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Interpretation

Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill (Allocation of Time) – in the House of Commons at 3:57 pm on 11th February 1987.

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13. In this Order—

"allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed to on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day;

"the Bill" means the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill;

"Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee;

"Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.

When I announced last Thursday that this motion would be the first item of today's business, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) pointed out the narrow distinction…between filibustering and natural verbosity"—[Official Report, 5 February 1987; Vol. 109, c. 1149.] on the part of Scottish Members and urged me to reconsider the motion. While I have not been able to do so, his words reminded me of the only occasion previously when I have taken part in a Scottish debate. Almost three years ago, on 5 March 1984, I moved the timetable motion on the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. On that occasion, only seven clauses out of 17 had been considered in 82 hours of Committee sittings. Progress has been greater during the Committee consideration of the Bill, but not so great that we believe consideration of the Bill could be more satisfactorily completed under the measured arrangements set out in the motion before us. I shall say more about those arrangements and progress so far in a moment, but first I should turn to the substance of the Bill.
The proposals contained in the Bill are radical and wide-ranging. They would bring an end to the contentious system of domestic rating. In its place, the Bill would introduce community charges. The personal community charge will be the basis of the new system and will be payable to the local authority by each adult whose sole or main residence is in that area. A standard community charge would be payable in respect of second homes, and a collective community charge would be payable by the owners of premises where the residents stay for only short periods. There will also be a rebate scheme, which will ensure that those who are on the lowest incomes will not have to pay the full community charge. The Bill also contains proposals to reform the system of non-domestic rating. That will cover the period until the longer-term introduction of a uniform business rate. I realise that these broad principles are only too familiar to hon. Members who have served on the Standing Committee. Even so, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to deal with them in more detail. There should be no doubt, however, that they represent a determined response to the challenge of finding an alternative to the present discredited rating system.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

When confronted by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), that exhortation is particularly difficult to comply with.

Proposals so far-reaching and fundamental in nature do, of course, require consultation and careful consideration. These have received both. The debate on the reform of the rate system has been an important item on the political agenda for many years. A new development in that discussion was marked in January last year when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales published the Green Paper "Paying for Local Government". This invited, and received, comments from organisations and individuals about the structure of the proposed changes. The comments led to the modification of the Green Paper proposals in some respects, for example the circumstances in which a collective rather than a personal community charge would be payable. Thus, even before my right hon. and learned Friend introduced the Bill on 27 November, its contents had had the benefit of careful scrutiny.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

Whose scrutiny? Does the Leader of the House realise that the proposals for this iniquitous additional tax which is to be levied on working-class people and their families in Scotland probably makes them guinea pigs for the rest of Britain and does not have the approval of the people of Scotland? Is he aware that the vast majority, as is shown in opinion polls, reject the proposals and that the vast majority of the Scottish people's elected representatives, whether at local government level or at parliamentary level, reject the proposals? Why are the Government so hell-bent on expediting the Bill, which is yet another attack on the living standards of working-class people and their families in Scotland? The Government have no mandate to impose such legislation. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends who are members of the Committee are right to fight the Bill tooth and nail. We shall continue to do that on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The last time that I saw the hon. Gentleman in the context of this Bill was in Committee, and he was much quieter although, in that sedentary way, he was somewhat effective.

The point that I have been making is that the Bill has been available for scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman confesses that he and his colleagues have applied scrutiny to it. As to the ultimate public judgment, that clearly will lie for the future, but scrutiny has not been lacking so far. The Bill received its Second Reading after a full day's debate on 9 December last year by 258 votes to 204. The First Scottish Standing Committee began its consideration of the Bill on 16 December, and has been sitting four times a week since then to debate the Bill.

I should refer here to the sittings motion which the Committee passed at its first meeting, enabling it to meet four times each week. The hon. Member for Provan referred to it last Thursday as an unprecedented and provocative sittings motion"—[Official Report, 5 February 1987; Vol. 109, c.1149.] I accept at once that the motion is clearly unusual, but there was no doubt that the Bill would require extensive consideration in Committee, and it seems to me merely realistic, rather than provocative, to accept from the start that this would be the case and to work on that basis.

While precedent should not be the sole determinant of our actions, the hon. Gentleman may find it comforting as far as precedents are concerned, if I draw his attention to the first meeting, on 10 May 1977, of the Standing Committee considering the Price Commission Bill. At that first meeting, the Committee agreed to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10.30 am and 4 pm. The fact that this was agreed without much debate and without a Division really proves the reasonableness of the Conservative Opposition.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

Perhaps the Leader of the House might contemplate the possibility that there was agreement then because there had been consultation. That is not the case here.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the circumstances were broadly similar. In one instance, however, we have wise Tory legislation designed to bring about major fiscal reform and in the other we had dirigiste and interventionist Socialist legislation designed further to impede the working of our national economy.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

As a former Minister who had some responsibility for the Price Commission Bill, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was broadly welcomed by the Conservative Opposition as it moved towards dismantling price controls set in place by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

When I looked at that particularly anaemic legislation. I inquired whether the hon. Gentleman was a part author. I am not sure whether he was, but my research shows that he was not a member of the Committee which considered the Bill.

As for the Bill that is now under consideration, the Committee has made full use of its sittings. It has sat for 101 hours and has completed its consideration of only 20 clauses. This has included more than four sittings on clause 1, abolishing domestic rates. More than two sittings have been spent on clause 13 dealing with the collective community charge. Of course there are important questions to be raised and discussed, but the rate of progress to date might suggest that a further 70 hours or so in Committee would be required for the remaining 14 clauses before the House as a whole would have an opportunity to consider the Bill in detail. I believe that the House would prefer to have an opportunity to consider the Bill more promptly.

The motion would enable that to occur and allow the Committee to complete its consideration at a measured pace. It would enable the Committee to hold a further six sittings. I do not believe that that is unreasonable.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there not a standing order which provides that no right hon. or hon. Member is allowed to read his speech? Is it not a measure of the right hon. Gentleman's insincerity that he, of all people, should be reading his Civil Service gobbledegook instead of giving his usual heart-to-heart address?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman knows that hon. Members frequently refer to their notes. That goes for the Front Bench too.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman that all of my best heart-to-hearts are carefully prepared by the resident Miltons in the Department.

While significant aspects of the proposals remain to be discussed—I refer to the replacing of rate support grant by revenue support grant and the rebate system—not all of the clauses left for consideration are of that magnitude, and there has already been an opportunity for more general discussion in consideration of earlier clauses.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

As I am one of those who has been privileged not to be subjected to the boredom of sitting on the Committee, and as one of those whose friends have come near to death by boredom by the irresponsible opposition of the Labour party to a measure which is greatly popular in Scotland, may I suggest that it would be a unique occasion for my right hon. Friend to be able to say to many of his friends, "Delivered from death by boredom with a guillotine?"

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

Yes, and if it will facilitate the proceedings I will say just that. I thank my hon. and learned Friend for speaking for me.

The motion would provide also for the House to take the Bill through its Report and Third Reading on two allotted days. The first of these days could last until midnight, the second until 10 pm. They represent an opportunity of perhaps more than 14 hours more debate on the Bill. I do not wish to detain the House further. The Bill is recognised as a significant step in local government in Scotland and beyond, and by broadening tax base it seeks to strengthen local accountability.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The Bill has received extensive consideration to date, and I am confident that the Committee's consideration of the rest of the bill will be no less effective than it has been so far. This measure will enable that consideration to go forward expeditiously. I hope to take the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) with me when we vote.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney 4:09 pm, 11th February 1987

The Leader of the House began with his recollections of times past, especially the last occasion when he chopped and guillotined a Scottish Bill. I, too, have one or two recollections which are perhaps worth sharing with the right hon. Gentleman and the House.

I begin by saying that this is the tenth guillotine of this Parliament. No fewer than five of the 10 Bills that have been guillotined have been directed against local government. That, in itself, is evidence of the Government's open hostility to local democracy and of their determination to crib, cabin and confine local councils by limiting their expenditures and revenues, and even, as we saw two years ago in the case of the metropolitan councils, by abolishing them altogether.

This measure takes another long stride towards diminishing local democracy and increasing central Government control. I cannot find—

Photo of Mr Barry Henderson Mr Barry Henderson , North East Fife

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that if local government conducted its business in the way that this Committee has conducted its business in terms of the time taken to discuss perfectly simple matters, even he might consider that we should legislate to change the way in which local government did its business?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

I do not know what goes on in Scottish local councils, but I would he surprised if a matter of such importance was or would be discussed at less length in major councils in Scotland than in the House of Commons. Therefore, I do not take the lion. Gentleman's point.

I cannot find and have not heard this afternoon from the Lord Privy Seal any convincing argument for introducing the guillotine, and certainly not for introducing it at this stage. The Bill, which abolishes the domestic rating system and replaces it by a community charge, is a remarkable innovation. On 9 December 1986 on Second Reading the Secretary of State for Scotland described it as a radical and reforming measure".

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland claimed it was one of the most fundamental reforms of local government finance in Scotland for a generation or more. Both those descriptions were understatements. The measure is in fact a revolution—or, rather, a counterrevolution—in local government finance.

No-one can doubt that the Bill deserves the closest scrutiny, and all the more so when we recall that its central proposal was discussed and dismissed by the Layfield committee in 1977 and again by the present Government, after two years of Green Paper consultation, in their White Paper of August 1983. What did the Goverment's White Paper say? The Government, in their White Paper after the last election, said: There is little point in replacing rates with an untried and unfamiliar system having little support from the outset. The Government had therefore decided to make reforms to the rating system which is basically sound but needs improvement. The Government, in the English and Welsh White Paper on similar proposals, said: The Government recognise that rates are far from being an ideal or popular tax. But they do have advantages…they are well understood, cheap to collect and very difficult to evade. They act as an incentive to the most efficient use of property. No property tax can be directly related to the ability to pay; but rate rebates, now incorporated in housing benefit, together with supplementary benefit, have been designed to reduce hardship. The Government have concluded and announced to Parliament that rates should remain for the foreseeable future the main source of local revenue for local government.

The Government have done a complete volte face, and reversed their conclusions or only three years ago. They have done so in a complex Bill of 34 clauses, plus six dense schedules that fill no fewer than 26 pages of text.

No-one can argue—and the Leader of the House did not—that the Bill has been blocked by delaying tactics.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

No, no-one has argued that point.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The right hon. Gentleman may not have had an opportunity to read the proceedings in Committee held last night in which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) admitted that the purpose of the Opposition in Committee had been to wreck the Bill. That has nothing to do with careful scrutiny or deciding issues. It was clear from the start that the Opposition had no constructive role to play. Surely, in the interests of scrutiny, we should accept this guillotine measure?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

I cannot for a moment accept that that argument can be sustained when we recall the progress that was made in discussing and deciding some of the most important clauses in the Bill. Seventeen clauses have been dealt with in 17 sittings. Those clauses included provisions for phasing out and abolishing domestic rates, the future of non-domestic rates and the new system of community charges. Those are the three major features of the Bill. The fact that the Committee got through those three major aspects gives the lie straight away to the assertion that the Opposition determined to wreck the Bill and to stop it in its tracks after the first votes had taken place.

What is still to be covered is the complex administration of the community charge system; the replacement of rate support grant by revenue support grant; the important question of rebates; and the new system of charging for water and sewage services.

Those issues should not be squeezed into the rigid framework of a timetable motion. The idea that these matters, 17 clauses and the greater part of the schedules, can be dealt with in six sittings is ludicrous. One would have thought that the danger of ill-considered legislation, pushed through with inadequate thought and large Parliamentary majorities. would be particularly fresh in the Government's mind after the recent Local Government Finance Bill. That was the subject of another timetable motion only a fortnight ago. It was rushed through to make lawful six years of unlawful rate support grant legislation. That legislation was in itself the consequence of incompetent drafting and insufficient Parliamentary scrutiny. However, unlike this Bill, the Local Government Finance Bill had at least the excuse that it had to get through quickly to meet the rate support grant payment timetable before 1 April.

Even this insensitive Government must be aware that they have only a small minority of seats in Scotland. Their new measures are opposed, as the Second Reading debate made crystal clear, by the Labour party, the SNP, the Liberals and the Social Democrats in Scotland. There is no parliamentary majority for this measure in Scotland and I doubt whether there is any popular electoral support for it either. The Government's motive for haste is clearly political and electoral. They believe that a measure that abolishes domestic rates in Scotland will he popular there, provided only that people do not have time to digest the far more unacceptable alternative, the community charge, which is to take its place.

The Government have sought deliberately to discredit the present rating system by making massive cuts in the rate support grant, thus forcing local councils to make up for some part of the lost Government grant by rate increases. Those increases have, inevitably, been high. The facts are indisputable. Rate support grant accounted for 68·5 per cent. of relevant expenditure in the last year of the Labour Government. The present level, in the most recent year, is 56 per cent. The average domestic rate in Scotland was £132 in 1978–79. Last year the average was £392.

