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Wise, Mrs Audrey

Wray, Jimmy

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Ken Eastham and

Mr. Frank Cook.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

Self-Governing Schools Etc (Scotland) Bill [Money]

Queen's Recommendation having been signified--

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill, it is expedient to authorise--

(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses of the Secretary of State under the Act and any increase attributable to the Act in the sums so payable under any other enactment ; and (2) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums falling to be paid into that Fund in pursuance of the Act.-- [Mr. Dorrell.] 10.15 pm

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : The money resolution should not pass without one or two queries being directed at the Government. The Government's wont on Scottish Bills has been to attach money resolutions stating that the costs will not be significant, or containing estimates of costs which experience has shown to be wild underestimates.

In one or two areas covered by the Bill it is unclear what the financial effects of the Bill are likely to be. The Bill states, for example, that

"The provisions should be generally neutral. Self-governing schools are to receive funding from the Secretary of State at the level they could have expected had they remained under local authority control."

As has already been said, however, there is every sign that schools that seek to opt out may be the very schools that would otherwise have been closed or rationalised. Although the Secretary of State has partially answered that point, he has not made it clear whether additional charges could fall on the local authority or the Government from that commitment. If the Bill prevents rationalisation from going ahead or ensures an unequal distribution of costs, the costs will not be neutral.

The Bill also states that there will be small additional costs relating to the funding of parents' ballots. The Government have no experience of such ballots. They may be contested, or they may need to be re-run--that would lead to higher than expected costs. Other aspects of the Bill certainly suggest that the determination of costs will be inequitably decided. Clause 26 allows the Secretary of State to determine the transitional amount due from or to the local authority when a school opts out, with no right of appeal by the local authority against the Secretary of State's determination. That might lead to an extra cost for the local authority which might require it to seek more direct grant or increase the poll tax. The Minister's estimates proved to be way below the actual costs during the passage of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill. The original estimates were increased during its passage, as the Minister knows. The outturn of costs for the collection of the poll tax has been much higher than the Government estimated. As the orders to be

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discussed tonight will show, that tax is proving a most cumbersome, complicated and expensive tax to collect, which means that the costs have turned out way above the Government' estimates.

Some of us are sceptical about the idea that no additional costs will be levied on the public purse ; the Government are not clear about what the take-up will be or about the costs.

I hope that if and when the Minister responds to this debate, he will do just that. He failed to respond to the main debate tonight. I do not mind that he did not respond to the points that I or the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) made, but he did not even answer his own Back Benchers' points --for instance, those made by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). No doubt that contributed to the smallness of the Government's majority because the provocation of not even having their arguments acknowledged, never mind responded to, must have been the final straw that drove them into the Lobby with the Opposition parties.

The Bill is not opposed, as the Minister tried to make out, simply by the Labour party and it is not the root cause of some curious ideological struggle. It is opposed by all the representatives of all the Opposition parties and by the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland. It is a pity that the Minister tried to pretend differently and to turn the debate into a sort of Labour-Tory dog fight. He also failed to answer the questions that have been asked. The costs associated with the Bill are likely to be far greater than the Minister has said. Even if the costs in money terms are not great, the cost in human terms will be very high.

10.20 pm

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : I should like some information from the Minister. As the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) has said, the Minister did not respond to the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). In this short debate I should like the Minister to put some flesh on the bones and tell us about the matters under the heading, "Financial Effects of the Bill". What exactly is meant by the phrase

"efficiency savings from more locally based decision-making"? What is meant by

"offset by savings on local authority central administration"? Will the Minister make clear what savings he has in mind? Surely the cost of training college councillors and the running costs of the councils will be increased because of duplication. Could the Minister tell us how the figures have been calculated and say why he is so sure about the statements in the Bill?

We are told that training costs will be "offset by savings". Can the Minister tell us what the savings are and whether they can be quantified? Are they pious Government hopes? Costs will eventually be passed to the taxpayers and the Minister should at least give an indication of what he has in mind. What is the expected allocation of costs to the technology academies? The Bill says :

"the cost of introducing and administering appraisal schemes will fall on Government and local authorities,".

