Liability for Personal Community Charge

Abolition of Domestic Rates etc. (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 13th May 1987.

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Lords amendment: No. 28. in page 7, line 25, at end insert— ( ) A person undertaking a full-time course of education shall, in respect of the period beginning when he undertakes the course and ending when he ceases to do so, be liable for only such percentage as may be prescribed of the amount of the personal community charge for which he would otherwise be liable.".

Read a Second time.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment——

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) is not a signatory to amendment (g), and he therefore cannot move it. None of the signatories is present. With Lords amendment No. 28, it will be convenient to consider Lords amendment No. 32.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Amendment No 28 responds to concern expressed in another place about the position of students. It was argued that liability to pay the full charge could act as a marginal, but possibly significant, deterrent to overseas students thinking of coming to Scottish universities. There was also the question whether home students should be liable to pay the community charge. Some noble Lords argued for complete exemption, others for 100 per cent. reimbursement through the grant mechanism. The view was forcefully expressed that to make students liable and increase their grants to enable them to pay the charge involved needless additional administration and that our original proposal, which I explained in Committee and on Report, for a flat incrase in grants based on the Scottish average, could lead to some unfairness.

In light of the arguments advanced in another place, which were reflected in amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, which was not moved, we cannot accept that students should be totally exempt. We remain clearly of the view that, like other adults, students must make some contribution towards the cost of local services which they use and, consistent with the fundamental principle of accountability that underlies the introduction of the community charge, they must have some financial interest in the cost implications of the policies they can vote for.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

Will students get an increase in grant to cover the cost?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

If the hon. Gentleman had followed the arguments earlier——

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

The hon. Gentleman should not be so patronising.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Gentleman from his partician loftiness is shouting from a sedentary position; he would do well to listen to the changes that were made in another place.

An Hon. Member:

Just answer the question.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

I shall certainly answer the question put by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), if his hon. Friends will allow me to do so.

At a previous stage, we had proposed that a supplement to the grant would be given to all who were eligible for grant to help them pay the largest proportion of the community charge. At that time, I made it clear that we would probably wish to supplement the grant, for those eligible for grant, by an amount of up to probably 80 per cent., which would match the general level of rebates for others on low incomes under the proposals in the Bill.

As I was saying, an argument was put forward in another place that this could be unfair to some who would be paying the charge, because the supplement would reflect the average of the community charges for Scotland and not necessarily the community charge in each area; it was also argued that there might be unfairness because some students, such as foreign students, would not get any supplement. For that reason, we moved away from the proposal to supplement the grant to the proposals in the amendment we are considering.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

The hon. Gentleman made what appeared to be an adverse comment about my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) in referring to his patrician background. That seemed to come somewhat oddly from his mouth in view of his genetic inheritance, and the more so because of his Parliamentary Private Secretary who is even more patrician than he is. Having shared an office with my excellent colleague my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian, may I assure the Under-Secretary that he is much less a patrician? In fairness to his electoral chances, may I point out that he is much more plebeian than I am?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

I cannot comment on the last point, but I can on the earlier ones, because the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and I went to school together; we were at the same public school and I have known the hon. Gentleman for a long time. Not for that reason only but because he lives in the same part of the Scottish borders as I do, I must point out that on the last reckoning he owns rather more land in the Scottish borders than I do. It was with certain experience that I used the phrase advisedly. I may say also that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) is not my Parliamentary Private Secretary, but the PPS of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

It is the old boys' network. As a commoner, if I may intervene in the aristocratic argument, am I right in believing that students in Scotland will pay 20 per cent. of the poll charge and that they will get no increase in student grant to cover that 20 per cent.? Many students in Aberdeen will be affected; indeed, the city of Aberdeen itself will be affected by the charges.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing me back to the part of my remarks which I have been trying to complete for some time. If I may explain what the amendment will do, the hon. Gentleman will get the answer to his question.

Amendment No. 28 responds positively to many of the points of criticism made in another place. The purpose of the amendment is to provide that students should pay only a reduced charge. We envisage that the amount payable will be equivalent to the amount which would be paid by an individual receiving the maximum rebate. It is important that there should be fairness between those two. If the hon. Gentleman checks, I believe that he will find that the students themselves recognise that point.

As the House will recall, the illustrative assumptions we have made about the rebate scheme involve a maximum rebate of 80 per cent., so that everyone is called upon to pay a minimum contribution of 20 per cent. as the personal community charge. On the same basis, therefore, we would envisage prescribing that students should pay 20 per cent. of the charge. As I say, it is to keep equity between the two systems.

The original proposal was to supplement the grant to help students pay roughly the same proportion of community charge as somebody on a full rebate. We have removed the idea of supplementing grant and have effectively created an exemption of up to 80 per cent. So the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that we decided to go down the route not of supplementing grant but of exempting students from a proportion of the charge. We believe that the system we are proposing, which the students themselves prefer to the system originally proposed, will meet some of the criticisms.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office) 5:45 pm, 13th May 1987

The hon. Gentleman must allow me to develop my points about the amendment.

The new approach envisaged in the amendment has a number of important advantages. First, for home students, it means that their financial outgoings will be substantially reduced. This will be helpful to them in budgeting, particularly during the vacation period when they will not normally have any direct income from grant. That was a weakness, perhaps, of the previous proposals.

Secondly, it means that the amount payable by each student will not depend on the difference between the charge in his area and the Scottish average, but will simply be a set proportion of the charge in that area. Again, that was a criticism levelled at the original proposals.

Thirdly, there will be important administrative simplifications. I acknowledge that our earlier proposals involving a non-means-tested addition to grant, would have involved some extra administrative burden on the Scottish Education Department and local education authorities in England and Wales administering the awards scheme for students coming to Scotland. The new approach will achieve the required result very simply.

Finally, the amendment will substantially improve the position of overseas students. It would have been difficult, if not imposible, to offer them compensation through the student awards system as was proposed for home students eligible for awards, but the amendment will mean that the amounts they are called upon to pay will be substantially reduced. The Government's new approach in this respect substantially meets the concerns which were expressed about the position of overseas students.