The same has happened in England and Wales, but unlike England and Wales, where revaluation of property values was irresponsibly cancelled in 1979, Scotland has gone ahead with rate revaluations and these have brought many shocks to Scottish ratepayers and near-panic to the Scottish Tory party.

It is clear why the Government wish to substitute a community charge, or poll tax, for domestic rating. First, it is regressive. As the Secretary of State gleefully pointed out in his speech on Second Reading, personal community charge is to be payable by everyone aged 18 or over with their sole or main residence in each local authority area. There will be only very limited exemptions—those who are still receiving child benefit, and those who are resident in prisons or hospitals. Thus, apart from the rebate, virtually every adult over the age of 18 will be charged the same amount, irrespective of his or her income. A wealthy couple living in a large house will pay exactly the same amount as a low-paid worker and his wife living in a modest terraced house or council flat. Even the very poorest, who are wholly exempt from rates today, will have to pay a minimum 20 per cent. of the community charge. Regressive taxation is a classic Tory fiscal policy.

The second attraction of the new system to the Government is that it will further limit the power of local councils by removing from their control the imposition of local taxation on industrial and commercial properties. It is the Government. not the local authorities, who will decide henceforth the level of non-domestic rates, which will be limited to increases in the cost of living index. Non-domestic rates account for more than half of locally raised revenues today. Can any hon. Member seriously argue that this is not a great diminution of the powers that presently exist, as they have long existed, in the hands of local councils and local democracy?

The third attraction for the Government, and closely linked to the second, is that the new system is bound to discourage and limit public expenditure by local councils. Since non-domestic rates will be controlled by the Government, henceforth increases in local authority expenditure will fall wholly upon the community charge. The higher local authority expenditure, the higher the poll tax will be, regardless of whether there is a need for high and increasing expenditure in the areas concerned.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State sought to justify this by saying: This is the means by which the new system will provide its essential element of accountability, since the personal community charge is to be payable by everyone aged 18 or over…it is intended that the charge should be for practical purposes a universal obligation on the adult population"—[Official Report, 9 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 200–69.]

"No taxation without representation," was the cry of the American revolution in 1776. The Government are now arguing for a new doctrine, "No representation without taxation." It is wrong at this stage to abort consideration of this novel, ill-considered, regressive, punitive and anti-democratic Bill. I urge the House to reject the timetable motion.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire 4:23 pm, 11th February 1987

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said, understandably, that he did not know much about what happened in Scottish local councils, and it is obvious that he knows nothing about what happened in the Committee. His speech was a grave discourtesy to those who serve on the Committee, as he has patently not read a word of its proceedings. We have sat for 101 hours or so considering the Bill.

The Opposition have not had a particularly good press.The Scotsman said today that the highlight of the proceedings was the arrival of the tea lady. That depends on one's view—I should have thought that the highlight of the proceedings was the arrival of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) who was in rumbustious form, just as he was before he left the Chamber today.

Photo of Mr Barry Henderson Mr Barry Henderson , North East Fife

Does it not say something about the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and his hon. Friends that the hon. Gentleman uses undemocratic means to advance his cause but when he has the opportunity to talk about the timetable on the Bill he fails to do so, preferring to raise another bogus point of order rather than argue his case in an honourable and democratic way?

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

My hon. Friend is right. I am glad to say that none of us is responsible for the actions or the speeches of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West.

This allocation of time motion may go down in history as the Glasgow Herald guillotine. We were making not unreasonable progress until an editorial in the Glasgow Herald criticised the effectiveness of the Opposition Front Bench. Thereafter, progress slowed down remarkably. The effectiveness of the Opposition Front Bench has been criticised also by the Daily Record, which is the Scottish Socialist equivalent of Pravda saying that Mr. Gorbachev should pull his socks up.

Throughout the Committee, my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have listened courteously to the points made by the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Minister made two concessions when he accepted two Opposition amendments. The House will be agog to know more about the intellectual force and vigour, combined with rigorous research, which lay behind the concessions forced out of my hon. Friend. The first was an amendment defined by the Opposition as a probing amendment. The second they put forward with the argument that they did not understand what it was and asked my hon. Friend to explain it. That has been the standard of the Opposition argument in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) has argued that the Opposition deliberately tried to delay the Bill. I am not sure that I accept that. I think rather that the Opposition have wasted a great deal of time through their confused arguments. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) made that point effectively in an early intervention. The Opposition are confused in their analysis of the present system. The analysis of the rating system put forward by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) was as follows: Rates are about as fair a form of taxation as one can have. Income tax is unfair and VAT is much more unfair than rates". He repeated that point so that his hon. Friends could understand it, saying about rates: They are fair, or as fair as any other form of taxation. That was before lunch. After lunch, that analysis was clarified, if that is the correct term, by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). He said The burden for paying for local services has been shifted from the progressive taxes levied by the Treasury onto relatively regressive taxes such as the rating system."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 13 January 1987; c. 133–52.] The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney is no doubt very interested in this clarification of the Labour party's analysis of various forms of taxation. The view of the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen on Scottish affairs is that income tax is progressive, according to the hon. Member for East Lothian, but unfair. according to the hon. Member for Cathcart, whereas rates are "relatively regressive" according to the hon. Member for East Lothian but about as fair a form of taxation as one can have", according to the hon. Member for Cathcart.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

No doubt we can look forward to the promotion of the hon. Members for East Lothian and for Cathcart to the shadow Treasury team in the near future. That confusion accounted for a great deal of the time wasted in Committee.

Let us consider the confusion on policy. The policy was spelt out early on in the Committee by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), who we all wish a speedy recovery and a safe return to the House. The hon. Gentleman said: Our party, from its grass roots, has decided through all its consultations that the road to take is that of local income tax."—-[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 18 December 1986; c. 80.] That may have been the policy at the grass roots, but it was not the policy elsewhere. I am not quite sure what the opposite of grass roots is—it may be tree tops. or even coconuts. At any rate, the policy at the grass roots had not been passed on to the coconuts on the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Cathcart, in one of his best speeches in Committee—it was actually quite a good speech—effectively attacked the whole concept of local income tax. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) initiated that debate.

Throughout the Committee stage, the hon. Member for East Lothian kept saying that he did not like rates, while the hon. Member for Cathcart continued to raise arguments in favour of them. That is why we wasted so much time.

Time was also wasted by the consistent failure of Opposition Members to put forward their policy. Neither the hon. Member for Cathcart nor the hon. Member for East Lothian presented any policy, but eventually all was revealed. Into the intellectual void created by those two hon. Members stepped, without hesitation and with a firm stride, the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mr. Adams), saying: If the Minister asks again for the Labour party policy on rates I think that we should give him it. That comment brought thunderous applause from the Conservative Benches. He continued: We should phone Walworth road and get the Labour party's policy on rating since 1905 and read it to him word for word, line by line, paragraph by paragraph. He would find it illuminating. My hon. Friend the Minister replied: That is the first constructive suggestion that we have had from the Opposition Benches. I should like to take up the hon. Gentleman's invitation". The hon. Member for Paisley, North paused and then said: I am glad of the invitation. There was a longer pause before he continued, with reference to the document: It is somewhat lengthy". At that point there was the following intervention from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart: And applies only to England and Wales."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 13 January 1987; c. 162–3.] All is revealed. A genuine seeker after truth who wishes to establish the Labour party in Scotland's alternative policy to the Abolition of Domestic Rates, Etc. (Scotland) Bill must go to Walworth road—not an obviously convenient location for the average Scottish seeker after truth, but never mind—and dig out a major tome entitled "Labour Party Policy on Rates in England and Wales since 1905". Continuing nonsense of that kind wasted much of the Committee's time.

I do not wish to suggest for a moment that constructive points were not put forward by the Oppposition. Generally, those points were put forward by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown). Indeed, it was noticeable that the atmosphere of genial relaxation that surrounded my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench changed when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan rose and the advisers leaned forward and grasped their pencils because the hon. Gentleman put forward genuine points.

Some productive matters were revealed in Committee—notably, in regard to my constituency, a very helpful statement by the Opposition that the residents of Eastwood were the first and major beneficiaries of the community charge. The hon. Member for Cathcart referred to them as the largest group of beneficiaries in Scotland, although it must have been a close-run thing between my constituents and those represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) and for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson). It was also helpful that the Labour party repeated its policy that Eastwood district should be abolished and that the good people of Eastwood should become part of Glasgow. It was also helpful that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland put forward the case for a local income tax at great length, but with little detail, admitting by implication that a local income tax under any rational system must mean the abolition of very small district councils such as Eastwood. Those were some of the plus points in Committee.

I thought that the Opposition tactics on the Bill were somewhat dubious. I thought that they would make sufficient progress in Committee to avoid a guillotine and then go for all-night sessions on the Floor of the House when, of course, the Committee members could he supplemented by the battle-hardened battalions from Govan, Garscadden, Monklands and elsewhere.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

My hon. Friend has used the word guillotine in reference to this instrument of execution. As this is a Scottish Bill, should we not use the proper terminology and call it a "maiden"? The Scottish equivalent of the guillotine was the maiden, so we should be maidening the Bill.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that comment. Perhaps I should use the official term and refer to an allocation of time motion.

I conclude that the Labour party tactics are probably correct because the Opposition dare not expose their arguments or their lack of policy to extended debate on the Floor of the House. I believe that the guillotine is perfectly reasonable. It allows the Committee and the House to consider the outstanding matters with a reasonable timetable. It will protect the Labour party from extended debate on the Floor of the House on its total lack of policy on a subject of importance to the Scottish people. My right hon. Friend has put forward a reasonable timetable for the Bill and I urge the House to accept it.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland 4:37 pm, 11th February 1987

On these occasions when we debate motions to allocate time, there is an element of ritual. That has the effect of driving the press from the Gallery because they seem to have heard these arguments before. However, I do not believe that the House should regard these matters lightly.

The Leader of the House admitted that this Bill is of considerable importance. It is of considerable constitutional importance, in that it substantially alters the balance of power between central and local government. It curtails the effective use of financial powers hitherto enjoyed by local government to provide the services which Parliament has prescribed that local government shall operate. The Bill sweeps away the principal local source of revenue for local government which has operated in Scotland for more than 200 years. It does so by a reversal of policy as dramatic and unexpected as anything that has occurred in the lifetime of this Government—a Government not prone to making U-turns.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) drew attention in his remarkably perceptive speech to the regressive horrors of the Bill. The concept of a tax being levied upon every citizen in Scotland regardless of ability to pay is, not surprisingly, regarded with horror throughout Scotland. An independent opinion poll conducted during the passage of the Bill showed that 86 per cent. of the Scottish people believed that local taxation should be related to ability to pay. If ever a thumbs-down was given to a measure to which the Government appear to attach importance in terms of winning votes at the coming election, this is it.

Photo of Mr Barry Henderson Mr Barry Henderson , North East Fife

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, for public service broadcasting, we pay a television licence fee or tax which is unrelated to ability to pay and which, for many people, will be lower—or higher—than they would be required to pay as a community charge for the range of local government services? Has not the hon. Gentleman got this out of perspective?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The financing of television has very little to do with this Bill on local government. The hon. Gentleman had better sort out whether it is higher or lower before he makes another such intervention.

As the Bill is of major constitutional importance, its Committee stage could have been taken on the Floor of the House, as has been the practice with earlier constitutional Bills. We could also have argued that it should have been considered first by an all-party pre-legislative Committee that would have taken evidence from those who would be affected by it and those who would have to administer the new system of local taxation. It would have been an ideal candidate for such a procedure. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and I proposed that to the Lord Privy Seal, who refused even to meet us to discuss the issue. That demonstrates his scant regard for the opinion of people in Scotland, as expressed by those who represent them in Parliament. He has been cavalier from the beginning in his handling of the Bill, as is illustrated by its extraordinary timetabling since it was published.

The Bill was given a First Reading on 27 November and a Second Reading only a week later. That was all the time allowed to local authorities and people throughout Scotland to form their views on the Bill and their recommendations about what could be done to improve it.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

I was interested by the hon. Gentleman's commitment to the constitutional aspects of the Bill and especially by his suggestion that it should have been exposed to a pre-legislative Committee so that its details might have been considered further. Can he assure the House that if the alliance was in a future Government, it would ensure that all legislation was considered by a pre-legislative Committee?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The alliance parties have always believed that major constitutional reform should proceed on the basis of agreement and consensus so far as possible. We not only preach that, we shall practise it.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

Is the hon. Gentleman saying yes or no to my hon. Friend's question?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

If the hon. Gentleman simply behaves like a parrot, he will do better to keep his seat. The answer to the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) is that measures to reform the constitution must enjoy the support of a majority of hon. Members and it is highly desirable that that support should be drawn from both sides of the House. That is a well recognised convention of Parliament.