What is meant by that. What proportion will fall on local authorities and what proportion do the Government

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expect to take up? Can the Minister reveal what he has in mind or whether he has any figures? That would certainly help to clarify matters.

I wish that the Government had spent money on the Scottish education system instead of transferring it out of the system. We can all be proud of that system. It deserves more resources and should be given more. This trivial Bill contains an alien set of principles which are to be imposed on the Scottish economy. The Government should give more resources to the teaching staff in further and secondary education in Scotland rather than acting in the way that they are.

10.22 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : The major payments covered by the Bill are grantsto the board of management of a self-governing school under clause 25. The most important of these will be the recurrent grant for each to meet its normal running costs. Our intention is that in every course the recurrent grant will be set at a level which the school could reasonably have expected if it had remained under the control of the local authority concerned. This amount of recurrent grant paid to the school will then be reclaimed from the authority under clause 26.

Grant and recovery regulations will have to be made giving detailed effect to this policy. The principle is clear. The school and the authority are to be left in the same financial position overall. Thus the level of expenditure on any self-governing school will reflect local spending decisions by the authority.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : The Minister speaks about the level of grant that a school can reasonably expect from a local authority. For years the Government have been telling local authorities that they have been spending above budget. Will the budget be decided by the Scottish Office or will it be the budget to which local authority schools have been adhering?

Mr. Forsyth : We have entered the new era of the community charge, and it is a matter for the local authorities to decide their own level of expenditure and their own priorities. I have some sympathy with the point-- if the hon. Gentleman is making it--that perhaps the Scottish Office should be less proscriptive in these matters than it has been in the past.

Other grants under clause 25 will provide for capital spending in self- governing schools and for special purposes. These equally are aimed at ensuring financial neutrality. Capital projects funded by grants will require the consent of the Secretary of State. Grants will be set against the overall public expenditure programme of the schools' capital works. Special-purpose grants will cover such items of expenditure as it would not be appropriate to recover from the local authority. For example, there could be one-off management expenses associated with the transition to self -governing status. They will also provide a mechanism allowing self- governing schools to give the equivalent benefit to any specific balance available to local authorities, such as those in support of in-service training for teachers. As the financial

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memorandum states, the overall impact of creating self-governing schools for these grants will be "generally neutral".

The Bill offers a new way to manage Scottish schools within whatever level of resources local authorities choose to spend. Certain minor costs will fall on the Secretary of State as each self-governing school is established. These include the point made by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce)--the costs of balancing expenses under clause 14(6). Our best estimate is about £1,000 for a medium-size secondary school with 500- plus pupils. There will be payments under schedule 9 to cover the work of the commissioners for school assets in arranging for transfer of the property of the school. There is a power under clause 5 to cover special additional costs during the transitional period. For example, in some cases it may be appropriate for a school board to make an early appointment of someone to deal with future financial arrangements for the school. The extent of these various minor payments will depend on the number of schools seeking self-governing status in any year and on the size and circumstances of each individual candidate.

As the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) does not believe that any school is interested in adopting self-governing status, he must draw his own conclusion as to the likely level of expenditure. It is not possible for me to offer any global figure for the same reason. Setting up and running the new college-based administration for further education colleges under clauses 43 to 58 will involve some added costs. However, these will be offset by savings in authorities' central administration. The hon. Member for Angus, East asked me to explain it, and it is very simple. If the centre is no longer required to administer the colleges, there will clearly be an opportunity for savings. By greater efficiency arising from more locally based decision making--our basic premise is of the people who are involved in providing services making the decisions--then there is likely to be a more efficient allocation of resources.

Moreover, these changes, together with the commercial activity powers granted by the Bill, will allow colleges to generate more income to boost further education. Primary testing will carry additional development costs of £2 million with some recurrent costs in administering the system. This spending falls under the Scottish examination board. We have made it clear that these costs will be met in full by the Government.

