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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : I welcome the instruments, and I do not think that the Government have anything to hide or to fear from them. We made it clear at the time of the general election that we believed that there was a need for reform of the local government finance system, and these measures will ensure that that reform is implemented as fairly as possible. If anomalies crop up during that impression, we shall doubtless be able to take them into account.
I find no difficulty in giving my entire support to a system that replaces the present outdated and unfair rating arrangements. The idea that it reflects ability to pay is absolute nonsense. On Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill, I had the opportunity to ask the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)--I am sorry that he is not in his place-- whether he thought that the present system reflected ability to pay. It is obvious that it does not : there are so many anomalies.
When, not long ago, my right hon. Friend the Member of State visited my constituency, I was able to take him to an estate agent and show him the huge range of rates payable on properties advertised there, which did not relate at all to the capital value of those properties. So I think it is absolutely right that we press on with the introduction of the community charge under these instruments. I want to ask my right hon. Friend for clarification on one point, and I am sure there is an answer to it.
I was rather perturbed to see from statutory instrument No. 439, in schedule 1, regarding the setting up of the tribunals, that in the area of each non-metropolitan county other than Essex and Hampshire the appointing body is the county council. It is a rather complicated order and I want to know whether the county council, when appointing these bodies, will have to comply with the Widdicombe demand that there should be a balance of political complexion. I am worried because, if not, in my county, the Labour party will undoubtedly pack the committee. I hope that my right hon. Friend can give me some assurance on that.
Column 902There has been some talk about the problem of joint and several liability. I do not think there is any problem here whatsoever. Most people will understand the fairness of this scheme.
In my opinion, the whole point of the introduction of the scheme is to bring greater accountability to local government. Unfortunately, that is sadly lacking with the present set-up. It is important that we have accountability, and by greatly extending the base of people who are paying for local authority services, we shall bring greater accountability.
We need to make it more and more clear that quite a considerable amount of money that local government spends will come either from Government grant or from the unified business rate. The amount that we are asking the community charge payer in each of the boroughs to pay is a very small proportion of the overall community charge. It is a small proportion that will represent an accountability of what a local authority is spending.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : Can the hon. Gentleman explain where the accountability comes in? At present, something like 50 or 60 per cent. is raised by the local authority--that is accountability--and it is now being put down to 25 per cent. Accountability has been thrown out of the window.
Mr. McLoughlin : I am not quite sure why the hon. Gentleman is complaining. If he is complaining that the community charge will mean that a lower percentage of the money collected by the councils will come from the community charge payer, I should have thought he would welcome that.
Mr. McKay : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. McLoughlin : Yes, because I think that the hon. Gentleman misrepresented his own point.
Mr. McKay : What we complain about is that most of the community charge falls on the community, not on business, as the rates do now. Therefore, 95 per cent. of the people that I represent will pay a vast increase on what they are paying at the present time.
Mr. McLoughlin : If 95 per cent. will have to pay a vast increase on what they pay at the moment, the hon. Gentleman must be representing some very high-spending councils. The hon. Gentleman really cannot have it both ways. He cannot suggest to me that the present system is in some ways fair, because I do not believe that anybody can justify the system as it stands at the moment. There is a need for a new system for greater accountability.
Mr. Gummer I wonder if it would help my hon. Friend in replying to the hon. Gentleman if he were to remind him--I am sure he would like to--that the proportion of local authority spending now covered by the domestic rate is about 25 per cent. That will continue under the community charge, and the business rate will continue to cover about 25 per cent. So the hon. Gentleman is talking through his hat.
Mr. McLoughlin : I do not wish to take issue with my right hon. Friend, but the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) asked me why the community charge would lead to greater accountability. Everybody will pay something towards local government expenditure. That will lead to greater participation in local government
Column 903elections. All too often, we hear of only a very small number of people bothering to vote in county council or district council elections. The community charge will, I believe, lead to more people voting in local elections. They will take a greater interest in local government. Every hon. Member ought to welcome that. If they believe, as I do, that local government plays an important role, they ought to regret the abysmally poor turnout at local elections. There are no problems over joint and several liability. That is an Opposition red herring.