The Bill is designed to limit the power of local government to spend money, and although the Minister dressed it up as providing for greater local accountability, the reality is that, by the Government's admission, local authorities will have the power to determine what services should be offered in respect of only 13 per cent, of the moneys which they will raise by a poll tax. The Bill has always been controversial and has aroused widespread hostility.

I had started to discuss the manner in which the Government have handled the Bill. Its Second Reading was on 9 December and it was committed to Standing Committee a week later. That was another period during which people could make suggestions about how the Bill could be improved. As the Lord Privy Seal admits, at the first sitting, the Government moved an almost unprecedented sittings motion to ensure that the Committee would sit four times a week and for long hours to consider the Bill in detail. That put pressure not only on Members of Parliament but on all those outside the House who will be affected by the measure and who wish to make representations on it. They include the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Consumer Council, the National Union of Ratepayers Associations and many others. In taking longer than usual to consider the early clauses, Labour Members of the Committee were simply trying to provide time to those who wished to prepare their formal submissions and amendments to try to improve the Bill.

We must also consider what happened in Committee. The Lord Privy Seal had the good grace to admit that reasonable progress has been made and that we have proceeded, broadly speaking, at the rate of one clause for each sitting. But the clauses are extremely important. The first clause provided for the complete abolition of domestic rates, and we also considered the way in which non-domestic rates would be determined, the limited powers of local authorities following the introduction of provisions whereby the Secretary of State will control these matters, the highly contested question of how the community charge will be applied to students at university, how a standard community charge will be levied and who will be liable to pay it, and the calculation of the collective community charge and those who will be liable to pay it. It seems quite unreasonable to expect that these matters could have been dealt with any more quickly than by one clause per sitting.

That, however, is not the only point of importance in considering the progress made on the Bill. The Bill itself is in large measure an enabling Bill. It leaves undefined many matters which are of great importance in the administration of the new tax system. It provides, if my accounting is correct, no fewer than 47 times, that matters will be prescribed, following the passage of the Bill through the House. Within the body of the Bill, and in the schedules still to come there are 31 references to circumstances being prescribed. If a Committee is to serve any useful purpose in elucidating the Government's intention, it must above all have in mind the need to determine what the Secretary of State intends should be prescribed, what the circumstances are to be; and when there is so much hidden from the public view as there is in this Bill it is right to seek to tease it out.

In so far as the Committee took time over these matters, it was because the Ministers were so forthcoming about the contents of subordinate legislation which will flow from this Bill, almost of all of which will be enacted by negative procedure and with no subsequent debate in this House. There are a number of other references to the discretion of the Secretary of State. There are eight references to his exercising powers "as may be determined", two to "as he considers appropriate" and two to "as he thinks fit". All these are occasions when the Secretary of State has wide powers of discretion in the practical operation of the Bill. The Committee would not have been doing its job properly if it had not attempted to ascertain the Minister's intentions in these respects.

The burden of the Government's case has been that the House must take it on trust that the Secretary of State will operate the Bill according to his best judgment of what is administratively convenient. In almost all cases, when he was asked to say what would be the content of the subordinate legislation, that was the gist of the reply, that it would be a matter for the convenience of those who had to operate the Bill. This was the case even when there were certain issues touching on the liberty of the subject and touching on confidentiality of information—empowering, for example, the registration officer to nominate persons to give information to him concerning the compilation of the register which would involve the most serious invasions of confidential administration, requiring local authorities to surrender to him information given them for completely different purposes. It is right that the Committee should have lingered on points such as that and should have sought to persuade the Minister that such broad and arbitrary power should be curtailed by the inclusion of at least some criteria in the Bill itself.

One is bound to ask why the Government are in such a hurry. There has been no mention of this so far in the debate. The Lord Privy Seal vouchsafed that we would continue to make good progress under the proposed timetable. Let me make it plain that I have never objected to the introduction of timetables, provided that it was done by agreement across the Floor of the House and with the consent of all parties. It can lead to orderly discussion. But the time for such a discussion is not when the Bill is in train, but before it has been taken into Committee. Why does the Lord Privy Seal feel it so necessary to complete the Committee stage by 19 February? If we were to continue to proceed at the rate at which we have been proceeding, there is not much doubt that the Bill would have been through not just Committee but all its stages in this House by Easter and through all its stages in another place by early summer.

One is bound to conclude that there is some reason external to the Bill which is driving the Government along this course. The reason is not far to seek. It is fairly clear that the Government have in mind that the Bill should be enacted sufficiently early to enable them to call a general election with the Bill on the statute book at any time after the Chancellor has introduced his Budget and the Prime Minister has returned from Moscow, having talked to Secretary Gorbachev: she wishes to have this little measure in her pocket.

Far be it from me to counsel the Government on what will or will not help them to win an election in Scotland. All I can say is that they are more foolish than I believe them to be if they think that this measure will win them a single vote in Scotland. The reality is that the Bill is seen for what it is, a regressive Bill which imposes a tax on those who can ill afford to pay it. It seems to be a Bill that is taking from local government powers to spend on services which it has enjoyed in the past. The Bill is seen as an arrogation of power to the centre which is, of course, quite typical of this Government. The Government are being cavalier about the possibility that they have got anything in the Bill wrong, despite the fact that, in an earlier case to which the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney referred, they had to bring forward amending legislation to legalise an earlier local government finance Bill which had resulted in six years of illegality due very largely to the same kind of approach to legislation which we see here.

I am not one to complain about attempts to bring about orderly debate, but I am opposed to precipitate debate, particularly in matters of this kind, which have been highly divisive, complex and inequitable in their effect. I hope that the House will resist the motion, because it is quite unnecessary to get the Bill on to the statute book by the end of this parliamentary session. There is no good case for the motion, and I hope that the House will resist it.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 4:58 pm, 11th February 1987

I am afraid that I have not had the privilege of being a member of the Standing Committee, so I have missed the tremendous arguments that have gone on through the night for over a hundred hours. Having listened to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) I am not surprised that they have gone on for so long. It is perhaps a happy coincidence that on the Order Paper are the amendments to Standing Orders relative to short speeches in both the House and the Scottish Grand Committee, and perhaps the hon. Member will take that to heart.

I am disappointed that the Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) have just left the Chamber. Some of us have strongly argued the case put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure for timetabling debate in Standing Committees. Had our motion to do that been accepted last year, there is no doubt that the 34 clauses of this Bill could have been covered easily in a hundred hours, had the Bill been timetabled with the agreement of both the Front Benches, allowing for adequate discussion of each clause.

That surely is such a simple supposition that it is disappointing that the Front Benches of the Conservative and Labour parties are so resolutely against the timetabling of Committee stages. That would be logical, because Members would have far more opportunity to discuss each clause, with a reasonable time scale for each sitting. I hope that, the more of these guillotine motions we have, the more likely it will be that we shall get to timetabling Standing Committees.

Anyone who has been in Parliament for even a short time accepts that when the Opposition set out to show their virility by achieving a guillotine, it is not too difficult for them to do so, but it is done at the expense of a detailed discussion of each clause and schedule. In turn, that puts a greater onus on Members of another place who feel that they have a duty to do what we have been unable to accomplish in this Chamber or in Standing Committee.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Does my hon. Friend agree that in this case we have managed within the 100 hours to deal with all the major points of principle in the Bill?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I am not so sure that we have. I have read most, but not all, of the proceedings. In the latter part of the Bill there are important issues such as the register, rebates and water and sewerage charges. No doubt many new clauses will be put down for discussion. Because the Opposition have been so dilatory on the early part of the Bill, these important issues will not be discussed even though 100 hours have been spent in Committee so far.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

The hon. Gentleman is preaching sweet reasonableness about the way the proceedings should be conducted. What does he think about the Government publishing an extremely controversial Bill one week, arranging Second Reading debate for the following week and expecting the standing committee to sit both morning and afternoon only one week later? Did that allow reasonable time for consideration by hon. Members or by people outside the House?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

The hon. Gentleman was well aware of what was coming in the Bill. He had the whole of the Christmas recess to consult anyone he wanted. There was adequate time to prepare the vicious attack that he wished to launch. We were led to believe that there was to be a devastating attack on the Conservative party today. What do we find? There are eight Labour Members on the Back Benches. There is not one Scottish nationalist here. There is now one Liberal Member here after the debate has been going on for a long time; he is an English Member who has managed to get back from Greenwich, no doubt by boat. It is astonishing that not one Scottish Liberal and only one member of the SDP has been here for what was to be a great attack on the timetable motion and the way that the Government have handled the Bill in Standing Committee.

Members of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have come down in cohorts at great expense to the ratepayers to show their opposition. Here they find only eight supporters on the Labour Benches. That does not show much strength of opposition from Labour Members of Parliament against the motion or against the Bill.

The Opposition have not considered constructively the positive advantages of the Bill, such as community charges, which will be fairer to single people and widows. The Government are giving Members the opportunity to change a system that is outmoded. If we were starting from scratch today, who would have thought of taxing the valuation of houses as the best way of financing local government?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

Yes, indeed, the Labour party wants to keep that system. The alliance wants a system of local income tax, which is the most hopeless proposition that has been made throughout the debate.

Photo of Mr John Corrie Mr John Corrie , Cunninghame North

Even worse than that, is it not a fact that the Opposition intend to rate agricultural buildings, which would mean a severe curtailment of the income of farmers?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

Yes, indeed. I was trying to keep in relatively low key.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also keep to the motion that is before the House.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you feel that I have kept to the issue of why we should have adopted the proposal of the Select Committee on Procedure to timetable Standing Committees.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I was merely seeking to prevent the debate from turning into a discussion about agricultural or any other rating.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I appreciate what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is of crucial interest to everyone in Scotland that the Labour party intends to rate agricultural land. That is important relative to a Bill dealing with rating in Scotland. However, I shall say no more because the point has been made. [Interruption.] Indeed, I am coming to that point. I did not want to spoil a reference to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) who has made many constructive comments in Committee. I look forward to his contribution. If I were looking for supporters on timetabling Committee stages I am sure that he would be the first to join me.

The sad thing about the Bill is the incredible opposition of local authorities in Scotland. They have never shown so little wish to change as at present. They are reluctant to consider any proposition that would mean a change in their administration procedures. When the register and community charges are enforced, with all the modern technology that an office can use these days, the operation of the system will be not only much fairer, but simpler.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

One gets bored by the childish interventions of the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] About 99 hours of the 100 hours spent in Committee have been taken up by interventions by the hon. Gentleman.

I hope that the House will support strongly the motion to restrict further discussion in Standing Committee so that we can get on with the Bill, get it to another place and get it on the statute book as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Robert McTaggart Mr Robert McTaggart , Glasgow Central 5:07 pm, 11th February 1987

I became a member of the Standing Committee only after the Christmas recess because of the unfortunate illness of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey). I am pleased to report to the House that my hon. Friend is making a good, sound recovery. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I only wish that the same could be said for me, because of my involvement in Standing Committee.

There is a total of seven Opposition Members in Standing Committee. For much of the proceedings, we have not had our total complement. Yet we are now considering a motion to introduce a guillotine on the proceedings of the Committee, although it could not be argued that hon. Members have had sufficient time to examine the Bill paragraph by paragraph and clause by clause.

This is a very important Bill. The clauses relating to collective community charges show that the Bill has been put together hurriedly, without consideration for the almost impossible burden that it will place on Scottish local authorities, quite apart from the individual ratepayer. The ambiguity of many of the references shows that the Government have not gone over the finer points of the Bill, and have not considered any exemptions for any sector of the public and intend to leave the already hard-pressed local authorities to pick up the pieces and clear up the mess.

Representations have been made to the Minister by groups such as Shelter and the Council for Single Homeless and by other bodies concerned with the plight of the mentally handicapped and people receiving severe disablement benefits. The Minister has chosen to ignore all those representations. In my constituency there are many hostels for the homeless and the mentally handicapped and it is grossly unfair to expect those people, with all the other burdens that they have to carry, to be faced with a collective community charge.

There are many multi-occupancy properties in my constituency and one landlord often controls several properties. Does the Minister believe that such landlords—at best people who are very busy and at worst Rachmans who are unscrapulous—will keep daily records of the tenants and apportion the collective community charge? I am sure that in such cases many landlords will deduct a flat sum from tenants who already have very little, and that the local authority, if it is lucky, will receive some of that money.

