Previous Section Home Page

Column 716

The Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 make provision in relation to four exempt categories : service prisoners, the severely mentally impaired, cross- border students and care workers. The service prisoner provisions in regulation 3 are technical in nature and have the effect of placing service prisoners in the same position as other prisoners in relation to their community charge liability.

The regulation and schedule relating to the severely mentally impaired is also technical in nature. After we had made the previous regulations covering the severely mentally impaired it became apparent that there might be some benefits, particularly some war pensions, that ought to be included in the list of qualifying benefits for which people have to be eligible as part of the exemption criteria. The present regulation makes sure that nobody who is entitled to exemption would fail to qualify on a legal technicality.

The regulations relating to cross-border students are required to ensure that full-time students from Scotland who study elsewhere in the United Kingdom do not have to pay the community charge in Scotland when they return for any length of time during their course--for example, during the summer vacation--so long as a student's term-time address is outwith Scotland.

Regulation 8 covering care workers prescribes the criteria that have to be met if a person who is a care worker is to be exempt. The criteria have been drawn up after consultation to ensure that such workers who are disqualified from receiving income support by virtue of the hours they work will not be disadvantaged in terms of the community charge. The regulation necessarily defines the exempt group quite tightly to ensure that exemption is granted to, for example, community service volunteers where hardships would otherwise result, but not to workers who might in practice be better off financially than other non-exempt groups in the community.

Finally, the Abolition of Domestic Rates (Domestic and Part Residential Subjects) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 close the loophole that occurred as a result of a drafting error in the amendment of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 by the Local Government Finance Act 1988. Under the terms of the incorrectly amended provision, people such as the proprietors of boarding houses, hotels and pubs who are solely or mainly resident in premises which are subject to non-domestic rates will be exempt from the personal community charge. The regulations represent no change in policy, as the Government have always intended that people in these circumstances should be liable to pay the community charge. Naturally I regret the need for the regulations to be made, but it is of course right that this loophole should be closed. An amendment to correct the error in the primary legislation has been inserted in the Local Government and Housing Bill. Once the correction comes into force, the temporary regulations will be repealed.

This is the last time that we shall have the opportunity to discuss Scottish community charge regulations in the House before the new community charge arrangements come into effect in Scotland on 1 April. The new system is ready to operate. I commend the regulations to the House.

Column 717

10.55 pm

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I shall not detain the House for very long. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said, we are now within three or four weeks of the poll tax coming into force in Scotland. However, we are still debating the regulations, many of which have been introduced only because the Government did not get it right in the first place. I do not think that the Minister believed it himself-- he had a wry smile on his face--when he claimed that all is going forward in an orderly and efficient manner.

The Minister said that the arrangements that have been made to close the loophole will not come into effect until the Local Government and Housing Bill, now being considered in Committee, comes into force. When he replies to the debate I hope that he will refer to the position of those who in the meantime are exempt because of the loophole. If the Bill does not receive Royal Assent until the autumn, as it has to go through all its stages in both Houses, will those people be required to pay the community charge retrospectively for the forthcoming year?

Mr. Lang : It may help if I deal with that point at once. The purpose of the regulations is to bring individuals in that category into liability for the community charge until such time as the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers comes into force later in the year.

Mr. Wallace : I am grateful to the Minister. Those people will therefore be liable to pay the community charge as from 1 April. I assume that all the necessary registration and administration that go with it will have to be completed within a short period.

The Minister began his speech by referring to rebates. Although you pulled him up, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will allow some latitude, in as much as the Minister raised a pertinent issue. There may be people who do not quite make it into the exemption categories. People who could be thought of as students but who probably do not fall into that category are constituents of mine. They are employed by the Orkney youth theatre. They receive approximately £40 a week, but they were informed when inquiries were made that they would be entitled to a rebate of only 47p per week. The local authority maintains that it will be unable to pay that rebate because it is under 50p per week. I hope the Minister will explain whether that is to be a national rule or whether it is just a question of a particular local authority's administrative convenience, because 47p per week--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. If the House allows the Minister to speak again, I hope that he will confine his remarks to what is contained in the regulations.

Mr. Wallace : I am sure that the Minister accepts that if these students do not quite fall within the scope of the regulations, a legitimate point has nevertheless been raised. If he is not allowed to reply to that point in the debate, I hope that he will write to me about the matter.

The hon. Member for Cathcart referred to those who will be exempt because of severe mental impairment. Many hon. Members referred to that point last week at Question Time and it has been the subject of much correspondence between hon. Members and the Minister. I refer to those who are suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It would not have been remiss of the Minister, who has taken the

Column 718

opportunity provided by the regulations to make amendments in order to close some gaps, to extend the scope of the exemption to those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. We have heard of no rational or justifiable reason in the exchanges for the exclusion of those people.

We have been told that there has been medical advice. I think that in an answer last week it was said to have been given by the chief medical officer and others--the others being, curiously, anonymous. I understand that some 90,000 people in Scotland suffer from dementia. Many in the earlier stages of the disease would not be classified as severely mentally impaired, so the number involved is probably well below that. It would not amount to many people, but those people can be hard hit by the regulations. There is considerable disparity which demonstrates that when one embarks on legislation which is inherently unfair the number of injustices which result when it is applied in detail are expected to be quite considerable. It is yet another injustice which goes to the heart of a very unjust tax.

The Minister will know that we have consistently proposed a local income tax. The Minister tries to find some justification for not exempting people suffering from Alzheimer's disease by saying that they were never excluded from rates. References to previous omissions do not justify their continuation. If one were to apply the system of local income tax, clearly that injustice would be covered, as such people could not possibly be earning. If they had substantial income from capital, it would not be unreasonable for them to contribute. The regulations demonstrate the difficulties of implementing a basically unjust tax and we shall have no hesitation in supporting the Labour party and voting against the regulations tonight. 11.2 pm

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : The kernel of our opposition relates to the principal legislation and the role of the poll tax registration officer. The principal statute gives that individual considerable latitude in his or her responsibilities. Poll tax registration officers are circumscribed by statute, but they are responsible to no elected individual. There is no one in the local authority, which is responsible in theory for collecting the tax, to whom the poll tax registration officer is responsible.

Many of our people fought against Hitler's Germany and Fascist Italy to remove dictatorial powers, but we are giving such powers by statute. Tonight we are discussing regulations that enhance the powers of the poll tax registration officers. Part of those regulations relates to service personnel. It is easy to determine when service personnel are in prison but how do we determine when they are at sea?

This may be the last time that we receive some indication of the power of the poll tax registration officer to create almost unilateral exemption. We have fought, and are fighting on the Floor of the House, for exemption for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The Secretary of State and his Ministers resisted that on the basis of spurious medical opinion.

Let us consider service personnel. I have a letter on a matter I raised concerning people in the Royal Navy. The

Column 719

regulations refer to people in the Royal Navy being in prison. I received a letter from Fife regional council saying :

"The failure of the Community Charge Legislation clearly to define what is meant by residents' has meant that a practical approach has had to be taken in many cases. This approach may or may not eventually be upheld by the courts, but it is one of those matters which is left to them to determine."

At this stage, we have to leave it to the courts to decide who is resident. The letter continues :

"Insofar as the Royal Navy is concerned, the Community Charges Registration Officer for Fife has made an arrangement that residence will be determined by its quality and intention rather than its duration. There is no reason why this same criteria should not be applied to Merchant Seamen. Having secured the navy's agreement, it is reasonably certain that Navy personnel will accept the arrangements made, although they will still have their individual Rights of Appeal. No such assumption can be made for Merchant Seamen.

Married Seamen or single Seamen who have a permanent home will be registered at that address and will be removed from the Register only if at sea for a continuous period in excess of six months." Depending on information provided by the Navy, it is possible to get out of the poll tax bracket, if that is administratively possible. We know about someone who is in prison--that is provided for in the regulations--but do we know when someone is at sea? The Russians spend a lot of money keeping Klondikers and others out in the North sea to determine the movement of our vessels. All they need do now is buy a copy of the poll tax register. That would save them a heck of a lot of money. I know that I am verging on the farcical, but the whole issue verges on the farcical. Someone in Fife--Mr. Thompson-- can make an arrangement with the Royal Navy about who will be on the register.

I shall not stray out of order by referring to the other debatable nonsense in the letter. I am being respectful to the chief executive of Fife regional council--he is only saying what the poll tax registration officer determines. If I ask, "To whom is the poll tax registration officer electorally responsible?" he will tell me that the power is provided by statute. Someone can go on and off the register because of the say-so of that one person.

Is the Minister honestly telling the House that the poll tax registration officer can determine when someone is at sea for 61 days but cannot determine whether someone suffers from Alzheimer's disease? Is it impossible for medical opinion to say that someone is so severely mentally impaired that he ought not to be registered? The Minister knows the stand that I have taken on this matter. If the poll tax registration officer will not accept a case for exclusion on the grounds laid down in the regulations or the word of the general practitioner, a person who is acting on behalf of the severely mentally impaired person has to prove his case. That is the depth to which we have sunk to get this nonsense of legislation through. I am convinced that this legislation will not remain on the statute book for long. I am aware from meetings during the past few months that there is a growing undercurrent of resentment at it. I can illustrate how it operates. I recently sat across the table from someone who earns about £35,000 a year and whose rates bill is £2, 500. His poll tax bill will be £600. I have also sat opposite someone whose rate bill was £600 and whose poll tax bill will be £1,200. All of us could give such illustrations. We

Column 720

know from our surgeries that there are depths of poverty that we thought had been abolished. People come to my surgeries on Saturdays who are threatened with eviction or with great difficulty and they do not know which way to turn. I ask the House, at this late date, to take cognisance of the fact that the regulations are nonsense. How quickly they are removed from the law of the land depends on our tenacity.

11.10 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) put his case well and he is undoubtedly deeply concerned. However, I believe that he would agree that the rating system had enormous anomalies which caused great difficulties. I promoted two Bills which attempted to change the legislation on rates and which were subsequently incorporated into Government measures so that the anomalies were dealt with.

The regulations will be welcomed. The students will welcome the opportunity to have certificates to show that they are students. There is a question about cross-border students, which is important in applying for rebates. Like everyone else, the students will apply according to their position and income to ensure that they enjoy the rebates.

Mr. Maxton : For the record, I must point out that the students will pay a student community charge. They will not claim a rebate.

Mr. Walker : The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that I have two daughters who are students, so I know what is going on. Whatever he may say, I want to raise the matter of cross-border students. Some future cross -border students will be at school or about to leave school. They will take up their positions in colleges or universities south of the border after the summer holidays. At what point does the students' position become clear? Is it when they have been offered their places, as is happening now, or is it when they take them up at the end of the summer holidays?

I also welcome the provision affecting war pensioners. I am pleased that there has been a response on that. People in my constituency who are affected by the boarding house and hotel technical amendment would have wished for the loophole to remain. However, we must understand that the community charge is a charge against individuals, and those people have always understood that they would have to pay the community charge.

I believe that, contrary to some remarks, more people are beginning to acknowledge that the community charge is a viable method of funding local government. Contrary to the Opposition statements, with the passage of time it is unlikely that any future Government will remove the community charge.

11.13 pm

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith) : We know for sure that travel broadens the mind. The further one goes north over the border into Scotland, the more one learns that Thatcherism is hated. It is hated because of the attacks on jobs, living standards, social services and the welfare state and now because of the poll tax. The working class of Scotland attack the Tories and vote accordingly. That is why the Tories have little support in Scotland and why the Scottish people oppose the regulations. Whatever we are

Column 721

talking about, we must tell the Prime Minister that she got it wrong when she went to the Church of Scotland and gave a lecture. She tried to tell us that Scotland needed not less but more Thatcherism. She may have believed that God was on her side. Her god is the god of profit. That has been confirmed on many--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is speaking to the wrong subject. I hope that he will address his remarks to the regulations before the House and put theology aside.

Mr. Brown : Thank you for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. People in Lothian can see what the regulations mean. Effectively they mean that many students and others--that includes the low-paid and pensioners--will have to pay the poll tax. They will have to pay £392 a year. That may not seem a lot of money to some members of the Government, but it is a lot for a family. It is not a matter of saying to the low-paid and pensioners, "Under the regulations, you can get a concession or some sort of rebate." Those people did not pay rates before because their income was so low. Now they will have to pay at least 20 per cent. Because of a sliding scale, many old-age pensioners will have to pay much more. Many will have to pay the full whack.

The poll tax, or community charge, call it what one will, is regressive. It attacks the working class--the vast majority--and benefits the rich. There is no doubt about that. Hon. Members may call it what they like, but it is a counter reform. It has taken back one of the gains that we achieved through the rating system. I am not saying that the rating system was perfect. I have heard it said tonight that the rating system also had some flaws, and I agree, but the rating system since 1979--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I must draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention the fact that we are discussing some narrow regulations. I hope that he will address his remarks to them. So far he has not done so.

Mr. Brown : I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, as the matter was mentioned, I must say that high-spending councils are a myth. There are lies, damn lies and Tory statistics. Tory statistics are about unemployment, inflation, and anything that they care to cover. The experiment is being put to the test in Scotland because the Tories think that they will get away with it. They will not. Community organisations, unions, Labour councils and other groups--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is clearly disregarding the advice which I have offered to him. He will either address himself to the regulations or resume his seat, and I will allow another hon. Member to have an opportunity to speak.

Mr. Brown : I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I must say to Conservative Members--there are not many here tonight--that Adam Smith, the great mentor or guru, advised the Bourbons that there would be disaster if they imposed iniquitous taxes. That led to the French revolution 200 years ago. The Tory Government will lead to another revolution, not just devolution. That fact must be faced. Scotland is anxious and, obviously, will challenge the Government.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were quite correct to ask me to make some points about the regulations. When

Column 722

Conservative Members talk about democracy, they talk about hypocrisy. They are trying to impose class rule on the small country north of the border by means of the regulations, which, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, point out, are important.

Let us consider the law--which, in this place, is worshipped daily--and regulations to see what happens to individuals who work in many factories throughout this country. Some are injured, many are killed--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We have heard all about Adam Smith, the French revolution and the Bourbons, but so far we have heard nothing about the Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 or the Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989. The hon. Gentleman must either address his remarks to the regulations before the House or resume his seat.

Mr. Brown : I am always grateful for your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker. We are talking about regulations, and this place--and about reality, which is not just in a little closet or box. We like to kid the working class punters outside that there is something marvellous about this place. However, as a mere representative of Leith, as a shop steward writ large-- or small, because I am not that tall--all I can say is that, when we talk about the law and what happens to people outside, the ruling class is not that concerned.

The ruling class avoid regulations and paying taxes--certainly the poll tax --when that suits them, even though the poll tax is generous to them and benefits them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. This is a very short debate and a number of hon. Members are waiting to speak on the regulations. I must instruct the hon. Member to resume his seat.

11.22 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : The Minister has been poorly supported by his Back-Bench colleagues tonight and, after the speech of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), he probably wishes that he had been completely unsupported and had answered the House alone.

I shall be brief because the debate is no longer taking place in the House. Its focus has shifted to Scotland. The level of resistance to its imposition in Scotland over the next few months will determine the longevity of the poll tax.

It has been said that the separation between the severely mentally handicapped--who will be exempt from the poll tax--and the merely mentally handicapped--who will have to pay--is one of the most offensive distinctions in what is undoubtedly an offensive tax. There is also no doubt that the Minister of State's defence of imposing the poll tax on people with Alzheimer's disease, on the basis that such people would be offended if they were exempt, is equally offensive. What manner of morality or sensitivity argues that American air force or army personnel will not be offended if they are exempt from poll tax in Scotland but those with Alzheimer's disease will be?

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Are people with Alzheimer's disease exempt from rates in Scotland?

Mr. Salmond : If the hon. Gentleman had not just wandered into this Scottish debate, he would have known

Column 723

that that precise point was addressed earlier in the evening. [Interruption.] The answer is simply that two rights do not make a wrong-- [Interruption.] --or even that two wrongs do not make a right. If the Minister seriously argues that people with Alzheimer's disease are anxious to pay the poll tax and would be offended if they could not do so and were placed in an exempted category, he demonstrates how out of touch he is--not just with the people with Alzheimer's disease and their carers, but with the vast bulk of Scottish public opinion that finds such definitions totally offensive.

The Minister recently made a concession for unoccupied farm cottages, apparently not realising that the real issue in Scottish rural communities is occupied farm cottages. Can he not find it within his heart, even at this late stage, to make a concession for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease?

Statutory instrument No. 32 refers to students. I had an interesting opportunity last Thursday night to test students' attitudes to the poll tax in Scotland when I spoke in a debate at St. Andrew's university. Hon. Members will know that St. Andrew's has suffered from the reputation of being responsible for the genesis of the radical Right in United Kingdom politics. Even worse, it has had to carry the burden of having been responsible for the university education of the Under-Secretary of State for opting out--thereby devaluing the worth of my degree from that noble institution. In a packed union debate on Thursday night in the old parliament hall in St. Andrew's, the students not only voted by a majority of three to one against the poll tax but they voted for a non-payment campaign against it, which did much to restore the reputation of the university and showed that free thought is still alive in that institution. It also showed the amount of resistance to the poll tax that is building up in Scotland.

Resistance will be greatest at the point of payment. Over the next few weeks and months the Minister will find himself even more isolated in Scotland than he has been in this debate.

11.26 pm

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) : The Government have lost a golden opportunity to show that Conservatism has a caring face. They had the chance to heed the representations of those representing sufferers from Alzheimer's disease and senile dementia. They have ignored those representations in a way that has caused a great deal of anger among the groups acting for the disabled.

Regulation 4 does not cover millions or hundreds of thousands of disabled sufferers. It deals with a few lives that have been blighted in their later years by the tragedy of Alzheimer's disease. Appeals have been made to the Conservatives to include that small but important group in the legislation and it is little short of tragic that the Government and the Minister have not taken this opportunity to reverse last week's decision and show some compassion to the disabled.

The Hansard report of oral answers to questions on Scotland on 1 March has given my constituents a true insight into the thinking of the Conservatives on Scotland. Last week, the Minister of State said :

Column 724

"Because of the gradual onset of the disease, many people suffering from degenerative disorders seek to play a full part in the community, which includes contributing to the cost of local government." There are people like Mr. Guthrie of Lasswade road in my constituency. His wife phones me every weekend to tell me about her husband's condition and her worries about his having to pay the poll tax, and the notion that people like him can ever again play a full part in the community would be laughable if it were not tragic. The Minister went on :

"The disease has a gradual onset, leading to progressive decline in all aspects of mental functioning."

That is what we believe.

"The difficulty is one of diagnosis to establish precisely at what point any exemption should be made."

All that we are asking is that the Minister shows some generosity of spirit and of action in accepting that at a certain stage people suffering from Alzheimer's disease should be exempted. We are not asking for hard and fast rules. We are asking that for a few thousand people in Scotland suffering from the disease the Government should accept the advice of medical officers and make an exemption. The Minister of State said :

"The balance of medical advice that we have received is that it is impossible to establish a method of assessing precisely at which point an exemption could be granted".--[ Official Report, 1 March 1989 ; Vol. 148, c. 260-61.]

That is used as an excuse not to grant any exemption, and it is little short of disgraceful.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : Most Conservative Members take the view that you are dotty. Do you think you should be exempted? We should be happy to exempt you.

Mr. Griffiths : Many Opposition Members realise that far from you being dotty, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your faculties are as good as ever. We deplore the fact that Conservative Members treat as a laughing matter and a joke people who suffer from senile disorders and who are being described as dotty.

That attitude is exemplified by the rather typical intervention on Wednesday by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who sought to make cheap, party political points at the expense of disabled people. We know that such attitudes are not lost on the people of the United Kingdom, and that relatives who have to care for disabled people and cope with the day-to-day problems of senile dementia know full well that the comment "dotty" by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) is typical of the Government's uncaring, arrogant, aristocratic attitude towards the problem.

The second set of regulations is about personal community charges. I should like to speak on a slightly different tack. Yesterday I visited Pollok halls of residence which contain 1,800 students. I was accompanied by David Martin, the Labour Euro MP, and local councillor Alan Tweedie. We met Terry Cole, the senior warden, and students in those halls. They told us of their worries about their grants which have fallen by 20 per cent. in value under the Government. The grants are simply not sufficient to meet the charges laid on them by the personal community charge. The Minister mentioned that the whole of the community water charge will have to be paid by students. There will be no 20 per cent. exemption.

Column 725

Mr. Lang : The exemption applies also to water charges for students.

Mr. Griffiths : We are pleased to hear about that concession and that they will not have to pay the full water charge. Will the Minister extend that to make the water charge rebatable? I think that the answer to that must be no.

Students form a low-income group in society and will have to meet the community charge. Previously they did not have to pay rates because the University Grants Committee reimbursed halls of residence for rates. Now there will have to be a charge. The impact of the Government's failure to exempt students and chronically disabled people from the charge is plain for all to see. Ten years ago the Government provided £58 for every £100 spent on local services such as schools, housing, street cleaning, libraries, swimming baths, environmental health and pollution inspection. In 10 years, the figure of £58 out of every £100 spent has gone down to £31. That has rocketed the rates, and it is blasting the poll tax into the stratosphere.

Sad to say, the Government will now inflict a higher than necessary charge on my constituents in Edinburgh who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and on the students. If Edinburgh residents got the same allowance from the Government towards the poll tax as the average Scot, they would be paying not £392 each but £250. If they got the same allowance as the Government are providing for Glasgow's residents, they would be paying only £146. Instead, the Government have brought all the powers that they can to bear on Edinburgh's residents to force up the poll tax to unbearable levels. The tragedy is that under these regulations, when, at the eleventh hour, the Government had a chance to help vulnerable groups and to recant on some of the worst aspects of the community charge, they failed. I am pleased to say that in the Euro-election coming up in June, only two short months after the community charge comes in, the people of Scotland will have the chance to show the Government what they think of that tax. We can expect another rout of the Tory party in Scotland.

11.36 pm

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : At first sight, these regulations refer only to Scotland. If that were so, I would be happy to leave them to the representatives of that part of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, like so many other matters in a unitary state, these regulations have consequences beyond the boundaries of Scotland. In particular, I am concerned about the position of students from Northern Ireland.

It is true that those who leave Scotland and come to England, Wales or Northern Ireland will initially be leaving a place where they have to pay a community charge, and arrive in a part of the kingdom where rates are still the norm. However, there is no proposal, as far as I am aware--indeed, it has been denied--to extend the community charge system of financing local government to Northern Ireland. This means that students from Northern Ireland in Scotland will find themselves paying 20 per cent. of the community charge, while their parents in Northern Ireland will continue to pay rates at the level applicable in that part of the kingdom. This is manifestly unjust, and, despite the fact that it has been reduced from

Column 726

the full rate to 20 per cent., that does not remove the inequity of injustice from which students from Northern Ireland suffer. I remember interrupting a Labour Member during the passage of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 and asking him why, if the Act was so damaging to the Conservative prospects, the Labour party was not supporting it. I was told that the Labour party was a party of principle--a fine sentiment. I only regret that its principle did not extend to insisting that the same level and type of taxation prevailed throughout the kingdom. When the Minister replied on behalf of the Government, I asked him why Northern Ireland was denied the evident benefits that the Government saw in this system of local taxation, and I got a non-answer. It was even worse than that from the Labour representative. I regret that, because this question should have been faced.

The House knows what the reality is. It is that a Government who cannot see to it that the BBC collects the television licence in the Republican- dominated ghettos of Northern Ireland know very well that they cannot collect the poll tax there either. Therefore, I accuse them of cowardice in the face of the terrorist organisations.

Mr. Bill Walker : I trust that the hon. Gentleman is aware that many Conservative Members believe firmly that Northern Ireland should be treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom when it comes to local government taxation and other related matters.

Mr. Ross : I welcome the general principle behind the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I should like to discuss it with him at greater length on another occasion rather than trespass upon the time of hon. Members who wish to contribute to this debate. The hon. Gentleman's general principle is welcomed, but if he were trying to introduce this system of local government taxation in Northern Ireland it would not meet with general approval. It would not meet with my approval. By introducing this system of local government financing we are merely replacing one bad system with another. 11.40 pm

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : There has been more than a touch of hypocrisy and humbug about the debate. We heard a moving speech from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), who told us that certain categories of people should be exempt from the community charge. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that everyone who he says should have been exempted from the community charge is currently not exempted from the rating system. The Labour party had time to do something about that and it chose not to do so.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths : I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Guthrie of Lasswade road does not pay his rates. His wife pays the rates.

Mr. Marshall : It seems that the householder pays the rates. The hon. Gentleman knows that Labour Governments could have considered the problems that he has described and that they chose not to do so. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South complained about the level of rates in Edinburgh. He should have said that Edinburgh had a high-spending Labour authority which forced up the rates. In days gone by Edinburgh used to be a byword for efficiency and economy of local

Column 727

government--[ Hon. Members :-- "How does the hon. Gentleman know?"] I lived in Scotland for many years. I know that within the local government system Edinburgh was well known as being the most efficient authority throughout Scotland among the four cities. That is no longer true.

Mr. Maxton : If the hon. Gentleman had managed to listen to any part of my speech, he would have different ideas about the regulations.

Mr. Marshall : If the hon. Gentleman--

Mr. Maxton : Why did the Tories lose Edinburgh, South?

Mr. Marshall : The Conservatives won Edinburgh, South at the district council elections. It was the Labour party which lost it. That tells us about the verdict of the electors of Edinburgh, South at the district council elections on the policy of the then district councils. The electors did not support it and wanted to see it changed.

I was sorry to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) about his visit to the University of St. Andrews. Why the hon. Gentleman was not here last Thursday and was in St. Andrews, only he can tell us.

Next Section

  Home Page