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

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the scheme which he has just outlined. Will he confirm that at universities such as St. Andrews, which is normally residential, a great many students will be much better off under the community charge system than under the rating system because many who live in private accommodation outside university residences pay rates for which they get no assistance?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I know this from experience in my constituency. Students who live in accommodation where rates are payable contribute to the rates wholly or in part, depending on where they live. At the same time some students, because of parental contributions, do not receive any support through awards. Hon. Members know only too well that the hardest pressed students are those who get no award because of parental contributions but actually get no parental contribution; they have to pay full rates for their accommodation, without any assistance. So I agree with my hon. Friend that the improvements made in another place answer not only some of the criticisms but the real problems that exist under the present rating-system.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

If I give way to the hon. Gentleman, I hope he will tell me how, under his Government, or under his prospective Government's policies which he is putting forward at the election, he would seek to help students who at the moment have to pay rates without any assistance.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I am glad that the Minister has conceded that we will win the election. I will leave it to my hon. Friends to explain what the Labour Government will do. I hope the Minister will not chide me for not knowing the answer to the question, but I have not been involved in the previous consideration of the Bill; as he knows only too well, I have been involved in other parliamentary business elsewhere.

Yesterday, I visited Ballochmyle hospital in my constituency and was approached by representatives of the student nurses there. They were concerned that they were not getting an increase or rather the proposed increase—for those in the nursing profession—and were worried because, as I understand it, they will not be treated like other students, and in the way that the Minister has just described. Therefore, can the Minister tell the House the rationale and reason why student nurses are not treated in the same way as other students in relation to the poll tax?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. The simple answer is that student nurses and others, such as apprentices and those on youth training schemes, are in a fundamentally different position from students. All those individuals either have earnings or are in receipt of allowances, and have access, if necessary, to the rebate scheme that is proposed in the legislation. However, students will not have access to that rebate scheme if they fall within the definition of "students" that is triggered by this amendment. It is because there is a different way of dealing with those groups that they do not fall within this amendment.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Is the Minister saying that student nurses could end up paying more than 20 per cent., or more than the lowest rebated level? Does that apply to those student nurses who receive substantially less, in real terms, than some students who will have their poll tax reduced to 20 per cent.?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

For those who do not fall within the category of student, that depends on the income of the individual. I am not making any accusations, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was present when we discussed the rebate scheme and illustrated the income support levels that are likely to exist. However, we may deal with that when discussing other amendments later today.

The entire principle of the Bill is to ensure that through a rebate scheme, those on low incomes will receive support. The principle behind that remains that each person should contribute something. Students fell out of that category because, quite rightly, they are dealt with less and less through the social welfare system, and more and more through educational provisions, and in other ways. For that reason, it was felt that students should be treated in a different way.

It was for that reason that we originally sought to supplement student grants. However, given the complications that were advanced about those proposals, we are now proposing a much simpler system which, I believe, is generally welcomed by universities and student bodies because it is regarded as an improvement.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

It is hardly surprising that students welcome this provision because many currently pay rates, which Opposition Members wish to continue. However, what is the position for students living in halls of residence? At present, the University Grants Committee pays a substantial sum to Scottish universities for the domestic rates arising from their students. Under these proposals, are we to take it that, because students will no longer pay rates and because the halls of residence will no longer he rated for domestic rates, there will be a windfall gain for the Scottish universities insofar as the UGC makes those grants to those Scottish universities?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

My hon. Friend is moving away from the territory for which I have responsibility — the administration of the community charge — into the financing of higher education. Although I may have views on that, I have no responsibility for it as a Minister. However, I have noted my hon. Friend's comments and I am sure that those who have that responsibility will also have noted his points.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

I am sure that the Minister has received some advice about central institutions, such as halls of residence, on a par with the comments made by his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). Surely the Minister has some views on this matter?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Gentleman is right. Of course I have views on this. However, it is not for me to speak on this subject from the Dispatch Box. University finance does not fall——

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. University finance does not fall within my area of responsibility, either in terms of universities or of higher education generally. My hon. Friend the member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay) is the Minister responsible for that.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

We are talking about legislation that is not yet enacted. Therefore, we are discussing the possibilities of seeking to amend and improve it. However, other amendments to other legislation are running parallel with this.

The Minister's right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science who is responsible for universities, is introducing an entirely new body which will have a Scottish component. The Secretary of State for Scotland will have a responsibility to give advice to that new funding body from the Scottish perspective. Therefore, it is important that the Minister should address this aspect now, because clearly the Secretary of State for Education and Science will consider this debate and read the comments made by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). If he listens to him, without any guidance from the Minister at the Dispatch Box, he may well adopt the rather meagre and miserly attitude taken by the hon. Member for Stirling and deny the universities the funds they desperately need.

It is important that the Minister realises that he has a say, because under the new funding proposals for universities, the Secretary of State for Scotland will have a responsibility to give guidance on the position of the Scottish universities.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

Hon. Members must appreciate that the question of funding and of what happens to the university resources that currently come from the UGC—which at the moment meet the rates on student accommodation—is a matter of university or higher education finance. Obviously, it must be considered but it is not a matter on which, from the Dispatch Box, I shall either give a projection or make a policy statement.

Quite rightly, because that is the purpose of the amendment, I am dealing with the position of students— [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West wish to intervene? He is a great mutterer from a seated position.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

I do not want to prolong this agony for the Minister, but the Scottish Office Minister responsible for education is sitting along the Bench from him. 'The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay) has the responsibility, in the Scottish Office, for central institutions, including colleges of education which have halls of residence and which would receive "windfalls" on the lines that the Minister has mentioned. What is the view of the Scottish Office about those "windfalls"? Surely to goodness it has a view on that.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Gentleman is talking about a situation that will not arise for another two years. It absolutely fascinates me to hear Opposition Members say that we should be taking a distinct and definitive view on university financing two years hence——

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

I am not talking about university finance.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Gentleman says that he is not talking about university finance. However, the purpose of the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling was to talk about university financing. What fascinates me about this argument is that Opposition Members suggest that, if universities were to benefit from some sort of windfall, it should be taken from them. I am sure that the universities will note the remarks made by Opposition Members.

To sum up, this Government amendment represents a clear and positive response to the concern that has been expressed about students. It rightly maintains the principle that students should be liable for the community charge, like other adults who use local services and influence them through their votes. The amendment achieves the result that the Government have intended all along, that students should be in broadly the same position as those in receipt of the maximum rebate—by a mechanism which, I must admit, is much simpler than that which we had originally envisaged. The amendment greatly improves the position of overseas students and also that of others who would not have been eligible for assistance through grants. It removes many of the areas of concern that had arisen. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment No. 32 provides that students who are resident in premises subject to the collective community charge should not as a result be exempt from the personal community charge. They will thus be subject to individual registration and will be liable to pay the reduced amount of charge provided under amendment No. 28. They will not be liable to make collective community charge contributions to the landlord of the collective charge premises. Some anxiety was expressed in this area and I believe that the amendment has also been broadly welcomed. I commend it to the House.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

I must tell the House that both amendments Nos. 28 and 32 involve privilege.

6 pm

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

I shall be brief, as I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak on the slightly more important issue of the disabled and the poor, who should be exempt from this disastrous tax.

I wish to make three points. First, we welcome the change, while recognising its limitations. For the vast majority of students at Scottish universities, colleges and other educational institutions there will be no financial change whatever. The Government made it clear that they would put a certain amount on the grant, and the amendment merely gives a legal definition to it and a basis for it which was not otherwise the case. I welcome the change for that reason. It also helps foreign students and students who are out of receipt of grant, perhaps in a fourth year, or repeating a year for which they have no grant, and I welcome it for that reason also.

Secondly, on several occasions the Minister mentioned the figure of 20 per cent., but there is nothing in the amendment or the Bill to say that. The figure shall be "prescribed", so it is not even necessarily the same amount as for security benefit.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

This was the opportunity that the Minister had for inserting 20 per cent. clearly and unequivocally in the Bill. The Minister keeps saying 20 per cent., but I am reliably informed that the Department of the Environment does not wish to have 20 per cent. written into the Bill, because, if by some mischance it has the opportunity, it wishes to have a much higher minimum payment than 20 per cent. Therefore, the Department ensured that no minimum percentage was written into the Bill.

Thirdly, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) said that there would be a windfall for universities and colleges from this provision. What about the local authorities? It is not clear how the sums that local authorities will lose in rates on university buildings and reduced poll tax for students will be made up. In north-east Fife, St. Andrew's university is a major contributor to the rating system. Who will pay the difference there? Will the Government make supplementary grants to local authorities to take account of their loss? There are about 30,000 full-time students in Glasgow. If they were not students, they would either pay the full amount, or part of it would be paid by the Government and they would make a minimum payment. The amendment does not make it clear who will pay the supplement.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman cannot have the argument both ways. He cannot argue both that students will be worse off and that local government will be worse off. Either students will pay more, or they will pay less. If they pay more the local authority will be better off, and if they pay less the local authority will be worse off. He seems to be pursuing two parallel arguments which are mutually exclusive.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

My arguments are not mutually exclusive. It is typical of the hon. Gentleman's rather small brain that he fails to grasp the point. The Government's original proposals were that most students would be paid up to 80 per cent. extra on their grant in order to pay the full poll tax to their local authority. The local authority was to receive the full sum and the students were to pay 20 per cent. of it. Under these proposals, it is clear that students will pay 20 per cent., but it is not clear how the Government will pay the 80 per cent. which they were originally to pay through additional grant to the local authority. Does the hon. Gentleman understand that now?

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

Good. I am glad about that.

I hope that the Minister will respond briefly to my three points.

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

I had hoped that the Minister would take the opportunity to explain to the Scottish public who will be affected by this changed provision in respect of liability for the personal community charge.

Clause 8 does not define those who are in full-time courses of education, which is why the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) referred to student nurses. Nor is it clear whether other people who are in full-time courses of education, such as those on youth training schemes, might conceivably be affected by the change. When the Minister replies to the debate he may wish to make the ambit of this change clearer than hitherto.

It is clear from what the Minister said that students, however wide that category may be defined subsequently, will not be better off as a result of the change if what he said about offsetting the burden of the community charge through an adjustment in grants is the case. What has been portrayed as a concession seems to have been made solely with foreign students coming to Scottish universities in mind and with no intention to alleviate the burden on Scottish students.

In a parliamentatry answer to a question that I tabled about the incidence of the poll tax in different authority areas the Minister drew attention to the wide differences in the level of the poll tax that will exist to replace domestic rates at 1985–86 levels. In Strathclyde, for example, the community charge will be £229, whereas in Grampian, where Aberdeen university is located, it will be £157. Does the Minister expect students to take that factor into account when deciding which university to attend?

It is astonishing that foreign students should have to pay this impost. I attended university in New York, and no one there suggested that I should be made to pay a poll tax. Such reciprocity seems to be the least that a civilised country, such as Scotland, should offer visiting foreign students. Furthermore, I wonder whether what is proposed conforms to European Community policy. I wonder how many other EC countries levy poll taxes on our students who study abroad, as I expect they will do increasingly. Is the Minister suggesting that our Scottish students would do better, financially, to study abroad?

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

Can the hon. Gentleman give me a good sound reason why overseas students, who are frequently well off, should not pay a contribution to local government services, of which they are beneficiaries like everyone else? In the United States, where the hon. Gentleman had the benefit of being a student, he would have paid state and local taxes if they had arisen as sales taxes or in any other form.

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

The state of New York, where I had the good fortune to study, had a sensible system of local income tax, which I commend to the hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson). There was never any suggestion that it should be paid for by students, and nor would there he under an alliance Government.

There are many students who are living pretty close to the bread line who have to eke out their all too exiguous grant by working during the vacations. This poll tax will be an additional charge which, no doubt, will influence the thinking of some of them as to whether it is appropriate to spin out their higher education, as they should do: whether, as the poll tax rises to take account of increases in the cost of running local government and providing services which are necessary and which Parliament has entrusted to it, they can afford to continue in full-time education. The inhibitions on going into higher education in this country under a Conservative Government are great enough, in all conscience, and it is astonishing that the Government are seeking to increase the burden.

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

I shall be very brief. I want to point out that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) did not give a single reason why he felt that overseas students should be exempt from paying the community charge. That is the only point that I wish to make at this stage.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I should like to ask the Minister a couple of questions. It seems to me that the amendment is no concession, although for administrative reasons it is tidier and better. I suspect that the bulk of Scottish students will continue to be out of pocket to the same extent as they were under the previous arrangements, based on the 80–20 per cent. proposals. I am not trying to be clever, as the Minister knows. If he says that there will be a loss of revenue to local authorities, has he made any estimate of the loss to each affected authority? Does this mean that some compensation will have to be built into the formula for the revenue support grant for that loss of revenue?

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

There are approximately 7,000 full-time students in Dundee attending a college of education, a college of technology, university or a college of art. Can the Minister tell those 7,000 students that under his legislation they will not pay more than they pay at present? That is a simple question. How does the hon. Gentleman respond to the 970 student nurses in Dundee who will have to pay more, bearing in mind the miserable rise that was given to them by the Government a few weeks ago? What will he say to them?

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South 6:15 pm, 13th May 1987

I should like to take up the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown). This amendment is not a concession. The majority of students in my constituency in Ayrshire will be paying 20 per cent. of the poll tax when the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. At present, they pay nothing.

Recently, I visited the two major further education colleges in my area — Ayr technical college and Kilmarnock technical college. The students at those colleges were incensed that the value of their grant had been reduced by 19 per cent. since 1979 and that now they are to he hit by this poll tax charge.

The Minister said that there will be a rebate up to 80 per cent. of the poll tax. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), I do not accept that that is the figure on which the Government will finally settle; otherwise no Government who have made up their mind on the rebate would subject themselves to the justifiable criticism that they are getting now. If the Government have fixed the rebate at 80 per cent., why do they not put it in the Bill? I am always suspicious of any Government, irrespective of party and despite what they say in the House or in Committee. At the end of the day it is what is in the legislation that applies. If the figure of 80 per cent. is not in the legislation when it leaves this House, I believe that, after the general election, the Government will take the opportunity to do what the Secretary of State for the Environment wants. Instead of the rebated element being up to 80 per cent. there will be a rebated element of up to 20 per cent. so that everyone, irrespective of their background, will be forced to pay 80 per cent. of the tax.

If the Minister is honest and sincere about this change, he should state clearly that none of the students at either Ayr technical college or Kilmarnock technical college, who currently are not paying rates, will pay either 20 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the poll tax. If he does that, I might vote for him. If not, I shall vote against him.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The more I sit through these discussions, the more concerned I become about the implication; of the poll tax for students, student nurses and other young people, but we are particularly dealing with students tonight.

During Education and Science Question Time a few weeks ago the Minister of State, when dealing with universities, admitted under questioning from myself and others that the student grant is not enough to cover all the costs that students must pay. When I asked how he expected students from poor families to be able to make ends meet, he said that they should find a job in their spare time. In an area such as mine, where there is 28 per cent. unemployment, that is quite impossible. It is wrong to suggest that people should moonlight in order to get themselves through college. This poll tax will add to their burden, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) knows only too well. As my hon. Friend from Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) said, where will students get this extra 20 per cent.? It is impossible for the ordinary poor family in a council house in my constituency who are already facing this additional poll tax to find this extra 20 per cent., so it will be much more difficult for the students who are struggling to get through college.

The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who annoys me almost to the point of hatred, is the architect of this vicious little measure and the father of this bastard, because that is what this poll tax is. He is one of the people who will benefit from it. He is one of the people who will be better off, as will the Minister and many others.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

And the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Exactly. The only difference between Conservative Members and myself is that I am against this measure because I do not think that I should be better off. I can afford to pay my property tax. Conservative Members are voting for their own windfall. We are voting against getting it because we can afford to pay; but there are people who will have to pay more who cannot afford it.

The hon. Member for Stirling, that vicious little Member, the architect of this measure——

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. the hon. Gentleman does not help debate by using such extravagant language.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Even if it is true? The hon. Member for Stirling talks about a windfall to universities. He knows damn fine that the Treasury will make sure that the universities never see any of that windfall.

The only people who will get windfalls out of this provision are, as usual under a Tory Government, the rich. In my constituency, people such as the Marquess of Ailsa, the Marquess of Bute and the Duke of Wellington are likely to benefit. Fortunately, none of them has a vote. They will benefit, but the poor in the council houses, the people I represent, and their sons and daughters, who are desperately trying to get through university to better themselves, will suffer. Those are the people who will make sure that the Tories are not re-elected and that this provision is not enacted.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is a past master of black propaganda and we have heard it all again tonight. His remarks do not deserve a reply.

I am aware that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) likes to rely on reliable sources for his information. However, what the hon. Gentleman had to say about the 20 per cent.——

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South

That is why I go to the colleges.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

That may well be, but with regard to what he had to say about the 20 per cent. and 80 per cent., I do not believe that his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) is a reliable source. I do not know from what reliable source the hon. Member for Cathcart received his information, but I believe that he should go out and find another source.

Right from the start of the debates we have had on the rebate scheme I have made it clear that the likely figure —I have used that word over and over again—was a 20 per cent. minimum requirement.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Cunninghame South

Put that figure in the Bill.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

I have explained on many occasions, but I am prepared to do so again, that the reason why that figure is not in the legislation is that we are basing the rebate scheme on the housing benefit scheme that will be introduced in April next year. We believe that it does not make sense to have two different schemes—that would cause all sorts of confusion in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South—but to have two schemes that are, as far as possible, the same as each other.

In all the illustrations that have been created in draft, the figure for the housing benefit regulation has been set at 20 per cent. It is likely to be 20 per cent., but we have to await those regulations to discover that figure. It is for that reason that the legislation we are discussing does not contain the figure of 20 per cent. I suspect that if that 20 per cent. figure had been included, Opposition Members, who find an argument against anything, would have said that that was like writing the figure into tablets of stone. No doubt they would have argued that such a percentage figure should be left to statutory instruments or regulations so that it could be altered in the light of changing circumstances. I believe that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South is doing himself a disservice by relying too much on his hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart. I believe that he has been misled.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) asked whether students will be better off. I must say that those students who pay nothing at the moment towards local government, although they receive the benefit of local government services, will obviously have to pay for the first time. By definition they will not be better off. I believe that there are strong arguments for claiming that those who benefit from services should be prepared to contribute to them. I see no reason for saying that those who are not students, but possibly on low incomes, should be prepared to pay 20 per cent., but that students should be exempt. I see no justification for that, and I suspect that the public would agree with me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) has said that students who find themselves paying rates with no support may find that they are better off as a result of this legislation. Their financial standing will depend precisely on the contribution that they make to local government and the support that they receive.

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

At the moment, does not the University Grants Committee pay universities substantial sums, which they then pay in rates to local authorities? That sum amounts to 10 per cent. of the moneys made available by the Government to support the university system. The Opposition talk about cuts in funding for universities, but here is a wonderful way of obtaining more funds for universities by reducing the demands that local authorities make upon them in rates.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, because it is also valid regarding future provisions for non-domestic rates.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) kept on referring to the fact that the poll tax will rise. The only reason why the poll tax will rise — [HON. MEMBERS: "Poll tax!"]—is if high-spending local authorities decide to continue to increase their expenditure. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) also made that prediction. If that is his prediction for Labour authorities in Scotland, it is about time that Scottish ratepayers understood that. We believe that once the community charge is in place — [HON. MEMBERS: "Poll tax."]—I was quoting the words used by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland.

Once the community charge is in place, I believe that many authorities, which at the moment see nothing wrong in increasing expenditure when they know that only a minority of their electorates must pay, will think twice before they impose the type of increases predicted by the Opposition.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) questioned whether the concession that I have announced is a true concession. Obviously, it is a concession for those who, until this amendment was made, were to pay the full community charge — those who are not eligible for grant, foreign students, and so on. I believe that those groups will view the amendment as a concession. It is a further concession that I am sure people in the hon. Gentleman's area will appreciate because the original proposal that we made was that the support given through the grant system would attach to a figure, likely to be 80 per cent. of the average poll—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!".] — the average community charge in Scotland. At that time it was pointed out, quite rightly, that that proposal would impose heavier liabilities on those who live in high-community charge areas as opposed to those who live in low-community charge areas——

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

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it possible to ensure that, when recording this debate, Hansard makes it clear that, for the first time, the Minister has at last admitted that we are debating a poll tax?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

We had a long debate in Committee on the question of poll tax. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Garscadden looks so tired, but it is his hon. Friends and allies who are raising this question. In Committee we discussed the definition of poll tax and agreed that a poll tax was a charge per head. At that stage it was made clear that, in terms of that definition, this community charge could fit the definition of a poll tax. We never made any secret about that. However, it was emphasised in Committee, and I wish to repeat, that the Opposition want to attach the term "poll tax" to this measure not because it is a charge per head, but because it creates a totally dishonest impression that this is a tax on the right to vote. That is the only reason why the Opposition get so excited —I appreciate that it is the end of term — about the question of a poll tax.

If I may return to the question raised by the hon. Member for Provan I believe that the concession that I have announced will be a concession even in the high-community charge areas.

The hon. Member for Cathcart questioned the implications of this measure on local government finance. The requirement that students should pay only 20 per cent. of the personal community charge will mean that the community charge will be less than it would otherwise have been. In that sense it resembles the various rating reliefs that are presently taken into account in the distribution of rate support grant. Similarly, under the proposed future arrangements for revenue support grant it will be possible to take account of the effect of the concession for students. The mechanism must be the subject of consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. However, I believe that the point made by the hon. Member for Cathcart will be met.

With regard to the definition of "students", it is the Government's intention that those paying the reduced community charge should be students undertaking full-time courses of education. The definition will be in line with that applied by the Department of Health and Social Security for the purpose of determining students' access to benefits. The mechanism of the reduced charge applies instead of the possibility of access to rebate.

The arrangements will be specified in regulations after consultation with local authorities and education interests. Within the provisions of this legislation we are making sure that there is protection for students. If they do not fall within the category of students, they will fall in the category within which rebates can be applied where justified.

I believe that this amendment is a good, sound concession. I am surprised that it has received such a dusty response from the Opposition. I believe that those who have always pretended at least to have the interests of students at heart will welcome it, and I ask the House to do so.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Lords amendments Nos. 29 and 30 agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Lords amendment: No. 31, in page 7, line 42, at end insert— (aa) persons who are severely mentally handicapped within the meaning of subsection (8) below;".

Read a Second time.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 6:30 pm, 13th May 1987

I beg to move amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, leave out 'severely'

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

With this, we may take the following : Amendment (b) to the Lords amendment, at end insert 'and registered disabled persons'.

Lords amendment: No. 33, in page 7, line 47, at end insert— (8) In subsection (7)(aa) above, "persons who are severely mentally handicapped" has the following meaning, that is to say, persons suffering from a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind which includes severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning, or such other meaning as may, in substitution, be prescribed.

Amendment (a) thereto, leave out from 'above' to end and insert—

  1. `(i) All registered disabled people;
  2. (ii) All students in full-time education;

Amendment (b) thereto, leave out 'severely'.

Amendment (c) thereto, leave out 'severe'.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

I have no complaint about the amount of time that we took on the earlier matters. They were important. Normally, we would have taken a great deal more time over them. I accuse no one of delaying progress. I merely make the point that the guillotine motion has left us in the uncomfortable position in which there are some important matters concerning definitions in connection with the concession to the handicapped. It is unfortunate that they will be squeezed into a few minutes of debate. I hope that the Minister has a little bit of conscience about that.

The issue is the deep concern that has been expressed to almost every hon. Member—certainly to those on the Opposition side — by constituents and organisations dealing with those who are handicapped or disabled, about the impact of the poll tax on them. Let me make it perfectly clear that we will be invited to agree concessions shortly. I welcome such concessions, however small they are. They are a step in the right direction and they represent continuous pressure by my hon. Friends and my colleagues in another place. I take ten seconds warmly to thank Lord Ross of Marnock, Lord Morton of Shuna, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove and their colleagues who put up a splendid, spirited fight in the other place. We have got a concession.

Our concern and the point of the amendments is whether the concession is wide enough and whether, responsibly and sensibly, it could be widened and made even more generous. Very shortly, the exemption from the poll is for some persons who are severely mentally handicapped within the meaning of a definition that appears in the Bill. The definition is: persons suffering from a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind which includes severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning, or such other meaning as may, in substitution, be prescribed. The simple effect of the first amendment is to take out the word "severely". That will leave "mentally handicapped" as the criterion. It will leave the definition still referring to a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind, but makes it a little more flexible by making it clear that there must be an impairment of intelligence and social functioning but not necessarily a severe impairment, as the Government are demanding.

There are other amendments on which I shall spend no time at all. We must stick to the essentials. The amendments that take out the word "severe" seem to be reasonable and do something significant and useful. It is not a matter of professional ingratitude from Opposition Benches when I suggest that some widening would be welcomed in almost every quarter of the community. I hope that the Minister will seriously address the problem.

The other amendment to which I draw attention is that which would add an important addition, I admit, but one that I hope the Minister will view sympathetically. It is a separate amendment, so they do not stand or fall together. It is suggested not only that we should try to help those who suffer from a mental handicap, but that we should also try to include those who are registered disabled. I accept that that would greatly increase the scope of the concession, but it seems to be a reasonable request.

If we leave "severe" as a criterion of mental handicap, how many people in Scotland will benefit from the concession? I fear that it will be few indeed. Can the Minister lay to rest the genuine fear that the criterion "state of arrested or incomplete development" means that the concession will apply only to those who have been handicapped from birth by some happening at or before birth? There are those who, through illness or tragedy at a later stage, may have a severe handicap. It has been suggested — I put it no higher — that they may be excluded. We should put that fear to one side if it is unjustified. Will the Minister also say a word or two about who decides? Clearly, all the definitions are subjective. The matter comes at a late stage. It is important. It may be the registration officer. It may ultimately be decided in the courts. It is important to know what the machinery is.

The Minister may say that, after all, to remove "severe" or "severely" will widen the scope and lead to a rather ill-defined concession. All such judgments are subjective. We should leave the person who has to use his judgment subjectively in the public interest, with room for compassion and room to look, in a fairly generous way, at cases that are brought to his attention.

I do not think that I need to labour the point about the concession for the disabled. I am sure that the Minister, in his personal capacity at least, will have some sympathy with the fact that many disabled people do not have an easy financial time. All right, they will get a concession and may have to pay only 20 per cent. of the poll tax, but even that will be something of a burden. I remind the Minister —he is aware of it— that, at the moment, under the rating system there is a concession that is at least of some use to them. They get a rating concession on that part of their house that is adapted for the special needs of the disabled. It seems that for many of them there should be some exemption that takes them out of even the 20 per cent. residue that I suspect may affect many of them.

From my own constituency, I know that the handicapped are hard-pressed. I know that they would appreciate a widening of the concession. I commend the amendments to the Minister. I know that he will want to be helpful, as I hope every hon. Member would. I believe that removing severe criteria from the test that is to be applied by whomever decides who among the mentally handicapped will qualify for the exemption would he a sensible loosening of an over-tight definition. Perhaps it will allow many deserving cases to be included. I hope that the Minister will recognise that there will be widespread disappointment if he is not prepared to look at the disabled and include them in the proposed scheme.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

It may be helpful if I set out the Government's position in relation to the amendment passed in another place and that tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). First, in responding to the amendments to the two amendments that we are considering, which exempt the severely handicapped from the personal community charge, I should make clear the Government's basic approach to exemptions from personal community charge liability.

To be effective in creating accountability, the personal community charge must, as far as possible, be payable by the whole adult population. In this respect, the new system will differ crucially from the domestic rating system, in which the tax base covers less than half the population and in which a complex pattern of reliefs and exemptions has built up over a period. We do not propose to reproduce that pattern of exemptions and reliefs. However, we have proposed an exemption for the severely mentally handicapped on the grounds that people in that category cannot be expected to understand the concept of local authority accountability, and therefore should be excluded from liability.

After consideration of that policy in the other place, we announced our intention also to exclude people resident in nursing homes and residential care homes, such as people resident in hospitals and prisoners in custody, on the grounds that they too, in effect, are removed from the local democratic process. We are creating a consistent position within the Bill that is welcomed by those affected by it.

The hon. Gentleman asked how many severely mentally handicapped people will be affected by the exclusion. Between 5,000 and 6,000 people would fall within the category of severely mentally handicapped.

The amendments relating to severe mental handicap were brought forward by the Government in fulfilment of an undertaking given in Committee in the other place, that we would look very carefully at the question whether mentally handicapped persons living in the community should be exempted from the personal community charge. This question had indeed been raised during the passage of the Bill, in particular by my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) and for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). Arguments were put forward that the severely mentally handicapped should be exempt on the grounds that such persons do not have the mental capacity to take part in the local democratic process.

That is the principle that we have accepted in the amendment, but the amendments also provide—this is the point raised by the hon. Member for Garscadden—that the definition of what constitutes "handicapped" may be revised by subordinate legislation. This provision draws on section 1(2) of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984, but we think that it would be prudent to provide for the subsequent amendment of the definition of severe mental handicap to take account of any suggestions that are put to us by interested professional bodies in the course of consultation on the implementation of the provision, and of possible future changes in the clinical assessment of such conditions.

This, as the hon. Member for Garscadden realises, is a difficult area. It is important to have a definitional benchmark against which we can operate the exemption. The provision within the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 allowed for that. The hon. Gentleman mentioned one or two possible areas about which it might be advisable to consult further. However, we have built in this flexible provision, which allows us to alter the definition should circumstances require that. But that is different from what the amendments propose. They would broaden the scope of exemptions for the mentally handicapped, by providing that all of them, and not only the severely mentally handicapped, shall be exempt. I cannot accept that, for two reasons. First, many handicapped people play an active part in the life of their communities, and are quite capable of appreciating the issues of local authority accountability.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

The hon. Gentleman would say that, would he not?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office) 6:45 pm, 13th May 1987

If the hon. Gentleman talked to some people who were not severely mentally handicapped he would find that the idea that they are not capable of taking part in the local democratic process, and should therefore be excluded, would be regarded by them as insulting. The hon. Gentleman should watch what he says.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

I said what I said because the Minister is illustrating the intentions underlying the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said, the legislation will make a number of people better off. I, my hon. Friend and the Minister will be better off. Someone will have to pay more, and the Minister will happily inflict this additional tax burden on handicapped and mentally handicapped people. He is proud of that, and it makes me sick.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Gentleman supports a rating system under which many mentally handicapped people pay rates——

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) must withdraw that remark immediately.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

I withdraw it, but I think that the Minister knows what I mean.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Gentleman has not thought before speaking, because the system that he supports equally requires these categories of people to pay contributions to local government finance through the rates. The Government's policy is, as far as possible, to treat mentally handicapped people as ordinary members of society, and an exemption of the scope proposed by the hon. Member for Garscadden goes too far.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

Apparently the hon. Gentleman does not agree with the exemptions that we are proposing. He must make up his mind. If he wishes to intervene, I shall be glad to give way.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

I shall wait until I make my own speech.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

Secondly, the omission of the word "severely" from the description of those to be exempted raises potential difficulties of definition that would represent a considerable administrative burden for the personal community charge system. For that reason also, I cannot accept the amendments. To the hon. Member for Garscadden, I say that the flexibility is built in deliberately.

The hon. Member for Garscadden asked how the machinery works, and it is right to examine how the registration officer will handle the identification of those who qualify for exemption on the grounds that they are severely mentally handicapped. We envisage that the registration officer will in most cases rely on a simple certificate from an appropriate doctor that the individual in question meets the criteria. The steps in the process will be simple and straightforward. Where a responsible person has indicated on a canvass form or in response to other inquiries made by the registration officer that someone resident at the address in question is severely mentally handicapped, the registration officer will follow up the matter by asking the responsible person for a certificate by an appropriate doctor and its return to the registration officer.