The number of people living in hostels for the homeless and in hostels for battered wives and so on, is increasing all the time, and the problems that those people will face will be quite insurmountable. It will prove difficult for them to obtain the rebates to which they are justly entitled. I have a large number of unemployed people and people on supplementary benefit in my constituency, and they will bear an unfair portion of this new tax. Two wards in my constituency will be expected to pay an extra 42 per cent. and an extra 35 per cent. How can the Minister deny that that is anything other than a tax on the poor and a pre-election sop to the middle-class home owner?

The Government have already had plenty of time to consider the average Tory voter and they realise that most middle-class high-earning families in which only one member of the family is working and earning a high salary will pay less of the new tax. That will be a popular vote catcher and the Government hope that it will be in time for the general election. It exposes a total lack of care or consideration by the Government for the plight of the large and growing army of disadvantaged people. A family of four, all of whom are working but in low-paid jobs, will often earn, collectively, less than one middle-class manager. Yet that family will have to pay four times more in community charges. That is a blatantly unfair distribution of resources. A family of four hard-working people is not more likely to use the services of a local authority than the executive family with a leisurely life style.

The Bill will widen even further the gap between the rich and the poor in our society. The poor will be penalised simply because there are more of them per household. Figures published by Glasgow district council show that the areas of very high unemployment and poor amenities are the areas that will bear the brunt of this new tax. Only eight wards, mostly residential areas with low levels of unemployment, will gain under this new system by paying less tax. That is out of a total of 66 wards in Glasgow.

What level of collection do the Government expect to see? We have heard estimates of 80 per cent., but under the present system 90 per cent, of rates are collected. However, 80 per cent, is a gross over-estimate of what local authorities can expect to receive. Evasion of the tax will be massive. Families will split up and youngsters will move out of the family home in order to avoid placing an even bigger onus on their parents to pay this tax. The only people guaranteed exemption from the tax are long-term hospital patients and prisoners. Perhaps we should all take a stand and refuse to pay the poll tax. If we did so and refused to pay the fines, we would swell the already overcrowded prisons to bursting point—if they have not already reached that point. At least the Government would be forced to have a look at the problems in the prisons if at nothing else.

Judging by the clauses about the collective community charge, it is quite clear that the Bill has been hurriedly put together without consideration of the almost impossible burden which our local authorities will face. The amount of money that they will have to spend will prove to be completely under-estimated by the Government. When a Labour Government are returned at the next general election, perhaps all of us can reflect on this Bill and say that it was only a bad dream.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden 5:15 pm, 11th February 1987

I have not been impressed so far tonight by what I discern as synthetic indignation by the Opposition about the motion. The history of the use of the guillotine is worth considering in order to judge the assertions made by the Opposition that the Government are moving with haste to get this legislation through. The record for the number of Bills guillotined in any one session is held by the last Labour Government. They moved to impose a guillotine after far fewer sittings than this legislation. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and some of his Front Bench colleagues ought to have had regard to that.

I am sympathetic to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) about the general principle of timetabling legislation. To anybody who used to earn a living on the basis of time spent in a job, it must come as a shock to come to this House and sit in a Standing Committee where it is possible to wait hour after hour for some minor amendment, often described as a probing amendment, when the purpose is simply to waste time and clock up hours of opposition. For that reason I have considerable sympathy for the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries that one benefit of a timetable motion is that it concentrates the minds of all participants on the remaining clauses and schedules and obviates the time wasting that characterised the earlier part of this Standing Committee.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

The hon. Member is familiar with the Bill and knows that is says 75 times "as may be prescribed". It is right that the Opposition should put down probing amendments to try to find out from Ministers exactly what they intend to do under that phrase.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. It is a pity that his memory seems to be so thin and that he has not consulted the Official Report. That shows that many of the interventions and speeches in Standing Committee were no more than a lot of time wasting. He makes the point that the Opposition tabled probing amendments, but the Official Report will help him look differently at the quality of some of the contributions. I can recall many occasions on which my hon. Friends on the Committee evinced their boredom about the irrelevance of the contributions made by some Opposition Members.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Will my hon. Friend confirm that a probing amendment is meant to be tabled in order to find out the meaning and purpose of a Bill? Its purpose is not, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said, to find out its own meaning.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

I am indebted to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. The position is, perhaps, slightly worse than he described, because one Opposition probing amendment was accepted by the Government. I think that reveals the thinking of many Opposition Members.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that one of our lengthy debates, in which he played a prominent part, dealt with an amendment that he tabled on help for sports clubs? He will remember that, following that lengthy debate, he tried to withdraw the amendment—which, in a sense, made the debate a total waste of time.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

We have certainly set the scene for a jolly good discussion on this point. I intend to return to it later, to put firmly on the record the reasons why my hon. Friends followed that approach and why the actions of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) were so injurious to the proper interests of sporting clubs.

In their own words, the Opposition started out to wreck the Bill. The hon. Member for Cathcart admitted that, and in the early stages of our debates the conduct of Opposition Members confirmed it. I need not remind the House about the events on Thursday 18 December. During my relatively short time in the House, I had not before witnessed conduct such as that of one Opposition Member who insinuated himself into the Committee. It was appalling. It must be unprecedented for a Committee to be suspended three times because of such irresponsibility. If the hon. Member for Cathcart is as fair-minded as I believe him to be, he will agree that the whole purpose of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) was to wreck the Bill by extra-parliamentary practices, as he had threatened to do.

We do not need a timetable to extract an admission from the Opposition that they are basically clinging to a discredited system. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey)—his absence is a matter of great sadness, and we look forward to his return—said revealingly during the third Committee sitting that the Labour party had no definite policy on which way to go, but admitted that the system was discredited. Bearing that in mind, we might have expected Opposition Members to make some kind of revelation about the way that they proposed to fund local government expenditure.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

I know that I did not attend all the sittings, but I listened during those that I did attend and there was certainly a great void in the official policy of the Opposition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) referred to the confusions and contradictions in the admissions of the Labour Front Bench spokesman. I watched with some interest the way in which the brow of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) furrowed deeper and deeper as he learned of those contradictions so eloquently described by my hon. Friend.

However, there are some things that Opposition Members did not or would not say. Notwithstanding whether the timetable motion is agreed to, I hope that there will be sufficient time in Committee and on the Floor of the House for Opposition Members to answer some of the questions put to them in Committee, which they were singularly unprepared to answer. They shrugged off the fact that only 29 per cent, of people in Scotland pay full rates—

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

No, only 29 per cent, of people in Scotland pay full rates. After all the hours of debate in Committee and following the exhaustive examination that the hon. Gentleman asserted he had made of the Green Paper, if he is not now aware of that statistic, I despair.

The Opposition shrugged off the fact that 750,000 people in Scotland who have an income make no contribution to local government expenditure.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

The hon. Gentleman should consult the information available, which has been prepared over a long period. It is interesting that he chooses to take this opportunity to challenge something that he did not choose to challenge in Committee. I hope that he will consult the Official Report and the available information to clarify his mind. I recall fairly making that point in Committee.

The Opposition shrugged off the fact that businesses in Scotland have no protection. Although under the statute they have the right to be consulted, in Strathclyde a rate was imposed before the business community was consulted. Even when they are consulted, they have little opportunity to influence the spending policies of local government—they are simply obliged to pay.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) said in Committee that it was his belief that this legislation would enhance local accountability, Opposition Members disputed it. If a local authority finds that the community charge that it is obliged to levy upon its inhabitants rises because of a deliberate decision to carry out the democratic will of the local electorate to increase services, I believe that that will improve local accountability.

I suspect that the colleagues of Labour Members serving in local government in Scotland are rather concerned that this measure will promote much greater interest among the public during local government elections. I believe that the political friends of the Labour party serving in Scottish local authorities will take due and proper note of that.

A more significant matter, and one which I do not believe a timetable motion will necessarily resolve, is the reluctance of the alliance representative to spell out how its system of local income tax would operate. On Second Reading and in Committee I asked how the system would operate. I see you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, nodding.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

No, the hon. Gentleman saw me shaking my head, and that is rather different.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you were shaking your head. I do not think for a moment that you share my despair at having failed to learn how the alliance proposes to introduce local income tax.

It is fair to say that this afternoon the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) repeated his assertion that local income tax would be levied on ability to pay, and that therefore it would be a fairer system. It is difficult for me to accept that, as he has studiously declined to say how his party, if it were ever in government, would introduce such a system. We are left with his contention that the system would be fair, without knowing exactly how it would operate. Without challenge, he said that it was not his duty—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman heard me earlier reproach one hon. Member for seeking to introduce matters that were not the subject of the Bill. It is fair for hon. Members to argue about the content of the Bill, but not to argue about matters not covered by the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will return to the motion before the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker for making that point, of which I was aware. It is, however, fair to say that during the debates on clause I stand part and a series of amendments—

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am conscious of the point that you just made to the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst). He referred to my remarks this afternoon about local income tax. As you will recall, I made no such remarks this afternoon because, in my view, they would have been out of order.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is correct to say that in Committee the hon. Gentleman tabled a number of amendments requiring the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs to consider local income tax. We frequently discussed the merits of that alternative system.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has underlined the difficulty facing the Chair. He has illustrated the dangers of allowing the debate to get away from the terms of the motion. I repeat that it is perfectly fair to argue about matters that are covered by the Bill as reasons why the motion should be accepted, or otherwise, but not to refer to matters that are not covered by the Bill.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

If I have inadvertently forgotten what was previously discussed this afternoon, I apologise to the House. However, it was my recollection that local income tax was mentioned.

In essence, the purpose of the legislation is to look at ways of financing of Scottish local government more fairly. I know that the different Opposition parties have different suggestions about that. The point that I should like to make now is relevant to the timetable motion and in the light of the discussions in Committee.

Those hon. Members who have argued against the Government's proposals have overlooked one vital fact: however local government is financed—whether by rates, sales tax, community charge or local income tax—the sum and substance of the matter is that the lion's share of local government expenditure is, and will continue to be, financed by the Exchequer, to which all taxpayers will contribute in accordance with their ability to pay. That is the vital point, which was so often overlooked in the amendments tabled by alliance and Opposition Members in Committee.

I have a special interest in this legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood said that his constituents were reckoned to do best out of the legislation. I have the invidious distinction that my constituents pay the highest average rates of any local authority in Scotland, and probably in the rest of Britain, with the exception of certain London boroughs. Many of my constituents are elderly people who live relatively modestly and for whom this legislation will be extremely important in helping them to continue living in the houses that they have occupied for so many years. It is sad when elderly widows and widowers are driven from their homes because they can no longer afford the burden of maintaining them because of their high rates bills. It is not unusual for people who live in relatively modest houses to pay £1,100 or £1,200 a year in rates. Clearly, that puts an exceptional burden on them.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

My hon. Friend is making an important point, which not only relates to his constituency, but is of general application. Is it not an absolute disgrace that no member of the alliance parties is in the Chamber to hear him?

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

All the alliance representatives are absent. Given the number of Scottish seats that they represent, I should have thought that some of them would have been here this afternoon. Obviously, they will have to answer for themselves and explain their absence.

Speaking on behalf of those whom I have tried, in a kindly way, to describe as little old widows, when I intervened in Committee about their plight, I was surprised at the way in which their interests were dismissed by some hon. Members on the Committee. It is curious that my constituency enjoys the lowest proportion of pensioner households, and that of the hon. Member for Cathcart has one of the highest—over 20 per cent. Therefore, I should have thought that he would have been acutely concerned, as I am, about those elderly people whose rates bill at the moment is proving so burdensome, and for whom this legislation will provide a great deal of relief.

It is quite assuredly the case that the elderly person or the single-parent family, struggling to meet a rates bill, is very resentful of the fact that in the neighbouring house, and paying the same amount in rates, there may be three, four or even more people, each earning an income. Therefore, on the basis of ability to pay, that household would be better able to make a contribution to the costs of the local government.

Perhaps the impression has been given this afternoon that the Committee stage was rather disagreeable and fruitless. I do not believe that. There have been rare moments of unanimity. The hon. Member for Cathcart, who raised a matter to which I shall come presently, was in Committee on the two occasions when we discussed the rating burden upon Scottish sports grounds. As he made a tendentious and unfair intervention earlier in the debate, I shall take the opportunity of placing clearly on the record exactly what happened in Committee. It is of considerable relevance to the timetable motion and also to the Report stage, on which occasion I hope that it will be possible to return to this matter.

Concern about the rates that are levied on sports clubs in Scotland is so widespread, north and south of the border, that I imagine that you may have had some representations on that matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Scottish amateur sports clubs pay substantially more in rates than their English counterparts. That has led to financial difficulties for some clubs and even threatened their future.

Bearing in mind that Parliament has already laid down the powers by which local authorities may grant discretionary relief, with some reluctance, Committee members felt it necessary to move amendments to provide mandatory relief. History to that point suggested that, in general, local authorities in Scotland were unwilling to provide for discretionary relief to mitigate the rates burden and enable sports clubs to remain in existence.