Ministers and many of my hon. Friends have criticised Greenwich for taking the Government to court. However,
Column 904by doing so, Greenwich council ensured that my right hon. Friend's leaflet was given a great deal of publicity. We should be glad that Greenwich drew the nation's attention to the fact that the Government were telling people about the important changes that are to take place. Many county councils and other councils that are controlled by Labour have told ratepayers all sorts of falsehoods about the community charge. Rather than criticise Greenwich council, as many of my hon. Friends have done, I pay it a tribute. It has done a great service to the Government and to the nation. People now know what the community charge is all about.
We have nothing to hide. The regulations should be passed so that local government finance and accountability can be made much more fair.
Column 90510.37 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : These measures are the latest substantial step down the road towards three dangerous conclusions. For many people it is a step towards greater poverty, and for many people and many local authorities it is a step towards more bureaucracy. For many people it is also a step towards less liberty.
The poll tax will result in greater poverty because the system requires that, no matter how poor one is, in most cases one will not be exempt. The instruments implement attachment orders if people cannot pay. In the end, they will be unable to escape. I was once asked at a public meeting whether I advised people not to pay. I said, "I can't advise you to do that, because they will get you in the end--it would be far worse to suffer the penalty of going through the courts and your goods being taken than to stand up, argue the case and try to ameliorate the effects of the poll tax."
Like every other hon. Member on the Opposition side of the House, I opposed the Bill but came to the conclusion that if the system could cope with the bureaucracy it would eventually catch people. The legal penalties are in place. Those who already have to bear exceptional financial burdens will be susceptible to pressure from those who implement the distraint mechanisms provided for in the instruments. To escape that pressure they will have to borrow money. They will then fall prey to the abhorrent alternative of getting even further into debt to those who charge high rates of interest to help them out.
Secondly, some people who are extremely poor will not be exempt, for no good reason. The Government decided that students should pay only 20 per cent. If we have to have the system, that concession should be made. But people on training schemes may have an income substantially less per week that many students have, even on their low grants. The payment on a youth training scheme might be only £30 per week, whereas a student at a university, college or polytechnic might receive the equivalent of £50 per week. There will be differences between students and student nurses. Some people with higher activity costs will be expected to pay an undiscounted rate. Thirdly, there are exemptions--thank goodness--for some mentally handicapped people. Those are the least of the concessions that could have been made. But other categories of people in equal mental adversity whose condition physically or mentally is equally problematical in terms of their ability to play a ful part in society, will still be required to pay. There is a specific exemption in the definition of residential homes for people who live in residential accommodation run by the Abbeyfield Society. That is specified in statutory instrument 222, paragraph 9(1). I welcome that--the society was founded in Rotherhithe--but I find it difficult to understand why it should be mentioned by name and be exempt when many other organisations running residential homes are not.
Next, there will be massive bureaucracy as a result of the measures. The estimate by the Department of the Environment of the amount that people will pay in poll tax was based on 100 per cent. compliance, with everybody being found and everybody paying, but I gather that it is now accepted that there was a substantial under-estimate of the cost of collection. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us in his reply what was the original estimate for
Column 906the cost of collection in Scotland and what is the latest figure in practice. I understand that the cost of collection in Scotland is about 20 per cent. higher than the Government estimated. That means that a massive additional cost will have to be met by the people paying the poll tax.
There is dangerous bureaucracy, as evidenced in the issue that my colleagues in the Isle of Wight county council have taken up with the Government and challenged. The Department of Education and Science has ruled that names and addresses of parents held by schools are not to be made available to the registration officers, but that if the same names and addresses are held by the local education authority they are to be available. Names and addresses might well be held by an education authority, because it might also be the social services authority, and might therefore know who the adults were in the house in which a child lived. The registration officer may acquire the information, but only by a bureaucratic procedure that will add to the work load not just of the collecting authority but of another authority as well.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) referred to but did not amplify the gory details of perhaps the most classic piece of drafting in any of the six orders--paragraph 23(7) of SI 438 on joint and several liability, a one-sentence paragraph of 139 words with eight cross-references in turn referring to 30 other regulations. If that is clear legislation, there is something wrong with the definition of clarity used by Government Departments.
There are also illogical and bureaucratic differences between people of 18 who are at work and have to pay, and people of 19 who are still at school. There are all sorts of ridiculous provisions which will make the system impossible to work. The worst aspect is tracking people down. Let us consider students in London. Students move around. They do not have the same accommodation for three years ; often they do not even have the same accommodation for one year. In London there are more than 100 colleges, and there are 33 local authorities. Often the colleges do not know where the students are staying. There is a shortage of accommodation. Students move and cannot be tracked down, but local authorities will be charged with the responsibility of trying to find them.
