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us when that reimbursement will take place. It will not be satisfactory if local authorities must wait until the start of the next financial year. I hammer the point that there is power to reimburse, but no power to reimburse the expenses which, according to the explanatory memorandum, will fall entirely on local authorities. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for what I believe to be an assurance—I shall read what he said —that we shall not be in the black farce in which that will be counted against guidelines, and prayed in aid in evidence of excessive and unreasonable expenditure. We want a guarantee. It would be perfectly fair for administrative expenses to be refunded to local authorities. They should not be asked to foot the bill for the Secretary of State's incompetence.

We would normally discuss at length an enormous number of further points. I am glad that the Secretary of State has shifted his ground regarding whether there should be individual applications or whether the onus should be on local authorities. In his statement of 14 May he made it clear that he was thinking in terms of individual applications. I welcome the fact that he has written to COSLA on that point.

At present there is no appeal mechanism in the Bill, and presumably anyone with a grievance will have to go to judicial review, which means to the Court of Session. I suspect that effectively there can be no appeal. The right hon. Gentleman should also consider that point.

The whole thing is shot through with anomalies which will cause difficulties. The amount of money, while not very large, will cause irritation. For example, it will be somewhat anomalous if someone buys a house half way through the year without paying the rateable value in the previous year. In a row of houses under completion, there could well be cases—I can think of some in Glasgow— where one of them will have been occupied in time to get on to last year's roll and will qualify for assistance, while others with identical rateable values on the new roll will not qualify. That is bound to cause problems.

Difficulties could also arise over disabled persons' rating relief. If there is a variation in the discount on the rates payable during the previous year, it could well be that the payment has gone up by more than a factor of three whereas the rateable value has not. In such circumstances, will a person qualify for this relief? An enormous number of detailed points such as those can arise, and I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will do his best to deal with them.