I cannot emphasise too much the importance of those clubs, especially when school sporting fixtures and arrangements have been disrupted by industrial action in schools. Therefore, amateur sports clubs play an increasing role. Bearing that in mind, several amendments were tabled in Committee—they were not probing, but substantive amendments—and were signed by Conservative as well as Opposition Members.

In reply, the Minister made it clear that the technical definitions were inadequate, and I accept his advice. In Committee, Opposition Members referred again and again to the fact that my technical definition of an amateur sports club was inadequate for those purposes. Those amendments put the point firmly and clearly to the Minister that all hon. Members felt that the spirit of the amendments had been supported by Labour, alliance and Conservative Members. The amendments would have provided mandatory relief.

When the Minister advised me that there were problems on two major counts, I said that I was prepared to withdraw the amendments on the express understanding that, after the necessary consultations with ministerial colleagues, he would table Government amendments on Report to meet their spirit.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman supports me.

Bearing in mind that those amendments were not raised just to articulate a particular problem, but that they were designed to ensure a specific reaction, in the face of the Minister's advice that they were technically deficient, I believed that the proper course was to withdraw them but to make it clear that I should return to them on Report. Therefore, it was very sad that a Division was forced in Committee. Presumably, that will prevent me from tabling a similar amendment—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I am advised that that may prevent me from returning to the same point on Report. I was prepared to withdraw the amendments because I attached the highest importance to having some provision in the legislation to help Scottish sports clubs.

A further point, which did not appear in our Committee discussions, was that the amendments as framed would grant relief from 1989–90 onwards. The position is more urgent than that. Without tabling new clauses, I could not provide relief more immediately, which is what I want. In view of what I have said today I hope that my ministerial colleagues can table amendments on Report, despite the timetable, to meet the spirit of my amendments.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is serious anxiety about this? I address my remarks to the Minister through the hon. Gentleman. For example, the modest Linlithgow cricket ground—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. We cannot debate now matters which were the subject of amendments in Committee. We are debating a timetable motion. I understood that the hon. Gentleman invoked the debate on these issues only with reference to our procedures, rather than on the intrinsic merits of the amendments. In so far as the intervention has a bearing on the motion before the House, I shall allow it, but we are not here to debate the wisdom, or lack of it, of imposing rates on sports clubs.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Many people in Scotland will not be too worried about our procedures, but they will be worried about the differences between the Linlithgow—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. No matter what the people in Scotland may think, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have regard to the fact that I have a responsibility to ensure that the Standing Orders and procedures of the House are complied with.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

I simply reinforce the point that the contrast between the Linlithgow ground and the Worcester ground is typical of the sort of contrast that exists.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

I welcome support, from whatever source, and I am glad to know that the hon. Gentleman supports the spirit of the amendments that I proposed.

Important matters in the Bill remain to be discussed. I am reassured by what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said this afternoon about sufficient time being given to future sittings in Committee to facilitate a constructive, full discussion of these matters. I look forward to participating in them.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South 5:41 pm, 11th February 1987

I felt sorry for the Leader of the House when he moved the motion to curtail further debate, and I am sorry that he is not present now. He spoke in a vacuum as an English Member of Parliament, knowing nothing about conditions in Scotland. He said that he was reading a brief prepared by some young Milton in his Department. I fear that that young Milton, like the previous Milton, also knew nothing about conditions in Scotland. He may be an expert on England, but he knows nothing about Scotland.

Listening to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), I realised that the longer a Member is in the House nothing tones him up more than being sacked from the Front Bench. I have thoroughly enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's speeches since he left the Front Bench. I remember when we used to ask him questions on industry and education when he was a Minister. He would not answer and, indeed, seldom spoke, but suddenly there is a reincarnation— sacked from the Government and facing a general election, he is back speaking in Parliament and I agree with many of his recent remarks, with the exception of those on Prestwick airport.

Listening to the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) also reminded me of the feeling that we always have before a general election, when Members who are fighting for their seats and know that they may be defeated suddenly begin to take an interest in local matters such as sports clubs. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is unworthy."] I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you saw the Channel 4 programme on Thursday night which surveyed marginal seats and dealt with the hon. Member's seat. Channel 4's public opinion poll found that the Labour candidate was ahead of the hon. Gentleman by 16 per cent, last week, so you will realise why the hon. Gentleman is trying to cover his ground now on sports clubs.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South

I put it to the hon. Gentleman—this is where he made a serious error and let down sports clubs in Scotland—that no Minister gave an assurance that an amendment would be tabled on Report. I read the Official Report and the Minister said clearly that he was prepared to look at the arguments, but he never said that he would table an amendment to meet those arguments and the anomalies that the hon. Gentleman's amendment made apparent.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that consultation is taking place between Department officials with a view to finding some sort of definition? I see that as a hopeful sign. Does the hon. Gentleman agree? Does he also agree that it is unfair to suggest that the interests of Conservative Members in the plight of sports clubs is new-found? Does he recall the occasion when I went with him to a meeting of sports clubs as a representative from my party when there were very few from his party?

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South

I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said, but he has not answered my point. We can have all the consultations we want, but unless the Government are prepared to table an amendment on Report, the change will not be made. No matter what Scottish Conservative Members think or how they vote, if the Government put on a three-line Whip, Conservative Members will vote for Government policy and not for what Scottish Tory Members want. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance today that definite amendments will be submitted on Report to deal with this matter.

There are many reasons for the guillotine, but the main reason is to get the Bill on the statute book before the general election. The Government want it, not to implement it but to use it in the political battle before the general election as something that the Tory Government have done for Scottish ratepayers. Considering the electorate's opinion in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and applying that across Scotland, it is clear that not one Minister on the Front Bench tonight will be returned at the general election. Even the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) will not be returned, and nor will many Back Bench Members. Despite this camouflage of dealing with the rates, the people of Scotland will get rid of the Tories once and for all as public representatives in the House.

What is wrong with the rating system in Scotland? That is the fundamental question with which we are dealing tonight. Under the Tory Government, the rate support grant has gradually decreased from 70 per cent, to about 56 per cent. In all probability, in a few weeks' time we shall have a new rate support grant formula which will show a further reduction in the percentage of relevant expenditure. The Scots continued with the revaluation of property in 1973 when the English stopped it. I blame some colleagues here and most colleagues in local government for that. Under this Bill we shall have a further revaluation in 1990. We are told by Ministers that the English will also have a revaluation in 1990, but I do not believe it.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that under the Bill there will be a revaluation only for non-domestic property in 1990? Under the Labour party's policy there will be a total revaluation in 1990.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South

I accept that under the provisions of the Bill there will be a revaluation only of non-domestic property in 1990, but I am not concerned only about domestic ratepayers. I am also concerned about business ratepayers. I am concerned about every ratepayer in Scotland. We shall carry out another revaluation of industry, starting in Scotland in 1990. The Government have promised only that they may do it in England and Wales. The main reason for the Bill is that we have had a revaluation every five years in Scotland and the last two caused such a revolt among Scottish ratepayers that the Government were forced to do something. That is why we are saddled with the Bill.

What do English Members think will be the effect in England and Wales in 1990 if the Government carry out a revaluation and raise English property valuation levels from 1973 levels to 1990 levels? There was a revolution in Scotland over the five-year period. The Government will get more than a revolution in England if they bring 1973 property valuation levels to 1990 levels. The Government will not have a revaluation in 1990 and the English will not have a poll tax in 1990 because to introduce a poll tax the Government must first reintroduce the revaluation process. The Bill is a con. It is an attempt by the Tory Government to enhance their position in Scotland so as to retain the few seats that they have..

The effects of the Bill will be felt by Scotland only from 1989 to 1992. The Bill will not be introduced immediately and over a period its effects will be reduced. I assure the House that after the general election I shall come back as a Labour Member of Parliament representing a constituency with a solid Labour vote. If, unfortunately, the people in the south-east vote to keep the Conservative Government in power, I shall be able to come back and say, as I have said on all valuation and rating issues since the end of 1970, that I told the Government that they would not be able to do what they intended to do.

I am willing to bet that the Government will not introduce the poll tax if they win the next general election and certainly will not introduce the system proposed for Scotland in England and Wales. Even the people in the south will realise that the Government do not represent the people of the United Kingdom and will vote with the people from Wales, the north and Scotland. When we have a change of Government we can re-examine the system of valuation and rating so that we may be fair to all ratepayers, whether they be in the south of England or in the north of Scotland. This Bill will not help the Tory party or the ratepayers in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling 5:44 pm, 11th February 1987

I am prepared to accept what the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) had to say about his prospects of being supported by his electors. He is in a unique position. He is one of the few Opposition Members— if not the only one— who oppose the rating system. It became perfectly clear during our deliberations-which is why I saw no need to detain the Committee further—that the Labour party's purpose was to wreck the Bill; not to make any constructive representations but, rather, to act as an unthinking mouthpiece for COSLA which, sadly, briefed only the Opposition parties during the course of the Bill and organised secret liaisons with them. That was an unfortunate pattern of events.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

The hon. Gentleman's remark about COSLA is outrageous. He and all members of the Committee were given an opportunity to receive regular briefings from COSLA. If the hon. Gentleman did not avail himself of that opportunity, that is his problem, not COSLA's.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I assume that the hon. Gentleman suffers from poor memory. He was in the Committee when I read extracts from COSLA's policy committee meeting minutes about the regular meetings that it was to have with Opposition Members only and also the team of experts who would be on hand to brief them. After one or two sessions, the team of experts seemed to disappear and we were left with empty public seats that in no way reflected the hysteria and storm of protest that the Opposition whipped up and told us was growing in Scotland because of the Government's proposals to introduce a community charge.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

Is it not a fact that COSLA experts left in despair because it became increasingly obvious that the Opposition could not understand half their amendments?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

My hon. Friend is quite right. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), in his normal courteous way, during the course of proceedings in Committee took considerable time to explain to hon. Gentlemen exactly what COSLA's intentions were. Whatever happened at the secret meetings with COSLA representatives, they obviously did not discuss what the amendments meant. No doubt they had other matters to discuss.

The guillotine motion is not before time. We have had about 100 hours of debate. During the course of those debates—my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) was unfair to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton)— we discovered that the Labour party was totally committed to the existing rating system, that it wished to extend it further to cover agricultural land and buildings, and that it wished to have regular revaluations in Scotland. That fact has been firmly placed on the record. We have also discovered that it is determined to destroy the Bill because it believes that it will help only minorities. During the debates, Labour Members made it clear that, although they are prepared to concede that it will help single-parent families, widows and pensioners, they consider them to be a small percentage of the community and, therefore, of no relevance in the generality of the system.

I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Munro). He suggested that the use of the guillotine is unfortunate because we have not had an opportunity to discuss matters of principle. We have discussed all the major elements of principle. I hope that when the Bill goes to another place it will have a swift passage. The principle of introducing a community charge and abolishing the rating system has been discussed ad nauseum with many amendments, discussions and opportunities to reiterate the view that Oppostion Members have taken— that the community charge is unfair.

Photo of Mr Barry Henderson Mr Barry Henderson , North East Fife

Did not the Committee take over 25 hours to debate clause I, which contains the simple proposition that, from April 1990, domestic rates will be abolished? It is an important matter of principle certainly, but should it have required 25 hours to debate that straightforward proposition?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

My hon. Friend is being very unfair to the Opposition. They were in difficulty and had to decide in Committee what their policy was. I understand that the debates on clause I continued for almost 25 hours while their policy was handed down from on high. At first we were told in Committee that it was not their job to say what their policy was, but later we had a clear enunciation of their policy— a clear commitment to the existing rating system and the status quo.

Perhaps we ought to have more time to discuss how the Opposition's hints could be made into reality. There have been hints that the Opposition might favour capital values. However, when it was pointed out to them that there had been difficulties over the rating of sports clubs and other organisations in Scotland because of a method that depended upon capital values for assessing rateable values, they seemed to move away from it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) pointed out, I agree with the Glasgow Herald that a disorganised Opposition have been operating on an opportunist basis. On the one hand, they have argued that they want to wreck the Bill; on the other hand, they have argued that they want to improve it. They have even tabled amendments whose meaning they did not understand.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. However, in Committee he asked my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South to explain to him what the amendment standing in his name meant. If that is not wasting the time of the Committee, I do not know what is. Furthermore, last night in Committee the hon. Gentleman told us that his purpose was to wreck the Bill. These matters are on record and are beyond dispute. That is not what we expected in Committee. I expected to hear a closely argued demolition of the community charge. Also I expected to hear about the Opposition's alternatives for widows, single people and others in Scotland who are facing hardship because of:he rating system. We heard nothing about that. Instead, there was opposition for opposition's sake.