Equally, there are many homeless people in constituencies such as mine. People live on the floors of other people's homes. They stay for a week or a fortnight at their brother's, sister-in-law's, aunt's or friend's and then move on. It is naive to imagine that when they move their first act will be to go to the local treasurer's office to inform him that they have changed flats and will be living somewhere else for a short time. The administration involved is ludicrous. Another bad bureaucratic development has to do with payment by instalments. Apparently, it will be possible to pay in this way. That is fine. We can pay our rates in instalments now--10 of them per year--if we ask to do so. But the regulations require a minimum instalment of £5. The Government said during the debates on the legislation that poor people would have maximum rebates and would be able to pay, for example, on a weekly basis--with their rent, if they were council tenants. If the minimum instalment is £5, they will not pay small amounts regularly over the year. To a basic pensioner, £5 is a substantial sum if he has little else on which to live. Finally, there are the dangers to liberty, which constitute the most frightening aspect of the six
Column 907regulations. I hope that all hon. Members are aware that the enforcment officers can demand that occupiers of houses give information about other occupiers, even if they have no legal responsibility for them. We can be required to grass on other adults to whom we are not related. Two other adults live in my house now. As the occupier of the house, I shall be obliged by the regulations to divulge information--if I am asked--and there is a penalty if I do not comply. The system should be directed at making us personally responsible, not at creating a nation of sneaks to do the Government's job for them.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hughes : I will not give way unless the hon. Gentleman is generous enough to concede that grassing should not be included in the legislation and to vote against it. It is an unjustified invasion of the civil liberties of a country which is supposed to be setting an example
Mr. Bennett rose --
Mr. Hughes : I will not give way, unless the hon. Gentleman is prepared to make the concession that I asked for, and I do not think that he is.
Local authorities will be given a wide brief to collect information for the register, including collecting from the commercial sector. If they collect information from every Tom, Dick and Harry, there will be even more risks of data-based private information being leaked.
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : I hesitate to interrupt, but unless there are extreme differences of which I am unaware in the English and Welsh legislation, it is the poll tax registration officer and not the local authority who collects the information--and is responsible to no one.
Mr. Hughes : I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. Technically, he is right. The poll tax officer is responsible to the Government, if to anyone. The problem is that he will be perceived as going out on behalf of the local authority, because unless the local authority receives the money it will not be able to spend it. So local authorities face a horrendous dilemma--if they want the full whack to spend on social services, home helps and care for the mentally ill, they will have to employ a large number of people to do the impossible bureaucratic job of securing maximum compliance with poll tax, and they will waste a great deal of money in the process, so their other budgets will suffer accordingly.
Reams of sensitive information about people's past records, their relationships and their mental and physical history will be around. If all such information is to be open so that the system can acquire it, people will be able to pry on behalf of the Government to collect money in a way that we have not seen before. It is already clear that the Government are centralising our society. Through these measures, they are taking steps that will allow them to pry and probe into homes in England and Wales as well as those in Scotland in a way that has never before been tolerated. If we had a representative Government, we should never have these instruments. The sooner we get rid
Column 908of the present Government and replace them with a representative Government, the sooner we shall get rid of these measures. 10.50 pm
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : I shall first place on record the facts of what the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said yesterday and today, rather than what he chose to say in the House, after which he refused to let the hon. Member whose honour he impugned have the opportunity to reply. He wrote a letter to me yesterday, saying :
"I have arranged for us to be in Centrepoint (hostel for homeless youngsters) at 8.45 tomorrow as agreed.
I shall have to return to the House of Commons to lead the Poll Tax debate at 10 pm but workers at Centrepoint would like to take you to meet other youngsters who can't find a hostel place."
When I got that letter, I pointed out to his research assistant, as I could not get hold of the hon. Gentleman, that I also had to be in the Chamber for the debate at 10 o'clock, and that I had to be there before then because I was acting as Whip for the Bill being promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. I offered the hon. Gentleman's research assistant another date. I said that I would be very happy to go on another occasion.