To summarise, this is not a Bill with significant consequences for public spending, overall. Where some additional spending is involved in the transition to self-governing status on technology academies or on primary testing, it will be met by Government. It does not place financial burdens on local authorities. I commend the money resolution to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill, it is expedient to authorise--

(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses of the Secretary of State under the Act and any increase attributable to the Act in the sums so payable under any other enactment ; and (2) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums falling to be paid into that Fund in pursuance of the Act.

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Rating Reform

10.27 pm

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart) : I beg to move,

That the Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 32) dated 12th January 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th January, be revoked.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : I understand that it will be for the convenience of the House if we discuss with this the following motions :

That the Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 63), dated 17th January 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th January, be revoked.

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Abolition of Domestic Rates (Domestic and Part Residential Subjects) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 241), dated 23rd February 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th February, be annulled.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The third motion, on the abolition of domestic rates, Statutory Instrument, 1989, No. 241, has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I hope that you can give me an assurance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if any technical fault is found by the Committee, which will discuss the instrument tomorrow afternoon, it can be debated in its entirety again at some other stage. I also hope that it will not automatically be approved, or that further consideration on it will be excluded, because we will have referred to it in the debate. There is little point in setting up a Joint Committee to scrutinise statutory instruments if decisions are cut and dried the day before the Committee is due to examine a statutory instrument.

Several of these poll tax instruments have been reported by the Joint Committee to the House, and abuses by the Government have been noted by the Committee. Therefore, it is important that the Committee should have the opportunity to examine the instrument and to report on it if there is that justification. The counsel to the Joint Committee, who is, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, counsel to the Speaker, has not yet had an opportunity to give his views to the Joint Committee, so it is vital that any consideration of the instrument should be deferred until the Committee has considered it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) for giving the Chair notice of his intention to raise a point of order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall not be making a decision tonight on Statutory Instrument, 1989, No. 241. It will be debated with the other measures, but the House will not make a decision upon it. Should the Joint Committee find fault with it tomorrow, there will be a subsequent opportunity for the House to debate the statutory instrument and come to a decision upon it.

Mr. Maxton : We want the severely mentally handicapped to be exempt from the poll tax. We want also the mess that the Government have got themselves into with students to be sorted out. We shall debate the regulations and vote against them because we shall continue to oppose in any way possible in the House any measures that relate to the poll tax. That unwanted, unfair and unworkable tax has been rejected by the Scottish

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people. We have a responsibility to recognise that by opposing whenever we can regulations such as those mentioned in the Order Paper.

As we approach April Fools' day, when the first payments will be made, the tax becomes more ludicrous and unfair. Within the past few weeks it has become apparent that at the same time as imposing new and intolerable burdens upon the poor and the low paid in our society the Government are prepared to give private landlords in Scotland a massive £40 million handout as a result of the poll tax legislation. Many of those who rent private accommodation make a combined rent and rates payment to their landlord. It is clear that the Government have no intention of doing anything to stop those landlords from continuing to ask for the same amount of money after 1 April, even though the rates element of the charge will have disappeared. When the Council of Scottish Local Authorities suggested to the Department of Social Security that it should reduce housing benefit payments to landlords accordingly, it was told that it could not do that by statute. It is incredible that, while those who can afford so little are being asked to pay exactly the same as the wealthiest in the land, private landlords should be encouraged blatantly to profiteer.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : My hon. Friend has told us that the Government have made substantial concessions to landlords. Is he aware that a specific group of landlords are doing quite well out of Government concessions? I refer to farmers who have had empty farm cottages taken out of the poll tax system. Only last week the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board refused to do anything to compensate 10,000 Scottish farm workers, who may be earning as little as £103 for a 40-hour week, who are paying for their accommodation through their labour. They will not be compensated for the extra imposition of the poll tax. What sense can there be in that?

Mr. Maxton : My hon. Friend is right. That is typical of the Government's mean-mindedness. They promised that they would increase students' grants to compensate for the 20 per cent. contribution to the poll tax that they will have to pay, and that they have done. There is a mean-minded nature to this iniquitous tax, and it is clear that it is becoming an administrative nightmare.