As for alliance Members, who are not even in the Chamber, they, too, have been very noisy. I read in the newspapers and hear that they intend to fight the Bill to the bitter end. Obviously they are all fighting it somewhere else— presumably in Greenwich. It is something of a revelation to me to discover the difference between what the alliance say not just to each other but what appears in the newspapers and what they do in this place. It has been an enjoyable Committee stage, if only because it has reinforced the view of my hon. Friends that the Government are proceeding in a carefully thought out and constructive way towards meeting the problems that the people of Scotland have to face because of the rating system and that the Opposition have nothing to offer by way of an alternative.

It is important that we should make progress and deal with the detailed matters, not just matters of principle, that still remain to be discussed. We know that there will be a community charge and a rebate system and that rates will be abolished. These are the main matters of substance that still have to be discussed. It is extraordinary that the Opposition, who made so much hay during the last rating revaluation, who were so critical and went out of their way to try to pin on the Government the blame for revaluation and for the undoubted hardship that is being caused because of the distortion of the rating system, should be so firmly attached to the principle of continuing with the policy of more of the same instead of discussing what can be done about it.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South

The hon. Gentleman is being very unfair when he suggests that opposition to the revaluation was confined to one party. The problems that have been caused by revaluation in Scotland were spread over two Governments. I was a member of a joint deputation that included the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), now the Secretary of State for Defence, that met my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), the Minister of State, Scottish Office at that time, on the occasion of the first Scottish revaluation. Therfore, the opposition to revaluation in Scotland, when there was to be no revaluation in England and Wales, was on an all-party basis. Opposition was not confined to one party for electoral purposes.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that he is opposed to revaluation, because he opposes the rating system. Regrettably, the Labour party is committed to the rating system. We cannot have a credible rating system without revaluation. That is why the hon. Gentleman was quite wrong to tell the House that there would be no poll tax, by which I assume he meant a community charge, in England because there could not possibly be a revaluation. I agree with him that a revaluation of domestic properties in England would cause hardship along the lines that we have experienced in Scotland. That is why I have every confidence that when this Government are once again returned to power after the next general election there will be a Bill to introduce a community charge in England, thereby abolishing the need for revaluation of domestic properties.

The hon. Gentleman appears to be the champion of commercial ratepayers. He said that he was concerned about the revaluation of commercial premises in Scotland. I am prepared to accept his word, but I suggest that he should find himself another party. He is a member of the party that in Committee opposed the idea of limiting increases in commercial rates to the rate of inflation. His party's policy is to have regular commercial revaluations and, in addition, to remove all controls on local authority expenditure. It would take us back to the days when businesses had to face 30 or 40 per cent, rate increases that bore no relation to their ability to pay and to the days when widows and single parents were faced with huge rate increases. That would be done as a sop to those who hold the reins of power in local government.

It is important that the Bill should reach the statute book as quickly as possible, not because I see the need for a speedy general election but because it is important to the electors of Scotland and to local government confidence. The Bill will restore power to local government at local level. Local government will be able to make its own decisions. It will remove all the machinery of controls on expenditure and make local government directly accountable to the electorate. It will be able to spend what it likes and to do what it likes, in the secure and certain knowledge that it will have to answer for it and explain the bill that the electors have to pay. It is that aspect of the Bill that appals the Labour party. The game is up. The Labour party will no longer be able to force a minority to pay.

The Opposition are opposed to the guillotine motion because they wish the corrupt system from which they have benefited to continue. Under that corrupt system, local government is funded by a tiny minority while the majority are weaned on promises. Therefore, I have no hesitation in supporting the guillotine motion. It will enable us to get on with delivering local government out of the hands of the Labour party and into the hands of the people.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin , Glasgow Springburn 6:08 pm, 11th February 1987

I believe that there should be more discussion of the Bill. It ill becomes the Government to impose a guillotine. As a member of the Committee, I felt that we were making reasonable progress. The Committee has reached clause 20. There is no reason to suggest that we are not making more progress on this Bill than we have made on other Bills.

The Government have not provided answers to many of the questions that are worrying us. For the first time, young people between the ages of 18 and 21 will find themselves in court if they do not pay fines that are to be imposed by taxes that will be enforced by this Government. We do not know whether the Government will allow local authorities to recover fines through the deplorable sheriff warrant system that we have in Scotland. A precedent will be created. The Minister, in Committee and on Second Reading, did not answer that. For example, in a household of five or six people, four may be paying the community tax. What will happen if the sheriff officers come in? It is the law in Scotland that sheriff officers can take possession of and put up for pointing any item in the household, regardless of whom it belongs to. It may be an item borrowed from a next-door neighbour, but that could still be removed from the premises and sold to recover the debt.

It would not be fair if all members of a family, with the exception of one, paid their taxes, but that one individual brought about a situation in which the sheriffs officer was called in and the whole family's property was jeopardised by that one person. If the Minister intends to bring in this type of legislation he should tell us what will happen in those situations. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) to tell us that people in Scotland welcome the legislation, but it is our duty, in Committee, to go into the matter in depth and let the people of Scotland know that everything will not be in apple pie order as the hon. Gentleman tries to make out. Regardless of whether the legislation is carried, the local authorities and people of Scotland will still reject the policies of the Thatcher Government and the administration of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The hon. Gentleman should not kid himself that the legislation will get the Tories off the hook in Scotland. More and more people will vote Labour at future local elections.

Photo of Mr Barry Henderson Mr Barry Henderson , North East Fife

Would the hon. Gentleman care to bet whether there will ever be a Labour councillor in northeast Fife, or whether the Labour candidate in north-east Fife will get a higher percentage of the vote than the Tory candidate in his constituency?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin , Glasgow Springburn

I do not know what goes on in the part of Fife that the hon. Gentleman talks about, but in Glasgow, as he knows full well, the Tory party is suffering-not only because of the campaigns that we have waged in Glasgow, but because of the policies of the Government and the Secretary of State for Scotland, which are causing a great deal of damage to the Tory party. Traditional Tory party areas are losing seats all over the place in local government.

In Committee, the Minister has not given us a full explanation of the matters that were discussed yesterday. We do not have a full explanation as to who the so-called responsible person will be that the registering officer will designate. He will be required to give information for the register on each individual in that household. We are told that, if the wrong information is given, that could lead to the person being fined, or if that person refuses to give information, measures will be taken against him.

In many cities in Scotland people live in bedsit accommodation, not as a family but as individuals who pool money to pay the rent. They have no connection except that they stay at the same address. They are not living as a family. The Minister has not given us an explanation of that.

My fear—our fears have not been allayed—is that elderly people may be harassed when registration officers call to ask questions. If a young person is not paying a community tax, questions will be put, in many cases, to elderly parents, such as, "Where is your son? When was the last time you saw him? When was he last in the house? Does he visit?" All those questions may worry a person who is elderly, in had health or frightened of authority. We have not been told how people's rights will be safeguarded when the registration officer comes to the door. We should be entitled to more consideration.

I do not accept what the hon. Member for Stirling says—that, because the Tories have come up with a poll tax, we should have something to put in its place. If the Tories come up with legislation that I do not like, I am entitled to oppose it. I do not have to have anything else to put in its place.

The Tories are abolishing the rates system. Although it has many faults, the rating system is better than what the Tories are proposing. They are introducing a poll tax, and taxing young people who stay with their parents. They are taxing big families, people in communities like my own and in places such as Possilpark, Springburn, where unemployment is very high, and Denison, where young families are striving to make a living. It ill becomes the hon. Member for Stirling to say that we should be putting something in its place. If we cannot find something better than a poll tax, we should be quiet. The rating system is far better than what the Government propose.

Photo of Mrs Anna McCurley Mrs Anna McCurley , Renfrew West and Inverclyde 6:18 pm, 11th February 1987

Since I have been in the House I have been involved in about 30 Standing Committees. This is probably the worst Opposition that I have ever experienced on any Standing Committee. It was tragic. Good government and good legislation require good opposition. In this case, the Opposition were found wanting. They had only two amendments accepted; one was a probing amendment and the other they did not know the meaning of. One paltry argument followed the other.

Probing amendments were frequently withdrawn as Opposition Members failed to sustain a case, as they fail to sustain so many cases. That served to highlight the smugness and arrogance of Labour Members, who did not do their homework and believed that no change was OK. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) was the first string in this Committee. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) was the second string. In the 16th century, some Spanish ladies used to parade with apes to enhance their rather dubious charms. Those of us who had to listen to that deadly duo find the analogy quite appropriate. As for the contribution of the alliance, none of whom are present, I was reminded of an old section of the Reader's Digest, which said that it pays to increase your word power. It did not increase our knowledge.

The Bill has been more than justified by the Ministers in charge and, despite the Opposition, it has had a good airing. That augurs well for a future Bill for England, which will be introduced in the new session. The test that was proposed for the Bill is its fairness, simplicity and accountability. Fairness is probably the first principle.

The burden of rates has fallen on too small a section of Scottish society. The Opposition would have us believe that the burden can be borne lightly, thus relieving non-payers. Is that the truth, however? Far too many of my constituents wrote far too many letters contradicting that view—there were 2,000 a week at its height. They are not rich. Many are elderly with admittedly biggish houses which have been family houses and which they are reluctant to leave because of happy memories. Are they to be relocated? Many have very little in the bank—sometimes as little as £500 or £600, but enough to attract no benefits, and some pay more than £1,000 a year in rates.

Those who advance the pathetic and curious argument that all who live in "big houses" are loaded should come to the more genteel parts of my constituency, such as Gourock, where they will see that genteel penury is no more attractive than the penury found in the most deprived areas. By paying rates of such magnitude, those people supported families in other areas who received many state benefits and enjoyed a rate-free existence, but they had to penny-pinch and save. In Committee we got nothing but the politics of envy and the size of people's houses from the Opposition. Such arguments do not pass the test of fairness.

The community charge would redistribute the burden. Of course some people will pay for the first time, but they will pay the equivalent of a packet of cigarettes a week for street lighting, dustbin collection, street cleaning, libraries, burial grounds, roads, sewers and clean water. That sounds like a bargain. Why should they not pay? It is a fair principle.,Naturally, many better-off people may benefit, but bearing in mind the other burdens of taxation that are laid upon them, why not?

We should all attempt to contribute something to our society. It is a principle. Despite what the Labour party tried to tell us in Committee, the Scottish people are highly principled. For those who are not, perhaps accountability may for the first time impinge on their consciences. Perhaps then, local councils, which are mostly controlled by Labour, would not be able to use special bribery status areas quite as freely as they can at the moment to boost their electoral hopes.

Although the community charge is not a poll tax arid therefore not a tax on the right to vote—there will be no direct connection with the right to vote—the connection may be established in a different way. It may have a direct bearing on the way in which votes are cast in future. Perhaps that, above all, is why the Opposition just do not like the Bill.

Strangely enough, the two main principles were disposed of relatively quickly in Committee, but hours of false outrage were expended on methods of collection. There were wild accusations about a betrayal of human rights. The whole nasty gamut of rhetoric emerged and fizzled out, but not before the Opposition were rowing among themselves on a point of principle. Victory did not go to the Front Bench, but to an elder statesman who is laying down the burden at the next election.

It seems that I am restricted by time, but I have one more thing to say to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), who has just left the Chamber. We have heard of the proposals being made at the expense of Glasgow. Last weekend, there were five symphony concerts and three new restaurants opened. There is a healthy economy in Glasgow. Surely somebody must be benefiting. We should hear a bit more about areas such as mine which are not as well served as Glasgow and which have been milked dry by Glasgow for years. It is time that the balance was redressed, and I believe that the Bill can do that.

Photo of Mr James Craigen Mr James Craigen , Glasgow Maryhill 6:24 pm, 11th February 1987

My constituency will not benefit from the Bill. The figures show that all six wards within the Glasgow district will be worse off. In my written evidence in response to the Green Paper, I reckoned that between £8 million and £12 million would be taken out of my area's purchasing power.

We should be blunt about it. The Bill was born out of the panic which set into Scottish Toryism after the 1985 revaluation. It owes more to the plight of the Scottish Tory party than it does to reducing the difficulties of Scottish ratepayers. The poll tax being proposed will be no more progressive than the present rating system, with all its disadvantages. It certainly will not produce greater accountability because 80 per cent. of local authority revenue will be determined by the Government. It most certainly will not iron out the rating and valuation disparities between Scotland and England about which many of us received letters during the 1985 revaluation. I do not think that it will last because it lacks the consensus that is necessary for any system of local government finance.

I have listened to Ministers talk about this so-called radical system. The idea of a poll tax is so old that this dumb lot think that it is a novel means of taxation. I give the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) full marks. He laboured away in the House of Commons Library on his wee pamphlet, "A Case for a Poll Tax" and the desperate men on the Government Front Bench were so lacking in ideas of their own that they adopted it. They have been talking about reforming the rating system for the past 17 years. The right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) was talking about it in 1970 when I fought him as a Labour and Co-operative candidate. He was a longer serving Secretary of State for Scotland than most, but he did nothing to introduce legislation on the subject. It is the Conservatives who have set the agenda for rating reform.