I am still happy to do that, but I am not happy to go with the hon. Member for Hammersmith, who has been so dishonest in his suggestions that I had tried to get out of an engagement. I put that on record as an example of the behaviour that we had from the hon. Gentleman in Committee considering the Local Government and Housing Bill, and what we are getting now. That is cheap, dishonest and contemptible. The debate on the community charge is an important one, but I cannot understand the attitude of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) who has just said that it is outrageous that he, as the occupier of a house, should declare who the other adult occupiers of his house are. He has to do that for the electoral roll. That is the duty imposed by law on the citizen. The Liberal party always supported it. The Representation of the People Act 1918 was a Liberal Act. It is strange that the hon. Gentleman should think it right for the Government to impose a duty on the occupier to declare who is living in the house in order that they may vote, as is their right, but that he does not think it is also his duty, as the main occupier of the house, to declare, for the purpose of paying the charge for which they get that vote--
Mr. Douglas : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Bennett : I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman because he has repeatedly told the House that he intends to break the law, and that he does not intend to pay the community charge, so we do not want to listen to him.
Mr. Simon Hughes : Will the hon. Gentleman take on board this point? The difference between the two, as I am sure that he understands, is that the opportunity given to the occupier to declare who is there so that they have a vote gives those people a right and an intitlement. This is different. It imposes on them an obligation with financial consequences and prospective penalties for them as well as
Column 909for the occupier. This, in legislation, where people are meant to be individually accountable, by his Government's definition.
Mr. Bennett : That is an interesting proposition. The hon. Gentleman thinks it right that the law should say that where someone is to get a right, that must be declared, but when there is a duty or an obligation on them as a citizen, we keep quiet about that. That is disgraceful. That is the mentality of someone who does not report accidents to the police and does not want to know when there has been a crime because that is not a part of his duty as a member of the community. The SDLP should be in favour of citizens playing their full part.
Mr. Gummer : The duty and obligation to pay the community charge occurs not because a person's name has been put on the list but because the person has that duty as a result of an Act passed by the House. Therefore, the person who fills in the form does not extend the duty and the obligation to the people whose names and addresses he puts on that form.
Mr. Bennett : My right hon. Friend anticipates my next point. The Local Government Act 1988 was in the Conservative party manifesto on which I and my colleagues fought and won the 1987 general election. It was clearly set out in that manifesto and was passed by both Houses of Parliament without any difficulty whatsoever.
Opposition Members are seeking to tell the public which laws they should have to obey and which laws they should ignore.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The Conservative manifesto specifically excluded any commitment to poll tax capping. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that an amendment is introduced to remove that?
Mr. Bennett : The Conservative manifesto contains nothing whatsoever about the poll tax. When the hon. Gentleman talks about the community charge, we might listen to him. It is important that we call it the community charge because that is what it is. It is a fundamental philosophical point that the community charge is a charge for local government services. It is not a tax ; it is a charge to all adults who are not exempt to pay for the services that they receive. It is a charge, just as the cost of a television licence is a charge, or the excise duty on a motor vehicle is a charge. People would find it strange if they were charged different sums for exactly the same services. Every person over 18 has one vote and has equal benefit from local government services.
The nonsense of the rates was that they were fixed not on the ability of the person to pay or his ability to use the services, but merely on the size of his house. A ridiculous and unfair situation could occur when four or five adults in a house would pay exactly the same in rates as one person living next door-- [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is shouting, perhaps he would like to intervene.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to intervene. Does he not recognise that, on the whole, richer people live in higher-rated houses?
Mr. Bennett : That is totally irrelevant, because it is not the house that uses the services. The people inside the
Column 910house use local government services. The house is irrelevant. It was a convenience used by Victorian administrators who introduced the rates as a simple way of collecting a charge from local ratepayers. It had no bearing on the services that those ratepayers used. Houses do not use local government services, and five adults living in a house will use those services five times as much as one individual.
Mr. Carlile : Is it not a logical corollary to assume that the hon. Gentleman believes that all people should pay the same amount of income tax, whatever they earn?
Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman does not recognise the difference between a charge and a tax. Income tax is a graduated tax for all the services available within the community, and quite clearly people are charged according to their ability to pay. The community charge applies to local authority services, and there is a limit to the services that a person can use.
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : Does my hon. Friend accept that people on higher incomes would be paying more for local government finance as they will be paying more taxes towards central Government funding of local government? Does he accept that there is a rebate system of up to 80 per cent. so that those who are less well off will pay less under the community charge?