We shall in due course be consulting the professional bodies involved in this process, and in the light of those consultations will prepare guidance for registration officers on the handling of these cases.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

This is absolutely nauseating.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Gentleman obviously believes that the procedure for exempting the mentally handicapped is nauseating. That is a depressing view, which will be noted by those organisations that have to deal with the problems of the mentally handicapped. I am confident that the procedure that I have explained will ensure that all, or virtually all, cases of exemption on the grounds of severe mental handicap are handled swiftly and with the minimum of fuss.

The hon. Member for Garscadden also moved amendments that would exempt all registered disabled people. That, too, would go much too wide: many registered disabled people hold down responsible jobs and play a full part in society. There is no possible justification for a blanket exemption of this kind. Lord Glenarthur, speaking in another place, recognised that many people next year would, for the first time, be making a contribution towards their rates, and thereafter to the community charge. He accepted that that was one factor that could affect the setting of the income support levels, and said that, in setting income support levels, we shall take into account the impact of this on the most vulnerable groups.

The Government plan to make their intentions clear reasonably soon, at the same time as issuing the draft housing benefit regulations to local authorities. It would obviously be wrong of me to pre-empt those announcements but I am sure that Opposition Members will agree that Lord Glenarthur's remarks show a clear commitment to assist the most vulnerable groups, including the disabled; so I hope that the House will accept that the Government are aware of the sort of problems that the hon. Member for Garscadden has raised. Thus, while I cannot accept the amendments moved by the hon. Gentleman, I commend the Lords amendments to the House.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

As many hon. Members know, I must declare a personal interest in these matters. I resent the strictures that the Minister tried to place on me in relation to what might be called severely mentally handicapped people. Under the system that he has outlined, for the first time, people will be asked to say, through a registration mechanism, that their child, husband or wife is severely mentally handicapped in a way which entirely lacks privacy, secrecy or confidentiality.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

The Government said nothing about such secrecy. Now, the Minister says that it exists. The task will be that of the registration officer.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

I shall not give way.

The Minister did not answer the question about how many more people would get through the narrow gateway if the deletion were accepted. How many more people would be encompassed by the Bill if the deletion were made—10,000 or 20,000? The Minister should make no mistake: when the Labour Government come to power we shall have no truck with this. This is a poll tax—a head tax. We do not resent the register, but we should reject any system that identifies for taxation purposes people who are severely mentally handicapped. What a nauseating system.

The hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) played his part in this matter above all others by voting against our amendments on the Floor of the House. I make no apologies for being emotional about this issue. Physically and mentally handicapped people have enough to put up with in their households without having to fill in damn forms saying that their husbands or wives are severely mentally handicapped. This is a nauseating provision, and Conservative Members should be ashamed of themselves for introducing it.

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

I understand the passion of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) on this matter, but when he is speaking as a Member of Parliament he should not allow his passion to cloud his judgment of the facts. My hon. Friend the Minister sought to intervene to make those facts clear to him. [Interruption.] I want to be brief so that Opposition Members can speak in the debate. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

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

The amendments about which the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West spoke in earlier debates in the House cover a whole raft of possible exemptions. I supported the Minister throughout on the idea that one should resist the sweeping amendments that the Opposition seek to introduce in all sorts of situations. I am grateful to the Minister for recalling that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) and I raised this matter on Third Reading before the Bill went to the Lords. I am grateful to the Minister for taking fully on board what we said at that time — that we hoped that the Government would treat mentally handicapped people as a specific category of exemption in the Bill.

I am not legally equipped to say whether the definition is right or wrong, but I am sure that the opportunity given by the clause to change the definition by prescription will in practice be inadequate. I am sure that the amendment strikes the right kind of balance. I am grateful to the Government for carrying through this sensible precaution. On a less emotional occasion, that move would be welcomed by the whole House. It is unfortunate that the Labour party is showing a rattled performance before we even start the election. I shudder to think what it will be like before the end of it.

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

No humane person, in the House or outside, could believe that the severely handicapped should be required to make a contribution to local taxation. It is astonishing that the Government, in their desire to bring forward a tax that is universal in its application, did not take that into account when deciding that we should debate this provision at this late stage. The principle that should be applied to the basis of the exemption is not that enunciated by the Minister, that there must be some test of the ability to take part in the democratic process by those who are subjected to local taxation. The proper test, and the one that would have exempted severely mentally handicapped and, indeed, almost all mentally handicapped people from paying this tax, is the ability to pay.

The Government are asking for the introduction of procedures like those that operated in Nazi Germany. It is wrong to ask people to make judgments about whether other people are able to participate in the democratic process. It is a nauseating way to achieve an end that ought to have been achieved by the simple test of the ability to pay, which is inherent in a local income tax.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I am sorry that we have only a few minutes to discuss what is obviously a subject that deserves a full debate. Hasty legislation is never good legislation, and this Lords amendment is an example of that. Our amendments highlight the practical difficulties that will face the administrators of this system. I can only guess at the reasons for the Lords amendment. Was it panic? In a mood of slight rebellion, did the Lords have to be bought off? Were their consciences bothering them because they would benefit from the Bill and needed to give some public appearance of caring?

Where did the words in the amendment come from? Who thought them up? There must be a precedent somewhere, although I know that the Minister will not have time to tell me where it is. How on earth will a local authority official administer this provision? As the Minister knows, I had bother in the Committee. If I were a Minister, I would not accept this Lords amendment. It is a phoney amendment and injects a new principle into a concession that has been given for some kind of disability.

What is the difference between mental disability and physical disability? Both are a loss of facility to enjoy life. A severely mentally handicapped person should not, presumably, need a medical test. If a claim is to be made, someone else should he appointed to act for such people. The idea that there should be a curator bonis or some sort of examination is abhorrent to our whole system, and it follows from that that perhaps our amendments are also illogical. Does the Minister really believe that a medical certificate from a general practitioner will be acceptable? If he does, he must be joking. Housing authority walls are papered with thousands of medical certificates and we all know that they do not mean a damned thing.

This is the last speech that I shall make in the House, and I ask hon. Members to be practical. This system will be an administrator's nightmare, because of some of the personal reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas). I always understood that there was a strong degree of severe mental handicap among our noble families and, indeed, in the royal family. I do not know whether that was why the Lords passed the amendment. If we are elected, this legislation will be abolished. If we do not return to government, at least the Minister has the power to make regulations to try to improve this ridiculous attempt to present a caring image.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

In what he said, the Minister gave clear and categorical proof that a poll tax is proposed. If we are talking about services that each person received, obviously, handicapped people of all kinds would participate and benefit from those services. The Minister said that for some reason a mentally handicapped person is unable to participate in the domocratic process. By saying that he immediately, clearly and categorically linked the payment of a poll tax, pseudonymously called a community charge, to the right to vote. Thankfully, and once and for all, he has shown the House that we are talking about a poll tax. Therefore, we ought to have an amendment making it clear in all the legislation that it is a poll tax.

The phrase "community charge" is a kind of euphemism thought up by the civil servants to make the measure sound reasonably attractive, sensible and painless. In reality it is a poll tax linked to voting, and is meant to discourage disabled people from voting. It is meant to give something of an electoral advantage to the Conservatives and that is one of the principal reasons for their introducing it. We know that only too well.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office)

The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that nothing that I said today was new. I have said it before and I shall say it again.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

It is certainly new to me. If the Minister did not call it a poll tax, he has given clear proof that that is what it is.

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the allocation of time motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put the Question already proposed from the Chair.

The House divided: Ayes 115, Noes 227.

Division No. 165][6.58 pm
AYES
Alton, DavidBeckett, Mrs Margaret
Anderson, DonaldBeith, A. J.
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBell, Stuart
Ashley, Rt Hon JackBermingham, Gerald
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Bidwell, Sydney
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Boothroyd, Miss Betty
Barnes, Mrs RosemaryBoyes, Roland
Bray, Dr JeremyMcCartney, Hugh
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)McGuire, Michael
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Maclennan, Robert
Bruce, MalcolmMcNamara, Kevin
Buchan, NormanMcTaggart, Robert
Campbell-Savours, DaleMadden, Max
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cartwright, JohnMaxton, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Maynard, Miss Joan
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMeacher, Michael
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)Michie, William
Conlan, BernardMikardo, Ian
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Craigen, J. M.Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Cunliffe, LawrenceMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Nellist, David
Dewar, DonaldO'Brien, William
Dixon, DonaldO'Neill, Martin
Dormand, JackOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Dubs, AlfredParry, Robert
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)Pike, Peter
Faulds, AndrewPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Forrester, JohnPrescott, John
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldRadice, Giles
Freud, ClementRandall, Stuart
Garrett, W. E.Robertson, George
Golding, Mrs LlinRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Gould, BryanRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Sheerman, Barry
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterShields, Mrs Elizabeth
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithShore, Rt Hon Peter
Haynes, FrankShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)Skinner, Dennis
Home Robertson, JohnSmith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Hoyle, DouglasSnape, Peter
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Steel, Rt Hon David
Janner, Hon GrevilleStewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Johnston, Sir RussellStraw, Jack
Kennedy, CharlesTaylor, Matthew
Kirkwood, ArchyWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Lambie, DavidWareing, Robert
Lamond, JamesWilson, Gordon
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Litherland, Robert
Livsey, RichardTellers for the Ayes:
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Mr. George Foulkes and Mr. Dick Douglas.
Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Loyden, Edward
NOES
Adley, RobertBruinvels, Peter
Aitken, JonathanBryan, Sir Paul
Alexander, RichardBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBuck, Sir Antony
Amess, DavidBudgen, Nick
Ancram, MichaelBulmer, Esmond
Ashby, DavidButler, Rt Hon Sir Adam
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Butterfill, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Baldry, TonyCarlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Bellingham, HenryCarttiss, Michael
Best, KeithCash, William
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnChapman, Sydney
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnChope, Christopher
Blackburn, JohnClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasClarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Boscawen, Hon RobertClegg, Sir Walter
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaConway, Derek
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Coombs, Simon
Bright, GrahamCope, John
Brinton, TimCorrie, John
Brooke, Hon PeterCouchman, James
Browne, JohnCranborne, Viscount
Critchley, JulianLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Crouch, DavidLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaLord, Michael
Dickens, GeoffreyMcCrindle, Robert
Dicks, TerryMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Dorrell, StephenMacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Durant, TonyMaclean, David John
Emery, Sir PeterMadel, David
Eyre, Sir ReginaldMajor, John
Fallon, MichaelMalins, Humfrey
Farr, Sir JohnMarland, Paul
Fenner, Dame PeggyMarlow, Antony
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Fookes, Miss JanetMather, Sir Carol
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Forth, EricMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMellor, David
Franks, CecilMeyer, Sir Anthony
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Galley, RoyMills, Iain (Meriden)
Garel-Jones, TristanMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMitchell, David (Hants NW)
Gorst, JohnMoate, Roger
Grant, Sir AnthonyMonro, Sir Hector
Greenway, HarryMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Gregory, ConalMoore, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hannam, JohnMoynihan, Hon C.
Harris, DavidMudd, David
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)Neale, Gerrard
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyNeubert, Michael
Hayward, RobertNewton, Tony
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidNicholls, Patrick
Henderson, BarryNorris, Steven
Hickmet, RichardOnslow, Cranley
Hicks, RobertOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hirst, MichaelOsborn, Sir John
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Ottaway, Richard
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Holt, RichardPatten, Christopher (Bath)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Irving, CharlesPawsey, James
Jackson, RobertPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPollock, Alexander
Jones, Robert (Herts W)Portillo, Michael
Kershaw, Sir AnthonyPowell, William (Corby)
Knowles, MichaelPowley, John
Knox, DavidPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanPrice, Sir David
Lang, IanProctor, K. Harvey
Latham, MichaelRaffan, Keith
Lawrence, IvanRathbone, Tim
Lee, John (Pendle)Rhodes James, Robert
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lightbown, DavidRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lilley, PeterRoe, Mrs Marion
Rossi, Sir HughThorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Rowe, AndrewThornton, Malcolm
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaThurnham, Peter
Ryder, RichardTownend, John (Bridlington)
Sackville, Hon ThomasTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothyvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Sayeed, JonathanViggers, Peter
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shelton, William (Streatham)Waldegrave, Hon William
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Wall, Sir Patrick
Shersby, MichaelWaller, Gary
Silvester, FredWalters, Dennis
Sims, RogerWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Warren, Kenneth
Speed, KeithWatts, John
Spencer, DerekWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Stanbrook, IvorWheeler, John
Stanley, Rt Hon JohnWhitfield, John
Steen, AnthonyWhitney, Raymond
Stern, MichaelWiggin, Jerry
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Wilkinson, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Winterton, Nicholas
Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)Wood, Timothy
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnYeo, Tim
Taylor, John (Solihull)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Rt Hon PeterTellers for the Noes:
Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Mr. Gerald Malone and Mr. Francis Maude.
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)

Question accordingly negatived.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Lords amendment No. 31 agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Remaining Lords amendments agreed to. [Some with Special Entry.]