It is absurd that, with only three weeks to go before the first payments are made, we are debating regulations that must take effect on 1 April. It makes nonsense of the procedures and democratic nature of the House that that is happening with only three weeks to go. Indeed, social security regulations that relate to the poll tax have not even been laid before the House, even though they have been the subject of consultation for months. That is what I have been told by COSLA. They have not yet come before the House, but they will have to take effect on 1 April.

The second group of regulations that we are discussing tonight deals with those who will be completely excluded from paying the poll tax. Almost all the exclusions have been wrung unwillingly from the Government as the Scottish and English legislation wound its way through this House and the other place. There were very few concessions in the Scottish Bill, only those for people in hospitals. The original Bill did not exclude people in old folk's homes and bit by bit the Opposition have won and have excluded more and more people. We would not

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particularly welcome some of the exclusions. I do not see why an American service man living in Dunoon should be exempt from paying the poll tax while a British service man serving in Dunoon must pay it.

It is typical of the Government that to the end they cannot be even remotely generous in the exclusions. The first regulation, for all the exclusions that it will involve, will not exclude any elderly person suffering from Alzheimer's disease despite the demands from the Opposition and from the caring organisations in Scotland that they should be treated in the same way as those suffering from other forms of severe mental handicap.

Many Alzheimer's disease sufferers are cared for by elderly relatives-- wives, husbands, sisters or brothers. They have a thankless task, but one which many undertake rather than see someone they love put into institutional care. How heartless it is now to impose an extra burden on them. The sums of money involved are paltry in comparison with the money that will be collected by the poll tax in Scotland for local authorities, yet the Government refuse to concede anything.

The medical evidence used to debar Alzheimer sufferers from exclusion is spurious, as my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) will show if he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to tell us from where he got his medical evidence. Even at this late date we appeal to the Minister to show some compassion and to introduce regulations within days to allow Alzheimer's disease sufferers complete exemption from the tax in the same way that the Government are exempting sufferers from other forms of dementia. If the Minister introduces such regulations, I promise that we will not pray against them or oppose them in any way. The regulations about students show the complete administrative muddle into which the Government have got themselves. This is the second regulation that we have debated in this House about the definition of students and how they are to be registered for poll tax purposes. The first regulation proved to be such a mess that it had to be withdrawn after we had debated and approved it when the Government realised that it simply would not work and that the registration of students would be impossible under it.

Because of that fiasco, some registration officers, particularly the one in Strathclyde, refused to register anyone as a student until the regulations came into force on 3 February. As a result of that, the whole process is now way behind schedule. The regulation states that all students in Scotland should have been issued with a document certifying that they are full-time students by their college or university by last Saturday 4 March. I am assured by the National Union of Students in Scotland that many simply have not received those certificates and many will not receive them for some time. However, registration officers are refusing to register students until they receive a certificate from them.

That is a doubtful legal procedure because there is nothing in the legislation which says that they must be given certificates before students can be registered. They are interpreting the law as they see it when they say that they will not register students until they have received a certificate. No one knows how long that will take, but it

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means that it is impossible for all students in Scotland to be registered on the poll tax register by 1 April when the first bills will be issued.

Therefore, students will face bills for the full poll tax and will face a long bureaucratic procedure to ensure that they pay only the 20 per cent. that they are due to pay as students. It is worth bearing in mind that bills for £250 or £300 will drop through students' letterboxes and will then have to be appealed against, so that they will be reduced to 20 per cent. of that figure, at exactly the time--in April, May and early June--when students in the colleges and universities of Scotland will be sitting examinations upon which their whole future will depend. For the Government to impose that burden on students at such a time is wholly unacceptable. Both sets of regulations show, in their different ways, that the tax is unfair and unworkable. The Government are not prepared to be generous in any way. They are getting themselves into an administrative muddle, and my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote against both measures simply to make the point that they are an absurd part of a very absurd tax.

10.40 pm

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang) : The regulations bring us to the brink of the introduction of the community charge in Scotland, which is now less than four weeks away. They represent almost the final pieces of the jigsaw that we have been working to complete since before the Green Paper on abolishing the discredited domestic rates system which the community charge will replace.

Far from being the shambles that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) suggested, the procedure has advanced in an orderly and efficient way, despite all the attempts of the Labour party to inhibit progress.

To place the legislation in context, it is worth reviewing briefly the community charge arrangements as they now stand--up and ready to go. Looking first at the registration process--the key to the whole system--we see a remarkable success story. The canvass of households started in April 1988, and when the community charge registers came into force on 1 October last year, as planned, they showed that, on average, more than 99 per cent. of adult residents in Scotland had, according to the registrar general's population figures, been registered.

However, the Government made it clear at the time that that figure was subject to adjustment once individuals had been given opportunity to check their register entries. That checking process has now largely been completed, and I am delighted to report that the adjusted registration figure, as at January 1989, is 98.8 per cent.--a very marginal drop on last October's figure. That is an excellent result and shows, once and for all, that those who ran campaigns against the registration process totally misjudged the good sense of the Scottish people, who would not contemplate breaking the law. On the basis of those registers, which are being continually updated, local authorities are now printing bills, which will be sent out to everyone on the registers in the next four weeks. The scale of that achievement is itself impressive, particularly when one considers the obstacles that many local authority practitioners had to overcome, and which had been imposed by their own councillors.

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The most disappointing and self-indulgent of those obstacles was the refusal by a number of district councils to co- operate in the collection of the charge and in the operation of the rebate scheme. All that does is to make life difficult for the elderly and for the less well-off people in those councils' areas--for nothing more than the greater glory of a few councillors. The rebate scheme will help a very large number of people--more than 1 million people in Scotland stand to benefit from it. Both the Government and local authorities are continuing to encourage those who have not yet applied for a rebate to do so.

We have not been helped by the constant barrage of griping about the rebate scheme that has conveyed the message that only the very low paid could benefit from it. Opposition Members ought to know better by now. I need give only one example to demonstrate the fallacy of the Opposition's argument. A married man with two children aged under 11 living in Edinburgh could, depending on other circumstances, earn £168 net, including child benefit--which works out at about £10,400 per year gross--and still qualify for rebate. There are many more aspects to the new arrangements, and I shall deal with some of them later. The message that is clearly emerging is that every aspect of the policy is working.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : I should be grateful if the Minister would say how much a single person living alone could earn while still qualifying for rebate.

Mr. Lang : Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that the circumstances of every individual will depend on a number of factors. I cannot possibly give him a specific figure without knowing many of those factors first.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Before the Minister leaves his own example, will he tell us what the rebate was for the married man in Edinburgh whom he cited?

Mr. Lang : The precise rebate will depend on a number of factors, but the point is that he will receive a rebate. What Opposition Members do not like is that some 1 million of the adult population of Scotland--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The Minister has been addressing the House for four minutes and has not yet addressed his remarks to the motion. I hope that he will do so now.

Mr. Lang : I have been trying to do precisely that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am happy to do so.

The Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 repeal and replace the corresponding regulations that came into force in April last year. We have taken the opportunity to make some changes in the criteria that must be met for a person to receive the full-time student concession. For example, the wording of regulation 3(b)(iii) has been expanded to make it clear that a sandwich-course student on a placement will continue to qualify for the student concession provided that he meets the other requirements. The main changes, however, reflect changes and improvements made in the community charge arrangements by the Local Government Finance Act 1988. In particular, regulation 5 prescribes the arrangements under which educational establishments will have to provide certificates to their full-time students, and regulation 6 requires establishments to provide any additional