Mr. Bennett : Like my right hon. Friend the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) anticipates my next point. In England, 46 per cent. of local government services are provided by central Government grants, and in Wales the figure is 66 per cent. Therefore, those paying the top rate of income tax will pay 15 times as much towards local government services as those on the bottom rate.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Is my hon. Friend aware how much pain the Labour party's proposals will cause poor people in Northolt and other parts of my constituency who are fortunate enough to own their own home? They would be forced to pay rates according to the updated capital value of their home, as well as local income tax, under Labour's proposal. Those people are already in great difficulty trying to pay rates that have been doubled by the Labour-controlled Ealing council in three years. Many have to go without food to pay those rates.
Mr. Bennett : I have the most perceptive colleagues possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) anticipates what I was going to say. In Ealing, the rates are currently £537 per head, for those who pay them. The community charge will be £234 and on the Labour plan of 80 : 20 for capital value tax and local income tax, the unfortunate Ealing resident would pay £695.
Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : May I take my hon. Friend back briefly to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)? Surely my constituency is not unusual, in that it contains many elderly couples and many elderly people who, sadly, have lost their spouse. They are living in houses that represent what they were earning many years ago. The houses no longer represent their current income,
Column 911because the owners are pensioners. Those are the people who are paying outrageous rates at present and for whom the community charge will deliver justice at long last.
Mr. Bennett : I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, as usual, speaks for the under-privileged in his constituency in a way that Labour Members do not.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Is not the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument about the relation of individuals to the service that they require that those who have the most children and who need the most social services should be paying even more because they use more services?
Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman used the word "require". I said that the community charge was fair because it imposed the same charge on each individual who had a vote. The important point is, if it is related to voting, that people have a vote in local government elections, so they should make an equal contribution if they are able to do so. For those who cannot, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford said, there is a rebate of up to 80 per cent. of the full charge.
It is a misnomer to talk about "student nurses". They are receiving a salary and are earning twice as much--if not more--as students on a grant. To describe them as students is not correct. They earn as much as many other young workers and those other young workers will be in the same position with the community charge. I regret that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey should speak about student nurses without making that point clear.
The Social and Liberal Democrats want to have some form of local income tax which would mean, in most cases, the doubling of what people will pay in the community charge. The Labour party wants to go further. It wants local income tax and capital value rates as well. That would mean, in many cases, three or four times the amount people will pay under the community charge. The community charge is a fair tax and a reasonable charge to make on people, so we should support it.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : The debate has been immoderately short--
Mr. Nellist : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not presume to attempt to influence your choice of speaker. I want only to ask you to consider the following. This evening, the Government tabled six sets of instruments, with more than 94 pages of detail. We have had the maximum allocated time of one and a half hours. It may not be in your province to decide how much business can be tabled within a certain length of time, but it must be obvious to you--given that one of your roles is the protection of Back Benchers' interests--that to have no Opposition Back Bench speaker called during the debate due to the compression of business is not a democratic way to debate these matters. Perhaps when we come to consider the regulations further, either extra time could be allocated or those who have shown an interest by attempting to speak today might be borne in mind.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : The House agreed last Friday that we should proceed in this manner today.
Mr. Murphy : I can understand the feelings of my hon. Friend the member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). It is of course, important to have a Welsh dimension to this debate, and although the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) represents a Welsh constituency, I am bound to say that he does not by any means speak for the vast majority of people in the Principality on the question of the poll tax. Indeed, he does not even speak for his own constituency, in as much as 60 per cent. of the people in his constituency voted for parties which opposed the poll tax at the last general election.
Mr. Murphy : Hidden in the details and complexities of the legislation lie some of the most fundamental problems of the poll tax and of how to administer it. We already know that the Government have introduced a tight timetable for registration. The period from 22 May-- yesterday--to 1 December gives local authorities very little time in which to put the registers into operation.
There will be problems with social security records, which are bound to be used. Even library records will probably be used. The lists of parents that have to be provided to local authorities under the Education Reform Act 1988 will also probably be used. There is no special treatment in the regulations for youngsters on youth training schemes, for student nurses, or for 19-year-olds who are still at school. We all know that the expense to both higher and further education colleges of appointing certification officers is bound to be immense and to add to the financial strain that is already affecting our educational establishments.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), who has now left the Chamber, referred to the tribunals to be set up by this system of regulations. I ask the Minister to ensure that they are properly staffed and properly financed, because my experience as a former member of a rating and valuation panel is that such staff have had to suffer a shoestring budget for many years. All the signs are that the tribunals will be used much more extensively than they are at the moment.