I have been guillotined in this debate, so my final point is that the Government have a way of putting the most awkward things at the end of a Bill. I want more time to discuss the new revenue support grant, which is to replace rate support grant, and what it means in terms of the finance available to local authorities. Business men in England were asked by the Department of the Environment to comment on the Green Paper and the national non-domestic rate which is proposed. They expressed the fear that it might end up as another source of finance for the Government, rather like the road fund licence. Thus business men could contribute to the non-domestic rate while the Treasury filches the money.

With this Bill, Scotland is being asked to pay a heavy price to save a dwindling number of Conservative Members and Ministers who are on their way out anyway.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 6:28 pm, 11th February 1987

This has not been a pleasant debate or one which has reflected much credit on the House. I hope that, when the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) reads her speech, as no doubt she will, she will regret some of her opening remarks. We extend a certain traditional courtesy to our colleagues in the House, irrespective of party, but I think that she has gone some way to forfeiting that right in the future.

A 26-minute speech from the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) did not greatly improve the tenor of the argument or the quality of life of any of us, but I suppose that we must put up with that.

I express thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and for Paisley, North (Mr. Adams) and all the other Labour Members who have worked extremely hard on this Bill in Committee and had to put up with a great deal.

Many sour comments have been made during the debate and in Committee. If the Bill is such a triumph for Ministers—many splendid speeches have been made and much propaganda has been propagated by the Government in Committee—why are we faced with a guillotine? I can only assume that it is because Conservative Members have had to spend many hours listening to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. That is an occupation that lacks inspirational content.

I noticed that the hon. Gentleman was mentioned in the columns of The Scotsman the other day, praising the efforts and the effectiveness of my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart. That uncharacteristically generous and balanced judgment arose because he was credited with certain remarks of mine. However, today, an apology appeared in The Scotsman. I understood and appreciated that those remarks were unintentionally attributed to the Under-Secretary of State but I recommend that precedent to him. If he followed it he would improve the quality of his output in future.

The management of the Bill, about which I feel strongly, has been mistaken and at times offensive. There has been a great deal of indecent haste, and there is a feeling that from the beginning the Government have expected there to be a guillotine, have been reconciled to one and have been prepared to force the Bill through in the minimum of time and with the minimum of effort. The whole thing has been extraordinary.

The questions posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) cry out to be answered, but they have not been. Why does the Bill exist? Why have the Government suddenly abandoned their considered position? Why have they betrayed the work that has been done by Conservative Governments over many years on the problems of the rating system? The record confirms what many hon. Members have long guessed—that the Bill arose because of arguments of expediency, because of political opportunism and because of a fear about a rapid deterioration in the Tories' electoral position in Scotland. That is not the basis for a sensible, far-reaching and significant reform of local government structure.

The House will remember—it has already been mentioned—that a Green Paper was published in 1981. We do not hear much about the Green Paper because it addressed itself to the arguments about a poll tax. It made the case against the poll tax extremely persuasively. That must be something of an embarrassment to the Government.

In August 1983 the present Administration produced their own White Paper. That White Paper contained the Government's decision that the rating system was fundamentally sound and that the alternatives should be rejected. The volte face, the climb down, is not an issue of principle, but, I repeat, a surrender to expediency.

The Secretary of State, who inherited that solution, is probably embarrassed. However, he has the admirable discipline of a trained advocate and presents a bad case without flinching.

The Leader of the House made no effort to justify what he was laying before the House. He did not suggest that there was a filibuster. He did not say that the guillotine was necessary for certain reasons. He said, in effect, that the Government had decided to have a guillotine and that it suited their convenience. That is not an impressive or a compelling argument for the motion.

It is easy to be cynical. It may well be that the arguments against a guillotine are no more than ritual rage and fury and that the Opposition are simply doing what the Opposition must do. Personally, I have no enthusiasm for guillotines. I have been a Labour Front Bench spokesman for five years. During that time—the Minister may take this as a compliment—there have been many highly contentious Bills. We have had the entire gamut of the war between local and central Government appearing in statutory form for consideration. However, during those five years we have had only one guillotine on a Scottish Bill.

I take no particular pride in guillotines. They are not some sort of machismo badge that the Opposition should strike and count at the end of every year to see what they have achieved. That is a ludicrous proposition. However, a guillotine in this case was inevitable because of the way in which the Government set about their business. There was a cynical clocking up of the hours.

The Leader of the House delicately said that the motion was not quite unprecedented, and he produced an example from a far distant place and a far different legislative subject. I have never served on the Committee of a Bill that has been guillotined, and I am a battle-scared veteran of Committee stages of Scottish Bills. I have never known a sittings motion that started off with double banking on day one, and on day two we met again at 9 o'clock. I cannot remember a Bill in which there has been so little interest in any sort of constructive debate.

I did not expect Ministers to give concessions on essential matters of principle which struck at the heart of the scheme. I recognise that they are ghirled to it and that they are thrawn and obstinately committed to this scheme for reasons that I believe are deeply mistaken.

It was always possible to have an intelligent, flexible and sensible approach at another tier, but I cannot remember any legislation where there has been more alarm, concern and anxiety about the practicalities, the nuts and bolts, how the scheme will operate and whether it can be operated. That conies not just from COSLA and local Labour councils, but from almost everyone who has expertise and conviction in this sector who has taken the trouble to consider the possibilities and to make comments and points about the legislation. We have had nothing from the Conservative party.

I was astonished at the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde, who brought forward a quite extraordinary doctrine. She suggested that the effectiveness of an Opposition was judged by the number of concessions made by the Government. If that is the way in which she judges the effectiveness of an Opposition, she may have an unhappy time when she is on the Opposition Benches. I know the hon. Lady well enough to know that she will pop up again, although I think that her chances locally are distinctly gloomy. I asked the House to look at that yardstick that was put forward, but it should agree that. it hardly merits serious consideration.

The Government were determined to push the Bill through. They were determined to have as little delay arid as little in the way of debate as they could get away with. The Leader of the House had to come forward and argue a case, almost by default, on that basis.

I have listened to the speeches this evening and I have not heard anything to change my mind on that. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) made a blistering attack. That attack was a sign of shining ability that no doubt persuaded other Conservative Members that he should return to the Back Benches. I was not impressed.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

If the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the Opposition's tactics is correct—that they wish to be constructive and deal with technical points—why did they spend 25 hours on clause 1?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

The Leader of the House made the point that a good deal of progress had been made. We are at clause 20. The hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) suggested that clause 1 was a simple matter. That may be the view of a simple mind. However, the clause strikes at the heart of a fundamental argument about the way in which we organise local government finance.

The truth is that we are considering a political gesture. This measure must go on the statute book. It will be borne like a talisman into battle in areas like Pentlands, Edinburgh, South and Eastwood to try to rally the Tory faithful and see the Conservative party through the dark days.

We object fundamentally to the proposed scheme. It is unrelated to the ability to pay. It will undoubtedly bring about a substantial switch in the contributions made and the percentages that areas give to local taxation between the more prosperous and the less prosperous.

I have no doubt that there are some attractive arguments for the scheme. I am certainly riot one of those who would sweep aside the problems of people such as the widow to whom the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden referred. One must look at the balance of social justice that lies behind the scheme.

Let me give a warning—this is the only point that I shall mention in substance—to those who have calculated what their community charges might be arid compared them with their current rates bills. One can hear the cash registers ringing as they rush to support the scheme. They should take a longer view, even if personal financial advantage is to be the way in which to judge something as far-reaching as this.

The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) made a virtue of the fact that industry and commerce will be tied to the retail prices index, which means that the buoyancy revenue will fall on what was once the domestic ratepayer but is not the payer of the community charge. The hon. Gentleman grins with delight because he sees the narrow political advantage in that. However, he does not realise that many things could happen, such as new section duties, or the—21 million that the administration of this scheme will cost local government, or wage settlements funded at only 50 per cent. with the rest to come from rates. Instead of these additions being spread across the board, they will all fall upon the community charge. The comforting gap that the people in Pentlands, Eastwood and Strathkelvin and Bearsden think will be there for all time will suddenly start closing with alarming rapidity.

The gearing is vicious, and the community charge will start rising fast, not because of profligacy, irresponsibility or Socialist policies, but because of the escalator built into the scheme. I warn the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, if he survives the next election—who am I to make a judgment on that?—that in a few years' time the widows about whom he is concerned now will not be thanking him for the community charge because in their eyes it will be becoming the monster that it is in ours now.

There is every reason for looking sceptically at and properly debating this Bill. There is the administrative nightmare with which we shall be faced when this incredible and unworkable scheme, which has been criticised from almost every side, is put into operation. There are the problems of second homes, hostels, students, collection, diligence and the register. These points have not been properly discussed because of the way in which the Government have set about their business.

As most of my hon. Friends would concede, I have considerable respect for the Committee procedure. Committees can be extremely valuable and productive. I look back with particular pleasure on a number of Committees, some of which I have shared with Conservative Members. This appears to have been rather an arid Committee, because of the approach taken by the Government, who have seen the Committee merely as a irritating procedural exercise that has to be completed. The motion shows no respect for the procedures of the House, and it has set, or threatens to set, some unpalatable precedents that Conservative Members may regret when, within a few short months, they find themselves on the Opposition Benches. It would be much more sensible if the Secretary of State would tell the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) that he is scrapping the guillotine motion and going back to a proper consideration of the Bill. That consideration should be done with flexibility, honesty and openness of mind, because that would produce better legislation.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Secretary of State for Scottish Office 6:44 pm, 11th February 1987

The various Opposition parties have sought to convey fury at the timetable motion that the House is being asked to accept. That sound and fury would have been a bit more convincing if, for the greater part of the debate, there had been more than a dozen Scottish Labour Members in the Chamber. The fact that more than two thirds of Scottish Labour Members have failed to take any part, even by their presence, in the debate cannot be reconciled with the argument that this is a constitutional outrage. In addition, apart from the past five minutes, the Scottish National party has not been present for the debate and the Liberal party in Scotland has had no presence. Its sole contribution was the speech by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) who serves on the Committee.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is an honest man. Surely he will admit that on ritualistic occasions such as this, the last thing that Members of Parliament want to do is spend time listening to other Members of Parliament going on.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Secretary of State for Scottish Office

That is a most extraordinary admission from the hon. Member. His party has characterised the motion as a constitutional outrage, but so uninterested are they in it that not one of their members, with the solitary exception of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who graced us with his presence for five minutes. has thought it appropriate to be present on this occasion. If the people of Scotland could see the absence of interest by the Opposition parties in this debate they would come to a clear conclusion.

The House will be reminded of the remark on a previous occasion by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who is Opposition Front Bench spokesman on trade and industry, during a debate on a similar motion during the last Labour Government: There is a growing conviction that to make too much fuss about a timetable is indulging in a certain amount of hypocrisy."—[Official Report, 7 July 1975; Vol. 895, c. 162.]

When the Leader of the House said last week that there would be a timetable motion, we got an indignant response from the two Opposition Front Bench spokesmen in Committee. Such was their indignation that they thought it appropriate to issue a joint statement, which was reported in the press. They protested that the Opposition had not attempted deliberately to delay the Bill. However, they had "argued forcibly".

I am sure that a number of my hon. Friends will have consulted the proceedings in Committee to see what this forcible argument amounted to. For example, they will have seen the contribution of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) when he introduced his amendment No. 41. He said: I hope that the Minister understands the words on the amendment paper or that his advisers can tell him what they mean, because I have no idea. Can the Minister give me an explanation?"[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 15 January 1987; c. 330.] The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) the other Opposition spokesman, moved amendment No. 118, provided for the Opposition by COSLA. After explaining COSLA's views, he said: I confess that I do not understand that."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 22 January 1987; c. 584.]

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) was in a slightly more difficult position. At least the two hon. Gentleman could vote for their amendments, because they knew about them. He found, to his discomfiture, that he had no awareness at least one amendment on which his name appeared. He informed his colleagues: I have not been consulted about the matter and I am getting a wee bit tired of being the odd man out being totally misunderstood when I talk about an amendment."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 29 January 1987; c. 742.] I am bound to say to the House—

Mr. Rilkind:

Well, I am going to say it.

I must say to the House that it may be contributions of this fluency from the Opposition that explain the conclusion of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) that the Committee had been a little arid. He suggested that that was the Government's fault, but let us consider not the Government's view or the Opposition's view of whose responsibility it is, but that of the Scottish press. He will know that that is not a great friend of the Conservative party or the Government.