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information required by the registration officer, provided that it is information that he reasonably requires to carry out his functions and is in the possession or control of the establishment. The provisions are designed to facilitate the registration of students to ensure that those who qualify for the concessionary rate can be readily registered without requiring time-consuming investigation by the registration officer. All the evidence that I have suggests that the system is working well, and that full-time students are being recorded on the register without problems. Regulation 4 makes specific provision in relation to student nurses and, taken with regulation 3, has the effect of providing that student nurses studying at universities, central institutions colleges of education, polytechnics or further education establishments in England and Wales and who are liable for the personal community charge in Scotland will pay only 20 per cent. of the personal charge and personal community water charge. The effect of the 1988 student regulations was in practice no different, although those regulations did not differentiate between students and student nurses, leaving the rules on students to determine which student nurses would receive the concession and which would not. Following the changes made to the 1987 Act by the Local Government Finance Act 1988, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment stated the Government's policy in a written answer last October, and the present regulations are consistent with that policy.

There has been criticism that the student arrangements were not finalised until too late and the hon. Member for Cathcart repeated it. That is nonsense. As I have said, the main student provisions have been in place since April last year, and the changes that have been made have effectively been to improve the operation of those provisions. Educational establishments have been implementing the new arrangements, and students are being entered on the register in time for them to receive their bills at the concessionary rate.

Mr. Maxton : Strathclyde region is the largest single local authority. Its registration officer, Jack Wood, rightly said when the Government withdrew the previous regulations and put forward new ones that he could not register anyone as a student until the new regulations came into force, because he did not know whether Parliament would bring them forward. For that reason many students in Strathclyde will not be registered by 1 April.

Mr. Lang : It is for the registration officer in each region to decide how he will discharge his statutory duties. I understand that in Strathclyde it was decided--for administrative reasons--to await the revised regulations. That was a temporary measure, until students had received their certificates and were able to send them to the registration officer. The registration officer sent a standard letter explaining what was happening to everyone who was entered on the community charges inquiry form as being a student, and where appropriate those people have now been entered on the register as students.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : Is this not a bit like the baptism of the Chinese with a hosepipe? Is this not to be an individual Act applying to individuals, rather than a portmanteau provision swallowing them all up?

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In regulation 6, what precisely is the extra information that is wanted? What is wanted by the registration officer that is not covered by regulation 5?

Mr. Lang : The registration officer may, for example, require information about the course that the student is following to make sure that it qualifies. Some courses might not be long enough to qualify under the terms of the regulations affecting students. There is a requirement as to the number of weeks and the number of hours worked during the week, and so on. The registration officer will not ask for information that he cannot properly and reasonably require ; nor will he ask for information that is not in the possession of the establishment.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan) : Does the Minister intend to bring in emergency legislation to protect some of the 40,000 Scottish tenants in the private sector, many of them students, following the abolition of rates?

Mr. Lang : I should have thought that most students in that situation would be able to take care of themselves. However, I was about to mention landlords because the hon. Member for Cathcart referred to them.

I reject the across-the-board criticism of landlords as though they were all rogues and scoundrels. The plain fact is that most landlords are earning an honest living in a responsible and respectable way, and it is quite inappropriate to abuse them. Nevertheless, I am grateful for another chance to make it clear that in the new situation--I refer to the fact that rates will disappear from 1 April--landlords should, of course, reduce the rent charged if it includes a sum for rates. Landlords have no right to ask for contributions of that kind. Regulated tenancies allow for the rent to be registered. In that case the rates will be separated, and the position will be perfectly clear. I urge students in that situation to have their rents registered.

I do not accept that the harassment excuse that is raised is a valid one. Indeed, in the Housing Act 1988 we strengthened the provisions to resist harassment, and I believe that that is the right approach for students in that situation.

Tenants with assured tenancies are entitled to obtain a statement as to the terms of their lease, and they will then be able to deduct from their payment the amount due for rates. Of course, from 1 April the rates element will disappear altogether.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : Will the Minister make it clear that, if a landlord continues to charge a tenant the sum that represented the old rent and rates, that will be nothing less than fraud and that the landlord ought to be prosecuted?

Mr. Lang : Whatever the hon. Lady chooses to call it, there certainly is a sanction available to such tenants. They can use the resources of the law to have their rights enforced.

Mr. Home Robertson : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lang : I think I had better press on. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak during the debate. I must cover the other regulations.

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