I also ask the Minister to ensure that Ministers in Wales and his fellow Ministers in England consult valuation officers because I know that in south Wales there is great unease among those civil servants about the loss of their jobs. On the issue of enforcement, the court order for the attachment of earnings could lead to the dismissal of badly protected casuals and part-time employees. In Wales, we know all about that, because half our female work force is in low-paid part-time employment. Deductions from earnings take no account of the number of dependants or of mortgages or other vital commitments that people may have.
One problem with the method of payment and billing is that low-income poll tax payers will not benefit from instalments if the instalment results in a payment of less than £5. That is bound to hit those areas of the country, especially Wales, with an above average number of low-paid workers. One in four workers in Wales earns below £150 per week. If that is not a measure of low pay, I do not know what is.
Just before Christmas 1988, the Minister visited Cardiff and the local paper, the Western Mail, reported :
"According to Mr. Gummer, the son of a Welsh speaking vicar, the poor will get a better deal under the community
Column 913charge as will Wales itself because the new poll tax system will transfer almost £800 million a year from the rich south-east to poorer parts of Britain."
That not only shows a fundamental misinterpretation of how the business rate operates in Wales and England separately, but also a fundamental lack of knowledge of how ordinary people live in Wales and in other parts of the country. I hope that when the instruments come into force they will be enforced with a certain amount of compassion.
As for the cost implications of these measures in Wales, we were told only last week that the district councils in the Principality will be some £3 million pounds short. The local authorities wanted a specific grant of 75 per cent. towards the cost of administering the poll tax, not the uncertainties and the vagaries of the block grant. In my local authority of Torfaen, because poll tax spending was counted as part of the GRE, the council would have been better off without the grant.
The position in England is different. A specific grant of 50 per cent. is given to local authorities, and the other 50 per cent. is taken from the block grant. My colleagues from Wales and I do not understand why Wales has been treated differently from England. Whether in Wales or in England, the regulations are bound to have an enormous administrative and financial impact on local authorities and the people whom they serve. In my local authority, the number of staff dealing with those matters will have to be doubled. The number of distress warrants will increase from 1,200 to 5,000, the number of accounts from 25,000 to 77,000, and the number of payments from 95, 000 to a staggering 570,000 in any given year. If that is not a recipe for administrative chaos in the months ahead, I do not know what is.
It is certain that the regulations are as offensive to British people as the poll tax. They impose a heavy financial and administrative burden on our councils and the people whom they serve. They threaten our civil liberties and offend the basic sense of fairness and decency among British people. The Government tried to delay registration, but it made no difference--the people rejected the poll tax in the Vale of Glamorgan by- election and in the county council elections in Wales and in England. By every measure of public opinion that we have seen in the past few months, the poll tax is as deeply unpopular as ever it was. I ask the House to reject the regulations.
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer) : I will address some of the specific points that have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) referred to the way in which the grant was operated in England and Wales. In Wales, every local authority is in grant, while some authorities in England are not. If there is no specific grant, authorities receive nothing towards their costs. It was felt to be more reasonable to operate the system in that way. In Wales, all authorities receive the sums of money that are put aside for them because of that technical difference. I do not think that there is a great difference between us on that issue.
I thought that we came to the nub of the arguments against--
Mr. Pike : We did not reach the nub of the arguments, because we were not allowed to.
Mr. Gummer : Perhaps I should address the points that I believe constitute the nub of the argument.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) set out the three reasons why he believed that the measures should not be passed. He said that the measures should not be passed because they would create greater poverty. The hon. Gentleman was wrong. The rebates under the community charge are more generous than the present rate rebates. That means that, because of the rebates, many people will find themselves better off. It will also mean that single parents with families will be particularly helped. The poorest people will be most helped by the community charge.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey clearly has not understood the system. People receiving an 80 per cent. rebate will also receive an extra amount of money in their social security income support, which, in most cases, will cover more than the 20 per cent. It will be covered in all areas where there is no exorbitant spending by the local authority concerned. The hon. Gentleman was wrong in that regard.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey was wrong also, because the Liberal alternative as admitted by the Liberal party states that those on average incomes would be worse off if we have a local income tax than they would be under the community charge. The hon. Gentleman is wrong on his own party politics and policy.
Mr. Nellist : Will the Minister give way?