I want to start with an independent newspaper; the Glasgow Herald, which, under the heading "Weak opposition" stated: The results so far have been undramatic, though there was some pointless backbench filibustering at the end of the year. The promised major offensive has failed to materialise. The report continued: The result is another piece of ineffectual opposition. I appreciate that Opposition Members may not consider that to be a very Socialist paper and may say, "Well, what would you expect the Glasgow Herald to say?" Let us consider what the Scottish Daily Record said. Opposition Members will agree that that newspaper is normally friendly to the Labour party cause. That paper stated: But Labour's promise to give rates reform a rough ride has never really materialised.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Secretary of State for Scottish Office

I could quote from the Sunday Post, but I want to refer to a newspaper which is at least as much in tune with the Labour party as the Scottish Daily Record. I want to refer to the Glasgow Evening Times. What did that paper say about the party which it normally supports? Under the heading "Pathetic opposition" it stated: Scottish Labour MPs win no plaudits for their opposition to the Bill.The problem for the Labour Party is that it has chosen to take the coward's approach on the question of rates.It wants to change the system but does not know what to replace it with.It suits their political purposes to have the rates loaded unfairly in favour of their own supporters. The report concluded: But the Labour opposition to the Bill has been pathetic.The party which glories and delights in its overwhelming lead in the Scottish opinion polls should perform better on such crucial issues. If the debate in Committee has been arid, who is responsible for that aridity?

I want to refer to yet another Left-wing journal which has chosen to comment on the Committee's proceedings and the attitude of the Labour party. This a magazine entitled Radical Scotland—not exactly the most avid supporter of Conservative policy. In its latest issue, the journal states: Labour…have been loud in their condemnation of the Tory proposals, but have not come forward with any positive proposals themselves for any change, even minor, to local government funding. (Can it really be perfect?) They thereby lay themselves open to Tory jibes of 'defending the status quo', and appearing to become the party of reaction. The report continues by claiming—this is perhaps the gem of them all— It seems that a recent move within Labour's ranks for positive proposals was knocked hack (from the top) on the grounds that 'if we produce anything, it will just get attacked'.

I like to be a fair man on these occasions. I know perfectly well that it would be unreasonable for me to expect the Opposition or the country to accept the Conservative party's views of the Labour party's performance. However, when the Daily Record, the Glasgow Evening Times and Radical Scotland have reported in such unequivocal terms, we are entitled to say that the Labour party has not provided any opposition to the Bill because it does not know how to do so.

I recollect that on Second Reading, two delegations came to the House to lobby Members. One was from the Federation of Scottish Ratepayers. That delegation came to lobby in favour of the Bill and its members paid their own fares down. The other delegation came from the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities, which has the appearance of a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Labour party. It appeared then and today and we are entitled to assume, unless there is evidence to the contrary, that they had their fares paid by Scottish ratepayers.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that COSLA's composition is the result of the decision of the Scottish electorate, and that he has led his party to the worst set of local election results in political history?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Secretary of State for Scottish Office

No, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues failed to answer the correct point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). In its approach to the Bill, COSLA has sought to establish a private relationship with the Labour party and with Opposition parties. Instead of seeing its obligation to service the needs of all Members of Parliament, it has sought to be exclusive in the way that I have described.

The Bill is a radical and reforming measure, as the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) was kind enough to admit by quoting my earlier comments. He suggested that it was unacceptable because it resulted in everyone having to contribute to the costs of local government. He did not explain, what he should have realised, that all pay towards the costs of central Government. Everyone pays income tax or indirect taxes or, at the very least, VAT and other forms of indirect taxation. However, a substantial proportion of the adult population do not pay a penny towards the costs of local authorities. The hon. Member for East Lothian, a spokesman for the Labour party, did not seem to be aware that in Scotland about 750,000 Scottish adults who are not spouses or unemployed, the vast majority of whom are earning and pay income tax to central Government, do not under the present system pay a penny in contributions to local government.

The hon. Member for East Lothian and his colleagues must ask why they are defending a system which means that such people, many of whom earn more than old-age pensioners, do not pay a penny towards the rates raised by local authorities, while pensioners and others on low incomes who happen to be householders sometimes make substantial contributions.

The Labour party was correct to rule out local income tax, but by doing so it has emphasised what we have emphasised—that the only alternative to a discredited rating system is the community charge as proposed in the Bill. I have not the slightest doubt that, although it is impossible to achieve a perfect system of taxation, a system based on accountability, on the assumption that all adults who benefit from local authority services should make a contribution to the cost of those services, and which takes into account the ability to pay by a system which will provide up to 80 per cent. rebates for those who require it, should commend itself to the House. I therefore commend the motion to the House.

Question put:-

The House divided: Ayes, 287 Noes 187.

Division No. 89][7.00 pm
AYES
Adley, RobertCoombs, Simon
Aitken, JonathanCope, John
Amess, DavidCormack, Patrick
Ancram, MichaelCorrie, John
Arnold, TomCouchman, James
Ashby, DavidCranborne, Viscount
Aspinwall, JackCritchley, Julian
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Crouch, David
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Currie, Mrs Edwina
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Dickens, Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Dicks, Terry
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Dorrell, Stephen
Batiste, SpencerDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyDover, Den
Bellingham, Henrydu Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Bendall, VivianDunn, Robert
Benyon, WilliamDykes, Hugh
Bevan, David GilroyEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnEggar, Tim
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnEvennett, David
Blackburn, JohnEyre, Sir Reginald
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterFairbairn, Nicholas
Body, Sir RichardFallon, Michael
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFarr, Sir John
Boscawen, Hon RobertFavell, Anthony
Bottomley, PeterFenner, Dame Peggy
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaFletcher, Sir Alexander
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Fookes, Miss Janet
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Forman, Nigel
Boyson, Dr RhodesForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bright, GrahamForth, Eric
Brinton, TimFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonFox, Sir Marcus
Brooke, Hon PeterFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Gale, Roger
Browne, JohnGalley, Roy
Bruinvels, PeterGarel-Jones, Tristan
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Glyn, Dr Alan
Budgen, NickGoodhart, Sir Philip
Bulmer, EsmondGorst, John
Burt, AlistairGower, Sir Raymond
Butler, Rt Hon Sir AdamGrant, Sir Anthony
Butterfill, JohnGreenway, Harry
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Carttiss, MichaelGround, Patrick
Cash, WilliamGrylls, Michael
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHanley, Jeremy
Chapman, SydneyHargreaves, Kenneth
Chope, ChristopherHaselhurst, Alan
Churchill, W. S.Hayes, J.
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Hayward, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Heddle, John
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Henderson, Barry
Cockeram, EricHickmet, Richard
Colvin. MichaelHicks, Robert
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hill, JamesPatten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Hind, KennethPattie, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hirst, MichaelPawsey, James
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Holt, RichardPollock, Alexander
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Portillo, Michael
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)Powell, William (Corby)
Hubbard-Miles, PeterPowley, John
Hunter, AndrewPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Jackson, RobertPrice, Sir David
Jessel, TobyProctor, K. Harvey
Kershaw, Sir AnthonyRaffan, Keith
Key, RobertRathbone, Tim
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Renton, Tim
Knowles, MichaelRhodes James, Robert
Knox, DavidRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lang, IanRidsdale, Sir Julian
Latham, MichaelRifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Lawler, GeoffreyRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lawrence, IvanRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lawson, Rt Hon NigelRossi, Sir Hugh
Lee, John (Pendle)Rost, Peter
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Rowe, Andrew
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkRyder, Richard
Lester, JimSackville, Hon Thomas
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lightbown, DavidSt, John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lilley, PeterSayeed, Jonathan
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Scott, Nicholas
Lord, MichaelShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Luce, Rt Hon RichardShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lyell, NicholasShelton, William (Streatham)
McCrindle, RobertShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
McCurley, Mrs AnnaShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Macfarlane, NeilShersby, Michael
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnSims, Roger
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maclean, David JohnSpeed, Keith
McLoughlin, PatrickSpeller, Tony
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)Spencer, Derek
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Madel, DavidSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Major, JohnSquire, Robin
Malins, HumfreyStanbrook, Ivor
Malone, GeraldStanley, Rt Hon John
Maples, JohnSteen, Anthony
Marland, PaulStern, Michael
Marlow, AntonyStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mates, MichaelStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Mather, Sir CarolStewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinStradling Thomas, Sir John
Merchant, PiersTapsell, Sir Peter
Meyer, Sir AnthonyTaylor, John (Solihull)
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mitchell, David (Hants NW)Temple-Morris, Peter
Moate, RogerTerlezki, Stefan
Monro, Sir HectorThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Montgomery, Sir FergusThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Moore, Rt Hon JohnThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Morris, M. (N'hampton S)Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Mudd, DavidThornton, Malcolm
Murphy, ChristopherThurnham, Peter
Neale, GerrardTownend, John (Bridlington)
Needham, RichardTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Nelson, AnthonyTrotter, Neville
Neubert, Michaelvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Newton, TonyVaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholls, PatrickWaddington, Rt Hon David
Norris, StevenWalden, George
Onslow, CranleyWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Oppenheim, PhillipWall, Sir Patrick
Ottaway, RichardWaller, Gary
Page, Sir John (Harrow W)Walters, Dennis
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Ward, John
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)Wolfson, Mark
Warren, KennethWood, Timothy
Watson, JohnWoodcock, Michael
Watts, JohnYeo, Tim
Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)Younger, Rt Hon George
Wheeler, John
Whitney, RaymondTellers for the Ayes:
Wiggin, JerryMr. Francis Maude and
Wilkinson, JohnMr. Tony Durant.
Winterton, Nicholas
NOES
Abse, LeoFoulkes, George
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Anderson, DonaldFreeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Ashley, Rt Hon JackGarrett, W. E.
Ashton, JoeGeorge, Bruce
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Godman, Dr Norman
Barron, KevinGolding, Mrs Llin
Beckett, Mrs MargaretGould, Bryan
Beith, A. J.Gourlay, Harry
Bell, StuartHamilton, James (M'well N)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyHamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Hardy, Peter
Bidwell, SydneyHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Blair, AnthonyHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHaynes, Frank
Boyes, RolandHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Bray, Dr JeremyHeffer, Eric S.
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Home Robertson, John
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Hoyle, Douglas
Bruce, MalcolmHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Buchan, NormanHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Caborn, RichardHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Janner, Hon Greville
Campbell-Savours, DaleJohn, Brynmor
Canavan, DennisJohnston, Sir Russell
Carter-Jones, LewisJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cartwright, JohnKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Kennedy, Charles
Clarke, ThomasKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Clay, RobertKirkwood, Archy
Clelland, David GordonLambie, David
Clwyd, Mrs AnnLamond, James
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)Leadbitter, Ted
Cohen, HarryLeighton, Ronald
Coleman, DonaldLewis, Terence (Worsley)
Conlan, BernardLitherland, Robert
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Livsey, Richard
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Loyden, Edward
Corbett, RobinMcCartney, Hugh
Corbyn, JeremyMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Craigen, J. M.MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregot
Crowther, StanMaclennan, Robert
Cunliffe, LawrenceMcNamara, Kevin
Cunningham, Dr JohnMcTaggart, Robert
Dalyell, TamMadden, Max
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Mallon, Seamus
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Marek, Dr John
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dewar, DonaldMartin, Michael
Dixon, DonaldMaxton, John
Dormand, JackMaynard, Miss Joan
Douglas, DickMeacher, Michael
Dubs, AlfredMeadowcroft, Michael
Duffy, A. E. P.Michie, William
Eastham, KenMikardo, Ian
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Fatchett, DerekMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fisher, MarkNellist, David
Flannery, MartinOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelO'Brien, William
Forrester, JohnO'Neill, Martin
Foster, DerekOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidSmith, C.(lsl'ton S & F bury)
Park, GeorgeSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Parry, RobertSmith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Patchett, TerrySnape, Peter
Pavitt, LaurieSoley, Clive
Pike, PeterSpearing, Nigel
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Steel, Rt Hon David
Radice, GilesStrang, Gavin
Redmond, MartinStraw, Jack
Richardson, Ms JoThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Robertson, GeorgeThorne, Stan (Preston)
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)Tinn, James
Rogers, AllanWainwright, R.
Rooker, J. W.Wallace, James
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Wareing, Robert
Rowlands, TedWelsh, Michael
Sedgemore, BrianWilliams, Rt Hon A.
Sheerman, BarryWilson, Gordon
Sheldon, Rt Hon R.Winnick, David
Shields, Mrs ElizabethWrigglesworth, Ian
Shore, Rt Hon PeterYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Short, Mrs B.(W'hampt'n NE)Tellers for the Noes:
Silkin, Rt Hon J.Mr. John McWilliam and
Skinner, DennisMr. Tony Lloyd.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill: