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Mr. Bellingham : My support for the Bill has nothing whatever to do with a trip that I made to South Africa-- [Interruption.] --but everything to do with that part of the Bill which relates to King's Lynn and to the £4 million that will be spent there to bring jobs to my constituency.
Mr. Wall : Although a scheme port is proposing a £30.5 million investment in the Humber jetty, when the Government are arguing for the abolition of the dock labour scheme they tell us that there is no investment in scheme ports. Although the total amount of investment proposed over three years around Immingham on the river Humber is about £370 million, the Government say that investment cannot be attracted to scheme ports. That is what they say when they want to reduce dockers to the kind of conditions experienced by my grandfather in Manchester, and that is why I am political and here in the House.
The secret of these ports is their geographical position and it is that which affects this decision about bringing coal into the river Humber, which will then be used to make
Column 892bigger profits for the privatised electricity industry. I quote yet again from the Committee's report, because it is not first a question of jobs. The Committee also decided
"that if the petitioners' assessment of the amount of coal likely to be imported through Immingham proves correct, then the consequences for the British coal industry could be, to use the word employed by Counsel for the Coalfield Communities Campaign, horrendous'. Those consequences might include the closure of as many as 15 collieries, the loss of 15,000 jobs, the permanent sterilization of energy resources, and knock on effects on local communities across Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. The Committee is aware of the dangers of allowing the import of coal on this scale, and is very sympathetic to the petitioners in the case they have made concerning this."
We must also consider the social costs of the proposals. The evidence given to the Committee by Dr. Benn Fine, reader in economics at Birkbeck college, stated :
"According to our figures, the economic and social costs of pit closures will be made up of three components. First, lump sum redundancy payments will be of the order of between £191 and £360 million, depending upon the extent and consequences"--
Mr. Michael Brown rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice. I know that a heavy task is placed upon you in protecting the rights of Back Benchers and I want to facilitate that difficult task. I know also that you will be sympathetic to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) because he attempted to move the Third Reading as soon as the Division on the previous business was completed. He was called at 7.29 pm. There were points of order for more than half an hour and all those points of order were ruled out of order by Madam Deputy Speaker. Indeed, it was quite clear that all those points of order were entirely bogus-- [Interruption.] The first speech from the Opposition, from the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), lasted over half an hour. It is clear that this is not an attempt to debate the issues, but to waste time.
I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, would want the House to move to a decision on these important matters. Therefore, can you give me some intimation about when the Bill might be brought back to the House, because as we saw clearly in the vote on Second Reading, a large majority of hon. Members want freedom of trade--
Mr. Hardy : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice on an aspect of the matter. We have not had a full three-hour debate, as points of order lasted until about 10 minutes to 8. We have had a substantial debate that has lasted over two hours, but we have not heard a single word in support of the Bill, either from its promoter or from any other hon. Member, apart from one reference to its minor King's Lynn content. If the House is further to consider this wretched Bill, I hope that Conservative Members who support it--whether or not they have been to South Africa as guests of the South African coal industry--
Column 893It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed upon Thursday 25 May.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the Speech by the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall), the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) clearly said in your hearing and in the hearing of other hon. Members that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), who was the Chairman of the Select Committee that considered the Bill, was in the pockets of the sponsors of the Bill. That was a clear allegation of impropriety and dishonesty against my hon. Friend. You should ask the hon. Member for Makerfield to withdraw that quite disgraceful slur.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 11 May and again on 23 June, the Second Reading debate lasted for three hours and 34 minutes. We have had two hours and 31 minutes of the debate on Third Reading of a Bill that has no amendments. I seek your guidance on how much longer we might have to debate the Bill. Last night, in just over an hour we had three Third Readings, and this debate has now been going on for as long as a Second Reading debate.
Mr. Speaker : When the Chairman of Ways and Means puts the Bill on the Order Paper we shall know how much longer it will take. It is clear that hon. Members on both sides wish to participate in the debate.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for extending the debate tonight, but I ask that, in the next debate, consideration be given to hon. Members representing coalfield areas. So far in the debate, which has lasted for two hours, less than 25 minutes has been given to hon. Members from such areas.
There are six prayers before the House.
I beg to move the first motion on the Order Paper,
That the Community Charges (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 438), dated 12th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th March, be revoked. As you have stated, Mr. Speaker, we are also to discuss the next five motions :
That the Valuation and Community Charges Tribunals Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 439), dated 12th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th March, be revoked.
That the Valuation and Community Charges Tribunals (Transfer of Jurisdiction) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 440), dated 12th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th March, be revoked.
Column 895That the Valuation for Rating (Plant and Machinery) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 441), dated 12th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th March, be revoked.
That the Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 442), dated 12th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th March, be revoked.
That the Personal Community Charge (Students) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 443), dated 12th March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th March, be revoked.
Of the six prayers, the most important is the Community Charges (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1989, No. 438, and that is the one to which we will probably direct most of our comments in the relatively short debate tonight.
Not for the first time, late at night, the Government are trying to slip through important regulations to avoid getting the matter into the media and drawing attention to something that they know is a deeply unpopular tax that will be enforced by regulations that will be equally unpopular. The regulations contain powers and enforcement orders, and many people will be surprised to know their extent. The Local Government Finance 1988--the poll tax and national non-domestic rate--contains no fewer than 736 matters that are left to regulation, determination and order.
Once again, the Government propose to legislate by regulation, order and simple determination of the Secretary of State for the Environment. It is a centralising and authoritarian Government who choose to act in that manner. I cannot think of any previous Government who included no fewer than 736 matters in a Bill. The Secretary of State for the Environment will have enormous powers. Not for the first time, the Secretary of State has introduced a Bill in which he gives himself powers to do what he likes. That is what he has done in respect of the poll tax and what he continues to do in a number of other Bills before the House.
It is argued that in some way the poll tax will be an easier tax. It is claimed that it will be less bureaucratic, simpler to administer and easier to understand. It is said that it will carry the public with it because, unlike the rates, everyone will understand what the poll tax involves.
It is worth bearing in mind that there is a lot more to administer in the poll tax. The cost of administration will be much higher than the cost of administering the rates. Regulation 23(7) deals with joint and several liability. It contains a sentence which has more than 139 words with eight cross-references to other regulations, which contain another 30 cross- references. We are told that that is designed to make things simpler. It will not make them simpler ; it will make them considerably more complex-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. How much longer are you going to allow 15 separate conversations to take place at the same time? This is a Tory tax, but there is no excuse for Tory Members trying to drown what my hon. Friend is saying.
Column 896"Regulations 20(5)(b) and 21(8)(b) apply as if the reference to the chargeable person includes, insofar as concerns the difference between the joint and several liability under regulation 22(1) or (2) of the spouse or manager in respect of the appropriate amount or recalculated amount referred to in those provisions and the amount he has paid in respect of the estimated amount so referred to, a reference to the spouse or manager, and as if the reference to regulation 20(8) were a reference to that provision as applied by paragraph (9) below ; and accordingly any requirement which may be made by the chargeable person under regulation 20(5) or 21(9) for a calculation of the appropriate amount or for a recalculation of the estimated amount (as the case may be) may also be made by the spouse or manager."
That is supposed to clarify the matter for people who are living together as man and wife. What nonsense. Most people will not understand it.
This part of the regulations came into effect yesterday. The Government postponed the implementation of regulations 4 and 5 which give community charge registration officers power to demand information, until 22 May. They did that, they said, to avoid the local elections and because they said that they wanted to enable their canvass to begin after the Government's so-called publicity campaign--or more accurately, propaganda campaign--had taken effect. Of course, there were no elections in most Association of Metropolitan Authorities areas. Most of the regulations could have taken effect already in some of the areas, but they did not. The purpose of the regulations is to enable community charge regulation officers to address a form to the occupier and require any occupier to supply information in respect of other occupiers. it penalises any occupier for not providing that information.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : I do not want to anticipate a point that my hon. Friend may be about to make, but, in his experience, as in mine, is it not unusual that we should be debating regulations the day after they came into force? The Government cannot even organise their timetable so that the House, which is supposed to debate such matters, can do so before the regulations come into operation.
Mr. Soley : My hon. Friend makes the point that I have made on a number of occasions. The Government not only take incredible centralising authoritarian powers to themselves in a wide-ranging way, as they have done here, but they also slip measures through late at night in the way that he has described by bringing them into effect before the House has debated them.
Regulation 6 deals with information from public bodies.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Can the hon. Gentleman explain the difference between an occupier having a duty to fill in the electoral registration form in respect of other people in his House and having a duty to fill in the community charge form in respect of other people?
Mr. Soley : Yes, I can. One gives something and the other takes something away. The hon. Gentleman does not understand the importance of electoral registration as opposed to the poll tax, which is an unfair tax imposed on people in a way that will, in many cases, push them into poverty and is unacceptable. I would be more inclined to listen to the hon. Gentleman if he had lived up to the promise that he gave the Committee which considered the Local Government Finance Bill, on which I too was a member, to meet the homeless people with me tonight. He
Column 897refused and, instead, went off for dinner. Now, Mr. Speaker, you will notice that he wants to intervene. All of a sudden he wants to be heard. But he did not want to hear the people whom I was going to take him to hear. There is a lesson there for the hon. Gentleman. Mr. Nicholas Bennett rose
Mr. Soley : When the hon. Gentleman promises to meet people and listen to them and then breaks that promise, he cannot assume that he will be listened to any more than the people to whom he has refused to listen. For that reason, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Bennett : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make a statement to the House that he knows to be untrue and then to refuse to allow the hon. Member to respond to it?
Mr. Bennett rose
Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a long-established practice in the House where one hon. Member refers to another to allow that other hon. Member to give an explanation?
Mr. Soley : I do not think that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) heard what I said. I told the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) that if he had listened in the way that he said he would, he would be entitled to be listened to. It is precisely because he will not listen to others that I am telling him that he cannot assume that he will be given the respect that he refuses to give to others. That is something that the hon. Gentleman should understand. It is quite good training for people to understand that and behave properly.
Mr. Bennett rose--
Mr. Bennett rose--
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did I hear you say that it is the tradition of the House that if an hon. Member accuses another hon. Member of something, the first hon. Member gives way?
Sir Hugh Rossi : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) broke an undertaking. That is a serious matter--
Mr. Soley : As I was saying to the Minister on the issue of prayers and sermons, the poll tax is a lovely example of the way in which Tory Members pray on their knees on Sundays and on their neighbours for the rest of the week. That is what the poll tax is all about. Mr. Bennett rose --
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Hammersmith has impugned my integrity. He said that I broke a promise, and he now refuses to give way so that I may make it clear that that is not the case. This morning I telephoned his research assistant and explained that because there was a three-line Whip at 10 o'clock and because I was engaged on the previous business of the House, tonight was not convenient, and I said that we must arrange another night when I could take part in the visit.
Mr. Nellist : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While I do not want to intrude, as the phrase has it, on private grief, or to raise instances from last April, you will have heard the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) explain--I appreciate that it is not your responsibility, Mr. Speaker--that he was on a three-line Whip at 10 o'clock. From 7 until 10 o'clock we were engaged on private business. It is interesting to hear that the Tory party puts on a three-line Whip-- [Interruption.] --for private business.
Mr. Soley : As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) points out, the hon. Member for Pembroke has given the game away. The Conservatives put on a three-line Whip for private business. But even that does not work, because the agreement with the hon. Gentleman was simple. It was that I would have him back here for the 10 o'clock Division, but he still would not come.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I urge you to use your influence to ensure that we get back to the debate, rather than consider the outside activities of hon. Members, because some of us actually want to talk about the community charge?
Mr. Speaker : I remind the House that this is a prayer--in fact six prayers--that the debate continues for one and a half hours and that a number of hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that we may now proceed in good order.
The exemptions order deals with information from public bodies. The measure permits the Secretary of State to declare some information off limits to community charge registration officers. The Secretary of State has used his discretion nervously in this regulation. Names and addresses held by local authorities are off limits only if they are held for police or employment purposes. That means that if an authority has names and addresses held for sensitive purposes--child abuse or something of that nature--those names and addresses, but not the reasons for holding them, must be passed to CCROs on request. Social services directors have criticised that--I recall my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) raising this issue in a late night debate--because it is seen as a breach of trust and a possible deterrent to those seeking help from, or volunteering information to, social services.
Confusion has also arisen over lists of names and addresses for education purposes. The Department of Education and Science has ruled that names and addresses of parents held by schools are not available to CCROs but that if the same names and addresses are held by local education authorities for the same purposes, CCROs must be given them on request. The upshot is that local authority employees and parents of schoolchildren will have greater rights of privacy from the CCRO than the people with whom social service departments have to deal in difficult circumstances in respect of child abuse, wife battering, and many other sensitive issues. Such information will not enjoy the same degree of protection.
Under regulation 17, people may have to pay a full year's charge in less than 10 instalments. Ministers say that in almost all cases people will be able to pay in 10 instalments, but that is not so. If the percentage payable falls below a certain level, the chargeable person will have to pay larger instalments or the full sum. That will hit the poor, despite the Government's assurance that it will not do so.
Regulation 23(7) deals with the famous "joint and several liability", which the Government tried to hide from public knowledge in distributing a leaflet that does not make it clear that one will be liable for the poll tax of one's spouse in certain circumstances. Right hon. and hon. Members know about that liability, but the public may not do so. It is important that they are given genuine information. When I forced the Government to withdraw the leaflet "Tenants' Choice" because it was misleading, they did so quietly and unannounced. If the Government know, as they surely must, that the community charge leaflet does not present good factual information that will help the public to understand the poll tax, then they should
Column 900do the same again. The Government must appreciate that that leaflet can be misunderstood and misinterpreted by people who are trying to understand the complexities of the poll tax.
Part IV deals with enforcement and sets out the full panoply of the enforcement powers available to local authorites. In outline, having obtained a liability order from magistrates, a local authority can demand information from a debtor, make an attachment of earnings order, apply for a distress warrant or the sale of goods, and in certain circumstances apply for attachment of benefits and even imprisonment. We are debating regulations that will result in people who are unable to pay the poll tax being fined, and if they are unable to pay that fine, being sent to prison. We are considering the possibility that poll tax debtors will go to prison.
Conservative Members have perhaps deliberately hidden from the public the fact that if one is imprisoned for a criminal offence such as murder, one does not have to pay the poll tax. But if one is imprisoned because of one's inability to pay the poll tax, one is still liable to pay it even while in prison. The very people who cannot afford to pay the poll tax, and who are imprisoned as a consequence, are still expected to continue paying it while in gaol. One is better off committing a serious crime and being imprisoned for that than being sent to gaol for non-payment of the poll tax. Surely no one believes that that is desirable or necessary.
Other regulations deal with attachment of earnings orders, distress orders, and other provisions. Unfortunately, the debate is limited. It should have been much wider, so that right hon. and hon. Members could discuss the issues in depth. It is important to understand that when poll tax collectors use a device such as a distress warrant, for example, they will have extreme difficulty in identifying the ownership of goods.
Take the example of the young person of 18 or 19 who has just become liable for poll tax and who does not pay it. If a distress warrant is levied against him and an order for seizure of goods is made, that young man may say, "That is not my property. It belongs to my sister or brother." If Conservative Members are naive enough to believe such things do not happen, they should talk to fines supervision officers, for that problem is one that they frequently encounter. The Minister, who I believe is a magistrate, will know that that is right. We are prepared, however, to slip the regulations through after an hour and a half of debate.
Statutory instrument No. 443 deals with student regulations, which govern, among other things, who will receive the automatic 80 per cent. discount. YTS trainees will not receive it ; nor will postgraduate students seconded by their employers in, for instance, the police, the armed forces and the Civil Service. Student nurses on the present nurse training schemes will not receive it--although some schemes allow them to do so--and 19-year-olds at school will not either. They are not exempt like 18-year-olds ; they must apply for a rebate.
Such issues will hit the electorate suddenly in April next year. The Government may try to slide the regulations through late at night in the irresponsible and authoritarian way that they adopt from time to time, but people in the real world will not forget.
In the Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) Order, the Secretary of State has refused to use his discretion to extend the "severely mentally impaired"
Column 901criterion to degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. That, along with the hour and a half that we have been allowed in which to debate the orders, shows what a mean-minded Government we have. The exemption of certain mentally handicapped groups had to be squeezed out of them, and it is not difficult to find groups such as those suffering from Alzheimer's disease who are still not exempt. What will Conservative Members do when people come to their surgeries and ask, "Why should my relative, who is suffering form Alzheimer's disease, pay the poll tax?"? They will use the same dodges as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), who slipped out rather than coming out with me tonight to see the homeless in the streets. They will do a big cover-up : they will con and duck and weave to fool people into believing that they care. They will say, "I will see the Minister about this." But tonight they will go through the Lobby and vote for the regulations, and that is why the Opposition will oppose them.